High Sierra Trail Day 1 – Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Meadow (11.4 miles)
Sequoia National Park, California
High Sierra Trail, Day 1: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Meadow – After an early wake-up in Visalia, our bus dropped us off a the Giant Sequoia Museum in Sequoia National Park around nine in the morning. We hopped a second in-park shuttle past Moro Rock and after some final visits to the last bathroom that we’d see for a week, we were on our way through the dense forest of white fir, sugar pines, occasional giant sequoias, and beautiful undergrowth of ferns; All basking in the early morning, golden California light. Feeling like I was on Endor, I couldn’t help, but announce, “If I don’t see an Ewok, I’m gonna be pissed.” A few minutes later, we spotted a small bear cub… which as far as I’m concerned, that counts.
The High Sierra Trail in Sequoia National Park begins in Crescent Meadow on the southeast edge of the Giant Forest and for the first mile, it travels through this tick forest. It was nice and peaceful, but I’m much more partial to the grand, open vistas, which first start coming about a mile in at Eagle View. From there, we could see back to Moro Rock to the West, down to the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River, and ahead to the peaks of the Great Western Divide that the High Sierra Trail eventually crosses.
The trail seemed pretty consistent throughout the day without any extremely noticeable elevation gain (or loss) as it wound through areas of dense forest, made its way along the exposed canyons walls, and over various creek crossings, which were all running extremely low given that it was almost September after a historically depressing snow year in the west.
Beyond the junction with the Seven Mile Hill Trail, which connected the High Sierra and Alta Trails, the trail crossed the steep slopes and bluffs of the south side of Alta Meadow and Alta Peak. During 1930, a trail crew working with an air compressor and rock drills spent nearly the entire summer blasting a 1-mile stretch of trail through the area.
We arrived to the aptly-named Nine Mile Creek (technically 8.8 miles in), where we had planned on camping for the night, but unfortunately it kind of sucked. It was situated in extremely thick forest, the creek was barely flowing, and all the tent spots seemed to have a slight tilt to them. Even looking uphill to the north of the trail for some sites that I had read about didn’t really seem too appealing. Still being fairly early and more importantly, still having some energy to continue, we decided to carry on another 2.5 miles to camp for the night at Bearpaw Meadow.
Leaving Nine Mile Creek, the trail descended to Buck Creek Canyon, a dramatic canyon well-known for floods, avalanches and rockslides. After crossing the creek, we encountered the first steep climb of the trip as the trail gained some 500 feet in slightly over a mile, arriving at the Bearpaw Meadow area 11.4 miles (18.2 km) from our start at Crescent Meadow.
The Bearpaw Meadow campground was also in pretty dense forest, but still much more open than Nine Mile Creek and despite being overly exhausted from the extended day, we were pretty content with our decision to continue on. We got a small campfire going (still in disbelief it was allowed in such dry conditions…fires were raging across the west, including California) and even thought I knew I should have gone over to Bearpaw High Sierra Camp I was just too tired from the day. As I sat finishing up dinner, I watched the sky light up pink through the thick canopy.
High Sierra Trail, Day 1: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Meadow
Tips for this Section of Trail:
- Even with the low-flow year, there were plenty of creek crossings for water fill-up.
- At only 6.5 miles in, if you’re looking for a relatively short first day, Mehrton Creek looked like a great place to camp with what I thought were some of the best views of the day.
- There were camp spots again at Buck Creek Canyon with a bear locker, but I only saw two tent spots. I didn’t look hard for others though.
- Again, there was no noticeable extreme elevation gain/loss, but this still felt like a big day since our packs were heaviest and 11 miles is still a good distance no matter how much weight you’re carrying.
Bearpaw Backpacker Camp:
- There seemed to be what looked like social trails everywhere. I didn’t find it until the next day, but there’s a lower one near the northeast corner that leads directly to the High Sierra Camp. (They have beers…)
- The only water source at camp was from a spigot so plan your filtration accordingly. Luckily someone in our group had one of those 1-gallon bags with a filter attached to it. (The Katadyn pumps would not have worked well.)
- There were plenty of bear lockers so you don’t necessarily need a bear can here.
- There were pit toilets, but they were in really, really rough shape and had swarms of bees standing guard.
- Fire rings were available (Check for restrictions!)
Make sure to get over to the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp to shoot sunrise or sunset. I was to tired to head over and I completely regret it…