Photos from some of our hikes in 2017.  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.)

Cerro Torre, Patagonia                                                                           Buckeye Valley, Hoover Wilderness                                                   


Evelyn Lake, Mineral King, SEKI                                                            South Sister, Sisters Wilderness, Oregon


Summit City Canyon, Mokelumne Wilderness                                      Echo Peaks, Yosemite

Wildlife in the City

posted Sep 15, 2017, 4:21 PM by Paul Wagner

We've been charmed to read about the resurgence of the beaver population in our town.  Seems like the local river restoration project has made things a lot more interesting for the critters.  And the other evening, when we went for walk around town, we stopped to take a look.  Sure enough, after a few minutes, a beaver set out to swim around and entertain us. 

How cool is that?  We've now seen as many beavers in our own town as we have seen in any national park!

Used Gear

posted Sep 13, 2017, 8:03 AM by Paul Wagner

Over the years, we've accumulated a lot of odds and ends of used gear: a few extra backpacks of different sizes, sleeping bags rated to different temperatures, an older version of our tent, some extra pots, pans and dishes, etc.

We didn't realize how much stuff we had until we took our younger daughter and her husband backpacking.  We didn't have to buy anything to provide them with a complete set of all they needed.  (Well, we did have to buy one headnet for mosquitoes, which was not worn and never needed.)

And now we've got those two packs set up for anytime anyone joins us.  We just grab one of the additional packs, add in a sleeping bag, and we're good to go.

And we're already planning our next trip with the kids...if they can stand it. 

Our other daughter isn't quite as much a fan of hiking....but her boyfriend is. 

Showing Off Yosemite

posted Sep 11, 2017, 9:59 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Sep 11, 2017, 10:01 AM ]

With our daughter and her husband in town, we wanted to show them a bit of the Yosemite High Country that we love so much.  And so we aimed at Tuolumne Meadows.

Months ago, when we first planned this trip, we asked for a permit for the Budd Lake trailhead.  This is a trailhead that doesn’t appear on the list of trailheads in Yosemite, and it doesn’t get a lot of use.  The quota is only five people per day…and there were going to be four of us.  Since only three of the spots were reservable, we had to add one last person when we picked up the permit.  Which wasn’t a problem, although the ranger at the Wilderness Office made it seem quite a bit more serious than we thought it should be.  Sigh.  Still, we got our permit and we were off!

With the fires in the southern part of the park, and a forecast that called for 20-40% chance of thunderstorms, we had our doubts about the whole thing. The smoke was so bad at Olmsted Point that we couldn’t see Half Dome, but when we got to Tuolumne Meadows, there was no smoke at all, and the sky was clear.  All systems go. 

There is no maintained trail to Budd Lake, and camping is not allowed in the Budd Lake basin.  So we followed the Cathedral Lakes trail for a bit, then broke off along a use trail to follow Budd Creek up the canyon.  It was lovely hiking, but quite steep, and starting off with this hike a day after spending time at sea level is a cardio-vascular challenge.

(A quick note for those interested in following in our footsteps:  there are three use trails that branch off the Cathedral Lakes trail to the left in the first half-mile.  The first two really only take you to Budd Creek itself.  The third one is now quite established, and has been recently (like this weekend!) maintained by trail crews as the “climber’s” use trail to Cathedral Peak.  It is in beautiful condition (far better than the trail to Cathedral Lakes) and leads you right up to the South Face of Cathedral Peak.  A branch of this trail leads left over to Budd Lake.  In each case, when there is a “junction” on these use trails, the lesser trail always has some kind of minimal barrier across it.  From the Cathedral Lakes trail, the use trail to Cathedral Peak is blocked with a few pieces of wood.  From the use trail to Cathedral Peak, the use trail to Budd Lake also has pieces of wood in it, to indicate that it is not the primary route.)

But if you are really interested in following in our footsteps exactly, you’ll take the FIRST use trail over to Budd Creek, cross the creek, then just follow the creek up the canyon.  Eventually, where a tributary comes in from the left, we crossed over to the right (West) side of Budd Creek, and then landed on the climber’s use trail to Cathedral Peak. 
We followed this past the first trail crew taking a break, then continued up almost to the base of Cathedral Peak, where we could see the lovely ridge heading over to the pass below Echo Peaks.  A second trail crew was eating lunch here.  We set off to the left along the ridge above Cathedral Pass, and ate lunch on top of this ridge.  We then crossed over to the use trail route that contours along the base of Echo Peaks.  To find this trail, just keep as close to the base Echo Peaks as you can on the West side….

The route then leads you down a narrow chute for about 200 yards, until a small canyon breaks off to the left.  That’s your opening to the gentler slopes between Echo Peaks and Matthes Crest.  (The South face of Echo Peaks is too steep for us to tackle, although the climbing ranger who was supervising the upper trail crew suggested that he chose that option.)   Follow the little creek canyon for about 75 yards, and you come out into the forested slopes above Echo Lake.  If the going ever gets too steep, just head left until you feel better about things.

Once down at Echo Lake we spent some time finding a campsite.  Since there were four of us, we needed something a bit larger than usual.  And it was windy, so we wanted something that was sheltered.  We finally settled on some rocks up above the lake to the West, well hidden in the trees.  After a nap, Estelle and Nico decided their tent site was not flat enough, so we moved them fifty yards to a better site. 

The forecast called for 20% chance of rain, but the clouds only looked a bit gray, not threatening, and once the wind died down we had a lovely dinner and settled in for the night.  We expected it to get cold, and the temp was just about freezing when we got up the next morning.  Bundled in  hats, fleeces and puffies, we cooked breakfast and eagerly awaited the arrival of the sun down in the canyon. 

Once it arrived, we decided to hike over to Matthes Lake in the morning.  This is an easy hike, and the route finding is also simple.  You just have to go around Matthes Crest to the south.  There is some talus in the way, but we have yet to find a route that is too hard.  Staying closer to the granite slabs of Matthes Crest usually gives you some better views, and avoids too much up and down.

Mathes Lake itself is stunning, and we spent some time enjoying the view.  Estelle went wading in the lake a bit, and we saw a few fish jumping in the morning light.  After a snack and a drink, we went back to our camp at Echo Lake, and came to the decision that we would hike out that day. 
We ate lunch, strapped on our packs, and headed up the valley towards Cathedral Pass.  Near the top, the large meadow was boggy in places.  Estelle and I went through the meadow and got our feet wet.  M and Nico stayed to the left and found a longer route and drier ground.  At any rate, this part of the hike was wonderfully easy and a real delight.

Once on the John Muir Trail at Cathedral Pass, it was a whole different story.  The trail is quite abused.  Lots of rocks, clouds of dust, and hordes of hikers made this our least favorite part of the whole operation.

We did meet a wilderness ranger on the trail who carefully checked out permit and chatted with us.  And then we hiked the last three miles down to the car through the rocks, dust, crowds, and even a service dog.  A few sprinkles of rain were all we felt, and that only at the very end of the trail. 

We drove up to Tioga Pass to show the kids a view more views, and got a few more showers on the way.  And off behind Unicorn Peak to the South, the clouds looked considerably blacker and more menacing.  On the way out of the park we stopped at Olmsted point for a couple of photos shrouded in smoke from the fires, and then drove back to our cabin, getting just enough rain to turn on the wipers to “intermittent” a few times.   Hot showers, warm food, and a soft bed were the perfect ending to the trip. 

Here's a link to the rest of the photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/SjJYthqYxaPlgPXk2

Eating out

posted Sep 7, 2017, 6:38 AM by Paul Wagner

We are always looking for new things to eat on the trail, especially at dinner.  We're pretty happy with our usual breakfast of instant oatmeal (with added nuts!) hot chocolate (with VIA coffee for M) and some dried fruit.  And lunches are some version of crackers, salami, hard cheese, energy bars, and dried fruit. 

But dinners are something else.  We like to start with instant Miso soup--but recently have added Hot and Sour Soup, and chicken broth as options.  Soup not only tastes good, but help us stay hydrated.  And we eat the soup while we are waiting for the rest of our meal to fully hydrate. 

We have our favorite freeze-dried dinners, but we have also experimented with ramen noodles as a main course, and our own dehydrated meals as well.  And when P decides that there are enough fish in the river or lake for him to keep a few, we sometimes cook them up with some instant rice or instant mashed potatoes as the entrée. 

P once took a trip about 45 years ago into SEKI in which he pretty much lived on instant rice and trout for dinner for a week.  He took along a collection of Knorr instant sauces and soups as seasoning, and ate everything from trout amandine to trout goulash.  And lived to tell the tale. Had a great time, too. Caught a LOT of the fish.   

These days, as grocery stores and delis add more exotic items, we tend to collect a few to try on our next trip.  Sometimes they are great,  Sometimes they are not anything that we would take along again.  But even then, the upside is a delightful sense of variety in the food we pack. 

It's supposed to be fun, remember? 


posted Sep 5, 2017, 12:58 PM by Paul Wagner

On our last trip down Summit City Canyon, we were astonished to hear a rather
fierce and lengthy catfight up on the granite cliffs above the canyon as we walked the trail. 

P heard it first, a violent roaring and snarling that then died down.  He mentioned it to M, and then walked on up the trail.  M waited a bit longer, and heard more of it--this time sounding a bit more like a pair of very large cats in playful wrestling. 

We never saw the cats.  But it was really cool to know that they were up there.  Somewhere...

And just as cool to know that we hadn't met them in person!

Beating the Heat, Beating the Crowds.

posted Sep 4, 2017, 10:23 AM by Paul Wagner

Labor Day weekend is one if the busiest times of the year in the back country.  The combination of a long weekend, minimal mosquitoes, and a last gasp effort to get out in the trail means that many wilderness areas can be positively crowded, tent to tent at some lakes.


Which is what we were hoping to avoid by heading into the Summit City Canyon. We'd read the reports. There are no gorgeous lake destinations.  It's hard work to get there, and the trail can be minimal at times.  And it's not on the way to anywhere else, unless you're trying to hike the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.  We thought we might not run into many crowds.



We'd been warned about this trail: difficult, hard to follow, steep, rough, and unmaintained.  That's a junction marker at left... 

Labor Day weekend was the perfect time to find out if all that was true.  Besides, temperatures were supposed to go well over 100 in Northern California over the weekend.  It was time to get up into the mountains!


It started well when I contacted the permit officer at the  ranger station.  She was so prepared to deal with one more permit for an easy to hike to lake just off the highway, that when she heard where we were going, she wondered if we even needed a permit.  We did.  And ours was the only permit for Summit City that she wrote for the whole weekend.  in fact, she said it was the first one she could remember writing.


By arriving Thursday night at Upper Blue Lake campground, we had a wide choice of campsites.  Of course they were all booked for the weekend, but getting there a day early meant we could stay there for one night and start hiking Friday morning. Perfect.


We were the only car in the trailhead parking lot when we started at 8:15, and twenty minutes later we were at 8600 feet at the top of the pass.  It was all very much downhill from there.


Way downhill. 


The trail crosses Summit City Creek and then starts to follow the old Pioneer mining road down into Summit City, often straight down the canyon.  We were a bit concerned about the smoke from fires that had closed Monitor Pass, and kept looking up to see how bad the air was.  It wasn't great. 


But as we headed down the canyon past the junction to Fourth of July Lake, we started to really enjoy the hike. 


There was nobody in the trail. Nobody.  It followed the creek, sometimes near, sometimes farther away, always within earshot.  A glimpse of white water through the trees, or burbling current underneath a cloud of alders kept us entertained.  On a hot day, the canyon was pleasantly cool.  And we were hiking downhill.


I had promised M an easy day, so we stopped near Horse Creek and took a look around.  We ate lunch, checked out the neighborhood, and found a spot nearby we liked as a campsite.  After setting up camp, we took a nap, fished, sat around, and generally dawdled the afternoon away.  Lovely.


The trail to this point had been perfectly maintained, except for the last junction post, which had been torn to pieces by bears.  Weird. 


Some big puffs of smoke coming over the ridge from Round Top that afternoon got our attention, but they soon cleared up in the face of a few CDF planes.


We tried some new Singapore style ramen noodles I picked up at an Asian market for dinner...and fell into bed early feeling relaxed, secluded, and quite happy.


The next day the smoke had cleared a bit, and we decided to day hike down the canyon.  We had no real destination, but we took a lunch, a fly rod, and played it by ear.


What a marvelous hike.  The terrain alternated between cool green forests and sunny bare granite slabs that sent the creek into magical  cascades and deep aquamarine pools.  Each section seemed better than the last.  We waded through a sea of ferns, and dipped our toes into pools twenty feet deep.


At the first ford, we debated continuing.  If the smoke got worse, it would be better to head back.  And M was a little hesitant about the ford.  Ten minutes later, she put on her water shoes and away we went, meandering down through granite domes, navigating manzanita, and overlooking spectacular granite pools. 


We did lose the trail very briefly a couple of times, once in the sea of ferns, and again just above the first ford, but each time a quick check of the topo map showed us where the trail needed to go...and we found it there.


By late morning we realized that we had covered a lot of ground, dropped quite a bit in elevation, and we would have to do all of that in reverse to get back to camp.  Which we did, happily, stopping for lunch by one especially nice pool.  I fished, M napped, and then we went back to camp and napped again.  Despite the relatively easy hiking and crowded weekend, we hadn't seen anyone for two days.


By the evening the smoke had pretty much cleared up.  We had a few clouds form, but that just gave us a little extra shade.  The moonlight that night from a nearly full moon lit up our campsite for hours.


The next day was a cakewalk back to the car, which was now one of seven at the trailhead.  We'd only seen one other couple on the way out, and they had hiked down from Fourth of July Lake.  Three days backpacking over Labor Day weekend, and we had the place to ourselves.  Amazing.


On the drive home we noted that the cars at the Tahoe Rim trailhead on Meyers Grade filled the parking and lined both sides of the highway, and the backup in Meyers went almost to the top of Echo Summit.  Which made our adventure even more delicious.


A couple of notes about this trip.  The fishing, despite the stunning beauty, was crappy.  Not many fish, and they were small and skinny.  It took me most of two hours to catch five fish over 7 inches long, and the biggest was a 9-inch stringbean that looked like it was starving.  With all the bare granite, there may not be that much for trout to eat. 


And this trail is not for everyone.  If you are not comfortable following rock cairns for long distances, or don't like an occasional scramble up or down the granite, this is not for you.  if you feel more comfortable seeing  a few people every mile, that wont happen here. And we did not follow this trail all the way to the Mokelumne River.  The last mile or two down into that canyon are reportedly more difficult than anything we hiked.  Don't say we didn't warn you.


Still.  Three days of backpacking  over Labor Day weekend and complete solitude.   Mmmmmmm. 

The link to the photo log of the whole trip is here:  https://photos.app.goo.gl/fdYMzjiebzPUDdvv2

Things are slowly getting back to normal

posted Aug 28, 2017, 7:30 AM by Paul Wagner

About two months ago we were up by Sonora Pass, and remarked on how wild and wooly the Stanislaus River looked then.  Where we usually found deep dark pools, we were seeing solid whitewater.  Like this:

Here is the same photo from this last weekend.  Seems like a whole lot less water...which is a good thing for those guys fishing. 

A Day Hike to Leavitt Lake

posted Aug 27, 2017, 10:16 PM by Paul Wagner

This past weekend we went up to our cabin near Twain Harte, and managed to get in a day hike to Leavitt Lake.  We'd always been curious about this trail, since it is also a 4x4 road, and we wondered if we could drive it in our 2WD Escape.  Either way, it's a very good route into the upper reaches of both the Emigrant and Hoover Wildernesses.  So we decided to hike it and find out exactly what it was like. 

We found at that the road is really pretty rough.  We certainly saw standard 4WD SUVs taking this road slowly but surely.  But we didn't see anyone with a 2WD do the same thing.  It's not bad for the first third (a bit less than a mile) but once you cross a creek, it gets steep, rocky, and pretty rough.  We were glad we chose to hike it rather than test our driving skills.

That said, it's a really nice hike to the lake.  The views are wonderful, and there are creek crossings, meadows, peaks, ancient trees...everything you'd want in a nice Sierra day hike.  And at the end of it, you get Leavitt Lake.  

Yes, there were maybe 10 4WD vehicles scattered about, and we met about ten cars on the road during our hike, but it was still a nice way to spend a summer day, and we're glad we did it.  

We're also glad that we now know exactly how hard it would be to take this trail up to the PCT.  It's less than 4 miles total to the PCT. and since it's an old road, it is pretty well graded without major steep climbs.  It's already on our list of places we're going to hike next year. 

And at least one of those 4x4s did us a nice favor.  After we had walked around the lake, we found ourselves on the wrong side of the outlet stream.  Yes, we could have waded it (it was too big to hop across) but a nice guy from Jamestown gave us a quick 75 foot lift in his 4X4 through the ford.  Apparently, he lives down the hill in Jamestown, and his family makes the Galvan fly reels.  Nice to know....

On our way home, we stopped to explore a bit of Highway 108 and its
surroundings.  It's a beautiful highway, with lots of intriguing things to stop and see...but often we're too focused on where we are going to stop and look.  This time, we looked.  We found waterfalls, granite peaks, a section of the old Emigrant Trail on the far side of the canyon, and a forest fire slowly burning away on the way home...

Just about a perfect day in the Sierra.

Here's the usual link to the rest of the photos:


Emigrant Trip Report from one of our readers

posted Aug 24, 2017, 8:27 AM by Paul Wagner

Joe wrote us:

Hi P
I noticed you were at Emigrant this past weekend. So was I! I wish we could have met. I took my wife and a couple of friends for their first trip. The plan was to go to Powell, Chewing Gum, or Y Meadow, depending on how everyone was feeling. We made it to Chewing Gum lake on Friday and stayed there on Friday and Saturday nights. We went to Powell lake on Sunday night and had it to ourselves. Monday morning, we had an easy hike to the car at Gianelli. I found this hike on your site, so thank you for the recommendation!

We endured the thunderstorms, which was a new experience for me. In 10 years of backpacking in the Sierra in August, I've never had rain. Fortunately we all had adequate rain gear, so it wasn't a bad experience.

The wildflowers in Chewing gum meadow were amazing.

Beautiful photos, Joe!  Thanks for sending this to us!

Bust Rock?

posted Aug 23, 2017, 12:03 PM by Paul Wagner

The last day hike we took out of Gianelli Cabin in the Emigrant Wilderness took us up the trail to Burst Rock.  According to the historical marker there, nobody knows exactly what rock is Burst Rock...and since at least one emigrant woman gave birth on the ridge, the theory is that perhaps "Burst Rock" is a corruption of Birth Rock.

Or maybe not.  As we explored this are last weekend, poking around both on and off trail, we discovered this really unusual rock formation right at the top of the ridge where the trail began to head down towards the trailhead, Pinecrest Lake, and civilization.  It would certainly have been noticed, and key marker along the trail to those who were looking for an identifiable landmark.  The thing is at last twelve feet tall.

And no, the rock is not burst.  But it sure looks like a sculptured bust.  We think Burst Rock is not a mispronunciation of Birth Rock...we think it's a mispronunciation of Bust Rock.  And we're going to do a little more research to see if we can't find more information on this...

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