29 August 2015

Hell For Sure: Florence Lake

Kings Canyon National Park

Sierra National Forest



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

(Day 4 of 5) Sipping a bit of water helped deal with the effects of smoke in the night and the morning is clearer again. I have decided to poll the hikers I meet as to if they are through hiking or not. The two that were already at the site are JMT sobo hikers (John Muir Trail south bound) and the two who came later are the same, but hit the greater smoke to the south and are now bailing out at Muir Ranch.

South Fork San Joaquin River
Crossing the bridge over the low South Fork San Joaquin River.

The sign at the junction says it is 16 miles down to Florence Lake, probably meaning the trailhead, and that is essentially all downhill. I thought yesterday afternoon was a long time going downhill, this will be longer. The lost elevation is much less.

segment of trail in the canyon
A piece of the trail. It is still a little smoky out, but not so bad.

doe and faun in the grass
The deer in the park can be very relaxed.


Crossing a bridge to the north side of the river, it is a little more open. There are more opportunities to bask in the grand flow of water and marvel at the massive canyon.

looking downstream
Looking downstream. It may just be that it has gotten rockier that allows seeing more.

looking upstream
Looking upstream and into the sun.

Another bridge crosses over Piute Creek and out of the park, back into the forest. I was here once eleven years ago on a crazy and wonderful trip, but only really remember that there was manzanita around and an impression of the far canyon wall from the short section of trail I will repeat. The smoke is moving in again to hide that wall.

crest imprinted in wood
A Pacific Crest Trail crest that no one will steal.

smokey valley
The far wall of the canyon. The smoke makes it fit my memory perfectly, right down to the lack of detail.

Another junction and it is time to leave the PCT and JMT to climbing Selden Pass while I continue gently downward to Florence Lake. In just over five miles of trail, I have met over twenty hikers, all of them through hikers. A few are north bound, at least half are bailing, and one is that most rare of creatures, a PCT sobo (south bound).

manzanita under the trees
There is a fair bit of manzanita along the trail.

Coming to yet another junction, I continue along on the well used trail toward Muir Ranch. This gets me specifically to the ranch or a trail for a public hot spring. Neither is what I want, but an unmarked trail seems to be a cutoff. It has some roads crossing it and little indication of which is the correct direction, but I seem to guess correctly and get past it to its road. I have bumped into another dozen through hikers on this spur and there are even more hanging out down at the ranch below. Eventually, there is another trail coming in that cuts around the ranch in a better route, but I missed it at that first junction after leaving the PCT.

Muir Trail Ranch
Sign pointing the way for guests of the Muir Trail Ranch at the far west end of the main buildings.

Past the ranch buildings, there are a number of pastures that go with it. The trail wanders away from the river and even climbs a bit. It leaves the road for short and long sections before returning and leaving again. Mule tracks seem to keep to the trail, so I figure that is the better route for walkers and stick with it. There are a few big meadows along the way. I seem to be getting below and west of the smoke now, which is quite nice.

meadow and interesting mountains
Open meadows and a rather interesting peak in the distance.

meadow and mountains
More meadow and the mountains southwest.

peaks to the south
One last view as the trail turns to dropping again.

The trail starts downward again and there is a spur to the ferry that travels the length of Florence Lake. The ranch was not the last of the people. There have been four day hikers and a section hiker who will wisely turn north once he hits the long named trails. As I drop away from it, the mule train that keeps the ranch in supplies heads down to the ferry. The downhill to reach the river seems long.

Florence Lake
The view of the lake from near the spur trail to the ferry.

rocks and trees
Still need to go down a bit more. The pass ahead looks rather nondescript.

The river is a welcome sight again, especially as I am a few sips from empty on my water. Pumping water, I have spooked a garter snake which takes to the water and crosses all the way to the other side. It is amazing how well the snake can swim. I just get a little, I only have a few miles to go and there should be water at the day's finish. There are campsites on both sides of the river and a lovely bridge to get between.

South Fork San Joaquin River
Looking up the South Fork San Joaquin River.

Past the bridge, it is not far to my junction near a creek. I pass over a couple creeks that seem smaller and sooner than expected, but then nothing for nearly a mile. I did not see any sign for a trail and did not look closely enough at the time to see an unmarked trail. Since I saw nothing of a trail, I decide to continue on to the second trail going my way. It is only a mile further according to the map.

river and smoke
Looking back over a bit of river that would be lake if the lake was full. The smoke is still out there to the east.

very low lake water
Florence Lake is clearly many feet lower than usual.

It is a very long mile. I think about turning back and looking more closely by the creaks for the trail, but first determine where I am on the map. The GPS says I am basically at the junction, so I give it a little further. Just 200 feet later, there is a sign. It points up a trail that does not look like it has been used this year. So much for easy to follow trails.  This trail promises a high lake not much more than five miles from a trailhead, it seems like the perfect thing to get a lot of use.

Florence Lake
Looking back at Florence Lake from higher up.

Less than a quarter mile along the trail I find I was wrong, someone has been this way this year. Still supple and bright, a pink ribbon hangs more than a yard long on a pine ahead marking the trail. That should help with following it. Cairns also come at frequent intervals.

trail marker on a faint trail
When following a faint trail over rocks and dirt, trail markers can be a great help.

looking back along the canyon of the river
Getting higher and the views get more expensive.

The ribbon is every few hundred feet, but I do not rely on the trail markers entirely. The trail was well used once and there is usually a dip stretching out that can be followed. Unfortunately, this does not show on rocks and a short distance without it can lead to missing the trail entirely. Eventually the long ribbons stop again. Such long ribbons could not have lasted. Then after another half mile they start up again. And then they stop again. And then the cairns stop. And then the trail stops.

I see two possible ways, flat through a huge number of fallen trees or back for a short switchback. Neither one seems to yield more trail. I still have a little over half a mile to the creek I want to camp beside. Still, it does not look hard to go cross country here. I add a point for the junction of the two climbing trails, where I want to get to, and start on my way along deer trails. There are two rounds cut from a bit of trail early on, but nothing for them to have come from. Climbing, I still do not find it. I continue on, climbing at about the rate I have been climbing although it had seemed steeper than what was required. There are quite a few deer trails that seem to go my way. Eventually I am near, but high of, the rough point in the GPS. Losing elevation gets me to the creek. At first it looks dry, but as I cross it, I see deep within the boulders a dark, but clear, liquid. At the proper distance past it is a flat spot. There are two creeks shown in the vicinity on the map, but the other is smaller. I start toward it, but there is a good flat spot to camp. The sun is getting very low. I should take what is offered.

getting to be a low sun and things are turning colors
The far, bare peaks are turning colors as the sun gets low.

Getting water from the nearly dry Boulder Creek with the pump is simple, just drop the float down between the rocks. The water I get is most definitely the best tasting water of the whole trip.

Continue reading: day 5




©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 26 Sep 2015

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