Sequoia NP - Alta Peak View Panorama

18 Days to WSER: General Sherman and Alta Peak

The biggest draw-card at Sequoia National Park is the boast of containing the largest tree in the world. My run on day two in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks would be all about size.

After camping up at Mineral King on my first night I started day two by driving 25 miles back along the one-way road I had driven down the previous day so that I could re-enter the main section of the park. I entered and drove my way through the park to the Lodgepole section of the park, which contained a visitor center, campsite, store and some food outlets. I arranged a campsite for the night, sat down for lunch, and then set out for my run. I ran straight out of the campground onto the trail that connects Lodgepole with the Giant Forest area of the park, setting out from an elevation of 6500 ft (2000 m).

I reached the General Sherman Tree after 2.5 miles (4 km) of running. It is the largest tree in the world in terms of volume. It is not the tallest, widest or oldest sequoia tree but it contains more wood in its trunk than any other tree. It was an impressive sight, but after circling around it and snapping some photos I continued on since I still had a long way to go.

Sequoia NP - General Sherman Tree
Sequoia NP – General Sherman Tree

That part of the park is very heavily trafficked, and I left the General Sherman Tree along the tarred Congress Trail, before being able to divert my way onto the untarred Trail of the Sequoias. I was heading south through the forest, and as soon as I left the tarred surface I found myself on my own, seeing only four groups of people for the remaining 22 or so miles (~35 km).

At the southern end of the forest I reached the edge of a canyon, turning onto the High Sierra Trail to traverse my way around the canyon. I made my way around the edge of the canyon past the stunning Eagle View, before reaching the turnoff that would direct me to my main target for the day: Alta Peak. Although relatively low considering that the Sierra-Nevada Mountains contain the tallest peak (Mount Whitney) in the lower 48 states of the US, Alta Peak (at 11,000 ft or 3,300 m) would most likely be the highest elevation I will reach on my travels within California.

Sequoia NP - Eagle View Panorama
Sequoia NP – Eagle View Panorama

I took a connector trail that rapidly climbed away from the canyon to reach the Alta Trail, which would take me to the peak. The final section of the trail became extremely steep and I found myself having to stop a couple of times to catch my breath and rest my legs. With just over 2.5 weeks to race day I started thinking that it was time to consider my taper strategy as my legs were not feeling as good as I would like. I eventually made my way to the top of the trail and scrambled my way up some large boulders to reach the very peak of the mountain. There I sat down for a bite to eat before commencing the downhill journey back.

Sequoia NP - Alta Peak View
Sequoia NP – Alta Peak View

I would journey back along the Alta Trail, past where I had joined it, before connecting onto the Panther Creek Trail, which would eventually leave me on the trail back to Lodgepole with just over 1 mile back to the campground. I set off on the very steep descent to start, taking it easily and relatively cautiously until the gradient reduced to a comfortable downhill. Then I slowly picked up the pace, and as I descended further my pace continued to improve. My legs were feeling great and I realised that it was purely the elevation that had caused my earlier lethargy. It meant that the requirement to taper was less urgent but I still needing to formulate a plan.

A few miles out from camp I was flying along the trail at a great pace when I spotted a train of horses in front of me. A group of around 15 horses were tethered together and were being lead by three people, with one seated on every fifth horse. Trail rules dictate that pedestrians must give way to horses, but my problem is that we were both headed in the same direction so it wasn’t simply a matter of having to let them through. I slowed down and followed a safe distance behind the horses while I contemplated whether I would be able to get past, or whether I would be stuck behind them for the remainder of my trip. On the next turn the final rider noticed me, and when I greeted him he hollered to the lead rider to stop if they found a suitable location for me to pass. Shortly after they halted the train of horses at a creek crossing. I wouldn’t be able to walk right alongside the horses without spooking them so I needed to descend off the trail into the creek-side meadow, leap the creek, and then bash my way back onto the trail. I regained the trail, thanked the riders for letting me through, wished them a good evening, and continued on my journey.

I continued to make great time as I descended all the way into camp. I had really enjoyed the descent and finished my run with a distance just short of a marathon. What had seemed like being a bad day as I headed towards the top of Alta Peak had ended very well.

For more details of the run (such as charts of the elevation and pacing) go to here.


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