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There were a lot of things for me to be nervous about before our family vacation to Sequoia National Park. There were warnings on the National Park website about high rivers plus possible forest fires and bears (oh, my!). We were backpacking for two nights and would need to cross a river as part of our hike to the Twin Lakes campsite. Conditions have been unusual because of record-setting snowpack in the Sierras after years of drought in California. I would lay awake at night with visions of my two boys being washed away by an icy, raging river. Would we be able to cross? Would we have to turn around and go back after all of the anticipation and planning?
Nope. When we got to the river crossing, I knew we were fine. I spent several sleepless nights worrying about water that took us a couple of minutes to cross. It was not a problem for us, even with heavy packs on. It was actually so hot that crossing in the cold water was refreshing.
We did, however, take every precaution before we got to that point. I’ll start at the beginning; on Friday, July 7th, we packed up the GMC Yukon Denali that GMC was nice enough to lend us for the trip and drove from Los Angeles to Sequoia. Just like for every trip we take, we overpacked. The forecast called for rain and the area we would be hiking into still had snow on the ground.
It was a beautiful, 200ish mile drive to Sequoia. Once we arrived, we first stopped at the Lodgepole Visitor’s Center to get our permit – we applied months in advance to get our backpacking spot – and our bear vault. Every backpacker must have a bear vault to store all food and anything with an odor including toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, etc. so that bears don’t come to your campsite looking for a snack in the middle of the night.
Once we had our permit, we went on a short hike to General Sherman’s Tree to get used to the altitude, which was around 7,200 feet (we’d come from sea level!). We’d be hiking another 2,000 feet.
We got up early the next day, packed our backpacks and we were off. We left our car at the Wuksachi Lodge where we stayed the first night and headed off.
I won’t sugarcoat it; it was a strenuous hike. It was hot, we had heavy packs on our backs and we hiked 9 miles, mostly uphill. We stopped often to catch our breath and drink water. Which was actually a nice excuse to stop and take in the beauty around us.
We were blown away by how many wildflowers there were along the trail.
We also couldn’t believe how many mosquitos we encountered. I figured that it was too high and would be too chilly, but no; they were everywhere. By the time we got to Twin Lakes, we were exhausted, tired and half-eaten by mosquitos.
We put up our tents, collected water from the lake (which we treated, of course), made dinner and we were in our tents before sundown. We were exhausted, but the good kind of exhausted.
We were supposed to stay at Twin Lakes for two nights, but after being attacked by mosquitos during our morning hike, we decided to get out of there and head to Jennie Lakes. We had run into backpackers the day before who said that Jennie Lakes was so much better. They didn’t say why, but we were convinced it was because there were no blood suckers there. So we packed up quickly and went on another epic hike.
It took hours of killer hiking to get the 9 miles there and even though we had bug repellent, the mosquitos were devouring us. By that point, my 11-year-old had had enough. He was being destroyed by mosquitos, his pack was bothering him and his legs were starting to hurt. About 3 hours in, he asked to go back to our car and drive home. We convinced him that we couldn’t do that (it would take even longer to get to the car and we had nowhere to stay) and to keep going. Finally, we arrived at Jennie Lakes.
It was worth every step and every bite we endured. It was incredibly peaceful and beautiful. My husband and older son searched around the lake until they found the perfect campsite with no mosquitos and a cool breeze. We had so much fun playing a “guess that song” game while we hung out by the lake.
The next morning, we made oatmeal, leisurely packed up and started our hike down. We went back a different way so we could have ice cream at the Lodgepole Visitor’s Center and take a shuttle back to our car at the Wuksachi Lodge where we would be spending the night before we went home. It took longer than we thought, but the idea of ice cream and a hotel room kept us going. This picture was taken near the end. We were so happy because we knew it was almost time to take off our packs.
We were smelly, exhausted and happy to be back in civilization.
Even though I was worried about seeing a bear, I really wanted to see a bear. Literally everyone we talked to at Lodgepole had seen one. So before we left the park, we went searching.
You probably noticed that there are no bears in these pictures. In spite of that, we had a fantastic time driving around the park in our super-comfortable GMC Yukon Denali.
We had piled so much into the car both on the way and back, but we never felt cramped. My boys loved the car because they could watch a movie in the back, control their own air conditioning, charge their devices and use the car’s wifi. My husband and I liked the smooth drive and the cool features like the warning system that would make the driver’s seat vibrate if a car was either too close or we were getting into another lane. I was sad to give it up when we got back to LA.
We were definitely happy to be home, but I wish our trip had been longer. We’ve been easing our way into backpacking and after this trip, I’m hooked. I thought that being away from technology and constant news alerts would be difficult for us, but it was therapeutic. We felt happy and relaxed when we got home and ready to start planning our next adventure.
Disclosure: We were loaned a GMC Yukon Denali for the trip and given a gift card to pay for a portion of our hotel stay. All opinions are my own.