Words by Heather Catherine Bode; Photos by Heather Catherine Bode and Jay Bode
In my latest quest to explore more national parks, I recently had a weekend adventure in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. I frequently visit Joshua Tree, and I had visited Zion National Park a few weeks prior, so I was looking forward to heading somewhere that was a little more mountainous and that offered some bouldering and steep hikes with a good amount of elevation gain. These parks delivered.
Sadly, there wasn’t much bouldering on this go around (my navigation skills need work). From what I understood prior to the trip, Kings Canyon isn’t as well-established when it comes to bouldering – as opposed to lead or trad climbing – so the only source I had to find boulders were the very sparse, simple descriptions found on the Mountain Project website.
After spending an hour searching for a particular group of boulders, I abandoned the hunt and moved on to an easier-to-find boulder that was quite picturesque. Kings Canyon has an incredible set of trails for hiking. Sadly, I didn’t have the time for one of the longer hikes ( though I would love to backpack through there someday soon), but after scouring websites and maps and guides, I settled on the 13-mile, 4,000 ft hike that ended at Lookout Point.
I don’t normally hike with trekking poles, but I recently got a pair from Cascade Mountain Tech that I wanted to test out. Turns out poles are super helpful, particularly in the last 1/2 mile of the hike. The majority of the 6+ mile trek up to the point was a long uphill slog, but the last little segment was wild. The best trail description I could find told us to look for the “sketchy” trail that wound up the southwestern face of the point, and that scrambling would be involved. They weren’t kidding.
The first half of the ascent was loose dirt and debris – my poles would sink a good inch and half before settling on firm ground as I made my way up the treacherous hillside. Side note: there was no “sketchy” trail to be found… we just had to figure out the best way up ourselves. The second half of the ascent was covered in large boulders I would have to crawl over and squeeze between. Thankfully, there weren’t crazy drop-offs anywhere, so while it was difficult, it wasn’t heart-in-your-throat terrifying.
After a half mile of leaning on poles, praying I wouldn’t slide back downhill, and scrambling over boulders, we reached the top. And like most hikes, it was so incredibly worth it. At the top, we were treated to a 360 view, including a stunning, high view into Kings Canyon itself. That’s my favorite aspect of hiking: when you reach the summit, or the lake, or whatever you’re hiking to, and all the difficulty and the sweat and the bugs you went through to get there melt away in the powerful presence of raw nature.
After soaking in the moment and taking 1,897 photos (not quite an accurate number, but close), we began our descent. As I’ve learned with bouldering, often times going down is scarier than going up, and that proved to be the case on this hike. Descending that loose, steep slope was definitely sketchy, but thankfully the poles kept me from tumbling down the hill. Once we reached the base of the point, we dumped the sand out of our shoes and finished the last 6 miles of the trail.
Once we returned to camp, we decided that in lieu of bouldering we would have a leisurely afternoon of eating lunch, exploring a bit more of Sequoia National Park and then ending the day at our campsite in Kings Canyon. When camping, I always like to make sure I get back to my site before it gets dark. I just love sitting in a comfortable camp chair, soaking in the late afternoon light and the beautiful surroundings, and enjoying exactly where I am at that moment. It’s essentially my downtime on these trips that lately I’ve been packing full of climbing, hiking, and running.
We relaxed so much that when we woke in the morning at 5 am for another run/hike, we decided to sleep in instead, have a bit more campsite time, and take our time leaving the parks.
Though this time around I didn’t get to see nearly as much of Sequoia as I would have liked (there was construction that held traffic at a dead stop, and I had to get home), the time we spent in Kings Canyon was exactly the experience I had hoped for. Challenging hikes, incredible views, and the mental peace of being disconnected from the modern world and reconnected with the deep pulse of the outdoors.