A note about solitude
We have had some conversations recently with fellow backpackers about the wisdom of posting all of our trip reports on this website--especially the ones that point people to those out of the way corners that have yet to be discovered by the great social media masses.
Fair enough. We can certainly share their concern that every secret corner will someday be mobbed by a multitude seeking a selfie.
So rather than posting another report about a wonderful place we've been where there weren't Very many people at all, we though we would post something different: a quick guide to how to find those places all on your own. What follows is our advice on how to get out into the wilderness and leave most of the rest of the world behind--how to find your own secret places that are not yet on the map of the crowds.
Get off the internet. Yes, we realize this is ironic, since you are reading this on a website, but if a location has been written up many times on the internet, it is, in all likelihood, both quite beautiful and also quite full of people just like you, who found it on the internet and want to go see it in real life. If you want to escape the crowds, get your information somewhere else.
Get on the internet. OK, we can see you smiling now. But instead of searching the web for that magical spot where they took that Instagram photo, search the web for less used trailheads, difficult passes, and tough climbs. Because that's where you'll find fewer people, every time.
Get out the Map. Sure, it's easy enough to show up at the trailhead and follow the signs. In most cases, you'll get to where everyone else is going. But if you have a good topo map and know how to read it, you just might discover that little lake only a half-mile off the trail. Nobody goes there because it's not on the way to anywhere else. Exactly.
Avoid trails that have "trademarked" names. It is possible to hike from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney on the John Muir Trail. It is also possible to hike that same general route without setting foot on the John Muir Trail. Guess which route has fewer people, by a factor of at least twenty? If a trail is popular enough to have it's own name, it's popular enough to avoid.
Go Early. Yes, you will hit snow, and possibly be carried off by hordes of mosquitoes. You will also see breathtaking wildflowers, catch fish that have not see a fisherman in six months, and see explosive waterfalls. For god's sake don't wade anything deep, fast, or scary. More people die in the water in the Sierra than for any other cause. But go early, and you will likely see far fewer people.
Go Late. September and even October can be spectacular in the Sierra. Please be careful about the weather--you can get big storms during this time, although they are rare. We aim for shorter trips during these months. In the back of our minds, we are always thinking that we might just have to get out in a hurry. But there are no bugs this late in the year, and the fall colors, while not like New England, are still lovely. (And late in the day is often the best time for wildlife viewing...as well as avoiding crowds even in the most popular spots. We walked around the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia once well after six o'clock in the evening. There were almost no people at all.:
Go Middle of the Week. Now that we are retired, we are amazed at how much of the traffic in the Sierra in focused on the weekends. If you can hit the trail a day early, you can stay ahead of the weekend surge, and leave most of those people behind.
Go up. The tougher the climb, the most likely that most people will choose another route. We're old, nearly seventy now, but we've learned that it we take it slow and steady, we can get up just about any trail. If we can do it, so can you. The pay-off for those long hard climbs is often solitude that simply can't be found on easier trails.
Go Long. We're convinced that 95% of the traffic on backcountry trails is concentrated on the first eight miles from the trailhead. Get in deeper than that, and the number shrink geometrically. Take an extra two days' of food, and hike two days deeper into the mountains. You'll have solitude, serenity, and scenery. There's an old saying in the national parks that nobody walks more than 1/2 mile away from their car. Hike an extra day, and you'll have the place to yourself
Camp away from water. Everyone who backpacks seems to want a campsite right on the edge of the lake or river. (It's illegal, you need to be at least 100, and usually 200 feet from any water when you set up camp.) But consider filling up your water bottles at the lake, and then hiking up to that granite knob above it. The other campers may have water nearby, but you will have a view that takes your breath away. And in mosquito season, this is absolutely a survival tactic.
Go Off trail. If 95% of visitors never go more than half a mile from their cars, and 95% of backpackers stay within a day's hike of the trailhead, imagine how few people leave the trail and head off into the truly wild wilderness. We're not talking about cutting a switchback here--if P catches you doing that, words will be spoken. But get out that topo map, learn to read between the contour lines, bone up on your compass and navigation skills, and boldly go where no trail has gone before. What you will find is magic. What you won't find it people.
As John Muir said: "You are not in the mountains, the mountains are in you."