Sequoia: You Know the Giant Trees but Have You Met the Marmots?

We had reserved a campground along the Generals Highway towards the northwestern entrance to Sequoia National Park, knowing we had a fairly long drive from Las Vegas. We had a few potential hikes in mind, and based on conditions after talking to a few rangers, we chose to hike near the center of the park, through a pine forest out to several sub-alpine lakes.

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We pushed our way up through several miles of unremarkable red pine before we hit the first highlight of the trail, the Watchtower. This striking granite outcropping shot up in front of us as we rounded a bend, revealing views down into a relatively small canyon.

 

We hiked along a small trail blasted into the granite face for a stretch; I got a nice shock when a furry little brown ball dashed across the path in front of me! My brain immediately said “bear cub!” before the fuzzball skidded to a stop and I recognized it as my first marmot.

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Skinny after hibernating all winter.

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As we climbed higher, we moved back into snowy but sparse forest of Sequoias, sliding across increasingly large snowfields before reaching the first of the four lakes. We stopped for a while, watching fish dashing about near the murky edges of an otherwise-pristine lake.

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Heather Lake
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Aster Lake from above.

We didn’t take much time admiring the middle two lakes since Pear Lake was our goal; our guidebook and the folks at the ranger station said very few day hikers made the full trek to the last of the four lakes. We’d also hiked past some parents with camping gear and young kids, and wanted a chance to explore the lake in relative peace and quiet. The last mile was a push, across a wide snowfield and then up a fairly grueling steep and rocky path, but the destination was beyond worth the work.

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We took off our boots and packs, which I’m generally loathe to do because of the misery involved in putting them back on, but the the frigid water called to my aching feet. I waded in to about my knees and filtered some water so we could enjoy the cold inside and out, and just barely made it back to shore before I lost feeling in my feet. Dan did the same, while I stood at the packs to fend off curious marmots. All told we stopped for close to half an hour, reluctantly leaving as we had six miles back to the car and didn’t want to finish after dark.

 

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Apparently marmots box each other for fun and for exercise, but we weren’t lucky enough to witness that.

The hike back was uneventful until the last mile, when, scanning the trees, I saw something. “Bear.” About fifty feet away from us, but in the direction the path led us, a medium-sized black bear snuffled up food, presumably grubs, on a downed tree. We talked loudly but calmly to let it know we were there and slowly proceeded down the path. It glanced up at us once or twice, but didn’t seem aggressive or perturbed in any way. When I felt relaxed enough I tried to get a picture, but I guess it didn’t feel ready for its closeup.

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Have you seen my bear butt?

We passed the small sign for Sequoia National Park several times but always after dark.

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