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

Winter in the Desert

posted Feb 14, 2019, 9:32 PM by Paul Wagner

We often try to fit in a trip to the desert this time of year, and now that we're retired, it seemed like a good idea.  We hopped in Le Vin Blanc and headed South, stopping to stay once again at Red Rock State Park for the first night.  It was beautiful, as always, and pretty damn cold--25 Degrees F.  Froze the water in our five gallon jerry can, and frosted the windows quite effectively the next morning! 

From there we wandered around Ridgecrest for most of the day, poking into Randsburg and Red Mountain, the Maturango Museum, the BLM office, and Fossils Falls to do a bit of hiking.  All fun.  And we were invited to a rather posh dinner that night in Ridgecrest, with Champagne, cassoulet, 1977 Cab in a six liter bottle, 1937 Port...and great conversation as well.  That was a night to remember.  

The next day we had a reservation at Furnace Creek campground, and went there via Ballarat, Wildrose, Emigrant, and more.  Some of those roads were not open the last time we tried them, and that led to some adventures.  This time it was a more sedate journey.  The weather in Death Valley was wild. The following day there were up to 50 mph winds, with guests to 70 mph. and that kept us hiking in Titus Canyon to escape the worst of it.  And that was followed by rain.  Yep, we got rained on in Death Valley! It was more of a sprinkle where we were, but we could see heavier rains in the mountains, and we imagine there were a few canyons that got flushed as a result.  And the clouds at sunset were spectacular. 

A good weather day followed that, and we explored the Southern end of the park, hiking into Ashford Mine Canyon--a great hike with stunning mosaics and nice old mining sites.  But just as we were settling in for more hiking, the weather turned even worse, and predictions were for steady rains the following day.  Nuts. 

We headed south via Greenwater Canyon Road, stopping to see the newly refurbished Zabriskie Point and the sights from Dante's View, neither of which disappointed.  From there it was about 30 miles of washboard down to Shoshone, and Tecopa Springs (gravel parking lots surrounded a few hot springs) and a really fun visit to China Ranch Date Farm, complete with a really nice hike along the Amargosa River and a date shake, to boot.  

But we were struggling with the weather.  We had hoped to do some dispersed camping off some of the dirt roads in the park or the surrounding BLM land, but with rain seriously in the forecast, we were hesitant about getting trapped in a muddy mess, or behind a flooding gully.  So we drove around a bit, and finally ended up staying at the Hotel California in Nipton.,  What a wild and wonderful place that is!  Highly recommended for both style and comfort.  And $65 a night for the two of us including a light breakfast.  

We spent the next morning trying to found our way around the Mojave Preserve, getting rained on, and deciding after lunch that we had had enough.  In Barstow we were 6 1/2 hours from home, and it was just after lunch. 

the last half of the drive was through the first big showers of the next storm, and we got home just in time to enjoy a soft bed.  And we have a ton of things we learned on this trip and want to explore the next time we're down that way---hopefully with slightly better weather!

The rest of the photos are here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZpvtoeEaV2hqQKfE7

A really perceptive point of view on the big fires

posted Jan 27, 2019, 9:57 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Jan 27, 2019, 10:00 AM ]

We often participate in the High Sierra Topix discussion boards, and a retired NPS ranger there has posted some really thoughtful comments on the fires that have ravaged California.  Here is an excerpt:

"I just went back and reviewed some data analysis I did a few months ago, now adding the Camp Fire. There’s a great data set of all fires in California since, roughly, about 1900 – and some before. I did a search for fires over 50,000 acres. Arbitrary but I think it captures the large catastrophic fires. In the Sierra, there are 14 fires of that size. ALL have occurred since 1995. Roughly the same is true of the rest of the state though there’s several of that size in Southern California before ’95.

I then used a vegetation data set to get the percentage of conifer vs. non-conifer fuels the Sierra fires started in and burned in. All but 1 (and I’ve not yet done the Camp Fire) started in brush/oak/grassland. The majority fuel (>50%) they burned in was the same, not coniferous forest.

The point of that exercise is to emphasize that these are not ‘forest fires’ and, while I have nothing against logging, the belief that increased logging will somehow stop fires is just wrong. Just today, Trump threatened to cut off FEMA money because California does not manage our forests adequately. A complete misunderstanding of the situation. If you look at satellite images of many of these fires where they do burn through forest, you’ll easily see they burn right through large tracts of clear cuts without those open areas affecting rate of spread. After all, even if you cut the trees, you still get brush growing in so nothing is gained.

Note, I’m really open to anyone checking my work here. Although I’m pretty good with GIS, I’m not fully confident my data choices and conclusions mean what I think they mean… .

Next: so what? The discussion here started by a swipe at Jerry Brown for using fire “to again bolster his global warming narrative.” On two important points, Jerry is correct to have brought it up. First, it is the responsibility of a politician to faithfully advocate for solutions to critical problems of the people he or she represent. Here, there is a solid argument backed by solid science that human-caused climate change contributes to, among other things, an increase in the severity of wildfires.

Second, it’s also the responsibility of leaders to use the best science to arrive at solutions to those critical problems. Again, Jerry Brown is correct to draw attention to anthropogenic climate change as a problem that can be mitigated by active measures by the people he represents, such as conservation of resources, restoring ecological health to wildland, and other such efforts directed or suggested by our elected representatives.
Several here provided links to current peer-reviewed papers to support this. Notably Impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forest. The summary:
Increased forest fire activity across the western United States in recent decades has contributed to widespread forest mortality, carbon emissions, periods of degraded air quality, and substantial fire suppression expenditures. Although numerous factors aided the recent rise in fire activity, observed warming and drying have significantly increased fire-season fuel aridity, fostering a more favorable fire environment across forested systems. We demonstrate that human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in fuel aridity since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984. This analysis suggests that anthropogenic climate change will continue to chronically enhance the potential for western US forest fire activity while fuels are not limiting https://www.pnas.org/content/113/42/11770
Other papers back this premise up. That’s not at all to say there aren’t other critical factors that drive these recent (since ’95) fires. Some researchers speculate that the very long period that fire has been suppressed from ecosystems has created huge areas of contiguous high fuel loads. In pre-Euro-American times, fire was either started by Native Americans or by lightning. Because they were mostly low-intensity ground fires, they created a mosaic of open areas among the forest. When burning through forest, they’d burn the lower 10 feet or so of fuels – the “ladder fuels” that carry fire into the forest crown.

It’s possible that by the late 20th century a combination of more extreme weather brought on by climate change and the fuels (aka forest, chemise & oak woodland) became contiguous with equivalent fuel loads. No open areas to stop or slow down a fast-moving fire driven by the extreme weather events (low relative humidity, high temperatures, high wind) that are the signature predication of climate models.

And here is a link to the original post---and the rest of the discussion: http://www.highsierratopix.com/community/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=18692&start=60

Yosemite Rescue

posted Jan 18, 2019, 3:54 PM by Paul Wagner

We don't know what these hikers were doing up by North Dome in the middle of winter.  You have to assume that they knew it was going to be darn cold, really snowy, and very challenging.  And yet they went anyway.

And called for help.

Huge kudos for the CHP and rescuers who managed to get down to these two guys, and then get them lifted off the mountain.  That is impressive work.

Here's the story as it appeared in the Fresno paper:

Nice Story about Life's Lessons from a Thru-hike

posted Jan 15, 2019, 7:16 AM by Paul Wagner

We have always found serenity and happiness on the trail, even in challenging conditions.  And backpacking has certainly given us an appreciation of some of the other elements of our lives, both positive and negative. We liked this story written by a thru-hiker one year after he completed the PCT, partly because we agree with many of his points, even though the longest we've ever thru-hiked is a week or so.  Trail life is a wonderful thing, and it gives a great perspective on the rest of the world.  

Lighted Art Show in Napa

posted Jan 13, 2019, 8:27 PM by Paul Wagner

Ok, we admit it.  This has nothing to do with backpacking.  But it's very cool, and it's happening in Napa for the next week.  A total of about 15 different installations of art projections on the walls of buildings in downtown Napa.  Some are quite spectacular.

Here's a link to a few of our favorites. Come to Napa and see the whole show.

What fun!

Disgusting Damage in Joshua Tree

posted Jan 13, 2019, 8:17 AM by Paul Wagner

The news has been full of reports that idiots have entered Joshua Tree National Park during the government shut-down and damaged both trees and the surrounding desert ecosystem.

We have no patience with this kind of activity, and no mercy for those who are caught.  We hope that if you know anything about anyone who cut down Joshua trees, drove into the desert off-road,  or participated in any other kind of damage to the park you will report it to the National Park Service.

If you don't want to do it, send a note to us, and we'll report it, anonymously.  As a ranger in a national park last year suggested, if you are afraid to confront these idiots directly, just take a selfie with them in the background, and send it to the NPS.  They can take it for there.

At left is a photo of a Joshua tree from the park last year.  It's probably more than 100 years old, and only branches during a deep frost.  Despite what you may see in the desert, these trees are threatened by climate change, and we need to protect them from idiots with chain saws.

It's a very sad way to start the new year.

A tale of survival...

posted Jan 9, 2019, 12:54 PM by Paul Wagner

We saw this story in the Sierra Sun new outlet.  Pretty interesting story about how Wendell Murdock stayed alive in the wilderness overnight during a blizzard.  It also got our attention that Mr. Murdock is 80 years old and has a nine year-old son.  And his preparation for his hike included a few clothing items we would have done differently.  And his use of a brand new GPS app on his phone for navigation apparently didn't help him much...

More Trail Work

posted Jan 6, 2019, 12:45 PM by Paul Wagner

After last month's work day on the Hite Cove Trail, P spent Friday joining some of that same work crew on the Savage Lundy Trail, which also gives access to the South Fork of the Merced River below Yosemite. It was a beautiful day, bright and sunny, and we were able get a lot of the fire debris off the trail for the first couple of miles.  The trail is currently closed to all traffic, and the fire damage was pretty comprehensive in this area.
And manzanita beginning to show signs of life after the fire.  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
This was a big tree.  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

What was most impressive to me were the huge holes where large trees had not only burned to the ground, but also left myriad tunnels snaking underground where the roots burned up below the soil.  Some of these were directly under the trail, and we had some fun filling them in to prevent future hikers from falling into the depths of hell...

Early the day some of the ground was frozen, so that added to the fun, as well.  But we did get to see a part of the Merced that many people don't visit, and saw all kinds of refuse, some of it old enough to be classified as historic, along the now exposed trail.

At the same time, it was nice to see a few shoots of green coming up out of the soil, often from the roots of manzanita bushes that had burnt totally down to the ground.  Slowly the forest will come back.. 

A Man of Mystery

posted Jan 1, 2019, 7:02 AM by Paul Wagner

We've often recommended Clarence King's book, Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada,  as one of our favorite books about the Range of Light.  King writes beautifully, and his perspective as a member of the Whitney survey that really put the Sierra on the map (literally) is quite wonderful. 

Over the years, we've heard some complaints (mainly from geologists) who have suggested that King may have exaggerated his own role in the survey party, and we're in no position to disagree with those. But he is a writer, and a good one, and he tells absolutely wonderful stories about the Sierra in the very earliest days of the exploration of that range by the United States. 

The book is now out of copyright, so you can find versions on the internet for free.  No excuses!

But as we were doing some research on Clarence King for fun, we came across the rest of his story.  And it is quite remarkable.  It turns out that in his capacity as a geologist working on the 40th parallel survey, he investigated and exposed one of the biggest diamond mine frauds in the US, and gained international celebrity because of that.  He also saved untold numbers of people who were going to invest in that mine.

And in a completely unrelated story, he led a remarkable double life in his later years.  He somehow managed to pass himself off as an African American railroad employee, fell in love with a freed slave woman, and married her.  They lived happily for almost fifteen years, he often leaving to work in the West, and she staying behind with their children in Massachusetts.  He believed strongly that the future of the human race depended upon inter-racial marriage. 

Here's a link to his Wikipedia bio....and you can read all about it.  More Googling will get you more details


Winter Camping in Spades

posted Dec 29, 2018, 7:32 AM by Paul Wagner

Most hikers, including us, take a bit of a rest during the winter.  The idea of very cold temperatures, lots of snow, and short daylight hours making winter camping, and especially winter backpacking, seem less attractive.  So we stay home and wait for spring.

With that in mind, We'd like to draw your attention to 33 year old Colin Brady, who has just hiked across Antarctica without any help:  no dogs, no horses, no snowmobiles, kites, or food drops.  He just started on one side and walked to the other, pulling everything he needed on a sled.  And Louis Rudd of the UK was only a few days behind him, doing the same thing.   They are now both finished, recovering from their ordeal and celebrating.

Admittedly, they had long daylight hours in the Southern Hemisphere.  But it still makes our complaints about snow seem a bit trivial.

Here's a link to the story on the BBC---scroll down for more info.

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