Ask Me: Backpacking in Sequoia National Park
While researching for a summer backpacking trip with my wife, I came across your excellent website for the first time. Thank you for setting such a high bar in quality images and narrative. My daughter is a writer and would appreciate your style. Two questions about your article on the 6-day, 38-mile Sequoia National Park loop: If you were hiking that loop without your children, would you have still been content with the daily mileage, or would you have done something different? (We are physically fit and 60, so we do have limitations.) Secondly, you mention the mosquito population. Our trip would have to be in that mid-to-late July timeframe. Do you know if most hikers experience such a thickness of mosquitos that the experience is negatively affected to a great extent?
My wife has dealt with that in the past while canoeing/portaging the Boundary Waters in MN. But it’s not something we would look forward to (I re-read the word “thick” several times…). I assume a bit of breeze will help, but wanted to get your thoughts, especially if we are there for a week during that timeframe.
Thanks so much for your informative and beautifully designed website. Great work!
Brian & Laurie
Hi Brian and Laurie,
Thanks for the nice words about my blog, I’m glad you found it. I see you’re from my old stomping grounds, New Hampshire. I’ve logged many miles in the White Mountains (and I authored, for many years, a hiking guidebook to New England).
As you might have surmised from my photos from that backpacking trip in Sequoia, it was one of the most photogenic trips I’ve taken. Two of our campsites made my list of 25 all-time favorite backcountry campsites, and one lake where we stopped for lunch made my list of the best backcountry campsites I’ve hiked past. You’ll have a wonderful time.
To answer your questions:
When I hike without my family, I tend to hike much longer distances (i.e., often 20-mile days or farther), but I know that’s not for everyone. Bear in mind that this loop includes a handful of passes in the 9,000-foot to over 11,000-foot range, so that tends to affect your pace, as does the typically very hot afternoon sun at higher elevations in the High Sierra. But if you are in the habit of reasonably early starts hiking every day, I suggest you plan to hike as far each day as you have in other Western national parks, or even in the White Mountains, where the steepness and ruggedness impedes pace about as much as the elevation does in the Sierra.
The trails on this Sequoia loop are generally very good, with the conspicuous exception of the “route” (not a maintained trail at all) from Columbine Lake over Sawtooth Pass down to the Monarch Lakes; at Monarch Lakes, you’ll pick up a good, maintained trail back to the trailhead. There’s a decent user trail from Columbine Lake to Sawtooth Pass, but the descent from Sawtooth Pass to the Monarch Lakes has no good footpath that we found, and it’s steep and quite loose. My kids did fine, but we took it slowly. I would definitely not advise hiking the loop in the opposite direction, climbing from Monarch Lakes to Sawtooth Pass, especially with heavy backpacks.
As for mosquitoes, yes, the High Sierra is notorious for them being thick basically from late June or early July (depending on elevation) to mid- or late August, although they taper off in August. Mosquitoes are out during the several weeks when lakes are free of ice and nighttime temperatures consistently remain at least a few degrees above freezing. That’s generally true in almost any mid-latitude mountain range that has plenty of standing water (i.e., lakes). If you’ve seen the height of mosquito season in the Boundary Waters, that may be comparable to, or even worse than the worst few weeks of mosquitoes in the High Sierra, in July. I’ve had many trips with voracious mosquitoes and I’m sure I’ll have more, but I try to avoid them, especially when backpacking with my kids. I always tell people that late summer, mid-August to mid- or late September, is the best time to hike anywhere in the High Sierra—or in most mid-latitude mountains in the Northern Hemisphere, for that matter.
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That said, if late July is the only time you can go, I would still consider going. The mosquitoes are really only bad first thing in the morning and in the evening. If you camp above tree line and there’s a breeze, that helps considerably. You can always bring a head net for camp, wear pants and long sleeves, and in the mornings, either start hiking very early, before the mosquitoes are out, or linger in your tent until they’ve dissipated.
You might also be interested in my Ask Me post, “What Clothing Do You Recommend For August in the High Sierra?” And you may find some good, general tips about hiking and backpacking anywhere in the High Sierra by seeing my stories about the John Muir Trail and Yosemite National Park.
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See also my stories:
“My Top 10 Favorite Backpacking Trips”
“The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun”
“10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit”
“10 Tips For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier”
I hope that’s helpful. Thanks for writing. Good luck. Let me know how it goes for you.
Thank you for such a prompt and extremely thoughtful reply. This is very helpful. The trip you took is enticing.
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