“Ikon-ic” Winter – Side Trips (California)

April 11-12, 2019 As we were unable to pay for our site at Yosemite National Park’s Wawona Campground  the night before, we waited for the park aide to open the entrance station.  Seeing as Ethan (our #VanLife friend) is a medically retired Veteran, he offered to apply his discount to the site we occupied. Soon enough we are on the road to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park.  This jointly run park (since 1940), is the second oldest National Park in the country (Yellowstone 1872, being the first). [Sequoia National Park having been created on September 25, 1890, and General Grant National Park (Kings Canyon) added a week later make it (Sequoia) #2 and #3 (Kings Canyon – maybe #4, as Yosemite may techinically have Kings Canyon/General Grant beat by a day or two) in the National Parks lineage.]  Out of Yosemite National Park, Wawona road melds into State Route (SR) 41, and skirts Freson as we turn “uphill” onto SR 180.  It takes us just under 3 hours to reach the entrance to Kings Canyon, “Land of the Giants”. img_20190411_113314412_hdr Kings Canyon National Park holds a special place in my heart, as it is where I got my first introduction to backpacking and camping in the “wild”. When I was 10 years old(or there abouts), and for Father’s Day, my dad and I went on a short backpacking trip to fish some streams in the area.  As I recall, less than an hour into the hike, I slipped and fell while crossing a stream (and looking for fish), which resulted in me becoming completely soaked…backpack and all.  My father reacted with an often heard phrase, “Now why’d you have to go and do that?”  As we enter, snow flanks the edges of road.  Signs posted along the road to the entrance remind us that chains may be required, and certainly 4WD is a plus.  We drive to Grant Grove Village where the Kings Canyon Visitor Center (open 9-4, daily) is located and inquire about trail conditions…if micro spikes or snowshoes would be more appropriate.  We are advised that snow shoes would be a “plus”, so we done our MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes and tromps our way over uneven and often pine needle encrusted snow to the General Grant Tree, also known as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree and a national shrine”.   The General Grant Tree is a giant sequoia.  Giant sequoias only grow “naturally” on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. img_20190411_133225639 Under increasingly clouding skies and icy cool air we clumsily make our way to experience one of the world’s natural treasures.  Once again, we have a normally crowded park to ourselves.  Due to the excessive and late falling amount of snow, all of the campgrounds are still closed.  Day use, and/or those staying in the John Muir Lodge in Grant Grove Village are the only visitors, which are remarkably few.   We are relative novices to the “art” of snowshoeing, and thus there is a slight learning curve.  One must pay particular attention to maintaining a wider gait to avoid stepping on one’s “feet”, which more than once resulted in a face plant into somewhat unforgiving snow.  Luckily there was no one nearby to witness our follies, or our frustration would have gotten the better of us. img_20190411_140320480_hdrWe made it to paved loop trail (that we could also have driven to) that contains the General Grant Tree and several other unique sites, and removed our snow shoes.  img_20190411_143021238img_20190411_140134815The General Grant Tree is fenced off so it is difficult to really show off this tree’s (and several others) massive girth and height.  The giant sequoias grow to upwards of 300 ft, with 40 foot diameter bases, 31 inch bark and branches that can be 8 ft in diameter.  These trees are resistant to fire and insects. In fact, their small egg sized cones generally only open and drop their seeds with fire.  img_20190411_142019498These magnificent trees mostly die of old age, generally having been blown over due to their shallow root system.  We meander along the trail, reading the interpretive signs and shaking our heads in wonder. img_20190411_142319107_burst000_cover_topWe make our way through the “fallen monarch”, and note newly fallen giant limbs having intersected violently with the wood rail fencing meant to keep visitors from wandering off the paved trail.  It makes us question the “wisdom” of walking back through the forest as the wind begins to pick up.  Literally throwing caution to the wind, we step back into our snowshoes and huff our way back to Grant Village and the warmth of our truck.  We are in luck, for the 32.5 miles, Generals Highway, that links King Canyon National Park with Sequoia National Park, has been plowed and is open. Had we arrived a day earlier, we would not have had the opportunity to drive this winding, narrow, steep, and scenic byway.  Vehicles greater than 22 ft are not recommended, and vehicles greater than 40 ft (12 m) are restricted from traveling on this road, even with a posted 10 mph speed limit.  We soon learned why. As it was built in 1935, most of today’s vehicle size (and speed) exceed the original design of this expertly engineered highway.  As of July of 2019, road construction has begun to widen narrow portions, fix/reinforce retaining walls and drainage issues.  Because of the still lingering depth of snow, we were not able to find a safe place in which to park our truck amidst the small and mostly filled to capacity lot, near the General Sherman Tree (274.9 ft), for the short snowy walk to gaze upon the “world’s largest living tree”.  We vow to return when conditions are better and the park shuttles are running, so as to avoid the stress of parking amongst “amateurs”. We continue on the Generals Highway and are not surprised to find that all other side trips within the park, like Morrow Rock, Crescent Meadow and Crystal Cave are all snow bound and thus inaccessible. What we are surprised to find is that as Generals Highway descends 7000 ft, out of the forest it weaves its way via butt-clenching, narrow, hairpin switchbacks that smoke our brakes to the point of significant worry.  (Note to self, on return trip, come up this way via SR 198 into Sequoia & Kings National Park and exit via SR 180.)

Note the silver ribbon of road that winds its way down the mountain

The views are stunning (for me).  Paul’s eyes are glued to the roadway, the at times head-on traffic and incessant tight and steep turns so as not to quicken our descent (or take a more “direct” route) down to the middle fork of the Kaweah River.  As no campgrounds were open in the upper portions of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, and road side camping is not allowed, our only hope to find a spot to camp is in the Foothills Campgrounds at either Buckeye Flat or Potwisha.  We pull into the Hospital Rock day use lot to let our brakes to cool off.  Across from there is the Buckeye Flats Campground whose entrance is a little too tricky for us to pull off with confidence in our truck.  Potwisha is our only hope. If not, the nearest Walmart here we come.  We pull into Potwisha and are able to grab the only site open…for one night only.  Hurray!   Exhausted we set up our camper surrounded by tall green grass and trees with brilliant fuscia colored flowers exploding from its branches.  The Middle Fork of the Kaweah River rages nearby.  No cell service exists here (for anyone), but an “ancient” and operable payphone provides connection to the “outside” world…if needed.  This reminds us that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to always activate and bring our 5 year old Delormne InReachSE (now Garmin) with us on our adventures, great and small.  Although the campground is full, we are treated to a quiet night’s sleep.  The following morning, after a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, we finish our descent of Generals Highway and exit Sequoia National Park onto SR 198 and head toward Visallia, the I-99 and eventually the I-5 freeway…home. Relieved that we have made it to a flat and wide roadway unscathed with brakes relatively intact, we come to a stop at our first traffic light only to find that once the light turns green, we are only able to accelerate at idle speed. The truck is running, we are in gear, but pressing the gas pedal generates no response.  We limp our way to the side of the road and pull off into an orchard.  A look under the hood and under the chasis does not reveal anything of note.  Luckily we have cell service, and our diesel mechanic at Rincon in San Clemente answers the phone.  Trouble shooting ensues as Paul and our mechanic tick off the possible problems.  At last it is discovered that the throttle cable head has become dislodged, actually worn to the point of failure.  Somehow the cable head needs to be re-attached in order for us to limp home, or even get to a mechanics shop.  After numerous failed  attempts at zipties, miraculously, Paul is able to rig a bungee cord to the throttle head/cable that allows us to limp all the way home.  As we traveled home, praying that the fix would hold, we can’t help but laugh about how all our adventures seem to begin and end with some form of mishap.
This entry was posted in Calilfornia, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, Mini Adventures, Mis-adventures, Side Trips, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Ikon-ic” Winter – Side Trips (California)

  1. Lucy Lulu says:

    Bungee cords and duct tape – indispensable! 😀

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