Dick's Adventures of 2018 - Part 5


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Adventures of 2016         Adventures of 2017          2018 Part 1         2018 Part 2          2018 Part 3          2018 Part 4


The Notorious Upshaw Brothers at New Stargazer Rock          Buena Vista Peak


Day Trip to New Stargazer Rock

I camped by myself at New Stargazer Rock last year and last month, and immediately wanted to share this delightful place with family members. I knew that Colton and Jack would have a great time running up and down the big rock just east of the camp, and I had an even more ambitious plan for them. More about that later.

We found a date that worked for the Upshaw family, so I got up early on September 23 and arrived at their house at 8 a.m. Johnny, Colton, Jack and I set out in their Toyota Tacoma, driving up Highway168 past Shaver Lake, then following dirt roads for five miles to the campsite I first discovered in August of 2017. (Brittany, a school teacher, would enjoy a rare day without being around kids for eight hours or more.)

Another gentleman was parked by the campfire ring, so we found a spot at the edge of the area and started our first explorations. He was not camping, just enjoying the area, and soon went on down the road. Meanwhile the boys (all four of us) made several trips up on the rock, and Johnny, Colton and Jack went down into the cave-like crevasses on the far side. 

Jack explores the rock Colton, Jack and Johnny

We had a snack to give us energy and got ready for our "big hike" of the day. We have a family rule that says you can put your name on a dome, hill or mountain if it has no official name, and more importantly, if you go to the top. Just north of the camp there are two small domes and I have gone to the top of them during both my trips there. The total walk was just over half a mile, so I let Colton and Jack know that they would have their own domes if they would hike to the top. In this same area my younger grandson has climbed Mikie's Dome, and daughter Jennifer and her husband Rod have climbed Neely Dome.

Taking on fuel for the climb ahead Our destination, as seen from the campsite


The route is a short downhill walk through a drainage, then up through a stretch of sandy soil, and finally a moderately steep hike up through rock slabs that have been created by the process of exfoliation. Although I encouraged everyone to take it slow and easy, Colton was soon running up to the top, 100 feet ahead of the rest of us. Jack, on the other hand, can always find something to do that is more interesting than hiking, and would stop, sit down, poke at the rock with a stick, and just generally travel at his own pace. When he looked up and realized that we weren't waiting for him, he quickly ran and caught up.

There is a big rock formation on top of the dome, which I have never tried to climb. Naming rights do not require anyone to do anything that's not safe, but Colton decided that he could get up on top of the rock. With a little help from Dad, he was soon up on the first level, the highest that could be done safely. Jack wanted to do it too, and soon all three Upshaw men were on the rock, while Grandpa Dick wisely stayed below and took photos.

Colton earns his dome Upshaw and sons on the rock on top of the dome

From the newly christened Colton's Dome, the trek to what would soon be Jack's Dome is a simple stroll, a short distance down across a saddle, and a gentle slope up to the big, flat top. Everyone made this stretch without any delays, until it was time for Jack to go the last 20 feet to the highest point and pose in triumph. Instead he found a bunch of pine cones under a Jeffrey pine, and sat under the tree, stacking cones on top of each other and ignoring all entreaties to complete the climb to his dome.

Eventually he did finish the "climb," and he and Colton then spent several minutes writing their names and other messages in the dirt with sticks. Johnny and I enjoyed the view and just being out in a fantastic mountain setting. We took a few final photos, and made our way down across the lower shoulder of Colton's Dome and back to camp.

Jack prefers the study of pine cones  to posing on "his" dome Finally making his mark
Dick Estel and his great grandsons, Colton and Jack High Sierra peak, viewed to the north of Jack's Dome

We moved our chairs into the shade and enjoyed our lunch. There were a few yellowjackets who wanted to join us. The little creatures were not nearly as bad as I've seen them in some areas, and for the most part just shooing them away works pretty well, but the boys were concerned enough that they sat in the truck to finish eating.

Lunch in the high country Dining in the truck, safe from yellowjackets

It was cool and breezy, and when I first stepped out of the truck I thought maybe I should have worn jeans and a long-sleeve shirt. However, going up and down the rock a few times warmed us up nicely.

It was very clear. We could see the outline of a distant range of peaks in the Kings Canyon back country. On my camping trips, this feature was only visible late in the day or early morning.

Johnny's truck is 4-wheel drive, so we navigated the road without difficulty. However, we did experience some bouncing and bumps, which the boys find very exciting.

There was more traffic in the two hours or so that we were there than both of my previous three-day campouts combined. Weekends make a big difference in this country.

There are a number of songs on my computer that Colton and Jack love, including "The Chipmunk Song," "Purple People Eater," "They Gotta Quit Kicking My Dog Around," "Rugged Ralph the Rapid Rabbit Runner," and "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road." I had put these and others on a CD for them, and we listened to their favorites as we drove. In a case of life imitating art, we saw an actual dead skunk in the middle of Highway 168.

We all enjoyed this outing, and of course, it's always special for me to spend time with my grandchildren and great grandchildren. The boys fell asleep before we got off the dirt road and had a two-hour nap on the drive home.

Now that I've finally shared this location with family members, I'm hoping I can camp there with them. I'm not sure I want to drive on that road again - ideally someone else will drive.


--Dick Estel, September 2018

More New Stargazer Photos

Buena Vista Peak

Buena Vista Peak is a rocky, dome-like mountain in Giant Sequoia National Monument, just outside the Grant Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park. The trailhead is about 60 miles from home, on the General's Highway right across from the Kings Canyon Overlook. From the top, it offers a 360 degree view that takes in the foothills to the west, Redwood Mountain, and high Sierra peaks in the back country of the national park.

When my daughter Teri learned she did not have to work on Friday October 5, she called and suggested we go hiking, and we decided on this location. She had been there once with her mother, and it would be my fifth trip to the top. My first visit was in November of 2013, with snow on the trail, and was followed in the spring of 2014 by the first official hike with the Ramblers.

A recent storm had washed the dust off the leaves, but snow was limited to the high country above 9,000 feet, well above the 7,500 top of Buena Vista. Across from the trailhead, the Kings Canyon Overlook provides a view of the Kings River Canyon and some some of the spectacular peaks beyond.

High Sierra peaks from Kings Canyon Overlook
(with first snow of 2018-19)
The top of Buena Vista Peak from the trail (2017 photo)

Clouds from the storm two days earlier still lingered over the mountains, but our view of Kings Canyon was mostly clear. As we hiked, clouds and mist drifted over the ridge across from us, and up from the canyon below Buena Vista, leaving the Buck Rock Fire Lookout nearly lost in the mist. On the way back down, it was much more visible, lit up by the afternoon sun

Buck Rock, almost lost in the mist Buck Rock in the sun

The hike up was delightful and less taxing than many treks that are mostly uphill. The trail can be seen as three separate parts. After a short climb from the parking lot, the trail goes through big rocks, huge boulders and rounded granite formations, interspersed with manzanita, buck brush, chinquapin and big evergreens, mostly Jeffrey pine and firs. The trail then leaves the rocks behind and enters a shady forested area east of the dome, winding its way gently up and around to the south. The final stretch is up to the rocky top of the mountain from a saddle. In this area the trees show the effects of their harsh surroundings, having most of their branches on the downwind side, and often reaching only 20 or 30 feet in height.

Dick in front of a gnarly old Jeffrey pine Harsh conditions have limited the height of this Jeffrey pine

When we reached the top, we had about 50% of the full 360 degree view. Redwood Canyon below us was hidden at first, but became visible. The clouds had started to drop down in the east and were covering the highest peaks. However, there was still plenty to enjoy, including a patch of ferns turning yellow on the slopes below Buck Rock and some scrub black oaks starting to put on their fall colors. There's usually a strong breeze at the top, but today it was very gentle despite the clouds.

Shortly after we finished our snack, two groups totaling five people arrived, and we prevailed on one gentleman to take our photo. Teri then returned the favor.

Black oaks changing color for the fall Dick and Teri on Buena Vista Peak; Kings Canyon in the distance

We enjoyed the changing views of clouds and mountains on our way back down, then drove to Grant Grove Village for lunch. Although there were almost no other customers, no one ever came to offer drinks or a menu, or take our order. This in spite of the fact that two people who appeared to be servers were doing mostly nothing at another empty table and at a counter by the wall. We were not all that hungry, so we left and drove down the mountain to the School House Restaurant, on Highway 180 just past where it turns east past Centerville and Minkler. The service here was excellent, and the food even better.

With a short work day every Friday, Teri declared we should do a bunch more hiking, while we still can.

--Dick Estel, October 2018

More Buena Vista Photos







Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 
More New Stargazer Photos          Buena Vista Peak
Upshaw's at New Stargazer Rock
Jack decided to climb the rock too Colton gets a high five from Dad A long view of the rock
We left writing all over Jack's Dome The view of our camp from the big rock The distant peaks are in the back country of Kings Canyon National Park
Buena Vista Peak
Bluish green needles identify these as young red firs Dying ferns create a spot of orange among the green The recent rain created many little washouts
The view from Buena Vista Peak
Related Links
Bald Mountain Trail Highway 168 Jeffrey Pines
Shaver Lake Exfoliation Buena Vista Trail
Giant Sequoia National Monument Generals Highway Kings Canyon Overlook
Kings Canyon National Park Redwood Canyon Buck Rock Lookout
  School House Restaurant  
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Updated October 13, 2018