Saturday, December 20, 2014

Giant Perspectives

Feeling a bit small... 
With the first real snow of the season, I started getting an itch to get out of town and up to the Sequoias.  If you have never ski toured in Sequoia/Kings, it is something you should do when you get the chance; actually it is something to do every time you  get the chance.  Take my word for it, you won't be disappointed.  Having toured nearby Sequoia National Park many times, we decided to check out Kings Canyon for this trip.  A recent storm had dumped about 3 feet and there was another storm slated to come through, so I jumped on a cabin reservation in Grant Village, the perfect place to ride out a storm and find some fresh tracks.  Grandpa was also willing to have the girls over for the night, so we got to have a good ol' fashioned Eric and Rebecca Adventure, which was nice.

Rebecca happy to not be carrying kiddos
A quick side note on Grant Village; I highly recommend it.  The John Muir Lodge is a nice option for those that don't want to go the rustic route, but the cabins are also quite nice.  They are pretty sparse, but Cabin 9, which we stayed in, has everything you need (a heater and a bathroom with running water).  We would poach the Lodge fireplace Apres Ski (there was hardly anyone around to care) and the restaurant had good food and very reasonable prices.  Our package included breakfast (you could choose from anything off the menu) and ran around $120.  Maybe it was just a combination of our mid-week stay and the bad weather, but we found this little enclave to be much quieter than nearby Sequoia.  It turns out the road between the two parks was closed as well, which made a mess of our plan to drive through Sequoia on the way home, so check the road closures before you plan your trip.

Rebecca sipping on some Wine with John
Excited to explore the area, we stashed our stuff in the cabin and slapped on the skis for an afternoon tour of Panorama Point.  The trail-head is right next to the lodge and, being Monday, snowshoe and ski tracks were already laid from over the weekend.  The first couple of miles consisted of climbing almost 1000 ft up a road with not much to look at, but once you get to Panorama Point everything changes.

Our track for the afternoon.  7.7 miles, about 3.5 hours and 1500 ft of climbing
Panorama Point lived up to its name.  Despite the stormy conditions, looking up into the Kings River drainage over Hume lake is a special sight.  The confluence of the South Fork and Middle Fork of the Kings is once of the sacred places in the Kayaking world as it marks the end of the Middle Fork Kings descent.  It is also just a damn beautiful place regardless.

Eric Picking out lines on the bottom 9

Don't lick the... Never mind...
From here we were pretty jazzed to continue our adventure and skied along the ridge towards Park Point.  Soon the ski tracks turned around, so we were left to break trail the rest of the way, but it was well worth the effort.  The trail is well marked and cleverly crosses back and forth over the ridge so you get alternating views of the High Sierra and Central Valley.  With the storm rolling in and clouds on the move we were treated to all sorts of spectacular light shows. 

Looking over Shell Mountain into the High Sierra.  Pictures never do it justice...

Typical terrain along the ridge
It is a little over 2 miles from Panorama Point to Park point along the ridge.  There are two small climbs that, without skins, required a little herring bone work from time to time, but not a big deal.  There is also an option to take a road (we took advantage of this on the way home), but the ridge trail is nicer.

Traversing the West side of the ridge and looking out into the valley
 To be honest, Park Point was a bit of a letdown.  There is a fire tower, which doesn't bother me, but the cell towers and power lines are a bit harsh after such a nice Ski. 

The Fire Tower from Park Point.

Looking up into the Kaweah Drainage
 Given the opportunity to do this trip again, I might choose to turn around where the trail tops out about 1/8 mile before Park Point to keep the secluded wilderness feeling.  There isn't much to see from Park Point that you won't get along the way.

It was getting late in the day, so with about 1 1/2 hours of daylight left we turned around and headed back; sticking to our tracks until we hit a section of road that took us around the last main climb.  This section of road also has some nice views to the west and provides access to the open slopes that, with a bit more snow, looks like a prime area to make some turns.  As it was, we mainly stuck to the road, occasionally finding stashes to hit on the way home.  Great tour, great views, with more snow it would also have a great reward with some turns on the way home.

After some R&R (read bottle of wine, a couple of beers and a nice dinner) we retired to Cabin 9 for the evening.  Waking up to another 4 or five inches of new snow, we filled up on another nice meal at the restaurant and headed off on our next adventure to see the big trees of Grant Grove.

Grant Grove Ski Tour: about 5 miles and 500 ft of elevation gain for our modified tour
The Grant Grove ski tour also leaves out of the village and makes a four mile loop (I think) past the General Grant tree through varied terrain.  Only a relatively short section of this trail goes through Sequoias, so I suggest getting off the trail and exploring the Grant Grove as you pass by it since there isn't a whole lot else to see on this tour.

The meadow in Grant Village
Unfortunately, the fresh fallen snow was super sticky, making our skis 20 pound snowshoes once we got off the beaten path (about 1/2 mile into our trip).  We also made the mistake of not exploring the Grant Grove on the first pass through, thinking the trail would take us through more groves; so we ended up heading back around the loop again to play in the big trees. The General Grant tree is the Tallest Sequoia at almost 270 ft, and, to my surprise, the biggest at the base even though it is only about 1700 years old.

Again, pictures don't do it justice
 I was, again, surprised to learn that the Mark Twain Tree was taller, some say in excess of 300 feet tall.  Alas, as Mr Twain said, "to succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence"; something I'm sure the men who cut down the tree had in spades. 

The Mark Twain Tree
Which leads to another trail in the area which we did not get a chance to check out this time through.  The Big Stump trail is also nearby, making two nights at Grant Village a future option...

Animals in the woods

More animals in the woods

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