This is a continuation of Four perfect days in Kings Canyon.
Day 3 – Roads End to Sphinx Creek
An early start allowed us to park at Roads End once again and to be on the Woods Creek Trail well before the hot part of the day. This trail was the very same one that took us to Mist Falls the day before except that we would take a right turn where the trail split at the junction of Woods Creek and Bubbs Creek. We had always wanted to hike the south side of the valley toward the formation known as The Sphinx.
Bubbs Creek Trail
After passing through the essentially flat first section, we met our intersection and started up the new watershed of Bubbs Creek. The trail crossed a sturdy bridge over Woods Creek and then a series of four bridges over various large and small streams before beginning a grueling switchback section that quickly took us well beyond the first valley. The effort that was put into building the trail up a nearly vertical rock face was obvious, as the switchbacks were built almost entirely as stone staircases with metal rods as reinforcement. Once above the switchbacks, the trail became less steep and followed the fast-flowing Bubbs Creek as it tumbled its way down a narrow valley.
Sphinx Creek Trail
The next fork we encountered was the jumping off point for the Rae Lakes Loop if we had continued straight up Bubbs Creek, or for Avalanche Pass, accessed by the right turn we made at the junction. This also represented the first place where camping was allowed (with a Wilderness Permit, available at Roads End), and was a particularly beautiful, shaded, insect-free place. There were bear bins on both sides of the river and a wide variety of flat places for tents to be pitched. As we were day hiking, we pressed onward up the third watershed of the day, Sphinx Creek itself.
By this point we could see the Sphinx rock formation directly above us and could also see the last remnants of Winter snows high above. We quickly left the protective shade of tall pine trees and once again began a series of switchbacks that took us quickly up into yet another, higher valley. Once above the rocky area, the trail once again was shaded by tall pines and we encountered some of the most serious insects we’d encountered on any hiking trail. The combination of a heavy winter snowpack, unusually swampy areas along the river, and a warm day brought out the flies and mosquitos. After spraying ourselves, we kept moving, noticing that we were far less pestered when moving than when stopping to solve the problem.
We made the decision to eat lunch where the trail crossed Sphinx Creek at 2772 m (8,595 ft.). We had covered 11.8 km (7.1 miles) and climbed 2,440 m (7,564 ft.) over the course of four hours and felt we had achieved more than enough for one day. It was great to have a first-time experience on this set of trails and the views of the three different waterways and valleys were remarkable.
We weren’t able to reach the Sphinx formation itself, but we could see that we had reached the same elevation. Getting to the formation would have been an additional three hours and it was too late in the day for us to attempt it. We cooled our feet in the stream, ate our lunch, and then made our way back down. We ended the day, of course, by going to Muir Rock and The Beach, the perfect place to relax after a demanding hike.