Tuesday October 5th - Saturday October 9th, 2010. Starting Roads End and up up and away over Grouse Lake Pass and Goat Crest Pass to State Lake for some fishing before looping back over Granite Pass and back down to Roads End.
Watch the video on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/16132921
I had a few days to kill, so I decided to try some new gear, some high country fishing, and my favorite: off trail travel. The forecast was sucking pretty bad when I checked on Monday, with up to 10 inches of snow predicted for the high passes (where I was headed) and general winter onset and misery slowly clearing during Wednesday and Thursday. Not quite what I was hoping for, but definitely better for taking soulful photographs.
I had never been into the main Kings Canyon itself, and as I drove in on Highway 180 I never saw it at all; because it was nighttime and nights are very dark without a moon. Since it wasn't raining (and indeed stars were out) I headed off up the trail to Lower Tent Meadow, getting there about 1am. A short nap and it was off again around 8am for my off trail day on the High Route. There's only one word to describe off trail travel in the high Sierra alpine environment: incredible. Well, actually you could use "amazing", "awesome", and all those other adjectives too. But anyway, the thrill of wandering above the tree line with no path, just you and the mountains, is something that has not diminished since I symbolically hung my ice tools up in the living room years ago. It's pretty easy travel on that first section of off trail hiking on the Sierra High Route - not difficult in the navigation department either. It clouded in for me and began to snow as I neared Goat Crest Pass, but that just made it more fun. I got pretty tired descending and camped early in the beautiful (and beautifully cold) valley with a meadow before the State Lake Trail.
Dawning cool and crisp I headed to State Lake and fished and ate Golden Trout and circumnavigated the lake for searching for some views of the Goddard Creek and the Enchanted Gorge region; though I couldn't quite discern their guardian mountains with the cloud cover rolling in and out. A friend and I had an aborted trip that would have been in that area back before Memorial Day had the snow crust not given out over a hidden fallen log and twisted his knee badly on the first day out from Bishop.
The next day I headed on the trail over Granite Pass and into Granite Basin. Naturally enough, Granite Basin is made of granite, and is acoustically superb. So I was walking along the trail after the Granite Lake junction, and heard what sounded like a dog out toward the lake less than a mile away. I was thinking who in the world is up here on a stroll with dog on a Friday afternoon in October? That's when the dog started to sound like strangled dog for a bit before going back to happy dog yelps and thereafter alternating between happy and being strangled. It took me a couple of minutes of listening to this before I realized: Mr Wile E. Coyote is back there headed my way. I hustled off down the trail and set up a stealth camp and enjoyed the afternoon without disturbance. About 3am I was awakened by the same strangled yelping from well down the basin and I knew all was well.
I set off early Saturday morning hoping to catch sunrise at The Lip (I pretty much did) though I lost the trail at one point in the half light of dawn and the smooth granite. I was back at the car around 10am for the long drive home to San Diego.
Gorgeous country, wonderful weather, and no souls seen until Lower Tent Meadow where two guys had camped. Signs of Winter were everywhere and made everything better, except now I need a warmer sleeping bag for these sorts of trips. Oh, and the drive out of Kings Canyon was incredible. Kings Canyon really is the Canyon of the Kings, for sure. I will be doing much more of the High Route in the near future having been hooked on my first taste.