Finally got to Moose Lake, sort of

Mind-blowingly stunning weekend in Sequoia Nat’l Park. I was supposed to take the now cross-country route to Moose Lake from Alta Meadow and make it a loop by exiting past Pear Lake. Almost worked out despite snow on the second part until wind…It is very crowded and getting worse by the minute: do NOT go to a National Park on a holiday.

I got my permit, listened to conditions and a speech by the rangers, drove to the trailhead, ate lunch, and headed out. Day one to Alta Meadow was a mostly uneventful 6.25 miles, though it did take me 4.5 hours for 2000 ft gain, the only item of note being, what seems like normal for May here as I’ve experienced this before, the valley made its own cloud (from somewhere near Buck Creek) and visibility was very bad – no views!

I somehow got way, way too high headed out of Alta despite consulting a GPS unit – trying to be smart and stay high around a ridge by climbing boulders but also lack of visibility more than 50 feet made route finding very difficult – then I hit a long wall of granite and had to go back down loose ground, a slow waste of time and effort. Elevations lines are rarely the whole story. The old trail kinda showed itself over a forested ridgeline but I was losing light now so I plopped myself down on a big bit of flat rock near a half frozen pond of snow melt. It took me the same amount of time to go the remaining 2.4 miles as it did the 6.25 to Alta, lol. Almost 9 hours for 8.7 miles and 2900′ – jeeeeeebus!

The thick fog lifted near the end of the day revealing an expanse of rocky mountaintops so vast and beautiful it brought me to my knees. This portion of the Sierra is one of the most lovely places on earth: desolate and expansive and impressive. Along the way, marmots had looked at me from atop rocks, ran behind, took one last peak, and disappeared into some hole. Pika squeaked loudly at me and scurried somewhere into their unseen homes. As the sun set, the mountains lit in alpine glow and some of the fog lingering in and above the valley turned pink. When I finally peeled my eyes off the sight I fell asleep – well, as much sleep as can be had with a racket of frogs in the pond nearby.

At 2am I awoke for a bathroom break and it was clear and still and the center of the Milky Way was right overhead. There were so many stars it was unbelievable and the mountains could still be seen despite no moon – the light snow cover reflecting anything available. Absolutely amazing campsite! It was chilly overnight but nowhere near the forecasted 22F: my secondary silicone water bottle didn’t so much as ice up.

A slow morning cuddled up on the ground (painful, missing my hammock) waiting for the sun to break over mountains and get me. I snacked and took my time packing up. I didn’t really want to leave this peaceful place. Anyhow, I’d been trying to get to Moose Lake for an age and it was finally happening! I climbed up to the gap, again too high and boulder climbing when I didn’t have to. It was only 3/4 of a mile or so and about 400′ up but it took me an hour, haha. Every few bits I had to stop and choose a path and that takes time, forget the low pressure for lack of oxygen (catching my breath). As I got close, and found a trail again, the wind was so, so loud – like, had to yell to hear my own voice talk to myself. I paused, sat on a rock in a sheltered spot, ate an apple while I looked at the mountains again, now different the in morning light.

The roar of the wind was not letting up so I sucked it up and got up there. Luckily, there was a giant boulder at the top that I hid behind: the sustained wind was so strong I had to brace my feet and lean into it to get a view of Moose which was large and lovely and still mostly frozen but I only got quick peeks. I tried to take some pictures but got just a portion, it was just too difficult to even hold out my arm in the wind. A gust nearly grabbed me and my pack off the ground. Yikes. Through hike cancelled. I was not going to get to the Tablelands, again, as the thought of traversing it in the snow in these winds seemed utterly insane.

My knees were killing me, my thighs burned, but there was nothing for it but to turn around and go out the way I came. I found more easy paths the entire way down as some use trails came and went (or, I lost them). It was a significantly different track, hilariously so to me, that was less rocks and more soft soil, still difficult to manage downhill but less sketchy, but ended up going through meadows and muddy marshes and I think it’s a bit terrible to trample these delicate places which were vast and in the middle of growing all kinds of flowers and ferns.

I had watched the place form its own weather, again, and it was now totally dense fog, again, for the exit. It got a bit sunny coming back down over Panther Gap and the sound of tiny chipmunk feet pitter patter was frequently heard. I stopped often to rest my complaining feet. I ate a snickers bar as I stopped to sit on a rock. I enjoyed looking at flowers. The fog left pine trees so wet it rained lightly underneath them. My back hurt, but it was worth every step. Compare route with first day:

It was so amazingly crowded: the Wolverton lot had tons more cars, but I saw so few people on the trail (and was totally free of other humans the entire time after well prior to Alta Meadow). The drive out was full of cars parked along the side of the road, even partially in it, total madness. I did manage to find some spots way down the 198 to enjoy some flowering dogwood trees and giant sequoias that I noted now sported some new burn scars. The burned area was extensive, but hit and miss: hillsides were sometimes half green and half dead brown, occasionally on the same tree (usually oaks, regular-old-guy pine trees were the worst hit). The inner valley I had been in was still missing from views, but the sights in partial rays of sun looking west were very lovely so I, like others, were stopping for photos at turnouts that were awash in yellow flowers.

Uneventful drive home, thankfully, just a bit busy through L.A. and I think people drive pretty stupidly slow at night as a rule. My pack weight was about 23 pounds including 1.5 liters of starting water, with an all-in (clothes and carry) weight of maybe 27. There was at least 3 pounds I didn’t use: stove and meals since it was just one night, microspikes and wet pants as I didn’t traverse much snow after all, book as I had enough to do, and heavier bottle to prevent freezing I never filled up anyhow. Well, still need to get into the Tablelands one day and stay the night at Moose some other time… there’s so much other things to do, though.

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