Once upon a time, Converse Basin at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada nurtured one of the most majestic groves of giant sequoias on Earth.
Then the ax fell. Hard. Even by the cut-and-run logging standards of the time, the clear-cutting of Converse Basin in the 1880s was merciless. This destruction of the giant sequoias was not even that profitable; by some accounts, fewer than half the trees cut down reached mills and were processed into lumber.
What remains is Stump Meadow, a lovely, somewhat surreal landscape populated with huge, ghostly stumps and a few standing sequoias. Ironically, the tallest, 269-foot Boole Tree, bears the name of the general manager of the Sanger Lumber Co., Frank Boole, thought to have ordered this particular tree spared.
Boole Tree is the eighth tallest sequoia in the world and ranks No. 1 in terms of base circumference, 112 feet. Estimated to be more than 2,000 years old, the behemoth is the largest tree in America’s national forests. Boole Tree’s stature is accentuated by its isolation above the Kings River, where it towers over the rest of the forest.
The trail featured this week is a family-friendly loop leading to Boole Tree. The path delivers wonderful views of Kings Canyon and the park’s high peaks.
Your visit to the area won’t be complete without two more stops in Converse Basin. On your drive to the Boole Tree Trail, stop at the Muir Snag, believed to be the oldest known giant sequoia. The tree, now dead, was discovered by John Muir and is estimated to be more than 3,000 years old.
The second stop is the former site of the General Noble Tree, which some recorded as about 300 feet high and 20 feet in diameter when it was cut down in 1895 and sent to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. A short walk on a flat trail brings you to the 20-foot-high remains, called the Chicago Stump.
Directions to trail head: The Boole Tree Trail is in Giant Sequoia National Monument, just west of Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks. A good landmark is Grant Grove Village in Kings Canyon, off California Highway 180.
Follow California 180 north. Look for the turnoff for the Chicago Stump (Forest Road 13S03) on the left about 41/2 miles north of the village. Proceed two miles on this dirt road, then turn right on Forest Road 13S6 and drive a tenth of a mile to the Chicago Stump trail head.
The turnoff for the Boole Tree is off California 180 about six miles north of Grant Grove Village. Turn left on Converse Road (also known as Forest Road 13S55), continue 21/2 miles and park at road’s end.
The hike: To reach the Boole Tree, begin your ascent on a well-built path that crosses hillsides cloaked in bracken fern and manzanita. Switchbacks and railroad-tie steps aid the climb, which passes through a forest of white fir, oaks, incense cedar and a few young sequoias.
Just short of a mile out, you’ll crest a ridge, catch a glimpse of the Middle Fork of the Kings River, then descend to a junction with a short connector trail leading to Boole Tree.
Return the same way you came, or add half a mile of hiking by following the rest of the loop for excellent views of the river canyon.
For more of John McKinney’s tips, visit www.thetrailmaster.com.