Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.
-- John Muir in Our National Parks, Chapter 3
This has been a crazy year in the Sierras. We've had record snowfall and now everything is melting and flooding like crazy. The rivers are swollen and the falls are roaring so we thought we had to get out and experience it.
We left late last Friday night, June 23rd, at around 7pm from San Francisco. We picked up Alex and Leslie down in Burlingame and aimed the car towards the Sierras. The drive over to Kings Canyon was fairly uneventful. Traffic was light and the weather was good, but very hot in the Central Valley. As we gained altitude, the temps dropped to be a more reasonable 60s-70s, but it was also close to 12:30am at this point. All the campgrounds in Kings Canyon were full so we pitched our tents next to the road in Sequoia National Forest and went to sleep dreaming about the next day.
It was slow going the next morning as Andrea and I were pretty tired, but Alex and Leslie were already up and ready to roll out. We still had a bit of driving to do, but what a drive it was. The 180 carves back and forth on the south side of the canyon with imposing granite monoliths on either side and the ferocious Kings River pummeling away at the rocks below. Wildflowers, in stark contrast with this savagery, were in full bloom, all decked out in their royal purples and pinks.
We kept going, engine roaring away as we climbed. The road then passed over to the north side of the canyon and it dropped nearly to the level of the river. This is where you could really feel its raw power. The Kings held nothing back. The river was completely white with fury. Trees held on for dear life as the ground beneath them was swept away, but it was only a matter of time. The Kings River will win.
The road, as if sensing that it should leave before it too was washed away, then curved away from the river. We passed through some beautiful evergreen forests and enjoyed the gentler incline. We were in the valley proper. We could see massive granite piles peaking out from between the trees and rising thousands of feet vertically from the valley floor. But then, abruptly, we ran out of asphalt. We had reached the road's end.
We had wanted to do part of the Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park, but after talking to the rangers we learned that the recent snowmelt had wrecked havok on that area. Bridges were washed away, trails were flooded, and they had years worth of work to repair everything. We decided that we should hike the Copper Creek trail since it was one of the least affected by the flooding.
We started up the trail around 10am. It was already in high 80s and sun was beating down on us. The trail starts off at a breakneck pace upwards climbing 1000+ feet a mile. The flora was very Mediterranean in nature and bone dry. It did not provide us with much cover from the sun, but thankfully the clouds rolled in and cooled us off with some light showers.
The heat, altitude (close to 8000 feet at this point), and lack of sleep got to us. We set up camp close to Lower Tent Meadow about 4 miles in and took a nap. Alex and Leslie kept going, determined to reach Grouse Lake at 10,000 feet. We ended up relaxing most of the afternoon and making dinner before they came back. They turned back once they hit the snow line at 9500 feet. A ranger stopped by our campground and she said that a group further along the trail saw a mother bear and with some cubs and had to scare them off when they got too inquisitive.
It was much cooler up here then down below so we slept much better. The next day, we decided to go back down to Road's End and do a short day hike up to Mist Falls since the rest of the Copper Creek trail past Upper Tent Meadow was not passable yet. The hike down went very quickly and was fairly uneventful. A highlight was seeing a deer very close to the trail and the magnificent views that we would sometimes get between the trails.
We dropped off some of our gear at the car and then headed out towards Mist Falls. It was about 4.7 miles from the trailhead, but the route was fairly flat. The challenge this time came in the form of flooding of the trail and loads of mosquitoes. The insects were unbearable in the wooded areas. They swarmed behind us and if we stopped, even for a couple seconds, we were quickly coated with them. We tried to keep up the pace the whole time. We also ran into quite a few snakes, including a juvenile rattler, likely ousted from their normal dwellings by the raging river.
Once we made it out of the boggy parts of the trail, the landscape changed dramatically. Granite flows started to dominate and the mosquitoes wilted away. The forest opened up and we were greeted with some of the most picturesque views that I have ever experienced in the Sierras. We stretched out on the warm granite flows and soaked in the warm California sun while Mist Falls roared away behind us.
We even saw a hummingbird investigating some flowers near us. Paradise Valley, indeed.
We had to brave the bogs and mosquitoes on the way back too, but we were mentally prepared for it this time. We slogged through it again and made it back to car with only couple more bites to our name.