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

A product review of the Survival Hax Roadside Emergency kit

posted Nov 18, 2017, 4:08 PM by Paul Wagner

Every once in a while a company offers to send us a product if we will review it on our site.  We usually turn these down, because the products they offer often aren't anything we would be interested in using ourselves.  But we just bought a new (to us) 2006 Ford E350 van as our new road trip vehicle, and not ten days later, got an offer from Survival Hax to review their new roadside emergency kit. 

Since it included a few things we decided that we needed to buy, we agreed.

A few days later the kit arrived in the mail.  The kit claims to include 92 pieces of emergency equipment, but that's only true if you can every Band-Aid and cable tie as a piece of emergency equipment.  So here's what the kit has that we thought was helpful:

It does have a basic first aid kit, with 4 Gauze Pads 20, Band-Aids x 20, 6 alcohol Prep Pads , a tourniquet, 4 Antiseptic Wipes, Scissors, First-Aid Tape, Metal Tweezers, a Mylar Blanket, an Elastic Bandage (small), an Elastic Bandage (large), PVC Gloves, a Triangle Bandage, 5 Cotton Balls and 6 Safety Pins.  OK.  No aspirin/ibuprofen--in fact, no medicines at all.  But still, a decent basic first aid kit that might get you through a few scrapes, cuts, and bruises.  Anything worse than that, and you should probably get medical attention any way.

And then there is the rest of the contents of the bag:  What we liked most was the jumper  cables (although they are light and cheaply made, they would work in an emergency) the 8" Crescent wrench, the hand-powered flashlight, and the light sticks, reflective triangle (you can never have too much visibility)  and reflective safety vest.  All of these items are pretty basic, bottom of the line quality, but they'll all do in a pinch. 

And then there is the rest of the kit:  3 Bungee Cords, 15 cable ties, a candle, some light cotton gloves with rubber nubs, an imitation Swiss Army knife (key element there is the emergency corkscrew!) a tire pressure gauge, a thin plastic rain poncho, an emergency whistle, a glass breaker and seatbelt cutter (I don't even want to think about that) and a very short, light 9 foot tow rope that would work only if the tow vehicle is close enough to kiss the vehicle being towed. 

Is that everything?  I think so.  And the list price is $50--which seems a bit high, but maybe in the ballpark.  Given that the jumper cables, crescent wrench, flashlight , knife, and light sticks/triangle might each sell for $5 or so, and the first aid kit probably closer to $15.  That's about $35-40.  And then add in a few bucks each for the bungie cords, glove, poncho, etc, and you'd get close to $50.  At that price it's not a bargain, and since you'd be paying for at least some things you either wouldn't need or wouldn't want, not a great deal.  But they also sent me a code for a discount that will give you 50% off---so the total price is $25, and should include shipping. 

At $25 we think it's a pretty good deal.  Again, if you run a tow truck service or are an EMT, this is not for you.  But if you just want to have a simple basic kit that gets you through a few minor scrapes and struggles, this could work. 

Here's the low-down on the discount:

As for the $25 OFF discount code, it is OFROAD50 and here's how your readers can use them:
1. Go to Amazon.com
2. Search for “survival hax roadside kit”
3. Add the ‘Roadside Emergency Kit with Jumper Cables’ to your shopping cart and then checkout.
4. On the last screen where it says “enter a discount or promo code” use discount code OFROAD50

Watch the weather

posted Nov 11, 2017, 7:45 AM by Paul Wagner

This time of year is beautiful in the Sierra.  There is something about the quality of the light and the coordinator of the autumn leaves that seems to touch your heart.  There are no bugs, the creeks are generally low and easy to cross, and the crowds have disappeared.

All good.

But Sonora Pass has now closed twice for snow, and the nights in the high country are regularly getting down below freezing.  And those nights are a lot longer now, too.

It is great time to get out, but we usually aim for shorter trips and day hikes this time of year.  We don't mind a little snow, but we don't want to have parked our car for the winter at a trailhead.  Yosemite won't let you park overnight on Tioga Road now, just for this reason.

So get out and enjoy the wonderful show...but make sure you check the weather report carefully.  We don't want to read about you in the papers.

More artwork...

posted Oct 21, 2017, 8:52 AM by Paul Wagner

P's been at it again.

Summit City Canyon

Kolana Rock and Hetch-hetchy

So what did we take?

posted Oct 17, 2017, 9:28 AM by Paul Wagner

A number of people have asked us what we took with us in our bags when we took a load of things out of Napa during the recent fires.  It was an interesting, if somewhat anxious, experience.  And with time to think about it, we might have done something differently.  But we began with deciding that we would put everything in our van.  The van is now our backpacking/camping mobile, and it would give us a place to live if everything went completely to hell.   And in that van we also put all of our backpacking equipment, because it was almost ready to go anyway, and it would give us everything we would need to live for a few days, or even a few weeks, except for food:  first aid kit, water filter, sleeping bag, clothes, raingear, etc.  And the van even had 3 gallons of drinkng water, just in case.

What else?  Photos.  We took every darnn photo we could find.  We didn't stop to decide which one was best.  We generally kept all of our photos in boxes in one room of the house,. and I just grabbed every single box and album, and put it in the van.

Financial stuff:  M collected the latest statements from our accounts etc. and put them all into one folder, so we would be able to track it all down later if we needed to do that.  And our passports, since they are a real pain to replace, and would serve and foolproof I.D.

And then M grabbed most of her knives.  As a chef, that's the one thing she didn't want to try to replace.  I took my computer, because despite my occasional efforts at backup, I didn't want to have to try to find or recreate those files again.  No thanks.  And of course our phones, for obvious reasons.   

M took a family heirloom afghan, as well as her most treasured jewelry.  A few bottles of her homemade nocino liqueur.  All of that pretty much fit into one large box, except for the afghan.  And I took most of my recent watercolor paintings.  Yeah, I had photos of them, but photos wouldn't look all that good on the wall...

What didn't we take?  Almost everything else.  We looked at this and that, and decided that we had enough.  And that we could replace the other stuff if we had to.  The Christmas decorations and kids artwork in the attic got left behind, as did the artwork on the walls, mainly because we didn't want to take it all, and we didn't have time to select what we really loved.  Sometime when we have a day, that would be a good exercise for us...

Most of all, we took each other. 

Still Burning

posted Oct 14, 2017, 8:57 AM by Paul Wagner

One more update on the fires in California's wine country.    We live in the center of Napa City, and so far we have had no fires or damage in our part of the city.  The smoke has been quite intense from time to time.  Since Sunday night the fires have burned some 200,000 acres in the hills on all sides of Napa, but the Napa Valley floor itself has had very limited damage. 

Over the past few days, the fires burned in many directions, and fire crews have been able to use that development to establish burned out zones that give us some protection.  The two largest fires are the Atlas Fire, in the hills between Napa and Solano Counties; and the Tubbs Fire between Napa and Sonoma Counties.  Both of those fires are now more than 40% contained, due to these burn zones.  The Nun Fire is in the Mayacamas Mountains between the towns of Napa and Sonoma, and it is still only 5% contained.  It is in very steep, rugged terrain, and very difficult to manage.  Even in the other two fires, we expect that there are areas that will continue to burn until we get a significant rainfall.  But since they are now far from undamaged homes, and hard to access, those areas are not of major concern. 

So what's happening right now?  Strong winds from the Northeast are blowing on the fires at 20-40 mph.  For the Atlas Fire, this means that most of the fire is being driven back over an area that had previously burned in Napa County, so we're hopeful that it won't mean much further damage.  But the southern end of this fire is burning towards Green Valley near Fairfield in Solano County, and towards Highway 12 between Napa and Fairfield.  We hope our friends over there are still safe.  Some areas of southwestern Solano County are now under a mandatory evacuation order.

The more northern Tubbs Fire is burning into the southeast part of Santa Rosa.  There are new mandatory evacuation orders in those areas, and the city of Calistoga in Napa County, also south of this fire, is still under a mandatory evacuation. 

The Nun Fire is burning towards the town of Sonoma, and mandatory evacuation orders are now in place for most of area east of Sonoma itself.  Those are new orders as of last night due to the wind and the growth of the fire. 

So eastern Sonoma County is quite seriously threatened.  The evacuation orders along the eastern edge of the city of Napa have been lifted in some areas, because there is nothing left to burn, and the active part of the fire is now farther east.  And as a result, the evacuation advisories for neighboring areas of Napa have been lifted.  Right now the biggest threat to Napa County seems to be the Nun Fire, to the West, which is burning up over the ridge from Dry Creek Road towards the main valley, and the Tubbs Fire threatening Calistoga at the northern end of the valley. 

Today the air in the city of Napa is sparklingly clear---due to the winds that are pushing all the smoke south. 

More than 90,000 people have been evacuated because of these fires, and the death toll now stands at nearly 40--although more than  200 people are still reported missing.  Among our staff, we have one employee whose home is in the mandatory evacuation zone in Sonoma County, one whose home is still under an evacuation advisory in Napa, and another whose home is in an area where the evacuation orders have now been lifted.  Friends and colleagues in Napa, Sonoma, and Solano Counties continue to have a gamut of experiences, from miraculous escapes to sad losses of homes. 

We have taken a few of our most treasured possessions out of town to keep them safe, and among those are our backpacking equipment.  We figured if we really had to manage to live away from home for a while, what is in our backpacks gives us most of what we need:  clothing, shelter, water filter, first aid kit, raingear, etc. 

The wind is expected to slowly ease later today, and after that we hope to get three or four days of calmer weather, followed by a tantalizing prospect of rain later in the week. 

Thanks to everyone who has sent the kind wishes.  And thanks also to the emergency personnel, who have done a really remarkable job in utterly overwhelming conditions. 

More Fire News

posted Oct 13, 2017, 11:51 AM by Paul Wagner

We made it through another night last night.  But tonight they are concerned about high winds and very low humidity again, conditions expected to continue through Saturday evening.  The winds will be highest on the ridge tops.  No telling what that will bring. 

We're fine in our house in the downtown part of Napa.  The smoke is still quite thick in Napa, and the streets are pretty quiet.  No tourists, and even some of the local have left for greener or safer pastures.  We've taken a  carload of our most treasured items to M's father's house in the East Bay for safe keeping.  Calistoga remains completely evacuated, while in parts of Napa those evacuation orders may be lifted.  Others have already lost their homes.  Many businesses, including official offices, are closed due to the smoke.

And it all depends on the wind tonight.  None of these fires is more than 10% contained...

Thanks again for all who shared their thoughts and concerns.

Update from Napa

posted Oct 11, 2017, 4:39 PM by Paul Wagner

Many of you know that we live in Napa.  And if you've been following the news, you know that Napa has been suffering through terrible fires this week.  Here's what we know. 

We're in downtown Napa, so far so good.  The fires are mainly in the hills above the valley floor, between Napa and Sonoma, between Calistoga and Santa Rosa, and between Napa and Fairfield.  But none of the fires are close to being under control, and there seems to be no timeline for when that might happen.  They are just too massive.

They've just announced mandatory evacuations of the town of Calistoga to the north...and lots of people in the outskirts of Napa itself are either evacuated or, frankly, burned out by now.  We expect to have some houseguests tonight, who live up in the hills and haven't been home since Monday. 

But so far we're OK.  What happens next all depends on the wind--which direction, and how strong.  There are major fires both East and West of us....but to the North we have vineyards, which don't burn very well.  And to South it's clear, so far.  But who knows what tonight and tomorrow will bring...I've seen weather reports of winds from 5 mph, which would be great, up to 35, which would be utterly disastrous. In winds like that, embers can carry more than 1/4 of a mile, and jump any barrier the firefighters might set up.  

And the winds are projected to be from the North...so that's the best direction for us, really.  We can only hope, and suffer with those who are less fortunate than we have been so far. 

Thanks to everyone who has sent us their wishes and prayers.  

Hi ho!, hi ho!

posted Oct 9, 2017, 9:45 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Oct 9, 2017, 9:46 AM ]

I (P) am back from a three day trip to Summit City Canyon with a trail work party.  Spectacular weather and a group of really nice guys made this a real pleasure.

I began by leaving Napa at a little before 5 a.m. to get to the trailhead in time to meet the group,  At about 9:30 the first team hit the trail, while others stayed behind to load up the mules with the heavy lifting: tools for the trail.   My little group of three split up at the Horse Creek Trail junction, when Greg headed back over the ridge to take care of his ailing wife.  Dave and I continued down for another mile or so and set up camp.  By the time we had the tents up, the pack team arrived, and everyone else got there soon after to join us for lunch. 

By 1:30 we were at the first major obstacle of the trail: a massive tree that blocked things from the far side of the river to the granite cliffs on the other side of the trail.  And since the only way to get past it was to get on your hands and knees and crawl under it, this one had to go.  Ranger Chip had been there some weeks before, but had been unable to cut through the monster.   In fact, he'd had to leave two wedges stuck in place in the saw cut.  The damn tree was still alive, with some of its roots drawing water from the creek, and the wood expanded around every cut and wedge.

So we set to work.  The buck saw would bind up completely after a few strokes, despite the wedges we were pounding into the cut.  We cut from below, then we started another cut on the other end to reduce the tension, and final hacked out the wedges and Chip and I began a second cut parallel to the first one, whacking out the material between the two cuts with a small saw and a hatchet.  Bear in mind that all of this was done with hand tools, as any engine is prohibited in the Wilderness Area!  After a couple of hours, we began to make progress, and finally cut through the first cut.

The tree didn't move. 

Now we started on the second cut, with Tom and Dave pulling much of the work.  But now we were able to use the wedges with some effect, and about 4 p.m. we finally cut through on the second side.  The middle section was now held up by the branches we had propped under it, and with a few whacks we dropped it to the ground. 

With much heaving and hollering, we slowly inched it up onto a smaller branch, rotated it, and rolled it off to the side of the trail.  After that, it was back to camp for a well-deserved rest and dinner.

It was a beautiful evening, with fall colors all around, but after dark the temperature dropped quicker than that big log, and we were in bed soon after.

The next day we left our camp and headed down the trail for more fun.  This time it was a large aspen that had fallen almost directly on the trail.  And while the tree was smaller, it was lower to the ground and still green.  Tom, Dave and I sawed away on it for more than an hour before we finally cut it through on both ends, and then maneuvered it off the trail.  Chip had gone farther down the trail to scout out our next project: a maze of trail braids through the jungle of ferns above the first crossing.  He arrived just in time to see us polish off the aspen.  

From there is was a short walk down to the ferns, where the trail had become quite confused due to a large tree blocking the route.  We used a Macleod, a shovel, some loppers and lots of hard work to mark the best trail through, and then lined it with larger branches to make sure it was easy to see.  By the time we had done this in two different sections of the trail, it was lunch time. 

Meanwhile, Mark and Greg got off to a late start, but hiked past us to head down to the second crossing to get to work down closer to the Mokelumne River.  

After lunch our team hiked down to within a mile of the second crossing, hitting the trail with the Macleod from time to time, lopping off a few branches, kicking bigger logs out of the trail, and occasionally restacking a cairn for better visibility.  
We stopped at a glorious granite plateau by the creek, refilled out water bottles, and started to hike uphill back to camp.  On the way back Tom, who had never been down the canyon before, led the way so that we could get a fresh pair of eyes on the trail.  We found a few places where it wasn't clear, and did what we could to mark it better. 

Chip raced down to chat with Mark and Greg below, and then joined us in camp for the second night's dinner.  It was another stunning evening in the wilderness.
On day three Tom and Chip were going to hike down and join Mark and Greg, while Dave and I hiked out.  But we weren't done with our work detail.  We took the post hole digger along for the ride, so that we could dig new holes for two of the posts that Chip was having brought in by mule that day. 

The first one, at the junction of the Horse Creek Trail, was a cakewalk.  Dave wiggled it a bit and pulled the old pole neatly out of the perfectly preserved post hole.  It took all of thirty seconds, and we were a bit gleeful about that. 

(You may remember that sign post from our trip report a month ago.)

But the second post hole, at the junction with the Fourth of July Lake Trail, was not so much fun.  It had broken off right at the ground, and as we dug a new hole we discovered that the old hole had been packed with rocks to hold the post tight.  They worked, and so did we, digging it out one rock at a time.  But after twenty minutes of combined sweat, David and I declared the second post hole dug, and left the tool beside the trail for the mules to collect.  Our work was done. 

We hiked out and made the trailhead by noon, and I managed to get back to Napa through the stunning aspen trees around Carson Pass by 4 p.m.  As I drove into town I noticed a fire burning in the grasslands by the airport south of town.  Later that night, Napa would be surrounded by fires on three sides, with blustery winds blowing them quickly across the landscape.  Our own home only suffered a light coating of falling ash, but our more rural neighbors found themselves in dire straights.  We can only hope the easing of the winds will make controlling the fires possible today.   

Making an effort...

posted Oct 4, 2017, 4:21 PM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Oct 4, 2017, 4:22 PM ]

After out last trip into Summit City Canyon, we received a note from a ranger who has been working to upgrade and maintain the trail there, part of the link from Tahoe to Yosemite.  And he invited us to help the next time he got to work.

Which explains why P will be hiking back into that canyon over the weekend.  It should be absolutely beautiful, and we hope to get some work done to make the trail just a bit easier to follow, at the very least. 

M is tied up at home, so she'll have to hear about it all after I get back....just like everyone else!

Remember all that snow? It melted.

posted Oct 3, 2017, 6:08 PM by Paul Wagner

If you thought that this summer was exceptionally wet, take a look at this:

"The total amount of water flowing past the USGS Merced River Pohono Bridge gauge in water year 2017 was the most recorded since gauge installation in 1916 (101 years of record). Flows totaled 1.16 million acre-feet surpassing the previous record of 1.06 million acre-feet recorded in 1983. The water year is defined as October 1st of the previous year through September 30th of the current year. Other large years in descending order were 1995, 2011, and 1969."

No wonder those rivers and creeks looked so impressive all summer!   The photo at right is the Stanislaus River below Kennedy Meadows...

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