Atwell Mills East Fork complex, September 2023, above is a lovely grouping up on the flat above the East Fork of the Kaweah.
Over Labor Day I did my first ever exploratory hike up in the East Fork area of Atwell. I have hiked a lot in the Atwell Grove on the other side of the highway, but to date had not taken any walks in the East Fork area. Presently the road is half gone in many places from the winter snow melt and spring rains, and the gates are still closed to public access, but luckily I have a buddy with a cabin in the area who helped me get in. The weather was wet and so thickly fogged in part of the time that my rangefinder was not even able to work, but it didn't actually rain on me while I was hiking, just overnight.
The Hockett Trail beginning at the Atwell campground is the only trail I saw that touches the East Fork Grove. I looked at it beforehand on Google Maps, and you can clearly see where the big sequoia boles are on the maps online, so I figured it should be easy to explore. I was wrong. East Fork has much more of that underbrush off trail than in the more tended groves or in most of the contingent Atwell area I have wandered. However, the trail was in good shape, and there were a lot of impressive trees you could see right from it. The East Fork Grove actually has a really fine concentration of larger trees in it, though I didn't see any champion-sized monarchs. I measured a half dozen of them that looked largest to me as I passed by and all seem to be coming out between 15-17 feet dbh, 15-20 k approx. volume. It has quite an impressive proportion of that size sequoias even if no really huge ones. Also, when walking into it on the trail, you spend some time on the ridge opposite, looking out at the grove over the river ravine, so you get a detailed view of it from afar before venturing inside. That makes for a very scenic grove walk.
I did the Hockett Trail one day and just bipped off it in some places to see some of the nearest large trees up close; even getting to some of them was pretty difficult. Just off trail the ground was so filled with small trees and underbrush that it wasn't passable in places, and it is a steep grove, with sequoia trees extending from below the 6,000-feet-altitude low point of the trail to some over 7,500 feet high. As I was walking the trail back the first evening, I looked for spots where it was not so overgrown, where I could manage to get through and away from the trail.
Finding a couple of openings one day, I did a run off trail into the eastward edge of the grove up and roughly parallel to the Kaweah East Fork through an opening in the underbrush that wasn't too bad. I got almost to the end of the sequoias on that leg pretty easily. Up the ridge a ways there is a roughly five-acre or so flat where there is a really nice grouping of beautiful sequoias, with one beauty just over 20k in volume, the largest I saw in that area.
Another day I did some of the area off trail on the western end of the grove around Deer Creek; that was thick with undergrowth. There might be no good paths through the voluminous brush and small trees there. I will have to try again on some subsequent trip to see if I can get farther up Deer Creek. I really didn't get far that day. There's a lot more for me to explore up in that end of the grove. Likely the largest tree up there once was a big snag I saw very near the trail. You could pick it out from nearly a mile away on the trail coming in overlooking the river's gorge. I wish I had seen that one in its prime.
All in all it was a very scenic trip, with pretty waterfalls along both Deer Creek and the Kaweah East Fork, a really nice view of the grove coming in on the trail across the ravine, and lots of decently large sequoias, though none of record-breaking volume. It was very quiet since the access is presently limited and late enough in the season that the pesky mosquitos were not really swarming. Add to that a nice cabin to sleep in, and what more could you ask for?
Specs shown below on some of the larger trees that i measured over the long weekend:
Hockett Trail Tree Base circumference: 66' DBH: 15.9' Height: 227' Volume: 19,179 Cubic Feet
Past Hockett Trail Tree, below trail Base circumference: 69' DBH: 15.6' Height: 240' Volume: 20,284 Cubic Feet
Largest live one i measured in Deer Creek Base circumference: 65' DBH: 16.8' Height: 225' Volume: 17,562 Cubic Feet
Below are some pics of the largest ones I saw in the grove:
Kaweah Beauty located up above the East Fork: 69 feet ground perimeter, 19.1 feet diameter level at high ground, 16.5 feet dbh, and 20,516 cubic feet volume, it was the largest tree i got measurements for. This one is a beautiful example of the species, with nice spiraling bark, only a small burn on the lower side of its base, and the typical soaring dead spire outreaching its topmost foliage by a dozen feet.
This upper Deer Creek area snag was once a very large tree, and you can see it from the trail far away while hiking in. Now there is not much left of it.
The largest tree actually on the Hockett Trail, and some other various large sequoias in the grove including the ones listed in the specs above.
Very foggy, but a great grove.
Two pics below of the East Fork of the Kaweah. The third one is of Deer Creek.
The Touchdown Jesus (on the left) and a couple of his neighbors in Atwell as seen from over a mile away across the Kaweah River while I was hiking in the East Fork grove.