I planned this trip as a test run for the John Muir Trail next month, but it turned out to be an amazing trip by itself. It’s a shame that it took me 13 years of living in CA to finally visit the Sierras. It exceeded all my expectations and it’s hard to imagine how amazing it will be to hike the entire John Muir Trail.
I went to Sequoia with my cousin Marco. He will do the first week on the John Muir Trail with me and this was a great chance for both of us to test our new gear. He also has never camped in the wilderness before so this trip would help him get familiarized with trail life.
Right after sunrise, I leave Southern CA to meet up with Marco in Visalia, a few miles from the Park entrance. He parks his car and we drive my car to the Park gates. We pay the $20 entrance fee and drive through the narrow winding road. It’s a beautiful day and the scenery is magnificent. Tall mountains on both sides, granite domes and pine trees make it hard for me to keep my eyes on the road. Suddenly I see the first big sequoia tree. It’s impossible not to be in awe. Every few hundred yards is met with a “Wow” from us.
We finally arrive to Lodgepole Visitor Center, where we’ll pick up our wilderness permit. All the trails (Twin Lakes, Alta, High Sierra are the ones I can remember) still have spots available for walk-ins, which surprises me because it is 4th of July weekend. We rent our bear canister for $5 and head to a close by picnic table to eat lunch and sort our remaining food.
The plan is to take it easy today and do the 6.2-mile Trail of the Sequoias and then head to Panthers Gap to end the day. We start the trail pretty late, at around 1:30pm. Five minutes into the trail we see the biggest tree by volume in the world, the General Sherman. It’s not as tall as I expected it to be, maybe because it is surrounded by other very tall trees.
The trail is mostly flat, the scenery is amazing. Giant sequoias everywhere.
Two hours into hike, I realize that we’ll have to pick up our pace or we might not make it to Panthers Gap by sunset. On the southeastern part of Trail of the Sequoias, I turn around a corner and suddenly hear something move. I lift up my eyes and see this mid-sized black bear about 20 yards away from me. I freeze for a few seconds, due to both fear and amazement. It’s quite a feeling to see a bear this close to me, without a fence between us.
We blow our whistles to make sure the bear is aware of us, but he/she doesn’t even bother to look at us. We wait for a few minutes until it walks away. We continue walking and are very alert for the next few miles.
We reach Alta Trail around 6pm and start heading west towards Panther Gap. The slight ascent is hard on our non-acclimatized bodies. It starts to get darker and darker. We stop to filter some water and mosquitoes swarm us. The filtered water look greenish and kind of nasty, but tasted ok. At around 7:45pm, I spot a nice area to camp and decide to stop here since I really don’t know how far away Panthers Gap is and it’s starting to get really dark. We set up our tents and cook and eat our freeze-dried dinners in the dark using headlamps. I fall asleep around 11pm.
I wake up a few times during the night but sleep much better than expected. I’m awake by 8:30am and around 10:30am we are on the trail again. We reach Panther Gap in about 20 minutes, so we were pretty close to making it last night. The views from this spot are breathtaking.
After enjoying the views form 45 minutes, we continue our mission for the day, which is to summit Alta Peak and come back to Panther Gap to camp for the night.
It’s mostly uphill. We pass a pretty populated campground at Merhten Meadow. There are plenty of places to get clean water in this section of the trail. We round Tharps Rock and the last 1000 feet or so of the ascent is brutal. I realize that I need to get into much better shape for the John Muir Trail, or else I’ll be laboring so much that it won’t be very enjoyable for me. I feel the need to stop for like 30 seconds every 4-5 minutes. I finally make it to the summit at around 2:45pm. The summit is a large border and there are 4 people on it already. I wait for them to finish enjoying the moment before I go up myself. I really don’t know what words to use to describe the views. I think the following video can do it better.
I stay at the summit for a long time. I wanted to milk it after all this effort. We sign the registry before making our way down.
We get back to Panthers Gap around 7:15pm. An amazing campsite with a fire pit in the middle is there waiting for us. Unlike yesterday, today I get a really enjoy the sunset.
While trying to shake the freeze dried dinner bag after adding water, I spill a good chunk of the food on the ground and try to clean it as best as possible fearing that bears might smell it and come visit us at night. After dinner we start a glorious fire and I get chance to clean myself a little bit. It feels great to be able to clean my dusty legs and feet. A great way to end a tiring but rewarding day.
I wake up around 5am to pee and don’t feel like going back to sleep. This is a great change to enjoy the sunrise. It’s a little cold so we start another fire before packing up and leaving camp.
The short hike from Panthers Gap to Wolverton is simple amazing. This is the official first part of the Alta Peak Trail, but since we didn’t start from Wolverton on Friday, we didn’t get to enjoy this stretch of the trail. It’s mostly shaded, full of trees and vegetation.
From Wolverton, we take the wrong turn and end up walking an extra 2 miles to get to our car. After returning the bear canister, we leave the park while making sure we get one last good look at the giant sequoias.