Trip Number: 12132A
Staff: Larry Watkins
- Hike cross-country at timberline elevations
- Explore remote Sierra Nevada Canyons
- Swim in high-elevation creeks and lakes
- Experienced volunteer leadership
- All food and cooking gear
- A sense of adventure
"Every morning, arising from the death of sleep, the plants and all
our fellow animal creatures great and small, and even the rocks, seemed to be
shouting 'Awake, awake, rejoice, rejoice, come love us and join in our song.
Come! Come!'" -- John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra
Join us for a mostly off-trail adventure providing a fine sampling of Sequoia-Kings
Canyon high country. We'll climb quickly the first day, eventually achieving
our goal of the Silliman Crest and the canyons that lay beyond. We'll search
the high ridges for the "obvious notch" that often leads to the next
Photo: Lawrence Watkins
Sometimes there's no notch, but there's almost always a satisfying challenge
in seeking it out. And that's the guiding theme for this trip, as we follow
a cross-country route around the northern periphery of the Tableland, a high
plateau above timberline in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
The route as planned is moderate-strenuous overall, though several days are
quite strenuous in their own right. This is a trip for fairly experienced backpackers
who are comfortable exerting themselves at and above timberline, who seek out
places beyond the trails, and who will bring a good level of stamina and flexibility
to the outing. We have the option of a layover day, although since most hiking
days are relatively short, we may pass up the layover in favor of further exploration.
The average daily distance is under four miles.
Our motivation for pursuing this route is very simple: on different occasions
we've touched or looked into the heads of the several canyons that descend north
from the Tableland, and wanted more time to explore them. Each drainage has
lakes at its head, and there are "obvious notches" connecting the
different canyons. It will be a fun and enjoyable outing.
Group size is limited to ten participants, plus two staff. This is slightly lower than the 15 total on many other trips, and allows us to travel slightly lighter on the backcountry.
The formal start of the trip is Saturday morning, August 4, at Lodgepole in
Sequoia National Park. Lodgepole is on the western side of the Sierra Nevada,
about 60 miles east of Fresno, and approximately 260 miles from San Francisco
or Los Angeles. A campsite will be reserved for Friday night for any who wish
to arrive early and begin adjusting to the altitude. The first group meal is
lunch on the trail on Saturday, August 4, and the final trip meal is lunch on
Saturday, August 11.
After introductions and distribution of group gear, we'll coordinate a brief
car shuttle, and then start hiking out of Lodgepole (6,700 feet). After two
miles on trail, we turn up Silliman Creek on a sketchy path, which becomes a
cross-country route. Our goal is a campsite above Silliman Meadow, at 8,900
feet. We'll remain off trail until the very last day of the trip.
The second day we'll continue our ascent up Silliman Creek. We'll reach Silliman
Lake, and eventually cross over the Silliman Crest (11,100 feet). This is a
classic Knapsack Col -- a steep ascent, followed by a steep descent through
a loose chute, then onto talus and slabs. Our goal is a campsite at Crescent
Lake (9,700 feet).
Photo: Lawrence Watkins
Our third day is short, but tough, and involves much talus. We'll work our way up onto the Kings-Kaweah Divide, briefly crossing over to the head of Horse Creek (10,800 feet) before dropping down to an unnamed lake at the head of Box Canyon (9,900 feet), another in our promised series of pearls.
The fourth day is another short cross-country move, crossing a ridge at 10,900 feet, to the edge of beautiful meadows at the head of Ferguson Canyon (9,600 feet). This is spectacular country, and you'll want to walk the length of the meadows, and return in time for Happy Hour before dinner.
The fifth day we move from Ferguson Canyon to Big Bird Lake. There's a tricky
col with an obvious notch (10,600 feet), and an interesting descent to camp
(9,800 feet). We'll have ample time for swimming and fishing in the afternoon.
We can take a full layover day at Big Bird, or we can continue the theme of
short moves and head up to the Tableland on the sixth day, to any one of dozens
of small lakes there. The final decision on this will be made after we arrive
at Big Bird Lake.
Whether from Big Bird, or from a lake up high in the Tableland, our next-to-last
day will see us to Pear Lake (9,600 feet), one of the most superlatively beautiful
lakes in the Sierra. It has dark sculpted cliffs that plunge to the water, and
Alta Peak, which sits high above. And the path to Pear Lake, through the drainage
below the Tableland, is exquisite -- we'll want to linger and enjoy the scenery.
The final day is all on trail, six miles to our cars at Wolverton (7,300 feet).
It will be the first time on trail since the start of the trip, eight days earlier.
We'll pass Emerald, Aster, and Heather lakes on our way, and take in the dramatic
view from the lookout above Tokopah Falls. Once back to the cars, we'll gather
back up at Lodgepole for showers, beer, and snacks.
Lodgepole campground is in Sequoia National Park on the west side of the Sierra
Nevada about 60 miles east of Fresno and about 260 miles from San Francisco
and Los Angeles. Trip members from outside California should consider flying
into one of these three cities and renting a car. We will send a trip roster
to all participants to help in arranging rides or carpools. A departure bulletin
will be sent out in July with meeting place and time and detailed driving instructions.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Lawrence Watkins
Meals on this trip are vegetarian-friendly, but meat may also be served at
times. Please be very specific in your application about any dietary preferences
or restrictions. As on all other Sierra Club knapsack trips, meal preparation
is a group effort -- you'll be expected to help in the kitchen one or two days
on the trip. Our meals have been field-tested for simplicity as well as good
taste -- you'll be surprised at the variety and wholesomeness of the food. And
as to quantity, our goal is that you're well-fed at each meal, without any waste
to carry out. All cooking gear and stoves are provided.
Group water treatment will be a combination of MicroPur tablets, boiling, and portable water filter.
This trip based on Sierra Club guidelines is rated 3 (moderate). However,
full packs, acclimation, and altitude gain will make the first couple of days
strenuous in their own right. It will be tough work at times, especially the
first two days, with 2,100 feet of off-trail ascent each day. The first seven
days all involve cross-country hiking at high altitude and on loose or angled
surfaces, and participants should have previous experience with similar terrain.
Each participant will be given a portion of the group's food and gear to carry
each day. The weight will start around 15 pounds, and should decrease each day.
It will be very important for participants to be in good shape, and to have
previous experience hiking cross-country in similar terrain. The leader will
carefully screen participants to ensure that those who sign up are in proper
shape for this outing.
Equipment and Clothing
The most important "thing" to bring on a trip of this nature is
a flexible attitude -- sometimes conditions beyond our control intervene, and
we need to adapt. Responding to these conditions, meeting the backcountry on
its terms, is part of the thrill of being in the mountains.
The second-most important items are a pair of broken-in boots. The need for proper and well-fitting boots cannot be over-emphasized, as we'll be crossing rocky passes and negotiating angled slabs, and counting on our boots in extraordinary ways. Also please be ready to carry a large plastic food canister, which protects the bears and other animals from our food. Early in the trip, your share of commissary will probably exceed a single canister, and will weigh between 16 and 17 pounds on the first day.
Please look at the article on knapsacking equipment here for a general overview of the appropriate clothing and gear for this outing. It will help you prepare for the type of hiking here, and the possible weather conditions you'll experience. Additional materials will be sent to all trip participants in the several months prior to the trip.
Photo: Lawrence Watkins
The heart of this route is nicely covered on the Tom Harrison map, "Mt.
Whitney High Country," and also on the following 7.5-minute USGS topographic
quadrangles: Triple Divide Peak, Sphinx Lakes, Lodgepole, and Mt. Silliman.
Maps are not required, but can add immensely to the pleasure you'll experience
in the field -- your leaders will be glad to help you chart our daily route
on your maps.
We'll talk at times about the Sierra Club's origins, its early fights to preserve the areas of the Sierra Nevada we hike through, and the continuing efforts, by the Club and other organizations, to protect and preserve the lower-elevation front country. We welcome you to tell us about environmental issues that motivate you.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Larry Watkins lives, works, and plays in Raleigh, North Carolina. An avid backpacker and cyclist, he has been hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada, Cascade, and Appalachian Mountains for over 20 years. A participant and staffer in both local and national Sierra Club outings, he enjoys sharing his passion for the wilderness with others of all ages. "Nothing finer than a summer adventure in the Sierras!"
Andy Johnson started hiking in the Sierra in 1974 as a teenager, and has been leading backpack trips with the Sierra Club since 1981. He is a former chairman of the Knapsack Subcommittee, which organizes backpack trips in California and Nevada. He is proud to be carrying on one of the Sierra Club's essential and intrinsic volunteer traditions, and especially enjoys sharing high remote places with other people.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips