Wandering Lizard

An online magazine with information related to attractions, lodging, dining,
and travel resources in selected areas of the Western United States

To the Snow Line in Sequoia National Park

Sawtooth Trail - Spring

Sawtooth Trail

I drove into the Mineral King section of Sequoia National Park in the late afternoon and stayed in the Cold Springs camp site next to one of the several branches of the Kaweah River. The mountains above the camp reflected the setting sun and two does kept me company as I made camp. A bear snuffled by a little later after I was inside my tent. (I had stored my food in the bear box so he/she didn't waste much time before ambling off to check on other camp sites.)

Sawtooth Trail
Sawtooth Trail

I woke early, broke camp expeditiously, and drove to the deserted Sawtooth Peak parking area a few miles further down the Mineral King road. I was on the trail by six thirty and planned to get as high into the back country as the snow permitted. Clear blue sky, a slight breeze, and a morning chill in the air. The first part of the trail got my attention as I climbed up a 45 degree pitch on loose rock. I had no trouble warming up. I stopped frequently and watched the sun light the mountains. A small side trail led over to the cascading river. Upstream a strong gush of water spurted straight out of the side of the mountain into the creek. A group of five does munched contently on new grass nearby. It was late spring and there was a collection of wild flowers hiding among the rocks. It was one of those occasions when you realize that it is good to be alive.

Sawtooth Trail

Soon after the river break the trail smoothed out and the footing was better. It was, however, definitely still up and I began to feel the altitude. The views were outstanding with snow encrusted peaks being highlighted against clean dark blue skies. A thin scattering of jeffrey and ponderosa pine as well as a few twisted western juniper trees dotted the rocky hillside. The rocks along the way were varied in hue and color and inevitably accompanied by small wildflowers that somehow always seemed to be exactly the correct color to go with their surroundings. The day before I had photographed a beautiful dry thistle in the San Joaquin Valley below Mineral Springs. Today the thistles were just barely beginning to develop their blooms. Testimony to the fact that spring arrives at different times in different places.

Sawtooth Trail
Sawtooth Trail

An hour or so into the trail I came upon a small meadow. A pure white cataract of water thundered down from a high cliff into the lush meadow. A very large buck studiously ignoring my presence walked slowly up the mountain away from me. I can only characterize the way in which he carried himself as "lordly." He never once looked back at me and after gaining enough distance from the intruder returned his attention to the verdant green grass that covered the meadow. I had to navigate a wet crossing of the rushing river at this point in the trail and after I got across he had vanished. I sat by the stream for an hour or so, eating a breakfast of beef jerky, drying shoes and socks, and listening to the birds and the roaring of the river.

The sun began to light the corn lilies near the river and a small brown woods mouse darted about at the edge of the water collecting various bits of tiny vegetation for unknown purposes. I tried in vain to imagine that I was a mouse and this small meadow was my world. For one brief instant the mouse stopped and looked at me. Minute whiskers flexed as the nose wrinkled and I presumed that I was being thoroughly checked out. I remained motionless and was proud of the fact that I was finally accepted. My new acquaintance stayed with me for the entire time that I was there, navigating about effortlessly over obstacles far more formidable than the ones that were taxing my stamina. I am still wondering what the mouse thought of me.

sawtooth trail
Sawtooth Trail

After my shoes dried out sufficiently I continued on up the mountain. I could definitely feel the effects of the altitude and I began to run into snow on the trail. My progress slowed as I climbed higher and the snow turned to ice. I slipped during a traverse of an icy snow field and slid quite a ways down the hill. I decided that I had reached my goal. If I was to go further I would need the proper gear. Some of the drop offs beside the trail were steep and boulder ridden. It would not do to break a leg this early in the season. Besides I was hiking alone on a trail that does not see many travelers until later in the summer. I am not certain but I suspect that I was somewhere around ten thousand feet when I turned back.

The trip down the mountain was a lot easier and once I cleared the snow and ice I made good time. I forded the river in the same spot but the mouse and the deer were no where to be seen. I did have a close encounter with a mildly curious marmot at one point but he was definitely more standoffish and less diligent than the mouse. Because it was later in the day more wildflowers were open along the trail and with the sun high over head the views were even more spectacular than earlier in the day.

Sawtooth Trail

At the bottom of the trail I sat for a while by the river and thought of the dam and the lake further down the mountain that captured and tamed this wild water and of the maze of canals that irrigated the thousands of square miles of agricultural land that stretch through the center of the state. Civilization and wilderness are obviously both good. It is a shame that the one consumes the other. Perhaps there are just too many of us living on this small planet.

Abecedarius 6/04

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