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October through December 2018

Winter Camping in Spades Post date: Dec 29, 2018 3:32:11 PM Most hikers, including us, take a bit of a rest during the winter. The idea of very cold temperatures, lots of snow, and short daylight hours making winter camping, and especially winter backpacking, seem less attractive.

So we stay home and wait for spring.With that in mind, We'd like to draw your attention to 33 year old Colin Brady, who has just hiked across Antarctica without any help: no dogs, no horses, no snowmobiles, kites, or food drops. He just started on one side and walked to the other, pulling everything he needed on a sled. And Louis Rudd of the UK was only a few days behind him, doing the same thing.

They are now both finished, recovering from their ordeal and celebrating.

Admittedly, they had long daylight hours in the Southern Hemisphere. But it still makes our complaints about snow seem a bit trivial.Here's a link to the story on the BBC---scroll down for more info.

Many Parks are Open Post date: Dec 28, 2018 3:47:51 PM According to both that National Park System and news services, many of the national parks are currently open, despite the governmental shut down. These parks includes Arches, Zion and Bryce in Utah, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Yosemite in California, and possibly many others .

We don't have a definitive list.But we have also read many reports of people in these parks making a mess and a mockery of them: littering, deliberately flouting the rules, and generally being idiots.

So two things:If you go, please follow the rules and don't be one of those idiots. The parks are our national patrimony, and anything done to damage them is a crime against all of us--including you.

And if you see someone doing something illegal or stupid at one of the national parks, take a photo or a video. The fact that there is no law enforcement right now does not make illegal things suddenly legal. And with documented proof, those idiots can still be prosecuted. A ranger once suggested to us that taking a video or photo directly might be too confrontational, so she suggested taking a selfie--with the idiots in the background.

A Sad Note about the NPS Post date: Dec 16, 2018 4:29:04 PM To we've started the day with this sobering article by a previous director of the NPS. A very sad tale indeed...

Trail Crew work to Hite Cove Post date: Dec 10, 2018 5:30:21 PM This Sunday P decided he had to get up into the mountains, and took advantage of an invitation to work on the Hite Cove trail with a group of local volunteers.

For those of you who don't know, Hite Cove Trail runs along the South Fork of the Merced from Savage's Trading Post up to Hite Cove itself, where there are some relics of the gold mining era, and then continues as a rough route all the way up to Wawona.

Savage's by the way, has an interesting role in the history of Yosemite. It was originally a trading post owned by Mr. Savage, who enjoyed a relatively comfortable relationship with the local native Americans. Then things got ugly, he got killed, they got attacked and confined....well, it wasn't the best part of our local California history. But it was important.

The Hite Cove trail is most popular during the spring, when the wildflowers can be simply stunning. But this time of year, it has a very different character, particularly after the huge Ferguson Fire raced through this area. The hope is that the fire will open the door to a particularly large wildflower explosion this spring, and we'd like the trail in good condition when that happens. At the same time, the fire opened up the tree cover so that there are more views along the canyon, and the geology in particular is more apparent. As has always been the case, P really enjoyed meeting the trail volunteers and working with them. They have a deep appreciation for the whole region and lots of stories to tell about their own experiences as well as those of others who've hiked here. It was a good day, and we got a lot done on the trail.

Here's the link to the photos:

Photo credit Post date: Dec 3, 2018 4:26:31 PM We were charmed to learn that our friends at Backpacker's Basecamp have chosen to use one of our photos for their header for the next couple of weeks. This is a rotating system in which they choose a different photo every once in a while to illustrate their community message boards.

We like that community a lot: it has a nice blend of real expertise with people who are genuinely pleasant and polite to each other.

And you might note that attractive photo in the upper right of the page: Leopold Lake in the Emigrant Wilderness at sunset, during the first few days of the Portal Fire in July of 2014...which added to the dramatic lighting of the photo.

Backpacking has made us thankful... Post date: Nov 28, 2018 11:44:52 PM Yes, of course we are grateful for so many things, including living in a wonderful place and getting out into the mountains pretty much whenever we want, now that we are full retired. And if you've read this blog at all, you know that we do get out as often as we can, whether that be on backpacking trips, day hikes, or even our van adventures in the Southwest last spring.

But the other day P was in a small local restaurant and went to wash his hands before eating. And guess what? They had hot running water, soap and towels in that restroom. It reminded him of the many times in the mountains when soap and warm water was a true luxury. And yet here it was, for the asking. And he remembered the number of times that finding warm water and soap after a week on the trail was heaven on Earth.

There are lots of people who live in different parts of the world where something we take for granted is rare or even unknown. And backpacking has made us more aware of some of those things, like soap and warm water. We wish everyone had access to them. And we are grateful that we have them, even in a small time local restaurant.

Dragging the JMT Post date: Nov 28, 2018 11:38:39 PM We saw this story from Outside magazine, and immediately liked it. Here is someone who is bringing a sense of humor and a very personal perspective to the backcountry, and all with a simple goal--to get more people out into the wilderness.

That's a goal that we endorse wholeheartedly.

Check out the six inch heels on top of the mountain. Now that's high-altitude!

A Day for Thanks Post date: Nov 22, 2018 5:16:03 PM We would like to thank everyone who reads this blog---and especially those who write to us. We love hearing from you and seeing your photos. Most of all, we would like to thank those who write to us to add information to something we've written, or correct something that we have wrong. A great example of this is our correspondent Walter, who often does both. Here is what Walter wrote to us about our recent post on the old road we followed up at Sonora Pass: "I enjoyed your piece about the old Sonora Pass road. It’s pretty cool that you can still find it after all this time. The road was not used by “early immigrants,” as you suggest but was mainly a commercial route for men and materiel between California and the mines in Nevada. It was opened in 1864. There was an earlier route to California that actually was used by early immigrants in the early 1850’s.

It went over “Sonora Pass” but had nothing to do with the road that you were exploring. It was a different pass entirely. The route went up through Leavitt Meadows past Fremont Lake and turned west just a bit short of Cinko Lake to go over the pass. It then wound its way through the Emigrant Wilderness down to the town of Sonora. There is no trail there today, and you will not find the “pass” on any modern map.

The historical plaque at the current Sonora Pass is misleading. "If you are wondering how the pioneers got their wagons over such rough country the answer is that they often didn’t. It was an absolutely terrible trail, far more difficult than the Carson Pass trail to the north, which had a lot more traffic. In the few years that it was in use it became littered with the carcasses of dead stock, abandoned goods and entire wagons.

It was promoted by the good citizens of Sonora who were concerned that the more northern route was directing settlers away from their town. They wanted respectable settlers rather than the riffraff that was attracted to the mines. They told folks that the Sonora Pass route was best way to cross the mountains, which was emphatically not the case; but hundreds believed them, much to their sorrow. Marketing!

"The better road that was completed in 1864 was originally supposed to go up the Clark Fork and then on up to St. Mary Pass. As the work progressed, however, the surveyors found a route they liked better — the current one that follows Deadman Creek, and the rest is history."

We've hiked up Leavitt Meadows and past Fremont Lake to Cinko Lake years ago--wonderful area. And Walter is right: we didn't notice any abandoned pioneer route there.

So thank you all for helping us along our journey--and especially Walter, who makes an effort to keep us on the right trail.Hope you have a wonderful day today, and that you manage to get out into the mountains soon.

Guardian Story about our National Parks Post date: Nov 20, 2018 3:40:21 PM We've come to appreciate the perspective that the Guardian gives on many stories, and this one really hit home. It's an excellent discussion of the issues we face moving forward with our national parks.

We have always been of the opinion that encouraging people to visit the mountains is a good idea, because the more people appreciate our wilderness, the more they will vote for protection of our wild places. But this article suggests that we may be well beyond the carrying capacity of some of our parks, and more people isn't going to help that at all.

On the other hand, we never post geo-locations for any of our photos, and we don't usually recommend specific campsites for two reasons. One of them is that we think you should find your own scenic treasures. The other one is that you may prefer something different from what we like, and you should feel free to explore a bit. At any rate, the story is sobering.

And yes, we contribute to pay for the Guardian's work.

Rails to Trails on the Stanislaus Post date: Nov 13, 2018 2:40:52 PM After heading up to Sonora Pass, we decided we'd hike where the weather would be a bit warmer the next day. And since we had fun following the old pioneer trail yesterday, today we took the West Side Trail from River's End on the Cherry Lake Road back towards the town of Tuolumne.

This trail begins with a steep but short climb from the road up to the old railroad bed, and from there on it is almost dead flat. There were a couple of gullies that required us to climb up and down a total of maybe fifty feet because the trestles were no longer safe, but other than that, this was a cakewalk. But that didn't mean it wasn't lots of fun.

We rolled along at a good pace, and covered about seven miles in our afternoon walk. We found a nice spot for a picnic, read a few educational signs, and really enjoyed the fall colors and the cool autumn air.

This trail in the spring can be quite hot---but it also has loads of wildflowers. In the fall it was a completely different experience. And we saw a total of one person, a lonely mountain biker, during our three-and-a-half hours on the trail. Pretty nice. And the rest of the photos are here:

An Honor! Post date: Nov 6, 2018 4:04:28 PM Just back from the annual conference of the American Wine Society, where P was given the annual Award of Merit--their highest honor--for his work in the world of wine. What fun!

And the list of previous award winners is quite impressive: Robert Mondavi, Vern Singleton, Gina Gallo, Ann Noble, Andre Tchellistcheff, Warren Winiarski...a who's who of the leaders of the wine industry.

P is blushing...

Turning Back Post date: Oct 30, 2018 1:42:34 PM There are all kinds of wonderful quotes about adventure, epic voyages, and the need to keep pushing forward despite the conditions and the odds. We haven't found quite so many quotes that urge common sense and caution in the face of danger. And yet each year we read about people who lose their lives in the backcountry primarily because they just wouldn't admit that it was time to turn around.

(Note that despite these fatal accidents, it's still much safer to be hiking than driving in your car to the trailhead--or the local supermarket.) And this got us thinking. We have made the decision to turn around because we didn't like the option of pushing forward on a number of occasions. Twice, that involved the potential crossing of a roaring creek; Mono Creek towards Second Recess in early July, and Frog Creek Towards Laurel Lake in late May in Yosemite. In both cases there was a log that provided at least a hope of getting across. But it was a long crossing, the log was high across the creek, and to fall into the creek below would have been disastrous---it was at full flood.

And so we turned around, and selected another route, and another destination. We did the same thing as we worked our way cross-country above Yellowhammer Lake in the Emigrant Wilderness. The cliffs got steeper, the manzanita got denser, and we decided that there had to be another way. There was. And we found it the next morning.

And just six weeks ago we did the same thing in the face of strong winds below Bishop Pass. With the winds blowing a steady 30 mph and with gusts to 50 mph where we were, a full 1500 feet below the pass, we decided that we didn't want to make the effort. Those we met on the trail who had come over the pass looked shell-shocked, to say the least. And so we turned around, and chose another ending to our trip.In each case, we were really happy with the decision. We love hiking, and seeing new things,

And we are really that we are still here, still able to hike, and enjoying the benefits of turning around when it was the right thing to do.

Women's Gear Post date: Oct 17, 2018 12:36:21 AM Backpacking gear has come a long way over the years, but it still falls way short of what we should expect. And this article by Kate Worteck for Elle really caught our attention. It's well written, funny, and spot on. Here's how it starts:

Last fall, a friend and I were packing up for a weekend of backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness. She's a badass professional guide and I work in the outdoor industry, so naturally we started comparing gear—which led to a list of all of the gear we'd passed on buying because it was only available in "girl colors." At times, we've both resorted to shopping in the boys' section of REI (size-wise, it turns out that I'm either a slim woman or a very strapping 12-year-old boy).

And here's a link to the rest of the story:

More good news: Yosemite Bear Report Post date: Oct 8, 2018 3:02:06 PM 2018 Total Bear Incidents: 152018 Total Property Damage: $1,085Compared to this same week 2017 (the lowest year on record), bear incidents in 2018 are down by 55% and damage amounts (in dollars) are down by 78%.

Compared to 1998 (when incidents in the park peaked), bear incidents and damages in 2018 are down by 99%.

Bear Activity Summary: Bears are busy across all elevations of the park devouring whatever food they come across, including late fruit, acorns, and even fish trapped in shrinking pools.

Help protect bears by storing your food and scented items (toiletries, drinks, etc.) in a hard-sided building or in a latched food locker. Keeping food within arm’s reach day and night (when not stored properly) also keeps your food from curious bears. One incident occurred recently at North Pines Campground after visitors accidentally left out drinks in a cooler overnight. The bear knocked the cooler over and bit or clawed open the drinks inside.

Red Bear, Dead Bear: So far this year, 13 bears have been hit by vehicles along park roads. Please help protect wildlife by obeying speed limits and being prepared to stop for animals on roads.

Fascinating Bear Fact: During the fall, bears are consuming around 20,000 calories a day. An individual acorn has 70-100 calories, which means a bear must eat 200-300 acorns each day to meet its food requirements.

One Last Trail Crew Post date: Oct 2, 2018 3:25:37 PM P managed to fit in one last adventure with Chip Morrill in the Mokelumne Wilderness last weekend, this time hiking down the Mokelumne River from Hermit Valley to Deer Creek and beyond. This is a really beautiful area with deep pools in the river, wonderful views, and great campsites. But this is also very isolated country. In fact, the sign at the trailhead pretty much discourages anyone from hiking down more than a few miles. On the other hand, the scenery in amazing, and we had a great time trying to make it more accessible to more people.

We hiked in on Friday morning, a crew of four volunteer and Chip. We did a bit of lopping and trail work on the way in, and set up camp at the confluence of Deer Creek with the Mokelumne. The trail to this point was not bad...and M and P had hiked it years ago, and we managed to follow it to the cascade at the bottom of Deer Creek.

But then came the crossing of Deer Creek. This creek is fed by the outlet from Meadow Creek Reservoir, so it runs all year with a good flow. Our crew spent at least an hour and half just looking for the best possible place to cross: the perfect solution would include a nearby dead tree to drop across the creek to form a bridge. After a lot of bushwhacking and consulting, Chip made the call, and we got to work with the saw. Before you knew it, we had a bridge that would withstand high water and was pretty darn stable. We use it for the rest of the weekend as we worked lower down on the river. The next day we hiked the trail, lopping bushes where they impeded progress, cutting through logs where they blocked the trail, marking the trail with logs and branches where we could find them, digging out duff through the forest floor, and putting up cairns where the trail went over solid rock. Hard work, but we got a lot done.

Day three began with Chip suggesting that we might want to take a quick one-hour hike up Deer Creek to see the cascades. I think we were all perfectly happy to get to work, but also really appreciated Chip's desire to make sure that we really enjoyed the trip. We happily followed him on a bushwhack up the creek...which turned out to be a two and a half hour adventure up granite, through manzanita, under trees, and over logs. What fun! And the views we attained were really amazing. Once back in camp, we loaded up our tools and headed down the Mokelumne. Another tree sawn through, more work with McCleod and loppers, and we stopped for lunch on the gravel beach of a lovely deep pool. From there the trail became a bit confused, and we finally determine the best route through the last bit of forest...and then it opened up into the granite of the canyon itself.

We followed cairns and did some minor work for another stretch of the trail, until it dipped down around a small granite dome. We were done for the day, so hiked up to the top of the dome and took in the view--well worth three days of trail work!The next day we packed up our camp, packed up the tools, and hiked back up to the trailhead, stopping to fix one section of the trail that had really been mixed up, and lopping whenever we got the chance. By 11 we were back at the cars, and driving off on our separate routes back to civilization. We had seen only a handful of other people over four days.

How much fun was this trip? Jan and Vicky, excited about the work, decided they would come back in the near future to finish off the lopping and trail clearance nearer the trailhead. A great way to spend a few extra days in the wilderness, with good people and glorious weather. The photo album is here:

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