hikes (ski touring)
February 2, 2001)
The best reason for taking up
the sport of cross-country skiing? Because
it is so accessible from Three Rivers.
And if we can do it, so can you...
Until six years ago, when the
snow would fall, for us it was just the end
to another hiking season. But even though
covered in snow, the mountains still beckoned.
One day, while the kids were
in school, John and I packed our gloves, hats,
and tire chains and headed to Wolverton.
We rented skis and went up and
down and around Long Meadow until absolutely
exhausted... and warm! What a revelation —
playing in the snow, but not being cold!
Amazingly, even with the installation
of tire chains at Eleven Range, we reached
this winter wonderland in less than an hour
from the park entrance. We were hooked!
This free-heeled classic skiing
is not just for mountain men in buckskin and
coonskin caps anymore. It’s a great,
full-body workout that works on everything
from balance to abs, legs, and arms, especially
Over the years, our love of “skiing
the parks” has evolved and streamlined.
It’s a special family activity that
is fun and educational, teaching natural history,
winter survival, personal fitness, and so
By purchasing our own ski equipment,
the choice of trailheads is limited only by
our skill level, which improves every year.
An addition of a four-wheel drive
vehicle means no more stopping to install
and remove tire chains. Our gear is always
packed and ready to go and... we’re
Knowing that our weekend was
totally booked and we wouldn’t be able
to experience last week’s fresh snowfall,
John and I dropped the kids at school Friday
morning and ventured on to Sequoia. It was
raining in Three Rivers, and by the time we
reached 3,000 feet elevation, there was snow
We entered a huge cloud at Amphitheater
Point, but nothing was going to deter us from
making our weekly sojourn to the mountains.
At Deer Ridge, we met the first in a trio
of snowplows working to keep the snow off
the road for employees and diehard winter
We drove through a very deserted
Giant Forest, passing only a snowplow, and
headed on to Lodgepole on this cold, stormy
day. We wanted a day of exercise, but had
to be home in time for dinner, and nearby
was the perfect trail.
We stopped in at the Lodgepole
Visitor Center, open year-round, where there
are also public restrooms. Next we checked
out the new ski-rental shop in the Lodgepole
Market Center (rent skis and snowshoes here
now; there is no rental shop at Wolverton
Back in the truck, we drove to
the entrance of Lodgepole Campground where
the large parking lot is plowed during the
As soon as our skis touched the snow, we knew
we were in for an arduous journey. Since we
insisted on skiing immediately after the snowstorm
of the night before, we would have the honor
of setting trail.
The first mile of this ski trail
is an uphill grade, beginning at 6,700 feet
elevation and climbing gradually but steadily
to about 7,100 feet. At the one-mile mark
is a trail junction; Wolverton is to the east,
three-quarters of a mile up and over the hill.
We stayed on the Old Lodgepole
Road, traveling south toward Giant Forest.
Just past the junction, the trail crosses
Wolverton Creek and enters a dense forest
of lodgepole pine, cedar, and red fir.
If the snow stays at its current
depth of three to four feet, a sign peeks
out that points the way to the General Sherman
Tree, but disregard it. It is there to direct
summer travelers along a trail that is not
practical to use in the winter. Instead follow
the yellow triangular signs on the trees with
an “L” on them (for Lodgepole).
Continue traveling southeast
for another quarter mile and then climb a
narrow embankment to the Wolverton Road. Use
caution when crossing here because this road
is open to traffic year-round.
If blacktop is showing, skis
have to be removed before crossing to the
other side. A coat of ice and a couple inches
of snow allowed us to glide across; the first
time in 1.5 miles that we didn’t have
to forge through snow.
On the other side of the road,
the trail continues. No one had skied here
since the last couple of storms passed through,
and the going became even more challenging
and the trench we were digging even deeper.
We pushed on, literally, still
climbing slightly, still knee-deep in powder.
Down below the road is the Wolverton pack
station; its corrals, cabins, and outbuildings
snow-covered and closed for the winter.
Just beyond, is a concrete block
building used for storage by the Park Service.
It, too, is out of service for the winter.
After topping out at about 7,200
feet, we began to descend toward the General
Sherman Tree, located on the north end of
the Giant Forest. This would normally be the
icing on the cake of any cross-country ski
trip — the downhill — but we still
were trudging in a deep trench of new-fallen
The first part of the descent
weaves in and out of felled trees, which make
up the Wolverton wood lot. The trail is well-marked
through here; just maintain the southerly
Once through the wood lot, the
trail is obviously on a road again. There
are no markings here and a couple of fallen
trees must be crossed (not a problem when
the snow is this deep), but keep skiing south
until on the edge of a bluff.
Here, the route can go south
no farther. The road can be seen to the left,
descending into the forest.
As we traveled down this last
hill, the giant sequoias came into view below.
This is what we had come to see; the cinnamon-red
trunks amidst the white snowscape and gray
sky suddenly added a new dimension to the
landscape and it’s always thrilling.
We entered the Sherman Tree area
(elevation 6,900 feet) and skied along a shoveled
pathway to Sequoia’s most famous landmark.
We admired the massive trees and skied to
the back of the largest of all, brushed snow
off the fence, and sat down, protected from
the snowstorm by the overhanging branches
of some of the great Sherman’s offspring.
Besides three snow-players down
the road, we were the only ones in the area.
After the exertion of breaking trail for 2.5
miles, we became cold quickly and could only
stay in our secluded spot for a few minutes.
After a snack, we turned back
the way we had come. For once, we were anxious
to return via the same route, since we could
now enjoy the trail we had worked so hard
to track and pack.
The ski to the Tree had taken
us two hours, 15 minutes. Skiing back was
certainly easier than the initial breaking
of trail (and would only take one hour, 15
minutes), but there was already another inch
or two of snow in our tracks.
As we crossed to the far side
of the Wolverton Road and prepared to cling
to the narrow hillside on its short descent
down to the main trail, we noticed two skiers
Their timing was right on this
day because they had our trenches to ski in
rather than making their own. We offered to
let them go ahead of us, but they knew better
and declined, preferring to let us continue
to groom the trail.
The snow didn’t stop falling
until we arrived back at the trailhead when,
ironically, the sun poked through the clouds
briefly. We were utterly exhausted and absolutely
elated, as always after a day in the Sierra.