Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sequoia: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

The lovely Carol worked at Sequoia National Park long before I met her, and we visited the park together for the 8th (or so) time this past week -- on this occasion, with Yunita and her friend Daniel. We camped Sunday and Monday nights at Lodgepole (you can see a map on this page, which also has an alphabetical list of campgrounds), where the sign at the gate proclaimed "Full" in spite of many empty sites (a lot of no-shows, we guessed). You can walk from your campsite to the "village" (which has showers, store, pizza, ice cream -- and the visitor center) -- I figure about a ½-mile.

You can also walk to Tokopah Falls, 1.7 miles from the trailhead (which is in the campground). We did this on Monday morning. There are gorgeous views along the trail, which is not very difficult. Starting elevation was about 6700', which made this a great way to get acclimated to the altitude. Dinner on Sunday was homemade chili (which I prepared Saturday afternoon), cole slaw (which the lovely Carol mostly prepared on-site), rice (provided by Yunita and Daniel). For breakfast we had cold cereal and hot drinks. Monday night's dinner was provided by Yunita and Daniel; they even brought the charcoal! It was delicious, too.

Tuesday morning we headed up the Lakes Trail -- our destination: Emerald Lake, via the Watchtower. If you've never seen the Watchtower, I gotta tell you it's worth the hike, especially if you're just hauling a day pack, rather than 40 pounds of gear. Start at the Wolverton trailhead (it's a cross-country ski area in winter) and follow the signs toward Pear Lake (1st junction) and the watchtower (2nd junction). The trailhead is apparently at 7250' and you gain over 1000' getting to the Watchtower. This is one of the spots on the map where a bunch of contour lines squish together -- I mean there is a steep dropoff. We saw Tokopah Falls, and the trail of Monday's hike, basically from above.

I always snap a few pictures at the Watchtower, but they can't do it justice -- not that my photo of Emerald Lake does it justice (yes, those white patches are snow).

The Bad

As we approached the lakes from the Watchtower, the mosquitoes got worse. At Emerald Lake, they were really thick and hungry. I mean, the "Off!™" 7% DEET spray distracted them for less than a minute before they started biting again. It was truly horrible. Come to think of it, there were quite a few on Monday's hike, too (Daniel got a whole mess o' welts from mosquito bites) -- but the insect repellant worked on them. We went into our tent and zipped the door closed after a while. The good news, though, was that the 25% DEET stuff does work on these things -- at least it did at 6:30 the next morning.

Some folks in a nearby campsite begged some repellant off us. Actually they donated a can of beer in exchange for a few sprays. I warned 'em it didn't really work, but they gave us the beer anyway. "Our strategy is to kill them all," one of the guys said.

"Good luck on that one," I told him. Actually you could just clap your hands and kill one or two -- they were that thick. But of course there are thousands more where those came from.

A ranger came by while we were hiding in our tent. She looked at our wilderness permit; we talked with her through the screen "door." Even as we chatted, I saw several mosquitoes land on her and take a bite. Apparently these bugs bite all day long.

The Fire

The fire, which we contained and extinguished, was started by a Svea gasoline-fired backpacking stove. These things work by pressurizing the fuel with heat; that is, you heat the tank and fuel expands/pressurizes. The resulting pressure forces liquid fuel through a small neck, vaporizing it for combustion under your saucepan.

There is a problem, though, if you don't fully tighten the filler cap. When you ignite the fuel in the little well atop the stove, the resulting heat may force gasoline vapor out the cap, turning the stove into a sort of blowtorch. When this happened to us, I was loath to pour water on the fire (I was visualizing oil fires, and creating a river of flame) but eventually decided to sprinkle water -- which lowered the flames; we flooded it and that extinguished the fire.

Unfortunately, when the stove became a blowtorch, the whole thing was in flames, including the (soldered?) seams at its bottom. So another attempt to light the stove (with the filler cap definitely closed) resulted in another mess of flames, caused by gasoline seeping out the bottom of our now-ruined stove. Dinner was cold soup, crackers, salmon and salami slices. And beer.

Our previous backpacking trip was about 23 years ago; between the mosquitoes and the fire, I'm not sure when I'll be ready for the next one.

The Return

I was quite excited to get out of there. I was awake by 6AM, and the mosquitoes were already out in force, just as the ranger had warned us. We had cold cereal -- no stove, so no coffee. It was about an hour from the campsite to Heather Lake. We descended via The Hump rather than the Watchtower, taking about 90 minutes to return to the lower junction, and not quite 90 minutes to the trailhead. 5.2 miles in a shade under 4 hours -- not very impressive. On the other hand, we stopped to talk with folks a few times along the way.

We drove over to the Lodgepole visitor center to return the bear-barrel (which we didn't need at all, really; there are bear boxes at Emerald Lake). We then headed down the hill into Three Rivers, which the car thermometer advised us was some 104°F. That night was spent in the Sierra Lodge, which has a pool (yay!) and interior designs from the '50s or so. Dinner was at the River View (on recommendation of the hotel staff), a funky place with great food.

No comments: