Gaming the System
On our last trip to SEKI, we met quite a few hikers heading up to Paradise Valley. We were hiking the Mist Falls Trail, one of the most popular in the park, and we kept running into to backpackers.
That's Mist Falls below. Where do they come up with these names?
The first two were hiking out just as we were hitting the trail. And wouldn't you know it, they were not only lugging backpacks, but also hiking with a dog. A well-behaved dog on a leash, but a totally illegal dog nevertheless. A nearby hiker commented that he hoped a ranger would catch them.
But of course, no range did catch them, because they were hiking the day before Memorial Day weekend. And that means it was the day before permits were being issued by the rangers in the park. If you arrived before that day, all you had to do was fill out the self-registration form and hit the trail.
Those were far the last backpackers we met. In fact, we met group after group of them, more than fifty hikers in all. (The trailhead limit during official permit season is twenty-five, and those are spread out over several campgrounds. This year, the lower campground is closed, so the concentration of backpackers would have been dense, to say the least.)
And that doesn't count the ones who started before we did (at a leisurely 9 a.m. departure), those who started after we exited the trail at 2:15, or any of those who had started the day before and decided that the roaring Kings River wasn't safe to cross above Paradise Valley. Those hikers would have returned to Paradise Valley to camp that night as well.
We did a quick calculation with the wilderness rangers the next day, and figured that it was likely that nearly ninety people were camped in Paradise Valley that day. That doesn't sound like much of a wilderness experience.
The rangers were well aware of the problem. They explained that there is a social media group that shares tips on how to beat the National Park System. Great. All I can say is that if you camped with ninety people in Paradise Valley, you got everything you deserved for gaming the system.
By the way, the next day we hiked the Copper Creek Trail. Didn't see a soul. Let's keep that just between the two of us, okay?
Here's a link to our trip report from those hikes: https://www.backpackthesierra.com/post/five-days-of-heaven