Garden of Alpine Delights, Gardiner Basin, Kings Canyon NP

8-16 Aug 2007 - by Tony Bellaver

Missy landed from Salt Lake City to discover that our trip, nine days in cross-country bliss, would be without any wheat products! What? That's right, said Tony, One of our participants has a gluten allergy. Missy took Tony's word that it would be bad to tamper with.

Missy, our Asst. Leader, also being the only woman on the trip, started out a little intimidated by being with a group of seven guys, most of them 10+ years older. To lighten the mood, lines were quoted from Austin Powers, groovy baby and that was how the trip was going to be. Our cross-country ramble a Sierra Club National Outing would take nine days to complete, so starting on the fun side was important.

Day one started at 5 am. We needed to get an early start at the Cedar Grove Ranger Station to get our permit via the LNT question gauntlet and hit the trail as early as possible. We did a great job getting the permit and hitting the trail by 8:30 am.

We blazed through Zumwalt Meadows and past Mist Falls in record time, We all could feel the gallon of Peet's coffee we drank for breakfast as we flew into Lower Paradise Valley by lunch. Burning up the trail, we reached camp at Upper Paradise Valley near 3:00 pm. and put on more coffee. We spent the afternoon cooling off in the South Fork King's River, fly-fishing, and napping? The coolness of the large pines in the campground was welcomed after the heat of the day on the trail. Just to the north of us, we could see the end of the Muro Blanco and the end of the Arrow Creek drainage.

Day two, rather than crossing the King's on a log jam, we crossed the South Fork on the sturdy bridge built by a volunteer National Parks crew. As we hiked through the large pines and ferns of lower Woods Creek and continued to gain elevation, stepping up many more granite blocks to a fenced-in area at Castle Dome Meadows. Hiking on we could see views of the disputed King Col route out of Gardiner Basin. We would end this day camping southeast of the Swing Bridge at the junction of the Wood's Creek trail and the John Muir trail. We had an uninvited visitor in camp that night, as a black bear thought that our chili smelled awfully tasty. That night our friend tripped on the guy lines of Davie's tent, and bat around our bear cans full of food. Davie awoke in a heap of nylon come morning, and speaking of heaps, the bear left a little present outside Lance's tent.

Day three was a short day with significant elevation gain. Joining the John Muir trail, we hiked southeast in the direction of Rae Lakes. When we crested a rise at Dollar Lake, we caught our first glimpses of Fin Dome, Mount Clarence King, and Mount Cotter to our right. We ate lunch at Arrowhead Lake, and continued on to Rae Lakes where we set up camp, drank lots of strong Peet's coffee, and either went fishing or swimming. We had a photo opportunity with our afternoon coffee break and took pictures with our Peet's advertisement and the Painted Lady peak in the background. Fin Dome was now clear and majestic across the Rae Lake basin as well as the Painted Lady.

Day four was a layover day: a rest day for Missy, while Tony lead the Participants to the top of Glen Pass a views of the Sphinx Crest. While out on the morning hike Missy went fly-fishing in Rae Lakes. She felt that with each cast of the fly rod she couldn't not catch a fish. After spectacular views and scoping out the route that we would take into Sixty Lake Basin, they were ready for coffee break time, swimming and fishing in the afternoon. That night a few of us stayed up late and watched countless shooting stars across the sky. Day five, we hiked around the head of Rae Lakes, with The Painted Lady and Dragon Peaks ever watchful to our left. We slept in a little later because it would be a short day, and hiked up to Tulip Pass at Lower Tulip Lake. Taking a side trip from the pass we hiked toward Fin Dome to our south and looked at the mountaineering route that one could take to get to the summit. Underfoot and swimming in the Upper Tulip Lake, Tony spotted endangered yellow-legged frogs. We hiked down into Sixty Lake Basin here Steve caught his first fish ever. Everyone enjoyed fishing in the evening with Fin Dome reflecting in tranquil water of the lake.

Day six we started hiking cross-country to Sixty Lake Col and our first view into Gardiner Basin. As Lance put it, we hiked, hopped, and crawled over boulders and benches. Not only did we have a rough route on the ascent, but also the decent across upper Gardiner Basin was a bit rough, over large boulders, scree, and talus. We had a late dinner after finding time to fish in the afternoon, catching many Golden trout under Mt. Cotter. After dinner we again enjoyed dozens of shooting stars overhead.

Day seven was initially intended to be a layover day in Gardiner Basin, but we decided as a group to press on and move camp lower in the Basin to the east fork. After hiking cross-country through some rough terrain, we found a faint use trail with cairns to the upper east fork of Gardiner Basin. This fork of the drainage system is much smaller and less majestic in comparison to the main fork that we had come from. We camped at a tranquil lake surrounded by reeds and tall green grass, and fished in the afternoon. Marcus caught the Troutzilla of the trip around 12 inches in length.

Day eight. Tony and Missy prepared everyone for a really big day, as this was the section of route that was most unclear. Only rumored from older Sierra Club members, we had a relatively easy, although steep, cross-country grunt up to Gardiner Pass where we enjoyed lunch. Overlooking Charlotte Creek and Charlotte Dome, this popular climbing destination was our route we spied as the group readied for the steep ramble down. Initially, the decent into Charlotte Creek out towards Bubb's Creek seemed straightforward enough, through Charlotte Meadow where climbers ready themselves for the dome. However, what started out as sandy terrain with sparse vegetation, soon turned into dense ceanothus and willows. Often in danger of getting cliffed-out, we negotiated up and around the many dozens of large pines overturned and blocking our route. After hours of slogging down this climber's route, with much joy we busted onto the Bubb's Creek trail and into Charlotte Creek campground after 6pm. This route was very steep as an exit and we would not recommended for a direct assent to Gardiner Pass. That night we drank the remains of our scotch and rum, and raucously stayed up into the late evening, probably keeping that nice family awake longer than they wanted to be.

Hiking out the last day, our participants could smell the soap wafting up canyon from Cedar Grove. In anticipation, the Bubb's Creek to Cedar Grove stint went by in a blaze, only Missy enjoyed the last day in the back, singing to herself, trying to stay in the moment and not wanting the trip to come to an end. After showers, we stopped for pizza together at Grant Grove where Lance scraped off the toppings so not to eat the wheat, and then went our separate ways.

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