Place: Mineral King, Sequoia National Park, Three Rivers, California
Coordinates (of where we started that day): 36.419122, -118.578816
Length: 2.5 miles
Elevation gain: 1300 feet
ֿLevel: Very Strenuous
I woke up with a start. My eyes were itchy, my throat sore, and my nostrils filled with the dense smell of smoke. I panicked. With racing heart I pulled the tent fly open and stuck my head out, expecting to see the flames charging uphill. It was pitch black outside, however. Not even a glow on the northern horizon where the Rough Fire raged. But the smoke was very real, and soon I started coughing. There was very little I could do about it, though. I closed the tent again, checked that my chika was breathing ok, and tried to go back to sleep.
It was our first night alone in the wilderness, just me and my chika. My original plan was to spend that night at Franklin Lake but a late start and a gross overestimation of my chika's abilities left us camping about half way to the lake, near the intersection of the Farwell Gap and the Franklin Lakes trails.
It was all for the best. We had a quiet night and my chika was well rested and ready to go on up the mountain. Also, the smoke has subsided and the air was much clearer.
|The Crack of Dawn|
|Heart Willowweed (Epilobium obcordatum)|
A glance to the north showed the valley filled with smoke. I wondered what would I do if the fire did progress south towards where we were. I was running all kinds of survival scenarios in my head. Thankfully, none had to be implemented.
|Yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus)|
|Lewis' Flax (Linum lewisii)|
|Yellow-staining Collomia (Colombia tinctoria)|
|Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja sp.)|
There were lots of pretty flowers, though.
|Bigelow's Sneezeweed (Helenium bigelovii)|
While we sat and rested I looked south to the Farewell Gap. There was the option of going there, but according to my map there wasn't much beyond other than this one lake, and at that time I was still hoping to get a bit further into the wilderness.
|On the way to Franklin Lake|
|Capitate Sandwort (Eremogone congesta)|
And some of the herbaceous wildflowers were the strangest I've seen.
|Grayswamp Whiteheads (Sphenosciadium capitellatum)|
|Lupine (Lupinus sp.)|
|Rainier Pleated Gentian (Gentiana calycosa)|
|Slender Cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis)|
|Marsh Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris), between lupine leaves.|
|Pacific Mountain Onion (Allium validum)|
Naturally I went over to check them out. Here's a close-up:
|California Corn Lily (Veratrum californicum var. californicum)|
Despite the long break, little chika was walking even slower now. The pack bothered her and we had to stop every few steps so I could adjust it for her one way or another. Soon she also heeded nature's call and I took the chance to explore the little wildflowers that dotted the valley floor.
|Sierra Beardtongue (Penstemon heterodoxies)|
|Woolly Groundsel(Packera cana)|
|Western Mountain Aster (Symphyotrichum spathulatum) ?|
Once again we were going up on a switchbacks segment of the trail. My chika was heaving hard and even I was feeling the thin air. I begun to worry about altitude sickness and wondered how come we were feeling it here whereas only a month before, atop Lassen Peak, we had barely felt it.
the answer may have been a composite one: when we went up Lassen Peak it was already after spending several days between 6000 to 8000 feet, and we were carrying only light day packs.
Also, where we were now, almost level with Franklin Lake, was already higher than Lassen Peak.
We sat down again.
|Pygmy Fleabane (Erigeron pygmaesus)|
I pointed at the next curve of the trail and told my chika I was going there and asked her to wait for me, promising not to leave her sight. I left my backpack at the trail curve, came back and took my chika's backpack, telling her to come along. We walked past my backpack and on to the following trail cut where I left my chika with her pack and went back to retrieve mine. We kept going like that until we found ourselves over the last curve and near a campsite that was marked on the map to be just north of the lake. And it was not occupied by anyone.
The lake was nowhere to be seen. I figured that the water was a bit further south, maybe a couple of hundred yards ahead.
|Common Yarrow (Achilea millefolium)|
Awed and dumbfounded, I lifted my own pack and followed her. This time she didn't falter but went all the way up without stopping, until we cleared the ridge and the trees and the view opened up.
And there was Franklin Lake (the first of the two). Blue and beautiful, and far, far below us, with no obvious trail leading down to the water.
|Mountain Monardella (Monardella odoratissima)|
And that was the highest point we got to that trip. At that point we turned around and went back down to the vacant campsite we had passed just a little earlier. The two loud 'thuds' of heavy backpacks hitting the ground echoed from the surrounding granite walls.
There was a large, flat area of fine gravel, a small cement platform with an iron bear box and a stone circle with the remains of an outlaw campfire (it is forbidden to have campfires there), and all within a short distance from the creek.
|Tulare County Buckwheat (Eriogonum polypodum)|
The shadows were getting long. I beckoned my chika and she grabbed her fishing rod and followed me up the creek.
My chika fixed her rod and cast it.
Both my girls had wanted to go fishing for a long while and I kept evading them because I really don't like this activity. Certainly not when done as a 'sport'. Eventually I found the solution: I'd have them 'earn' their rods doing backpacking. Then they'll play casting and sit there forever waiting for the fish until they got bored and drop the whole idea.
My chika's fishing debut was supposed to be a month before, on the trip that was aborted because of our car accident. Since then she had tried her luck a few times in a couple of local East Bay lake but luckily (for the fish), it was just as I expected: she would sit with the line in the water until she got bored, which wasn't even long enough for me to finish reading a page in the book I brought along.
This time, however, was different. The high Sierra fish must have been very hungry, because within seconds of her first casting she snugged one. Her first. She was very excited but very remorseful and wanted to release the fish back to the water. I hadn't expected it and with no experience, had no idea what to do next. I did my best to release it quickly, but the poor fish was already too hurt and died in the water anyway. My chika cried and I was upset. I wanted to wrap it all up and go back to the campsite, but to my surprise, my chika begged to try again. I argued against it, but eventually succumbed and agreed on one condition - that if she catches another fish she would eat it. I could not see the point of the 'catch and release' thing. In my view it is unnecessary torment, hardly a 'sport'.
We ate our dinner in silence, then sat down and watched the sunset. The cloud of smoke had risen high and the setting sun appeared like a large orange disc hanging lower the ridge. We could look directly at it - the smoke was so thick.
Trees on the ridgeline got darker, loosing their tree identities and assuming nightly shapes that evoked my chika's imagination. We sat there, naming the shapes and weaving stories until they too faded into the darkness of the night.