Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Panther Gap and Alta Peak Attempt: Sequoia National Park

     On the low point between the ridges separating the chasm of the Kaweah River Valley on one side and the verdant belt of the Giant Forest's Sequoia on the other, sits Panther Gap at 8,500' on the Westside of the Sierra.  Roughly half-way between the verdant Wolverton trailhead and the beginning of the High Sierra marked by nearby  Alta Peak, Panther Gap rests on a subalpine crossroads bounded both by deep valleys below and majestic, snow-covered granite peaks above and across it.  Originally, it was my intention to climb 11,300' Alta Peak, however heavy snow conditions and poor weather prompted me to abandon that climb, and settle for Panther Gap and its nearby forests; making for nonetheless an extraordinary day in one of the nation's first protected area.  A dense, quiet forest, snow-covered high peaks, and the calming peace of nature is sure to entrance anyone found of the experience only a day in the Sierra can offer.  

Stats (To Panther Gap): 

Category: Moderate
Miles: 6
Elevation Gain: 1300'  
Location: Sequoia National Park

The Hike: Once you enter onto the "Lakes Trail" at the Wolverton Trailhead, climb up the trail as it ascends into the dark forest of the upper reaches of the mid-zone Sierra forests.  Soon, you will be greeted by the sights and sounds of small brooks and streas fed by the snowmelt of the peak high above.  After the trail takes an obvious turn to the south, you will continue until you hit a trail divide 1.5 miles from the trailhead.  As the Lakes Trail splits off towards Pear Lake and the Tablelands, your path remains steadfast on the route towards Alta Peak.  In early season, typically late April through early June, substantial snow crossing will appear around 8500', though some snow spots may persist lower.  

The 2016 Winter in the Southern Sierra was below average, yet in mid-May large sections of the mid-trail, and the complete upper trail was snow covered up to 3' deep.  This snow is passable at certain times of the day with care, but be sure to be off it before it refreezes in the evenings.  This section includes the transition zone into the subalpine realm, with white fir morphing into the Sierra red fir, and the sugar pines giving way to lodgepoles.  After 3 miles, you will find yourself on Panther Gap, where it can be a bit windy.  I continued up another 1000' towards Alta Peak before heavier snow conditions, and adverse weather turned me back.  Nonetheless, I will be back to claim Alta Peak later this summer.  Enjoy your afternoon in God's blissful mountains, and return the way you came.  

Hiked 5-22-2016.  Tulare County, CA.  (Temp: 40 F, Wind: 20 MPH, Snow Depth: 1-3', Visibility: Moderate to Poor, Precipitation: Light Snow )

Mid-Montane Zone (7200')

Winter fighting Spring

Snow patches around 7600'


 A peaceful brook

Trail Split, note clouds rolling in

First significant snow crossing on the trip

Climbing down a small snow canyon

Upper Section up to Panther Gap: all snow

Very cold here, around 40 F with 20 MPH

Panther Gap...no views today..

Continue onto the southside of the ridge towards Alta Peak

Looking down Kaweah Canyon

Do you see the bear in the rock?

Kaweah Canyon

Marmot peeking out at me

Cloud played hide and seek with the mountains all day.

Snow starting again

A small spring

A nice dry section

Split Rock, where we called it a day

Sun finally comes out to show us the High Sierra a bit 
Towards the Central Valley

A deer by the Sequoia on the drive out...

Moro Rock (6,725'): Sequoia National Park

"The Final Steps Up To Moro Rock."


Category: Easy 
Miles: 0.2
Elevation Gain: 270'
Location: Sequoia National Park 
Directions: HERE

The Hike: From the trailhead, head up the straightforward path 350 steep, granite, steps to the summit of Moro Rock.  Along the route are multiple opportunities for rest marked by interpretive signs, and expanding views.  On the top, the views 4000' straight into Kaweah Canyon are spectacular, while visage towards the Giant Forest of the Sequoias towering over the cliff-side chaparral is equally as fascinating.  Obey all trail guidelines for your safety, and return the way you came.   

Hiked 5-20-2016.  Tulare County, CA 

First Steps up to the summit
Climbing more...

Lower Kaweah Canyon and Three Rivers, CA


Upper Kaweah Canyon, and the hidden High Country

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mount Pinos (8,831') and Sawmill Mountain (8,818') from Nordic Ski Base

     Those of you who grew up watching the Waltons, or like I you have, as a younger generation, seen the fantastic series from our predecessor's era, will perhaps recognize that the haunts of around Mount Pinos are not in California at all, but rather are in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia crowned by "Walton's Mountain".  While the sheer physiography and dryer conifer vegetation of the San Emigdio Mountains stands in stark contrast to the rolling valleys and dense deciduous forests of Virginia, it is nonetheless not hard to tell why this quiet range provided such inspiration for filmmakers.  Its wide, open, green valleys fringed by pinyon and juniper on the floor level gives way in a perfect angle to the moderate peaks of the Los Padres National Forest covered nearly completely by stately stands of pine and fir, before at last clearing to to a clean and deep blue sky. 

      The high points of the entire Los Padres National Forest,  Southern California's largest national forest covering nearly 2 million acres from the redwoods of Monterey to the beaches of Ventura, are 8,831' Mount Pinos, also the highpoint of Ventura County, and the barely shorter 8,818' Sawmill Mountain, squeaking out as the highpoint of Kern County.  Both peaks can be hiked by traversing the wide ridge in a short day hike located about about 90 minutes north of Los Angeles, and an hour south of Bakersfield off the I-5 in the Grapevine.  Come see for yourself the wonder these mountains can instill into anyone willing to visit.       
Miles: 7
Elevation Gain: 1,500'
Directions: HERE
Location: Los Pinos National Forest, Chumash Wilderness 

The Hike:  From the Nordic Ski Base, take the trail westward upwards through a dense stand of Sugar and Ponderosa pines.  About a mile later, you will enter into a scrub meadow, with expanding views towards Mount Pinos.  Follow the wide trail up to the antennae-strewn summit of the zenith of Ventua County.  Enjoy the views into the quilt-like Central Valley below, the Tehachipis to the east, the Pacific and coast ranges to the south, and the High Sierra even further north.  Almost equally as high across from you is Sawmill Mountain, your next stop for the day.  Continue on the path towards it another 0.25 miles to a California Condor Viewpoint, and then proceed down the single-track trail down into the canyon, passing into the Chumash Wilderness.  After making the saddle, you will begin climbing steeply up again as you near Sawmill Mountain.  There is a use trail marked by blocked sticks and stones, which leads the last hundred hard to the open summit crowned by an enormous carin, perhaps 10' tall.  The views from the Kern County highpoint are nearly the same as Ventura's, but with a slightly differing angle.  Return the way you came, down and up the saddle again to the parking lot.  

Hiked 5-19-2016.  Ventura and Kern County Highpoints.  Adventure Pass Required.  No Wilderness Permit Needed.  


Scrub Meadow
Mount Pinos

Nearing Summit


Condor Viewpoint

Southward along the trail

Heading down to Sawmill (in background)

Going down....

A new wilderness are for me!

On the Pinos-Sawmill Saddle

Heading towards Sawmill
Use trail to Sawmill Mountain

Final few yards to summit

Sawmill Mountain

San Andreas Fault, the Central Valley, and the High Sierra