Wandering Lizard

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A Day of Hiking in King's Canyon National Park

The Trail to Paradise Valley - Spring

I had driven into King's Canyon the evening before and camped in the Sheep Creek Campground, a pleasant spot next to the South Fork of the King's River. I was up with the birds (literally) and drove six miles up to Road's End where I parked the car and got on the trail by seven o'clock. It was a glorious day. Cloudless azure blue sky with the strong golden light of morning raking across the dark jagged peaks. Patches of blue lupin lined the trail and cedar, pine and fir trees stretched on either side to the base of the gigantic granite walls of the canyon. It is difficult to adequately describe the grandeur of King's Canyon but I agree with John Muir in putting it in a class along with Yosemite Valley.

King's Canyon National Park
King's Canyon National Park

The first two miles of trail are level and my travel companions were song birds, squirrels, and deer. At first I made very poor time because I would stop at virtually every bend in the trail to look up at the towering walls and watch the rising sun paint them with warm morning light. Eventually I decided that I had a long way to go that day and I would have to step the pace up a bit, besides the forest had closed in around me and all I got was glimpses of the walls through the trees. My route wound through some marshy areas with grass and ferns under the forest canopy. The trail itself was well designed and my feet stayed dry here and throughout the day's hike.

About an hour into the hike I reached the place where Bubb's Creek joins the South Fork of the King's River. There was a fork in the trail. I took the way to my left to Lower Paradise Valley and immediately started climbing. For the next four or five miles I went up steadily. The trail is well designed, easy to follow, and never excessively steep, but it is relentlessly up. For most of the way on this section of the trip the churning creek was my constant companion and more often than not it was immediately beside the trail. In the spring it literally roars down the mountain and is rarely anything but sparkling white splash and froth although on rare occasions it subsided slightly into pools of swiftly flowing emerald green. Huge gray white granite boulders fill the stream bed and create an endless cascade of falls - the most dramatic of which is named Mist Falls.

King's Canyon National Park
King's Canyon National Park

Mist Falls is the objective of many if not most of the day hikers and is a worthy destination. Immediately below the falls is a level spot where you can admire the spectacle safely even if it is a bit difficult to stay dry. The falls earns its name with constant clouds of opalescent white spray drifting out from where the plunging water drives down hard against the rocks. Above the falls the creek is a roiling caldron of churning water which seems to explode over the rocks. Several small signs warn that the rocks are slippery and the waters dangerous. I suppose there are folks who need to be warned but it is hard to comprehend. One look should be enough to alert anyone - cold water, swift current, bad footing and very big boulders.

The trail continues up past Mist Falls and breaks away from the creek a bit to ascend a rather steep part of the mountain in a series of switch backs. The vistas from this part of the trail as one looks back down the canyon are even more spectacular than the ones from the canyon floor earlier. Snow still crowned some of the higher peaks and small cascades of silver snow and water trailed down from the higher elevations above me. Beside the path a variety of different wild flowers were growing in cracks and crevices. Lizards darted here and there and at one point a young snake was kind enough to pose for a photograph. Just before I reached Lower Paradise Valley the trail wound its way back to follow alongside the creek.

King's Canyon National Park
King's Canyon National Park

The path levels out in the small valley and the creek becomes a gentle flow bordered by a variety of deciduous trees with their new bright green leaves of spring. I found a smooth boulder along side a bend in the creek, took my shoes off and sat a while watching fish catch insects flying carelessly close to the surface of the water. Behind me was a meadow filled with yellow wild flowers and green grass and above me were tall granite walls and deep blue sky. A very curious robin stayed with me all the while I was in that tranquil place. Lunch consisted of trail mix and beef jerky. I felt slightly guilty but did not feed the robin.

After lunch I continued up the valley to a point where I could look up the valley. In the distance I could see another water fall spilling down from the mountain and I vowed to come back another time equipped for a longer hike. Reluctantly I turned back and retraced my steps to Road's End. The return trip was every bit as thrilling as the hike out. The round trip was about fifteen miles and I took the whole day doing it. A marvelous day.

Abecedarius, 5/04
More pictures from this hike...

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