Two Kings Loop


2014.08.09 - 2014.08.16.

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Intro

In October 2013, I was early to a meeting, and sat around in the car for about 20 minutes with nothing to do. I was parked in an area without cell reception, meaning checking emails was out of the question. So to kill time, I rummaged around in the car, and as our door holder is full of various national park brochures and newspapers, I fished out the one of the Sequoia-Kings Canyon NP, and started looking at the map.

I've been thinking about our next week-long summer trek for a few days, but I never had the chance to actually look at a map. Despite the fact that the map on the brochure is very crude, it took only about 10 minutes to come up with this route. Start at Road's End, up Copper Creek to the Lip, then over Granite Pass and down into Simpson Meadow, up the Middle Fork of the Kings River to the PCT/JMT, south on that over Mather and Pinchot Passes, then down via Paradise Valley, back to Road's End. I couldn't wait to get home and start working on the real map, first of all to see whether my hunch about the mileage being doable was correct.

When I put the miles together, of course, like always, the different sources couldn't agree on the exact distance. It looked around 70-75 — so I figured around 80 with all the sidetracking — meaning we can do it in a week. I looked up the key points on the Internet, and found some info, but little did I know that this route and variations thereof are called the "Two Kings Loop". If I had looked for that, I could have found even more trip reports.

Nonetheless, the plan was born and in March, we reserved the permit for August.

Around early July, my left foot started hurting and I figured I had plantar fasciitis. There were a few days where I would not have dared to go on a long trek with the foot in that state. I did whatever I could to make it go away, and by the time we had to leave, it was much better. The weather forecast called for 20-30% chance of rain for the first few days, but what can you do about that, other than making sure the rain gear is in order.

Day 0 - L.A. to Cedar Grove

Driving down into Kings Canyon

Driving down into Kings Canyon

There was no reason to leave very early in the morning, so we got to Road's End around noon. Many trail descriptions warned about the Copper Creek trail being very exposed right after sunrise, so everybody suggested you leave either very early or later in the afternoon. Somehow I misunderstood and thought the trail would be in shade starting 2-3pm.

There were two plans: our permit was for the next day, but if we can change that and the trail is indeed in the shade, go up to Lower or Upper Ten Meadow and spend the first night there. If not, and there's room, stay in the campground in Cedar Grove.

At the ranger station, we learned that the trail will be in the sun until at least 6pm, plus, there were thundershowers in the forecast. Sure enough, clouds started gathering as we spoke. The permit change would have been OK, but ranger discouraged us from leaving that afternoon. After hearing our route description, he was the one who told me that this is the "Two Kings Loop".

So we stayed at Moraine campground, but in our big tent and with the car-camping sleeping bag, and packed the backpacks trail-ready. In the evening, we strolled over to the restaurant in Cedar Grove and had a pulled pork sandwich and a quesadilla. Those guys are awesome. They make great food, and they're very friendly. We spent some time chatting with the chef and the manager, and the chef even gave us a discount because we got the last pork sandwich and was already sitting there (yes, for about two minutes).

The weather was as predicted, we even got a few drops of rain, and up high it looked like it's coming down hard.

Day 1 - Road's End to Granite Lake

We went to bed early, got up at 4am, ate a quick breakfast (prepared last evening) and drove to the trailhead. It was still dark, just getting light when we got there. In our usual slow style, even with everything prepared, it was 6:00am when we actually started walking on the trail. It was just light enough not to need the headlamps.

Everybody warned us how hard this climb out of the valley will be, but it wasn't that bad, even with full packs. We took it slow, and yeah, the trail climbs sharply, but it's graded nicely and it's in very good condition. After 20 minutes, we could still see the parking lot, horizontally close to us, but hundreds of feet lower.

We're usually very bear-aware, always sing, talk or whistle, especially in such an prime bear habitat as this hillside with all the manzanita bushes, but for a few minutes we somehow forgot ourselves and walked in silence. Then, after getting up to a switchback, as I turned, there was a little black bear sitting about 20 feet in front of me, on the side of the trail, looking down the switchback, right at the spot where the trail coming up is only feet away. A few seconds earlier we must have walked right by, him sitting a 4-5 feet above us.

This was not the time to try to get photos, so we both started clapping and yelling, and the bear finally walked away with an annoyed face - right on the trail in the direction we were supposed to go. Very good. We gave him a minute, then started following, all the while being very noisy. We never saw him again, but we saw another one, calmly eating manzanitas. This one was much larger, and also further away. He (she?) kept on eating while walking away.

Kings Canyon at dawn, with sunlight hitting the uppermost peaks above Bubbs Creek

Kings Canyon at dawn, with sunlight hitting the uppermost peaks above Bubbs Creek

With no more bears in sight and sunlight approaching, we quickly proceeded up the hill, following the trail as it turns away from the valley, going up towards Tent Meadow. Lower Tent Meadow is a very nice, shaded area, right next to the stream, and there's a bear box. I'd only camp here if it would be absolutely necessary, as it's right on the trail. By this time, the sun was out, but the worst part of exposed trail we behind us.

I don't know how Upper Tent Meadow is, about 1 mile further, because you can't see the campsites from the trail. There's a small spur leading to the creek and the campsite are supposedly on the other side. There we no time to explore, however. We stopped for a quick snack and water - the ranger warned us that this is the last source for almost five miles - then pressed on.

On the hill between Lower and Upper Tent Meadow

On the hill between Lower and Upper Tent Meadow

The trail climbs a bit more steeply from this point, eventually reaching the Lip. It's a pass that's not really like a pass, one of those where the ridgeline is quite wide and there's no obvious high point. The view of Granite Basin is quite something, though.

Looking south-west from the Lip

Looking south-west from the Lip

The basin itself is this sub-alpine heaven of thick green foliage with ample water, even bogs, and a huge meadow just below Granite Lake. I heard there's a trail going from the main trail to the lake, but it was on the far side of the meadow, so from our direction of approach, it made more sense to cross-country to the lake.

It was somewhat windy, and clouds were racing each other & it looked like rain can arrive anytime. So we set up camp, secured the tent, then relaxed on the lake shore. As expected, my left foot started hurting while descending into the basin, so I started putting more weight on my right leg - and now both hurt somewhat, but it wasn't bad at all. Yet.

There were huge rainclouds all around us and we could see it coming down miles away, but no rain fell around the lake, and by the evening, the sky was completely clear. While siting in the wind shade of a big rock, in my infinite wisdom, I declared to Em: "There no way it will rain during the night."

Granite Lake by moonlight - the dark shape in the water is not the back of the Loch Ness monster, it's just a rock

Granite Lake by moonlight - the dark shape in the water is not the back of the Loch Ness monster, it's just a rock

Day 2 - Granite Lake to Simpson Meadow

Of course, we woke up to the gentle patter of rain around 4am. It was very light and stopped after a few minutes. Then it stared again and it went like this almost until we finished breakfast and packed up the tent. Because of this, we stared a bit later, but at least all our gear was dry, only the rainfly being a bit wet.

The climb up to Granite Pass

The climb up to Granite Pass

We found the trail going back to the main trail and climbed up to Granite Pass. This pass is gorgeous. First, you climb a short but steep section in a gully. Looking back, there are great views of the basin and beyond. Then there's a relatively big plateau, you lose sight of the basin, but as soon as you're up on the top of the plateau, you get rewarded with views of the canyon leading down, and the Palisades in the distance. I told Em, see, that's where we're headed. It sure looked far away.

The view Granite Pass, with the Palisades on the right

The view Granite Pass, with the Palisades on the right

The weather was a bit sketchy, there were huge, dark clouds hanging low, but they moved very quickly and there was no rain and no hint of lightning. We didn't loiter much, however, and I felt much safer when we descended into the canyon of Middle Dougherty Creek. We could see heavy rain ahead, but where we were, it only drizzled for a few minutes off and on. We didn't even have don any rain gear.

The trail rollercoasters up and down a few times, but generally keeps descending, then gets to Dougherty Creek before climbing again a bit to the plateau just above the valley carved by the Middle Fork Kings River (if somebody knows whether it's still called Tehipite Valley at this point, please let me know, my map is not obvious). We stopped for lunch at in Dougherty Meadow, at the crossing of the East Fork Dougherty Creek, and even got 10-15 minutes of real rain, but by the time we were ready to go, it was all over.

Lunch in Dougherty Meadow

Lunch in Dougherty Meadow

The gentle slope that crosses the plateau is sharply interrupted by the drop-off into Simpson Meadow. There's a sign at the trail coming down from State Lakes saying "Simpson Meadow 5.0", and someone scribbled "+2" and "no H2O" next to it. Both are painfully true. We knew about the water situation, and the Harrison map show 6.5 for that stretch anyway, but it was late, and we had to hurry, and what came was very unpleasant in many ways.

First, the nice part: the view of Tehipite Valley is impossibly cool. You're on this big rock jutting out between Dougherty Creek and Horseshoe Creek, with Windy Peak on the right and the Side Bluffs on the left. Plus, of course, all the mountains in the distance. The setup was perfect, with big cloud formations racing back and forth and the sun starting to shine at a low angle. Hurry or not, we had to take quite a few pictures.

The view of Tehipite Valley

The view of Tehipite Valley

The trail going down is as bad as it gets. Descending about 4,000' in 5 miles, it has some long and extremely steep knee-killing sections with loose gravel and soft soil. It is gorgeous, though, so we tried to keep our mind on that fact. No matter what, our knees felt like they've been through the meat grinder.

By the time we got down to Simpson Meadow, it was almost 7pm. There we met a lady, who said her husband and son went looking for a campsite. It also turned out they are doing the same exact route as us. We chatted only briefly, as it was getting late and the clouds looked more menacing by the minute. Em and I continued for another few hundred yards up the trail and found a nice big camping spot next to it, but close to the creek and with plenty of clear space for tents.

However, I decided to look for an even better campsite, so I took off for another quarter mile or so, going off the trail in hope of finding something more secluded. That's when I heard the first thunder. Then another, and another, and half a dozen more in quick succession. As soon as I got back on the trail, I started jogging, as fast as I could. As you can imagine, it wasn't pure pleasure after all those miles and the awful descent.

Em was smart, as always, and realized the urgency of the situation. By the time I got back, she was already unpacking my backpack, getting the tent out. The thunderclaps kept coming, one every few seconds. We get very lucky though. We pitched the tent, put everything inside, and I even dug the trench. Still no rain. We were considering taking a quick shower, but then it really started coming down. We just got in the tent when it started hailing. It wasn't very hard, though, and didn't last long. We were happy and dry in the tent, while the hail and then rain pelted the tent. As soon as it stopped, we got out, had a quick cold dinner and took that shower. Em managed to get done before it briefly rained again. Of course, it was pitch dark by this time. I took my shower, too, we photographed some spiders that came out in the dark, then went to sleep. Both out knees were in bad shape, but I kept telling myself, the really bad sign is if it gets worse by the morning.

Day 3 - Simpson Meadow to Deer Meadow

Our Simpson Meadow campsite in the morning

Our Simpson Meadow campsite in the morning

It didn't, my knees felt much better when we got up. The morning was as damp and beautiful as a meadow can be after heavy rain. There were clouds, but the sun was out, and the mist kept rising, sometimes making you feel like you're in the rain forest. We saw lots of bear scat, some fresh — but no bears. Later, the family we met told us they heard the bear rustling in the bushes, but didn't see him. He left a huge pile of fresh poop close to their campsite, though.

Looking back south-west into Tehipite Valley - if you look closely, there's a green tent in this picture

Looking back south-west into Tehipite Valley - if you look closely, there's a green tent in this picture

The trail follows the river on the side of the valley (but you never actually see the river unless you go way off) until the route gently rises towards Cartridge Creek. At the crossing, there's a very well-done bridge where we stopped for a snack. Back in the day, I had a plan B that called for us camping here, and I was a bit disappointed not to see any nice sites around the bridge, but when we took off, these was a prime spot not far away.

The weather forecast we received via the inReach called for a 10% chance of rain for that day, and then sunny days afterward. There was a very brief drizzle then, and as it turned out, it was the last rain we got on this trip

After Cartridge Creek, the landscape changes dramatically. From the relatviely wide valley that is constantly shaped by three rivers, the trail starts climbing in the gorge that is the Middle Fork. Rocks, small waterfalls, rapids, overflows, you name it. The trail is rocky, sometimes steep, but in pretty good shape, and the environment is simply stunning.

Small waterfall on Middle Fork Kings River

Small waterfall on Middle Fork Kings River

We took many photo breaks, but made good time, and by 3pm we got to the Palisade Creek crossing, just a few dozen yards before the PCT/JMT. The water was rushing and it looked about knee-deep or less, so we felt confident enough to try crossig it slowly at this spot. It ended up being thigh-deep in one place, and the current was very strong, but with the hiking poles and by being careful, we both got over without any problems. A deer crossed next to us and was drying himself on the other side when I was trying to get across. I was headed right to the spot where he was standing, but then he saw how lame I am in the rushing water, she looked at me with disdain and made a show of walking away very, very slowly. Em kept teasing me with this for days.

Palisades Creek crossing.

Palisades Creek crossing. Em is standing on some high rocks, the water was much deeper before and after.

While having yet another snack on the far side, the family from Simpson Meadow got there and they crossed, too. Turned out their son was 12 and this was his umpteenth backcountry trip. Great kid.

Alas, there was the highway: the Pacific Crest Trail, joined on this section (for about 150 miles) with the John Muir Trail. We were very much not in the mood for crowds, but what can you do? We spent way too much time at the crossing, and knew there are at least 3 or so more miles to go to Deer Meadows.

On the trail approaching Deer Meadow - the low-angle light shining under the thick clouds looks is always eerily beautiful

On the trail approaching Deer Meadow - the low-angle light shining under the thick clouds looks is always eerily beautiful

I was concerned about finding camping there, and sure enough, that's what turned out to be the situation. The first site had plenty of room, with only and gentlemen and his tent — but very uncharacteristically for the backcountry, the guy was outright unfriendly. He sort of made it clear he doesn't want anybody near him. Well, suit yourself. The next spot was even worse, it was full of people. We had no idea what lays ahead, but luck was on our side. On this second spot, there was a party of 4-5 JMT'ers camped right next to the trail (that's what we wanted to avoid) and a girl told us that according to the guide book, there are six sites in total. We've seen two so far, so we pressed on. The next two were full, too, one looking like a little village with at least 7-8 tents, about 100' off the trail. Em had a very good hunch, however, and took the lead, taking us towards the "village" on the spur, but then she turned sharply left, and we found ourselves among the trees with some spots that could have done the trick. It got even better, though. All of a sudden we smelled smoke, and after walking another 200', we got to an amazing campsite. It was way off the trail, out of sight of everybody (including the village), and there were two big metal boxes (locked) used to store forest survey equipment — perfect tables. The creek was right there, too, behind some bushes.

Some idiot left a campfire burning, though. I've never seen such idiocy in the backcountry. This was in the middle of a dry forest, in pretty windy canyon, and by looking at the fire, you could see that those jerks stacked it nicely with medium-thick branches, then just left while the fire was still burning. No dowsing, no nothing. It was only pure luck the forest didn't catch fire. There was no other sign of the campers, but could not have left long ago. Anyway, we doused the remnants of the fire, and Em even had time to do some laundry, with me carrying the water using a bear canister as a bucket. We even took a nice shower with a deer looking on.

Around sunset, a hawk landed on a fallen tree not far from us and was sitting there for a while, but I couldn't get any decent pictures, it was too dark. We were just watching, each curious of the other.

Campsite in Deer Meadow with Em enjoying the evening

Campsite in Deer Meadow with Em enjoying the evening

Day 4 - Deer Meadow to South Fork Kings River crossing in Upper Basin

Em on the Golden Staircase, looking back towards Deer Meadow

Em on the Golden Staircase, looking back towards Deer Meadow

We're always slow to get going in the morning, and this day was no exception, so by the time we hit the trail, it was already 8am. First, we climbed the "Golden Staircase" leading to Palisades Lakes. Yes, the "staircase" is very steep, but it's not that bad. We took it slow and enjoyed the views. This was, however, where my right knee started giving me problems. The plantar fasciitis in the left foot was almost completely gone, the four days of hiking really healed it. Me left knee, tough, was in pretty bad shape from having it used too much overall, and especially from the steep descent into Simpson Meadow.

Approaching Lower Palisades Lake. The Palisades in the background

Approaching Lower Palisades Lake. The Palisades in the background

The Palisades basin, with the big peaks looming above the lakes and Mather Pass in the background, is absolutely gorgeous. The trail follows the shore of the first lake, then climbs up sharply and stays above both lakes by 100-200'. There's plenty of water, though, from streams coming down the side.

High above Lower Palisades Lake. Mather Pass is the lowest notch all the way in the back

High above Lower Palisades Lake. Mather Pass is the lowest notch all the way in the back

Not much after the upper lake, it crosses the timberline and goes up towards the pass - without snow, the climb is actually not hard at all. Getting to the top is very rewarding indeed.

The Palisades and their lakes from Mather Pass

The Palisades and their lakes from Mather Pass

The weather was clear, there was almost no wind, so we could take our time to eat something and enjoy the view of the Palisades to the north and Upper Basin to the south. In the far distance, we could see the wooded area where the South Fork Kings River cut across the landscape - our destination for that day.

Upper Basin

Upper Basin

After this break, we descended into the basin and for about a mile and a half followed the trail on the barren landscape, then down into the woods that got thicker by the minute. It was beautiful, but this is when my right knee really started to hurt.

Walking towards the woods in Upper Basin

Walking towards the woods in Upper Basin

...and then in the woods

...and then in the woods

Originally, I was hoping we can make it up to the Bench Lake junction, but by the time we got to the South Fork, my knee screamed murder. The river was wide and rushing like crazy, and there was no obvious crossing. On the other side, there was yet another "village" of 6-7 tents. The river was way too loud, though, to get their attention. Just as we set off to look for another crossing, a girl from the other side saw us and mimed instructions to go down a bit and there we'll find a log crossing. Five minutes later we were safe and sound and dry on the other side.

There was the problem of people, though. It was as crowded as a backcountry campsite can get. Em was OK with her knees, and my pain aside, I decided I have some more energy to push on. We went up the rail for about a quarter mile, and after meeting a hiker coming down and telling us there are plenty more people around the Bench Lake junction looking for campsites, we decided to camp right there in the forest. It took some time, but eventually we found a very nice spot, not too far away from the trail, but out of sight, and only a one-minute walk from he creek. I still could manage to pump water, fill the shower and carry them back up in two trips, while Em prepared the bed.

My knee was hurting pretty bad at every movement, and I while I wasn't exactly scared, I was more than concerned. I fully knew that if this blows up by the morning, we're in trouble. We weren't so much in the middle of nowhere, but our only real option would have been to somehow slowly hike out over Taboose Pass, ending up hundreds of miles from our car. This was, needless to say, a pretty bad prospect. Of course, Em shared my anxiety.

I took two Aspirins in the evening, then two more during the night when it still hurt, and by the morning I was OK.

Day 5 - South Fork Kings River crossing in Upper Basin to Twin Lakes

As soon as I woke up, I know everything will be fine. This was to be an easy day anyway. Even the original plan was to hike only 6-7 mile over Pinchot Pass to Twin Lakes and take it easy for the rest of the day. It could not have come at a better time.

Upper Basin from the trail leading up to Bench Lake Junction. Mather Pass is the notch in the middle

Upper Basin from the trail leading up to Bench Lake Junction. Mather Pass is the notch in the middle

After half a mile or so (around the Bench Lake junction), the damn knee started hurting again, but this was to be expected. We just took it slow. Marjorie Lake and the other bodies of water around it are - again, for the lack of a better word - amazing. We met a family doing the JMT northbound with two kids, 9 and 11. They looked like they were having a blast. We also met a woman who said this is the last accessible water before the pass, so we stopped for a snack and to pump. I don't know why she said what she said, it turned out there were at least 4-5 more water sources. Then an older gentleman came our way who said he's got a llama train following him, and they must be about 2 hours behind him. As soon as he left, there were the llamas, 10 minutes behind. When we told the pack leader about this, he just grinned and remarked that client must be hallucinating form the altitude. Maybe that was the problem with woman and the water, too.

Lake Marjorie and the other unnamed (?) lake above it

Lake Marjorie and the other unnamed (?) lake above it

Until about that point, you can still see all the way back across Upper Basin, with Mather Pass on the other end, but then the trail turns left, and from the actual pass you can only see Marjorie Lake behind you. My knee was hurting again, but not badly, and we took a long lunch break on the pass, chatting with different people, including that family I mentioned earlier. They said they want to go all the way to Woods Creek Junction and then maybe hike out all the way the next day. Considering my knee, I was very happy we had a much more leisurely plan, and we slowly made our way down the pass towards Twin Lakes.

Em starting her descent from Pinchot Pass

Em starting her descent from Pinchot Pass

Twin Lakes is off the trail, nestled below Mt. Cedric Wright, and as I hoped, the crowds were much thinner than anywhere else on the main trail. Eventually, we had some neighbors, maybe 100 yards away, and one time we could hear some youngsters yelling high above us on the trail, but that was it.

Lower Twin Lake and Mt. Cedric Wright

Lower Twin Lake and Mt. Cedric Wright

It was pretty windy, though, and after we set up camp among some nice trees near the upper end of the lower lake, we erected a small wind shelter out of our silnylon tarp. It worked pretty well. We ate some soup, Em did laundry (with me hauling the water again). Then I examined the lake for fishing possibilities and decided that the upper lake would be much better. So we walked the 100 yards or so to that lake to catch trout for dinner. To say the fish were starving is an understatement. It's always relatively easy to catch them in the high Sierras, but sometimes it's ridiculously easy. I cast the pole 12 times, and caught 9 fish. Threw one back because it was very small and not hurt at all, then walked back to camp with the rest, and with a combined effort we cleaned them at the lower lake. We made a nice dinner, and then relaxed behind our wind shade, but then wind started dying down, so we walked about and really enjoyed the evening.

Lower Twin Lake just before sunset

Lower Twin Lake just before sunset

Day 6 - Twin Lakes to Upper Paradise Valley

The morning was crisp with almost no wind. Again, it took a while to get organized, but we were on our way before 8am. We took it very slow, and sure, by noon my knee was hurting again, but I had no problems going forward. Not much before the Woods Creek Junction, we met a guy in his fifties who was doing the whole JMT in 8 nights, with a pack as small as our daypack. He was happy as a clam and kept pressing on. I could never do that kind of hiking, but then again, all my respect and "hike your own hike".

Lunch break at Woods Creek with the King Spur in the background

Lunch break at Woods Creek with the King Spur in the background

Funny enough, Woods Creek Junction was deserted. No campers or other hikers anywhere. I guess everybody who spent the night left, and it was too early for new arrivals. We had lunch on the rocks not much above the junction, then kept going to reach Paradise Valley. It was much slower than usual, due to my stupid knee. I didn't mind, though, and kept taking pictures of Castle Domes and the other peaks. Funny enough, in Castle Domes Meadow I reminded Em that we're already in rattlesnake territory and we have to watch our steps. We didn't see any, but next day a guy we met told us he almost stepped on a rattlesnake right in this meadow.

Looking down from Castle Domes Meadow towards the upper end of Paradise Valley

Looking down from Castle Domes Meadow towards the upper end of Paradise Valley

We got to Upper Paradise Creek even a bit sooner than expected. The place is pretty amazing, it's a thick forest with minimal underbrush and lot of water. The South Fork Kings River, Woods Creek (and a bit higher up Arrow Creek) all meet here.

The river in Upper Paradise Valley

The river in Upper Paradise Valley

Side note: when planning for this trip, I saw on the map that while there's no trail, one could theoretically follow the South Fork from the Bench Lake junction to Upper Paradise Valley. It didn't look very steep. This would be a sort of a shortcut, but definitely not as far as time goes, because it's bush whacking all the way. I did not want to do this on this trip anyway, just considered the possibility to explore the area sometime. Since then, I heard got conflicting information: some say it's no big deal, just prepare to go slowly, some say you can't go this way without climbing equipment, because there's at least one waterfall where you'll need it. If anybody has some definitive info on this, please shoot me an email.

Back to this trip: in Paradise Valley, the map doesn't mark the exact spots of the three campgrounds, and I had some information that put "Upper Paradise Valley" somewhat lower, so we were both pleasantly surprised when we saw it's right there past the bridge. Right next to the trail there was a pretty big camping area with bear boxes and nobody around - yet. We kept exploring, and again Em got lucky, she found the best spot possible. It was about 120' from the water, in a very nice spot, and pretty far away from the trail. People with horses camped there before, and there was a fire ring, too, but it looked like nobody used it for at least a few weeks.

A happy Em preparing the bed in Upper Paradise Valley

A happy Em preparing the bed in Upper Paradise Valley

It was early, so we set up camp slowly, ate soup, took a shower, met some friendly local deer, and with dinner, drank the last of our tequila. We had a grand total of about 7 ounces with us, taking a sip every evening. This last evening we had a whopping three sips left each.

After it got dark, we could faintly see the light of a fire, some people must have camped in the main area. We thought of paying them a visit, but then discounted the idea and went to sleep. It was a very peaceful, warm night.

Day 7 - Upper Paradise Valley to Road's End and L.A.

Hurting knee or now, I never like the last morning of a trip. In a way, of course I want to get back, but I'm also sad the adventure will be over soon. While talking about this with Em, we both agreed we're still enjoying the moment very much and looked forward to the descent in Paradise Valley.

Looking down Paradise Valley into Kings Canyon. The Sphinx in on the left

Looking down Paradise Valley into Kings Canyon. The Sphinx in on the left

I don't know why they named this Paradise Valley, I think somebody just thought the cheesy name fits the place's beauty. There is something in that. It's really, really cool. We met some more deer, but no bears (yet), and made our way to Mist Falls. This is where the big crowds began to appear. We kept remarking how most people day-hiking to the falls smell so strongly of deodorant. We stopped for lunch below the falls and took it easy, Em even cooked some soup. From the steep descent, my knee was hurting pretty bad. I took two Tylenol and that did the trick. In 20 minutes we were blazing down the trail at almost our usual pace.

The timing was perfect. As soon as we got down into Kings Canyon, we saw two guys by the trail, looking intently into the bushes and hushing us down. In the little meadow, two bear cubs - one brown, one black - were milling about. Anxiously, we looked around for the mom, but there was no other bear to be seen, and upon further inspection, the cubs looked more like adolescents anyway.

Bear cub walking away

Bear cub walking away

Small pack, big pack

Small pack, big pack

One of the guys (he told us about the rattlesnake, too) explained that just minutes ago, the bears were wrestling with each other in a playful way. Sure enough, soon they started up again. The black one was much more aggressive, he kept pouncing on the brown one, but he held his ground, too, and they gave us a hell of a show. We ended up watching them for more than half an hour. Quite a few people walked by, there were times when more than a dozen of us were in the audience. The conditions for good photos were terrible, as you can see above, but Em managed to take a pretty nice video clip (it's at the bottom of the gallery).

Finally, the bears had enough, and they walked away. There were about six people in our bunch, and we started walking on the trail, too, only to find out that the bears were walking parallel with us, coming nearer and nearer. We all stopped and let them cross in front of us. Of course, everybody was very elated from the bear show, so the relatively boring and certainly very hot walk to Road's End was over in a what seemed like a minute. Before getting to the trailhead, I got the opportunity to take a picture of Em next to this girl who we also met earlier. They were doing the Rae Lakes Loop in 5 nights, and while most of them had big packs, hers was humongous. Plus, she wore blue jeans and New Balance tennis shoes. Oh, and no hiking poles. If that's her own hike, that's what it is. But she was suffering. She was really suffering. You could see on her that she can't wait to finally make it to the car and when she talked to us, she sounded a bit delirious from exhaustion.

At the trailhead we kept discussing the bears with fellow hikers and the rangers on duty, then made our way to the car and thankfully found it as we left it. Em was driving, and a mile after we left the parking area, a cop pulled us over (well, law enforcement ranger). Em has never, ever been stopped by a cop before, and she got lucky this time. The cop was really nice, warned us that she was driving a bit over the speed limit and one of our break lights is out, then let us go. We stopped at Moraine CG again, pulled up next to a restroom and took a quick "shower" in the sink before donning clean clothes. I also remembered that we might have an extra bulb for the break light in the car, and it turned out to be true, so in a few minutes we took care of that as well.

After stopping for a quick lunch at Cedar Grove (like before, it was fabulous), Em was so nice to drive all the way back to L.A., and in the evening, we were home again. Well... home... our place in L.A. certainly feel like home, sure, but in a way, so do the mountains.

The ranger kiosk at the Road's End trailhead

The ranger kiosk at the Road's End trailhead

Notes

My grandma always used to say that if you don't want to get fat, only eat as much as where you feel like you could have a little more. She's been thin all her life. Besides trying (and of course, often failing) to listen to her advice, I go by a similar strategy when planning hikes: always go on a trip where after it's done, you feel like you could do it all over again next day. With very few exceptions, we managed to do this almost every time. After this trip, however, I was not so sure. I think I could have done a few more days, especially at a slow pace and with the help of Tylenol, but it would not have been much fun. I have to be smarter and more careful next time, that's sure. Em had a blast, besides being concerned for me. Her knees held up well, the days were not that long, and she keeps talking about the next adventure, which I'm sure is only around the corner.


Take a look at the full gallery.