"Takes you places"
Leaving Lodgepole you walk 2km along a disused 4WD track to get to the Wolverton trailhead, one of the starting points of the High Sierra Trail. Then a steady two hour climb up through the moist pine forest to Panther Gap at 2600m. After that descend for 3.5km to the High Sierra Trail that makes its way along the side of the granite walls of the Kaweah Valley. After five hours walking you can camp at the Buck Ck campsite.
The next day climb up to Bearpaw Meadow, down to Pine Ck that has carved a deep chasm through the granite and up to Hamilton Lakes. This takes four hours but I still camp there as it deserves its reputation as a beautiful spot, a blue lake surrounded by granite peaks. One of the peaks, Valhalla is interestingly eroded and dominates the skyline for a lot of the walk. There are only a dozen campsites or so and they are taken by early afternoon as the lake is a popular swimming spot. Deer and squirrels wander through the camp.
A big day follows with a climb from 2500 to 3200, from the lake up to Precipice Lake and then on to Kaweah Gap, one of the passes over the Great Western Divide. It is two hours to Precipice Lake, a very beautiful lake up against a sheer cliff below the peaks. The pass consists of a series of small meadows with a creek flowing through it and when you get to the top you look out onto the Nine Lakes Basin, Kaweah Range and the Big Arroyo (Spanish for gully). Marmots hop about nearby. Camp is down in the pine forest by the creek that flows through the arroyo 5km away.
The fourth day sees me leave the High Sierra Trail as I climb up to the Little Five Lakes at 3200m. It is only a two hour walk to the campsite over 5km. As you climb you come to the first lakes surrounded by pines, cliffs and hills. You look back over the Kaweah Range on the other side of the Big Arroyo. I take my lunch and spend the afternoon exploring the Big Five Lakes that sit behind a small range of hills about 5km away.
From Little Five Lakes it is a two hour walk up to the Black Rock Pass at 3500m, an altitude gain of 300m with a bit of huffing and puffing. Possibly the best views of the walk I am on the ridge of the Great Western Divide. I am looking at some 3700m peaks like Mt Sawtooth and Mt Eisen and their adjacent lakes and my camp in the valley below a 1300m descent. Looking back I am above the range that separates Little Five Lakes from Big Five Lakes, I see the Big Arroyo and the Kaweah Range. Further afield the Kaweah Valley and a distinct line of haze towards the plains caused by the huge ongoing bushfires to the north and the south. Marmot and Pika (hamster?) run around. It is another nine km down to my camp in the valley and once again I am camping in the thick forest with just two other couples.
My sixth day and I have 12km back to Bearpaw Meadow to close the loop on my walk. I descend 500m over 6km to the Kaweah River and then climb 700m over 6km to Bearpaw Meadow. I walk through pine and oak forest. Bearpaw Meadow has fantastic views of the range and valley.
I stay the next day at Bearpaw Meadow as I had overestimated how long it would take me to do the loop, I had planned eight but did it in seven. I take my lunch on the trails toward Elizabeth Pass and Deadman Canyon. I get great views looking down on the trails toward Hamilton Lakes I had walked a week earlier. I have my lunch looking out along the Great Western Divide and the Kaweah Valley where I can see Kaweah Gap and Black Rock Pass the two passes I had climbed.
My last day of walking I head back to Panther Gap. I camp here because I wasn’t quick enough to book a site for Lodgepole and it is the nearest you can camp to the trailhead. It is no big deal as my bus back to Visalia is not until 2.30pm and it is only 90 minutes downhill from the Gap to Lodgepole.
There are too many campsites to mention as this large park is criss crossed with many well maintained trails. By and large, campsites are half a day apart, located near water and often have bear boxes for food storage. Bear safety is important and the websites discuss it in detail.
Prior to departure I have booked a camp site at Lodgepole (it is popular so don’t leave this too late) in the park US$22 (for up to six people). Lodgepole is a campground accessible by road, has a store and café in addition to a park office, most importantly you can walk from here to connect with a number of trails. Think of it as something three times the size of Wilpena with similar facilities. Bookings are made on line: https://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm
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