It was hard to leave Atwell Grove. Only the promise of the road ahead could pry us out of that magical spot. Our plan was to head back down to the main entrance to Sequoia, follow the General’s Highway to the see the largest tree on the planet and hopefully get an education on these giants in the museum and to do all that before the crowds arrived. Then head out into Sequoia National Forest to a place called Big Meadow and spend the afternoon fishing Big Meadow Creek.
The trip up the General’s Highway is for everyone. It is a mistake to live in the US and not make that drive. Even if you can’t get around very well, or think it is too difficult, or you’d rather see a Tropical beach; it is a trip you simply need to make. These trees defy logic, proportion, our own ability to establish scale in our surroundings – they silently confront our egos and long range plans and establish a baseline for existence and success that reduces us to the mortal participants in a life shared with others that we actually are.
We had been among the trees at Atwell, but seeing them in the numbers and against the different backdrops continually had a compounding effect. The museum was a bit of a disappointment, but we did beat the crowds and enjoyed two nice hikes essentially alone as the sun rose through the trees.
Our search for good trout water was more eventful. We made it to Big Meadow via forest service roads by around 11:30 am. Big Meadow creek was dry (or almost dry). With a topo map and forest service road map, we left the tannic trickle of Big Meadow creek and began to chase our way down in search of water. In the process we saw magnificent country – we were basically heading down into the deepest canyon in America, on little bit at a time. We also tested the FJ, at one point on a 20 degree hill climb with several uneven rock steps that required good spotting and careful driving.
The thing about Kings Canyon is that it reveals the Sierras for what they are – to me at least it does. It’s not just the height of these mountains, though there is that, it is the suddenness of them. They are angry shards of granite thrust up with the fury of a punch – there is no rolling ascent, no rift or reef. There are your feet, the sky and a huge slab of granite inches in front of your nose. Getting anywhere among them is an adventure in scenic wonder, sheer terror and patience.
We spent the afternoon inching our way ever closer to the bottom of Kings Canyon. Leaving behind Sequoias and cool temperature and hoping that what snow did fall and melt this year was nourishing fat wild trout somewhere along gravity’s path. We eventually found Kings River in the bottom of its eponymous scar and it is as seductive a piece of trout water – in appearance – as you can imagine. Hearts high and sweat pouring we traced its borders in search of camps to pitch, but, given its ease of access and proximity to Fresno, the sections we found were crowded and the camps were full. Eventually we just jammed the FJ to the shoulder, locked it up, and clambered down to the river to fish. A foot or two in and we both were concerned. Maid-afternoon is hot in the canyon and hot in the river. You can actually feel that the water is just too warm. Turns out we needed to be on this section early in the morning or very late in the evening. The bugs and the fish were somewhere deep – staying cool. So we had casting lessons and enjoyed the time together in a pretty place.
Soon we were climbing back out of the canyon, discussing the success of a day spent learning, exploring, trying. We searched for campsites high along the canyon rim and found several – each of which left us less than excited. My son was the one who said what we both were thinking – why end such a great day with a less that stellar camp? We are headed for Yosemite and Fresno is in the way, so we came here and ate In-and-Out burgers and slept inside.
We gave a merry chase. We set objectives, dashed them and recast them. Tried first one thing then another – all well reasoned and executed. In the end, the definition of success embodied in thousand year old trees left us humbled. But the chase itself left us hungry for more. On to Yosemite.