You never forget those days when you summit a mountain, and we mean that both literally and figuratively. The experience of overcoming that physical and mental struggle that tries to weigh you down as you persist and push forward is a powerful experience, one that keeps you hungry for more mountains and moments that allow you to realize your true strength.
This past weekend we were craving a mountain, so we headed to Sequoia National Park to meet our match.
One thing we didn’t realize about our journey to Sequoia was that once we got to the park, there would be another hour drive to factor in before reaching the main Visitor Centers and all the various trail heads and attractions.
While the drive was a bit longer than expected, it was also absolutely stunning. The road passed through some of the largest trees we had ever seen, we had to pull over a couple of times to take it all in. Can you spot me standing in front of the giant sequoia below?:
We finally arrived to the Lodgepole Visitor Center around 11:30 to purchase our overnight hiking permit. Permits are only needed during the quota period (late May – late September), you can read more about when and how to obtain permits here.
We soon found out that the hike we had our hearts set on, Lakes Trail, had reached its max quota for the day, so we decided to speak with the Ranger about which alternate hike would best suit our needs. He showed us this extremely helpful chart (photographed below) comparing the distance, elevation gain and amenities available along each of the trails:
After weighing our options, we settled upon the infamous trail to Alta Peak:
With 35 pound packs on our backs, hiking poles in hand, the awesome ring cozy on my finger and our absolute favorite travel accessory by our sides, each other, we made our moves at the Wolverton Trailhead towards our home for the night, Alta Meadow:
A few steps on the trail and we were already surrounded by rich colors and lush woods known to be the most scenic in the entire park. Towering over us where ginormous trees covered in a bright lime-green moss, looking like something straight out of Avatar. Though we knew the journey ahead would be long and hard, we couldn’t help but focus on the many rewards we would encounter along the way:
One of our favorite rewards? The crystal-clear streams flowing with extremely COLD and refreshing water that somehow knew exactly when to appear:
What distinguishes the trail to Alta Peak from so many others is the fact that there are grand panoramic vistas leaving you mesmerized and motivated the entire way – not to mention the fact that there was always a great excuse to take a break and admire the view:
3 miles in and we had already climbed almost 2,000 feet in elevation. With 3 more miles left to go until arriving to our campsite (the side trail to Alta Meadows added 1.2 miles to the journey one-way) we were definitely feeling it – to say the least. After a quick kiss, where I nearly knocked Drew off his feet (timer photos can capture some of the funniest moments), we were recharged and ready to continue putting one foot in front of the other – we had no choice at this point 😉
As the golden hour approached, our prayers were answered, we had finally made it to Alta Meadows. One of the best parts about this spot was not only the snow…! but we had Mount Whitney staring right at us so we could reminisce about our journey to her 14k summit less than a year ago.
Yes, that’s real snow!
After our celebratory photo shoot we were then greeted by our very own welcoming committee:
We must have passed the test because after our dear friends sniffed us and observed our tent pitching skills they hung around for a while before frolicking off into the woods:
We changed into a fresh set of clothes, bundled up for sundown and began to prepare dinner:
I clearly was not aware that a photo was being taken here..
Who needs a television when you can look at this:
And meet the newest member of our adventure gear family, the LifeStraw – a super easy-to-use and convenient way to filter water that works as simply as a straw!:
Hydrated, full and ready for a siesta we hoisted our bear bag into a tree and headed off to bed/ sleeping bag. There is something so free about sleeping in the outdoors – with nobody to impress, no agenda, no phone, no sense of time, just the present moment, each other and the incredible earth beneath us… it’s no wonder we can’t get enough of it.
It was 7:30am, we awoke after a solid 10 hours of sleep, rolled out of the tent, brushed our teeth, made some oatmeal with our JetBoil and sipped on a cup of steaming hot chai tea as the sun made her glorious debut.
We continued on our way to make it to the summit in time for an epic picnic lunch spot. After a mile we arrived at Alta Peak Junction and hung our packs in the trees so we didn’t have to lug them to the top and more so, to keep the marmots from getting to them – they will eat anything rubber to get their salt fix!
The next 2 miles were the steepest of the entire trip, with a 2,000 foot elevation gain it was as if we could feel the air thinning with every step. The trail spiraled around the mountain so the striking views changed constantly. First we were looking back to the San Joaquin Valley, then we were gazing over Alta Meadow – where we had spent the previous night – the unmistakable Great Western Divide and the summit of Mount Whitney were a constant theme and the thought of the view from Alta Peak kept us wanting more.
The terrain became much less vegetated as we made our way past the tree line – it was difficult to tell where the actual peak was in this moonscape, surrounded by giant rocks on all sides. We did our best to stay on the trail and 2 hours later, we found ourselves atop the glorious ALTA PEAK:
The stunning view of Mount Whitney (14, 505) from Alta:
Talk about a killer spot for PBJ break:
This little marmot wanted in on all the magic:
We spent an uninterrupted hour on top of Alta – it was hard to ever want to leave! The weather was perfect – the sun was shining and warm, the breeze was constant and cool – we were happy campers!
Soon enough we had to peace out and make our way back down the trail. At least at this point we knew it was all downhill:
Something we did not expect to see along our trek back… a b-b-BEAR!
Luckily he was more interested in his search for honey than in us, but he totally had a moment with Drew – Drew had left his pack along the trail during our water break and as he slowly made his way back to get it before the bear did, they locked eyes, but that was it – Mr. Bear continued on his jolly bear way, right up the trail- PHEW! Our first bear in the wild, check!
After all that excitement, a total of 17 miles later and 4,000 feet of elevation gain under our belts, we were wiped out. As much as we wanted to call it a day right then and there, we just had to meet the General, General Sherman that is:
We drove over to the Giant Tree Forest and used whatever energy we had left to make our way to the General. With a height of 275 ft, a diameter of 25 ft and an estimated age of 2,300–2,700 years, General Sherman is the largest tree on earth by volume.
After a weekend of constant moving and exploring, we wrapped up our Sequoia adventure with this gentle giant – making for the perfect ending 🙂
Things to know:
- Entry to the park is $20 per vehicle.
- Best time of year to visit Sequoia to avoid the crowds: May & June, September & October
- Bring bug spray! Once the snow melts, there are lots of mosquitos.
- Tons of primitive camping on a first come first serve basis.
- On weekends, be sure to get to the visitor centers early to get your first choice wilderness/backcountry permits.
- Visit General Sherman in the afternoon to avoid the morning rush of site seers.
- Pack a picnic, there is no shortage of incredible picnic spots.
Disclosure: The LifeStraw® product and information have been provided by Vestergaard.