Ariel hiking past a sequoia

Ariel Hiking past a Sequoia

I’ve been wanting to travel more with people. After the trip to Death Valley with an Aussie friend I’d made at the hostel, I wound up meeting a group of French guys also at the hostel who were also about to make the trek from Los Angeles to San Francisco as well. We all talked a bit and next thing you know, I had 3 more people coming with me to start this next leg of the trip up to Alaska!

and so with three fun french-speaking travelers, off we went to go check out first hand some of the most gorgeous parks on this side of the country! First stop, the mondo huge trees of Sequoia National Park!

After a quick stop at REI to get a bit ‘o camping gear and a pair of Vibram Fivefingers for one of my friends, and off we went to get this trip started!

The drive was surprisingly short from LA, but sure enough, we got there!

French friends looking over Lake Isabella in Sequoia NF

French friends looking over Lake Isabella in Sequoia NF

A beautiful view we got to enjoy, but hm… not too many sequoias…

Turns out that just below Sequoia National Park is Sequoia National Forest. One of the most famous destinations in the national park is the General Sherman Tree, yet oddly enough, the national forest features a pass called Sherman Pass. I took a second look at the map and realized that there was both a Sequoia National Forest and a Sequoia National Park. Turns out we hadn’t gotten there yet… That would explain the lack of huge trees!

So we hopped back in the car and started making our way up from the NF to the NP. The road was this really twisty curvy stomach-churning mountain road. The was starting to make its way down towards the end of that turny road, but fortunately we made it out and back onto major roads for the drive into the park.

We arrived at the park at night, well after sunset. Should we go straight off to set up camp or should we go explore? Let’s go explore!

General Sherman Tree

Our first stop was the General Sherman Tree, the largest living thing on earth. We pulled up to the parking lot and were the only people there. Woohoo!! Grabbing our headlamps, off we went to go find this thing… Turns out that in the dark, even the largest living thing in the world is hard to find! 😀

Just past the entrance is a sweet boulder and log you can climb up on.

Alex on a log

Alex on a log

We all wound up climbing up on top. I’d recently picked up an intervalometer which can fire my camera for me every so often. (Great for timelapses.) I set the thingy to fire automatically every six seconds and so with the flash popping over and over, we all climbed up on top for a group shot.

The four of us up on a stone and log

The four of us up on a stone and log

From left to right, we have Alex, William’s butt, Me, and Ugo. 🙂

After this shot and a few others, we kept on going further into the darkness. One of the beautiful things about being away from big cities is that it’s super dark. Heading down the trail towards the General Sherman Tree, we found a viewing area with info and the tree and (supposedly) a view of the tree. Heck, we couldn’t see the thing! Instead, we all layed down on the ground and looked up at the stars. Up above is the view of the stars and giant sequoias, illuminated by our headlamps.

Headlamps illuminating sequoias in the night

Headlamps illuminating sequoias in the night

It was really beautiful… A wonderful place to look up at the stars, with or without headlamps.

(The purple corners are due to technical design limitations in my camera and the blueish light in the center as opposed to the green everywhere else I presume is due to the cooler, bluer light coming from one of our headlamps.)

This place is full of huge trees… but which one is THE one? In some pre-trip research, I recalled some photos with a sign on the ground featuring the name of the tree. After some running around in the dark, we finally found the tree we were looking for. General Sherman, here ya are!

The four of us at General Sherman at night

The four of us at General Sherman at night

Found it!

(Turns out my camera is developing some nasty banding at higher ISO’s… again. Yikes.)

Anyways, what’s so special about this tree? While other trees may be a bit taller, wider, or older, this tree has the largest volume in its trunk, the most amount of wood, qualifying it as the largest living creature on earth!

We had fun playing in this area, admiring the unbelievably huge trees (they actually look MUCH larger in person). After we were finished, we started heading uphill back to the parking lot. We’d just come from LA which is at about sea level to Sequoia NP which is at 7,000 feet and you could definitely feel the elevation gain!

Elevation not only affects how easily you can breathe due to thinner air, but it also affects the temperature. You see, for every 1,000 feet you gain in elevation, the air temperature drops 5°F. Even though it’s August and the hottest month of the year up here in the norther hemisphere, temperatures dipped down in the 40’s-50’s overnight. While my 10 degree sleeping bag was plenty, my french buddies had 50 degree bags and so they slept pretty cold that night. It took several nights of experimentation with me grabbing more of my cold weather gear including down jackets, sleeping bag liners, wool socks, beanies, balaclavas, another sleeping pad, and so on, as well as them doubling up in tents to share body heat until we were all able to keep warm at night.

In any event, after that first cold night, we broke camp and headed back to General Sherman to get a proper look at ’em. Turns out it was a great decision to go see the tree by night. Why? Because when we got there the next day, there were people everywhere!!

The mob of people heading towards General Sherman during the day

The mob of people heading towards General Sherman during the day

In the yellow there is my french buddy William. Off we went down the Sherman Tree Trail. Yeah… lots of people…

Loads of people near General Sherman (on the left)

Loads of people near General Sherman (on the left)

I wanted to get a shot with me standing at the sign in front of the tree, but with all the people there, that just wasn’t happening during the day. Oh well, click!

Approaching General Sherman

Approaching General Sherman

Closer up to the tree, however, people all want a shot next to the tree, and so we take turns getting a shot by the fence in front of the tree.

Ariel at General Sherman

Ariel at General Sherman

Fortunately my fisheye lens was wide enough to capture the whole tree, though one side-effect of shooting super-wide is that it makes things look smaller. Guess that’s just what happens when you try to get pics like these. I’ll have another pic coming up that better illustrates the size difference later.

These trees are really interesting… You see, this one is about 2,500 years old. (Others are older, but due to this one being in a better location, it’s larger.) The top of this tree is actually dead so the trunk doesn’t get taller anymore. However, it does still get wider and so its volume continues to grow. In fact, each year its trunk gains the amount of wood of a good-sized tree. At the base, its maximum diameter is 37 feet (11m). One interesting thing about these trees is that they stay pretty girthy as you go up the trunk. They don’t taper that much.

These trees are hardcore. Unlike most trees which get burned up in a fire, these trees can survive fire after fire over their thousands of years of existence. You see, they have this super-thick protective bark protecting them from the flames and the heat.

Sequoia bark is so thick, I can't even grab my hand around it!!

Sequoia bark is so thick, I can't even grab my hand around it!!

In fact, fire actually helps these trees! You see, not only does fire burn up competing vegetation (n00bs) and help replenish the soil, but it also helps release the seeds from the sequoia cones (think pine cones)!

Really the main way these trees die (other than logging) is by falling over. Their roots are actually quite shallow, only a few feet deep. They are large and spread wide and far, as well as interlock with other sequoia roots, but they’re shallow. Because of this, if there’s a lot of rain and the ground gets muggy, or if there’s a bunch of people walking around and eroding the top soil (which is why they have fences around many of the trees), the tree will start to lean and eventually topple over.

Alex playing with a large downed sequoia

Alex playing with a large downed sequoia

There’s this well maintained trail you can walk called, appropriately enough, Big Tree Trail. Walking by some big trees? Oooohhh, let’s do it!

Big Tree Trail

Meadow surrounded by sequoias

Meadow surrounded by sequoias

Remember how I mentioned earlier about sequoias falling over if the ground is too soft? Well you notice how there’s this open meadow surrounded by trees? There’s no trees here because water collects in this bowl and the ground is too soft for these trees to grow. Around this meadow, however, is the loop trail we’ll be hiking.

Ariel hiking past a sequoia

Ariel hiking past a sequoia

The trees are way bigger than a human. Let’s get a closer look to see how big they are…

Compare the regular tree on the left with the sequoia on the right

Compare the regular tree on the left with the sequoia on the right

See that tree on the left? That’s your average normal-sized tree. Not big, but not small. Average. See the tree on the right, taking up nearly half the picture? That’s the base of your typical sequoia.

Yeah. Big.

I spent some time in this area hiking, playing, and photo’ing. My french friends did the same.

My french friends playing with a tree

My french friends playing with a tree

This place offers plenty of opportunities to play around and get some excellent facebook pictures… 😉

Alex sticking out of a tree

Alex sticking out of a tree

We found all sorts of fun photo ops like these. Tons.

Fallen trees make for great playgrounds, especially sequoias with their massive trunks and huge root systems.

Climbing on a fallen sequoia

Climbing on a fallen sequoia

One great thing about hiking with friends is that they can alert you to awesome things that you may have otherwise missed. For example, one of them came running over saying, “Bear! Bear!” and whatdaya know? There was one foraging around a little ways away outside the trail area!

A bear in the distance

A bear in the distance

We kept going and the trail just got awesomer and awesomer.

Hiking down Big Tree Trail

Hiking down Big Tree Trail

I mean seriously… what a beautiful playground!!!

Exploring the sequoias

Exploring the sequoias

You see that black area near the base of one of the far trees? That’s a fire scar. It burned up part of the tree, but the bark actually slowly regrows to cover up the scar. Cool, eh?

We kept going and sure enough, one of my friends ran up to me having spotted yet another bear! This time inside the meadow. It was down in the flowers so we had to climb up a bit to gain some elevation in order to be able to see down into the meadow.

Another bear in the meadow

Another bear in the meadow

After finishing our exploration of this trail, we hopped into the car and went to go visit one of the places I most wanted to go see. Tunnel log!

Tunnel Log

What is tunnel log? Well, let’s let the pictures do the talking!

Ariel driving through Tunnel Log

Ariel driving through Tunnel Log

This log isn’t on the main road. It’s off pretty much by itself on a sort of side detour that you take to go see. There’s actually a little loop road that goes around the tree so that you can drive in from the backside and get this shot.

We got here towards the end of the day which was great because traffic was starting to get pretty light, allowing us to play around a bit…

Alex longboarding through Tunnel Log

Alex longboarding through Tunnel Log

Alex wanted to longboard through a section of Canada and had his board with him. The smooth road here slopes down towards the camera, and so we played around with it.

You know, most everyone who goes here’ll have the shot of them parking their car underneath the log. How can we get something a little different…? Ooh! I know!

Ariel on and Ariel in Tunnel Log

Ariel on and Ariel in Tunnel Log

Look carefully… See anything strange? 😉

Two Ariel’s!

Just off to the right side of this image is an easy climbing access to the top of the log. We wanted to get a shot of all of us on the log. Off to the roots!

Climbing up on Tunnel Log

Climbing up on Tunnel Log

I wanted to get the shot with my car parked underneath too, but with all the other cars coming through, I had to park it off to the side and leave the tunnel open. hmm, actually, I could always just photoshop it in…

Moro Rock

After playing with this area, we hopped back into the car and with the sun setting, we made our way over to Moro Rock, a wonderful scenic lookout over the mountains.

Arriving at the parking lot, we hopped out and headed up the 400 steps carved into the granite monolith.

Ugo on Moro Rock at sunset

Ugo on Moro Rock at sunset

Here’s a 3-minute video I shot from the top of the peak there, showing the view of the area from the top.

Like me, my french buddies enjoy running, climbing, jumping, and playing wherever we go. We ran up the steps and ran back down, having a great time all along the way. From here we jumped back in the car and headed back to camp for another night. Stay warm!

The next day, we decided to continue right along. Having covered most of the main highlights of Sequoia NP, mostly the large trees and all, we made our way up to Kings Canyon National Park. It’s less popular than Sequoia National Park and so I wasn’t expecting much, but boy, that place impressed me even more than Sequoia!

Stay tuned for the next post when we go to Kings Canyon! 🙂

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