A Walk through the Woods: Day 1 of the High Sierra Trail
Sequoia National Park contains some of the most amazing scenery in the lower 48, and it’s all on display from the start of the High Sierra Trail at Crescent Meadows. From towering giant sequoias to giant granite cirques, from lush meadows to cascading creeks, it’s no wonder that many choose to do the “simpler” trip of doing an out-and-back to Hamilton Lake.
After navigating the various shuttles required to get to the trailhead, we took a couple minutes to enjoy a last bathroom break, check that our packs were secured and our trekking poles were extended, and snapped a quick group photo. After six months of planning, we were finally setting foot on the High Sierra Trail. The worries of the outside world disappeared as we turned our cell phones to airplane mode (or completely off) and set off to spend the next seven to eight days walking across the Sierras.
The trail immediately impresses as it winds beneath the behemoths that give the park its name. I’m currently reading a book “The Hidden Life of Trees” that discusses how trees use scent to communicate and how humans can become attuned to the scents they use. I’m not sure how much I believe what’s written in the book, but if it’s true, the trees were certainly happy that morning. The sweet smell of life permeated every step through the forest.
Unfortunately we quickly left the giant forest behind and spent much of the first day on granite benches with expansive views back down towards California’s Central Valley. Although the views were spectacular, I understand why some hikers choose to skip the shuttle from the Giant Forest Museum to Crescent Meadows so they can wander amongst the giants for a little bit longer.
Almost as soon as we left the sequoias, within the first 1.5 miles of the trail, Jason spotted the first (and only) bear. It was a cub rummaging through the bush a little way off the trail. He quickly disappeared but we stayed put for a couple minutes just to make sure mama wasn’t nearby. With many photographers in our group, we surprisingly all kept the cameras packed up while we watched the cub scamper away. So sorry, no pictures of the little guy!
After a mostly uneventful 8.8 miles we found ourselves at our first planned camp of the trip, Nine Mile Creek. The sites didn’t seem great, the mosquitoes were swarming, and my water pump decided to start pushing air out the end that was supposed to suck up the water. Needless to say, no one was opposed to continuing on to the campsites at Bearpaw Meadow.
Although it was only 2.6 miles to Bearpaw Meadow, it seemed to take forever and I was seriously doubting whether my body would stand up to the multiple 15+ mile days we had planned towards the end of the trip. It seemed like every time I glanced at my watch, we had barely made any progress. The 0.1 miles from the High Sierra Trail to the camping area was the longest 0.1 mile I’ve experienced in a while and I was a little grumpy knowing we’d have to hike back up the hill to start the next day. When we finally made it to camp, all I could think about was taking off my backpack and shoes and slipping into my flip flops. We made quick work of our camp chores to set up tents, fluff sleeping bags, and filter water.
As I lay in my sleeping bag thinking back on the day, I was impressed that my back handled 11.4 miles. It wasn’t easy and certainly wasn’t fast, but I did it. Unfortunately, about 20 minutes after laying down, my right calf cramped in one of the worst charlie horses I’ve ever experienced in my life. Jason, who was still sitting around the campfire chatting with Wade, was certain I was dying based on the noises I was making. That stupid calf cramp lingered for almost the rest of the trip! After some vigorous massaging, I was finally able to drift to sleep and dream about the sections of trail that were awaiting us.
To view the route, click here (you will need to create a free Suunto Movescount account to download the route or email me and I’ll send you the files).