Photos from some of our hikes in 2018.  The Blog posts are just below the photos.

(Until July of 2016, if you clicked on the photos, they will take you to our trip photo logs on Picasa.  But then Google decided to make that impossible, even though they had provided us with both the website software and the compatible Picasa software so that we COULD do that.  Now the photos are on Google Photos, where we cannot make albums visible to the public.  We HATE Google photos.)

             Closer to home: Sonora in the fall                                  Twenty Lakes Basin at dusk

South lake in a gale                                                           Daniel and friends in Yosemite


                    Arches National Park                                                 Zion National Park

Fire restrictions in Yosemite

posted Aug 21, 2019, 12:39 PM by Paul Wagner

Yosemite National Park is experiencing high fire danger, along with continued hot and dry weather patterns. Due to the current and predicted fire conditions and fire behavior, the Superintendent of Yosemite National Park will be implementing Stage I fire restrictions until further notice is given.

By order of the Superintendent of Yosemite National Park and under authority of Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 2.13(c):
  • No building, maintaining, attending or using a fire (including campfire, cooking fire, and charcoal fires) within Yosemite National Park below 6,000 feet in elevation. Portable stoves using pressurized gas, liquid fuel or propane are permitted, as are alcohol stoves, including tablet/cube stoves. Twig stoves are not permitted.
  • No smoking below 6,000 feet except within an enclosed vehicle, a campground or picnic area where wood and charcoal fires are allowed or in a designated smoking area. All public buildings, public areas of Concession buildings (including restrooms), other areas as posted and within 25 feet of any non-single family residential building remain closed to smoking at all times.
  • Campfires and cooking fires may still be used in designated campgrounds and picnic areas in developed portions of the park in accordance with park regulations.
    • Designated Campgrounds: Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines, Yellow Pines, Camp 4, Wawona, Bridalveil Creek, Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat, Tamarack Flat, Yosemite Creek, Porcupine Flat,
    • Designated Picnic Areas: Tuolumne Meadows, Lembert Dome, Tenaya Lake, Yosemite Creek, Wawona, Mariposa Grove, Glacier Point, Cascade, El Capitan, Cathedral Beach, Sentinel Beach, Swinging Bridge, Housekeeping Camp, Church Bowl, and Lower Yosemite Falls.
  • Campfires and cooking fires may still be used in residential areas in developed portions of the park in accordance with park regulation.
    • Residential Areas: Wawona, El Portal, Yosemite Valley, Hodgdon Meadow, Foresta, Aspen Valley, and Tuolumne Meadows
There are no administrative exemptions to this order. Notice of closure will be posted and areas will be monitored to ensure compliance. This designation will remain in place until rescinded.

Epic Campsites and International Orange Tents...

posted Aug 20, 2019, 8:41 AM by Paul Wagner

It's true.  When P started backpacking, he used a bright orange tube tent, and it served its purpose.  And there's a reason that alpine shelters are bright orange.  When you need a rescue in the snow, that orange color can help get you seen, found, and rescued.
Our camp---and a few shots of the tent I designed and made. It weighs a little over three pounds, and is both water and insect proof!©http://backpackthesierra.com

So what does that have to do with backpackers today?  Not much.  And frankly, we've grown a little tired of seeing bright orange and yellow blobs of color decorating so many photogenic sites, as if they are posing for the cover of a magazine. 

If we really subscribe to Leave No Trace principles, shouldn't that also apply to leaving the landscape views unmarred by glaringly unnatural colors?  It's a little like those hikers in the Southwest who insist upon climbing up into the rock arches, and then staying there for hours, ruining every other hiker's hope for a more natural photo. 

In fact, when was the last time you saw a magazine photo of a backpacking camp that didn't feature day-glo colors?  All well and good, but hardly the epitome of the natural world.  We hope that tent manufacturers will take note:  stop polluting the views with your logoed eyesores.

The new tent...taken out for a spin ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Epic campsites?  We think they should be quietly hidden in among the trees, where they can't be seen (and where you can also enjoy some shade during the day), not plopped into the view of every other hiker who makes the effort to enjoy the wilderness.
Our campsite in the evening   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

When P started making his own tents, he began with a neutral slate blue material.  And then later on, he used an even lighter pale granite color.  This was so successful that we once found that another group had set up their camp within 25 feet of ours, because they didn't realize that our tent was a tent, not a granite boulder among the trees. 

And today, we have to give kudos to our Tarptent.  We're delighted with the performance of the tent.  And we're delighted that it fades nicely into the landscape with its soft grey color. 

LNT indeed.

What could possibly go wrong?

posted Aug 19, 2019, 7:39 AM by Paul Wagner

By now you know that we have hiked something more than 2500 miles in the Sierra Nevada and other parts of the West.  We've backpacked for years and years, and we are as experienced a pair as you are likely to find on the trail. 

So what could possibly go wrong? 

Well, on our last trip, just as an example, we had a few misfortunes.  P's toothbrush broke.  It was a source of some amusement to see him trying to brush his teeth holding the stub of the brush with both hands.  And his sunglasses also snapped above the ear.  No worries, we had packed duct tape--except that for some reason P had switched lip balms, and the duct tape was around the old lip balm tube, not the new one. 

That's OK.  We also have adhesive tape in the first aid kit.  In fact, that tape came from P's parents' first aid kit...and let's see...his mom passed away how many years ago?  It was tape, but it wasn't adhesive.  hmm.  Luckily, we still had a few small band-aids, and a couple of them, wrapped around a twig as a splint, fixed the sunglasses at least enough to get him home. 

Just a reminder that it pays to make sure all your gear is newish...and that you've also got a back up!  

Stunning Sabrina Basin

posted Aug 17, 2019, 7:58 PM by Paul Wagner

With only a few more days before school starts, we wanted to get one last trip into the Sierra, and headed for Sabrina Basin.  We'd hiked out of both North Lake and South Lake, so this was the last of the three trailheads for us to explore.

Day One: It was a long drive from Napa over Echo Summit and Monitor Pass to the Mono Lake Ranger Station, where we got our permit at about 1 p.m.  There were still plenty of spaces available for both Monday and Tuesday, so we felt sure that it wouldn't be too crowded.  After a quick bite at the Lee Vining Mobil Station, we drove down to Bishop to buy a few last minute supplies (a dinner for that night, a hair clip for M, and an extra bottle of Advil for our aching bones) and set up camp in the Sabrina Lake Campground.  There were still places available here at 5 p.m. and we took a short walk around the area and settled in to an early night.

Day Two: We packed up and parked Le Vin Blanc on the road right outside the campground, then hit the trail by 9 a.m.  Fishermen were already on the lake as we slowly climbed up past the trail to Lake George and onwards to Blue Lake.  We got there in time for an early lunch, and probably should have taken a short rest at that point.  But we didn't.  The mosquitoes were not too bad in the middle of the afternoon, and we pushed on past Emerald Lakes to Dingleberry Lake. 

There were a few campers on the granite ledges above the South end of the lake, and we half-heartedly looked for a campsite on the North end.  But that was pretty rugged terrain.  We wandered along the creek beyond the lake, and finally settled on a campsite overlooking the two fords of the creek:  one for hikers, one for stock.  It was a pretty spot, with shade in the afternoon for our nap, and nice views all the way around.  We set up camp, napped, fished, rested, and generally felt a bit worn out after only five miles of hiking.  But that comes with age, we suppose. That night the mosquitoes made their presence known in spades, and we turned in early to escape them.  Still, it was lovely country, and the weather was perfect: warm in the sun, cool in the shade.  

Day Three; instead of packing up, we left our camp set up and day-hiked up to the lakes above.  After fording the creek, we ran into a wilderness ranger doing trail work.  In addition to sharing our experiences working on trails, we got our permit checked and had a nice chat.  On our permit we had initially named Topsy-Turvy Lake as our destination, but we were happy with our campsite at the fords.  And when we saw Topsy Turvy Lake, we were even happier with our decision.  While it was beautiful, there didn't seem to be many campsites at Topsy Turvy  amid the vast fields of talus--although there might have been a few above the lake on the South side--and they would have been very exposed.  We like shade. 

From there we continued on to Sailor Lake, and then topped out at Hungry Packer Lake, which had apparently earned the name Hungry Mosquito Lake this year.  The bugs were absolutely fierce.  We were hiking in headnets and it really helped to keep moving!  Which we did.  Lots of people camped around here, by the way.  

We hiked cross-country over to Moonlight Lake and had a nice rest and snack sitting among the huge talus blocks above that lake.  Then we continued down the granite slabs to Sailor Lake again, and back down to our camp.  It was interesting that the ford, which was about 75 feet long over a long string of rocks, was drier later in the day, and wetter earlier in the day.  Clearly the snowmelt was taking twelve hours to get down the creek to the ford.  After lunch and a nap. we decided we'd explore Dingleberry Lake some more.  While much of the shoreline was rugged, we did manage to find a route down from the trail to the North end of the lake, where there was a lovely pool, and a series of campsites further out above the canyon beyond the outlet stream.  This would make a nice base camp, and it seemed to get little traffic.  Back at camp that night, we dodged and swatted the bugs, ate our dinner, and again headed to the tent just about dusk, leaving the field to the pesky mosquitoes.

Day Four:  We'd heard that Donkey Lake had fewer mosquitoes, and since that was also on our itinerary, we headed there next.  The trail back down to Blue Lake is really beautiful, and we enjoyed it much more in this direction.  Once at the junction, we took the trail towards Donkey Lake, and were surprised to see a second junction only 1/4 mile later to Baboon Lakes.  On our topo map, and on the Tom Harrison map, this junction is much higher up, right where the trail crosses the creek.  Hmmm.  Oh well. 

We continued on to Donkey Lake, absolutely loving the scenery of the creek as we followed it up the canyon past pools, cascades and rapids.  And Donkey Lake was charming.  We set up camp and went to explore a bit, doing some fishing, filtering water, and getting a feel for the place.  The lake was so clear and there were so many trout on the surface that at times it looked like an aquarium.  After lunch and our usual nap, we headed back down the hill 1/2 mile to pick up the trail that was shown on our maps to Baboon Lakes.

What a bushwhack!  We followed cairns and blazes; struggled, clambered, and finally found a section of trail that looked reasonable.  After about an hour, and at least one conversation about turning around, we topped out on the crest of a ridge, and there was Baboon Lake.  Spectacular!  We wandered around the lake for quite a while before exploring different routes down.  We could not believe that was the only trail!  But as we explored, we found an easier down to the trail, and as P watched our progress and took in our surroundings, he suddenly exclaimed: "Donkey Lake is right over there!" 

He was right.  It was just 75 yards from where we had found the first real section of cairns to follow...and the whole first part of our hike up to Baboon Lakes had been a complicated and unnecessary circle.  For those who are interested, if you find the small round pond just West of Donkey Lake, you can follow a series of cairns southwest up that ridge, over into the next chute, and at the top of that chute the cairns will lead you into the main chute that takes you up to Baboon Lakes.  It's steep, but passable and clearly marked.  And while it took us just over an hour to get up to the lakes, it took us only 25 minutes to get down, once we understood the geography. 

 (BTW, the other, signed trail to Baboon Lakes from near Blue Lake must take a very different route---but we never saw it, even though we looked for that trail up at the lake itself.  We assume that it stays west of the creek the whole way up...)   Great fishing that afternoon in Donkey Lake for brookies and rainbows from 6-10 inches long...and almost non-stop action.  That evening we fought the bugs one last time, finally giving up around 8 o'clock to get into the tent. 

Day Five:  It's always easier downhill, unless the steps are really tall.  So we were back at the trailhead by eleven a.m., knees a bit sore from all the steps, but happy enough with a really magical trip.  We drove into Bishop, grabbed a bite to eat at the Burger Barn, and then drove back to our cabin above Sonora in time for fresh salad, sushi, and showers. 

What a great trip. 

The Real Adventure

posted Aug 11, 2019, 7:08 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Aug 11, 2019, 7:09 AM ]

Backpacking is a lot of fun, but the real adventure is reading the news reports after you get back from a trip--some of the stuff is always hard to believe. 

We loved this story:

Northern California firefighters put out a fire along Highway 96 near Weitchpec last weekend — but it wasn’t until now that officials revealed the surprising cause.

A bear fell on a Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office patrol car as a deputy was heading north on the highway on Saturday, triggering a crash into an embankment that sparked a fire, Caltrans District 1 said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

The deputy survived the crash and got out of the car without serious injury, according to Caltrans.

“Don’t worry, the bear also fled the scene,” Caltrans said.

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The Sheriff’s Office said the deputy was responding to a reported overdose in Orleans on Aug. 3 around 11 p.m. when the bear struck the car and triggered the rollover, KRCR reported.

The chief of the Hoopa Fire Department said the fire burned roughly half an acre but was extinguished, though crews had to remain at the crash site until Sunday morning because of rolling rock and other issues, according to the TV station.

The crash was about “2 miles south of the Klamath River Bridge,” Lost Coast Outpost reported.

Caltrans reminded travelers to “stay alert while exploring the beautiful highways and nature of (the area.) Bears, elk and deer are just some of the critters sharing our coastal home.”

And the note from Caltrans about the incident!

Caltrans District 1
on Wednesday

CAUTION FALLING BEAR! A Humboldt County Sherriff’s patrol vehicle was struck by a falling bear while traveling north on Highway 96 last week. The vehicle caught fire after striking an embankment and the deputy escaped the vehicle without serious injury. Don’t worry, the bear also fled the scene.

Travelers are reminded to stay alert while exploring the beautiful highways and nature of District 1. Bears, elk and deer are just some of the critters sharing our coastal home. (Photos courtesy of the Hoopa Fire Department and Office of Emergency Services)

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Read more here: https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/nation-world/national/article233680722.html#storylink=cpy

Chain Lakes

posted Aug 10, 2019, 5:56 PM by Paul Wagner

We wanted a short escape before school starts, and stopped in at the Summit Ranger Station in Pinecrest to see what they might suggest in the Emigrant Wilderness.  (A lot of Carson-Iceberg burned last year in the Donnell Fire and is still not open to hikers.)  But since this trip was for P's birthday, we wanted something where we wouldn't run into much of a crowd.  That excluded Kennedy Lake (there are  lot of people up there right now) as well as the usual suspects out of Gianelli and Crabtree Trailheads.  Gem Lake, in particular, was mentioned in a recent magazine story (just possibly because P suggested it to the editors) and now Gem Lake is the icon destination of Emigrant Wilderness. 

So where else could we go?  P asked about Chain Lakes.  Nobody there.  The trailhead, Box Springs, is a long drive on a difficult road.  Not ideal for most hikers.  It sounded perfect for us.  And it was.

The road into the trailhead was really quite rough--absolutely not recommended for passenger cars, although our 2wd 2008 Ford Escape managed it with careful driving.  It took us almost two hours from the Ranger Station to the trailhead, and that was a total of ten miles on Highway 108, 20 miles on paved County Road 31, and then 7 miles on rough dirt to the trailhead.  That last 7 miles took us more than 45 minutes to feel our way along...

And then we got to the trail itself.  While it is in fairly poor condition, with lots of downed trees, quite a few trail re-routes around the biggest ones, and some swampy areas, it was also chock full of the most amazing displays of wildflowers.  Like walking through a botanical garden.  And it is only two and half miles in total.  It took us longer to drive to the trailhead than to hike the hike!

Chain Lakes themselves are really just one large lake (fishless, with no inlet or outlet stream) and three smaller and swampier ones.  But boy was it peaceful.  And we had only one other group for company, and they camped far away---there are tons of good campsites in this area.  The weather was perfect, and mosquitoes were only about a 3 on a ten point scale.  Perfectly manageable. 

The next morning, we hiked up to the top of the nearby granite dome, for views of most of the Emigrant Wilderness, and even a distant view of Mt Hoffman to the South in Yosemite.  And the road out seemed just a little better, since it was downhill, and we knew that it was passable the whole way.  A really nice way to spend a birthday...

The rest of the photos are here:  https://photos.app.goo.gl/wxRZNEKHrGCeShEm8

Yosemite revisited

posted Aug 4, 2019, 10:32 PM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Aug 4, 2019, 10:33 PM ]

With family in from Europe this week, we organized a quick trip to Yosemite to show them around the place.  It was a memorable two days. 

We began by claiming a campsite in Porcupine Flat, then driving up to Tuolumne Meadows to grab a sandwich and take a hike.  And since we always like to do something a little different, and they had done very little in Yosemite, we were able to find a hike that suited us both:  the trail from the meadows up to Lower Gaylor Lake.  It's a slow, steady climb that leads up to a lovely alpine lake with some fine views---and in this case, enough of a breeze to limit the mosquitoes.  And very few people take this hike--we saw one other group during our entire expedition.  Quite nice.

And then back to camp for dinner and the starry sky at night. 

The next day we headed down into the Valley to let them wander around a bit.  We visited Lower Yosemite Falls, had a late lunch at Happy Isles, hiked over towards Mirror Lake via the side trail (no other hikers there for most of the distance)  and then the shuttle back to our car, where we stopped by El Capitan Meadow so that they could take in the climbers. 

From there we headed back out again, stopping at Tuolumne Grove to hike through the Sequoias there, and then back to our cabin above Sonora.  Alpine hikes and views, Valley waterfalls, and Sequoias.  Not a bad way to spend two days!


Junipers of the Sierra

posted Aug 3, 2019, 8:43 AM by Paul Wagner

There are wonderful trees of all kinds in the Sierra, from pines and firs to redwood and cedars, oaks and aspens.  But our favorites seem to be the lovely and ancient junipers that live high on the ridges of the Sierra Crest.  What wonderful trees.  Here are some of our favorites. 

The tree at the top of the dome...just amazing.©backpackthesierra.com
A heroic tree.©http://backpackthesierra.com
Dancing tree above Agnew Lake©http://backpackthesierra.com

The Trail Less Taken

posted Jul 28, 2019, 4:41 PM by Paul Wagner

Over the past fifteen years, we've noticed a huge change in the hiking crowds in the Sierra.  It's not that there are a lot more people backpacking.  In fact, those numbers may not have changed all that much.  But these days so many hikers aim for the same hikes, the destinations, and even the same exact campsites. 

Of course some of this is due to social media, but it's also due to plain old print media as well.  In the good old days (and yep, we're gonna go there...) people used the recommendations of the wilderness rangers, or maybe read books such as Sierra North or Sierra South.  Those are still great books, by the way, and they offer a wide range of hiking recommendations for all types of trips, and in multiple locations.

That's very different from what we see in the media today, social and otherwise.  Now the stories tend to focus on "The Perfect Yosemite Hike," (there is only one???) or the "Top Ten Destinations."  And God forbid any trail or route get its own name or, even worse, an acronym.  At that point, you can assume that it will be mobbed by people who want to check it off the list.  The minute you start hiking the JMT, the PCT, or the SHR, you are going to see way more people than you do anywhere else. 

Which brings up a suggestion.  The next time you read about that perfect campsite, or that one epic hike you can't miss, or the perfect time to visit any destination, immediately go to your calendar and maps and black out those times and places. 

Now look at what else is available.  It turns out that lots of great hikes are right there on the map, just not in the article.  And this very snowy year is a perfect example of how to get away from the crowds. 

Instead of hiking out of the few trailheads open early in the season, take a hike along one of the many USFS roads that are closed early in the season.   You'll have the area pretty much to yourself, and there is a no better time to see some of these wonderful places.  Later in the summer they will be mobbed by RVs, SUVs, and ATVs, but not before the roads open.  Later in the summer, we aim for middle of the week departures, because that always cuts down on traffic.  And if you can get away after school has started in the fall, you'll find fewer people just about everywhere in the Sierra. 

That trailhead that everybody avoids because of the steep first two miles?  That's a cheap price to pay for having a day of solitary hiking in the Sierra.  The first campsite that you see looks good?  Fine, but we've found if you hike another 1/2 mile around the lake, you'll have that side to yourself.  Or climb the ridge to camp above the lake, where the mosquitoes are few and the people are fewer.   

And this is not a new idea for us.  P once planned a hike from Yosemite to Whitney back in 1971 that would have avoided the JMT entirely.  Sadly, his hiking partner at the time came down with bronchitis two days into the trip, so it was never completed.  But the idea is still good.  In fact, let's pull out those old maps and take a look.  It just might be the Perfect Sierra Backpacking Trip.  We could even call it the PSBT.

NO!  Wait! Scratch that!  Just go out and find route that looks interesting, even if it is not on some magazine's bucket list.  You'll find a lot of different ideas right here on this website...and they are all epic.

Carson Pass revisited

posted Jul 27, 2019, 8:52 AM by Paul Wagner

P enjoyed his trail crew trip to Carson Pass last week so much that we went back this week to see more of the area.  And while we ran into huge crowds at Carson pass itself, our hikes into Thornburg Canyon and Castle Point were blissfully lonely.  We only saw a few people on the former, and all but two of them were within 500 yards of the trailhead.  And we didn't see another soul on the Castle Point Trail. 

This despite the fact that the trail has the quickest payoff of any trail we've hiked: within about 300 yards
you get a stunning view of the whole Caples Creek Valley, often including the Crystal Range west of Tahoe in the background.  And from there, you wander along the crest of the ridge, looking down over precipitous cliffs, passing by an amazing collection of ancient junipers, and finding terrific views of Thunder Mountain on the other side.  That's great value in the first mile. 

Thornburg Canyon started with a waltz through a cornucopia of flowers for the first half mile, then great views from the top of the ridge. That's the view in the panorama above. And once we went over the ridge, we were alone.  We camped on a bluff above the creek, in the breeze and above most of the mosquitoes.  And we reveled in the sounds of nature--and nary another soul to see.  Or hear.

We topped off the trip with a hike to Granite Lake along the Minkalo Trail--one that P had not seen before.  It includes a lovely 40-foot waterfall, two delicious creeks, a few isolated glacial tarns, and Granite Lake itself.  All this in a mile and a half from the trailhead.  In fact, the most complicated part of this hike was finding the trailhead, which is unsigned for much of the route on the narrow roads behind the Kit Carson Lodge.  There were a few hikers at the lake, but there was also plenty of room for us all. 

Meanwhile, back at Carson Pass, there were hundreds of hikers on their way to Winnemucca and Round Top Lakes, in what must have been a very different kind of hiking experience.  The parking lots were so full that cars were idling, waiting for a spot.  And the USFS information office had a full staff of volunteers manning both the inside office and the table outside.  Quite a contrast to what we saw on the trails a bit further afield.

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