Located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains of California, and named after its dense population of the world's largest trees, the Sequoia National Forest boasts 38 distinct Giant Sequoia groves inside of its 1.1 million acre boundary. While these ancient and majestic trees are definitely reason enough to visit this vast wilderness area, it also features a diverse landscape from deep canyons and rugged foothills to tall mountains. One would be remiss to travel to one of the National Forest's six designated wilderness areas without bringing supplies for even a short hike into its many remote and serene trails.
The route described in this trip report was selected by TRVRS Outdoors Ambassador Jeremy Boggs and based off of Andrew Skurka's Kings Canyon High Basin Route. It begins at the Southern Terminus and follows Silliman Creek up to an unnamed Pass just south of the Kings-Kaweah Divide. From this pass, the route parallels the divide before dropping into a high plateau called the Tablelands.
Our loop would then follow the Kaweah River to the Pear Lake Ranger Station, where it meets with the popular and well-marked Lakes Trail back to Lodgepole. It should be noted that the majority of this route did not include trails or signage and one should be well prepared for off-trail travel in a what should be considered a very wild and potentially dangerous Sierra Nevada wilderness area.
Google Earth overview of the Tableland Loop backpacking route.
There are a handful of cross country hikes here in the Southern California Wilderness that push the limits of the word "adventure" for several reasons. They are extremely remote locations that most people will never have the pleasure of seeing. A consequence of their isolated location is that rescue is highly unlikely in the case of an emergency.
That being said, it is the responsibility of the few that are capable of reaching these locations to practice safety when traveling to these places.
- Double and triple check your supplies (especially water).
- Check weather conditions the morning of your hike before you lose cell service.
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Understand the importance of creating an outdoor itinerary.
- Create a plan in the event of your disappearance.
- Use the Leave No Trace principles.
TRVRS Outdoors is all for encouraging new and exciting adventures, but part of the adventure is doing adequate research ahead of time to assure a safe and fun trip which is why we've decided to document these back country hikes. Stay safe!
We met at Jeremy's apartment on Thursday July 21st at around 8am. The plan was to get up to the Sequoia by late afternoon to retrieve our permit from the Giant Forest Museum in Tulare County, then car camp further North along General's Highway at Stony Creek campground. We'd start the trail early the next morning so we could get a head start on the ascent into the high country, then spend a couple nights getting back to the car the fun way.
A NIGHT AT STONY CAMP (Day 0)
Friday, July 22nd -- The common campground alarm clock is one of two things: The inconsiderate bird squawking in the tree above you or in our case, the shuffling of sleeping bags amongst your group (because no one wants to be the last one to finish packing). After an early night of tacos and beer around a fire, we were all well rested. The weather was so calm that we each opted to cowboy camp under the stars, which is always a welcome experience.
Rise and shine at Stony Camp.
THE ASCENT FROM LODGEPOLE (Day 1)
We made it to Lodgepole around 7am and took care of some last minute bathroom breaks before dividing the beers between our packs. Aaron works in the beer industry so we had quite the assortment of craft beverages to choose from. In any case, it was far from enough to keep these lads from dry lips. We would need to carefully ration our supply for the entirety of the trek.
By 7:20, we were on the Silliman Pass South Trail which strolls along some of the better campsites at Lodgepole. The canopy of the trees in the morning made for a serene start to the day and we moved quietly as we tried to find an agreeable pace.
In the trees at the Silliman Creek South Trail.
LEAVING SILLIMAN PASS SOUTH TRAIL
After just a couple of miles, the path crosses Silliman Creek. However, our route would instead leave the main trail and stay east of Silliman Creek on the Silliman Lake Use Trail. An older allegedly experienced outdoorsmen noticed we were leaving the trail and confirmed that were going the right direction. Within half a mile of leaving the main trail, Jeremy heard a tree branch snap across the creek and we were greeted by a small black bear in the trees. We snapped some photos and kept it moving.
The use trail was mostly easy to follow. There were a few overgrown sections and a couple of animal paths to keep us guessing, but we mostly just stayed close to the creek.
At around mile 3.5, we reached a more accessible part of the creek and decided to take a break to refuel. Less than a half mile later at a bend in the creek, we reached a plateau along the edge of the tree line. In front of us stood one of the largest section of continuous granite slabs I had ever had the pleasure of stepping foot on and while it looked steep, it was really nice to know that we could put our thinking caps away. We just had to go up!
Bottom of the slabs.
REACHING SILLIMAN LAKE
It was so easy to walk straight up the smooth rock without having to navigate that managing the pace became the challenge as we were constantly out of breath. It was also starting to warm up, so we made good use of the sporadic trees along the route to stop and take a break.. Towering above us to the north was a gorgeous granite wall just below Mount Silliman's west ridge. We felt like we were in the high Sierra and oh was it good to be home. After a rough 1,400 foot ascent in under a mile from the plateau, we reached some more flat ground.
A short walk further east led us to Silliman Lake and it was such a welcome sight. We took off our packs and spent ample time relaxing by its shore while we enjoyed a lunch break and a swim. We also shared our first beer. Damn it, we were already short one beer.
Second half of the slabs.
Aaron, basking in the serenity of Silliman Lake.
REACHING OATKMILK PASS
We left the lake feeling revitalize and after a short 350 foot climb, we reached unnamed tarn just south of Silliman Summit. We took a few minutes to filter water since we now had eyes on our first Pass. Although this pass was unnamed on any maps or trip reports, we all came to agree that Oat Milk Pass was appropriate (don't ask).
The chute up to the Pass didn't look extremely inviting. All of the granite looked unstable and it was pretty tight, so rock fall seemed an issue. We toyed with some ideas of avoiding the chute but ultimately ended up just going straight up it. We were careful to avoid any accidents involving rock fall and after a 450 foot class 2 ascent from the tarn, we were on top of the Pass.
Jeremy, ascending the Pass.
Aaron, leading the way up the pass.
Exploring the ridge.
CAMPING AT LAKE 10410
Day 1 Stats: 8 miles | +5152 feet | -1485 feet
Aaron and I spent some time exploring the ridge south of Oat Milk Pass to get some photos of the highest point in our day. The descent from the pass while steep, was really pleasant. We followed soft grassy slopes and ledges down to the 10,200 foot mark, where we reached a good place to reorient ourselves. While we couldn't see the lake we planned on camping near, we could see the Horse Creek bed leading to it.
Descending into Horse Creek.
The terrain here was a little misleading. We descended steep slabs and when we were done with that, it was onto the brush, and when we were finished with the brush, we had to side hill back up to another view point, before another steep and rugged descent down to Horse Creek. None of these sections were notably difficult on their own but by the time we reached the valley floor near Horse Creek, we were all pretty spent. Fortunately, we only had about a half mile and roughly 450 feet up to our final destination and we were back on smooth granite slabs.
During the ascent to Lake 10410, I think I shouted out the amount of feet we still needed to climb and it was a big number. Minutes later, we reached a plateau and all three of us were so glad I was wrong. We dropped our packs at the first campsites we saw and sat by the lake. We made it to camp pretty early in the day at around 4 o'clock, but we had plenty of time to explore around the lake and dip our feet in its shallow waters. We found a high point in the rocks just north of camp to watch the sunset before another night of cowboy camping.
Almost to Lake 10410!
SMOKE ALONG THE DIVIDE (Day 2)
I woke up to relieve myself at around 2AM and noticed that the moon was now blood red and the stars were gone. I was too tired to think anything of it, but when I woke up again the next morning I realized there must have been a fire nearby. We hopped on the Satellite beacon to make sure we didn't need to immediately go back the way we came, but my partner found that there was a controlled burn somewhere in the Eastern Sierra that could have been the cause.
By 7:00am, we were moving again. We made a steady ascent toward the Divide where we crossed into the Kings Canyon National Park for a short while. As we scrambled just above a cirque and east of Peak 11462, we had a great view of Sugarloaf Creek's east fork and some incredible granite pillars along its eastern ridge. We took a good break at the top to soak it all in.
Finally on the Kings-Kaweah Divide.
LEAVING THE TABLELAND
From the top of the Divide (11400 feet), we had eyes on our continued route. We would descend toward Tableland Meadow and then stay close to the Marble Fork Creek of the Kaweah River. We casually traversed into the Tableland, opting to stay close to the Divide for an entire mile before descending toward the southeast shores of Lake 10559, where we took a short break to soak our feet and filter water. From the Lake, we descended directly south into table Meadows.
Descending the Tableland.
MARBLE FORK KAWEAH RIVER
After crossing Tableland Meadow, we realized we were making great time. In fact, we were so far ahead of schedule that we needed to slow down or end up at camp pretty early with nothing to do. We followed the upper reaches of the Marble Fork Kaweah River to the second in a chain of three Lakes.
The water here was a bit murky and filled with plant life, and the ground underneath was soft and a little slimy. No one seemed to mind at the time, but in hindsight, we probably should have just trekked further south to the named Table Meadows Lake which looks a bit more like a proper place to relax on soft grass and under the canopy of trees a, but I digress.
Swimming in the murky waters.
The gradual descent along the Marble Fork was probably the most relaxing terrain I had ever walked along. We followed the north side of the creek under the canopy of trees. There was no tree fall or thick brush. I was up front for the majority of this section and while I did need to navigate, selecting an incorrect route would have been difficult. If I were to come here again with my niece, I'd probably put her up front to build confidence in her leadership skills.
Along the Marble Fork Kaweah River.
THE PEAR LAKE WINTER HUT
As we approached the confluence from the Pear Lake drainage, we knew we should start to veer south. A short 100 foot climb brought us to the Pear Lake Winter Hut and Ranger Station where we took a break to refuel. We hadn't seen flowing fresh water in almost three miles. The Kaweah River had mostly consisted of small murky insect infested pools. In fact, we passed a Sierra Club group on the way down from the Tableland and one gentlemen complained that the water he had been filtering tasted like feces. We chuckled at the statement but within minutes of getting our attention, he moved the conversation to his political sentiments and we decided to leave him to his tasty beverage.
The Pear Lake Winter Hut in all of its glory.
REACHING CAMP: EMERALD AND ASTER LAKES
Day 2 Stats: 9.3 miles | +1419 feet | -2762 feet
We left the Winter Hut and although the day had been pretty manageable, it was good to be back on a trail. We thought of going up to Pear Lake, at the junction, but ultimately decided that finding a campsite at the lower lakes would suffice. Every site at Emerald was taken, but the views here was incredible. The lake sits below a massive cirque. We were surrounded by giant glacier carved slabs on all sides. We spent a good hour sharing a couple beers and going for a swim before heading to Aster Lake.
Three dudes with too much time on their hands.
Three dudes with too much time on their hands.
Jeremy, looking up at Alta Peak from Emerald Lake.
To get down to Aster Lake, we backtracked on the Lakes trail and descend near its inlet. We found a couple sites directly south of the Lake but opted to continue around its east shore to see what was on the other side. There was ample flat ground past the Lakes north shore (albeit exposed) as well as better views of both the canyon below as well as Alta Peak. There didn't seem to be many places to stake a tent but the weather seemed good, so we would spend another night under the stars. We had officially brought our tents on a tour of the Sierra for no reason.
The view of the canyon from Aster Lakes North side.
ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER
(Not gonna lie, I was really looking forward to having this title in my trip report.)
We left Aster Lake at around 7:30am and instead of going back the way we came in to catch the trail, we crossed the lakes outlet and scrambled 300 feet up the rocks directly west. Shortly after reaching the Lakes trail, we reached the junction and outlet of Heather Lake but decided to pass on a visit. Judging by the views from the trail, we made the right decision to camp at the upper lakes the night before.
Jeremy climbing from Aster Lake, to Lakes trail.
We continued along the path where we reached a junction for the Hump and Watchtower trails and was pretty easy to pick one based off of the names since they both went the same direction. The Watchtower trail is a beautifully maintained single track that hovers over a cliffs edge and overlooks the entire canyon above Lodgepole.
Descending the Watchtower trail.
Looking at the Watchtower from the trail.
When we reached the Watchtower, I took off my pack to make a quick trip to the top, then we continued down the path. I think we also shared our last two beers, which meant we couldn't possibly spend another night out here even if wanted to. It was critical that we reached the car and its cooler.
Looking at the Marble Fork Kaweah River and Lodgepole from the top of the Watchtower. I could see the car!
THE RETURN TO LODGEPOLE
Day 3 Stats: 7 miles | +634 feet | -2978 feet
Leaving the Watchtower, we ran into a group that mentioned a bear sighting on the path. We continued quietly in hopes of seeing it ourselves, but after the fifth or sixth group that also mentioned the bear, we started to think that either it had been spooked by the crowds or these day hikers conspiring against us in order to keep us on the trail longer and away from our cold beverages. Eventually we saw not one but two bears within a mile. Both were on the hunt for grubs in the deadwood.
A bear grazing along the trail.
On the final stretch of the path, we saw more and more signs of civilization and we were eager to be off the trail. By 11am, we had reached Lodgepole where we kicked off our shoes and relaxed by the car before making way. This time the entire area was full of tourists and shuttle buses. Felt like home back in Los Angeles!
The boys! Enjoying the view above Horse Creek.
Cumulative Elevation Loss: -6,891 feet
Route Difficulty: Moderate