My 85-Mile Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop SOLO
Ever since hiking the John Muir Trail last year, I’d been thinking about getting back out there. But I didn’t want to just do the John Muir Trail again. Then I ran across something called the Big Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop. There are a number of versions of this loop, the longest one being about 150 miles. I decided on the 85-mile version. I did this one solo and I had a blast.
The trail starts and finishes at Road’s End in Kings Canyon. I had been in Sequoia with family for three days, doing some camping at Stony Creek. When the family went home, I drove all the way to the end of Highway 180 and started my trek at the Bubbs Creek trailhead.
Day 1: Road’s End to Vidette Meadow (11.9 Miles)
On day one, I started out in the morning, right as the sun was coming up, and followed Bubbs Creek for about 12 miles to a place called Vidette Meadow. There was a fair amount of elevation gain, and it got warm pretty fast. But it was absolutely beautiful! The entire hike that day followed a series of huge waterfalls and rapids. The breathtaking scenery more than made up for the hard hiking in the heat.
Day 2: Vidette Meadow to Woods Creek (13.1 Miles)
Day two, I got up early and powered over Glen Pass as soon as I could before the heat. Once I got over Glen Pass the scenery was incredible–beautiful lakes, big granite walls, and mountains. It was the classic High Sierra that everybody dreams about. I only did 13.5 miles because if I would have continued, it would have been another three to five miles before there was any kind of real camping site. I knew this from my JMT last year. So I camped at Woods Creek, which was pretty crowded. I just made the best of it, then got up before dawn and got out of there and back on the trail.
Day 3: Woods Creek to Upper Basin (17.7 Miles)
Day three was a long day of hiking. I hiked over Pinchot Pass, which was a long way from where I started, so by the time I got to the actual pass it was pretty hot. Once I got back down into the treeline again, I was able to stay cooler. By the afternoon I had hiked past the bottom of the drainage, crossed a few creeks, and began hiking back up toward Mather Pass. The forest at the lowest point was thick, lush, and carpeted with ferns and wildflowers – and mosquitos.
I camped near a creek in the Upper Basin, just a few miles from Mather Pass. This was one of my favorite campsites. I was completely alone at an elevation that gave me a view of the entire valley from Pinchot Pass to Mather Pass. I watched the sun cast an alpine glow across a huge swath of the Sierra Crest and took pictures until last light. It was absolutely dreamy.
Day 4: Upper Basin to Simpson Meadow (19.5 Miles)
I had planned to get up at 3am and power over Mather Pass so I could get some dawn shots of Lower Palisade Lake, but the creepiness factor just wouldn’t let me do it. I was still barely below the treeline and there was no moon out. It was probably all in my head, but it was a very active bear season and I didn’t want to walk up on one in the dark.
So I got up at 5am, still dark, and by 5:30am I was on the trail. I caught some incredible photographs coming out of Upper Basin, and I was able to get over Mather Pass while it was still cool.
It ended up being a long day, but I felt so good I just kept going. I got to the Simpson Meadow Trail by early afternoon, which was eight and a half miles, and decided to take it. This is where the route leaves the John Muir Trail and crosses Palisade Creek. Crossing the creek felt a little dicey and I can see why it was reported impassable earlier in the season. This is something I’d rather do with a partner. I was following the South Fork of the Kings River all the way to Simpson Meadow, places I had never been.
There were reports of “bushwacking” on this segment of the trail, but this was an understatement. This is a completely unmaintained trail and probably has been for many years. Besides the bushwhacking, there was so much fresh bear scat I thought for sure I was going to run into a bear. I was literally calling out, “Bear, bear, bear,” for hours. What redeemed the trail was the Kings River. The trail follows the river through a narrow canyon, and it was absolutely stunning.
I was literally calling out, “Bear, bear, bear,” for hours.
Every time I emerged from bushwhacking through thick brush, there were incredible views of the river. All along the trail you can walk right up to it and feel the raw power of the water. In some places, the rush of the water was as loud as a freeway. It was amazing.
I saw the Devil’s Punchbowl, which was a series of small waterfalls, leading to a huge 100ft waterfall, that dumps into a foaming cauldron of whitewater and exits through a narrow slot in the rock. Pictures just don’t do it justice. You can literally feel the power of the river in your body when you stand in front of it. As I write this, I can almost imagine myself there again.
When I finally got to Simpson Meadow, it was less than spectacular. There was a single campsite in a creepy out-of-the-way place, far from the river in the heart of bear country. I was able to make a campfire, and at least in my own mind, I thought it might keep the bears away.
I never saw any bears, despite so much evidence of them. A guy I passed on the trail a few days before said that he saw a very large male bear cross the river in that same place. I’m sure the bears saw me, but I didn’t see any of them.
Day 5: Simpson Meadow to Granite Basin (13.9 Miles)
I got up early on day five and hiked up out of the Kings River gorge to Granite Pass. That turned out to be a very difficult 14 miles. It was literally straight up. And then down into another basin (another fork of the Kings River), and then up again, and then down again. It was also a poorly engineered trail, so route-finding was hard.
It was really steep, and really hot in the afternoon. By the time I finally got over Granite Pass, I missed Granite Lake which was where I’d planned to stay. And so I just meandered down the trail until I ran across a couple of other lakes where I stayed for the night.
It was a beautiful campsite perched on a rock above twin lakes. The sunset was amazing. Before last light, stars appeared on a perfectly clear, moonless night. The cloud of the Milky Way had come out and I ended up staying up until well past 10pm, just sitting in my chair, watching for shooting stars.
Day 6: Granite Basin to Road’s End (9 Miles)
The next morning, I took a few more shots of where I was as the sun came up, and it was beautiful, of course. Then I headed nine miles down the trail. It didn’t take me long. As I headed down the trail I could look across the valley and see peaks that were normally accessed via Bishop Pass. Mount Humphreys, in particular, has a distinctive shape, and it was clearly visible from where I was.
Being Alone and Talking with God in the Wilderness
I had intended to stay another three days, and climb some peaks: Bago, Arrow, and Split Mountain to be specific. It ended up being so hot that I just couldn’t do it. I adjusted my plan and I’m glad I did.
This is the fifth year that I’ve done a solo in the Sierras, and I think this is the first year that I have actually been comfortable in my own skin out there alone. It sounds really cool to be out there alone, but it’s not always that great because you actually have to enjoy being around “you.” This sounds easier than it really is. In my case, it has taken a while for me to be fully present and immersed in the beauty of this place without being cluttered with all the anxieties I brought with me.
I also felt like I connected with God in a deeper way on this trip. I always sense Him speak to me in a profound way on these solo trips and this trip was no different.
On my last night of stargazing, I sensed Him telling me to give up all the “Mission Management” in my life. I am a guy who is obsessed with fulfilling my purpose in life. My greatest fear is wasting the precious time I have on earth. I think this is the plight of most people on earth–they don’t know why they are here, so they consume themselves with meaningless pursuits, never having really lived or impacted the world in a positive way.
I don’t want that to ever be my fate, so I obsess about it.
I heard the Lord tell me, “Bryan, your life purpose comes when you and I are intimate friends. Focus on our friendship, enjoy all the beauty that I’ve put you in the middle of. Stop trying to be the architect of your own life or you are going to miss the greatest treasures I have planned for you. I know what your purpose is, and I’ll fill you in on what that is when we walk together – as friends.” I walked off that trail so encouraged and filled with hope.
There were plenty of mosquitos, bad night sleeps, and hiking up steep terrain in the heat of the sun, but this was an incredible trip I will always reminisce about.
I hope my trip report encourages you to get out there, and get outside of your comfort zone–and listen for what the Almighty might want to tell you. You won’t regret it.