Saturday, August 19, 2017

Our High Altitude Fix: Pear Lake in Sequoia

It didn't take long for us to feel restless after getting back from doing the Salkantay Trek in Peru.  I thought that we'd be done with hiking for a long while, but I was surprised when one day, exactly two weeks after we returned from that trip, Wes suggested going to Sequoia for a quick weekend trip to do some hiking.  Maybe after being in the cool temperatures and the majesty of the Andes mountains in Peru, the dry, mundane San Gabriel mountains behind Pasadena just didn't seem satisfying enough.  We wanted to see lakes, forests, and valleys again.  We needed our high altitude fix, as Wes says.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is such a grand, dynamic place.  It's just the perfect natural getaway that isn't too far of a drive, but just far enough.  We were there earlier this year and since that was our first time there together, we did all of the quintessential things: walk amongst the giants, visit General Sherman, climb up the stairs of Moro Rock, and we even saw a mother bear and her cubs in Crescent Meadows!  This time would be completely different, though.  We ended up doing a butt-kicking, 10-mile hike to Pear Lake, while dodging thunder, lightning, and hail on our way down.  It was unreal, and we were on our own for pretty much the whole thing!

We were not quite prepared for what we were about to experience on the Lakes Trail.  It started off as what felt like a calm walk in the woods, but that changed dramatically.  The trees opened up to a vast overlook at "The Watchtower," a large granite outcropping jutting high over the Tokopah Valley, with Tokopah Falls tumbling below.  We ate our Subway sandwiches here in the company of a cheeky chipmunk, and then continued our hike along sheer cliffs dropping all the way down to the raging Kaweah River below, into a grand granite amphitheater, around two perfect lakes, and finally over otherworldly, rocky terrain to Pear Lake, set in a strangely perfect glacially-carved bowl.  There was no clearly discernible trail and we hadn't run into any other hikers on that last part after the second lake.  It was an eerie and intimate location that felt just as mystical and magnificent as Peru.

Another thing that we were not at all prepared for was the very bipolar mountain weather.  Apparently, thunderstorms brew almost every day in the late afternoon in Sequoia and it is always good to have rain clothes ready.  We learned that the hard way!  It was so hot and sunny on the way up, but rain rolled in out of nowhere and we were drenched while making our way down!  It even hailed a bit.  And by the end of the hike, it was all blue skies and butterflies again.

Pear Lake was beautiful!  It was great that we reached it.  We were just going to see how far we got, since we had taken lots of extra time taking photos and eating our sandwiches...but of course we found ourselves at the last lake.  It felt quaint and remote, there was nobody else there, but that was probably also because everybody else was smart enough to get out before the storm hit.  We soon saw raindrops speckling the lake's surface, and we quickly turned around to head out, just as the sun disappeared behind gray clouds...

It started to rain pretty hard and we could hear thunder, so we hunkered down and tried to wait it out.  After a while, we decided that it wasn't going to let up anytime soon, so we continued on the trail.  It was pretty scary when we had to walk on the exposed balcony of granite during the storm, not so much because it was slippery at all, but more because we could see lightning strike in the very near distance.  The fact that we made it down in one piece had us feeling like we had narrowly escaped doom.

By the time we reached the end of the hike, the storm had cleared and there were children and families playing in the sun at the base, oblivious to the hell that we had just been through directly above them.  Nature sure is interesting!  It felt like we had just gone to and come back from a different universe.  Lesson learned: always pack a rain shell no matter what.  High mountain weather can be super unpredictable, and Sequoia has so many varied climates and ecosystems in itself, much like what we experienced during our trek in Peru.  So, was that little nostalgic itch for adventure satisfied?  Yes!  And we will be back!

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