When I described this trip to my husband he dubbed this trek “The long way around the parking lot”, I call it the Medium Sexy Loop.
This trek starts at Road’s End in Sequoia King Canyon National Park starting on the North side of the parking lot, and completing 144km later on the South East side. Quite novel to say the least! The trek is dubbed as the Big SEKI loop, this is a shortened version (there are a few, I went with the middle in size option). Much info around the web can be found for the “SEKI Loop”.
I really enjoyed this loop and soloed it in 7 days. It has enough solitude on the early Copper Creek Trail, then a ton of socializing up on the JMT, and since it is a loop you don’t have to deal with logistics of getting too and from the trail head, or a boring out and back.
Next level goals – you can make this trek down past Whitney to Kern River and back across the HST through Bear Paw Meadow and out Bubbs Creek aka The Big SEKI Loop (googling this has lots of resources). This was my original goal but I had an awful cold for most of this trip and decided one week out in the wilderness was perfect.
The trek is harder than the JMT, in my opinion (some map reading/basic route finding when the trail gets a bit hard to follow on day two and three), but still I found it super easy from the mental perspective, so a perfect one to solo.
Park: Sequoia King Canyon
Info: Loop details and caltopo
Total Distance: Approximately 88 miles (141.5km)
Starting at Roads End, Copper Creek Trail head. Looping up to the JMT and out lower Rae Lakes Loop at Bubbs Creek.
Time: 7 days September 2nd – 8th.
Base weight: 14lbs (stupid bear canister…)
Food weight: 13lbs
Lighter Pack: here
Forgot my spoon in my checked bag, oops… melted the end of my toothbrush handle into a flat spoon like shape. I guess that is a pro for not cutting off your toothbrush handle 😉
Probably not full on UL (Ultra Light), but solo traveling so had some extras. Loved my ULA Rain Kilt, that was a new addition to this trip. It made for a great “porch floor” next to my tent in the evenings.
Day 1 – Copper Creek Trailhead to Granite Basin
Distance: 11 miles(17.7km)
Elevation Gain: 6700ft(2042m)
Day one is kind of the worst. Bad sleep from being in the campground the night before on Labour Day weekend, full pack weight, 50+ switch backs, hotter than hell, little shade or water. Up, up, up… Water was a bit more scarce this year than previous years so I actually ran out of water on the lip down into Granite Basin. Where I expected there to be water there wasn’t, but fortunately Granite Basin was only another 20 minutes and tons of water to be found :). I recommend 2L from the water source on the map on the way up, until you are in Granite Basin.
I found a secluded camp on a dusty patch near the lake, and it felt amazing to soak my feet in the water. The location felt super private but I did see a guy in the morning on the other side of the lake. Woke up to three deer walking through camp, not bad for day one!
Day 2 – Granite Basin to Simpson’s Meadow
Distance: 14 miles (22.5km)
Elevation Loss: 4700ft(1430m)
Day two was beautiful. Had a spring in my step, made it over Granite Pass fairly early, it’s a super easy pass, and down through Lake of the Fallen Moon area which is one of my favourite areas on the trail. Sunbeams like to peer through these small meadows and there are almost no people in this part of the park.
Crossed the Middle Fork Dougherty Creek which last year I took a spur trail just before and was off trail for a good 45 minutes – this year it seemed so obvious… Ran into three people coming out from State Lakes which was nice to have some human interactions with, only ones of the day!
Made it down “The Bitch” which is what the switch backs are called in the Kings Canyon Pack Guide… many many switch backs and 4000+ feet of down down down – you get here in the early afternoon and it feels like you are so close to Simpson Meadow but this section seems to drag. I cursed the pack gates as I am not very big and had a hard time opening and closing them.
Made it past Simpson Meadow – note it is not signed and there are a few spur trails through the meadow. I hugged the right one that follows the granite rock slope and that is the one that is correct. I assume the other ones go to stock camps. I hiked about half mile or so past Simpson Meadow and found where the river was fairly close to the trail and setup camp.
Wandering through the woods near camp there was an old drift fence in the trees, so I guess this had been setup a bit more in the past. I had to tie a guy line to my pot to collect water, as the bank was about a four feet steep drop to the river but it was fine. Quiet night here, no wildlife or people seen, however a big storm rolled in early so I just had a bars for dinner and it was a bit spooky.
Day 3 – Simpson’s Meadow to Glacier Creek
Distance: 12.6 miles (20.2km)
Elevation Gain: 3000ft(914m)
Day three was also one of my favourite days. I had a bit of apprehension because I did this section of trail last year and found it to be a bit of a challenge. The trail itself isn’t particularly long or difficult elevation wise, but it is not well maintained and gets quite overgrown. I had heard there was a washout somewhere past Cartridge Creek, and last year was a huge snow pack year and the Palisade Creek Crossing was challenging. Though so far the water sources were pretty scarce, so that worry was quickly squashed!
Climbed up and and up, this section is filled with grand views, hanging meadows, and stunning granite vistas. About half a mile before Devil’s Washbowl I was in extremely over grown brush and making the occasional bear call. All of a sudden I hear crunch crunch above me just off trail and sure enough about four feet away, a huge healthy black bear and I make eye contact. This was the closest I have ever been to a bear (even living in bear country). I talked to the bear calmly, “Oh why hello black bear, nice to see you today…”. He looked at me as if to say “what the fuck are you”, and slowly ambled off. It was a great experience overall and he seemed to have a healthy disinterest in humans.
Devil’s Washbowl up to Cartridge Creek was stunning and uneventful, then I hit the washout about 1-2 miles before the JMT and there were actually trail crew working on it. One of the crew members mentioned that it won’t be fixed this year, but from what I could see they were doing a great job. I was able to just hike up the side of the washout 4-5 feet then scramble across, it really was no big deal. Up the rest of the trail to Palisade Creek the crossing was super easy this year. Managed to rock hop 90% of the way then had to take two above the knee steps into the water to get over to the bank. Dried out, had lunch it was only 1:30PM!
Feeling quite pleased with myself, it was now time to hit the major freeway that is the JMT and prepare to get overwhelmed by all the socializing. I hiked the remainder of the evening to Glacier Creek, just before the Golden Staircase. In hindsight I should have just busted my ass another hour up to Palisade Lakes, would have made for a more enjoyable day four.
Day 4 – Glacier Creek to South Fork King River
Distance: 12.2 miles (19.6km)
Elevation: Approximately 3000ft to Mather’s Pass (914m)
Day four was a bit of a slog for me. Golden Staircase flew by but the trek to Mather’s Pass felt unending. There was some dicey weather rolling in and I really didn’t want to be caught out high on the pass. I kept questioning if I should keep moving up the pass or hunker for a bit, finding solace in the cheese snacks I picked up at the SEKI store at Road’s End as an impromptu buy, I decided to keep on.
The trail after Mather’s shlepped through the forest down down down, and it started to rain. I found a campsite down low by the South Fork King River and ended my day early around 3:30 PM. This area was a bit sad as I reminisced the fact that a lovely young PCT’er passed away earlier in the year at one of the river crossings.
Once the rain finally let up, it turned out to be a fun night as I met some awesome folks from the UK and US, built a fire and we had some laughs.
Day 5 – South Fork King River to 1.5 miles before Dollar Lake
Distance: 14.3 miles (23km)
Elevation: Approximately 2000ft to Pinchot Pass (600m)
Day five was fantastic, I loved Pinchot Pass! It wasn’t a slog and I had great views! The other side of Pinchot was never ending lunar landscape of arid terrain. I even met the superintendent of the Park who took my picture for me at the top of the pass, we had a nice chat and shared a snack. I took a very leisure day (the kilometers don’t show it but it truly was a saunter) and just slowly trekked through enjoying the sights. I made it past the suspension bridge and saw the zoo that is that first campsite with a lot of familiar faces over the last couple days. I decided to keep going as I really don’t like the busy areas with the toilet paper messes and the loudness in nature.
My stretch goal was to make Dollar Lake, but I got lazy and decided to pick a kind of shitty camp spot just above this wooded meadow (which in hindsight had nicer camp spots but I was too lazy to walk back down the way I came up because that just feels wrong!).
This camp spot had no water, and was on mostly granite so pitching the tent was a bit trickier but I was getting much better at it. Another bar only night, but it was peaceful and a deer roamed through camp right before I went to bed.
Day 6 – 1.5 miles before Dollar Lake to Junction Meadow (Lower Rae Lake Loop)
Distance: 12.5 miles (20km)
Elevation: Approximately 2500ft to Glenn Pass (762m)
Day six, Rae Lakes are gorgeous and a great place to have second breakfast 🙂 Climbed up Glenn Pass, which I felt was a more mentally challenging than Mather’s Pass mostly due to the fact that you can see everyone on top of the pass and they look like ants the whole damn time.
I have a mental ‘game’ where I tell myself I can take a drink of water every 5 or 10 switch backs (depending on how exhausted or thirsty I am, and barring how much water I have at the time). That game definitely helped me on this pass!
Once over the pass down and back into the woods towards Charlotte Lake, the trail crews were doing some blasting. aI was fortunate to be the last hiker through before the blast so I didn’t have to wait 30 minutes! Phewf!! I wish I had spent some time exploring Charlotte Lake and side trail in hindsight as that area was gorgeous and I felt a bit rushed.
Finally veered off on the Bubbs Creek Trail at Lower Vidette Meadow and said goodbye to the John Muir Trail. Down towards Junction Meadow, to the left there is a fork to go to East Lake, there are some great camp sites near the river. The river crossing itself looked a bit gnarly however some people were crossing upstream. Apparently the other side is where the bear bin is located, but if you have a bear can it is irrelevant.
If you want to push on a little further the next good sites are around Charlotte Creek another two miles down hill.
This night was a sweet campsite as I was first to arrive. Also some good company with the two Steve’s who were brother in laws were there. I had met the one Steve earlier in the day on the other side of Glenn Pass, and we had chatted and had a good laugh. This evening we all ate dinner together. Steve 1 was a song writer/poet and rapped me an amazing song about hiking, it sounds cheesy but it was the coolest fucking thing I had heard all trip and was legit pro. Honestly I wish I had recorded it!
Day 7 – Junction Meadow to Roads End
Distance: 11.5 miles (18km)
Elevation: Back down to 5000ft from around 7000ft
I woke up at five AM with excitement for an upcoming shower today and broke camp by 6am. I loved walking down Bubbs Creek Canyon, the grade was easy. I saw six trail runners with day packs coming up the trail, those guys are hardcore – curious if they were doing Rae’s Lake Loop?! Passed through the Bubbs Creek Fire burn zone from a fire earlier in the summer. Right as I finished this I saw (no offense bear), this ugly, scrawny, scrappy adolescent bear. He had zero interest in moving off the trail and I wasn’t sure if he still had a momma bear near by or if he was on his own – tween bear… I was yelling at the bear and backed up slowly. He gave zero shits about me and went right on foraging. Finally after 15 minutes he fucked off, and I was able to move on. I mentioned it to a ranger that this bear might need a hazing… and the ranger seemed to know the culprit.
Down some last sets of switch backs the midges became annoying – first time on the trip that bugs were… bugging me. Finally, the long flats back to Roads End with all the day hikers passing you, it’s only 1-2 miles but feels like it goes on forever… I just want that damn shower!! (Talk about a motivation). Exited around 1PM not a bad 18km downhill haul! Showers ended up being free for some unknown reason so I was able to take as long as I wanted – talk about luxury!!
Woo hoo loop completed! Hope this was mildly interesting 🙂 Happy Hiking.
This is a superb write-up. I had all the gear I needed for the SEKI loop in 2018 when a family emergency forced me to postpone the trip; this post has convinced me to try again.
I hope you were able – or are still planning to complete this trip! It is amazing.