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July through September 2012

Post date: Sep 27, 2012 7:03:25 PM A lot of people have contacted us about potential trails and trailheads, and one of the questions they almost always ask is: How steep is it? Turns out, people don't want to hike uphill. They do want to see wonderful alpine vistas, and usually want to get away from the crowds. They even enjoy reaching a summit. But not if it means hiking uphill.Well, it usually does mean hiking uphill. We understand the concern. When you are on vacation, it somehow doesn't seem right to be working so hard that you are dripping with sweat and gasping and panting with exhaustion. Hiking uphill can do that to you.

Or rather, you can do that to yourself when you are hiking uphill.

We've found that over the years, our fear of climbing has somewhat dissipated. We don't actively look for the steepest trail on the map, but we don't avoid a climb when it's on the way to where we are going. We do take them nice and easy, steady and slow. And we find that we eventually get to the top. With luck, we aren't breathing that hard, and the only place we're really sweaty in on our back, up against the pack. We arrive at most passes feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, and not exhausted.

And guess what? We find spectacular alpine vistas and fewer people. Who'd a thunk it?

Post date: Sep 24, 2012 3:29:52 PM On our last trip to Sequoia/Kings Canyon (SEKI) we visited a few lakes that get a little more traffic than is usual in the backcountry. Every area deals with this in a different way, since that additional traffic has three major impacts on the wilderness experience.

1. The campsites themselves get really worn out. That's why you'll find areas that have been obviously well-used, but are no longer open to camping. We've seen this everywhere in the Sierra. It allows the sites to recover, and there are always other options that work.

2. For camping in areas where there are over-interested bears, there are occasionally food storage lockers (bear boxes) that gives hikers a place to store their food safe from ursine marauders. We always carry a bear canister these days, but we certainly understand why the authorities install these bear boxes in high traffic areas. They really do make safe food storage a lot easier, and that makes saving the bears a lot easier.

3. And then there are the toilet facilities. Too many backpackers can have a very ugly impact on a heavily used campsite area. So in a few places in the backcountry, you'll find a vault toilet. It's not exactly our idea of wilderness, but we understand the problem, and we don't have a better solution.We were particularly taken with the toilet at Twin Lakes in SEKI. It was certainly not your traditional vault toilet, but it had walls on three roof, and the walls only came up to your waist.

M was quite sure she we never find it easy to use...but still.; nice effort. And a lovely view from the throne. It's good being the king!

Post date: Sep 20, 2012 4:34:40 AM Early morning at Ranger Lake, I left M back at camp and walked down to the lake. I wanted to see if the fish were rising, and we needed to pump some water for the trail. It was very quiet and still, but in the deep bowl of the lake, on the far side, I could see a large bird slowly rising into the air.

At first I thought it was an osprey, but as a I watched it fly slowly around, I could see it was something larger. And the pointed beak was wrong for a raptor. The bird flew in steady circles over the center of the lake, each turn taking it a bit higher into the air.

I realized that it was a heron when it flew almost directly overhead. By that time it was nearly clear of the trees, and like a jumbo jet, it had circled the lake until it gained enough altitude to fly off to the south. No engine noise, but the huge bird then cleared the tops of the trees and sailed off into the sky beneath Silliman Pass. That same day, in the evening, M and I went down to Seville Lake to enjoy the peace and quiet. And yes, to see if the fish were rising. We watched as the shadows lengthened over the lake, and a few fish rose, far out in the middle of the lake. And then we saw the bats. Two of them, like small fighter planes, swooping and diving around us. Frequently they would dip and slap the water just like a fish, eating the mayflies that were hatching up into the sky. It was like watching trout rise, only in reverse. They spun by us time after time, diving onto the surface of the lake, eating voraciously from the bugs that were all around us. And then they were gone, chasing off after more interesting prey.

Lots of air traffic in the High Sierra this time of year.

Post date: Sep 19, 2012 6:49:32 PM On our last trip, we had some fun comparing data with reality. Let's start with the signs marking the various trails we hiked. At Twin Lakes, we started up towards Silliman Pass at a sign that indicated it was 1.3 miles away. Off we went.When we got down to the other side of the pass, we found another sign. This one told us that Silliman Pass was 2.0 miles back up the trail...and that Twin Lakes was 3.0 miles away. So at least in this case, 1.3 + 2.0 = 3.0. And we found other cases that were similar. It's almost as if the people making and placing the signs really never looked at what they were doing. Too bad we can't use that kind of math to resolve the federal deficit. (By the way, our map had completely different mileages for each of these legs, so the real distance really is still anyone's guess.)

When you combine that with a beautifully maintained trail we took that wasn't on the map, and another trail we took that was on the map but was only a rough route that petered out completely on the ground; it all just serves to warn you that the difference between what you see on the maps and signs may not accurately reflect reality on the ground.

That's not to say you shouldn't take a map! We never travel with maps, and often with various scales and versions. On this trip we ended up using ours extensively to figure out how to get out of the deadfall mess that the missing trail had led us into. And it worked. And if it hadn't we could have still use the map to start a fire and keep warm. Maps are good. You just can't always trust them.

Post date: Sep 18, 2012 3:39:15 PM Trip Report to Jennie Lakes

We spent the night in a campground at Grants Grove, and then drove to the Rowell Meadow trailhead--a paved road for the first eight miles, then a very good dirt road for the last two. There were about five cars in the parking lot, and our only worry was our barbecue grill. We didn't want to leave it in the car, but there were no bear boxes at the trailhead. What to do?

We'd even asked the rangers for advice, and they suggested...well, they didn't really have a suggestion. So we cleaned it, wrapped it up as well as we could, buried it deep in the blankets in the back, and hoped for the best.

What a great time of year to be hiking. We had perfect weather from beginning to end of this trip, and the climb up to Rowell Meadows was almost pleasant in the shade of the early morning. We managed to get to JO pass by lunchtime, with long stretches of this hike through glorious open forests. For lunch, we left the trail to climb up to a little lake above the pass, only to discover that it was mainly meadow. Still, a nice place to eat, and a view to the west of some of the granite that makes the Sierra so wonderful.

We'd seen only one person on the trail. We got to Jennie Lake about an hour after lunch, and spend the afternoon setting up camp, napping, and wandering around the lake. I didn't see any trout at all, so no fishing. We had the place to ourselves. And that night for the first time in years, we actually made a campfire in the existing fire ring. (This area has designated fire rings at most of the lakes, and they are even identified on a map when you arrive at any of the destination lakes. It's a bit more civilized, for better and for worse, than many other areas we've visited.)

The next day we backtracked to JO pass, then hiked down to Clover Creek, again through those wonderful open forests and meadows. After a couple of miles we turned left at the junction, and climbed up to Twin Lakes. This was originally one of our camping destinations, but we'd adapted our route because of the long drive home on the fourth day. So we ate lunch here, loved the scenery, and chatted a bit with a day-hiker from Lodgepole.

And then it was back into the packs for the climb up and over Silliman Pass. A steep climb, but we took it slow and easy, and were rewarded with a spectacular view at the top. The whole Sierra opens up from a spot just 100 yards south of the pass, and we spent a good half an hour up here taking in the view. Simply amazing.

It was an even steeper climb back down the other side to Ranger Lake. And part of the trail had been artfully assembled with stones clinging to bare granite cliffs. Impressive work! At Ranger Lake we found the same kind of campsite map, and chose one on the eastern side of the lake. From there we could see not only the lake and the cliffs around it, but almost the same view as the one from Silliman Pass.

The view to the East made for a wonderful dining room, as we sat on stone benches in a kind of granite amphitheater overlooking one of the great views in the Sierra. It was so good that we stayed there until dusk, watching the shadows grow longer over Kings Canyon, and watching the light on the distant peaks slowly change from yellow to orange to rose to lavender.

And then to bed. The next day was an easy one. We took the short trail to Lost Lake ( the long trail is apparently no longer marked nor maintained--although it does appear on the maps) and stopped there for a snack and a bit of fishing--lots of medium sized brook trout. We left it in the hands of an exuberant but respectful group of seven young men, and hiked down and around to Seville Lake for lunch.

This is a lovely lake surrounded by grass, and in the fall it had all turned to a golden green. I fished a bit (slow, but still those brook trout) and we rested and got organized for an early start the next day. Our campsite here, once again a designated site, was deep among towering pines, and it was just wonderful.The next day we followed our topo maps to the short cut back to the pass our of the National Parks, and into Jennie Lakes Wilderness.

Only that short cut trail doesn't really exist. It begins with a good string of cairns at Jennie Lake, but once you get deep into the meadow/creek crossing about a half-mile in, it disappears altogether. We finally gave up and contoured cross county back to the east where we picked up the longer trail. The short cut hadn't been any shorter, but at least it wasn't any longer.

And it was an adventure! From there it was an easy stroll back down to Rowell Meadows, and we got to experience the first section of this hike all over again from the other direction. That last two miles to the trailhead were steeper and rougher than we'd remembered...but maybe that's just because the sun was higher in the sky, our legs were a bit tired, and we still had a long drive home.

And then there was that worry about the car. When we arrived at the trailhead, the car was there. And so was the barbecue. The bears apparently were looking elsewhere for food during our trip. This was a great trip for this time of year--but during the height of the season there would be a lot more people. We saw a total of about 25 people over the four days. That's a lot for us. And in the summer, I bet there are that many people at each of the lakes. Stunning views, perfect weather, and great hiking. A nice way to end the season!

Post date: Aug 30, 2012 4:15:49 AM School is now in session, parents are back to work, and the mosquitoes have given up entirely.It's the perfect time to go hiking in the High Sierra.

The crowds are gone, the fish are biting, and the weather is usually just about perfect.True, we've had perfectly wonderful trips at other times of the year, and every trip is great. But the next month or so is our favorite time to go hiking.

We can hardly wait.

Post date: Aug 23, 2012 4:27:25 PM If you've read these pages at all, you know that we're big fans of keeping both weight and costs low. Sure, we have a couple of expensive items that are really light, but we also have a ton of stuff that didn't cost much, and is as light as anything you can buy. And some of that stuff we made ourselves.

On our recent trip to the Emigrant Wilderness, we were particularly pleased with the pot cozy that P made out of some old closed-cell foam. It's pretty darn simple--just a cylinder and a lid, to match the pot--but it kept our freeze-dried dinners piping hot for the full fifteen minutes that we left them to re-hydrate. It worked perfectly. And it cost us nothing. And it weighs almost nothing.

Sadly, M forgot her closed-cell foam seating pad that she always tucks into the straps on the back of her pack. We use these as seats on the trail, as they are a lot softer than a rock. They cost nothing, and they weigh nothing. M also uses them as a windbreak for the stove on breezy evenings. When we are pumping water, they give us just enough cushion to keep our bones from aching. This trip we had to share, as M left hers at home!

We also tied on a quick net of elastic cord on the outside of our packs, so that we can put a fleece jacket, our crocs, or one of these pads on the outside of the pack. We paid less than $2 for the cord, and it makes a huge difference on the trail.

And you can add to that our cutting board, a 4x6 inch square cut from a larger flexible plastic cutting board we bought at a local gourmet deli. Net cost/ Under $5, and a perfect lightweight solution to either cutting your leg with the knife, or cutting salami on a rock...and leaving the edge of your knife as dull as conversation with the rock itself.

Cheap. Light. Easy.

Post date: Aug 22, 2012 3:39:24 PM Last year we learned about a very sophisticated group of thieves who were subscribing to all the latest environmental newsletters to see who had installed new solar energy systems.

It was basic market research, because within weeks the thieves would then visit the new installation and cart the whole thing away. Not nice, and happily that group was arrested and put out of business.

But that's the reason that we never announce when and where we are taking our next backpacking trip. We're happy to tell you all about it once we have returned, but the Internet is just a bit too public a place for us to announce that our house is going to be uninhabited for certain dates. We've had people ask us the question, and we always demur.And yeah, we have neighbors who check on things. but even so. These days you can't be too careful.

We encourage you to do the same.

Post date: Aug 21, 2012 3:20:56 PM Have you ever gone backpacking without the required permit? Would you? We got to thinking about this after a recent trip to the Ansel Adams Wilderness. We had arranged for our permit to be left for after-hours pickup at the Mono Lake station. But when we got there, the permit box was empty. We looked and looked. Poor Mother Hubbard!

It wasn't a big deal. We were camping at Silver Lake, about fifteen minutes away, and so we simply got up the next morning and drove back to the ranger station and picked up our permit from a live and slightly apologetic ranger. The phones had been down the night before, and they never got the word from the main office. End result? We hit the trail about an hour later than planned. As we said, no big deal.

But what if the situation had been different? We once called the El Dorado National Forest to make sure that we could pick up a permit at the trailhead for a trip we were going to make out of Carson Pass. We were assured that it was not a problem--the Carson Pass station was open 9-5 or so. We left home early the next morning, and drove to Carson Pass...only to find that the USFS station up there was not open during the week. (This was in the fall. Summer hours may well be different.) The station was boarded up, there was no phone (or cell phone coverage) and not even another car in the parking lot. Our only option was to drive another hour or more back down to Placerville, pick up a permit, and then drive back up to Carson Pass and start hiking. We'd already been in the car for more than three hours, and it was now 11:30 in the morning. If we drove to Placerville, we would not get on the trail until 2 p.m. or so. We read the warning signs carefully, all of which stressed that we could not make a campfire (or cook on a stove) without a permit. But we did have our CDF campfire permit. We get one of those every year.

So we decided to hit the trail. We spent three lovely days in the not yet established Meiss Meadow Wilderness Area, and hiked back out on Saturday afternoon. We'd seen very few people, and by the time we got to the car, we'd forgotten that we didn't have a permit.

No, we didn't get stopped at the trailhead and arrested. In fact, we weren't noticed at all. Clearly, this is not something we would consider in Yosemite National Park or other high traffic and highly regulated areas. And some of the other areas allow you to simply self-registered for a permit at the trailhead. We did that at Leavitt Meadows. But now you know our secret confession. We once backpacked without a permit. We expect to appear on the next season of America's Most Wanted.

And there is more to this story...we discovered later that no permit was required SOUTH of the highway...only north of the highway. We were legal after all.

Post date: Aug 20, 2012 11:09:11 PM The reason you haven't heard from us for a few days is that we were doing what we love--backpacking in the Sierra. This time it was around Emigrant Wilderness, to a series of lakes for which there is no trail, only sloping slabs of granite and a topo map to guide us.

We started at Kennedy Meadows and followed the horses and manure for five miles up to the junction with the trail to Lower Relief Valley. It had rained torrents the night before (we met one group who weathered five hours of thunder, lightning, and pouring rain near Emigrant Lake) and so our normally dry Sierra felt like a sauna. Steam was rising off the rocks, and we were sweating like...well, we were sweating. But once we got above Relief Reservoir, things got a lot better. The trail goes through a very steep climb here, and after lunch we stopped at Summit Creek to enjoy the water, the view...and what the heck, let's camp here. That afternoon P took a recon hike up the granite just to make sure this route was possible...and came back down full of confidence.

The next morning we were up early and hiking straight up the smooth granite. What a wonderful way to explore the Sierra! The views opened up, and there were so many fabulous trees struggling in the granite that we kept stopping to take photos of them.

In about an hour we were up at the top of the pass, and then pulled out our map and compass to make sure we were headed in the right direction. We contoured around the granite bowl, and ended up right where we wanted to be, at the northern corner of Ridge Lake. From there we hiked around to explore the three other lakes, fish a bit, and spend the day far from the madding crowds below. Wonderful.

The sky was full of fluffy clouds, and we just wandered from one great spot to the next. The last day was Friday, and we started early to beat the heat. Most of the hike back down to Kennedy Meadows was in shadow...but we also ran into seven (yep, seven!) groups of horses, from three to fourteen people in each. Add in a few groups of hikers, and it sure felt different from Iceland Lake.

This is not a trip for those who want a nice hike along a well-marked trail. In fact, the lakes in question are well off the trail, and take quite a bit of navigation. But they are lovely lakes, and we promise you that you won't see many people up in this area. And the scenery and fishing is pretty darn amazing.(Note--we did not see a single fish at Iceland lake--only pollywogs. But Ridge Lake and its companion were full of fish, as was Summit Creek.)

Post date: Aug 14, 2012 12:40:34 PM Over the past three months, P has been struggling with a bad right knee. He first hurt it while cycling in late April, and felt a twinge behind his kneecap. After that, there was pain, swelling, strange locking up of the knee, and a general sense that all was not right in Kneeland. And it didn't go away.

He gave up cycling for two months and tried to give the knee a period of rest and relaxation. But as backpacking season was coming and going, and the knee wasn't getting any better, he decided to consult his physician.

X-rays and a consultation later, and the news came back that he had arthritis in the knee. Not bad arthritis, but enough to make an issue of things. This was not great news. And the next step was to consult an orthopedist, which he did in mid-July. A long consultation confirmed that his ACL and MCL were fine, but that there might be something else wrong in there. And the arthritis didn't look that serious. Time for an MRI. In the meantime, he was instructed to let pain and discomfort be his guide. He could cycle, hike or leap tall buildings with a single bound, as long as it didn't seem to make his knee worse.

And so we took a backpacking trip. But we also took precautions. For the first time, P carried (and later used) hiking poles. We took a generous supply of Advil, and chose a route that would allow us to bail out early if things got gruesome. We packed light, as we usually do, and we agreed to take things easy. And we took a small knee brace, too.How did it go? The first day up the steep ( we took it slow and sure) Rush Creek trail was fine. P felt great, the knee didn't hurt more than usual, and all systems were a cautious go.

The second day .was even better. By the time we got to camp that afternoon, P was feeling the best he'd felt in a couple of months. He went fishing at Altha Lake and had a lovely time.

But the next morning, within a half-mile of leaving camp, he noticed a new and distinctive pain in the knee. He immediately took some Advil, pulled out the poles, and spend most of the day worrying. He was worrying that our route this day was taking us farther from the trailhead, and this was the one day that offered a chance to leave early. He stuck it out, the knee didn't get worse, and by the end of the third day he was hopeful that the worse was over.

Day four was a series of climbs and descents, including a half-mile bushwhack along the San Joaquin River, and by this time he was using the poles and taking an Advil every six hours, and using the knee brace--including dipping it in icy where he could to cool the knee while he hiked. But it worked. The knee held up fine, and actually felt better than the day before.

The last day was a descent of 2500 feet steeply down the Clark Lake/Rush Creek trail. This trail is no fun, but with his assortment of protections and medications, P's knee held up to the very end. In fact, by the end of the trail it felt no worse than his other knee...which was also feeling the long descent.

And it simply goes straight down about 600 feet per mile for miles.But we did it. Mission Accomplished.And the even better news? A few days after returning, his orthopedist gave him a cortisone injection in the knee...and not only is the pain gone, but the swelling is greatly reduced. We're hoping that will give the knee a chance to do a little recovery on its own, and we'll be back on the trail in no time.

Wouldn't THAT be nice?

Post date: Aug 13, 2012 7:44:42 PM Quite a few people have asked us about the camera we use for our photos. Many of them seem to think that we have an expensive and sophisticated system. We don't. We have an old Canon Powershot 780 that cost us about $225 three or four years ago. We have carried it for hundreds of miles on the trail and literally hundreds of thousands of miles on airplanes. In that time period, we've probably taken 5,000 photos with it. And we are pretty darn happy with it.

We bought it for two major reasons:

1. It has a viewfinder. P doesn't like using an LCD screen in bright sunlight--particularly because he wears polarized sunglasses on the trail--and that means you just can't see the screen in the daytime.

2. It's small, smaller than his Blackberry, and weighs only about five ounces. That makes it easy to take wherever we are going. We would post a photo...but we'll have to find a mirror first...grin

Over the years, he's learned how to adjust exposures, use the zoom to frame the photo, and adapt to the viewfinder, which always shows a bit less of the scene than you'll see on the final photo. So the next time you a photo you like on this website, don't be misled. It wasn't taken by someone who knows a lot about photography. And it wasn't taken with a complicated SLR camera with lots of lenses or attachments.It was taken by someone who got up into the Sierra so far that anyone could take a picture and have it look good.

Post date: Aug 12, 2012 9:42:27 PM You may remember from our visit to the Clark Lakes on our last trip that we weren't impressed with the grassy shoreline and bug potential along Lower Clark Lake below Agnew Pass. One half of the lake was full of grass, and the rest of the shoreline was often grassy as well. We even decided to look elsewhere for a campsite at first.

Happily, Lower Clark lake turned out to be a great place to camp. And as the day wound down, the wildlife came out to play. We first heard the yip of a coyote, our first of the trip. And as M sat by the lake she enjoyed the family of ducks that was paddled on the far shore--a mother and five almost grown up ducklings. The mom chased them about a bit, then finally let them explore the far shore as we watched from our campsite above the lake.

Two deer came quietly out of the forest and snacked their way down to the lake, nibbling on the grass as they traveled. The lone hiker that we could see was oblivious to their presence as they ate their fill and then slowly slipped back into the forest.Overhead, an osprey soared over the lake, looking for a fish dinner. After a few minutes, he flew higher up the slope, hoping to find something more appetizing at the Upper Clark Lake. As we watched him, we took notice of the dragonflies that were dashing about, gobbling up the tiny midges that were hatching over our side of the lake.

A few bats came out, flying overhead, competing with the dragonflies for bugs. And then we noticed a smaller family of ducks--a mother and two ducklings--making their way from the grass on our side of the lake to visit their colleagues on the far side. They paddled across quietly, then began jabbering and diving to the bottom with the others.

Post date: Aug 10, 2012 4:01:24 PM Did you lose a pair of reading glasses?

When we go into the backcountry, we often go out of our way to find more remote and private campsites. Part of the joy of backpacking is the sense of solitude and isolation that we find. And that means that we often find ourselves camping boldly where no man has camped before.Well, not really. But you get the idea. Show us the usual sites, and we'll often look for something a bit farther afield. On this last trip, we were off the John Muir Trail, exploring trails and routes that didn't get so much traffic. And when we stopped for the night, we often spent 45 minutes or more finding a place to camp that would be away from the madding crowd--or at least other hikers. In one case, we considered one campsite, then decided to move on.

But before we moved on M noticed a pair of glasses on a log. She actually ought they were mine, and handed them to me. But I had mine right where I wanted them---on my face.This pair had been on the log for a while, judging from the water spots and corrosion on the frames, so we tossed them in our pack and added them to the junk we've found on the trail.

And then a few days later, we were even farther off the grid, and M wandered off in the woods to do what bears do. Of course, she likes to get far away even from our isolated campsite for that particular activity. When she returned, she was laughing, and holding up a pair of glasses. A different pair.

So we have two pairs of reading glasses right now. They are both about 1.5 magnification, and we'll donate them to a local charity shop. But it does make you wonder how many other pairs are out there...and how many people are having trouble reading their topo maps.

Post date: Aug 9, 2012 4:20:58 PM As well as a wonderful adventure, our last trip was a bit of a test run for some new equipment we'd picked up over the past few months.

First of all, we were trying our new Go-Lite 50L backpacks. These are five liters smaller than our old Eureka 3900s, and they weigh a full pound less. That's a cool two and a half pounds, total. They are quite comfortable, and we like a lot of things about them. Now it's time to customize them to our particular biases. We've already added a bit of shock cord on the back of each pack to hold our Crocs, and we're still learning where the best place is for each piece of equipment. These have fewer outside pockets than our old packs, so we're having to re-think some of our packing philosophy. But so far, so good.

And you may also see that P is wearing a new hat in the latest photos. He picked up the most recent version at the Mataderos Flea Market in Buenos Aires...and he loves it. It looks like it's make of leather, but it is actually very lightweight felt, and coated with oil so that it is waterproof. And it is crush-proof, too. Do what you will, it always pops back into shape. Best of all, we got it when we were visiting Argentina for our daughter's it has additional sentimental value. A perfect hat.

If you look closely at the photos, you might also notice that his shades have grown. With his advancing age, he got fitted for some prescription graduated lens eyeglasses a few months ago...and they cost a pretty penny. He was offered the option of buying a second pair of sunglasses with the same prescription (and even higher price), but chose to save the money. Instead, he went to WalMart and bought a pair of over-sized polarized sunglasses that fit right over his existing glasses. And they cover a large part of his face from all angles. He loves them.

Post date: Aug 9, 2012 3:21:03 AM On our last trip into the eastern High Sierra, we found ourselves camped at a lovely lake at about 10,000 feet that had all the amenities, minus one: the water in the lake wasn't as crystal clear as we'd come to expect.

And since we were using a filter to pump our water, we've learned that sediment or algae in the water can plug up the filter, and make pumping more difficult or even impossible. So we pre-filtered by putting the water through one of our bandanas first, and then pumping it through the filter. This is a great system, and gives you a much longer life on your filters.

So we pumped away about 6 p.m. in the evening, and then hung the soaking wet bandana up to dry in the sun. An hour later, we realized that we needed more water for the morning, and grabbed that bandana. It was bone dry.

We pumped away, and then put the bandana back up on the log to dry again. By the time it was getting dark, about 8:15, the bandana was dry again. Not a lot of humidity up there.

Post date: Aug 6, 2012 10:20:26 PM Our trip left the eastern side of the Sierra, on the Rush Creek trailhead near Silver lake along the June Lake loop south of Yosemite and Tioga Pass.

Since we were leaving Rush Creek trailhead, and it’s a steep climb, we wanted to make sure we got an early start. But that was not to be. Our permit was not waiting for us in the night drop box of the Mono Lake Visitor Center. We thought about hiking without a permit, but decided against it. So we were eating breakfast and waiting for them to open at 8 a.m. It turned out that a problem with the phones the day before had prevented the main office in Bishop from getting them the message about out late arrival. At any rate, by 8 :30 we were back at the trailhead, and hiking uphill.

This is a long, warm climb, and we were treated to a view of the little tram with a work party slowly and majestically passing us on the way to Agnew Lake. The water level here was VERY low, because they were working on the dam. From there it was another warm steep mile to Gem Lake, and we ate lunch at a shady spot near the western end of Gem Lake. Another 3-4 miles got us to our first campsite, at Waugh Lake—a climb of about 2,000 feet in six miles on the first day. The water was about fifteen feet low here as well, but that left us with a nice beach in front of our campsite. (the campsite probably would not have been legal if the water lever had been normal). It felt good to be back on the trail, but we were surprised at how out of practice we were. We found ourselves dealing with lots of little things that we normally don’t have to think about. Did you bring this? Where is that? Over the next day or so these got ironed out, and we fell happily back into our normal routine.

There were no fish rising at Waugh Lake, by the way, and I didn't even break out my fishing rod here. The next day we hiked up to the John Muir Trail and then over Island Pass. The top of this pass is gorgeous, with lovely alpine scenery, and the peaks of Banner and Ritter looming over it all. This is the very best part of the JMT, and it just got better as we descended to Thousand Island Lake. Compared to our normal routes, there were plenty of people on these trails.

From there we continued south past the two charming intermediate lakes: Emerald and Ruby. We ate lunch at Ruby Lake, and made a note to stop back here again--maybe even camp here--sometime. And then we were over the ridge, and down into Garnet Lake, where we thought we’d be camping. But there were so many people and so few nice campsites that we resisted…there must be a better choice. After consulting both maps and our inner resources, we eventually found nearby Altha Lake on a spur trail off the use trail down to the river trail. Steep? Class III for part of this descent.

So we wandered up the canyon until we found the trail to Altha Lake…but when we got there, we were charmed. It was our own private High Sierra Lake, with nice fishing and nobody else. Beware---there is only one really good campsite at this lake, so it won’t be fun to share it. But I spent a very fun couple of hours catching nice trout, and the views over the San Joaquin from our campsite were great.

On our way out, we met a family that was dayhiking to this lake, and remembered it fondly from many years past. The next morning we were scrambling back up the Class III use trail to Garnet, and then hiking over the pass towards Shadow Creek. A long hot descent led us to the junction with the Ediza Lake trail, and we climbed up along Shadow Creek. We had lunch at Ediza, but again found too many people there for our taste. Plus the wind was really howling.

We backtracked down Shadow Creek until we found a place to wade across it, and then camped on the far side in heavenly privacy. We saw our first mosquitoes here---about five of them in all. The views through the trees allowed us to see the peaks of the Ritter Range and the Minarets, and there were lots of 6-10 inch brook and rainbow trout. The next morning we were climbing back over the hill to Garnet Lake, then scrambling down the use trail to the River Trail. And from there, instead of heading up canyon, we bushwhacked down the west side of the San Joaquin to the junction with the trail to Clark Lakes—not recommended unless you really like bushwhacking. It would have been better to cross over and take the River trail.

Another legitimate climb took us back up from the River Trail to Agnew Pass, and we had lunch on the shores of Summit Lake.

This is a beautiful spot with some great views, and just as we were leaving we met a young couple who were planning to camp there.

But we were headed further down to Clark Lakes. The trail runs along the eastern shore of the largest of the Clark Lakes, and we were not impressed with the grassy shoreline and bug potential. Once we scoped out the campsite options, we decided to press on to Upper Clark Lake. After all, how far could it be? It could be about a half mile up a steep climb. And it was grassier and buggier looking than the lower lake. (The next morning, we did notice some nice trout in this upper lake.) So we went back down, after admiring the views of Banner and Ritter from the western end of the lake. And we made the best of the campsite we found at lower Clark Lake.Happily,

Lower Clark lake turned out to be a great place to camp, and we saw more wildlife there than we had in the whole rest of the trip—deer, ducks, osprey, bats—it was a lovely place to watch night fall.

Our last day was a lesson in down-climbing. Once over the ridge to Spooky Meadow, it was about five miles of descending 2500 vertical feet through talus, rock and sand. Luckily we were early, and much of this part of the hike was in shade. There were some nice views of Mono Lake in the distance, and good shots of Agnew and Gem Lakes…but all in all, this was work more than pleasure.

Still, we made it down to the trailhead by 11:30, packed up the car, and were at the Mobil station in Lee Vining in time for lunch. And from there, another couple of hours got us back to our cabin for warm water, soft beds, and civilization.

Post date: Jul 24, 2012 2:22:15 AM It's been a tough year for us out on the trail, and that seems crazy in this warm, dry year. But every time we plan a hike, something comes up. We bought a cabin, and we've been spending a lot of time putting it to rights and getting it fixed up the way we want it. So that has eaten a few weekends.

And M's aunt has been ill, so we've been careful about spending too much time away from home. And P's knee has been giving him all sorts of worries. It hurts, for one. And it's swollen, for another. But he's seen an orthopedist, and it seems as if things have a chance of getting better soon. He'll get an MRI this week, and that should tell us more. In the meantime, we haven't gone backpacking much. We've certainly done some lovely day hikes, but no sleeping in the bags!But that's about to change. Come hell or low water, we're going to get into the mountains soon, and we're going to do it with packs on our backs.

Yes, P will be using hiking poles to help his knee. And yes, we have an itinerary that should allow us to take life easy if we want to. But we are going to get into the Sierra and see some things we haven't seen before.And we hope to see you out on the trail as well.

Post date: Jul 12, 2012 1:36:37 AM A few years ago P bought himself the perfect backpacking watch.. It was a Casio Pathfinder Solar Atomic Watch PAW500T-7V C432--complete with solar power, so that it never needed winding or a battery. And it provided an amazing amount of information: barometric pressure, altitude, dual time zones, alarms, stopwatch, and it even got its time signal direct from the atomic clock in Colorado, so that it was never off by even a second.

Like we said, an amazing watch. P wore it for years, and it worked like a charm. It did all of the above and more. He used it to estimate the miles per hour on our hikes, and the elevation gains on the trail. He even used the lighted dial to see in the dark form time to time. It was so handsome that P began to wear it everywhere, not just hiking. It looked good, it worked well, and it never needed a thing. He began to forget about his other watches. He didn't wind them, and didn't ever replace their batteries. He took the Casio hiking and wore it with his tuxedo. It became part of his daily ritual.

And then one day he banged his amazing Casio watch on the wall...and it stopped working. Not entirely, mind you, just everything except the time-keeping function. It wouldn't read altitude or barometric pressure. It wouldn't set the alarm. It wouldn't provide dual time zones. Heck, it wouldn't even light the dial after dark. It was like losing an old friend.

P tried everything he could think of to fix it. He left it in the sun to get a good dose of solar power. He pushed every button. He pushed some of them three times, or held them for five seconds, or held them in combination with other buttons for ten seconds. He even tried reading the directions. Nothing worked. The watch told him exactly what time it was, and nothing else. Sigh.

He was so disappointed. He had wanted this to be the last watch he ever bought. And so he tried looking for another one--but they are no longer for sale. There are newer, more expensive models, but he didn't want one of them. He looked high and low, and finally found one seller in e-bay that still had one of these amazing watches.

He snapped it up immediately, and had it shipped to his house. It arrived on time, and he eagerly opened the box.There it was, just like the old one--in perfect condition. He could hardly wait to get it on his wrist.And so he quickly reached to take off his old watch...and was stunned to see that it now offered all the functions that it had withheld for the past two weeks. All the buttons worked. The altimeter was accurate. And every single function worked exactly as it should.. P fiddled with it, trying to get it to malfunction.

No dice. The watch had clearly received the message, and was now on its absolutely best behavior. It still fit perfectly, and still looks good.

So P now has two of these amazing watches. One has the band set exactly for his wrist size, and it works perfectly. And the other sits in its shiny new case on the dresser. Just in case the first watch gets any ideas.

Post date: Jul 8, 2012 5:04:26 PM During our recent trip to Lassen, we decided to take a hike outside the park to a small lake to the west called Heart Lake. We'd read about both the lake and the hike in a few places, and were really looking forward to the experience. Of course, since there were two routes to the lake, we decided to try for the slightly more difficult route that offered better scenery.But the whole area had been logged a few years ago, and there was no real sign of a trail. A dirt road led up into the forest, and we followed that for about half a mile. Then it ended in a clearing.

We poked around the edges of the clearing, and found a D9 track that seemed to lead in the right direction. It wasn't exactly the hike we were expecting. The route was criss-crossed with D9 tracks, bits of ribbon, and logging refuse. Still, we continued by compass and available route for about another mile.

And then we came to the edge of the logging tract, and the landscape changed completely. Instead of open understory with medium and small sized trees, we were now in an impenetrable thicket of rocks. underbrush. and downed trees. No fun there.So we pulled out our compass and tried to work out a new route. There seemed to be an easier path a bit to the North, so we went there. And followed that up a steep ridge through boulders and brush. At the top, we found a cairn. And then two more. Aha!

The only problem was, we never found cairns four and five. They first three lead up the ridge even higher, and the going became really rough. And so we went North again, where we could see a more open area. That led us to a creek, that might or might not lead us to the lake. There were two creeks in this area--only one of them leads to Heart Lake. But the creek only offered a brief respite, before we ran into another steep and difficult section. We poked around for another route, but our heart (sorry) wasn't in it. We were scheduled to cook dinner that night for the whole crew (25 people) and we didn't want to spend any more time wandering in the wilderness. We had bellies to fill. So we turned around and tried to trace our route back to the car. We found our first landmark, and then our second. And then we knew we had to work our way South and West, so we did. And just when we found what we thought was the very first clearing at the end of the road, we realized that it wasn't. It was a different clearing--and we were almost back at the main road out of the forest, right at a road marked #9. We had entered on road #12.

Hmmm. Which way should we go? We turned left, convinced that we needed to go further South. But after a few hundred yards, we guessed that we had overshot our goal, and turned around. A few hundred yards on the OTHER side of road #9 and came to another road...and it was not #12. In fact, it had no number at all. Now we were confused indeed!

OK. Logic prevailed. M took her car keys and continued North. P took his car keys and went South again, passing road #9 and continuing on. About seventy-five yards past the first place we turned around, he found the car. And he hopped in it to rescue M in time to cook dinner for the crowd. Disappointed? Yeah, we would have loved to seen Heart Lake. Humbled? Just a bit. Walking in a dense forest with no landmarks is always a bit tricky, and we probably could have done a better job of tracking our way in and out. Wishing we had a GPS? This is one example of how a GPS would really make things a lot easier.

Sorry we went? Never. A day hiking, on the trail or off, is still a wonderful adventure, made even better when you are accompanied by the person you love. And as you can see from the photos, there were a few sights to enjoy along the way.

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