Before I started my eight-day SEKI Loop trail, I spent two days in Kings Canyon National Park to acclimatize to the elevation and do some preliminary hiking. I combined the Sunset Trail with the General Grant Loop Trail, the North Grove Trail and the Dead Giant Loop to a beautiful half day hike.
Kings Canyon Sunset Trail Loop
Start/end: Grant Grove visitors center
Distance: 9.9 miles (15,9 km)
Elevation gain/loss: 1,375 ft (419 m)
Time: 3:40 hrs moving time; 4:20 hrs total time
Date: August 28, 2018
I had arrived at Grant Grove the evening before, and settled down in cabin nr. 4 at the Grant Grove Cabins, close to the Visitors Center. The Cabin was big enough to house four people, so I had plenty of room to organize my pack and supplies for my coming thru hike.
I slept very well in one of the big beds, but (due to the jet lag) I was wide awake at 4:45 am. I decided to get up, and do an early hike today. This turned out to be a perfect choice.
Sunset Loop Trail from Grant Grove Visitors Center (Map Gaia GPS)
At 5:45 I was packed (very light) and walked to the trailhead nearby. The full moon illuminated my way as I followed the trail North. Underneath the dense trees it was quite dark though. The first part of the trail crossed the Azalea campsite where I passed a few sleepy tents on the way. Within half an hour I reached the first giant trees, and eventually arrived at the large parking lot at the General Grant Loop. At this early hour, just as the first rays of sun were shining through the trees, the parking was completely empty. Looking at the size of the parking lot, that must have been a rare sight.
General Grant Loop
The General Grant Loop is a wheelchair accessible interpretive trail. I was the only visitor, except for the deer family that crossed the paved trail.
A mother with two young deer in the early morning.
The trail is surrounded by giant trees, living or dead, some burned and some fallen down. One of the dead hollow trees is right on the trail and you can actually crawl/walk right trough the length of it. The other big trees are fenced off from the trail with wooden fences, making it impossible to get real close for a tree hug.
One of the many burnt trees, this one burned from the inside to a hollow chimney.
With the fences and all the information panels along the way, this is a very easy trail, but as I zigzagged through I managed to get kind of lost in in the area of the tallest of them all: General Grant Tree.
There it was, the second tallest tree in the world: General Grand Tree. Being close to the tree, it was actually hard to perceive how tall the tree was. Walking around to the other side, were the trail is a bit further off, I had a better view. And I wondered: how tall is this tree anyway?
Well, this tall: 267 feet (81 m).
The Sequoia trees are quite remarkable. They are so big, but have so little and such short branches! I walked around the area some more, past an old cabin and more huge trees. Within an hour the loop trail took me back to the parking lot, which was still empty.
North Grove Trail
Turning right on the parking lot I found the Sunset Trail again. After a short walk I came to the junction with the North Grove trail.
North Grove Trail
Without the wooden fences and the concrete pavement, this part of the trail has a much more natural feel to it. With trees that may be just a bit shorter, but impressive nevertheless.
There are a lot of fire-scarred pines along the North Grove trail. The path made a circle to rejoin with the Sunset trail, which brought me to the next side-trail of the Dead Giant Loop.
Dead Giant Loop
Upon entering the Dead Giant Loop I saw the first dead giant tree lying across a green meadow. But the real Dead Giant is to be found a bit further, just off the right side of the trail. The tree is dead, but still standing tall, although the top of the tree is missing.
The Dead Giant
This dead tree might be a bit less spectacular in height (it’s more a long dead stump than a tree), but because you can stand next to it and touch it, I finally got the feeling how big these Sequoias really are.
The National Park Boundary
Following the trail, I left the National Park for a while, marked by a small sign on one of the trees. I stumbled upon three big male deer with huge antlers. They startled me for a moment, believing their sounds were made by a bear, but these animals where awesome in their own right.
Sequoia Lake Overlook
When the trail looped back East, I arrived at the Sequoia Lake Overlook, which offered a view over the nice blue Sequoia Lake, west of the National Park’s borders.
Back at the Sunset Trail, the trail changed to a formerly paved road. This was where Kings Canyon National Park originally had its entrance and where cars would drive up from Sequoia Lake up the steep road to General Grant Grove. Now abandoned and partly overgrown, you can still feel the remnants of the paved road beneath your feet.
The trail makes some bends and curves going down. Following the signs I reached Ella Falls at the lowest elevation on the trail. At this time of the year (late August) the fall was not really impressive, just a tiny stream down the slick rocks was all that was left.
From Ella Falls the trail climbs back to the village, for the last hour of the hike. I still had not met a single other person the entire hike, and I wouldn’t either this last stretch of trail.
Grant Grove Village
It was only 10 am when I was back at the Grant Grove Village. Still early in the morning and I already hiked a 10 mile hike! The first thing I did now was going to Grant Grove Post Office, where I hoped to find my first supply for my upcoming 8-day thru hike.
Post Office in Grant Grove Village
Coming from overseas, I was excited and delighted to find all the items that I ordered months ago in a cardboard box at this tiny postoffice on the other side of the world. I do have to thank the TrailSupplyCo for this. Without services like theirs, it is almost impossible to organize a High Sierra wilderness trip from Europe.
I unpacked the cardboard box and spread out everything I ordered on the unused bed. It took me about a whole hour to repack everything in zip locks. Discarding all the original packaging not only saved me quite some weight, but more importantly a lot of packing volume.
In order to get everything into my bear canister, I really had to cram and crunch everything, and only after I punched tiny holes in the zip locks to get the air out, I was able to close the lid of the bear canister. Pro tip: do not punch holes at the bottom of the bags, but only in the top. This will prevent milk powder and Pad Thai powder to leak and mix into your bear canister over time (as I would discover the next week). When I finally packed the canister and everything else into my backpack, it weighed just over 32 pounds (14,9 kg), 2 liters of water included – just as I planned.
I had the rest of the day off, checking the weather forecasts (very good) at the visitors center, getting lunch (excellent) from the little grocery store and writing postcards home. I discovered that my cabin had just a bit of wifi, so I could finish the download of maps in my Gaia app, which I apparently had not done properly at home. This took all evening and night, but in the early morning I was ready to travel to Cedar Grove for my first day of the SEKI Loop.