26 August 2015

Hell For Sure: North Fork Kings River

Sierra National Forest

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

(Day 1 of 5) I was dithering greatly about where to go backpacking next as it is a brilliant time to be backpacking, especially in the Sierras. I am still looking at Blackcap, but a new variable has come into the equation: the Rough Fire. The Forest Service has closed the area south of Crown Valley, which is just 2.5 miles south of Woodchuck where I would enter for that. I decided to move a little bit north to Maxson and I would go to Hell For Sure. (You know someone named it just so they could say that was where they were going.) I am looking froward to having a trip where the trails are fairly easy to follow. Getting my permit the day before, I was told that Woodchuck was closed for air quality concerns. That is worrying. The air did not look all that good yesterday, but it is better this morning. The lot is practically empty. There are three or four other private cars, a lot of Fresno County Sheriff, and a horse trailer marked Search and Rescue. A picture of a missing hiker is taped to the kiosk. The only movement around the place is the gentle drift of smoke and a flutter of activity as two rangers drive up, check my permit for the look of the thing, and head off to do whatever it is they came to do.

tall bit of granite
Looking up at a small dome beside the trail and below the road. The smoke certainly accentuates every little bit of distance.

I head down what turns out to be the stock trail which joins with the hiker trail the rangers took just below the parking lot. It parallels a jeep trail that takes off from the road just before the lot before joining that too for nearly a mile. After enough elevation has been lost, the trail breaks off again through a blocking tree and wanders over a few boardwalks. Granite domes peek through the trees at the side as it starts to climb again. Small signs mark the John Muir Wilderness at the edge of the trail before it finally enters it properly. As usual, I am already a little hungry and stop a few minutes at the junction to Hobbler Lake, nodding at the rangers as they come back from there carrying a shovel.

meadow below granite walls
A lovely little meadow for daytime pleasures only as the signs nearby say "no camping here".

John Muir Wilderness sign
Entering the John Muir Wilderness.

It is generally downhill from here, at least until I hit the Kings River. The smoke is getting thinner as I hit meadows and open spaces. There are a few pools in the creek, but it is mostly quite dry.

Long Meadow
Long Meadow is what it says on the tin and allows looking out over the mountains to the east.

big yellow composite flower
There are only a few flower left in the area.

Post Corral Creek
Crossing of Post Corral Creek just before Hell For Sure Trail.

Signs at the bottom of Hell For Sure Trail seem to indicate that Blackcap Trail heads into a campsite, but that is easily seen to be wrong because the trail does not go anywhere after that. After a brief look around, I am back on the right track. There are campsites quite frequently along the trail. Annoyingly, the smoke seems to be thickening. Gradually, after a couple little climbs, there is the suggestion of a wide granite valley below.

trees beside a dusty, rocky trail
Following a gentle trail beside Burnt Corral Creek.

rugged and smooth at the same time
Below, the land has a rugged smoothness to it, or perhaps a smooth ruggedness.

impossibly wide valley above
Above, the land is just smooth and wide.

granite mound close at hand
The little climbs are beside pushed up mounds of granite.

The river looks like a great place of relaxation. A string of pools are each perfect in their own way beside huge slabs of granite. It looks like a place where one could happily lounge for a week. Even the land above looks like it is having an enjoyable lounge. The old glacial valley is so wide, it could be the carved deck chair of some titan.

ribbon of water on the rocks
The first look at the North Fork Kings River as a thin ribbon of water running over massive granite.

large pool along the river
The large pool at the bottom of the string where the trail first gets near to the river.

sheet of water continuing down
Today, the river is just a gentle sheet of water moving down the granite.

I need some water, so of course I must stop by the pools and relax upon the expansive granite and generally lounge with the land. It takes a bit of coaxing to eventually get started again and leave the lovely pools. I turn to drift up the slow slope beside the river and deeper into that extra wide valley.

purple and yellow against black rock
A spattering of flowers in among the near rocks.

slab of granite
Another stretch of granite in the very open valley.

cabin in the woods
Cabin at the gauging station.

Once walking again, my time along the Kings River is short. A cabin and gauging station signal the end is near. It is curious how elaborate a gauging station can be. Just past it, there is indeed a trail climbing up to the left. I pause to make sure there really is water coming down Meadow Brook before settling into the climb. I do not really want to have a dry camp, after all. There is, and, for some reason at the spot I chose to cross through the trees, there is also an old wooden box from a toilet. This trail is much less used than the others, but still easy to follow and has plenty of footsteps. The large number of horse prints that have been on the others seem to be missing from this one.

river crossing thingy and gauge housing
A way across the river for when it is high and housing for more parts of the gauge.

flowers by a log
Taking another moment to enjoy some of the few flowers.

pointy granite things
A few more granite points showing up ahead.

I am only expecting to go a mile or two up the brook before finding a camping spot. The trail quickly becomes much steeper than what I have been climbing for the last mile. There seem to be numerous possible locations while looking up that do not pan out once level with them. Then, as the trail turns to a shallow way, there is a flat spot with good water access. It is little used, but there is a small fire ring and a few rusted cans to show that it has probably had a long use. There is even a very shallow gravel hill to keep a camper dry if a highly unlikely rain should come.

Meadow Brook
One view of Meadow Brook as it flows down over the granite.

Tonight I am adding in an extra bit of dried milk and oil with my Lipton side and dried beans or lentils. I have not tried adding the milk before and it certainly helps extend the sauce that gets a bit thin once the beans are added. With the oil, it is filling enough to be hard to finish. I will need it all tomorrow, so I eat it all today. After that, all that is left is to enjoy the evening as the light dies and stretch out for sleep under a nearly starless sky. Just Cassiopeia seems to shine through the smoke.

Continue reading: day 2

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 17 Sep 2015

No comments: