July through September 2016
Fall is in the Air Post date: Sep 23, 2016 8:24:22 PM Sonora Pass was closed for snow recently. It's back open again, but it's a good reminder that we are now in that season where serious weather can happen much more often, and quicker, than in the summer. Be careful.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't hike. This is a glorious time to be in the mountains. Pick routes that offer easy "escape hatches" in case you need to bail out early, and we usually try to avoid getting our car trapped on the East side of the Sierra...
That long drive down around the southern end of the mountains is not much fun.
Survival Mode? Post date: Sep 21, 2016 4:36:04 PM We're continually puzzled by those who make backpacking sound like some kind of survival adventure, particularly when it's in the Sierra Nevada. And no, we're not talking about those idiot survival shows that take a star and a helicopter and camera crew somewhere and then act like everyone's life is in danger. Give us a break.*
Very pleasant seventy year-old couples regularly hike the John Muir Trail from one end to the other. It's not life or death. It's not even exciting. It's beautiful. it's relaxing. It's not a survival show.Survival is pretty simple.
In terms of basic needs, you need water, shelter, and food, more or less in that order. You can die after three days without water---but you are never more than an hour or two from water in the Sierra.
Shelter? That's what you have in your pack, unless you are really trying to be stupid. A tent and a sleeping bag will get you through anything that can happen to you in the summer in the Sierra. And food? You can live for a couple of weeks without food. By that time, you will have hiked out. It's hard to get to somewhere in the Sierra that is three days from a trailhead.
Of course, you can die in the mountains, but it's far more likely that you'll die driving on the highway to the trailhead. If you do die in the Sierra, chances are it is because you have drowned--that's the leading cause. Swimming in ice cold water, particularly in roaring springtime rivers, is not smart. And you can become hypothermic if you don't pay attention. Or lost.
We try (successfully) to avoid those things. That's not to say that we always know exactly where we are and what we're doing. We hike off-trail often, and sometimes we don't know exactly where we are, or how to get to where we want to go. Fair enough.But here's the important fact: we've never been in a situation where we didn't know how to go back the way we came, and get out and get home safely. That's pretty darn key.
Because whatever we do in the mountains, we never take a risk that says: OK...that was so difficult and dangerous that we have to keep going forward, because going back is not an option.
Common sense. Not something found on some of those TV shows.
When we get to one of those kinds of places, we look it over carefully and think it through. And if we're not convinced that it's safe for us to proceed, and will be safe on the way back, we find another route.
Common sense. Which means that we sometimes find ourselves making decisions based on what would be nicest, easiest, or more comfortable. Backpacking is recreation, not a life and death struggle. We like nice, easy, and comfortable. And we hiked to amazing places. Staying alive.
*The new Dual Survival show with Grady Powell, an American Green Beret, and Josh James, a Kiwi outdoorsman is much better--primarily because they don't try stupid stuff, they don't act like the are about to die at every moment...and they use pretty good common sense to solve the usual problems of water, shelter, food, and getting found.
Bear Boxes Post date: Sep 16, 2016 1:27:53 PM On topic of conversation we had in SEKI with Ranger Cindy was the use of bear boxes in the remote backcountry of the park. We were wondering how they got those heavy steel bear boxes into the wilderness areas of the park.
And while a few of the newer ones disassemble for transport, Cindy told us that most of them were flown in by helicopter. They are installed in areas of heavy use, where backpackers might be tempted to leave food around. Since we carry our food in Bearvaults at all times now, we barely (!) used the bear boxes in SEKI at all. In the upper Cloud Canyon there were none.
But the one in Comanche Meadows made a perfect bench for our lunch stop--shady, flat, and just right for both sitting and spreading out our picnic.
More on dogs from a reader... Post date: Sep 15, 2016 9:21:33 PM Joe saw our post and sent us this:
On a recent trip to Emigrant Wilderness, a group of us setup camp on the south end of Upper Buck Lakes. Later that day, we encountered a group on of people on horses accompanied by an unleashed dog (looked like a Foxhound). They were looking for a campsite somewhere around the east side of Upper Buck Lake.Later that night, we could hear the hound barking and some yelling by the owners. It didn't last long, but it sounded like the hound happened upon some night critters.
The next morning, shortly after waking up, we heard the sound of an animal calling out, somewhere in the southwest side of the lake. We also heard the hound barking. We were surprised to hear the hound in this area since his camp was clear on the other side of the lake.
After a few minutes of this, we decided to take a look, but we did so cautiously, because we thought that the dog might have chased a bear cub up a tree. It turns out that the hound had trapped a fawn on a hillside. When we got closer, we could see the fawn was exhausted, laying down, and appeared to give up. The hound was holding the fawn by the hind leg, in his mouth.
We decided to move closer and start yelling at the hound to get him to release the fawn. We even threw some rocks in his direction (not at him), and after numerous attempts, he eventually let the fawn go. I tried to put myself in between the hound and the fawn, to keep him from going back. He was set on trapping this fawn. I'm guessing he is a skilled hunting dog.
During this time, the fawn was able to join up with 2 does nearby. I wasn't sure if the does and the fawn stayed together or not. I wondered if they might have abandoned the fawn because of the scent the dog likely left on the fawn. I'm not sure if that happens with deer.
We ate breakfast after that and we think the group on horses with the hound left the area. Later that night, we heard a pack of coyotes on the north side of the lake howling. We worried the worst happened, that maybe the does didn't stay with the fawn, but we really don't know. We were kind of bummed out about this.
Of course, it could have been different prey. That is nature, and nature happens. We reported the issue to the ranger station when we got back. Later that day, I got a call from a very concerned Fish & Game officer and told him the story.
There's probably not much they can do, but I'm hopeful the rangers will continue to reiterate to people with dogs that they are required to keep the dogs under control.
Blue Skies Above Post date: Sep 13, 2016 7:00:33 PM We've come to a sad realization about our summer backpacking trips to the Sierra. It used to be that one the most dependable elements of those trips was the deep blue skies that we would find above. There is something about being up at 10,000 feet that helps make those skies truly memorable.
But they may well be a thing of the past. Over the past few summers, those skies have almost always been smoggy with the smoke of forest fires, either near or far. You can see this as you explore our photos. What was once blue, blue skies and views that went on for tens of miles are now dingy skies, and the distant peaks are barely visible through the smoke.It's sad.
And given the state of our trees (Will they ever recover from the combination of drought and beetle infestations?) those vistas of deep forests that cover the lower slopes like a blanket may also be a memory that we can only tell our children about. Or show them our photos from years ago.
One slightly happier note is that we noticed both blue skies and healthy trees in our last trip up to the Caribou Wilderness, just to the north of the Sierra. It was lovely. And it made us just a little sad to realize that we hadn't seen either skies or trees like that in a number of years in the Sierra. sigh.
Battle Stations Post date: Sep 9, 2016 8:32:21 PM It was a quiet weekend at our cabin up by Sonora. P was clearing away the last of the leaves in the yard to create more than the usual defensible space, and M had decided to join our daughter in a quick dip in the nearby lake.
It was quiet. Too quiet. Suddenly loud CDF planes starting flying by overhead--their engines roaring what seemed like only a few yards above the trees. Then a CDF chopper came almost overhead, thumping away and creating its own downdraft in the trees. As P continued to work, a neighbor stopped by to chat.
The fire, it turned out, was only about a mile away in the Stanislaus National Forest. And while the wind was blowing towards the fire, that was still a bit close for comfort. Then P saw the chopper headed for the local lake, to pick up a load of water to fight the fire. The ladies were in for some exciting action.
Over the next twenty minutes or so, the chopper made four trips to the lake. Then the planes disappeared, the noise stopped, and P kept working away on those pine needles.
A few minutes later, M and Estelle returned. They had left all of their things, including towels, books and clothes, on one of the swim platforms in the lake and swum to the far side just before the chopper first arrived. It blew everything all over the surrounding territory.
And every time they decided it was safe to swim back across the lake, the chopper returned again. When they finally got back to the platform, the towels and clothes were in the water, on the beach, in a tree...and in one case, a red t-shirt was never seen again.
The books fluttered and flapped in the down-wash. and every single page had a light coating of water and sand on it. The ladies themselves were in much the same condition as the books, with their hair blown into wild knots and their bodies covered with grit and sand by the 100 mph+ winds from the chopper.
We're delighted to note that the CDF crews stopped the fire in its tracks and had it well under control by the time M and E returned from the lake. Very impressive.
Just another quiet day at the cabin.
Dogs on Leashes Post date: Sep 6, 2016 5:21:57 PM Correction: Just about everywhere that dogs are allowed in the wilderness they are required to be on a leash or under vice control. In California's national parks, they are not allowed on trails at all--in fact, the rule in most national parks is that dogs are allowed only on paved areas--anywhere you can take your car, you can take your dog. That doesn't include any trails that aren't paved.
But we'd estimate that of the fifty dogs we've seen in the backcountry this year, about three of them have been on leashes. It's the single most frequently broken regulation that we see in the wilderness.
On our last trip to Caribou Wilderness, we ran into quite a few dogs, and only one of them was on a leash. But that dog was within a mile of the trailhead, just starting out, and we wonder how long he stayed on that leash. We don't say that because the owners looked untrustworthy--but the trails the Caribou Wilderness are rife with deadfall trees. We had to climb up and over, or around more than 75 trees on our hike there. And we can't image what you would do with a dog on a leash in that scenario. Our guess is that you would get pretty darn tired of the tangles.
Of course, some dogs we've met are extremely well trained and behaved. But not all are. And we worry not only about dogs interacting with other hikers. More of a concern is how they might interact with the local wildlife.
Caribou Wilderness: Land o' Lakes Post date: Sep 5, 2016 4:53:59 PM We're just back from three days of some of the most peaceful and relaxing hiking we've done a many a year: twenty-three miles of lake after lake in the Caribou Wilderness.
It all started from Chester, where we used the wonderful maps from the Lassen Hiking Association to find our way to the trailhead. They also have just about the best maps we've ever seen for hiking in any area: clear, comprehensive, and easy to print out. Check them out here: http://lassenhiking.org/
It's a good thing we had those maps, because there are no signs from the county road as to where to turn off to the Caribou Wilderness. (If you are interested, take route A21 to Mooney Road, and follow it to the Silver Lake Campground...then follow the signs towards Cone Lake for a couple hundred yards. That dirt road to the left is the one to the trailhead.)
It's ironic that there are no signs to get to the trailhead, because once you get on the trail, the signage is very comprehensive and even repetitive at times. Every junction had at least one sign, sometimes two. And every lake was identified by a sign as well! It was a long drive from Napa, so we didn't get started until well after lunch, and we hoped to hike in about six miles. Leaving Caribou Lake itself, we went up towards Turnaround Lake, passing Jewel and Eleanor Lakes on the way, as well as a few smaller ponds that haven't been named yet. Turnaround Lake would be a perfect spot for a lunch on a day-hike, or even a campsite, but we pushed on past the Twin Lakes to camp at Triangle Lake.
We weren't sure that we would make it all six miles, but as it turned out the six miles included only about 500 feet of elevation gain, and that was done very gently, with only one serious switchback. In fact, in twenty-three miles of hiking we counted only three switchbacks in the Caribou Wilderness. This is pretty easy hiking. The only real challenge was the number of deadfall trees across the trail...which were every where.
But there was usually a quick route around them, or they were low enough to step over. There were quite a few good campsites at Triangle Lake, and even though the first two were occupied, we soon found a place that would work just fine--albeit designed for a group of twenty. We fit our tent into a small corner of the site, and sat back to enjoy the peace and quiet.
And cool temperatures. It never got above 70 degrees on this hike, and in the cool shadows of evening, we were wearing most of the clothes we brought. Across the lake, someone had a small campfire, and that added just a touch of quaintness to the scene.The next morning it was darned cold--close to freezing. We slept in a bit, and didn't hit the trail until about 9 a.m.
We continued on our route around Triangle Lake, noting again that from here trails lead into the seemingly remote Eastern parts of Lassen Volcanic National Park, and then headed south. Turnaround Lake had only one campsite occupied, but it did have a lone wood duck patrolling the surface. And from there we passed Black Lake and the two Divide Lakes (North and South) on our way to Long Lake. All of this hiking was between 6750 and 7000 feet of elevation, and so we easily hiked the six miles in well less than three hours, even though we stopped for photos, a snack, etc. This is easy hiking! Long Lake had quite a few good campsites, and they ranged from very developed sites to areas that were seemingly untouched, but still perfectly usable. We choose to stay in a developed site on the peninsula on the West shore of the lake. Most of the campsites here are too close to the water to satisfy the regulations. You are supposed to be 100 feet from both trail and water, and most of these were quite close to the shore. But since we were late in the season, the water levels were much lower, and what would have been an illegal site in June was now well away from the water levels of September.
So we set up camp, ate lunch and then decided to do a quick day hike of the Posey Lake Loop.
This is a five-mile route through at least ten lakes, and it certainly didn't disappoint us. In a little over two hours we were back at our camp, and trying to remember the names of all the lakes we'd seen. There are no towering peaks, no deep gorges, in the Caribou Wilderness. No soaring waterfalls or roaring rivers--only lake after lovely lake, nestled into the embrace of forests of Lodgepole pines.
And lots of birds. We were charmed to see an osprey in the tree above our campsite at Long Lake, and later watched him soar over the lake looking for a fish restaurant.
We met a few small groups each day on the trail, but all of them seemed rather quite and reserved--unlike some of the "epic" hikers we sometimes meet in the Sierra. This place has a different, and very pleasant, vibe. That evening we settled into our camp and put on all our clothes again. It was a bit breezy, and the clouds had changed from high cirro-stratus to puffier cumulus...some of which looked a little bit dark and threatening. By dusk they had all pretty much disappeared. Of course, at 4 a.m. it started sprinkling...but not enough for us to worry.
The next morning we forced ourselves to get started just a bit earlier, and despite the cold weather we were on the trail by 8:30. From Long Lake it was a quick six miles back to the car, passing the Divide Lakes again, as well as turn-offs to Emerald and Gem Lakes. When we got back to Caribou Lake, we were struck by the fact that the ugliest lake we had seen in the whole area was the one whose name was on the Wilderness. Caribou is a reservoir that simply doesn't stand up to the comparisons of the other lakes we'd seen on the hike.
We were back at the car by 11, and into Chester in time for lunch.
Dodging Bullets... Post date: Aug 30, 2016 8:59:22 PM One expression we won't be using any time soon in the back country is "We dodged a bullet that time."
The first time P said this, we were camped in the high country of Mono Pass, and major thunderstorms had passed us by for the last four hours. Only one lonely little cloud remained in the sky when he made this remark to M. That cloud dumped forty-five minutes of hail on our camp, and made it look like a snowstorm.
So on this last trip, we were camped in the upper reaches of Cloud Canyon and the clouds were thundering all around us. The good news? No rain in our camp.
"Looks like we dodged a bullet." M said to P as the cloud cleared during the twilight hours. And yes, at four in the morning the clouds had gathered again, and dumped rain on us.
We're not looking to dodge any more bullets!
Better than a puffy Post date: Aug 28, 2016 8:18:59 PM P has become enamored of one item of clothing that he takes on all backpacking trips now. When we were in Peru, he bought a nice locally knitted alpaca hoodie for about 15 dollars that he now uses instead of a puffy down jacket. It's just as warm, packs just as small, and with its hood it is more convenient as well. And it's just as comfy when he folds it under his head for a pillow at night. A great thing to buy the next time you are in the local market of Pisac, or Cusco, or Huaraz!
Taking out the kids Post date: Aug 26, 2016 1:36:54 PM We've run into groups of kids backpacking in the Sierra on a regular basis. Sometimes you can hear them coming from a mile away, as their excited voices ring through the mountains. Once we met a group of young religious hikers who had taken a vow of silence for the day. That made our conversation with them a bit awkward!
On our last trip in the Emigrant Wilderness we met three groups on the trail. The first was from the Overland School, and as we did a bit of research later, we learned that each of those families had paid about $5000 for their child to experience the High Sierra---and climb Mt. Shasta. We heard them first, and they descended from Blackbird Lake into Emigrant Lake. And after a comfortable rest at the ford, they packed up and marched off in the direction of Kennedy Meadows. They were young, bright, full of energy...and they all had pretty cool equipment, too.
But we couldn't help compare them to two other groups we met later on the trip--both groups of 8-10 Boy Scouts. These two later groups had a fishing rod for each kid, and their gear wasn't quite as up-to-date in every case as the Overland kids. But we bet they had every bit as much fun, for a lot less money.
Of course, the scouts had a couple of dads along as the adult supervision. They were volunteers, not paid staff. And they were earning very bit of that salary, and more, God bless them. They looked a bit tired, as they tried to keep up with their charges. But they also looked darned happy. They were having the times of their lives with those kids. And the kids were having an ever better time.
Hopefully, these trips with young adults will lead to more voters who understand how important the wilderness is. And will lead to parents who, in turn, take their kids out into the woods to enjoy what the woods have to offer.
We met a few of these, too, heading to destinations a bit closer to the trailhead--some of them with children as young as five or six. And somewhere in the middle, you might also find a group of young men like the ones we met near Upper Bucks Lake. There were about five of them, and they were fishing. And they were there for a few days of backpacking and hanging out together in the wilderness. The oldest might have been old enough to drink, but most of the others were not. They were pleasant, polite and just a bit serious about fishing.
And it made us smile to think that they will be voting someday soon, and supporting the wilderness that they obviously love.
Knuckleheads of all types Post date: Aug 24, 2016 5:24:59 AM On our recent trip to Yosemite, we were struck again by how many people are just plain knuckleheads. It's sad to see them in action in our National Parks.The first group we met had forded the Tuolumne River in Tuolumne Meadows so that they could build a stack of rocks out in the middle of the granite slabs that make this area so beautiful.
They had found a pile of rocks, and were carrying them across the granite, grunting as they did so. P couldn't resist asking them what they thought they were doing. "Building a stack of rocks!" they explained.
P asked them if they thought the other visitors to the park wanted to see that--given that everything else was so beautiful and natural. "There are lots of them along the trail over there," was the brilliantly conceived response--completely avoiding point. P took photos, and will share them with the rangers at YNP, although he doesn't expect any action on that end. But the good news is that these four knuckleheads had taken their shoes off to wade the river, and were now carrying heavy rocks in their bare feet across the granite. They were in pain. (Apparently it hadn't occurred to them that they could carry their shoes with them...and avoid the pain. And P didn't take the trouble to point this out to them. Sheesh.
And then on the drive back home we were frightened at least twice by large RVs who simply could not manage to stay on their side of the road. They seem to assume that they can take an extra foot or so of the oncoming lane, because their RVs are big and they don't know how to drive them. We've always wondered what happens when two these meet each other on the road. Does Darwin step in at this point?
But even worse, on that same drive home we were passed by another knucklehead driving an SUV who crossed a double yellow line just so that he could get ahead of us. We were driving the speed limit, behind a US Govt. vehicle who was doing the same. We hoped that the park service vehicle in front was a ranger who could give a ticket, but no such luck. And a couple of miles later the idiot driving the SUV then passed the US Govt, vehicle on a blind hill, and very nearly caused a crash because oncoming traffic appeared just as he pulled even with the car in front of him.
Sadly, the driver the US Govt. vehicle didn't have a radio to call ahead to a ranger to pull this clown over and ticket the daylights out of him. Or at least didn't use it. All of this along the section of the road that is very clearly posted against speeding--among other things, to try to protect the bears that are sometime struck by speeding cars here. Grrrrrr.
A short hike in Yosemite Post date: Aug 22, 2016 2:27:44 PM We wanted to do a short backpacking trip in Yosemite with our daughter, and we were lucky enough to get a walk-up permit for a pass-though to Glen Aulin. We knew this route, since we'd hiked in last year, and it met all of our criteria: some nice views, lovely walking along a river, the opportunity for some real solitude, and easy enough that we could do the hike and still get back home to Napa on our way out. And did we mention that permits were available? Off we went. The trail along the Tuolumne River is full of deep pools, cascades, and spectacular waterfalls. We enjoyed every minute of it. And once we got to Glen Aulin, we were happy to top up our water bottles at the backpackers campground there, and continue up Conness Canyon until we were well beyond the reach of the rest of the hikers.
We pressed on past the narrow gorge or Conness Creek, and then found a quiet spot up on a shelf above the creek. It was very peaceful, and well-hidden from the trace of a use-trail that follows the creek at this point, and it made a perfect camping spot for our little group. A quiet afternoon, with naps and cups of tea, followed the hike. P fished a bit, while the two ladies went wading in the creek. After a luxurious five course dinner (soup, couscous with paneer, lentils and rice with Indian spice, dried fruit, a couple of dessert energy bars, and a sip of brandy apiece, we finally turned in. The skies were cloudy, but we only got a light rain, and that came after we were already bedded down in the tent. The next morning we packed up, packed out, and were at the car in time to eat lunch in Groveland. And book another great hike in the family album.
Blue Lake Canyon Post date: Aug 21, 2016 4:30:28 PM Our daughter was in town last week, and she told us that she'd like to take a hike or two with us. She didn't have to ask twice.
We'd always wanted to explore the lakes just to the south of Sonora Pass, and we though this would be the perfect occasion to that. Estelle is a top-notch hiker (at least she is in better condition than we are!) and so we knew we'd get a work out. The trail leaves from a small parking area just past the tiny waterfall on the right-hand side of the road after the first set of switchbacks in the upper canyon right about 8500 feet or so.
We took a less used route that starts just below the waterfall, and it was a bit steeper at first. But both routes get you above the waterfall and into the lovely canyon.
From there a clear use trail leads up past delightful cascades, gorgeous views of the peaks surrounding Sonora Pass, and eventually up, up, and up to Blue Canyon Lake.
The lake itself is set into a steep bowl, with towering peaks around it, and when we were there in mid-August, plenty of flowers as well. And there were a few trout rising, even at midday. But the weather wasn't looking great at this point. The clouds were building, and we heard thunder and felt a few raindrops while we ate our lunch. And so rather than staying another hour and fishing the lake, we packed up and clambered back down the trail. We got sprinkled from time to time, but made it to the car without a real soaking. And we had a wonderful hike to a really spectacular spot. This is one we'll do again, since it is near our cabin.
Catch-22, SEKI style Post date: Aug 17, 2016 2:17:36 PM When we picked up our permit in Grant Grove, the SEKI ranger gave us a sheet of regulations, including one that prohibited fires above 9,000 feet. And that same flyer prohibited keeping any native fish like trout below 9,000 feet.
The flyer did not mention brown or brook trout (not native) or golden trout (often not found below 9,000 feet--and thought P caught some golden/rainbow hybrids at about 7,500 feet in the Roaring River.)
So you could keep the fish, and not make a fire, or make a fire, but not keep any fish. Hmmmm. P quickly developed a plan to camp at exactly 9,000 feet. He would fish upstream and keep a couple of trout, then go downstream enough to where it was legal to make a fire to cook them...just kidding.
Ranger Cindy explained her interpretation of those rules, and we ended up keeping two nice fish, and cooking them over our backpacking stove in a little pan, in oil and butter, and fileting them over couscous. Delicious.
As Cindy noted: "I am concerned about good wilderness practices. Don't keep any fish you won't eat. And don't make a fire unless it's in an existing fire ring (we didn't see any...BTW). Leave no trace, but eat a few fish if you catch a couple of nice ones."
SEKI Explored...Cloud Canyon and Roaring River Post date: Aug 9, 2016 3:11:24 PM This trip didn't go exactly as planned-what trip does?--but it turned out to be a bit more than we usually tackle, and it took us a day or two to recover afterwards. We normally hike 6-9 miles a day, and this trip was ten miles every day for four days.Thanks to Google, we've had to put the photos here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/AGoireyUvAFX7ZzdA
Day One. We spent the night "dispersed camping" at the trailhead. This is legal here, since it is not in either of the two national parks. In fact, at the Rowell Meadow trailhead there is a vault toilet and a fire pit. At our trailhead, Horse Corral, there is a parking lot and nothing else. And there was a fair amount of traffic in the parking lot, since it also serves the Sequoia High Sierra Camp. The only people who signed out trail register during our trip were all either going to the SHSC or doing the great day-hike to Mitchell Peak, our top day hike in the Sierra.
It's a steep climb for a mile up to Marvin Pass, and we startled a bear in the first 300 yards as we started up the trail. He took off and a full sprint down the hill, again confirming that no human can run nearly so fast as a bear. They can absolutely fly, over hill and dale, through bushes and trees. Amazing. And we saw the footprints of another large carnivore here.
From the top of Marvin Pass the trail climbs and drops for a couple of miles until it drops down steeply into the Sugarloaf Valley at Comanche Meadows. A mapping note here: various maps show between zero and two different trails along this route. There is one trail, you cannot miss it, and there is no other trail. There is also some minor fire damage on the last 1/2 mile before Comanche Meadows, but it was bursting with wildflowers when we were there. On the other hand, there weren't a lot of views from this trail, and what we saw concerned us--lots of smoke from the Big Sur fires made visibility pretty darn poor.
The rest of the day was spent on a long and relatively flat hike down the Sugarloaf Valley, past Sugarloaf Dome itself (photo below), across Sugarloaf Creek, until we finally made camp at Ferguson Creek. Our NatGeo map says that from Comanche Meadows to the Roaring River Ranger Station is seven miles. The NPS signs say it is nine. Having hiked it, we think it is closer to seven. But the map also shows a creek coming out of Ellis Lakes, and that creek was bone dry when we hike by in early August. It's hard to imaging it carrying much water any other time during the season. But Sugarloaf and Ferguson Creeks were both running fine.
On the other hand, P was hoping to fish those creeks at some point on the hike, and they were both small enough and, in the case of Sugarloaf Creek warm enough, that he decided to give the fish a break. We hadn't seen soul on this hike so far, except for the bear. Late in the evening a ranger and a string of pack horses came through Ferguson Creek with supplies for the next few weeks.
Day Two. Up early and headed off to Roaring River. This part of the trail goes up and over a ridge, and then follows the Roaring River (which was at least growling happily) up to the ranger station. We stopped in and chatted with Ranger Cindy, since we'd been given a kind of introduction by someone on a backpacking forum.
Cindy was full of great recommendations of books to read (she has plenty of time to read!) as well as some of the historic sites and relics we might visit on our trip. She also clarified some of the confusing printed regulations that we'd been given when we got our permit. We must have spoken to her for almost an hour--a real pleasure!From there it was a straightforward hike across the bridge and up Cloud Canyon for about seven or eight miles. P had hiked this forty-six years ago, and had always wanted to show it to M.
The trail alternated between a few steeper sections and lots of strolling along the river, but biting flies and mosquitoes finally convinced us to put on some DEET--although not headnets. By mid-afternoon we were up into Big Wet meadow, where we were greeted once again with one of the great views in the Sierra. Above the meadow, we climbed up to the foot of the Whaleback, where we had been told there was a use trail to take us further up the canyon. (The main trail crosses the creek at this point, and then climbs up the side canyon to Colby Lake.)
The use trail was not obvious--we only found a slim trace of a trail, marked by a single rusted tin can, and we decided that we would camp here, and decide about the trail the next day. We set up camp, and P caught quite a few brilliantly colored smaller golden trout (5-8 inches) in the stream. That evening the clouds rolled in, and we heard thunder in the peaks above us. As night fell, the clouds seemed to have dispersed, and we turned in for a solid night's sleep.
But at four in the morning the clouds were back, and we scurried around to tidy up our camp a bit more for the rain. And it rained.
Day Three. Dark clouds all around. We ate breakfast and talked through our options. Our initial plan had been to hike up Cloud Canyon and over Coppermine Pass today...but with clouds, thunder and lightning, that struck us as being a poor idea. The last thing we wanted to do was to be up on top of a 12,000 foot ridge during those conditions. We could hunker down for the day, and hope that the weather would improve, but that didn't appeal to us as much as hiking back down to where P could fish the river for larger trout...and so we headed back down to Roaring River.
We got sprinkled regularly during the hike down, but by the time we got down to the ranger station the clouds were looking a bit more hopeful. As we chatted with Cindy, she noted that Cloud Canyon often gets the most of the bad weather--thus the name! We ate lunch at the historic cabin nearby, and then took the afternoon off, hiking down about a mile below the ranger station, and finding a lovely isolated campsite near the river.
(In fact, the only place we ever saw any people on this trip was within about 100 yards of the ranger station.) We took a nap, to make up for our interrupted sleep the night before, and then M went swimming while P caught about fifteen trout between 7-12 inches over the course of ninety minutes of fishing: browns, rainbows, and even a couple of golden/rainbow hybrids. He even kept two of them to supplement our couscous for dinner, and we ate like royalty that night.
Day Four. We had decided to take two days for the 12 miles back out, and didn't get an early start. By this time M wasn't feeling great. She was suffering from some kind of allergy attack that made her congested most of the night, and kept her from sleeping easily. So we were going to take it easy, and make life easy for her. But the trail back along Sugarloaf Creek went quickly, and we were in Comanche Meadows by lunchtime.
There followed a discussion. Comanche Meadows is more of a way-station than a destination--not a great place to camp for a day. The creek is small, the views are limited, and so we decided to keep hiking, this time following the trail to Rowell Meadow instead of the route we had taken in. Two miles of steep and continuous climbing put us at the top of the pass, and treated us to some fabulous views as well.
From there, it was only a little over three miles to the car. And at that point, we decided to wrap it up. We hiked back to the car and took off our packs about 4:30 in the afternoon.
Golden Boots Award Post date: Jul 29, 2016 3:32:50 PM We just got a nice email that we've been nominated and won a GOLDEN BOOTS BLOGGER AWARD for July of 2016. It's always nice to be recognized for our blog. We'd like to thank the academy...blah, blah, blah.Most of all, we'd like to thank the readers who read our blog and write us. They're the most fun of all.
Bears repeating Post date: Jul 28, 2016 8:43:45 AM In our trip to Lassen last month, we ran into bears in two different places in the park. A mama and cub slowed us down for a minute on the trail to Devil's Kitchen, while we watched them from afar, and waited for them to clear the trail. And near the Crags Group campsites, we saw one running down the road...to our delight. In the last ten years and 1500+ miles of hiking in the Sierra, we've only seen bears a handful of times: at Rancheria Falls and Virginia Canyon in Yosemite, and in the remote Carson River area of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. The two this year were the best sightings ever.
Where are all the good campsites? Post date: Jul 24, 2016 5:24:47 AM We get this question a lot: Where should I camp when I get to _______?
We don't know. Every person who hikes likes different things in a campsite. We prefer sites that are isolated and relatively unused, Others prefer those with constructed stone furniture and built in fireplaces. (We almost never make a fire in the backcountry. We've only done it twice in the last ten years.)
We know some people who really prefer to camp on open granite slabs. Others like wooded sites.And sometimes we get the impression that people are afraid they won't find a place to camp at all, which is silly. All you need is a flat spot about 3x6 feet and you can sleep. What else do you need? Make that 5x7 for a couple.
Yes, it's nice if there is water near at hand--but many of the "established" campsites are legally too close to water to be used. And we often choose to be farther away from the water, both to be legal, and to avoid the higher concentrations of mosquitoes that thrive in lakes. After carrying a pack all day, it's not hard to carry a couple of bottles of water for a 1/4 of a mile or more.
Hiking destinations are not like hotels, with a certain number of bookable rooms, some with ocean views, some without. In fact, the backcountry is full of really nice places to camp. Some by lakes, some by rivers, some on top of ridges or mountains.
We've done all of them. We've also chosen to camp below a lake on the outlet stream, because there were too many people at the lake. And we had our little slice of heaven all to ourselves.
We've chosen to camp on a ridge above the lake to avoid mosquitoes, and heard the campers on the lake complain about how bad they were. We've camped in Death Valley where there was no water within ten miles, and loved it. We've set our tent up in the sun, and then napped by taking our Z-rests under a nearby tree for shade. And loved it.
We've walked by one lake because we didn't like the look of it, only to return after seeing the next lake on the trail--and ended up with one of our favorite campsites of all time. Don't sweat the campsite thing. There are lots of places for you. And part of the fun of backpacking is finding one that is just right for you.
Worst Mosquitoes Ever? Post date: Jul 20, 2016 7:18:36 AM After our recent trip to the Emigrant Wilderness, we got a few questions about mosquitoes. Mainly, people wanted to know how bad were the mosquitoes...and were they the worst mosquitoes we had ever seen?Answer to the second question? Yes they were. We'd have previous experiences that remained powerful images in our brains. Hiking the Mitchell Peak trail through a cloud of mosquitoes (and we had no bug dope!) that kept us constantly wiping our hands on our arms and legs to get the bugs off. No fun at all, unless you had a video camera to capture the dance we did as we hiked.
And about eight years ago we did a trip up into the Red Mountain Basin that not only encouraged us to put on our headnets for the first time, but we even ate inside our tent. And later on that trip, we wore our headnets while we were hiking, to keep from inhaling some of the mosquitoes that were hanging in clouds around us as we hiked.
Those were bad.
But at the West end of Emigrant Lake this year, we ran into dense clouds of mosquitoes that were waiting in every little corner of the trail. Yes, we had on our headnets. Yes, we were wearing 100% DEET. And still they came after us, clouds of them pinging against our arms and legs as we hiked through them. And the whining of their tiny little engines is still ringing in our ears...as is the image of those clouds, dark against the sky.
Luckily, we found that they were not quite so bad at the East end of the lake, and we camped there. And yeah, they came out in the evening and still made our lives...interesting.
But two nights later, we camped on a granite ridge above Upper Bucks Lake and didn't see twenty mosquitoes all night. Go figure.
The one thing all of these trips had in common? They were early in the summer, right after the snow melt. That's when the bugs come out to play, and attach anything in sight. And we remember one trip in the Hoover Wilderness where we were hammered by mosquitoes the first night at Fremont Lake. It was miserable. The next night, 800 feet higher, we had zero bugs at Cinko Lake. And the following night, we hiked up Long Canyon until we got up to roughly the same elevation, so that we could escape the bugs again.
Moral to the story? Avoid hiking right after snowmelt--often around the 4th of July weekend. Or hike up high where the bugs are still frozen. And take DEET and headnets. And embrace it all as part of the experience.
How Fast Are We? Post date: Jul 12, 2016 11:10:31 PM A few folks were surprised by the fact that we hiked fourteen miles on the last day of that trip to Huckleberry lake and back. So we thought we'd explain.We are not what you might call speed hikers. On a good day, we'll put in ten miles over the course of the day, which might be six or more hours of hiking. Of course, that includes stops for snacks, water, fording rivers, photos, rest, lunch, etc.
We often hike less than that: from five to eight miles. We start around 8 or 8:30, even 9 a.m., and usually wrap up with an hour's hiking after lunch. That means we get into camp about 2 p.m., in time for a nap, rinsing off the dust, and a little fishing, etc. But still, how fast do we really walk?
On a good day, on a good trail on flat terrain, we might hike two miles an hour. Make us hike up a steep, rough trail at high altitude, and that could easily drop to barely more than one mph.It's all right. We still get there.
And yes, on our last trip we hiked out 14 miles in a little over 8 hours, including stops for lunch and fording a river. That worked out to about 1.8 mph over the course of the day. Not bad for old folks.
Is Emigrant Wilderness Too Crowded? Post date: Jul 12, 2016 4:55:53 AM If you read our last trip report, you'll know that we met nearly 100 people on the trail the first day of hiking in the Emigrant Wilderness. That's a lot, for us. We like to backpack where we seldom see anyone at all--often going a day or more without seeing another soul. And then we met another thirty or so people on the second day. And we began to think, "Was Yogi Berra right? That nobody goes there anymore, because it's too crowded?"
Of course, we were hiking on the main drag in Emigrant--Gianelli Trailhead, heading East. And as soon as we got a bit further into the forest, we found ourselves a lot more isolated. From Emigrant Lake to Bucks Lake on the return trip, we saw a total of two people. That's about 13 miles and two days of hiking.
The rule is always the same in the backcountry. If you want solitude, head off-trail or more than one day in. Either way, you will lose about 85% of the people who backpack. And if you do both, as we did in our trip up Conness Creek in Yosemite last year, you won't see anyone at all.
So yeah, we'll go back to Emigrant. But we'll pick our spots, and we'll choose our routes. And we'll feel like we have the place all to ourselves.
Trip Report: Emigrant Wilderness; Emigrant and Huckleberry Lakes Post date: Jul 10, 2016 12:01:04 AM Over the 4th of July weekend we hiked out of Gianelli Trailhead for five days of adventure and mosquitoes. Day One: Off to a late start after getting our permit at Pinecrest, where we were warned about lots of snow and high water levels--which we never found. But the miles clicked right along, up over one ridge, down into the valley, back up over the next ridge,,,and on and on. When they wrote "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" they were in the Emigrant Wilderness. And we were not alone. Our first clue was the more than fifty cars at the trailhead. And we met about ninety people and fifteen dogs on our first day's hike. But most of them were on their way out from Chewing Gum, Y Meadow, and Toejam Lakes. And they were leaving, after all.
We stopped for lunch at the junction to Y Meadow Lake, then pressed on through Whitesides, Salt Lick, and a series of smaller meadows. When we got to the ford at Spring Meadow, we called it a day and camped on an exposed granite ridge up in the breeze. And still got clobbered by mosquitoes. But we did have a nice view...through the headnets and DEET.
Day Two: Nothing like an early morning icy ford to get you moving--especially when you are swatting mosquitoes the whole time. From here we quickly reached the junctions to Wire and Long Lakes, and then down along a cascading stream to Deer Lake. At the junction we met a nice couple of rangers who checked our permit and suggested that we'd see fewer people from here on out. And that the bugs would be fierce everywhere. They were almost right.
The climb down into Bucks Lake has never been our favorite--steep and clunky with lots of big steps, loose stones, and eroded trail. But there is that lovely moment when you see the deep blue water of the lake through the trees--and it promises a water break, a snack, and an end to the descent. We'd heard by this point that the mosquitoes at Emigrant Lake were horrific, and that was our next stop.
They were worse than that. Huge clouds of mosquitoes, visible as balls in the air, awaited us on the trail on the West end of Emigrant Lake. We had on headnets and DEET, and still we could feel them bouncing off us, filling the air with their whine, as we hiked through them. At least we now have a new mosquito point of reference. We hope you never experience a High Emigrant Lake Level (HELL) of mosquito action.
We stopped about half-way down the lake to catch our breath and take stock. Hiking in those conditions is nerve-wracking, and we needed a break. And we noticed that the bugs at this end weren't so bad. So when we found ourselves facing another ford at the top end of the lake, and another climb up over another ridge to the next lake, we decided to see if there were any decent campsites nearby. We found one, again on a nice dry granite ledge overlooking the lake, and settled in. P fished a bit, but fly-casting into a 20 mph wind was no fun.
The good news is that the wind limited the bug action as well. This day we only met about thirty people, and half of those were a single group of kids from the Overland School whose parents had flown them out to California to hike for a week or so. And there was the fellow with his family who had camped along the shores of Emigrant Lake, complete with camping chairs and a car camping tent--clearly all delivered by mule. But we saw some other cool stuff at Emigrant Lake, like the spawning trout that were holding steady in the shallow current of the ford, and the bald eagle whose cry alerted us to its presence. And once we finally spotted it, on a treetop far away, we really felt that our Fourth of July hike was complete!As the shadows lengthened over the lake, the wind died, the mosquitoes came out, and we dove into our tent for the night.
Day Three: Today was planned as a easy day. Only six miles (the previous two days had been a total of nineteen) and much of that was going to be an easy stroll down Cherry Creek Canyon to Huckleberry Lake. We started with a short but beautiful climb up to Blackbird Lake, through a few patches of snow and lots of granite and mature trees. From there the trail opened up as we hiked by Blackbird Lake, and the scenery was an alpine spectacular. But the bugs still kept us company.
From here we went up over the ridge (again) and down into Horse Meadow. You can imagine that we were not excited about seeing yet another juicy meadow...and we only stopped briefly to have a snack before following the trail down Cherry Creek. Except that it wasn't much of a trail. It was an old and very abandoned road, full of large round rocks. We have no idea who built it or why. It was like walking through a stream of small granite pumpkins, and it was no fun at all. But there were some lovely sights...like this delightful waterfall below.
We passed the junction for the trail that leads up to Twin Lakes in Yosemite (another trip, for sure) and were a bit anxious about the ford. But it was a piece of cake, and we then wandered slowly down to Huckleberry Lake through the canyon. A lovely bit of hiking. Sunny slopes, towering forests, and the stream always nearby.
Huckleberry Lake itself was huge, and we spent some time looking for a decent campsite. Most people must arrive via Bucks Lake, because that area of the trail was very heavily impacted. in fact, we almost didn't find the trail out the next morning...because it was so heavily flattened by traffic and nearby campsites.
We found a stiff breeze in our face on a peninsula, and camped there, hoping to avoid too many of our little friends. And we were reasonably successful.
We had a quiet afternoon, rinsing off the trail dust, taking a nap, and generally enjoying the rest of the afternoon of our "off" day. And after seeing three people at the first ford at Emigrant Lake in the morning, we hadn't seen another hiker all day. We had the place to ourselves.
P decided to do a little fishing again, but with the wind right in his face, he thought it might make more sense to head over to the north side of the lake.
As he got there, he found that the shore was grassy---and flooded. No worries. He waded in, sinking deeply into the mud, until he was out enough to cast over the weeds. A few casts later, and he felt something bit his ankle. Or was that simply a sharp stick in the mud? Nope, a few seconds later, another sharp bite, this time on the other side.
This was no fun. And so he began to back out of the lake. Did we mention the gluey mud that reached up to his shins?
As he began to back out of the lake, one of his feet stuck fast in the mud. And slowly, majestically, like the fall of a titan, he slowly sank butt-first into the water.
Within seconds, he was back out, and shaking off the water like a dog. He quickly remembered that he still had his wallet in his pocket, and took that out to dry off. And he checked his other pockets...fishing gear, headnet, bug dope... It was only when he patted his last pocket that he realized that it held the camera. It was soaked. he pulled it out, set it in the sun to dry....but the poor thing never recovered. Which is why there are no more photos from here on.
Day Four: Which is too bad. Because after a slightly less buggy night at Huckleberry Lake, we had one of the greatest hikes of our life the next day, climbing up out of Cherry Canyon. The trail worked up a series of granite ledges, and each one offered something different: a lily pond, a view of the lake, a lagoon of ferns, some towering old growth trees, another view of the lake, with the peaks of Yosemite behind, a tiny tarn set in a forest of trees, more vistas...it was heaven.
And when we got to the top, we soon found ourselves at Letora Lake--an absolute garden spot in its own right. Set on the top of a ridge, sprinkled with forested islands, and surrounded by inlets and white granite points, it would make a great place to spend a day exploring. As it is, we simply hiked by and tried to etch the images in our mind. The deepest ford of the trip was at Cow Meadow Creek, where an old snag had fallen right into the middle of the ford. There were a few trees that might have worked to cross the creek, but M doesn't like hanging high over the water on a narrow trunk. So we forded it, climbing up and over the snag in the middle of the stream. M got her knees wet. P didn't.
And for the first time in a day and half, we met two day-hikers who were camping at Woods Lake above. From there it was a steep but pleasant climb up to Buck Lakes, and we strolled along the shores of the three lakes, thinking again of a relatively light day and an early campsite. We didn't want to tackle that climb up to Deer Lake, so we ended up near the ford across the creek between Upper and Middle Buck Lakes. An ideal spot. Lots of granite, and a steady breeze.
We napped again, P tried to dry out the camera again, and eventually went fishing to catch some lovely rainbows up to twelve inches--and saw a few more that were certainly larger. It was a perfect evening. The bugs never came out. And for the first time in the trip, we looked at each other and said: "This is really heaven."
Day Five: Between us and the car were fourteen miles of climbing up and down over ridges. M suggested that we might just be able to do that, and avoid another night full of millions of miniature fighter pilots buzzing our brains. We decided to play it by ear. The first hour took us up the climb and to the junction at Deer Lake. The second hour got us to the junction to Wire Lakes. The third hour took us over the fords at Spring and Salt Lick Meadows, and by a bit after noon, we were just west of Whitesides Meadow.
P filtered water, M made lunch, and we reconsidered our day. We were now only a little more than six miles from the car. At one-fifteen We packed up, sucked it up, and started hiking. Suddenly, we started meeting people again. A couple here, a family there, another group of Boy Scouts...and soon we were running into day-hikers visiting Chewing Gum and Powell Lakes. And by 4:45 we were at the car. Fourteen miles in about eight hours of actual hiking. Not bad for a couple of old folks.
The whole trip turned out to be 46 miles in five days. We didn't count the mosquitoes.