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View Full Version : Back from Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Yosemite Tioga Pass



goamules
22-Jun-2014, 08:50
Hi fellow photographers. I'd like to thank those that posted in the other threads about travel to the high Sierras. The threads helped me decide on what to do. Now i offer some advice, from someone who was just there, mid June. I drove from Tucson, Arizona, towing a 1958 camper, so some of my decisions were based on that.

https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5480/14290328490_cb2789a2ac_z.jpg

In general, we liked the less crowded Kings Canyon and Tuolumne Meadows (way out of the Yosemite valley, and much higher). My route from Tucson zigzagged towards Fresno, CA, trying to not be on Interstate highways the whole time. We went through Joshua Tree, for example. If you are towing or driving slow, you should know I-10 from AZ to CA is extremely fast, busy, and chaotic. It's very white knuckle driving if you are trying to stay below 75 MPH (again, I was towing a 1958 camper). I found I could drive the secondary roads most of the time, at about 60mph.

Weather in June anywhere except the high elevations is very, very hot. I sometimes registered over 100 degrees for hours at a time, even in the evening towards sundown. You don't want to try to camp anywhere in the Soutwest that is below about 6,000 feet in June. So we drove long hours to get to the high ground. At 6,000 it was usually about 80 degrees, dry, and nice. Still too hot for me, so I stayed above 8,000 when I could, which was 70 degrees day, and 40s at night. perfect!

https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5498/14290348020_9e30ec9b28_c.jpg

https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3907/14290336680_552621af19_c.jpg

First, we went to Kings Canyon, which is on the northern boundary of Sequoia National Park. It was not crowded, and most of the campgrounds were about 1/3 full during the week. We had no trouble finding a campsite with huge boulders and a view and Sequoias. Large format opportunities abound, anything from giant trees, to huge mountain valleys, to roaring rivers. I could have spent more than 5 days there, but wanted to check out Yosemite. The difference was like night and day.

Yosemite Valley was much more crowded. Drivers were angry, cutting each other off, roaring to the next parking spot at 60 MPH, blocking each other trying to find parking, etc. Basically, it sucked. How you would find a place to set up LF, and not get people in the shot, I don't know. Some places, like the falls, were like a Spring Break video, with close to a hundred people climbing all over the rocks around the falls, yelling and screaming at their more fearful partners below. I spent about 30 minutes in the Valley and bailed.

We drove up Tioga pass to Toulumne Meadows, where I got a reservation to camp (pretty easy, even just a week before travel). It was a LONG, very beautiful drive to the meadows from the Valley, about 1 3/4 hours. There were many overlooks, beautiful alpine lakes, and cool meadows. You could spend a day driving slow, parking at overlooks, and taking LF shots. The campground was much better than the Valley, full of serious backpackers, climbers, and outdoor enthusiasts. I spent another 5 days there. Read: the opposite of what you'll get in the valley. There are more rock domes, alpine lakes, and falls around here than you'd ever be able to shoot. My advice is go there.

goamules
22-Jun-2014, 08:51
Driving Tioga pass was very enjoyable, and we did it from end to end several times, starting about 16 June. There was no snow near any roads. Speaking of driving, we noticed a strange phenomena in all these National Parks. There were no mileage markers, no signs showing miles to major destinations, etc. Even the free guide maps they give you when you enter the parks don't show mileage. I had never encountered such a dearth of distance guidance before in the West. When the map shows "Roaring Falls" along the road, you don't know until you drive it if it's 5 miles, or 25. Often the latter. My wife thought it was because they wanted to sell you the more comprehensive hiking/topo maps, but I'm not sure I believe it.

https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2920/14473589041_8840b598cb_z.jpg

Even the hiking trails were poorly signed. Often, you'd come to a junction, and there would be a good sign with arrows showing what was up each fork, "Gopher Valley.....Deer Poop Falls...." But NOTING about how FAR! Hmmm....could be an hour up to the falls, could be a day....what should we do? Of course, I'm a wilderness hiker, mule rider, and all, so I don't really need it on the sign, I can figure out distance on the topo maps or whatever. But the point is, you don't WANT to HAVE to buy a topo map for every little 5 mile day hike. 99% of the tourists just pull off into a trailhead lot, look at the signs, and pick something to walk to. Many I found turning back after they were wore out, not knowing how far they had to go to the missed destination. Again, the roads were the same way. You better keep your gas tank full, because it's easy to drive 100 miles on a morning drive. I can't for the life of me figure out why they keep people so in the dark. They would prevent a lot of rescue work (ongoing the whole time I was there) by simply marking the trail distances. They would prevent a lot of out of gas motorists by simply putting mileage on the handouts at the gates.

Other than that silliness, we loved the trip. We even made a side trip to the Bodie ghost town, which is amazing! Here is yours truly on 9449' Lembert Dome.

https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3870/14473595971_d820944ec2_c.jpg

Wildlife is everywhere, and yes we did see bear three times. Deer are so tame you can walk to within 15 yards of them, the Golden Marmots too. LF is not the best choice for wildlife photography, so I used a lot of 35mm and my Fuji XE-1 mostly.

https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3888/14453839476_a479247e21_c.jpg

goamules
22-Jun-2014, 09:18
Finally, if you can I recommend you go into the Toulumne Meadows area of Yosemite from the East, via highway 395. This is how we went back to Arizona, but if I return, I'll go in this way. The eastern side of the Sierras is very quiet, and has several interesting little western towns like Lone Pine and Independence where you can spend a night on your way. The traffic is very mild, and once you start heading up Tioga Pass from that direction, you can be in the meadows in 45 minutes. To me, this was much preferred than the 3 hours coming from the Western/populated side of the Sierras.

ROL
22-Jun-2014, 10:21
Looks like you had a great time in our great parks in our great state. As you mention the "Sierras", I was disappointed not see any pix from the Sierra Blanca, Sierra Madre, Sierra Negro, etc. – only pix, un-labeled, of apparently the Sierra Nevada. Nice pix – the first post seems to be all Yosemite, the second SEKI. LF efforts?

Regarding pulling your trailer, you must have been pleased with California's statewide 55 mph for all vehicles with trailers, seemingly universally ignored. :rolleyes:

I had a first LF experience in Mineral King (SEKI) a few weeks ago. I turned around after making my last exposure of the day and found this herd of velvet antlered young-uns' moving slowly towards me. I quickly (:D) rotated the camera, put on the 450mm, recomposed, and clicked the shutter just as the sunset backlighting left the budding aspen in the upper left. I almost never take the opportunity to shoot wildlife with any image making device, even though I am a biologist by degree, but the challenge of doing so with LF simply overcame me. Here is the scanned 5x7 (cropped 3:5) – Ilford FP4+, f22, sec., PMK Pyro. The middle deer is positively Lamarckian ;):


http://www.rangeoflightphotography.com/SupportPics/LFPF/Deer%2C%20Mineral%20King.jpg


One of the (many) great benefits, from my point of view, to not living on the west side of the range (anymore), is the relative quick access to the Karakoram style Eastern Escarpment of the Sierra – a much preferred, and higher elevation way, to enter the parks, or access the true High Sierra. BTW, many visitors to the Sierra Nevada, particularly from Europe, are positively crestfallen if they do not have an encounter with our bears. Mineral King, in the fall, is an almost sure spot for that kind of experience.

Monty McCutchen
22-Jun-2014, 14:01
Garrett,

Any chance at portable darkroom/slash wet plate for you? Would love to see it if you had a chance. Sounds like a great time, and probably family oriented (collodion ain't so family friendly at least to mine!) but thought I would ask nonetheless

Monty

Deane Johnson
22-Jun-2014, 14:02
Nice photos. I assume they're digital?

Robert Langham
22-Jun-2014, 14:45
Nice job on a very informative post! Hoping to get into Yosemite in the Fall.

117195

Vaughn
22-Jun-2014, 16:00
Good to hear of your successful adventure! Did you, or would you have been willing to take the trailer to the Alabama Hills? Dusty and wash-board roads, but great rocks to camp amongst and photograph. I have seen RV's and trailers out there.

My last trip (early May) to Yosemite I arrived and departed via Tioga Pass. It just adds 100 miles (total: 560mi/900km) and a couple hours to the trip from Humboldt County. But the eastside Sierras and the roads that wind their way between the Sierras and the Cascades in northern CA are well worth it. If I can, I'll save the shorter drive down the Central Valley for the times Tioga Pass is closed.

Preston
22-Jun-2014, 17:25
Looks like you had a great time, Garrett!

I don't go close to Yosemite Valley between Mother's Day and early November. Even then, except for deep winter, there's a lot of folks. During the summer, I camp on the East Side, and then take day trips up the hill to Yosemite, always turning around at Olmstead Point if I go that far. The Yosemite High Country is one of my favorite places.

Glad you had a good time, and we're looking forward to seeing some LF images.

--P

goamules
22-Jun-2014, 19:34
Good to hear of your successful adventure! Did you, or would you have been willing to take the trailer to the Alabama Hills? Dusty and wash-board roads, but great rocks to camp amongst and photograph. I have seen RV's and trailers out there.

...

As a matter of fact we did camp our last night in the Alabama Hills. Very nice. it was only about 80 degrees, and by night it got cooler. The smell of sage was in the air.

Andrew Plume
23-Jun-2014, 06:28
good stuff Garrett and as usual

two neighbours of mine were intending visiting Yosemite a few weeks back, I stressed that they should avoid 'the Valley floor' AND instead travel to the higher meadows

best

andrew

angusparker
23-Jun-2014, 07:11
Looks like you had a great time in our great parks in our great state. As you mention the "Sierras", I was disappointed not see any pix from the Sierra Blanca, Sierra Madre, Sierra Negro, etc. only pix, un-labeled, of apparently the Sierra Nevada. Nice pix the first post seems to be all Yosemite, the second SEKI. LF efforts?

Regarding pulling your trailer, you must have been pleased with California's statewide 55 mph for all vehicles with trailers, seemingly universally ignored. :rolleyes:

I had a first LF experience in Mineral King (SEKI) a few weeks ago. I turned around after making my last exposure of the day and found this herd of velvet antlered young-uns' moving slowly towards me. I quickly (:D) rotated the camera, put on the 450mm, recomposed, and clicked the shutter just as the sunset backlighting left the budding aspen in the upper left. I almost never take the opportunity to shoot wildlife with any image making device, even though I am a biologist by degree, but the challenge of doing so with LF simply overcame me. Here is the scanned 5x7 (cropped 3:5) Ilford FP4+, f22, sec., PMK Pyro. The middle deer is positively Lamarckian ;):


http://www.rangeoflightphotography.com/SupportPics/LFPF/Deer%2C%20Mineral%20King.jpg


One of the (many) great benefits, from my point of view, to not living on the west side of the range (anymore), is the relative quick access to the Karakoram style Eastern Escarpment of the Sierra a much preferred, and higher elevation way, to enter the parks, or access the true High Sierra. BTW, many visitors to the Sierra Nevada, particularly from Europe, are positively crestfallen if they do not have an encounter with our bears. Mineral King, in the fall, is an almost sure spot for that kind of experience.

Ah, the Karakoram. My best view out of a $1/a night hotel room with running hot water! Wish I was into LF back then..... Sadly only 35mm shots. Still what a breathtaking sight - reminded me of a giant organ at the back of a gothic cathedral. Won't be back in Pakistan any time soon sadly ... too dangerous now.

Michael S
23-Jun-2014, 08:21
Kings and Sequoia NPs are the best kept secrets in California, and I wish we could keep it that way. Let all the clicksters flock to Yosemite to try to be the next Ansel Adams, give me Kings/Sequoia any day.

ROL
23-Jun-2014, 08:54
During the summer, I camp on the East Side, and then take day trips up the hill to Yosemite, always turning around at Olmstead Point if I go that far.

Great minds… exactly as I do. :)




Kings and Sequoia NPs are the best kept secrets in California, and I wish we could keep it that way.

They are kept that way. Kings Canyon, now part of SEKI, was conceived and is maintained as a roadless backcountry wilderness park, the only one so designated in the lower 48. My favorite road sign, ever, is posted on CA 180 from the west, just at the margin of the orange groves outside Minkler, that advises the road to Kings Canyon does not cross the Sierra. If frontcountry crowds are bothersome, there's plenty of seldom and sporadically used backcountry, my favorite and highest of the entire High Sierra.


East Lake
http://www.rangeoflightphotography.com/albums/High-Sierra/East%20Lake.jpg

goamules
23-Jun-2014, 09:30
My family all said they enjoyed Kings Canyon much better than Yosemite (though we really liked the Toulemne Meadows in the high country of Yosemite). Here are a few snaps of the Kings river:

https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3913/14290516437_81aa123496_c.jpg

https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3838/14290353120_80ca2c1f9b_c.jpg

Some asked if I shot wetplate there so I should confess. No, I didn't even take LF. Though I missed having a LF camera, we were so busy hiking, fishing, eating, driving....it would have been hard to work it in. I figures all these domes and trees had been shot before with LF (but maybe not wetplate!), so just shot some black and white 35mm with my Nicca rangefinder and an Elmar 50/3.5, and these colors with a Pen-F 25/4 adapted onto my Fuji X-E1.

I've got some shots here, and will load more as I get them developed: https://www.flickr.com/photos/garrettsphotos/sets/72157645336832963

ROL
23-Jun-2014, 09:41
I've got some shots here, and will load more as I get them developed: https://www.flickr.com/photos/garrettsphotos/sets/72157645336832963

Damn, those sugar pine cones are really tasty, ain't they? Try them roasted some time.

goamules
23-Jun-2014, 09:47
With butter and salt and pepper! Everyone likes that shot, and me washing my hair!

ROL
23-Jun-2014, 09:59
Were you in any shots? funny I must missed that one. :D

FYI, I hiked from Boyden Cave down (on) the South Fork to Yucca Point once at very low water, and have kayaked the Class V - VI Kings Canyon run many times.

Kerik Kouklis
23-Jun-2014, 13:50
Winter in Yosemite Valley is magic. Fall and Spring are also very nice, but the crowds are starting to build. There is NO good reason to go to The Valley in the summer. Ugh...

All in all, sounds like a great trip!

Drew Wiley
23-Jun-2014, 14:03
ROL - have you done the Paterson Bend run on the SJ yet, or down the N Fork of the Kings thru the "Hell Hole", or the Middle Fork of the SJ? Just curious, cause
it's a fairly small fraternity that even knows about those places. Had an interesting conversation with a fellow last year who came all the way from Virginia, then
backpacked a kayak over Bishop Pass, then all the way down to Trimmer. He didn't remember much of the canyon - was too busy working the water - but it was
one heck of an adventure. I'll probably head to the Wind Rivers this Sept due to the higher forest fire risk here. But I always keep multiple options, and never finalize till the last minute. Weather changes, fires come and go. I really love the lower Kings in the early Spring. And Garrett - if you want some cheap thrills, try pulling your trailer up the road of the North Fork. Blind switchbacks on a one-lane road with five hundred foot drops, and no guard rail, are alway fun. But upriver on the South and Middle Forks, Kings Canyon is really the epitome of what a Natl Park should be. 95% of the park has zero roads (none in fact if you exempt Cedar Grove), and a significant part of that has no trails. Even a very popular spot on a main trail like Evolution Valley is relatively quiet - except for the skeeters in July!
But oh my, the alpenglow in that spot in October!

ROL
23-Jun-2014, 17:05
Drew, I think we're pretty far from the OP's thread at his point*, but yes to Patterson and North Fork of Kings from Balch Camp to confluence, as well as parts of Dinkey Creek above that. Above Balch the NF is unrunnable, but beginning below Black Rock Reservoir to Balch is the North Fork Jump Trip – in fact, an astounding canyoneering journey (…possibly the most 'committing' outdoors thing I've ever done) full of slippery granite traverses, painful jumps into cold, deep (hopefully), black pools, and 100 foot rappels at the lip of vertical waterfalls. I don't know what "Hell Hole" might be. Many runs have been renamed, and reclaimed as first descents, since I stopped routinely running Class V. The Middle SJ, as you say, is a sore point for me, and turned out to be a watershed(!) event in my continued boating over the years – and that's all I'm saying about that. The run beginning with a 'portage' over Bishop Pass you are describing is the Middle Fork of the Kings, pioneered by Royal Robbins and company. This fellow (http://community.nrs.com/duct-tape/2012/01/17/middle-kings-solo-part-i/) ran it solo a few years ago. Only as a point of possible related interest, I have had a kayak self-support website for such activities in the works for some time, KayakWild.com (http://www.kayakwild.com), but have yet to get it going. At this point, I may be secretly hoping kayak.com will buy the domain name from me, make me rich, and put me out of my misery.





* most of these locations are in Sierra National Forest.

Drew Wiley
24-Jun-2014, 08:59
Yeah... kinda an inside track conversation at this point, ROL (my apologies, Garrett)... But I've watched em running the North Fork of the Kings with binoculars,
looking like little ants in yellow hardhats, way down the cliff edging their gear hour after hour down those waterfalls. But somebody has sure done it, cause I done seen it! My own "whitewater" misadventures were again, naive inner tube things in some very dangerous spots - several pals of mine went over a waterfall once
and miraculously survived without any broken bones, but plenty of stitches. One of them taught school for two years there at Black Rock - talk about an out-of-the way spot if you need groceries! For those of you who don't know the area - presumably everyone else - it's a tiny hydroelectric support community perched atop a giant boulder above the canyon. There's a magnificent cliff nearby called Patterson Bluffs, which have to be skirted to drive up the canyon. Engineering projects of the past on steroids. The Hell Hole is a stunning little confluence of the River and several creeks, with big waterfalls on each side falling into a conspicuous pool - a miniature Yosemite. It's a major drop below Wishon Res, way upstream from Black Rock. One of my dad's key employees and the local high school principle were fishing buddies back in the day, and would do a series of 400 ft rappels down into that thing - maybe 2500 ft down in all, then somehow winch back their ice coolers full of huge rainbow trout. They'd always bring those fish to us, cause we had a superb granite slow-cookin' smoke house.

ROL
24-Jun-2014, 10:44
Winter in Yosemite Valley is magic. Fall and Spring are also very nice, but the crowds are starting to build. There is NO good reason to go to The Valley in the summer. Ugh...

All in all, sounds like a great trip!

True enough about winter, and I suspect that many of us more familiar with the Park share that sentiment as our much preferred season, but to emphatically state that there is "NO" good reason to visit the Valley in the summer is simply nuts. For someone who is new to Yosemite, not visiting that magnificent cathedral stone, no matter the perceived difficulties, would be the same as traveling to the Louvre and not seeing the Mona Lisa because of crowds. I might even break my rule of not going past Olmsted on occasion to view some LFPF members' prints at the AA Gallery in the Valley. ;)

ROL
24-Jun-2014, 10:45
That's my point, Drew. I'm sure that every creek has been "run" over the last 20 years or so. By "running", we include many body crushing portages, roped traverses and rappels, and short drops in order to claim some variation of a first descent. That is of little interest to me, anymore. The problem with the waterways you have mentioned, is their water is almost entirely locked up in PG&E plumbing. Natural flow between Wishon and Black Rock is restricted mostly to that coming from Rancheria Creek. These runs have unnatural seasons fortified a few days of some years by scheduled releases.

And that is the problem with the North Fork Kings below Black Rock. It drops over 1000 feet in less than a mile, through a series of vertical falls and cascades into deep plunge pools. Normal runnable Class V - VI water maxes out between 100 to 200 fpm. It is unrunnable at normal fish flows, and beyond deadly when releases occur. For that reason, anyone attempting the canyoneering style Jump Trip needs to know when releases occur so that they are not swept out of the defile down to Balch Camp. FTR, the inner gorge, below BR where the action occurs, cannot be seen from the NF – Wishon road. Unless someone has been guiding this thing, I think it more than likely that far fewer people have seen the inside of this gorge first hand than have seen the summit of Everest. One can get a taste of it by driving down to the BR Res. parking area and walking downstream to a 25 foot drop above a set of twin waterfalls, know as the "Jungle Book Falls", just out of view and dropping a relatively insignificant 30 feet onto a wide, polished granite shelf. Then, downstream, the fun really begins…


http://www.rangeoflightphotography.com/SupportPics/LFPF/North%20Fork%20Kings%20Jump%20Trip%201990/North%20Fork%20Kings%20Jump%20Trip%201990%20-%201.jpg

http://www.rangeoflightphotography.com/SupportPics/LFPF/North%20Fork%20Kings%20Jump%20Trip%201990/North%20Fork%20Kings%20Jump%20Trip%201990%20-%202.jpg

Drew Wiley
24-Jun-2014, 11:02
Thanks for sharing the pics - I recognize the spot. My favorite "swimming hole" was between a set of 200 ft waterfalls that had to be climbed to get there. I tried hiking back up there a few years ago and simply shook my head at how foolhardy we kids were. The more customary swimming hole was further downstream where kids had the habit of routinely jumping off a rock sixty feet up. I never had the courage. Too much risk of a hidden log down in the foam. And the rattlers on the path up ...!!! And I know far more than I should about the giant engineering projects. Two friends were killed in an avalanche-control dynamite accident building the Helms underground plant, along with a well-known climber. 250 more were killed underground before completion. And the even more incredible seven mile bore thru San Joaquin diorite (about four times as hard as El Cap monzonite) went right below our property with the world's biggest diamond drill bit (yeah -drilled, not blasted- 23ft in diameter, at a cost of over $20,000 PER FOOT for over seven miles). But no loss of life on that project. My more youthful foolhardy rope tricks were more engaged with figuring out how to get a big sluice box in and out of some undiscovered section of the river. A day of backbreaking work would yield about half an ounce of gold - not worth much back then, but today?? Anyway, it was all for "fun" - another crazy to do. Sudden water releases were and are always a dicey situation in the lower canyons. I can sure remember getting trapped on the wrong side of the river and going hand over hand about three hundred
yards on a steel cable. ... but that's just called going to market some places in the Himalayas.

goamules
24-Jun-2014, 18:22
I've done some of that backbreaking gold dredging work in AZ, but never found a half OZ in a day. I was with some people that did though. I was wondering about the gold potential in some of those rivers, like the Kings.

Drew Wiley
25-Jun-2014, 09:20
There have been gold, tungsten, and even platinum mines all over the Sierra. But the Mother Lode per se ended at the San Joaquin River, the little town of Coarsegold being its southern terminus. It's still quite easy to find some quiet spot in the San Joaquin and dig black sand out of some pothole, and use a traditional
gold pan to get some color - along with pretty little red and green garnets and black hematite. There are still a few large commercial mines too. But it's the guys
going into the riverbeds with scuba gear and vacuuming up stuff off the bottom that are having the most luck - that is, if these areas were inaccessible to dredges
back in the old days. And there was a rather stunning giant gold nugget hoax pulled off recently, which didn't fool me for a minute. The Kings river obviously gets
quite steep upcanyon, as it splits into three forks, constituting the deepest canyons in North America. The geology is quite complex, and includes a wide vein of
marble with many cave systems, two of the being open to the public. I particularly like the old metamorphic rocks in the lower canyons and the ladders of smaller
seasonal waterfalls, as opposed to the main rivers. They can be a lot of work to explore, esp with a big 8x10 kit. But it is utterly amazing to what labor and suffering some of the old mining operation went to get to certain places. And sometimes those operations were in fact scams intended to sucker Eastern investors,
just like "Beefstake Mine" of WC Fields fame. But I could go on and on about the local lore. As you head north into the Mother Lode proper, some of the geology
changes dramatically. Marisposite is a lovely stone seen on certain road cuts.