If you love Winter weather, Sequoia is one of the best places to visit. One of the greatest things about snowshoeing & winter camping is that you rarely have to worry about running into other people. I like to take advantage of this time to hike trails that might otherwise be pretty heavily traveled in the more mild seasons. This is exactly what I had in mind when I chose this moderately strenuous out and back hike to the Twin Lakes.
The trip to the lakes is best described as a 7 mile long consistent climb with steep sections through the conifer forest dotted periodically with small meadows. You can see the general topographic section in the image below. I had never done this trail before and had only read about it. Many of the reviews described the trail as well marked. For this particular trip my friend Mark went with me.
We packed our gear and I planned our menu. Since it’s winter and we don’t have to worry about food spoilage, dinner would consist of Prosciutto wrapped chicken breasts stuffed with Boursin cheese and a baked potato for a side. Both would be cooked directly in foil on a camp fire, but not at the lakes of course. They don’t allow campfires at the lakes.
We began our snowshoe trek at the Lodgepole campground located in the Lodgepole Village and soon found ourselves to be completely alone. We crossed the bridge over the Kaweah River and noted the interesting signage on the other side…
Although the temperature was in the lower 40′s , there was a lot of accumulated snow, which made locating the trail more difficult than anticipated. Parts of the trail had old snowshoe paths but due to the snow melt and the cratering, even that was still difficult to distinguish in areas. Pretty much all we had to go on were the trail markers that were on trees above the snow level. This is where things began to get interesting.
The scenery was beautiful and although these are not the Sequoias, they were picturesque none the less…
As you can see by the picture below, the large amount of snow almost erased any visible signs of the trail. Notice how buried the side rails of the bride were. Locating and following the trail was becoming more and more time consuming…
I knew as the sun was beginning to set that we still had quite a ways to go to get to the Twin Lakes but we stopped to enjoy the moment and admire the Alpenglow… unfortunately there were no good clearings to be able to photograph the orange on the mountains to our back.
As the sun set, we were determined to press on, so once it was dark, we turned on our headlamps and continued onward following the reflective trail markers located on the trees .
The reflective trail markers were actually more visible and easier to see in the dark., but after a while, they were farther and farther apart until we couldn’t find them any longer. We weren’t lost, we just weren’t sure where we were. We continued to hike in the dark, following the trail, convinced we were still on the right route.While continuing, we found it pretty amusing that we were hiking all over bear country… in the dark… with chicken wrapped in bacon stuffed in our backpacks. We really hoped the warm weather hadn’t brought the bears out of hibernation.
Finally after a few hours of hiking in the dark, (which was actually very enjoyable) we came across a landmark that made it very clear where we were. The Wuksachi Lodge! We had completely missed our turn. We turned around to head back the way we came still determined to reach the Twin Lakes but after a few short miles we decided we had had enough for the day. We chose a nice little clearing to pitch the tent and start a small fire to cook our well earned meal. While our potatoes and chicken were cooking in the coals, Mark shared a secret he had been packing around all day. He had an entire bottle of red wine to go with dinner… and Man, red wine never tasted so good.
After eating (and drinking) we fell asleep determined to wake up early in order to reach the lakes.
Morning came quickly and I remember how silent everything was while I was in the tent. Mark was still asleep as I unzipped the vestibule and stepped out of the tent into about 6″ of new snow. I wasn’t expecting that.
Pretty soon after waking Mark and I fired up the Jetboil and made a quick breakfast of coffee, oatmeal and bananas before deciding whether or not we should try to get to Twin Lakes or just head back to the vehicle.
After discussing it and deciding to play it safe, we packed up our gear and headed back towards the Lodgepole Campground. With the new snow, we were really afraid they might close the highway. Winter road conditions in Sequoia NP are so unpredictable. The fresh snow made the scenery on the entire hike back look completely new.
Well, this post about snowshoeing the Twin Lakes trail isn’t your average trail review with clear directions and GPS waypoints to get you to Twin Lakes. There are a bunch of those already out there and I recommend you read them in order to actually get to the Lakes. I guess the real purpose of this particular post is to entertain and illustrate how every time we choose to head out into the wilderness, things can change or might not go as planned. At no time during this trip did Mark or I feel like we were in danger or so lost we wouldn’t be able to find our way back, but if one or two things may have happened differently… well, who knows.
Lessons Learned and Shared:
1. We were planning on overnight camping in the snow so we were more than prepared for the cold weather. We had a 4 season tent and winter rated sleeping bags, but the thing that we didn’t prepare for was that a “well maintained and marked trail” might be completely covered and indistinguishable in the snow. With as much snowshoeing and cross country skiing as I have done in my life, I should have anticipated the possibility of how difficult it might be to follow the trail. I had a good topographic map, and pretty decent directions from the research I had done before we left but we still didn’t know where we were for a good portion of the time.
2. Snowshoeing in the dark is enjoyable… if you have a headlamp. I use a headlamp all the time. I think it’s one of the best inventions ever. I use it for silly things like finding missing items in a dark closet. There is nothing better than being able to see in the dark and have your hands freed up. Once the sun had set, we continued to follow the reflective, four leaf clover triangular trail markers. Because they were reflective, they were very easy to see in the dark, even at very long distances. I think if the trail had not had them, we probably wouldn’t have continued to hike in the dark because of the difficulty of seeing the route. We later found out the markers were for a different trail and not the one we wanted. It just so happened that we crossed paths with this trail and seeing the markers assumed it was the one we were looking for. Either way, the fact that we had our headlamps made our situation easier and just plain enjoyable.
3. Weather in the mountains can change quickly. I lived in the mountains of Colorado for years and of course I knew how quickly the weather can move in. Although the weather was beautiful (sunny and warm) when we began, we were both surprised to wake up to the amount of snow that had accumulated in such a short period of time. I actually woke up around 4 in the Am to pee and it still hadn’t begun to snow yet. I don’t know when it started but when we woke around 7 Am… about 6″ of new snow was covering the tent and our tracks. I don’t remember reading anything on the weather forecast about a snowstorm or the possibility of snow before we left.
4. Fortunately, we had a good, seasonally appropriate shelter with us. This is another example of how being prepared turned a lot of snow into a great surprise. I know weather in the summer can change just as quickly, but I am almost positive that if mark and I were planning on tarping it, we would not have been quite as enthused. I know there are lightweight guys out there that will say, I slept under a tarp in -5 degree weather with 30 mph winds and I was fine, and my reply would be really? But were you happy? I think this trip is just a great example of how having appropriate gear, in this case a 4 season tent, can make the difference between just surviving (if your lucky) and enjoying the hand your dealt. Old man winter just isn’t as forgiving as the 3 other seasons, so prepare accordingly.
5. We had a backup method for food preparation. Cooking by campfire can be enjoyable, but when I head into the back country I NEVER completely count on it to heat my food or boil water. There are too many things that can go wrong. You could reach the beginning of your hike and find out there’s a fire ban due to dry weather or maybe there’s not a blanket ban but when you reach your camp, you realize it’s very dry and making a campfire is a huge risk. In our case, we awoke to everything being covered by snow, so starting a fire would have been very difficult if not impossible with the wet snow and wind. A small, lightweight canister stove made all the difference in the world when morning arrived and we needed hot water for coffee and oatmeal.
Well, I hope some of the lessons I learned have helped get you excited but also in the right frame of mind. If your new to snowshoeing or winter hiking and looking at exploring new trails in the winter, be prepared for the possibility that the snow may cover them and even with a great map, you may just find yourself a little lost. Most importantly, planning and preparation can go a long ways in making a trip that could be potentially dangerous or disastrous into a great adventure with some awesome memories, but isn’t that what hiking is all about?
Thank you to Mark for a memorable trip and for the use of some of his photos.