I planned to go up to Sequoia, backpack for 1 night, and then meet friends in King's Canyon to accompany them on the first few days of their backpacking trip. Well, I went to both parks. I hiked around with my pack on and all my gear in it. I didn't do any backpacking. I'm also not disappointed at all. Other than the huge mess the last day turned into, I had a wonderful trip. I saw some bears. I camped. I got to be in the mountains again. I saw the giant sequoias. I got the lay of the land in both Sequoia and King's Canyon, which will be useful for planning future trips. And I got an extra little surprise at the end.
Here's what happened...
It's about an hour from Sequoia's Lodgepole campground to Cedar Grove in King's Canyon. You take the General's Highway north, and then turn right on 180 and take it into King's Canyon. Which is, in fact, a canyon. A canyon with one road going in or out, and it's the road you just took.
On the way there, I participated in a bear jam. This little dude was eating gooseberries by the side of the road and a line of cars stopped to see him. Including me.
A little later, I passed a sign for a King's Canyon overlook and I saw a huge cloud in the canyon. Wait, that wasn't a cloud. It had to be a wildfire. A drove on until I had a view of it again, and I could see for sure that it was a wildfire.
You can see exactly where the fire was below. We were in Cedar Grove, hiking north and then east.
My friends and I camped for the night. I had a migraine when I went to bed, and a worse migraine when we woke up. We went to get our permits first, and we asked the ranger about the fire. He said it was 0% contained, but it was okay for us to go. The fire was about 15 miles away from us. We might end up breathing smoke as we hiked if the wind changed, and the road might be closed when we got back. If that happened, we would not be able to drive home until it was opened again.
We went to get breakfast, and then came back to the trail head to start our trip. The air was clear in Cedar Grove and had been since we arrived the night before. We looked forward to seeing the Perseid Meteor shower from the trail that night. I was going to have my headache no matter what I did, so I figured I might as well go hiking and then get a good night's sleep that night. I would feel better in the morning most likely.
The trail - the Rae Lake's Loop going clockwise - began with a flat 2 mile segment going east from the Road's End trailhead. Then we began heading slightly north. That was when it got smoky. At first a little, then a lot. And it was hot out. The thermometer on my car later said it was 90. A few hours after we'd started, I realized that my breakfast was not going to stay down. I could choose where I was going to be sick, and whether I was going to continue hiking while sick - but it was too late to choose not getting sick at all.
We were hoping to make it 6.8 miles to Middle Paradise, if not 10 miles (and more elevation gain) to Upper Paradise that day. The mosquitoes were bad and would be bad until we reached Middle Paradise. So taking a nap was not an option until I hiked at least several more miles. And if the smoke was the cause of my migraine, then it would not get better unless the wind changed. I also did not want my friends to see me get sick. Plus, with the smoke, we would not be able to even see the Perseids.
Realistically, I was going to have two days hiking with my friends and one day hiking back to my car alone. Today was going to be bad because of my migraine. Tomorrow might be bad too - I could not predict that. I wanted to hang out with my friends and I was definitely going to lose one day of fun to my headache if not both.
I decided to cut my losses anad go back to my car. It was just 2.5 mi or so back to the trailhead, for a total of a five mile hike. I got sick, as predicted, but at least not in front of anyone else. I snuck past the ranger station because I felt stupid for wussing out and did not want him to see me. Then I drove out of the canyon as fast as I could. Which was not that fast given the curves in the road and the low speed limits. A ringtail darted in front of my car and I swerved to avoid hitting it. I was jazzed to see a ringtail (the only one I've ever seen) but freaked out about hitting other animals if I went too fast.
I thought about getting photos of the smoke, which seemed much worse than it was the day before, as I left. However, even turning my head to look at the smoke made me queasy. I'd better just get out of the canyon and off the mountain as fast as I could. If I needed to, I could stay at a hotel in Fresno. If I could, I'd go all the way home. I wasn't going to camp while feeling this sick.
As soon as I started down 180 toward Fresno, I began to feel a little better. Still sick, but better. It was ironic. I did a 180 and now I was driving on 180.
As I headed toward Fresno, I saw a sign for a place called Cat Haven. That got my attention. Then another sign advertising tours. Hmm... tours. I turned into the driveway. It turned out the place was a conservation operation for many species of cats, including big cats. A tour allows you to see lions, tigers, bobcats, jaguars, leopards, and other less familiar species. The white tiger was busy playing in her pond (she was very muddy). The male lion felt the need to protect his toy (a large ball) when we came past. The bobcats were not interested in having visitors. They hid.
Then, at the end, we went back into the building so I could leave through the front door to the parking lot. There, through a cracked door, I saw an employee laying down in a play pen with a bottle, a stuffed animal, and a baby jaguar playing like a kitten. The little cub was spotted. I could not get a good picture of her, and they would not let me get closer in order to do so. But then, another employee brought the cub's sibling past us. They stopped for a photo.