Paradise Valley offers Sierra bliss

At first glance, Lemarr Treadwell and Swee-Keng Eng would seem to have little in common.

A self-described "city boy" from Chicago, Treadwell moved to Fresno in 1982. He teaches fifth grade at West Fresno Elementary.

Born in Malaysia, Eng immigrated to Florida in the 1990s before moving to Fresno two years ago. She works as a computer programmer.

Different people from different worlds, Treadwell and Eng shared the same trail Saturday during a Sierra Club group hike to Paradise Valley, following the south fork of the Kings River.

Treadwell started hiking last year mostly because he needed an inexpensive hobby. Now he's planning multi-day Sierra treks, not to mention an October trip to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa at 19,340 feet.

"I can't imagine people living in Fresno not taking advantage of places like this, but for years I was one of them," Treadwell says.

Eng has even less trail experience. Paradise Valley was the second hike of her life, and yet she covered the 13 miles in less than 6 hours. (A GPS reading pegged the round-trip distance to the first campsites closer to 10.3 miles.)

"I always wanted to go [hiking]," Eng says, "but I never had anyone to go with."

That is, until Eng discovered the local chapter of the Sierra Club holds group hikes almost every weekend during the summer. Outings are free and open to the public.

Starting from Roads End ranger station, where it's always wise to inquire about conditions, begin on the well-marked trail toward Mist Falls and Paradise Valley. At first, the Kings River can be heard but not seen. That changes after 1 1/2 miles as the trail meanders toward the river, and the forest of pines and incense cedars gives way to a jungle of ferns and grasses.

At mile 2, stay left at the signed Paradise Valley/Bubbs Creek trail junction and begin climbing along a moraine, a field of boulders dumped by an ancient glacier. Now the river takes center stage as it tumbles to the valley.

After ascending a granite escarpment, turn around and enjoy a breathtaking view dominated by the Sphinx (elevation 9,143 feet), a uniquely shaped peak atop the southern wall of the canyon.

The trail returns to the forest for another half-mile until reaching Mist Falls, an explosion of whitewater so powerful it soaks everything within 100 yards with a gentle spray.

Paradise Valley is about 1 1/2 miles above Mist Falls. Keep hiking until you notice a huge logjam in the river. Beyond it, the water turns from raging to gently flowing.

Congratulations, you've reached Paradise Valley, gaining 1,670 feet in elevation.

Before turning back, take a moment to sit along the grassy banks of the river. Imagine how each molecule of water dripped off a snowfield high on a mountain flank and joined a feeder creek before flowing into the river. Now multiply by billions. This same water will end up in Pine Flat Reservoir.

Eng admits she was a little apprehensive about hiking. Those fears have been soothed by the splendor she has encountered.

"You just have to go," she says. "That's it. If you don't go, you'll never know."

For a complete listing of local Sierra Club outings and trip details, go to tehipite.sierraclub.org.

Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on June 8, 2005.