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Sequoia Backpacking; Gracious Living; Bears, Marmots and Mule Deer

Our second backpacking trip during daughter Liz’s visit was a 15 mile trip from Wolverton Trailhead (6,700 ft) to Emerald and Pear Lakes in the Sierra Nevada (9,500 ft) and then back to Lodgepole Campground. Suzanne accompanied us on the first part of the trip, but had to return to our coach to take care of Rudy and Gretchen.

There are two routes to these pristine mountain lakes; the easier route, Watchtower, was closed due to hazardous ice and snow on the 3 foot wide rock slab with a 2,000 ft. drop to the Marble Fork Kaweah River below.

I had taken this route on a previous visit in September 2012, but there was no snow/ice then; even so, it was a gut-wrenching passage, because I am not fond of sheer cliffs with that kind of exposure. You can just make out the trail on the gray cliff in the background on the right side of the photo. That is the Watchtower itself on the left. The route we did take is called The Hump (up and over the green forested area in the upper right of the photo). 

The route is well-named, because it is shaped like a camel’s hump, steep with lots of switchbacks. Like the Yosemite trip, this one was rated “Strenuous”. Liz was gracious not to comment on her Old Man’s slow but steady progress. She is a very strong hiker, and could have finished the hike in half the time it took me. 

There were several stream crossings, but since there hasn’t been much rain lately, they were easy. Heavy rain from thunderstorms can bring a big rise in water levels, though. 

When you break out of the woods at the top of The Hump, this view rewards you for your long uphill slog. The sharp peak is Mt. Silliman, 11,188 ft. Because of the south-facing exposure you are seeing, there is no snow, but on the north-facing slopes there is probably quite a bit, even in early June.

We’re getting up to treeline here at 9,500 feet, although there are still some scattered pines to be seen. The granite terrain can be crossed off-trail, but there are still many boulder fields, steep slopes and rockfalls that make cross-country travel for small parties somewhat dicey.

This hateful place is where we chose to camp… Emerald Lake is green in sunny weather, but clouds were rolling in, giving it a wintery slate hue. It looked and felt like rain, and the temperature was dropping. Could we get snow? We ate a quick dinner and dove into our tents minutes before the rain began… and turned to sleet.

It was a chilly night, and Liz’s tent developed a minor leak during the heaviest rain, with a drop every few minutes landing on her forehead. Fortunately, the heavy rain soon turned to light mist, but it did make things in our tents pretty damp. By morning, skies had cleared and temps had risen to the mid-30s, and most of the snow had melted. Sunrise on Alta Peak above our campsite was spectacular. 

We day-hiked up to Pear Lake, which looked lovely in the morning sunshine. It was relatively crowded; there were three people camped there (there are 10 campsites); in contrast, at Emerald, we had the best site of 10, with no neighbors at all. It’s still pretty early in the season; in July and August, those campsites will all likely be filled, even during the week.

To save weight, we only carried 1.5 liters of water each up the mountain, just enough for the hike. Our water supply looked pristine, but we filtered it anyway to prevent any problems with the Giardia parasite. The effects can be nasty, similar to those of Montezuma’s revenge, but longer lasting. (Yuck!)  

On the subject of Yuck, people have asked about rest room facilities. In the wilderness, you carry a plastic trowel to bury waste (100 feet from trails and water sources, and at least six inches deep in dirt) and a zip-lock bag to carry out the used TP. But here at Emerald and Pear Lakes, because there is no dirt (it’s all rock except around the campsites themselves), the National Park Service has provided composting toilets; ah, gracious living!

Back at the campground, Suzanne was meditating among the Giant Sequoias just after sunrise (before other hikers arrived). Readings were out of the question because there was no cell phone service of Wi-Fi available. We were truly off the grid for four days. 

My Lovely Bride was also guarding the fort and keeping the home fires burning… and catching up on some reading. Coincidentally, she was reading Angels in the Wilderness, by Amy Racina, a story of a woman backpacker who fell 60 feet onto a rock ledge while hiking in King’s Canyon National Park, about 30 miles north of where Liz and I were camped. 

Fortunately, we finished our backpacking trip safely, although we did have to hike very quickly through a bad thunderstorm for about 4 miles right at the end of our trip. Suzanne was caught out in the same storm, and even had a run-in with Mama Bear and two Baby Bears! (She had bear repellant in her hand, but Mama Bear turned away at 30 feet distance to tear apart a log looking for termites.) 

The tiny baby bears looked to be only a few weeks old, still very playful and gangly, and assured that Mama will provide their food when they are hungry… 

Suzanne’s wildlife encounter was much more exciting than ours – we were ambushed by an entire family of marmots up at Emerald Lake. They came in on two sides and tried to steal our food, and even chewed up the leather straps on my brand new Crocs camp sandals when we walked off to get water. One licked the salt off my trekking poles. They are little furry rascals!


Liz also got this photo of a curious female mule deer that didn’t seem too concerned about us two hikers, She was munching quietly on grass in a mountain meadow just prior to this photo.

Our time in Sequoia National Park was fun-filled and exciting, and I hated to leave. I am already looking forward to returning here, perhaps this Fall… But for now, we are heading the coach east. Next stop: Las Vegas!

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