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Winter hikes (ski touring)




(Published February 2, 2001)

That was then...
   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 triceps.
   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 much more.
   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 outta here!

This is now...
   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 falling.
   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 travelers.
   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 this year).
   Back in the truck, we drove to the entrance of Lodgepole Campground where the large parking lot is plowed during the winter.
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 snow.
   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 direction.
   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 behind us.
   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.











THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
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