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Tree giants & iconic granite walls

Tree giants & iconic granite walls

November 2022

Sequoia National Park was our next goal in California. Because the direct road from Death Valley through Yosemite National Park is closed in the winter, we had to drive around the Sierra Nevada. We chose to do so via the southern route, but not taking the Interstate. Instead, we were treated to a three-hour winding course through the foothills of the Sierra.

The views were amazing and at times reminded us of the typical hilly landscape of northern Laos. Not much later we briefly imagined ourselves in the Scottish highlands to emerge into the fertile lands of the Po Plain in Italy…all that in California. It was a long, beautiful, but tiring drive and were glad to close our eyes in Portersville. Even though it was a Walmart parking lot.

Sequoia National Park was only another hour’s drive from here. Still, we decided to head out early. Americans were enjoying a long Thanksgiving weekend and would overcrowd the parks. As far as possible, we wanted to get ahead of these crowds. The reason everyone wants to visit this park is because of the fact that one of the largest and oldest trees in the world grows here. The oldest giant sequoias in the park are between 1800 and 2200 years old.


Immediately after the entrance, the road rises through an amazingly beautiful valley. A river seeks its way down the valley while we made our way up through countless hairpin bends. It was clear that the park was not made for large crowds. Despite the early hour, the various, albeit sometimes small, parking lots were already full. We followed the signs “Sherman parking” and by now saw the giant sequoias scattered here and there in forest. The proportions in which these giants grew is incredible. It looked super unreal!

From the parking lot, we followed the crowd down the Sherman Trail. Some sections of the trail were covered with a thick layer of ice which made walking difficult. At 2200 years young and with a circumference of 31 meters, the General Sherman sequoia is the oldest and by volume the largest in the park and without doubt the most photographed. There is no pen to describe how immense the trunk is. Somehow these trees do not fit into the picture at all and make the rest look so incredibly small.

Taking a free shuttle bus, we drove back a bit and got off at the Giant Museum where we would do a hike to Moro Rock. On our way to Moro Rock, we walked through a burned section of forest and recalled news reports of forest fires in California. The sequoias in this area had also suffered greatly, given the blackened trunks. What a mortal sin that the life of a tree that originated in the year zero should come to its end this way. In the years 2020 and 2021, the park had to deal with the worst wildfires and who knows what is still to come in the coming years.

Burned Sequoias

We climbed the Moro along a narrow assembled “path”. Small steps were carved from the stone and large boulders occasionally served as handrails and demarcation of the deep ravine. Again, pieces of ice lay in shady corners. Slowly we shuffled past them until we reached the top and could safely enjoy the wonderful panorama. Back at the car, we drove with Thomas and Sima through King’s Canyon to the park exit to find a place for the night among the last hills of the Sierra where the barking of the dogs lulled us to sleep.

Climbing Moro Rock
Views from Moro Rock

In Fresno, we were faced with the decision of whether to visit Yosemite National Park or not. The park that is visited by four million people annually obviously belongs on the ‘parks-to-visit’ list. What held us back were the to expected crowds. Sequoia National Park had been totally overrun and we expected the same in Yosemite and we didn’t feel like it. Besides, we had both visited the park before.

The beauty of the park finally made us decide to visit Yosemite anyway. We would stay overnight just before the entrance and leave early in the morning to get ahead of the biggest crowds. No sooner said than done. We found a lovely quiet spot in the woods before the entrance. Even though we would get up early, we watched a movie before going to bed, even though it hurt to have to set the alarm clock at 6:00 a.m.

Yosemite Valley

It was another hour’s drive to Yosemite Valley, the most interesting part of the park. On the way, a deer unexpectedly crossed just in front of our car, and Romy thought she saw another wolf or coyote in the distance. We parked at the Happy Isles Nature Center near Curry Village at the end of the valley and prepared for an eight-kilometer round-trip hike to the Vernal Falls and Upper Nevada Falls. The brochure listed this hike as “strenuous”. Not because of the eight kilometers, but probably more because of the 650 vertical meters that had to be covered. Additional difficulty was a thick layer of ice that made some parts of the trail as slippery as glass.

Upon arrival at Clark Point, Half Dome and Moraine Dome were nicely lit up by the sun rising just high enough above the mountains behind. We had planned to continue walking the John Muir Trail toward Nevada Falls which, by the way, were also easy to see from here, but unfortunately this route was closed. It ended up that we had to walk or slide the same route back. The challenge of arriving in one piece was greater downhill than uphill. With a few slips but no real problems, we made it to the fork to Verdal Falls. We followed the small river upstream and soon we heard the clatter of the falls falling nearly 100 meters down. It was still quite a climb up many steps, but once there the view was one to write home about.

Verdal Falls

We drove to the park’s only open campsite at this time of year and secretly looked for the shower building. It had been a while since we had showered so we had been looking forward to this opportunity for a while. Neat and shiny we drove toward the majestic El Capitan.

In the mountain climbing world an old friend and one of the most difficult rock walls to climb. Many documentaries have been made about this largest granite monolith in the world that was first climbed in 1958. The distance from base to summit is 914 meters and it takes a well-practiced climber two days which does indicate how demanding this steep rock face is. In the presence of El Capitan, we drank a cup of coffee and romanticized our own ascent. We looked up for a while and felt at the granite, but saw no way to climb even one meter. Let alone 914 meters straight up!

Somehow we both felt that a different time was now dawning for us. On our way to Mexico, we no longer had any specific plans. We had recently extended our car insurance for a month so we could slowly say goodbye to our time in Canada and the USA and to prepare for all the Spanish-speaking south. Taking the old Highway 1 along the coast between Monterey and Los Angeles, we would descend south toward Mexico’s Baja California. We will write about this final stretch on our journey across America in the next blog.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, infected.nl. All Rights Reserved.

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