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May through September 2011

Post date: Sep 29, 2011 3:21:58 PM

2011 will go down as memorable, any way you look at it. Snowfall was 200% of normal in many areas, and we had to change two of our trips into the high country because we simply couldn't get there from here. There was too much snow, and the water in the creeks was way too high to ford. We also found massive avalanche paths that filled our route with downed trees, making hiking just plain unpleasant.

So the summer got off to a late start, and in some ways it never really caught up. We saw more water in the Sierra this year than we've ever seen. Lakes, creeks, rivers, meadows and trails were all filled to overflowing.And then there were the mosquitoes. As one ranger in Yosemite said, "This was the second snowiest winter in history, and the second worst summer for mosquitoes, too."

Yes it was. Clouds of mosquitoes seemed to follow us everywhere. That's P's hat below, on a ridge at 10,500 feet in Yosemite, and a good mile from any water source. And yet... It was a great summer. We had some wonderful adventures in the High Sierra; a hike out of Loon Lake into Desolation Wilderness, Yosemite's Lake Eleanor and the Beehive in early June, Mono Creek and Lake Thomas Edison in July, back to Yosemite for Nelson Lake, Bernice Lake, Emeric Lakes in August. And then in September a lovely trip in the Ansel Adams Wilderness to Isberg and Post Peak Passes, and the some of the nicest country (and fishing) we've seen in a while.

And the same snow that fed the mosquitoes also created a fabulous wildflower show just about all summer. Water was everywhere--which meant that we didn't worry much about where we were going to find it. Our packs were a bit lighter this year, because we didn't carry full bottles on every trail.And looking back on things, those mosquitoes weren't so bad, were they? Heck, if it weren't for the fact that one of our daughters is getting married in a couple of weeks, we'd be trying to squeeze one more trip into October.And we're already looking over maps, and thinking about next summer.

Or maybe a snow trip this winter. hmmmm.

Post date: Sep 26, 2011 12:44:10 AM

These days, just about every backpacking discussion group includes people warning about the dangers of relying exclusively on GPS units for navigation. We know, because we’re often the ones who are issuing the warnings.

We’re big believers in knowing where you are, and how to get where you are going without depending exclusively on any battery powered device. And a GPS unit won’t always show you the terrain you might need to cross. Coming down the face of El Capitan to get to Yosemite Valley isn’t an option for most people…even though a GPS unit shows you that it’s only a 1/4 mile. And it seems that every few weeks we read a news story about someone who follows their GPS blindly into increasingly primitive roads and conditions…and has to be rescued. Don’t put all your faith in your GPS!

But a couple of recent experiences have us taking a bit of the same approach to the old school standby of printed maps and compass. Because it turns out they can lead you astray as well!

We’ve noted some problems with some of the National Geographic maps. Red Can Lake in the Emigrant Wilderness is called Red Canyon Lake on their map. And another section of trail in Yosemite that was marked at 6 tenths of a mile turned out to be less than 150 yards. So maps are fallible. How fallible?Driving back from our trip to the Ansel Adams Wilderness, we were stuck in a massive traffic jam on Labor Day Monday on highway 41 in the town of Coarsegold.

No worries, because we quickly pulled out two different printed maps (AAA and DeLorme) and found a series of side roads that would circumvent the problem. And we love exploring like this.So we quickly turned off towards the town of Raymond, and followed the maps through town and towards LeGrand. The roads were nicely paved, empty, and we felt pretty darn clever about the whole thing. Until we got to the junction that led north to Mariposa. We didn’t turn right, because that would take us miles out of our way. But the only other option was straight ahead: a primitive dirt road heading off into the wilderness. Both of our maps showed it as paved. Maybe the dirt part was only a mile or two.Nope.For the next twelve miles or so we drove on one of the most isolated roads we have ever seen in California—miles and miles of un-fenced, untouched grassland.

An ocean of foothills, and not another vehicle in sight. Although we did find a sign for some property for sale…In the end, we finally came out the other side, covered in dust, and continued on our way into LeGrand and beyond. Yeah, we were delayed by the slow going on the dirt road, but not much more than if we had stayed in the traffic jam.

When we got home, we checked Google maps, which shows the route as a very primitive dirt road. So at least their maps are more accurate than the other two.And we’re just grateful that we didn’t have to hike out of there somehow because our car broke down.

You would have heard about it on the news, of course.

Post date: Sep 20, 2011 6:07:16 PM

What time is it when you are on the trail? Does it matter? That seems like a kind of silly question in the backcountry, but on our last trip into the Ansel Adams Wilderness, M was disappointed to see that her watch had stopped dead.

Eh, who cares? Who needs a watch anyway? And then we started to think about how we use our watches when we hike. And it turns out we do that more than you might think. P has a watch with a built in altimeter, so he often checks that function was we hike. In fact, he leaves that function on the primary display of the watch during these trips, so the time function is just a small footnote at the bottom.

Still, he uses it to get an idea of how we are doing on the trail. Navigation is more than just knowing where you are---it's also knowing how far you have to go, and how long it is taking you to get there. That means knowing what time it is There are, of course, other ways of telling the time in the backcountry.

The sun moves about the breadth of a hand at arm's length each hour (so does the moon, for that matter) so it's fairly easy to estimate time within an hour or so. If you are worried about making camp before dark, you should be able to do that just by looking at the sun, without the need for a digital watch. And if you are a musician, you can certainly sing a few songs and keep track of the time that way--Bach's Bourree in E minor is almost exactly two minutes long, as P well knows.

We also like to take pretty regular breaks on the trail, to keep up our water and food intake. Yeah, we could just stop when we are hungry or thirsty---but we've learned over the years that it's usually better to drink BEFORE you get thirsty, so we schedule our stops by the time, rather than by how we are feeling. You need a watch to do that. Otherwise, by the time you think you are getting dehydrated, you already ARE dehydrated.

And it's always helpful to synchronize watches when you are planning to meet again, later...But where this really got our attention was when we started making dinner. Those dehydrated meals always require a certain amount of time to regain their form, substance, and texture....and without a watch, poor M felt clueless. If you open the pot to check on them, they quickly get cold.

Luckily, P was there with his watch, and was able to tell her how long exactly, to the second, the food had been re-hydrating,And he could tell her the elevation of our campsite, too. Is it dinner yet?

Post date: Sep 14, 2011 3:14:41 PM

Colin Fletcher, the author of "A Walk Through Time," "The 1,000 Mile Summer," and "The Complete Walker," loved to hike solo. He treasured his quite moments alone with nature. But he also made comment about his paradoxical meetings with other solo hikers. Those other hikers would frequently stop him and want to chat for hours about how wonderful it was to hike alone. Fletcher, at least, noticed the irony.

On a recent trip to the High Sierra, we had a somewhat similar experience. We treasure those hours on the trail without seeing other people, and always try to give other hikers, and groups of hikers, as much space as they need to enjoy the wilderness. But on this trip we started up a pass, only to see another hiker on the trail ahead of us. No problem.

We needed some water so we stopped to pump and give him a good head start up the trail. And yet...he didn't seem to be in any hurry. As we hit the trail we could see him, still visible ahead of us.

Each time we hiked up closer to him, we would pause and take a break, have a drink or admire the view. And each time as we started hiking, we found that he wouldn't be far ahead. It was almost as if he were waiting for us.

Finally, around lunchtime, we came upon him, just packing up and getting to leave a lovely spot with a nice view. We greeted him, shared a quick trail report, and started getting out our lunch. And he slowed right down and started chatting with us some more. Pleasant conversation, and we enjoyed the chat. But it did go on a bit longer than we expected--at least twenty minutes.

And then he hoisted his pack and hit the trail.We gave him plenty of time to build up a lead, and then finished up our lunch and starting hiking. Less than half a mile ahead, our companion was waiting. We stopped before we reached him, to tighten M's shoes. He started hiking again, and so we started off again. Again he stopped and was waiting. This time we stopped for P to snap a couple of photos.

We started off again, and there he was, only 100 yards ahead, with his pack on the ground and settled in for a long wait. Fine.

We gave him a friendly "hello" and hiked on past him. But as M passed him on the trail, he hoisted his pack and fell into step behind her. We had been joined. Since we didn't know this guy from Adam, we felt a little awkward about this. But P decided that if the lone hiker took so many breaks, we would quickly leave him behind if we just kept hiking. So we did. We hiked for a solid two miles, straight uphill. And after all those delays earlier in the day, he didn't take another break all afternoon!

We arrived at our campsite and watched him stroll in just moments later. To be fair, he camped on the next peninsula over, and was a quiet camper. He did stop by to chat a bit, but M was trying to get out of camp for a stroll when he did that, and P was fishing...and distracted enough that the conversation didn't go swimmingly. We did learn that he had broken a tent pole....although that's not something we could really help with.

Then again, the weather was lovely and he assured us his rain fly would do just fine. And the next morning he hit the trail early, heading north.

We slept in, and when we got to the junction, we turned left and headed south. We hope he had a great time on the rest of his trip.

And we were happy to be hiking on our own again.

Post date: Sep 11, 2011 3:41:30 PM

There we were, settled in comfortably at idyllic Rutherford Lake high on the approach to Fernandez Pass, and resting after a brief rain shower had encouraged us to race up the last half-mile of the trail and set up our tent. After the sprinkles had disappeared P set to rigging his fly rod, while M napped peacefully in the tent--a scene of domestic bliss in the Sierra.

Suddenly, loud voices rang out from across the lake. P looked up to see two cowboys, complete with hats, chaps, boot and spurs, come tromping over the granite along the lake shore. They were hootin' and hollerin' as if they had ridden into Virginia City after weeks on the trail.

"How's fishin?'" one yelled out to P from fifty yards away.

"I don't know yet," P responded quietly, "I haven't started."

The quiet voice, as much as the answer, seemed to put a damper on their noise level.They clambered over the rocks on the ridge east of the lake, and P could hear the spurs jingle and boots thump long after they disappeared from view.

P went down to the lake and began casting in the dark, quiet waters of the lake. A few minutes later, the thump and jingle boys were back...clomping right through our campsite and back to their horses--which they had tied up in the muddy flats only fifteen feet from the waters of the lake.

"That's was a nice little hike," he heard one of them say to the other, from across the water.

We couldn't help thinking that they were somehow living in a different movie from ours: their in Panachrome and Westernvision, ours is more delicate shades of color and sound. And then they were gone, riding their horses down towards the Fernandez Pass Trail.

Sure was quiet when they left. Peaceful.

Post date: Sep 8, 2011 6:41:55 PM

During our last backpacking trip, P was having a pretty good time fly fishing in the lakes of the Ansel Adams Wilderness; Rutherford, Sadler, Vandeburg...and even a lake with no name on the Yosemite side of Post Peak Pass.

And the fishing was pretty good, too. He was catching plenty of 8-12 inch rainbows and brook trout (and letting them go as well--he wants these fish to be around for him to catch on the next trip. And for his grandchildren to catch, too, when they eventually arrive!) Each lake offered slightly different conditions, and slightly different results. At Sadler, the rainbows were only taking his fly when it was moving...but the brookies would hit the fly as it landed on the water. At Rutherford Lake, he was finding the fishing a bit slower, but more rewarding---each fish was a good foot long, and they were fat, well-fed and really beautiful.

(No--he doesn't have photos of those fish, because that's the one day he snuck out of the tent during naptime and left the camera in the tent. But they really were that big, honest!)

So imagine his reaction when he got back to our camp at Rutherford Lake and heard that M had climbed the nearby ridge to take a look at Anne Lake in the canyon below. "Oh, the fish were really jumping down there!" she said. "And they were so big, I thought they were otters at first!

Well.P quickly made a mental note to camp at Anne Lake next time and catch trout the size of otters. The next day on the trail, we ran into a group of guys who were hiking down the Fernandez trail, and P noticed that one of them had a fishing net on the outside of his pack. "Did you guys do any fishing up there?" he asked."Yeah," they replied. "We fished at Anne lake for quite a few hours.""Really?!?" P was all ears at this point. "How did you do?" "Well, between the five of us we caught three fish---two small ones and one that was about twelve inches."

P now has an asterisk next to that note about Anne Lake. And maybe M isn't such a good judge of fish size after wouldn't hurt to go back and see for himself.

Post date: Sep 7, 2011 12:39:41 AM

We are just back from a wonderful five day trip into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. We started at the Granite Creek trailhead and hiked up past Cora Lakes (a bit overused, for our taste) and then on to Sadler Lake the first night. While the first half of this trail was dull (a climb up to The Niche and then more ambling through the forest to Cora Lakes) the second half of this hike was delicious--along the banks of a burbling stream, lots of flowers, butterflies. It may be September, but it felt more like spring up here. Caught a few nice trout in Sadler (smaller rainbows and bigger brooks) and called it an early night. There was one other group at the lake, and they were on the far side.

The next day we hiked up past the Isberg Lakes (wonderful alpine scenery here) and then left the trail to take the more direct route up Isberg Pass. The trail makes a crazy switchback way off to the right for no we just hiked up to the pass. The views there were good, particularly of Banner, Ritter and the Minarets, but got even better once we crossed over the pass and started down towards the Merced Canyon. The trail here, however, is a mess. Lots of jagged blocks of rock, lots of slippery sand, and no fun. It times it seemed as if it would be easier to hike outside the trail on this section as well!

As we descended, we noticed Lake 10005 at the bottom of Isberg Peak...and decided that it looked like a good campsite. We were originally going to head over to Turner Lake--but this one seemed too good to pass up. So we left the trail and made for the lake with no name.It was perfect. A beautiful lake that reminded us a lot of the Gaylor Lakes---but those are closed to camping because they are too close to the road. Here we had the same open vistas, another stunning mountain range (the Clark Range here, instead of the Cathedral Range at Gaylor) and no people at all. Even better, there is actually a sandy beach at the east end of this lake: a rarity in the High Sierra. We washed, sunbathed, and fished (tons of nice 10-12 inch brookies) and generally enjoyed the rest of the afternoon here. And the sunset was stunning, too!

The next morning we headed up Post Peak Pass to one of the great hikes in Yosemite. As you climb up the pass you can see most of the park open up to the North…and then when you get up on the ridge, you get the whole southern Sierra as well. And the trail must hike along this ridge for half a mile or more. It’s hard to keep hiking because you just want to stop and enjoy the view!

But once again the descent was through about a mile and a half of ugly talus that had fallen off of Post Peak. Slow going, and no fun for the knees at our age. This must have been a real job to build a trail through this stuff!

It felt good to finally reach the more reasonable sections of the trail below Porphyry Lake. From there we took Fernandez Pass trail up to within about a mile or so of THAT pass before turning off to stay at Rutherford Lake. It started to sprinkle just enough for M to ask for her rain gear out of her pack. By the time she put it on, it had stopped sprinkling. But that did give us some motivation to hurry up the last half-mile to the lake! Rutherford Lake is truly scenic, with nice-sized trout as well. Except that we were joined by a solo hiker who seemed to want company, this was a perfect day. Day four had us taking a nice downhill run to Lillian Lake (very busy—lots of campers here!) through Stanford Lakes (small and boggy) and then down to Vandeburg Lake. Nice easy terrain, easy trail, and we didn’t meet anyone at all until we got to the lake. But if Lillian was busy, Vandeburg was crammed, particularly on this busy Labor Day weekend. We expected as much, but were still disappointed with the amount of toilet paper we found in the woods. Sigh. It makes you wonder how many people are TOO many for a busy weekend...and if they all really did have permits for that day. I caught a couple of nice rainbows here on a #20 fly, but there were just too many people (including one couple who arrived about dusk and asked us what the name of the lake was!). Still, some nice views here. And another great sunset, with quarter moon above the lake. The next morning we were up early, hiked out to the trailhead, and then began the LONG and slow drive home. The road to the Granite Creek trailhead included a section of about 14 miles that is very slow going..nearly an hour to drive it. The total for this trip was five days, about 38 miles, more fish than we could count, and more views than fish.

Mosquitoes were still around, but bearable. I got more bites on my fly rod than on my skin.

Post date: Aug 29, 2011 4:36:09 PM

This is one of our favorites times for a backpacking trip to the Sierra Nevada. The kids are now in school in California, so the crowds are much smaller, and the people who are in the mountains often seem to be tackling larger trips.

And the mosquitoes are beginning to fade out, even in this legendary year.And the trout are hungry again, after their mid-summer lull.

And the days are warm, and the nights are cool. And the sun goes down early enough that you can see the stars before you collapse in your tent...

We hope that you are planning to get one more trip in before the cold weather hits in the fall.

Post date: Aug 27, 2011 5:14:53 PM XC Mileage

After our last post, a number of people have asked us about hiking off trail, so we thought we'd add a few notes here.

First of all: hiking off trail is only for people who know how to use a map and compass. You have to know where you are, and where you are trying to get. And you have to know what kind of terrain lies between those two points. That's where a GPS will let you down. You can be at the top of Half Dome and only be half a mile from Mirror Lake...but that half mile is straight down, and you can't get there. A topo map will show you if it's possible. And it will also show you some other ways to get around the obstacles you might find.

Which brings us to: You can't always get there. We took a hike last year that included trying to go directly from Yellowhammer Lake to Leighton Lake in the Emigrant Wilderness. We spent about two hours trying to find a route that didn't include climbing straight up a cliff...and never did find one. We turned around, spent the night at lovely Five-acre Lake, at left, and studied the maps and terrain some more. The next morning we found a much easier and longer route that went around the cliff, and happily hiked out.

But it's important to have a good idea of what you can do, what you can do with a pack on, and what your partner is comfortable doing. Don't mess with those.

Third of all: Cross-country miles are different. Hiking without a trail not only involves route finding and map reading--it is also a question of where you put just about every foot on every step. That takes longer than hiking on a trail. So we figure that if we are going off trail, it will take use about twice as long to cover the same mileage. On our last trip out of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, we left Nelson Lake to go cross country to Reymann Lake and then over the saddle to Tuolumne Pass.

That's a total of something like three miles as the crow flies, and it took us three hours. Not exactly record speed. Once we hit the trail, our speed picked up to our usual two miles per hour or so (unless we are climbing steeply!) If you DO go off trail, make sure you give yourself enough time to enjoy the journey--and complete it! The Sierra is ideally suited for hiking off trail---the forests are generally open, the granite can often provide a nice sidewalk for your path, and you can often find slopes that are perfectly manageable even with a backpack. On the other hand....You can also find Manzanita and alders that are an impenetrable thicket, and take hours to bushwhack through. Not fun. Or a meadow that looks easy to cross, until you find it a marshy bog that sucks your legs up to the thighs. And those huge blocks of granite are no fun on a talus slope where you have to clamber and pick your way from on top of one refrigerator to another. And those gentle slopes of granite can slowly increase to steep and slippery ramps that make a single mistake a painful, if not fatal, accident.

Be careful out there.

Post date: Aug 24, 2011 6:21:27 PM

One of the reasons we go hiking is to get away from people, and enjoy the quiet wilderness. So it's no surprise that we have become fond of an occasional adventure off trail. In fact, we really like taking a look at our itinerary and planning for a few adventures where we will leave the trail and go off on our own--to boldly go where most people have never gone before.

And happily, the Sierra is prime country for this. We love the fact that you can pretty much hike wherever you want in the Sierra, as long as the slopes don't become too steep. Of course, we are pretty careful about tracking where we are and where we are going. And we know how to read a map and use a compass.

We were delighted that the last time we got our wilderness permit from the ranger in Yosemite, he specifically mentioned that we were allowed to go off trail. Really? That's great news. Because we've been doing it for years!

Post date: Aug 19, 2011 6:57:44 PM

Like most backpackers, we eat a lot of freeze-dried dinners on the trail. They're lightweight, don't take up much room in the bear canister, and provide a moderate amount of both flavor and calories. But no, they don't drive us to rapture. Last year we bought a food dehydrator, to see if we couldn't come up with something better.

So when M (who is, after all, a professionally trained chef) cooks up something tasty, we figure out if we can toss it in the dehydrator and take it along for a future backpacking trip. We've had moderate success with everything from sausage and rice to pasta in tomato sauce.

But nothing comes close to Tanya's Taqueria and their amazingly tasty Carnitas Burritos. Tanya's is just down the street from us, and they sell these delicious burritos for about five bucks--one of them is enough food for both of us, with a little left over. We slice them up like a loaf of bread, and lay the slices on a tray in the dehydrator. A few (well....maybe 12) hours later they are dried up and ready for the trail.

To keep them fresh, we store them in the freezer in a zip-lock bag. And on the trail, we simply boil up a couple of cups of water, empty the burrito slices into the pot, and wait. About fifteen minutes later we have the best tasting Burrito Casserole you have ever eaten. And somehow, on the trail, there isn't any left over.

Mmmmmmm. We can taste it right now!

Post date: Aug 16, 2011 8:57:20 PM

We always think of Nelson Lake as the back door to Yosemite’s High Country. That’s because when all the other trailhead quotas are full, you can almost always get a permit to Nelson Lake.

It’s Tuolumne Meadows’ version of the Snow Creek Falls trail out of Yosemite Valley---only not so much work.Why is it always open? Because after you get to Lake Elizabeth, it will require about four miles of hiking off a maintained trail to get to Nelson Lake. And most people just aren’t comfortable doing that. The irony is that the first three miles of that “off-trail” adventure are on a pretty darn clear use trail. It’s only the last mile that gets a little confusing. But if you know how to read a map, you can’t miss the lake.

Day One: We left August 12 and got a very quick version of the permit spiel—probably because they could see on their computer that this was not our first permit. The smoke from the controlled burn at Crane Flat made the sky muggy on the drive to TM, and then we got into the smoke from the Glacier Point Fire. Sigh. Still, it was a sunny day, and we were on the trail! The hike up to the pass into Nelson Lake takes you to the end of the meadow, and then straight up the right-hand (West) side of the canyon. Near the top the trail got a little blurry at a stream crossing (what’s new?) but we picked it up again as we neared the top of the ridge. For those interested in following along at home, you always want to aim at the lowest point on the right-hand side of this ridge of Unicorn Peak. ) There were some nice views from the pass here, but the smoke gave them a slightly dingy tint. The trail down the canyon was even easier to follow, about two miles down to the end of the granite outcropping on the left side of the canyon. At this point the trail gets murky, and we simply followed our maps up and over a couple of ridges and up into Nelson lake. (It lies directly between two major domes/ridges, so it can’t really get lost!) Nelson is a beautiful lake with a huge meadow at the northeast end and walls of granite on the south side.

Did we mention the meadow? Because the mosquitoes here were horrific. We had picked a spot that we thought would get enough breeze to blow them away, only to discover that they were flying in clouds and landing on the leeward side of each of us. And then the wind died.

We were in our tents by 8 p.m. with our headnets ready for the next morning. Nice sunset, by the way.Day Two: And the bugs were back the next morning as well. A quick breakfast and we waltzed up the canyon along the edge of the meadow towards Reymann Lake. From Nelson this looked like we might hit a wall or two of granite, but we kept to the right side of the canyon, and it was a piece of cake. A few nice granite slabs led us to an overview of Nelson behind us. And in front of us, Reymann Lake, surrounded by meadow. Yep. The mosquitoes here were even worse. Even in the middle of the morning, bright sun, they were everywhere. We inhaled some, put headnets on, and climbed past Reymann Lake, this time keeping to the trees on the far left-hand side of the pass. This turned out to be the perfect approach, and led us neatly into the pass over the saddle between Rafferty and Johnson Peaks. (Both peaks looked pretty easy to climb from this ridge, for those of you who are peak baggers!) Great views here, and from the saddle we could see Rafferty Canyon below. But we could also see a ridge to our southeast that looked perfectly doable…and would lead us more directly towards Tuolumne Pass. That hike, traversing across the high slopes of Rafferty Peak, led us to some amazing views of Yosemite’s High Country. Wonderful stuff at 10,000 feet.From the top of the next saddle, we could see the Rafferty Creek Trail wending along through the meadow about 1,000 feet below. But instead of heading straight down to the trail and then hiking back up to Tuolumne Pass, we decided to head straight towards the pass itself. This meant more off-trail travel, but after we got down the first step section of granite, it was really a pleasant hike. And my navigation was pretty accurate—we hit the trail about 500 feet from Tuolumne Pass itself.

The rest of the trip was on established trails, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t fun. We passed through the urban core of Vogelsang High Sierra Camp (filled the water bottles with no filtering!) and then headed up over Vogelsang Pass. Here again the Glacier Point Fire made the views seem smoggy---too bad, because Vogelsang has spectacular views. But we could clearly see Bernice Lake, our campsite that night, hanging over the edge of Lewis Canyon. We met a lot of people on the back side of Vogelsang Pass, most of them without packs, hiking from HSC to HSC. And many of them seemed to be suffering! (We did meet two charming Swiss women at Tuolumne Pass who were day-hiking up Rafferty, across Evelyn, and then down Lyell…and they were really enjoying it, God bless them.)

We camped way up on the West ridge above Bernice Lake, hoping to get into the wind and away from the mosquitoes. That didn’t work, and even though I saw a lot of fish rising on the lake below, I couldn’t convince myself that fishing for them was going to be fun. We watched the sun set through headnets and went to bed early again. The roar of the big waterfall on the far side of the lake serenaded us all night long.

Day three: The next morning things were a little different. For one thing, the temperatures had dropped just a bit, and the bugs were a bit chilled. And the smoke from the fire was gone, so that we ate breakfast with a clear view of the Clark Range sparkling in the morning sun. And then we hiked down from Bernice Lake and down Lewis Canyon. Clouds were blowing in from the south, and at times it looked as if it might rain. Lewis Creek kept us company the whole way down, and this was the beginning of the best part of the trip. From the expansive views of the High Country, we now hiked through forests and waterfalls, (Florence Creek was perfect!) flowers and fungi, hidden pools and cascades. A great hike, ending with somewhat smoky views of Merced Lake and Half Dome. Once down at the junction, we crossed Lewis Creek and climbed up the granite on the east side of Fletcher Creek. We were still a bit worried about rain, but the sun came out, the wind still blew, and the trail followed the wonderful four miles of water-slide that is Fletcher Creek. The views down canyon towards the Merced and across the way towards the Clark Range were amazing. Once at the top, we broke out into the meadows below Tuolumne Pass, snapping photos all the way, and hiked up into Emeric Lake.

This is a beautiful Lake, but camping here is problematic. We finally settled on a site on the ridge above the lake's eastern shore. (Shaffer’s trail guide suggests entering this basin from below, by crossing Fletcher Creek and following Emeric’s outlet steam up the granite to the lake. But in this wild water year, there was no way we were going to try to cross Fletcher Creek in that area—we might have ended up in Merced Lake!) The best campsites were clearly on the far side of the lake, but we didn’t feel like clambering over the huge talus blocks or crossing the bug infested meadows, to get there. Still, the wind shift, the cooler temperatures, and maybe the change of scenery had reduced the mosquito population to a bearable number, and we really enjoyed this evening. Before sunset, we walked up to the top of the ridge where we were camped, and watched the sunset on Vogelsang and other peaks. Day Four: A perfect day. We hit the trail early, and simply loved the hike up to Tuolumne Pass through alpine ponds, trees, Boothe Lake, meadows, and high peaks all around. And then the trail slowly dipped down through the high meadows, and the peaks slowly disappeared as we descended into Rafferty Canyon. We loved the tiny waterfall about half-way down, and found a great lunch spot beside the creek and off the trail.

All of a sudden, after lunch, we were back in the land of the hikers. We had seen only a few people (outside of Vogelsang Pass) for the last three days, but now we were meeting a new group every few hundred yards. Some seemed pretty much out of their element, and others were obviously enjoying things. One group was arguing about whether or not to treat their water (and asked us to referee!) another group was resting in the shade; other groups were huffing and puffing up the climb.

We did worry about one small girl in a Boy Scout group who was flushed, gasping and clearly overheated and dehydrated…and many of the people seemed unprepared to hike the whole way to Vogelsang—which was the destination for most of the groups. One couple, clearly experienced, were on their way up Lyell Canyon to Donahue Pass with smiles on their faces. Sweet. It was an easy walk back along the Tuolumne to the campground. Back to the car, back to town, and back to showers.

And stories to tell.

Post date: Aug 11, 2011 5:35:05 PM

It seems like every message board (including our own correspondence from readers) includes a fair number of people who have just recently become interested in backpacking and want a little advice about destinations. To make their first trip really successful, they want to know if we can recommend a good hike for them. What they want is the perfect starter hike.

And what do they want? They want high peaks and great scenery, and beautiful lakes and forests of huge trees. They want fabulous fishing. They want short mileage and relatively little elevation change. And close to home would be nice, too, so they don't have to drive far. Oh--and it would be really nice to go somewhere that has no other people for miles.

Well, no, we don't have any ideas about hikes like that. We do have a list of great starter hikes on our destinations page, and we stand by those recommendations. You can find those listed here:Twelve Great Starter Hikes

But all of them fall short, in one way or another, of being the perfect hike. Lyons Lake does include a pretty darn steep climb for the last mile or so, for example. Sorry. And we did it in September, and still ran into other people there. So why can't we recommend the perfect hike? Because if you ever found a hike that had high peaks, great scenery, beautiful lakes, huge trees, fabulous fishing and involved only a short hike with relatively little elevation change--it would be jam-packed with people all the time. In fact, there are a few of these hikes, like Lake Winnemucca out of Carson Pass it is so popular that it requires a reservation not just for the trailhead, but for a specific numbered campsite. That's crowd control.

Why? Because it is so nice and so easy that EVERYONE wants to do that one. So the permit process for this area, like the one for Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe, is complicated and restrictive. And it still has lots of people.And just so you know--the trail does climb quite a bit to the lake. But it is totally worth it. Of course, you could do what we do, which is to hike to these locations in the off-season, when the crowds are afraid of snow, rain, and cold. And yes, you might run into all of those. But you won't run into as many people.

Or you could understand that part of backpacking is the hiking, and that the journey is part of the destination: learn to love the hike. Relax. You have all day to get there.That way, the destinations are just the frosting on the cake. And they are wonderful!

Post date: Aug 9, 2011 9:25:03 PM

We just had a great conversation with a friend of ours who hiked up out of Leavitt Meadows into what we think of as the "girls' names Lakes:" Dorothy, Bonnie, Harriett, Cora, Stella, Ruth, Helen, and the rest. He said that the trip was wonderful, the fishing was amazing, and the mosquitoes were so bad that they sometimes just ran for cover---only there wasn't any cover!

They used head nets, bug dope, long-sleeved shirts, candles... and were still surrounded by clouds of mosquitoes, sometimes so bad that they were inhaling them into their mouths.

We know what that's like, and it's not fun. But every region and every year is different. One year we discovered that if we went up another 1000 feet in elevation, the skeeters disappeared, and so we changed our route to higher ground.How bad are they? We'll let you know, as we are about to head up into Tuolumne Meadows for a few days and will be able to give you a full report.

If the skeeters don't get us first!

Post date: Jul 31, 2011 5:42:28 PM

ALASKAN CRUISE If you haven't heard from us for a while, there is a reason. We spent the last week cruising through Southeastern Alaska on a Holland American ship out of Seattle. And while the weather did NOT cooperate (we had rain and clouds every day in Alaska, and only saw the sun in Seattle and Victoria) the cruise was stil full of some great scenery and adventures.

The first great view we got was of Mt. Rainier from the deck of our ship in the harbor of Seattle! We started with a full day at sea, and our first port was Juneau: a depressing little town full of tourist oriented diamond and tanzanite shops. What a waste of a beautiful location! We wandered around to see the old Orthodox Church, then took a local bus out to Mendenhall Glacier. There was plenty of hiking to do around there, although it was raining pretty hard at times, so we limited ourselves to shorter walks. But we enjoyed the views, the visitors center, and the paths through the valley of the glacier. Next time, with better weather, we'll spend even LESS time in town, and more time hiking this beautiful area.

And we got a little surprise when we went outside the museum to eat our lunch. A ranger quickly asked us to please not eat our lunch there. Instead, she asked us to bring our food inside and eat in the museum--because they didn't want bears to smell food outside! We were happy to oblige her.

From there we headed out to Hubbard Glacier--a huge (seven miles wide) glacier that empties directly into the sea. While we snapped photos and oohed and ahhed, the captain managed to work our ship closer and closer to the face of the glacier, eventually getting to withing a few hundred yards of it. Spectacular views, and impressive seamanship! The glacier cracked, creaked and groaned as we floated offshore, and gave us many examples of ice cascades that plummeted down the 350-foot face of the glacier and into the bay.

We spent a couple of hours enjoying the view, and then headed back out to sea to set sail for Sitka. Sitka was our favorite port by far, primarily because it wasn't full of cheezy tourist jewelry shops. We stopped to see St. Michael's Cathedral, them walked a few miles around the south side of town to visit the museums, the totem pole exhibits, and the raptor center. Once out of town, the trails wandered through an amazingly lush rainforest, and we really enjoyed this day. Of course it was raining. It's a rainforest!

The raptor center introduced us to a bald eagle, and then had a number of large birds in various stages of rehabilitation. One owl sat only two feet from the trail, behind a plexi-glass screen that protected it from curious fingers...and kept those fingers intact. And we finished up the visit with some fish and chips and halibut fish tacos froma street vendor--which were delicious. From Sitka we sailed south to Ketchikan, which bills itself as the salmon capital of the world. (It is not the diamond and tanzanite capital of the world only because it doesn't quite have as many of these shops as Juneau.) But we liked the rustic atmosphere of Ketchikan, and we hiked about a mile out to the historic totem pole museum, where a collection of older totem poles are housed and displayed. Creek Street, which began as the red light district and is now, predictably full of tourist shops, is built on piers hanging out over the creek, and we saw both salmon and seals in the creek.

And from Ketchikan we sailed down to Victoria, with its elegant houses, perfect gardens, and SUNSHINE. We strolled around town all evening, and then sailed back that night to Seattle and the flight home. Despite the weather, this trip had some great scenery, and we'd like to back and see more---particularly Sitka. And maybe Juneau as well. After all, you can never own too much tanzanite!

Post Date: July 12, 5:03:45 PM

The most useful item in our backpack might be something we originally thought was a complete waste of time. P was visiting the wine regions of Spain, and in the Rioja Alavesa his hosts gave him a very simple little black nylon bag that wasn't much bigger than a single sheet of paper. The drawstrings on the bag not only closed it up, but they attached to the corners and were long enough to serve as shoulder straps if you wanted to carry the thing like a backpack.

It doesn't weigh three ounces. Which is the only reason that he threw it into his suitcase and hauled it home. In fact, somehow he ended up with two of these.Because it was so light, P used one as a stuff bag for his down jacket for a while...and it worked great. The combination also made a pretty nice pillow to sleep on, especially when wrapped in a soft fleece jacket. So it became part of our gear for most trips.

And then on one trip, he realized that it was the prefect size for him to use to pump water. You know the exercise: take four or five bottles of water and the pump down to the river or lake....pump the water into all the bottles...and then figure out how to carry and juggle all those bottles back to camp. Well, it all fits into the little black nylon bag perfectly.

In Emigrant Wilderness, we used it as a day-pack to carry our lunch and water for a day hike to Kole Lake and beyond...which is what it was originally intended for, and it worked just fine!

When our pump got clogged on a (muddy) spring trip to Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, we used this little black bag to help us melt snow for water, laying it in the sun with a pot full of snow inside. The solar heat in the black bag worked like magic. And on a last trip to Mono Creek, we were pumping water from the creek while standing in snow. That water was ice cold, and M left a few of the water bottles in this little black bag afterwards. When the sun hit them, we quickly discovered that our little black bag had turned our clear plastic water bottles into a very effective and nicely warm sun shower. We used the warm water to wash off a bit...and also to reduce the amount of gas we needed to heat our dinner.

And the bag seems to be pretty waterproof, so now P uses one inside his back, up against his back to serve as a moisture barrier between his sweaty back and the contents of his pack.

OK--we've lost track of how many uses this thing has...but we now carry both of them on every hike. And we are on the lookout for more!

Post Date: July 8, 2011 3:23;56 PM

Once we started backpacking together, a few things became pretty clear. M tends to look down on the trail, exploring flowers, rocks, funghi and animal scat with great interest. P tends to look up on the trail, trying to catch sight of peaks, passes, and possible a trout stream or lake.

Which makes us a pretty good combination on the trail. Between the two of us, we don't miss much!We work as a team in the campsite, as well. P generally sets up the tent, while M manages more of the kitchen. And in the morning, we work together to get everything packed up and on the trail. Some days P pumps the water because he is done first, sometimes that falls to M if she gets her pack loaded up before him.

And speaking of loading up the pack, we do try to share the load. P is bigger, and stronger, so he carries more weight. On a four-day trip to the John Muir Wilderness, P carried about 30 pounds total, and M was carrying about 20--those weights include some water for the trail in each pack. We think that's about fair, because P weighs a lot more than M...and we are each carrying roughly the same weight in terms of a percentage of our body weight: between 15 and 18%.

We each carry our own clothes, sleeping bag, and pads. The big difference is that P carries the tent and food, while M carries the cook pot and kitchen.

Of course, as the trip goes on, we eat a lot of the food, so P's pack get lighter. That's when he starts putting other things into the bear canister, like the gas for the stove, or some other part of our kitchen. And he has been known to carry more of the water, as well. That way we each feel the benefits of the lighter load on the last couple of days of the trip.It's not a perfect system, but it works for us. And we'd love to hear about yours, too!

Post date: Jul 5, 2011 2:57:23 PM With all the snow this summer, we’ve had to re-think most of our summer hiking plans, just like everyone else. And so for 4th of July weekend, we looked around for a destination that would work. The snow level in the southern Sierra is higher, around 8500 feet, (although the peaks are higher, too!) so we focused on that part of the range.Both Florence Lake and Lake Edison offer access to the Sierra at those elevations so we decided to head in that direction.

True, the road over Kaiser Pass is slow and twisty, but we had the time, and we certainly had the inclination. For those who plan on something similar, with no traffic at all it’s a good hour’s drive from Huntington Lake to Lake Edison, and that’s only twenty miles. Add in an RV or trailer in front of you, and expand the timeline.After talking with the very nice people at the Prather Ranger station, we took out a permit for Mono Creek, at the head of Lake Edison. That gave us lots of options based on the conditions, and it turned out we needed them!

If you’ve never been to Vermilion Valley Resort at Lake Edison, you owe it to yourself to experience it. Something between a High Sierra Camp and a High Plains Drifter bar, this resort sees tons of solitary PCT thru-hikers and a motley crew of boaters and fishermen as well. If Humphrey Bogart appeared you’d start to think that this might be the High Sierra version of Heart of Lightness…The ferry took us across the lake the next morning, and we hiked up Mono Creek and into the John Muir Wilderness.

The trail was not in bad shape for the segment up to the JMT/PCT junction---mainly because the thru-hikers must have cleared a lot of the major winter damage. There are a few different log crossings available at the North Fork of Mono Creek…but we managed to forget that on the way in, and forded in. Big adventure….but the couple following us had even more trouble, as she was swept 20-30 feet downstream before managing to grab a few branches and pull herself to safety. She was smiling and cheerful afterwards…but it left us just a little shaken.

From there it was straightforward up to the Mono Creek junction, and then a wonderful hike up Mono Canyon. Yeah, there were a few fallen trees, and the trail was sometimes under water, but for a spring hike this was a walk in the park.Until we got to the next big creek crossing, at Laurel Creek. And here M put her foot down. She was not going to risk this one, especially late in the day. So we camped here for the night, and waited to see if the water levels would go down in the morning.

They didn’t. Not really. So we climbed up Laurel Creek Canyon, and were absolutely delighted with the decision. This was a real grunter of a climb, 1000 feet in a mile, but we got fantastic views on the way up which gave us lots of reasons to stop and catch our breath. I mean take photos. And we were obviously the first people to hike this trail in 2011. And once over the rim of the canyon, the meadows of Laurel Creek are simply stunning. We hiked up into the middle of the first meadow and dropped our packs on a small granite island in the middle of paradise. From there we day-hiked up the canyon: first over snow and avalanche debris, then over huge talus blocks. At the top of the talus we took a look up canyon—lots more snow, even more avalanche debris, and a raging creek hiding somewhere under the snow. Not the best scenario for summer fun. After all, we were on vacation.

We had already decided to camp on the granite in the meadow, so we went back there to eat lunch. And that’s when we realized that with only tiny trees on the island, it was too damn hot! So we backtracked down the canyon into the forest, and set up camp.The afternoon was spent napping, resting and fishing,

After dinner we went for a stroll back out into the meadow for some sunset photos.The next morning we retraced our steps back to the ferry, this time using one of three major log options to cross the North Fork of Mono Creek. And from there we were home free, only stopping to wait for the ferry and soak in the sun and granite at the east end of the lake.

Other reports: we spoke to a fellow hiker who had crossed Laurel Creek and continued up the Mono Creek trail. He reported that about a mile past the creek was a major avalanche that had left about 100 yards of downed trees across the trail. He fought his way through that…but couldn’t find the trail afterwards. And it was getting late, so he headed home.

And the log across Mono Creek itself on the way to the Second Recess was still there, but quite wet in the middle. And the creek was really roaring. If you fell of that log, there was no hope of not getting washed down the canyon. Not a complete suicide mission, but only for professionals on the balance beam.

Post date: Jun 30, 2011 3:42:39 AM

Full disclosure: P is a pretty much internationally recognized wine expert in his real life. So he often receives samples of wine from people who hope that he will fall in love with them and tell everyone about them. He doesn't have to pay for those wines. He doesn't have to write about them, either, unless the wines are really good, and he gets kind of excited about them. This is one of those wines.

A few weeks ago an interesting package arrived: a bag of wine from Clif Winery. (Yes, the same people who make Clif Bars etc., also have a winery. And they are big supporters of lots of athletic activities, including cycling, hiking, and getting people outdoors. That earns them points in our book--and on our blog!) This isn't the first wine ever packaged in a bag---but most of those bags are then packaged in a box.

This wine, called The Climber, is just the bag: no box. And so it is about as light as you can make a magnum of wine. Yep, you got that right. 1.5 liters of wine in a single bag. It has a convenient loop or two so that you can carry with a finger, a loop of rope....and P's bag even came with a cute little carabiner that you wouldn't actually want to trust your life to on a rappel....but cute, nevertheless.So all that is well and good, and the packaging seems to work.

(Bags for wine are as old as goatskins, but the modern versions do a very good job of keeping the wine fresh and away from oxygen, which is what makes old wine taste old. The bag collapses as the wine disappears....and there's no nasty air contact at all. The last glass is every bit as good as the first!)

Why did he decide to write about The Climber? Because the wine is really quite tasty. In fact, it was a big hit around the office. And when P discussed it with a fellow enology faculty member at Napa College, he found that just about everybody thought this wine was good--including some very well-known winemakers in the Napa Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon that is full of flavor, nicely balanced, and should go just fine with any number of those freeze dried dinners...

Now I don't think that we are about to carry a magnum of wine up into the backcountry. That's a lot of wine for the two of us to drink, and a lot of weight to carry for the days it would take us to drink it. And while the package is much lighter than glass packaging, it's not as recyclable, so that's a concern over the long haul.But if you are going out with a group and want to take something good to drink, we're very comfortable recommending The Climber for both the convenient packaging and the quality of the wine inside the bag.

Just don't finish off the magnum while you are still on the face of El Capitan...

Post date: Jun 27, 2011 3:56:42 AM Oh yeah. WE're just back from the Crystal Range in Desolation Wilderness...So here's the story.

We were committed to getting up into the mountains this weekend, and so we did. But we were car camping, not backpacking, at Union Valley Reservoir, along Ice House Road off Highway 50. (Of course Tom Stienstra in the SF Chronicle singled this lake out the very day we expect that it will get a lot more traffic now. Sigh.)

The large, spacious campsites at Wench Creek made us feel very much at home, and the hiking in this area has a lot to offer, particularly when the rest of the Sierra is still under a lot of snow. We managed to go on three or four nice hikes, none of which got above 7,000, and all of which had us tromping through a bit of snow.

And water. Water, water everywhere, as that snow turned back into a liquid and filled every possible low-lying stretch of trail. Snowbanks leading directly into the stream of water running down the trail.

If you don't like wet feet, stay out of the mountains this time of year But that same water made the rivers and cascades truly memorable. And there were scenes of great beauty.....We got back to camp every night feeling tired but quite please with ourselves.

Post date: Jun 15, 2011 5:17:17 PM

One thing you'll notice immediately when you hike in the high country: as you go up, there is less air to breathe. In that way, it's no different from working hard or running hard. And the result makes it feel as if you are more alive.

But then come the other symptoms. Headaches are very common--in fact we almost always get mild headaches if we go up from our sea level home to 6,000 feet or more on the way to the trailhead. And we frequently notice the reduced humidity. Our skin feels dry and our eyes also tend to do the same. (Interestingly enough, this did not happen nearly so much when we were hiking in the humid cloud forests at 12-14,000 feet on the way to Machu Picchu--but then, the Amazon rainforest may have had something to do with this...)

And with more elevation, nausea and other more serious symptoms can arrive. Make no mistake: altitude sickness can make you really suffer, and at heights usually above those in the Sierra Nevada, it can kill you. But a recent article in Outside Magazine got our attention, because it mentioned something we've often noticed about getting high in the mountains. According to studies done with US soldiers in high elevation research, altitude can also affect your emotions--sometimes making you feel euphoric, among other things.

Well yes it does. We certainly have felt this. We'd always thought that this was just an effect of the stunning beauty of our surroundings up there, but it turns out that altitude adds to the pleasure off seeing those surroundings. Sometimes you just want to cry it´s so beautiful.

And while M still seems a bit disconcerted at times when she tears up at a beautiful High Sierra vista, we've come to recognize this as an effect of being way up in the clear (and thin) air of the mountains.And it's a good thing, not a bad thing.The nausea? Not so much...

Post date: Jun 11, 2011 1:46:27 AM

Part of the fun the of the shake down trip last week was that we took a few new things to try as well. And all in all, we're pretty happy with them. The biggest success was our new Platypus water (and wine!) bottles. These are simple bladders that roll up very small when they are empty, but also hold a full liter of water. We like that they weigh even less than a soda bottle, and that they slip into our side pockets much easier than the soda bottles do. Are they worth the extra money, compared to the soda bottles? eh...who knows. These were a gift, and we like them a lot! We also tried another one of our re-hydrated meals.

M had cooked up some sausage, eggs, diced potatoes, and onions...and the dehydrated them last fall. We tried them on the trail on this trip--and even though she was sure she had over-dried them, they worked pretty well. We managed to add too much water, so it was more like a stew than anything else, but it was yummy, warm, and just the thing in the middle of our sleet/snowstorm.

And we certainly tried out our new alpaca hats from Peru. Warm, light, and ever so soft. What's not to like? She also used her hiking poles and loves them--another trick she learned on the Inca trail in the Andes...

Post date: Jun 5, 2011 4:44:41 PM

A few people have asked up about the shake down trip we took last weekend, in Yosemite, so we thought we'd explain a bit more. One of our friends is planning to hike 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, from southern Oregon to Mt. Whitney or so. And he's planning to take about three months to do it. And while he has done some backpacking in the past, he was delighted to join us to see how we did things, compare them to his plans, and see what might work out best. And he had a few new (to him) pieces of equipment that he wanted to test before he took the big plunge.

Like what? Well, he had a water filter just like ours...but the last time it had been used, it was in the Grand Canyon. So he pumped one bottle of water and discovered that his filter was clogged. That's not something you want to find out on the first day of the three month trip. He'll be replacing that. And he had a new (to him) stove that he wanted try--complete with a new cook kit, windscreen, etc. And he discovered that it worked like a charm, even in very winery, and even snowy conditions. We love our MSR Pocket Rocket, but his stove seemed equally good. A bit heavier, but putting out more heat. Nice to know. He brought some Teva water sandals, which worked great but were much heavier than our Crocs. He's re-thinking those. And he brought along a number of different foods for the trip...some of which were delicious, but probably heavier than he wants to carry for a ten day or longer lef of the trip.

And he wanted to make sure that his new tent and sleeping bag were up to the challenge---which they were. It's always a good idea to test your equipment before you have to rely on it in the backcountry. P has set up every tent we own in the back yard before trying to do that in the mountains--just to make sure there aren't any surprises. And things like water filters and stoves need to work. It's not fun trying to backpack with stuff that doesn't do what it is supposed to do!Not impossible to carry.

But if you are going to hike 1,000 miles, a few pounds on your back will make a pretty big difference over three months. We can hardly wait to see the photos and hear the stories from his trip. And if you see him out there this summer, say hello!

Most of all, he wanted to make sure that all of this stuff fit in his pack, and that he could carry it once it was full. And that's probably the biggest learning experience from the weekend for him. Because with the exception of the filter (easily resolved with a replacement cartridge) everything he brought along worked just fine. But there were quite a few things that were just a bit heavier than they needed to be. And when you add up a few ounces here, a pound there....pretty soon you are talking about a 35-40 pound pack or more.

Post date: May 31, 2011 1:13:26 AM We're just back from a memorable trip over Memorial Day weekend, from Lake Eleanor into the northwest corner of Yosemite. The trip was a real multi-purpose adventure. It was a kind of shake down cruise for a good friend who is planning on a big adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail this summer--and wanted to see what worked for us, and how his new stuff worked for him.

It was also an attempt to explore this part of the park, which in summer can be pretty hot and dry. We also had some new toys to play with---more on those in a later post. And it was a great excuse to get out and into the wilderness again. Happily, we achieved all these goals!

The weather was predicted to be unpredictable, and it lived up to its promise. After a cool, cloudy, and windy Friday, we were blessed with rain, sleet, hail and snow on Saturday...and woke up to a winter wonderland Sunday morning. That made for a beautiful, if icy, hike back out!

The trail from Lake Eleanor to Miguel Meadows and beyond was originally built as a road to Hetch-hetchy when they were building the dam. That means the gradients are relatively mild, and it's pretty hard to get lost. Once we got past Miguel Meadows things got a bit boggy, as the spring conditions had water levels very high.

We camped the first night about two miles past Miguel Meadows, in a strange area that had been cleared as part of the dam project 100 years ago. Lots of very nice flat places to pitch a tent...but this area does not have the kind of vistas that make other parts of the park so amazing.

And the creeks this weekend were really booming. In fact, once we got to Frog Creek (off the Beehive trail), we decided NOT to try and cross it. Yes. there was a huge log across it--or at least 3/4 of the way across. After that we would have to get down off the log, (a big jump) and then wade through the rest of the creek--which was roaring. It still looked possible, until M pointed out that if it rained that night, our trip back would force us to cross a slick wet log. She was adamant, and we agreed.Case closed.

We saved that for another day. And when we got to the Beehive, the meadow was a bog, and the forest surrounding it was under 2-4 feet of snow. We met some men on snowshoes who had tried the second trail to Laurel Lake, and also been turned back by the rushing outlet creek. We thought about pushing on to Lake Vernon...but then looked at the worsening weather, and decided that we would head towards lower elevations.

So that day we ended up back at our first night's campsite...and happy to be there. The weather worsened all afternoon, and by the time we made camp, it had started to really hail hard. We took a nap in the tent, and then took advantage of a brief respite in the hail to cook dinner. Cozy in our bags, we heard the hail turn to rain, and then sleet. Late in the night P began to hear odd sliding noises--snow building up on the sides of the tent and then slipping down.

Morning was quite snowy, but by 7 o'clock the sun actually came out for a few moments. We cooked breakfast, packed up, and hiked out through light snow and hail...and into first sunshine, the more clouds and a biting wind back at Lake Eleanor. That's a photo of Robin hiking out through the snow and sunlight along the Miguel Creek section of the trail, below.In the end, some of the mission was accomplished. We did get to test a bunch of equipment, and we had a great time. And we will have to come back to this part of the park to explore it more fully, when the creeks are better behaved!

Post date: May 26, 2011 4:40:19 PM

Well, at least there are some things you can do to get/stay in shape for hiking. Last weekend P decided that he wasn't getting enough miles in on his bicycle, so he signed up for the Napa Gran Fondo.

This is a charity ride that gets 1000 people to ride their bikes around the Napa Valley and up into the hills for a good cause, complete with all sorts of fun. There were banners, costumes, jazz bands, refreshments, and more people on bikes than you can imagine. There was even an escort by the California Highway Patrol for the first few miles.

P ended up riding 70 miles in just about 4 hours....not counting the time he took to fix a flat tire, grab some sandwiches, and refill his water bottles. (Of course, some of that was helped by drafting behind faster riders all the way back to Napa!)

And at the end of the ride, the party downtown in Napa included a number of different wineries, Sierra Nevada beer, and more refreshments and music.

A fun day, and a great way to burn off some calories and get your heart rate up among the stars...the photo in the link below is the only one we could find of P--he is on the right, walking his bike back to the road after climbing the Ink Grade (4 miles in 26 minutes...legs aching, heart pounding.)

And the two women standing behind him absolutely smoked him on the ride!

Post date: May 23, 2011 5:23:08 PM

A reader recently brought our attention to the adventures of Boots McFarland...a series of cartoons by Geolyn Carvin that capture some of the more amusing moments in the lives of backpackers everywhere. They really are pretty funny, and if you don't see yourself, or someone you know, in most of these cartoons, you probably don't have any sense of humor at all. Have we got your attention? Good.

Check them out at Carvin's website: On the Trail with Boots McFarland

And be prepared to laugh. We love the one about Devil's Hole!

Post date: May 17, 2011 4:51:17 PM It's always hard to pick the perfect destination for a spring hike---especially considering the weather we've been having over the past couple of months. So when we got a free day or two, we headed up to Sonora to visit an old friend...and take a look at a couple of hikes we've always wanted to take.

Saturday we started at Cherry Lake Dam and hiked over to Lake Eleanor. During the summer, this is a very short hike, because the road across the dam is open, and you can drive to within about a mile of Lake Eleanor. But the road was not open, and so the hike was closer to six or seven miles, round trip. And while we knew a storm was brewing, we managed to miss any rain or snow on Saturday--just the way we planned it. Lake Eleanor is a great destination this time of year---because there AREN'T that many people willing to make the hike. Once the road over the dam opens, I imagine it gets pretty crowded. The view at right is from the campsites along the shore of Lake Eleanor.

And that night it snowed down to about 3,000 feet. So we woke up to three inches of snow on the ground at our friend's house...and a good excuse to explore her lovely area on foot. By the afternoon, the snow was pretty much gone from the lower elevations, so we drove up to Pinecrest Lake, where it was still snowing, and there was plenty of snow on the ground. That made for a beautiful hike...and we still had warm showers that night before bed!

Best of all. we've got a few more places to add to the list of things to explore the next time we head up into this area....which always seems to happen!

Post date: May 1, 2011 7:56:41 PM

For years, P used to wear some version of a baseball cap in the Sierra. He got them free from all sorts of people, and the long bill was perfect for shading his eyes when he was fishing. Those caps met so many of our criteria: cheap, lightweight, and easy!

But as time went by, both P and M became more concerned about that bright sun up there...and P got tired of greasing up the tops of his ears every day to protect them. And so the search was on for a hat with a wider brim.Yes, he had a nice straw one from his visit to the Yucatan...but it was very lightweight, and would blow off in the winds of the Sierra. And a second version, purchased during a heat wave in Buenos Aires, wasn't any better.

But a few years ago he found the perfect hat in a second hand shop. It was an old fedora, heavy enough to stay on his head in a breeze, wide enough to shade his ears and the back of his neck, and stylish enough to make our children vaguely uneasy. And it was cheap.Perfect.

And now having worn the hat for many moons, he likes it even more. He's added a few feathers that he's found on the trail as we've hiked along. And during our recent trip to Peru, he bought a nicely hand-woven hatband that adds a little color and life. Each hike seems to give the hat just a bit more personality.

And speaking of personality--the hat was a real conversation piece along the trail to Machu Picchu. Many of the other trekkers, guides, and porters found that hat very distinctive, and it was a great icebreaker for conversations along the trail. Of course, they may have all been laughing at him behind his back...but at least to his face, they greeted him with a smile and nod of recognition. And M and the rest of the gang noted how easy it was to find P in a crowd, thank's to his hat!

It's a keeper.

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