It was 6am when we awoke, got our stuff together, loaded the car, and checked out of the John Muir Lodge in the Grant Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park. Even though it was Memorial Day Weekend, we planned on doing the Marble Falls hike down in the Sequoia National Park section, which would allow us to avoid most of the holiday crowd.
After going through Sequoia National Park and making a brief stop at the General Sherman Tree, we eventually headed downhill on the curvaceous Generals Highway. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Hospital Rock car park. We weren’t quite sure exactly where the trail started. This car park looked promising because it was big and busy, and I didn’t envision there being a big car park near the Potwisha Campground as stated in the California Waterfalls book. So as we were getting prepared, we managed to engage in a conversation with a park ranger.
He was tall with a long beard, dark sunglasses, and some tattoos. He hardly struck me as the typical National Park employee type. But when we asked about Marble Falls, he mentioned it was quite a walk to the trailhead from here and there was another trailhead further down the road (thus confirming what was said in our waterfall book). He also warned us about ticks and rattlesnakes on the trail this time of year. The word “rattlesnake” freaked out my mom. But it didn’t stop us from getting back into the parents’ car and head towards the Potwisha Campground.
After a brief moment back on the Generals Highway, we turned right into the real crowded Potwisha Campground. As we spent several minutes driving around the campsite, we didn’t have much luck finding parking spots. It didn’t seem terribly obvious to us where the trail was either. We finally gave up on trying to park in the campground, but across the highway, we saw a large clearing. Perhaps this was the car park for day use visitors. It was now 8:20am.
Anyways, we were first in this car park and with our water bottles, trekking poles, sun block, deet, and laced up boots, we walked back into the campground. The well-hidden trail started between campsites 15 and 16. From there the trail followed the Marble Fork Kaweah River, which had a healthy flow. Some contraptions were built off to the side of the river, and we reckoned they were make-shift hydroelectric schemes to power the facilities at the campsite.
Pretty soon, we got past the manmade contraptions and then the trail seemed like it disappeared into the bush. At first we were worried that maybe this wasn’t the trail, but upon backtracking, we saw a sign that pointed uphill (how did we miss this?). And so began the nearly 3 miles of hard uphill hiking.
For what seemed like the first hour or so, the trail climbed in mostly shadow. A lot of the foliage actually protruded onto the narrow trail, and I could totally see how the park ranger’s warning about ticks held true here as our legs would routinely brush up against the overgrowth. Fortunately for us, it wasn’t too hot yet and we were getting the hardest hiking out of the way under these favorable conditions (at least as far as the shade was concerned).
Eventually at around 9am, we got high enough on the trail to leave the canyon’s shadow behind. Almost instantly, we started feeling the heat of the day. Mom still kept her long sleeves so mosquitoes and ticks wouldn’t get free shots at her arm. I knew it was going to be a hot day so I wasn’t so careful with the skin exposure to the critters.
As the trail continued its relentless uphill ascent, we could totally see why this was a long and pretty difficult trail. The hot sun didn’t make it any easier nor did the narrowness of the trail. But at least we did get to look to our left from time to time and look down into the canyon below.
It was also around this time that we met other hikers who had an earlier start than us. They told us we weren’t much further and that they saw beautiful rainbows. Encouraged by this conversation, we said our good-byes and moved forward.
After the trail traversed more uphill and downhill stretches along with some scrambling parts where the trail was washed out, we eventually got towards the end of the trail, which was still in shadow.
At this point, we could hear the thunderous waterfall and see a rainbow rising from its depths. We did a brief scramble out to a little clearing where we could see the small but powerful waterfall. I had heard about people going further than this official end of the trail, but a warning sign discouraged further progress. Besides, the river was raging and clearly we couldn’t proceed without entering the water (not a very wise thing to do!).
Those rocks were made of marble! I guess that explained how the waterfall got its name.
It was 11am when we started heading back to the trailhead. Now that the sun was beating down on us and the shadows we enjoyed earlier in the day were gone, we were sure glad we were going mostly downhill. The leagues of folks we saw going the other way must be feeling the heat.