Heading to the High Sierra? Updates on the Rough Fire.

A firefighting helicopter in the Middle Fork of Kings Canyon, September 2013

A firefighting helicopter in the Middle Fork of Kings Canyon, September 2013

After yet another extremely dry winter, it’s no surprise that California’s High Sierra is being affected by wildfires this summer. The action was mostly in Yosemite National Park in 2013 and 2014, with the Rim Fire and Meadow Fire, the latter of which necessitated the plucking off via helicopter of stranded hikers atop Half Dome.

Unfortunately, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park is not being spared this summer. Over 1,000 personnel are trying to suppress the 17,000-acre Rough Fire, which is burning in the Middle Fork of the Kings River, just above the confluence with the larger South Fork. I sympathize with the task: the terrain here is extremely rugged, with impenetrable chaparral brush and steep topography. Oh yeah, it’s also really hot, sunny, and dry.

If you have plans to visit the High Sierra — specifically Sequoia-Kings National Park, Sierra National Forest, or Sequoia National Forest — you should be monitoring the situation. For the most recent updates, check InciWeb.

I will not be updating this page, but here is a list of current fire-related effects:

  • Closure of westbound traffic on Highway 180, which accesses Cedar Grove, car campgrounds in the South Fork, and the Road’s End Permit Station (for Lewis Creek, Copper Creek, Woods Creek, and Bubbs Creek Trailheads)
  • Heavy smoke in the lower Middle Fork of the Kings Canyon, including Simpson Meadow and Tehipite Valley. With a westerly wind, expect smoke in the upper watershed: Ionian Basin, LeConte Canyon, Palisades Basin, and Cartridge Creek. The John Muir Trail, Sierra High Route, and Kings Canyon High Basin Route pass through these areas. There are no trail closures yet. Check SEKI’s Trail Conditions page for closure and smoke updates.

The Rough Fire could burn for many months still. Even with the resources currently on the ground trying to put it out, the conditions are extremely favorable for the fire. I feel very fortunate to have had my High Sierra fix in early-July before there was any fire activity.

Posted in on August 17, 2015
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  1. J.D. Goodwin on August 18, 2015 at 10:49 am

    I canceled all my Sequoia-Kings Canyon trips this summer because I figured that one less person in the backcountry this summer the better, considering the historic drought. I’ve been up there when smoke has filled the canyons and it’s not fun breathing that stuff. Next year seems like a better idea every day.

  2. Kyle on August 19, 2015 at 6:28 am

    Is there any way to find out how far this smoke is going? We are supposed to hike the High Sierra Trail in about 2.5 weeks. Looks like we’ll be a bit south of the fire, but if the smoke is moving down toward the trail I don’t want to risk it.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 19, 2015 at 6:42 am

      Kind of.

      First, the Buck Rock Webcam has a good view of the fire.

      Second, check out NASA’s Worldview, which features one image of the world per day, available within a few hours after the image is taken. Here is the image from yesterday:

      Satellite imagery of the High Sierra on August 18, via NASA Worldview

      Satellite imagery of the High Sierra on August 18, via NASA Worldview. The Rough Fire is at the center of the smoke in the lower part of the image. The canyons of the Middle Fork and South Fork of the Kings River are both smoke-filled, and there is even some smoke in the Kern (the north-south running drainage below the Kings watershed). There are clouds but no smoke in Yosemite, which is just to the west of the green-colored circle in the northern half of the image (Mono Lake).

      • Kyle on August 19, 2015 at 7:53 am

        Thanks Andrew. I’ll keep an eye on those.

        So if you were planning to hike the High Sierra Trail in two weeks, would you cancel it at this point?

        • Andrew Skurka on August 19, 2015 at 8:30 am

          I would have a backup plan in another part of the High Sierra, maybe even two, since there are high odds of fires elsewhere, too.

          Overnight use throughout the High Sierra is controlled by trailhead quotas, whereby only a specific number of people are allowed into the backcountry through each trailhead each day. Some portion of this quota is available for reservation, while the rest is kept for walk-up parties. So long as you get to the permit office early in the morning, ideally before it even opens so you are first in line, you will have no problem getting your first-choice permit even without a reservation.

    • Rob on August 21, 2015 at 11:52 pm

      I was supposed to do the Rae Lakes loop this week, but couldn’t because of the fire. Was Issued a permit for the HST to Hamilton Lakes. Came out yesterday. Seemed the smoke was better yesterday, but it comes and goes. It was definitely better at Hamilton Lakes, but some people said it was worse on the other side of Kaweah Gap, and it got worse the closer we got to Crescent Meadow.

      • Kyle on August 26, 2015 at 6:00 am


        Did the smoke seem to collect more at the lower elevations? I called SEKI yesterday and they said it was worse at 7,000 feet or lower, but that people were still going out onto the High Sierra Trail.

        We have the Lost Coast as a backup plan, since we are flying into San Jose. But it was so much work figuring out the logistics for the High Sierra Trail.

        • Rob on August 27, 2015 at 5:05 pm


          It did settle in the lower elevations, but there was still smoke up higher. It often looked like light clouds. Check out the link above to NASA’s Worldview to see how the smoke is now.

          Good luck. Be safe.

  3. Val on August 28, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    Would appreciate any replies from hikers who have just exited JMT in Tolumne. Have to decide by Sunday if it’s too smoky. Thanks

  4. Mark on August 31, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    I was camping near Big Meadows (Sequoia National Forest area between the Parks) when the evacuation order was given. We had to pack it up and decided to move camp to Azalea in Kings Canyon. Two days later, they closed all Kings Canyon campgrounds so we packed it up again and headed up to Sierra National Forest.

    I had the chance to rap with some of the ‘authorities’ that supposedly have better information about the situation than the public. I could tell that all of these people had the same general disgust for how this fire was handled. One guy said, “They had every chance to put this fire out when it was ONE tree on fire in Sierra NF.” From what I gather, the head dude elected to let this fire burn ‘naturally’ even though we are in a historic drought. That is insane. Did he realize that what could have cost the system $50k will now cost more than $50 million. I think there should be an investigation. I can’t find anyone online questioning the wisdom of this hero/bureaucrat. I think an investigation should be launched.

  5. EricF on September 1, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    We did a little 40-miler south of Mammoth on the 21st-23rd. Visibility was extremely poor for the whole trek, but for the first couple of miles of the first day. Coming over a ridge on the Fish Creek trail down to Iva Bell hot springs the smell was almost overpowering. We could barely see the next ridge over, maybe 5 miles at best. Ugh.

  6. Shady on September 3, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    Any reports from this week or weekend? I was hoping to get into Little Lakes Valley with my 2-year old this weekend, but this is extremely discouraging.

  7. Russell on September 4, 2015 at 9:59 am

    Have a trip planned for Sabrina up to Baboon Lakes and maybe summit Mt. Thompson around the middle of Sept. We’ve already put plans in place for Virginia Lakes as an alternative. Any other suggestions NW of Mammoth and Yosemite? Not liking what I’m seeing on the smoke model from the NFS http://viewer.smoke.airfire.org/run/standard/CANSAC-2km/current/ The fire is at 125 sq miles and still only 25% contained. This does not look good for along time.

  8. Ginnie on September 4, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    Right now it’s hard to believe I was eating dinner at Guitar Lake & getting ready for our last day on the HST & climbing Whitney a week ago. A few days before our trip I was looking at this blog, wondering if it had been stupid to park my car at Whitney Portal for our exit. But so many plans had been made ahead of time (our drop off in Sequoia, my friend following me to the Portal, etc) & I had completed so much work and conditioning to complete this trip-I decided to gamble. I had spoken with a ranger on the phone who had actually encouraged me to go-she told me that so many people had cancelled their permits that we would practically have the trail to ourselves. And she was right! The first morning from Crescent Meadow to Hamilton Lakes was smokey, but then it started to clear up & it was beautiful. The next morning was clear, although we could see the smoke coming into the valley as we climbed & made our way over the gap. That was close to the end of the smoke. We had a great time at Moraine Lake that night, then onto Junction Meadow & last night at Guitar. No signs of smoke at all coming down Whitney. So luck was on our side & it was an amazing trip. So glad I did it.

  9. Eric Larson on September 8, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Planning to hike the JMT Southbound starting Sept 13. Any smoke updates?

  10. Andrew on September 13, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Planning on leaving Yosemite southbound for half of the JMT on Thusrday, Sept 17. Exiting near Edison Lake.

    Any news on the smoke conditions for this northern section?

  11. Paul on November 13, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    You refer to the South Fork of the Kings River as being “larger” than the Middle Fork. This is not true; they are virtually the same size in terms of average flow.

  12. Ken on March 24, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    I tried to stay just ahead of the smoke on the SHR last year, but it caught me most afternoons. I did think, “this is a lightening strike fire…its Nature…maybe not the pristine beauty I’d wish for, but it was real.”

    Anyway, I’m wanting to do the KCHBR this summer and wondering if anyone has a clear picture of how much has been impacted by the fire? Will I be wandering through charred trees and gravel just in Simpson Meadow? or did it end up covering much more?


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