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.