JUL 12

For our first trip to a park outside of Texas, we picked Sequoia since it was (more or less) in my back yard. Dale and I first started planning the trip even before the Big Bend trip. We actually viewed the Big Bend trip as a warm-up... as a proving ground to flesh out exactly what we might need for a more extended trip. We knew we wanted to do the 25 mile Little Lakes / Big Lakes loop the covered about 10,000 vertical feet.  Ted warned us early on that if he didn't lose 30 pounds prior to the excursion, he wasn't going. To nobody's surprise, he didn't make the trip.  We also invited a few others to join us but nobody took the bait.

Dale flew in on a Friday and we took off for the park Saturday morning. We actually hit the road surprisingly just after 9. After a three hour drive, we arrived at the entrance to the park. Entrance road I should say, since from there you have to take a 30 mile / 90 minute drive up the mountain. I don't think I ever got my car out of second gear on the way up. Dale didn't care for the switch backs up since the passenger seat offered a lovely view down the side of the mountain. And it wasn't a short drop.

We arrived at the ranger station about 1pm. I noticed that all the cars either had their hood open or the bottom of their cars blocked by a tarp. Seems Sequoia has problems with marmots (ground squirrels) . We go into the ranger station to check in, pay our fees and get our permit. When telling the park ranger of our destination for the night, he cocks his eyebrow at us, looks back at the clock and then back to us. "Getting a late start, eh." "Yep." We have 5 hours to cover 7 miles and 3,000 vertical feet. If it doesn't pose a challenge, we're probably not enjoying it. We get a couple of bear canisters from the ranger and set out for the trail head.

After parking, I deliberated on whether I wanted to leave the hood open on the Supra. Four days with the hood of my baby just propped open?!? I succumbed to reason and went ahead with it. We suited up and started to head towards the trail. A ranger stops us before we get to the trail and asks where we're headed. After telling him, he cracks a grin and informs us that we're heading the wrong way. Doh! Good thing we ran into him.

After finding the correct trail, we start to make our way up. The beginning of the trail isn't so bad, but we find ourselves short of breath after a few minutes. We chalk it up to the altitude (8000 feet) and push on.  We continually look back to take in the view.  Despite the overcast sky, the ground had a palette of warm green hues back dropped with the Sierra Nevadas.  There were also patches of wild flowers huddled along every body of moving water, which were in no short supply.  The scenery easily outclassed every park we had been to... sorry Colorado Bend and Lost Maples.  It worked out well since it allowed me to "stop and take pictures" which was probably more of an excuse to take a break.

Along the way, we were making fairly decent time but it were trying to hump it as quickly as possible.  At one point, I was leading and we came up on a creek crossing where you have to hop across the rocks.  I made it across and then heard a large splash.  I look back and see Dale popping out of the water.  He lost his balance while crossing the creek and fell in.  He was completely submerged for about a half second.  I took the opportunity to snap a few pics before he made it out.  Poor Dale.  Other than a few scratches and a slightly wounded ego, he was alright.  Unfortunately his water filter bottle was nowhere to be found.  So much for leave no trace.

About 6pm, the sun starts to drop to the horizon and the clouds helped generate some amazing colors.  We would have enjoyed it more if we weren't still an hour's hike from the campsite.  As it got dark, we each broke out our LED headlamps so we don't fall off the mountain.  As we finally approach our campsite at Pinto Lake, we notice several sets of eyes looking our way.  Turns out we've walked up on a group of deer that aren't all that interested in moving.  I don't like the idea of a wild animal with horns standing behind me while I'm trying to set up a camp so I try to run them off by yelling at them a little.  They just stare blankly at me.  I clap a few times.  One slowly chews his mouthful of shrubs and continues to stare me down.  Clearly there is no hunting in this park.  I shrug and figure they don't really want to part company.  We set up our camp and quickly pass out after a hard day's hike.

The next morning after eating some breakfast, we packed up and headed out.  The second day was expected to be the toughest day and we wanted to stretch it out by slowing down our pace and taking more frequent stops (including some naps along the way).  We figured more breaks would keep us fresh throughout the rest of the trip.  With my bad back and Dale's bum knee, we needed to make sure we had enough in the tanks to make it out of the park.  The only downside for Dale was his sopping wet shoes since we didn't build a campfire the previous night.   

Day 2 turned out to be more of the same as Day 1.  Lots of switchbacks, sweat, wildflowers, aches and pains, cold mountain streams (which we regularly drank straight out of), stops to catch our breath, beautiful scenery, pictures, more rest stops, snow (snow in July?!?), waterfalls, and then finally the camp site.  The only new thing was Dale puking shortly after we made it over Blackrock Pass.  This time, the campsite was a couple of hundred feet from a beautiful lake.  The only downside was the mosquitoes also thought it was a nice spot.  We had bug spray but there were a few determined insects that evidently were hungry and we must have looked like a juicy steak to them.  Since we set up camp with an hour or so before sunset, we had time to start a fire, which helped drive the blood suckers away.  Shortly after we got the fire going though, a park ranger stopped by and informed us that fires weren't allowed.  Bah.  Not the news we wanted to hear.  We snuffed the fire and the mosquitoes returned.  That easily drove us into the tent and not long after we were out for the night.

The next day, we were greeted by blue skies which were not present the previous two days.  The main concern at this point was Dale was starting to feel sick and lacked an appetite. And without enough calories, it can make an eight mile hike even more grueling.  Luckily we were expecting the third day to be one of the easier trips.  From the map, we expected much of it to be downhill but that goes to show we're not very efficient at reading maps and there was a lot more uphill than we anticipated. 

The scenery for the hike was beautiful despite the fact the clouds returned.  The sun would still peek out and provide some warmth but there was also some light showers along the way.  Dale continued to struggle throughout the day and shortly after passing Sawtooth Pass Trail Junction, he made a mistake that nearly doomed him.  We encountered a creek crossing that was clearly not passable without getting wet.  I suggested we should remove our shoes and cross barefooted.  Dale said, "screw it" and crossed without taking my suggestion.  I didn't do the same and actually kicked off my shoes before crossing.  We still had a couple of miles to go to camp and the wet shoes was not helping the situation for Dale.  We finally arrived at the campsite near the base of Columbine Lake and set up tent.  By the time we had everything set up, Dale was shivering and complaining how cold it was.  Sadly, it wasn't really that cold.  I heated up some water for dinner and made Dale a cup of coffee that seemed to help quite a bit.  His appetite also magically appeared and he was able to put down some food.  After getting some nourishment, you could see an immediate impact on him.

The last day was a nice, steep hike up to Sawtooth Pass, passing by Columbine Lake, and then back down the other side.  On the way up to Columbine, we encountered the first set of hikers since day one.  We could see them making their way up the mountain and they looked relatively close but everything is deceiving when you're hiking up a mountain.  Halfways up, we also spotted another group behind us and concluded they were about 45 minutes behind.  By the time we made it up to Columbine Lake, all three groups converged.  The group behind us were three men that appeared to be between the ages of 40 and 60.  I think they may have been sherpas because they blew past us like we were children.  We took a break to take in the scenery of the lake but some mean looking storm clouds were rolling in and were were worried about making it to the top of Sawtooth Pass in a thunderstorm.  Luckily the clouds were more bark than bite and we didn't encounter any rain.  They did however ruin the view from the top of the pass.  Visibility was about 20 feet.  Coming down the other side was steep, sandy and poorly marked.  There were several instances where we couldn't figure out where the trail was so we had to make our own.  A few trails were straight and soft and allowed you to, more or less, slide down which was fun.  We finally made our way back to the trail head and were much relived to have the mountain at our backs.    

Type: Loop
Dogs: Nope
Campfires: Nope
Trailhead: Google
Trail Map: link

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