This weekend I went on a 4-day backpacking trip in Jennie Lakes Wilderness with Kelly. Since permits in the Sequoia/Kings Canyon area are a nightmare to secure at the last minute, we decided to play it safe and plan our trip in the wilderness area (no permits required). It was a hot and dusty trip, but our day hike on the third day was a tantalizing introduction to the high Sierras. I will definitely be going back!
Kelly and I met at 1200 in the Grant Grove Village in Kings Canyon National Park. In retrospect, this was extremely foolish because we both had to pay the expensive entry fee of $30 per vehicle. Next time we'll carpool.
We had no trouble getting a permit for our planned one night inside the park at Ranger Lake. We also rented a bear canister for just $5 (buying them new is over $75). We drove the last few miles to Big Meadows Trailhead and hit the trail!
The beginning of the trail was hot and dusty, and we quickly realized that this area is not high alpine. There are plenty of big trees, the underbrush is not at all dense, and the ground is very dusty and dry. The ranger mentioned that it had been months since the last rain!
We reached the Weaver Lake spur and decided to drop our packs and check it out. It's a cool lake! It sits underneath this huge crumbling mound of granite called Shell Mountain, and there are plenty of nice campsites to choose from. Kelly wasn't feeling very well, so we decided to take it easy and stay the afternoon and night here. We grabbed our packs and set up camp. Since we didn't hike nearly as far as planned, the rest of the trip will require some adjustment.
We decided to wade out to some rocks near the shore, and quickly discovered that the bottom of the lake wasn't actually the bottom; there was at least two feet of mucky sediment that acted like quicksand. The water wasn't too cold, but with the sun starting to go down neither of us jumped in fully.
After our water adventure, I set up the hammock and we just hang out and read our books by the shore. The sun set and the mosquitos joined the flies in harrassment, so we retreated to the tent for the night.
Distance: 3.2 mi
Elevation: 7600' +1250 -150 to 8700'
Today was largely uneventful and straightforward as Kelly and I worked our way towards some of the more exciting and rugged terrain in this area. Again, it was very hot and dusty as we crossed a valley and swung to the south. We had one chance early on in the day to overlook the area to the north, but besides that it was a slog to get to our intended camp, a little unnamed lake on the map near Jo Pass.
Unfortunately, the lake wasn't a lake, it was a swampy meadow with a good amount of bugs to go with it. But, it had running water so we decided to stay there. We napped in the tent to avoid the bugs, and read outside when the wind picked up a bit. Tomorrow the plan is to do a day hike to some of the surrounding mountains, so we ate dinner and went to sleep early.
Distance: 6.8 mi
Elevation: 8700' +1800 -1100 to 9400'
We got up early-ish and filtered water for our day hike. The plan was to gain the ridge immediately to the east of camp, and then take it over to Twin Lakes, with potential summits on Kettle Peak and Twin Peaks.
We picked our way up to the ridge and were immediately rewarded with a sweeping view of the real Sierra Nevada mountains to our north and east. It was a great view, but it made me wish that we had four weeks instead of four days to explore. The mountains are extremely rugged and connected by craggy passes, separated by expansive forested valleys, or divided by immense canyons. Oh well, it just means I'll have to come back! Also, for the record, camping on this ridge would have been immeasurely better than the site we chose.
From there, we worked our way along the ridge over to Kettle Peak, stopping to enjoy the scenery as our field of view widened. Kettle Peak was fairly simple to approach, and we carried our packs up until the final 10' or so. From there, it was an easy scramble (albeit on the edge of a lethal cliff) up to the summit, where we got uninterrupted views of Twin Peaks, Mount Silliman, and the entire surrounding area.
We descended south from Kettle Peak, then turned east again towards Twin Peaks. After a long, steep slog up the side, we dropped our packs again for the last 30' climb. This summit was pretty much a V0 bouldering problem, so we moved carefully as we climbed up. The view from the top was amazing, though the knife-edge and big drops on all sides prevented us from getting the "perfect" 360-degree view.
From there, we rapidly descended down to Twin Lakes where we stopped for a snack and water. There was an annoying number of people at these lakes, so we got out of there as soon as we could. A little while later, we were over Jo Pass and back at camp by 1730, packing up as quickly as possible so we could get some proper distance in that evening. Kelly has to get out relatively early tomorrow to make it back for a conference, so every mile counts.
We were really tired, and luckily we had an entire bottle of partly-oxidized trail wine to help us through the pain. We passed it back and forth as we made our way past Jennie Lake (very cool lake with plenty of ready-made campsites) and onwards to Poop Out Pass. By the time we reached the pass, we were thoroughly pooped and made camp in a large, flat clearning at the top of the hill.
Day Hike Time: 1030-1730
Day Hike Distance: 8.2 mi
Day Hike Elevation: 9400' +3050 -3050 to 9400'
Distance: 3.0 mi
Elevation: 9400' +600 -800 to 9200'
We actaully got up early this morning and were on the trail by 0730 so that Kelly could get back in time for her conference. The hike out was refreshingly cool, a nice change for the hot and dusty days we'd previously had. I parted with Kelly at the turnoff up to Weaver Lake so that I could run up and grab the bottoms of my zip-off pants, which I left at the stream where we filtered water. Other than that, there was nothing of particular note. Just a nice, easy hike out to finish off a great trip!
Distance: 4.8 mi
Elevation: 9200' +300 -1900 to 7600'