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October through December 2013

Post date: Dec 24, 2013 8:32:00 PM It's the holiday season, and that means that we are celebrating with family and friends. Those celebrations are pretty much extended eating and drinking events, and we've been doing them for days...Man, are we packing on the weight.

Despite our best intentions, we're eating more than we normally do, and exercising less, day after day. But there is good news to all that. We have months to work it off before we really hit the trails seriously in June...and any weight that is still with us will just give us an excuse to take less food on that first trip.

At least, that's what we're telling ourselves...

Post date: Dec 19, 2013 7:33:15 PM Yep--it's that time of year again. And we have to believe that Santa takes this stuff pretty seriously. After all, he lives at the North Pole, so he knows how important preserving our wilderness really is. But just in case he needs little help, we have our own list for him to consult:


The idiot who set off the fire that burned 250,000 acres of Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park—and started it with an illegal campfire because he was sure the rules didn’t apply to him.

The other idiots who believe that the rules don’t really apply to them because….well, you get it. This year we met people who were camping in restricted areas, building fires where they were prohibited, hiking with dogs in Yosemite’s backcountry, and endless evidence of people who did not pack out their TP, tampons, etc. Leave No Trace. It isn’t that hard.

Boy Scout leaders who destroy natural wonders (and national treasures)—all the while supposedly serving as an example to the young men in their charge.

The knuckleheads who defaced Native America heritage sites…or anyone who vandalizes public property. If you want to make something ugly, stick with your own property.

Those who choose to step into roaring spring creeks or wade above waterfalls, despite all the warnings…then again, these people get their rewards pretty quickly.

Editors who think that the single biggest issue with backpacking is dealing with bears. See above. Enough with the bear stories.

The bozos in Washington who continue to collect a paycheck while doing less and less for the people of this country. If you want to reduce the size of government, we can think of an easy place to start.

Post date: Dec 5, 2013 4:21:53 PM We took another trip to our cabin above Sonora last weekend, and this time we decided to check out the trail to an old mine in the area. It was another great day in the foothills, with sunny weather and cool temperatures--perfect for hiking.

The trail starts as a nice old logging (and mining?) road that wanders down towards the South Fork of the Stanislaus for about a mile and half. Then it gets very steep for a half a mile. Still a "road" mind you, but so steep that I wouldn't want to drive anything with four wheels on it.

And so deeply rutted that we had to carefully chart our route. Amazingly, we did hear a car further below us---but from the noises it was making, it might still be down there... Once at the junction, we turned right and left the insanely steep section to follow a smaller road that contoured along the canyon upstream.

This was a beautiful route, easy walking, and despite the fact that it obviously gets very little traffic, it was maintained. We hiked through numerous fallen trees that had been cleared for the trail. But the best part of the hike was yet to come.

After about a mile on this secondary road, we came to the mine, and spent about an hour exploring the area. The trail ends at the main mine, but on our way back we noticed two other areas that included a secondary mine entrance and another area that was clearly terraced at the same time--although we're not sure why.

It made for some fun exploring. It's hard to imagine how they dragged these enormous iron wheels down here. Lots of mules, and a pretty darn sturdy wagon.

There is supposed to be a trail that leads down to the river from the mine itself, but we did not see an obvious route. And the one trail we did consider was covered with bare branches of what might be poison oak. We'll come back in the spring, once the poison oak has budded out, and see if we can work our way down there without getting covered in the stuff.

Meanwhile, we had a grand adventure in the foothills---and inspiration to explore more of this area.

Post Date Nov 7 23:34;50

We spent this last weekend at our cabin above Sonora.

And in the middle of our usual tasks of cleaning up and fixing things, we found time for a nice hike down to the North Fork of the Stanislaus River. It's a nice time of the year to get out on a trail---as the cooler temperatures make some of these lower elevation hikes a lot more fun. This was a pretty steep trail, and in mid-summer this would have been a hot one!And yes, there were nice fall colors on the trees... The river was now calm and sedate. Quite peaceful all the way around And we even found some old mining tailings in the area---and we're already planning to explore those more extensively in the future.

Post date: Nov 5, 2013 10:33:52 PM It's that time of year again. The nights are longer. The days are shorter. It's getting colder. In the high country, the lakes are now frozen over.It's time to put away those backpacks and find joy in other ways.

How many ways? It's a great time to pull out all of your backpacking equipment and clean it up, dry it out, air it out, and put it away. You don't want those smells to stay in the tent until next summer!If you're a fly fisherman, it's a great time to tie a few flies to fill in the spots of the ones you lost over the course of the summer. And maybe try a few new ones.

We always like trying a few new recipes over the winter for our dehydrated meals, so that we can start next year with an even better menu of choices. Besides, by the time we pull them out of the freezer and take them on the trail next summer, we will have forgotten what the original version tasted like. That's probably a good thing.

Post date: Nov 1, 2013 1:11:09 AM Just in time for a nice chat around the campfire…No, we’re not going to tell ghost stories, even though it is Halloween--and not because we don’t know any. In fact, we have quite a rich collection, between the ones we’ve collected from other campers, and the more professional works of Poe, et al.

But it just not the same, sitting at a computer and writing (or reading) these stories. You really have to be there, out in the woods, with a few younger people (not too young!) to add the just right touch to the audience. Over the years, we’ve heard a long list, and we’ve also learned that most of these have made the rounds for many years and in many different places in the country. Bloody Bones will get you! Give me back my Golden Arm!

We’ve even got a few that are a little bit scary, but not too scary, so that we can tell them to younger kids. The Coffin that comes up out of the basement and chases you through the house until it traps you in the bathroom, where you pull out a cough drop and the coughin’ stops. Ahem.

And the voice that comes to the new widow to tell her that It Floats…it floats….Yes, Ivory Soap floats….

But one year P had to come up with three of these lite ghost stories, for three different sessions of a summer camp. The first session got the coffin, and the second one got the Ivory Soap…but he didn’t really have a good one for the third session.

Of course he knew another ghost story, one that had been told to him as a child and that happened right in his home town of Coalinga CA. It seems that there was a strange man in town, one who had a very sad history and had lost his hand in a terrible accident, and in its place he wore…The Hook. And he violently attacked young lovers in parked cars...There were numerous versions of the story--but the ending was always the same. When the young couple drove off in a panic and finally pulled the car into the gas station, they both agreed it was in all their imagination. And then they looked at the door handle and screamed. There, hanging from the handle was...The Hook.

But really, The Hook is too scary for little kids. So P called a good friend of his and asked for his help.The friend was more than happy to suggest a story that had happened right in the town where he had grown up, Pleasanton, CA—150 miles from P’s home town. It all turned on the fact that young couples who were parked in the country were being mysteriously attacked by a crazy man who had no right arm, and instead had only…A Hook.

Nope. That won’t do. So P arrived at the campfire that night determine to invent a story that would strike the right balance between just a little bit scary and a little bit funny.

But before he could start, one of the other counselors approached him and offered to help. It turns out that this counselor had the perfect story to tell the kids.

And as the counselor began the story, P had a bad feeling. It all began just a few years ago, right there in the small mountain town where the camp was located. An old man lost his arm in a logging accident, and….Yep. Replaced it with a hook.

Every town in America must tell The Hook to its kids…

Post date: Oct 16, 2013 5:04:34 PM P loves his fly fishing, and one of the great delights of backpacking can be found in a quiet backcountry lake that hasn't seen a fisherman in days, months, or years. It's peaceful, the fish are hungry, and P has a ball.

He doesn't take a lot of equipment, both because he doesn't see the need, and he doesn't want to carry the weight. He just takes a 7 piece fly rod that fits inside his pack, a reel with floating line, a few extra leaders, and a small selection of flies. And he almost always catches fish. He's been doing this for more than fifty years now, and he's learned enough to be pretty successful.

But at two different high country lakes this summer, P ran into some recalcitrant fish. The first was at Return Lake, well off-trail in Virginia Canyon in northeastern Yosemite. The fish were rising, P was casting, but they weren't interested in what he had on the end of his line. He usually fishes a small elk hair caddis fly, and it works just about all the time But this time, the fish were taking something much smaller. They would rise right up to P's fly, take a careful look, and then decide that they really didn't want caddis for dinner. Hmmph. Oh well. It was still a beautiful day on the lake.

And then it happened again, this time at one the lakes in the Ten Lake Basin. P's first cast landed a beautiful 10-11 inch rainbow, and he could see many other fish in the lake. So he cast and cast....and never got another fish. Again, they were rising, and they would look at his fly, but they were not interested in the caddis.

Maybe the first fish had spread the word. Maybe not. Yeah, he could have tried another fly. But he guessed that they were eating midges, and he didn't really have any of those in his fly box. So he practiced casting for a while longer, and then called it a day.

And he still has fond memories of the experience.

Post date: Oct 9, 2013 5:43:39 PM Every ridiculous survival guide about backpacking talks about bears. Way too much, in our opinion. You can read what we think about most dangers on the trail here:

In the Sierra we think this focus on bears is completely unwarranted. We have only seen three bears in the backcountry in the last seven years, and that includes almost 800 miles of backpacking and another few hundred day-hiking. And none of those bears was even remotely interested in us, or our backpacks.

But on one thing we certainly agree. All of those survival guides tell you that you won't be able to outrun a bear, so don't even try. (Of course, the old joke is that you don't HAVE to outrun the bear---you only have to outrun another hiker...)

We had proof of this during our trip this summer into the farther regions of remote Virginia Canyon in Yosemite. P was in the lead, as usual, and as he came up over a small rise in the trail, he surprised a large bear about fifty feet away. Before P could react, and well before he could get out the camera at his side, that bear had exploded away into the forest so fast that P was left stunned. Really. Usain Bolt?

Not a chance. That bear was moving at about thirty miles an hour, and that wasn't on a track, it was through the forest, over logs and through bushes. P could hear the thump of the bears paws as he ran away, and he swears he could even feel the ground shake just a bit. It was a very large animal moving very fast.

Very impressive. And very normal. The bear wasn't interested P at all. Just wanted to eat a few berries and be left in peace. Which is what we did.

Post date: Oct 8, 2013 3:45:23 PM Some passes are transparent.From the start you can see the top, and you have a very good idea of how far you have to go. The trail may be steep, but at least you can see how steep it is. Often the trail goes up on a steady climb, or even up a steep face, with blue sky showing you where it all ends. And that ending takes you right out on top, with a sudden revelation on the other side. WYSIWYG.

But there are other passes in the Sierra. Passes that never really show you where you are or where you are going. Each step takes you closer to the top, but you can't tell where the top will be. Because the form of the ridge is a parabola, you can see blue sky ahead, but that doesn't mean that the climbing will stop soon. It seems that no matter how far you hike, the trail just keeps going up. The parabola very gradually eases the steepness of the climb, but just when you think you have finished the steep part, the trail stops switchbacking and turns to head straight up the side of the pass--and it is as steep as any switchback.

And you still don't get to the top. P remembers Avalanche Pass in Kings Canyon National Park from a hike he took there more than forty years ago. The trail starts at Road's End, and it climbs about 6,000 feet.

Over the last mile or so, the top of the pass seems almost within reach. And yet with every hundred feet of elevation gain, more of the pass is revealed...and it keeps going up.And at 10,000 feet, that's no joke.

It teases you with the idea that you must be getting close to the top...and then it shows you that you have more climbing to do. Like we said, he remembers it well.

Post date: Oct 4, 2013 1:08:51 PM It was mid-afternoon. We were on the last leg of our hike out of the backcountry, and only about a mile from our car. It had been a great hike, and we were now looking forward to taking off our packs, a nice drive home, hot showers, and a dinner that didn't involved freeze-dried anything. The weather was perfect for late September, sunny but not warm.

The first couple was young and sportif, wearing only shorts and t-shirts, and they moved briskly up the trail towards us.

"Hi there," I greeted them. "Where are you headed?"

"We are going to the lakes!" the young man replied, with enthusiasm and a French accent.

"Ah!" I gave this some thought. The nearest lake was at least five miles further along the trail. "You realize that they are about five miles--eight kilometers--from here?"

The young man nodded. "About forty minutes?" he asked. I considered this. "No, closer to two or three hours" I explained.

"OK. Thanks!" he continued up the trail. His girlfriend looked at me. They were not carrying even a daypack, and I didn't see any bottles.

"Do you have any water?" I asked. There was no real source of water for a few miles. We had very little in our packs.

"No, it's OK" he called back over his shoulder. I looked at the girlfriend. She looked at me.

"Maybe we stop before the lakes." she said. I nodded and watched them hurry up the trail.

A hundred yards later we met an older couple, almost as old as us. Now I was really curious, and I asked them the same question. "Where are you headed?"

"Up the traill," the husband replied as he panted uphill past me. His wife looked at me and asked me how far the lakes were.

I told her. "Well, we'll just see how far we get," she said.

They each had a daypack, and I asked them if they had water.

"Oh yeah, we have lots of water," she replied.

"Good," I thought. "You might want to share some of it with the nice young couple ahead of you."

A half-mile from the trailhead we met the last couple: two young men sitting on a couple of rocks and resting.

When then heard me coming down the trail, the first young man turned around quickly and said, "Oh, good. You're not a bear."

"Nope," I assured him, I was not a bear.

"How much further is it to the lakes?" he asked. He and his partner had a full complement of cameras, tripods and other paraphernalia.

"About five or six miles," I said.

He looked at his watch.

I looked at mine. "We left our camp there about three hours ago," I explained. "So that would be about six hours, round trip."

He nodded. He looked at his watch again.

"That means you would get back here about 7 o'clock," I explained. It would be close to dark by then.

"I guess we better get moving," his partner chimed in. He didn't get up off the rock that he occupied.

"Well, maybe you hike faster than we do," I offered.

They both nodded.

"Then again," I thought,"We didn't stop in the first half mile from the trailhead when we did this hike, and we were carrying full packs. I wonder how far each group hiked...

Post date: Oct 2, 2013 3:57:44 PM Since we only had a couple of days, we wanted to do a hike that delivered some great scenery, and lovely places to camp, in a relatively short time and space. And we were going to start hiking on Saturday morning, so we were a little worried about getting a permit.

Ten Lakes Basin answered the call. Happily, it was not only M's birthday weekend, but it was also a free entrance day to Yosemite, so we went straight to the wilderness office to see what permits were available. We gave the ranger three choices, and he told us that all three were open---despite the beginning of what we thought would be a busy weekend at the park.

Go figure.

A quick drive to the Yosemite Creek trailhead, and we were on the trail by about 10:30 in the morning. The trail follows the west side of Yosemite Creek canyon (but not really the creek) up to Half Moon Meadow, with only a few sections that are steep. But from Half Moon Meadow to the Pass is about 3/4 mile of straight up. Make sure you bring along a large scale map of Yosemite for this trip, because once on top of the pass you will have most of the northern half of the park in view. We spent a happy half and hour identifying the various peaks and canyons that we could see---many of which we have hiked over the years: Virginia and Matterhorn Canyons were easy to spot, and so were Shepherd's Crest, Mt. Conness, Sheep's Peak, Virginia Peak, get the idea. Lots of fun.

From there it is a steep but short drop down into Ten Lakes Basin ( there are really only seven lakes) and a myriad of spots to pitch your tent. Fishing can be good in the lakes, although the first lake is reported to have fewer and less hungry trout. Because this is such a popular hike, we were a bit worried that we were going to meet a lot of people here, but in fact there was only one other group in the whole basin, and they were camped at one of the lower lakes. This was late September, after all, so it go dark fairly early, and it got cold about the same time. We were in the tent and in our sleeping bags by about 8 p.m. During the night the wind picked up considerably, and we slept in a bit more than usual the next morning.

When we woke up, there were plenty of clouds in the sky, and it was decidedly cooler. We took our time getting packed up, and then hit the trail back up to the pass in a very stiff breeze. At the top of the pass, the clouds gave an even more spectacular cast to the massive view, and after snapping a few photos, we raced down the trail to get out of the cold. By the time we got back down to Half Moon Meadow, we were out of the wind, into the sun, and out of our jackets into shirtsleeves.

On the drive back out of Yosemite, we were able to stop and take a few pictures of the damage done by the Rim Fire. But you already know that, because that was yesterday's post!

Post date: Oct 1, 2013 6:34:40 PM We're back from a short backpacking trip to Yosemite (we'll post a Trip Report in the future) but we thought you might be interested in knowing just exactly what the damage from the Rim Fire looks like as you drive by some of the burn area on Highway 120 through Big Oak Flat and into Yosemite.

The good news? There are huge parts of this fire that are described as having burned---and yet still have plenty of green trees in place. The fire in these areas was obviously not so hot, and burned only the understory of the forest. In fact, the larger trees seemed to do better, probably because their lower branches had long since fallen away, and there was little to catch fire at that lower level. As long as the bark and cambium layer wasn't damaged, those trees are fine.

And Highway 120, at forty feet wide or so, was a pretty good firebreak in a lot of areas. You can see where the fire burned the understory on one side of the highway, but the fire crews were able to keep it from crossing into the forest on the other side of the road. Nice work.

Just as impressive were the areas where the fire DID jump that highway--and continued on for many acres. There are also some areas where the only thing that didn't burn is the building along the road---as the fire burned the entire forest right up to the edge of the buildings.

But there are also scenes of real devastation--whole sections of the forest that are now just burnt sticks. They are clearly trying to log some of these areas right now, so that the fire danger doesn't get even worse...and some of that lumber can be salvaged. But other areas are just burnt to a crisp. The trees are all dead, the foliage is burnt off, and the ground is black and white ashes. It's hard to imagine these areas making a quick comeback, and we've all hiked through enough burned areas to know that ten years from now, many of these black stumps will still be the tallest things in this part of the forest.

We were particularly saddened by the fire damage up the side of one of Yosemite's distinctive granite domes. Those trees, which took centuries to grow that big, will never come back in our lifetime. The fire clearly shot right up the side of the dome, and burned everything until it ran out of fuel.

And as a final note, the view from the Rim of the World is pretty desolate. Here there was as much brush as trees, and it all went up in smoke. Most of what you can see from this overlook is black soil--and only a few tiny spots where something green might still be living. And yes, there are still a few tiny spots in the middle of this devastation where there is something green still alive. And feeling very lonely.

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