Voyage into the High Sierra – “Camping at 7,000ft is awesome!”
Saturday, June 10th, 2017
The Sequoia National Forest is a place that I had visited very briefly one day in 2007 and have been wanting to return ever since then. I got my opportunity to fulfill that wish when a good friend of mine invited me on a last minute venture to go camping with him in the Western part of the High Sierra. The drive would rival some of my recent Eastern Sierra travels in terms of distance and time. My buddy Richard had reserved a place at the Lodgepole Campground in the Sequoia National Forest which from what I understand, tend to go fast many months in advance. Reservations are definitely wise to get at least six months before making your excursion.
Lodgepole Campground – Upper LoopGPS Coordinates: 36.6057098° N,118.7240982° W
Our campground would be located at “Site183” on the Upper Loop and it was the perfect spot in my honest opinion as our closest neighbor was separated by a small hill and the neighbors who were in clear view were at a good distance away. I had driven out from the Mojave Desert the night before and I have to say that going from 100 ºF (38 ºC) weather to 50 ºF (10 ºC) was a hell of a treat for me. I am not a fan of the heat, so this was going to be a great time out for camping. Rich and I were staying two nights and I had just gotten up from a good night’s rest after arriving the here late the day before.
Rich had crashed out in his tent and I slept in the Megacab section of the Starship (a.k.a. My Diesel). I had done this once before in the Coyote Canyon Venture 2016, but keeping the windows cracked was an issue because I spent the whole night swatting all manner of flying insects off my face. To remedy this problem, I came up with a quick and affordable solution. A few days prior to this venture, I bought some window screening and a whole lot of cheap magnets. I then took some scissors to the screening and stuck it to the windows on the Megacab. Suffice it to say that I never slept better, no bugs, fresh air, and no overheating in the cab while I slept.
“The perfect insect repellent at last!”
The morning was a lazy yet relaxing one and with no intention of speeding through the days activities, I decided that a good, hearty breakfast was in order. Using my nifty Coleman stove (Thanks mom! <3), I whipped up some turkey bacon, hashbrowns, and scrambled eggs. I offered my buddy Rich a plate, but he had already filled up a bit earlier on some of the food we had stored overnight in our site’s very own bear locker. We kept our site free of food, trash and anything scented unlike our neighbors who had left their used and dirty cookware on their table overnight, totally irresponsible.
“I had one big breakfast to get my day started.”
After I finished breakfast, I washed all my stuff and packed the food and cookware away. I got freshened up and put on my boots for the hike of the day. Rich had brought his camera gear including his new Fujifilm GF670 Rangefinder folding camera. He also had an assortment of film that he wanted to try out which I was curious about as well. I collected all of my camera gear and loaded up on snacks and water. The trailhead for today’s hike was literally a five minute walk from our camp site, hence the reason we were not in such a big rush.
“Richard preps his gear and loads the first round of 120 film into his camera.”
Tokopah Valley TrailheadGPS Coordinates: 36.6068658° N,118.7238959° W
The hike is a casual 1.7 miles (2.7 km) to the falls with a minimal elevation increase of just 630 ft (192 m). If you are not accustomed to high elevations, or you’re a bit out of shape, or even hauling a heavy backpack, then it may feel a bit more intense than it sounds. Fortunately for Rich and I, we slept at this altitude so our bodies were a bit more acclimated to the elevation. We were both a bit out of shape, but apparently my bag weighed like I was hauling lead bricks…lol. It wasn’t too big a deal though because we were both making multiple stops along the path to get all the shots we could.
“And so it begins…”
“The trail starts off pretty mellow and gets a bit more challenging later on.”
The day was a balmy 48 ºF (9 ºC) and vast swaths of low lying clouds were concealing the higher regions of the forest. I have to admit that it was a nice change from the intense triple digit heat of the Mojave Desert. It was the perfect weather for a hike like this since we definitely wouldn’t be overheating that day. The runoff coming from all the snow melt at the higher elevations was flooding some areas of the trail, turning it into a muddy obstacle course, but It was nothing that a good pair of hiking boots couldn’t handle.
“Like a creepy movie, the higher forest setting would go from mostly visible to invisible no time at all.”
“Portions of the trail were a muddy mess due to increasing snow melt from high up the mountain.”
“Other areas had small ponds forming…”
The power and the sound of the water rushing through the forest was impressive to say the least. According to Richard, there is supposed to be only one river here and it did not flow with this level of ferocity when he last visited this area. It was definitely a rare experience we were fortunate enough to witness with our own senses.
“The Marble Fork Kaweah River splits in two through the forest like never before.”
“There was certainly no shortage of cascades along this hike.”
“A brief video of the Marble Fork Kaweah River Cascades shot with the 5D MKII and my 24-70mm.”
“The trail had a couple of nice foot bridges like this one.”
“There was water flowing from every direction along the trail.”
“Keep an eye out for elusive wildlife!”
After making several photo stops at the river side, we continued our trek to the falls. At one point we encountered a couple of hikers who alerted us about a black bear that was further up the trail. We wanted to see it for ourselves so we asked random hikers coming from further up the trail if they had seen a black bear and they all said yes. Each gave us more info about where to look for the bear. Eventually we spotted a few hikers that were stopped along the trail and looking at a grassy meadow. The black bear that everyone had spoken about was lurking in the tall grass at a distance so we waited to see if it would show itself.
“Our patience paid off, it was a juvenile black bear with an ear tag and a radio collar.”
“The little black bear was too far to photograph effectively, so we kept hiking to our destination.”
“I caught this chubby little Marmot tearing at a log for a hidden treat.”
“As the tree line began to open up, we were greeted by a distant view of Tokopah Falls.”
“Rock and Roll!”
The trail was mostly dirt and mud where ever the water was flowing, but at just over a mile into our hike, the path became an uneven floor full of rocky, granite outcrops. It’s a good idea not to get distracted when passing through this area, one bad step and you can bust an ankle or take a nasty spill. Rich and I were treading carefully, but still managed to take in the sites as we made progress.
“This natural granite hallway was a pretty cool part of the trail.”
“Rich stands under a massive granite boulder hanging over the trail.”
“There it is!!!, Tokopah Falls finally comes into view.”
“From this point on the trail, we spotted massive granite spire that was revealed when the parted a bit.”
Tokopah Falls – “End of the line!”
Arriving at Tokopah Falls means that you have reached the end of the hike. It’s definitely a reward for anyone hiking the Tokopah Valley Trail and for us it was time for a snack break and some serious photo ops. People were coming and going, but we stayed for a good while here. Although we were face to face with the falls, we knew from a good distance back that Tokopah Falls is actually a series of many large sized waterfalls cascading over a granite saddle from high up the mountain.
“This is the lowest part of Tokopah Falls.”
“The water was rushing with an incredible fury and looked oh so quenching.”
“Do not feed the wildlife!”
As I navigated down the granite boulders to get a closer shot of the falls, I noticed that I was being watched. This fat, little Marmot was obviously conditioned to being fed by people as he showed absolutely no fear of my encroaching presence. As tempting as it is to give these little guys some of your snacks, it’s definitely not a good idea as they will become dependent on these handouts which in turn can have a negative longterm impact on the natural order of things.
“Sorry lil’ fella, you won’t be getting any handouts from me.”
“I found quite a few cairns stacked on a boulder of all places.”
“Looking back from the falls, I had a clear view of the Tokopah Valley we had just hiked through.”
“After getting a few dozen shots of the falls, it was time to set up for some HD video footage.”
“A brief clip of footage from Tokopah Falls shot with the 5D MKII and my 24-70mm.”
“The water was splashing so hard over the granite, it made for a beautiful high speed photo.”
“Thanks for the great shot Rich!, Naturally I couldn’t leave without making the same photo everyone else was.”
Lunch time was a good reason to leave.
We spent a little over an hour at the falls and after we got our shots, we decided that a good lunch break at the campground was sounding better and better. I knew that the haul back would reveal some different photo opportunities. Typically I prefer trails that loop, but the advantage of a trail that doesn’t loop is that you get to see a different perspective on the hike out. Heading back is mostly downhill so it will be a shorter time on the trail unless we stopped for more photos. “We did…lol”
“Heading back to camp.”
“The trees in some areas had a ghostly appearance due to low passing clouds.”
“These tiny little flowers had continuously grabbed my attention, they looked fake because of how vibrant they were.”
“We made one last stop to photograph a long exposure of the cascade I had recorded on the way in.”
“As I went to pick up my bag, I spotted this little guy walking next to me, about the size of a quarter.”
We got back to camp and grabbed ourselves some lunch. Rich served up a freeze dried meal for himself and I grilled a Hot Italian Sausage with a single hashbrown. The day was long and we had plenty of light so we just relaxed and enjoyed our meals. Rich had gone through about three rolls of film by this time and he mentioned taking a drive to a Giant Redwood Sequoia patch to get in some more shots with his medium format film camera.
“Time to regroup the gear and set out for some Giant Redwoods!”
Giant Redwood Sequoia PatchGPS Coordinates: 36.6486297° N,118.8275879° W
About 11.7 miles (18.8 km) north of our campground was a small pull-off parking lot along Highway 198. Rich drove us in his new Tacoma and the ride was a pretty smooth one. We pulled over and got out among some of the worlds biggest trees. Giant Redwood Sequoias are not the tallest, but they are certainly the most massive trees in the world. The largest of these massive giants is 2,000 year old General Sherman which stands 275 feet (83 m) tall, and is well over 36 feet (11 m) in diameter at the base. For as massive as they are, these giants have one lethal flaw, a shallow root system. Driving through the park, you can see that some of these giants have toppled over in the past and for no major reason other than a strong wind. Other than that, these giants are pretty much impervious to just about every other malady that nature has to offer including fire.
“Highway 198 passes right through these Giant Redwood Sequoias.”
“It’s quite an experience standing at the foot of nature’s skyscrapers.”
“Rich snuck in a shot of me getting really intimate with my photo subject…Haha!”
“A very humbling view. This must be what a Giant Redwood Sequoia sapling would see if it had eyes.”
“A small cabin resides in the giant forest looking more like a toy than anything else.”
“Yup, a 14mm selfie was definitely in order.”
“Last shot for the day and it was time head for the campground.”
“A nice campfire and some dinner.”
Rich and I drove back to our campground after hitting up a few stops on the way back. We tried to hike up Moro Rock, but the fog was so dense that we would not have seen anything at all. It was a bummer, but everything else we experienced still made for a great day. We got a good fire going and made ourselves some dinner. The temperature was a subfreezing 22 ºF (-5.5 ºC) the night before, but it was going to drop to almost 18 ºF (-7.7 ºF) this time and that meant a bigger fire was necessary. We used up all the wood we had brought and anything else we could find.
“Nothing like a hypnotizing fire on a cold day to melt the stress away.”
“No S’mores were harmed during the making of this fire.”
When our campfire started burning out, it was time to get to sleep and prepare for the big drive home the following day. As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t been to this place in 10 years, but this trip was definitely an incredible way to be reintroduced to the region. Major thank you to my buddy Rich for inviting me on this venture, I had a blast and it was a much needed excursion. Now I am looking forward to the Solar Eclipse in August!
Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”
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