ABOVE: At About 11 miles from the trailhead, the trail nears the North Fork of the Kings River and its domes where the river turns west towards valley destinations and its work behind dams. Glacial polish betray the rivers icy origon.
The North Fork Kings River Introduction
The historic North Fork of the Kings River region is typified by thick forests in deep canyons, topped by high alpine and sub-alpine plateaus and benches, all embraced by the towering peaks of the White Divide, Kettle Ridge, and the Le Conte Divide. The trails, not to be confused with the well-groomed trails of nearby National Parks, are characterized by the creatures that have the most impact on them: horses. Unfortunately, this means these horse trails are too often too steep, dusty, rocky, cobbled, sandy, faint, cut too deep, or stepped too high for human walkers, and usually are any combination of the proceeding over a given stretch of trail. Also, if one is looking for expansive views, patience is in order. Aside from views from some meadows and river areas that allow some views of distant peaks, with a moderate pace, it takes two days to get above 9500 feet and the thick forest below before you are rewarded with your first wide-ranging close-in views of the peaks around you. Fortunately, there are many pleasant campsites you may find along the way after your first day of walking, and by the second day you will undoubtedly be impressed, if not awe-struck, by the high and beautiful area you reached after so much uphill toil over poor trails. The famed explorer John C. Fremont, looking for a crossing of the Sierra, became lost and snowbound somewhere in the upper reaches of this watershed, and was forced to eat his saddle stock. Theodore Solomon, pioneering backpacker, photographer and originator of the John Muir Trail concept, also became snowbound in this watershed. Avoiding this same fate, it is best to visit this area in mid to late season. The early season traveler on foot would encounter too much snow and many treacherous streams and river crossings. The Le Conte Divide area is relatively remarkably flat near the peaks and above 9500 feet, making it surprisingly easy for fishermen to get from lake to lake. The Guest Lake area features a series of easy steps between lakes, and the Blackcap Basin and White divide offer, with a few exceptions, easy cross-country from meadow filled basins to fish filled lakes. If you desire solitude and acre after acre of glacier scoured white granite alpine beauty and don't mind miles of rugged trails to get there, this region may be ideal for you.
The first part of the trail is in deep forest and meadows, with some moderate climbing to a trail junction. From the junction the trail makes its way down through a number of meadows before returning to forest and finally a stream, which may be a wet crossing early season. The trail continues down stream in thick viewless forest until reaching BM 8142 where it begins a steep climb up the shoulder of hill 9572. The trail abruptly levels out and begins a gradual climb to the highpoint of the ridge. In this fairly level area, views of the North Fork of the Kings River open up through the scattered trees. Near the highpoint, a break from travel is recommended so you can walk out to the exposed polished white granite for a rare unobstructed view up and down this glacier carved canyon as seen in the picture above. The marvelous white granite is typical of this entire region, and just a hint of what lies farther ahead.