Adventures in Sequoia National Forest

Southern Sierra Sojournal: Part 1 in a Series

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Adventures in Sequoia National Forest“The mountains are calling, and I must go.” John Muir’s words perfectly capture Mother Nature’s powerful invitation for us to seek joy, discovery and renewal in her midst. And as the summer heat begins to take hold, is there anything more refreshing than a mountain escape?

For the first in this summer-long series showcasing day trips into our surrounding wilderness, we look at some of the attractions of Sequoia National Forest.

This was my third visit to the sprawling preserve, but my first time visiting the Trail of 100 Giants. The trailhead is only about 95 miles from here, but the windy mountain roads protract the drive into about a 2-hour-10-minute expedition.

On the way over we talked with the children about how old, and enormous, these trees are. My husband told us that even with their massive root systems, the height of the trees make them about as stable as a nail standing on its head.

We inadvertently chose a busy weekend to visit, but managed to arrive early enough to find a parking spot (for a nominal $5 fee — which works out to about 63 cents per passenger in our car load).

The 1.3-mile loop through Long Meadow Grove offers a view of 125 giant sequoias — some as ancient as 1,500 years old, and the largest of these more than 20 feet in diameter and 220 feet in height.

Even having seen them before, the sight still took my breath away.

Just a few steps into the grove it was obvious our typical “stay on the trail” rule would not work. We had met up with two other families for the trip, so our combined 15 children were happily left to join the other visitors in climbing on, over and through these pillars of nature.

About a third of the way through the trail, the original pavement is diverted to accommodate two fallen trees cutting across the way. Apparently, the trees had grown together at the base to appear as one tree with a 30-foot circumference. For reasons unknown to me at the time, they had apparently come crashing down to rest in parallel.

As our group walked along one side of the massive trunk, I looked down at the modest roots exposed at the other end, and realized just how apt my husband’s nail-standing-on-its-head analogy truly was. I shook off the chill that threatened my spine and told myself that, given this tree’s relatively recent fall, the odds placed another such incident another half century away. Surely, at least, it would not happen during our visit.

When I got home and looked it up, I learned that the cause of the 2011 fall was caused by the overly saturated ground (from an excessively wet winter) giving way. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t know that while I stood on similarly saturated ground, gazing up in wonder at these towering beauties.

We took our time on the trail, which offers a couple of detours from the main loop, and at the end of the trek enjoyed a pleasant picnic while standing in the shade of these beautiful trees. (One of the moms ((not me)) was clever enough to think to bring a blanket to sit on. Future travelers take note.)

This same well-prepared mother had also looked up directions to a nearby natural water slide, and brought swim suits so that her children could slide down. I thought this would be something worth seeing even if our family couldn’t participate in the waterplay, and we departed for the next leg of our journey.

About 45 minutes later we parked at another trailhead. The hike was not long, but the absence of canopy was keenly felt in the now-blazing afternoon sun.

After maybe 20 minutes on the trail our leader pointed out a narrow dirt path down the hill that opened up into a broad, flat expanse of granite with a healthy stream running down the middle of its gentle slope.

Although the venue was already packed with what looked like mostly millennials, we scouted a vacant spot on the far side of the granite that would accommodate our group. Unfortunately, crossing the stream turned out to be a treacherous prospect, with the fast-moving waters and moss-covered granite threatening to carry away trespassers at first footfall.

So, shout-out to these mysterious millennials who hopped up without prompting to form a human chain across the creek. With an agility unmitigated by their apparent partaking of adult refreshments, and a generosity of spirit that exceeded any reasonable expectation of this large group of party crashers, they helped our group — children and adults alike — cross safely to the other side.

The Prepared Family quickly set up a tent so that children could change into more suitable apparel for sliding down the mossy slope, which ended with an up-turned lip that would thrust sliders momentarily into the air before dumping them into a deep, freezing pool of water.

We soon relented about our children’s denim-clad state keeping them from partaking in this novel experience. (I mean, the heat that almost killed us on the hike up would surely dry out our clothes, right?)

I decided I wasn’t going to let my Mom Outfit keep me from participation, either. Reader, believe me when I tell you that this was certainly the most exhilarating and terrifying experience of my life. And I hope to be able to do it again in a fashion that does not require a return hike in wet jeans.

It wasn’t until the drive home that I really began to appreciate how amazing it is to live in a playground that continues to yield discovery of new and exciting places after 30 years of diligent exploration. How fortunate we are to have so many hidden gems to choose from.

All in all, the whole trip lasted about 12 hours, including about 250 miles of driving and 6-8 miles of hiking. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.

To get to Trail of 100 Giants, take the 14 south and turn west on Highway 178. Take Sierra Way north to Kernville and continue on as it turns into Mountain Highway 99. Turn left on the Western Divide Highway (107), and follow to the marked parking lot.

Finding directions, and even a definitive location, for our granite slides was too befuddling even with the help of Google, which offered conflicting destinations and directions. We’ve decided the only remedy for this is to go back and investigate in person. (With swimsuits, towels and more time to dedicate to the environment.)

Story First Published: 2017-05-31