Return to Sequoia

28 Sept - 1 Oct 2023

random trip report

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My friend A. wants to see Sequoia National Park, and I want to hike to Pear Lake, which I did a couple of times as a teenager.

Thu 28 Sept

I borrow Erica's car, promising to leave the headlights on Auto. We drive to the Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia, c. 5 hours, stopping in Modesto for tamales.

The 'lodge' is modern and expensive, but it lacks the charm and amenities of older national park lodges. It's basically a fancy wood-paneled motel.

It has a restaurant but it's so inefficient that the wait is 45+ minutes all the time. The tourists mill around the lobby, waiting for their radio beepers to go off. There are no other dining options for miles around. We dine on leftover tamales and Denogginizer in the room.

To make matters (much) worse, the WiFi works poorly in the lobby and not at all in the rooms. If you wait long enough you can see your email titles, but not the pictures, or any web sites, and replying may or may not work. And there's no cell phone service. It's like data strangulation. I didn't think to bring a book.

In the room, I read The River Doubt.

Fri 29 Sept

We drive to Lodgepole, where there's a 'Market Center' that is essentially a convenience store. We buy bad premade sandwiches. Fortunately they have Fig Newtons.

We take the Hump Trail toward Pear Lake. It gains some elevation, from 7000 to 9000 something.

A. has some fitness issues.

I go ahead and wait at the top of the hump.

I chat with a couple from Spokane who are on a west coast national park tour, sprinkling the guy's dad's ashes. He recommends Diablo Lake in the northern Cascades.

Clouds roll in, moving quickly through the valley below and across the high peaks. It's very beautiful and dramatic.

A. catches up; we decide that I'll go on ahead and she'll turn around at Heather Lake, which is ahead a bit.

I pass Heather Lake, which is on the right shoulder of the valley.

It's actually slightly higher than Pear Lake, which is at the top of the valley. The trail goes up a bit, then down to the lake. It passes a snow slope; there's more snow higher up.

A big jagged ridge looms over the lake on 3 sides; I think the high point is Alta Peak, which I climbed with Rob a while back.

The Spokane guy asked if I have any deja vu from 50 years ago. Not really. Maybe a bit when I reach the lake, although last time it was half covered with ice (Steve took a very brief dip).

There are 6 or so backpacker tents by the lake. I sit up on some flat rocks, near a group of 4 excessively talkative hikers (REI type), and a young woman reading a large book. I eat my sandwich and enjoy the view.

Then I hustle back to the rendezvous point; A. gets there first. The hike back is pleasant but long. In the parking lot, I run into the Spokane couple again and we talk for a while; the guy seems to like me.

We're back at the lodge around 5:30; the resturant rush hasn't started yet so we eat there. We order the burger, medium rare, which is moot since they're pre-cooked, well done, with a dessicated bun. $19 with potato chips. Not impressed.

With no Internet, we're forced to watch cable TV, which is 30 channels of garbage. We settle for a women's volleyball match.

I read The Wake of Benjamin Blue.

Sat 30 Sept

Around 2 AM there's thunder and torrential rain. In the morning it's cool (low 40s) and drizzling. We get the breakfast buffet ($21) and accidentally leave without paying (no, really!). The buffet is well-intentioned but poor.

We don rain gear and head out on a trail behind the lodge, which goes through a fire-damaged pine forest, then through some manzanita. The rain picks up an A. turns around. I continue for another mile or so.

The rain comes and goes. There's a brief, inexplicable moment of cell signal; I get some texts but am unable to reply. I do some Deep Thinking about my various life goals. I return to the room.

The rain continues; further hiking seems impracticable. We drive to Lodgepole, tour the (unimpressive) Visitor Center, and eat more premade sandwiches. I make one of those flattened pennies in a machine.

We drive to the parking lot for the General Sherman tree, which is part of a big grove of about 2000 sequoias. There's a web of paths, mostly paved. Poor drainage - water everywhere. Lots of tourists.

The trees themselves, of course, are mind-boggling and beautiful. They seem to have an aura of wisdom, dignity, and persistence. Most of them have fire damage around the base - in some cases burned all the way through - but they grow on in spite of it. Even the fallen trees - which can last for centuries - are impressive.

We drive down the road to the Giant Forest Museum, a quant old building that is far less impressive than the trees it describes. There are some efforts to make size comparisons for kids: a tree weighs as much as 10 blue whales, it could hold 37 million ping-pong balls, etc. I don't see the point - you can step outside and see how big the damn trees are.

There's some material on how extremely few sequoia seeds become mature trees, and a sort of Wheel of Fortune showing all the things that could go wrong (half of which are 'land in a bad spot'). German tourists spin it repeatedly.

We return to the lodge. We heat up some Campbell's soup and chili products from the gift shop. A. stands in line for a half hour at the clusterfuck restaurant/bar, to get a beer. We try to eat at the bar but no outside food is allowed. Whatever. We eat at a table in the lobby.

A. points out the absurdly bad Wifi situation to the front desk. They blame it on the weather, and in particular hail clouds - huh?? Note to the Wuksachi Lodge: fast Internet technology exists. There are satellites. If you're charging $300/night for a room, you need to solve this problem. Otherwise people are never going to come back.

There's been a lot of concern about what happens if the federal government shuts down - do we have to leave the park immediately? Are we stuck here? Can we get food? But some of the less insane Republicans act responsibly, for a moment, and the crisis is averted.

Sun 1 Oct

We have a crappy breakfast at Chez Clusterfuck. I tell A. that we gotta get out of this place if it's the last thing we ever do. She confers with the front desk, and negotiates canceling the last night if we're out by 11. My mood improves considerably.

We drive N to King's Canyon. We stop at an overlook and scramble down a hillside.

We tour the grove that has the General Grant tree. We go a bit off-trail and I scramble up some rocks to the top of a hill.

We go to the Grant Grove visitor center. There's lots of stuff about how humans have 'chosen conservation' and how the park is a great 'gift to ourselves'. Something about this language revolts me. Nature will breathe a big sigh of relief when the last human dies.

We check out the John Muir Lodge, which is significantly better than the Wuksachi (though not on a par with other park lodges). We have yet another premade sandwich (egg salad). The drive home is pleasant, and we manage to find relatively cheap gas ($5.25) at an Arco.

Summary: the experience was a bit surreal. Sequoia seems deserted until you get to a tourist attraction and then there are crowds. The food and lodging all seem slightly barren and understaffed, as if they're making do in spite of huge budget cuts.

But the Pear Lake hike was great, and hiking in the rain was great. And what I like (by far) the most is going off trail, and padding along the forest floor, the bark of fallen ancient trees crunching lightly a layer of pine needles and moss.

Copyright 2024 © David P. Anderson