Shake Camp to Ridge above Wet Meadow
(14 miles, +4,600/-1,300 feet).
I needed one more trip to make it to 1,000 miles of hiking since I started this blog (woo hoo!). I also wanted one last view of the Sierra before winter set in. So I thought about doing the Mineral King Loop in southern Sequoia National Park again, this time with my friend MixMaster.
However, I called the ranger station last week and found out that the Mineral King road closes the last Wednesday of October. So to get up to the Mineral King area we needed another entry point. We only had three days for this trip, so coming from the east or the north wouldn’t work because those trailheads are so far away. Instead, we decided to enter from the south via Mountain Home State Forest and the Golden Trout Wilderness.
I had honestly never heard of this place before seeking it out as a way to get up to the Sierra, but it is pretty incredible. The State Forest contains some of the largest and oldest trees anywhere in the world. And unlike the Giant Forest to the north, hardly anyone goes to Mountain Home. In fact, when we showed up at the Shake Camp Trailhead this morning we were the only ones there!
Of course, the absence of people might have something to do with the fact that the first major storm of the season is due to dump an inch of rain on the area tonight, with up to a foot of snow expected above 10,000 feet. And another storm is due the day after tomorrow. When we got our backcountry permit from the Sequoia National Forest office this morning in Springville, the ranger said “I hope you like rain!”
Properly warned, MixMaster and I set out around 11am from the trailhead and made our way through the Mountain Home Grove of Sequoias.
We followed the Little Kern River up a traverse that started to give us views of the southernmost tip of the Range of Light.
We got water at Redwood Crossing and continued up towards Summit Lake.
There were more sequoias between 6,500 and 8,000 feet as we headed up the drainage.
The trail eventually headed east and up out of the sequoia zone, getting very steep in the last couple of miles before Summit Lake.
Shortly before Summit Lake, we crossed over into Sequoia National Park.
Summit Lake is not the prettiest I have ever seen, but it was a great place to rest and refill our water bottles.
Beyond Summit Lake we took a wrong turn and were so involved in conversation that we walked a mile and a half (and 500 painful downhill feet) before we realized our mistake. To get back to the trail towards our planned campsite at Wet Meadow, we went cross country. That was fun for about half an hour, but we gradually realized just how far off track we had gotten. The next half hour looking for the trail was somewhat stressful.
By the time we got back to the trail, I think we had about two bonus miles and 1,000 bonus feet of elevation change under our belt. Sundown (and the storm) were rapidly approaching. And to make matters worse, the air was filled with the campfire scent of a controlled burn that was occuring nearby.
We decided to head for a ridge about a mile before Wet Meadow to camp, but it had no water (we had planned to get water at the meadow). Under darkening skies, we searched each drainage on the trail for water, but to no avail.
Then just a half mile before our Plan B campsite, we stopped on the trail to listen. And through the silence we heard a miraculous gurgle. A flowing spring on the side of the trail!
We would probably have been okay without the water (we each had about a liter left for the evening), but the spring ensures that we will have enough even if we have to stay in place tomorrow during the storm.
At 6:30pm, half an hour after sunset, we finally made it up to the ridge after an 800 foot climb and we rapidly worked to set up our tents. We chose sites close together (even sharing a rock for two of our stakes!) so we could communicate if things got hairy overnight.
Just as the first tent went up, the rain started to fall. We quickly worked together to set up the second tent and then dove inside. We ate our dinners, making conversation through the tent walls, and then settled down to listen to the wind and the rain as it lulled us to sleep.