06 July 2013

Mineral King: Soda Creek

Sequoia National Park

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

Day 4. I woke up once in the night and pulled back the tarp to have a long look at the stars. The night was cool and nice and the stars exquisite right down to the individual points making up the cloud of the Milky Way. A typical Sierra sky. The tarp was covered in moisture on the inside, which wasn't surprising and wasn't getting on me so not a problem either. When next I woke, the sky was getting decidedly light. The tarp was still covered in moisture on the inside, but now I noticed that so was my quilt. A heavy dew had settled on everything. Feeling well rested, it was easy to start setting stuff out among our large, open kitchen rocks to dry and start in on breakfast. Today would be a long day with over half the climbing back out, but first we needed to hike another five miles down Big Arroyo to start that climb.

looking down over Big Arroyo
Big Arroyo in an easy corner down in the bottom of its valley.

The trail continued to be easy to follow, except through the meadows. Most the meadows are small and it was quick to find trail on the other side and follow the slightly stomped grasses there. Many were quite wet and had a few trails making the way across in what different people had judged to be the best route given the boots they were wearing. I took advantage of mine being waterproof on a few occasions, but sinking in the mud deeply a time or two nearly got my feet wet anyway. One large meadow, we looked around and found two large cairns next to a bit of trail, but this just looped back onto the meadow again in ten feet. not seeing anything, I set off somewhat in the direction the trail pointed. Sung kept parallel with the creek and found the rest of the trail. Another meadow, I could see two trails and picked the high route. Sung went low and turned out to be right. Gradually, the trail dried out, and the trail seemed to be continuous and obvious. Somehow, it seemed to be going up and down a bit more than one would expect. Deciding I was too far from the creek, I abandoned the trail I wasn't liking and found good tread below. We'd gotten onto some animal trail without even noticing. We met no one on the way. Evidence showed stock had come through quite some time ago and many places had deep imprints from someone in a muddier time. For now, few seem to go by, we could see no footprints in the dirt and the trail was soft and wonderful under foot among the trees.

creek churning through a gouge in the granite
Looking down on a spot where Big Arroyo starts to churn down through a gouge in the granite.

granite wall with trees
Trees and bushes along the granite walls of Big Arroyo. Some areas even have sages.

flow over the flat granite rocks
Lovely sheets of flow as the creek goes over some wide granite layers.

We crossed the creek on a log downstream of the trail for the last section along it. Here it is wide and flat under sparse trees with excellent camping opportunities that don't seem to be taken advantage of much. A cairn marks the junction with the continuation of trail down Big Arroyo and a sign a little way down it marks which way to go for Kaweah Gap or the Kern River. We could see the way down cross the creek before being hidden by trees. We took the third option, which continues a little further down Big Arroyo before crossing two small creeks and, at a right angle where we finally found the sign for this direction, starts to climb. The map marks two creeks to cross, but the ones we crossed must both be off Lost Canyon. As we climbed the steep and short switchbacks, we could hear another creek coming down a notch to our left. I noticed I was taking much longer strides today than I had going up Black Rock Pass, making it a happy stroll even if it was still broken by nose blowing every 100 feet of climb.

looking back up Big Arroyo
Climbing back out of Big Arroyo along Soda Creek and looking back the way we came.

looking down Big Arroyo toward the Kern
The view down Big Arroyo toward the Kern River.

The trail up Soda Creek was pretty easy to follow. Making it to the junction with Lost Canyon, we were back into more common areas and bumping into other hikers. This junction is in another area that looks like it could support many campers. Past the junction, the trail becomes very easy as it climbs. We often left the view of the creek for little up and downs along the edge of the wide canyon. Little streams came down the side here and there and were full of more Humboldt lilies and ferns. We passed a few trees marred by bear claws along the way, the only sign of the critters the whole trip.

climbing up Soda Creek
Looking back. A little bit of slope on the trail up Soda Creek.

view over Soda Creek
Passing along the trail as it climbs the side of the canyon a little bit and gives a pretty good view for a creek side trail.

Eventually, the gentle climb came to an end. We crossed the creek and started up one more steady climb of switchbacks to Little Claire Lake. The far side shows signs of many people not really wanting to cross the little bit of water as a pretty good trail continues down stream. The much better bit of trail heads up. We were told twice along the way that we had "quite a climb left", which seemed silly with most of our climb behind us.

looking down the valley of Soda Creek
As we climb, the wall of Big Arroyo is clear way down the gently curved valley of Soda Creek. Behind it, the eastern Sierras rise above the Kern River.

Little Lake Claire looking toward the last little ridge separating the Soda and Rattlesnake Creek drainages
The lovely Little Lake Claire, full of jumping rainbow trout. Behind it is our last little climb of the day.

We stopped for a bit at the lovely Little Claire Lake and watched the fish jump. The last little climb of the day rises on the far side of the lake splitting this one from Forester Lake, which drains to Rattlesnake Creek instead. After about 20 minutes, we crossed the outflow and made our way around the lake. Camping seems to be mostly at the south side of the lake, but there are a few nice spots by the outflow. The last few hundred feet climb passed quickly and we were soon at the top of the wide gap.

Little Claire Lake outflow section
Looking across the section of the lake next to the outflow. The trail follows along near the edge on the other side.

a little late sunlight on the lake, looking trough some of the shallow water by the shore
Shallow water by a beach along the shore in the late sunlight along Little Lake Claire.

From the top of the gap, it is just a quick downhill to Forester Lake. It seemed even quicker than expected, but as we circled around the green meadow to our left, we could find no lake. At the edge, we started to drop again, this time coming to a larger lake that was maybe not quite as pretty. Still quite nice, it's just one does get spoiled.

looking down over Rattlesnake Creek
Looking down over the drainage of Rattlesnake Creek. The small meadow close to the right offers a respite for those climbing the short way from Forester Lake.

green grow the rushes ho
The waterways in the meadow looked to be dry, but water was flowing down from this green section and into Forester Lake below.

We arrived at Forester Lake after 13.5 miles including over 2000 feet of climbing with just enough light left to set up camp, pump some water, and see what we were eating after cooking dinner. We had neighbors further along the lake and far across the lake where a spur trail leads. The rainbow trout were jumping all over the place in this lake, too.

Forester Lake toward northeast
Forester Lake. Little Claire Lake is over the ridge to the left.

Forester Lake toward southeast
Looking out over Forester Lake in a southeasterly direction from where the trail comes near it.

The mosquitoes were not bad again, but I decided to set up protection against them with my tarp again. It was a little harder to do as the trees were generally quite far apart away from the water. Only one pair wasn't and they nearly didn't have enough room for the ground cloth between them. They made excellent support for my tarp anyway. As the light drained away, we tucked in for sleep.

Continue reading: day 5

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 13 July 2013

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