Sunday, September 20, 2009

Into the Back Country Part II - Sequoia National Park and Bearpaw High Sierra Camp (and a recipe!)

Bearpaw Meadow
On our second day at Bearpaw, James and I decided to something very exciting and unusual for us.
The front deck
Absolutely nothing.
In the lodge in the afternoon
Well, almost nothing anyway. It was a very un-strenuous day...
Bearpaw Campground
After breakfast, we walked over to Bearpaw Meadow and the Bearpaw Campground, just behind our camp. They have some neat little sites there - for every three or four tent pads there is a fire pit with a makeshift table made of stumps and a large stone, and a water spigot. There are composting toilets nearby as well.
Tables in the lodge
When we came back from our walk, we read books on the porch for an hour or two. After lunch, we hung out in the lodge and played a game of Scrabble, filling almost the entire board (and amusing the cowboys who brought the mules in with our arguments over potential words.) Chris was in the kitchen working on dinner and we could hear the sounds and smell the smells of bread being baked and carrots being grated for a cake. I asked him if I could take some photos in the kitchen and he kindly obliged.
Kitchen at Bearpaw
The kitchen runs on propane so there are no electrical outlets - thus no electric mixers, food processors, bread machines or other accoutrement - everything is done the old fashioned way, by hand. All the kitchen tools and pots and pans have their place - on the ceiling.
Kitchen at Bearpaw
It's hard to believe, but this entire structure is dismantled every year (in fact by now it probably already has been) and all of the appliances and supplies are moved into the storage shed for the winter. It takes them only four or five days to break everything down after they close on September 15, but two to three weeks to set it up again when they reopen in May.
In the kitchen...
The mules had just come in, so they were stocked up with fresh ingredients like these vegetables - which appeared at dinner in a ragout. There is a large flat top grill and a Wolf range, and a large stainless steel work table in the center. The carrot cake was baking in the oven below. It smelled insanely good.
Kitchen at Bearpaw
Before we knew it, people started returning from their day hikes. We hit the showers so everyone else could get theirs in before dinner, and pretty soon everyone started congregating on the porch.
from the front porch...
When the dinner bell rang, there was grilled chicken in a sweet and spicy marinade (cooked on a charcoal grill just a few minutes earlier,) rice pilaf, those vegetables diced and sauteed, and a delicious salad topped with carrot curls, but best of all....
Dinner on Night 3
was the fresh-baked herb bread that I heard Chris slapping around in the kitchen earlier - braided and topped with salt.
Fresh Baked Bearpaw Bread
Of course, the carrot cake was not far behind...
For Dessert - Carrot Cake from the Moosewood Cookbook
It was just right - moist but not too dense, studded with nuts, carrots and coconut. Chris said he used the recipe from the New Moosewood Cookbook. I'd share it but I can't seem to find it online - I may just have to buy a copy. It's kind of a classic anyway.
Sunset on the Great Western Divide
After supper, we decided to build a campfire in the pit down on the rocks. We gathered up some fallen wood and got it going.
Setting up a campfire
A campfire in the foreground, and the full moon rise over the Great Western Divide in the background? Does it get any better than that? Why yes, as a matter of fact it does - when you add campfire music from a mandolin and guitar.
Full moonrise over the Great Western Divide
The next day, it was time to hike back. We were feeling stronger, having had a chance to recuperate and acclimate to the altitude (7800 feet at the camp, and about 6800 at the park) and it helped that we knew we could do it since we'd done it before. We'd also already seen the view, so I didn't have to stop to take photos every few minutes, though I couldn't resist snapping a few.
The High Sierra Trail
We plowed on through, first to Mehrten Creek, then to 3 Mile Creek, where I soaked my throbbing feet, and on to the trailhead.
Almost there...
All the way back, I'd been grousing that I couldn't believe we'd spent four nights in the backcountry and hadn't seen a SINGLE bear. I was actually disappointed when we reached the camp and they told us we didn't need to worry about keeping food or toiletries in bear boxes, because bears wouldn't come near the camp.
Bear at the Crescent Meadow Parking Area
When we got back to the parking lot at Crescent Meadow - what did we see? Actually, what we saw first was a bunch of people holding up cameras and pointing them in the same direction. Then yes indeed, we spotted a small black bear wandering around in the picnic area nearby. He caused quite a traffic jam, but he was entirely nonplussed by all the photo-seekers.

We woke up early the next morning and decided to pack up and head down to Three Rivers, just outside the park, for breakfast. On the way down the hill we saw another bear, walking up the side of the road. I made James stop so I could take a picture (for a second I think he was worried I might jump out of the car) and got the bear's rear end again. I guess there are worse views of a bear though.
A bear walking up the road
I was surprised by how small they are, not much taller than a large dog - but of course they're much stronger, and they can stand up on their hind legs more easily. We were told not to leave anything that looked like food or had any scent in our cars, including beverages.  Apparently they really like sports drinks and can recognize the packaging - and are capable of ripping your car door off to get to one.
We Three Bakery in Three Rivers
We found a great spot for breakfast - the We Three Bakery on the main highway in Three Rivers. The coffee was strong, the portions were hearty and the cinnamon rolls were amazing.
Cinnamon Roll at We Three Bakery in Three Rivers
Breakfast at We Three Bakery in Three Rivers
Speaking of breakfast delights, on our last morning at Bearpaw, we were treated to a perfect cinnamon streusel coffee cake. I finagled the recipe from Chris so that I could share it with you here. His special trick is to pat the streusel into the bottom of the pan so it forms a crisp crust on the bottom. It gives it a little extra crunch and helps it cut more cleanly too.  They also serve this as muffins - which are convenient because they bake faster.  Either way, it's delicious.
Bearpaw Coffee Cake
Bearpaw Coffee Cake

I'm fairly certain Chris reduced this recipe to fit a square pan, but he didn't say which size. I tried it in an 8 inch pan, but as you can see, it was a little thick. A 9 inch pan would be perfect.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter - very soft
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup milk

3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

(note: this makes two layers of streusel, one for the top and one for the bottom - you can halve the amount if you only want to sprinkle it on the top.)
3 cups brown sugar
1 cup flour
3/4 cup butter, melted
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon, or to taste. (I've edited this because I made it with far less than the original 2 Tablespoons called for and thought it tasted much better but you can suit your own taste by adding it gradually.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter or grease a 9 inch square metal or glass cake pan.

Make the streusel by stirring the ingredients together until well incorporated and clumps start to form.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. Cream the softened butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, and beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the milk and incorporate. Gradually add the dry ingredients and blend just until incorporated.

Press some of the streusel into the pan, creating a bottom layer just a little thicker than 1/4 inch. Pour the cake batter into the pan, and spread the remaining streusel over. Bake in the center of the oven at 375 degrees for about 35-45 minutes, until the cake springs back to the touch in the center and a skewer or cake tester comes out clean. Set pan on a rack, and allow to cool completely before cutting.

About Bearpaw:Bearpaw is open from May to September, and reservations are taken by phone starting on January 2 at 7:00 AM. It does sell out, but cancellations are available throughout the season. We were lucky enough to get one, and several of the other people there were as well. Bearpaw inspires a lot of repeat visitors. The entire time we were there, we only met one other couple who had not been there before. You can read more about it here. More photos from the trip can be viewed here.


  1. Thanks for sharing. My husband and I went to Mount Rainer and the San Juan islands this summer. It was so nice to be in the woods.

    I think this maybe my next trip to the wilderness.I grew up in the foothills of the Sierras and I've never been to Bearpaw. Thanks for making me aware of what I've been missing.

  2. Alice, I really enjoyed your pictures and comments about this trip. You were so brave to make that long hike! I'm inspired!

    Thanks for the time it took to post all this -- it was so interesting.


  3. looks amazing. how much does it cost to stay at the camp? I saw prices for the lodge on the website but not the camp. would love to make this trip sometime!

  4. I've been there many times. Everyone that has come with me raves with fond remembrance of the cold lemonaide and brownies after the treck up from Bucks Creek. My favorite dayhike besides Hamilton lakes is the Over the Hill trail to Tamarck lake. Every time I hike it I feel like I am entering Shangri-La. Your pics made me want to go again.Thanks for sharing... LADebby

  5. Jerry and Wanda6/19/10, 1:14 PM

    As we prepare for our third visit to Bearpaw Camp, your narrative and photos really got us excited all over again for the upcoming trek. The Camp, which is opening today (6/19), is several weeks late in welcoming guests this year due to snow and very sketchy stream crossings. In contrast, our two previous visits to the Camp were in beautiful weather wearing shorts and T-shirts. Not this time I'm afraid. There is still up to three-feet of snow on the ground and the evening temperatures are forecast to be in the low 30's. It will make snuggling under the down comforters all the more enjoyable. Hot showers, fantastic food, solitude and scenery beyond description....What's not to like about Bearpaw Camp!

  6. How fascinating! I never would have thought there would still be snow there in June! We're hoping to go again next year and convince some other people to join us. Hope you had a great trip!