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October through December 2019

Prepping for 2020 Post date: Dec 29, 2019 4:18:06 PM Yes, we know it's still 2019, but that hasn't stopped us from getting ready for next year.

We've already got our CDF campfire permit, available on-line after you watch a video and take a short quiz. You need one of these permits anytime you are going to have a fire outside your house--including a camp stove on a backpacking trip.

And a fishing license is now on its way as well, direct from the California Wildlife website. (Be a little careful here, as there is an ad for CA fishing licenses at the top of most Google searches. That's a private company that charges a few dollars more...)

And yes, we're also working on campground and backpacking reservations for a couple of our trips this summer. So not only are we prepared--we're really getting excited about our hiking plans for 2020!

More Winter News Post date: Dec 20, 2019 6:15:34 AM It is a good time to hike some of those roads...SONORA, Calif. — Seasonal road and trail closures on the Stanislaus National Forest begin Dec. 16 and will remain in effect until April 14, 2020.

The free STF Motor Vehicle Use Map, or MVUM, indicates which roads and trails will be closed and may be picked up at any ranger district office, or by visiting STF’s maps webpage at Please note if the MVUM identifies a road as closed, regardless whether a gate is closed and locked, it is closed for the season. Additionally, roads identified in the MVUM as being open may be hazardous due to local weather conditions, such as snow or fallen trees. Drivers and hikers are urged to be prepared for hazards caused by hazard trees.In addition to road closures, many motorized trails at elevations of 3,000 feet and higher closed Dec. 16 for the season as well. Roads and motorized trails in below 3,000 feet are open all year.

On the Calaveras Ranger District, only the White Pines Lake/Sierra Logging Museum Trailhead (with access to the Arnold Rim Trail), Upper Valley View Trailhead and the San Domingo Trail are open for winter hiking. All other trails are closed for the season.Be advised that forest roads are not maintained for winter or wet weather use. Use caution and drive defensively when traveling on open roads in the forest through the winter. Rocks, snow and ice may be encountered in the roadway. Wet, saturated roadbeds are easily damaged, which can require costly repairs to roads and adjacent resources. Snow, ice, rocks, and debris may be in travel way. Please contact your local ranger district office for current information on road conditions before traveling on the forest.

Report on Chile Post date: Dec 9, 2019 4:34:44 PM P is back from a short trip to Chile, where he spoke at the United Nations Wine Tourism Conference in Colchagua. Here is his report. Between a long delay for mechanical issues in Houston, and a massive traffic jam between Santiago and Colchagua, it took me almost 36 hours to get from Napa to the conference. But once there, it was a whole different story: people from all over the world got together to talk about wine, tourism and just about everything else.

I was also interested in hiking in Chile, and who better to ask than a bunch of people who were experts in tourism? Remember that Chile is something like 3500 miles long, and runs from near the Equator to near the South conditions are best described as wildly varied. Rainfall generally increases as you head East, towards the Andes, and South, towards Cape Horn. And you are always within 100 miles of the Andes, even on the coast. In the North you have the driest desert in the world, the Atacama. Trekking here is challenging, but the area is famous for its stark beauty--not unlike our own Southwest. And it has the beginnings of a serious tourism industry, including wineries! But I was near the capital, Santiago, at latitude 33 or so.

Here the mountains are the highest in the Andes--Aconcagua is not far from the primary highway that runs from Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina, over a 10,000 foot pass. The Andes here are amazingly high, amazingly steep...and amazingly dry The landscape reminded me of an upside down Grand Canyon---steep as hell, but instead of going 5,000 down, it goes more than 20,000 feet up. There is something impressive about being at 10,000 and looking up at peaks that are another 10,000 feet above you. And the vegetation was cactus and drought resistant plants--no forests here.

There is skiing here, being so close to Santiago, a city of six million people, but the ski season only lasts a few weeks. Last year, it was only six weeks long.

Further south, near Colchagua, I was told about a nice 4-5 day hiking route that follows the path of the Uruguayan rugby team that survived a plane crash in the Andes and then finally worked their way out towards Chile. Those of a certain age will remember the story... . That may sound rather morbid, but the hiking was highly recommended to me.

And then further south, you have Valdivia and is many lakes and volcanoes Puerto Mont and its access to the ice fields of Patagonia, and finally Torres del Payne, which are not only legendary, they are now "epic" among a younger generation, and quite crowded with hikers. As far as food and culture, we had lovely roast lamb, fabulous cherries, astonishing avocados, and great wine. What's not to like there? We also saw a cultural show that included everything from Polynesian dances from Easter Island to elegant horsemanship and Mapu native culture. it's quite a spectrum.

By the way, I did not see a single protester in Chile--but Colchagua is 90 miles from Santiago, where the demonstrations have been massive. And the perspective I got from Chileans was determined by their political position. Those on the right decried the violence of the protesters, while admitting that the government and the economy had failed the lower classes in Chile. Those on the left were more concerned about the violence by the police and military, and explained that hundreds of thousands of protesters were being accused of violence, while only a tiny minority were actually involved. And everyone agreed that the media has not done a very effective job of communicating the story. Hope the photos add a bit to the narrative:

Beware of Through-hikers! Post date: Dec 1, 2019 1:40:40 AM We've been pretty impressed with the numbers of through-hikers who have posted their blogs and shared their experiences on various backpacking message boards and forums. Perhaps it's all because of Cheryl Strayed, but there are a lot of people hiking major trails these days.

That's good. We're all in favor of anything that gets people out into the mountains and encourages them to protect our wilderness areas.But as we read their stories, it becomes quite clear that most of those through-hikers have a very different goal than we do when we go backpacking. And that affects just about every kind of advice they give. We think their advice is great--for people who want to hike 20+ miles a day for weeks at a time. In that case, we fully understand why you would want to pack as little as possible, make do with minimal gear, and even go without cooking food to save the weight of your stove and gas. We simply hike with different goals in mind, and our gear shows it. In fact, we take more gear on a single overnight trip than we might take for a week long trip. Because we can. Because for a single overnight, weight isn't a concern, and maybe a bottle of wine is worth carrying its weight.

Or on a base camp trip, where we hike for one day, then spend a few days exploring that area, then hiking back out again, we'll take a book or two to read. Why not? We only have to carry it for two of the days we're backpacking. We do like reading the trail logs of through-hikers. But when it comes to packing our gear, we also make our own decisions. We'll never hike 2500 miles in a summer, 250 miles is closer to what we do, and so we tend to pack just a bit more for comfort, and less for speed.

A Visitor to our Home Post date: Nov 29, 2019 4:56:29 PM This morning we were having breakfast when M noticed something odd in our fishpond--a great disturbance. Water was splashing everywhere. When we went out to investigate we found a river otter was dining on our goldfish sushi...

We chased him away...and he was back in five minutes. Apparently the sushi was delicious. Then we chased him away with more determination, and we think he headed back to the creek behind our house. He'll probably return for thirds at some point...sigh.

Thank You Post date: Nov 28, 2019 12:41:12 AM Yep--it's the time of year when we all give thanks. And we've got a short list of those to whom we are particularly grateful:To the hardworking rangers of our national forests and national parks, who struggle on despite miserable budgets and a clear lack of support from our government in DC. Without you, we would be so much poorer in so many ways. And this includes the other staff at our national parks, and our state parks, too!

To our forefathers who had the vision to try to protect those magical places around our country. We need to do more--we need more places protected--but let's not forget the people who had the idea in the beginning, and made it a reality. To the many people we've met out on the trail, enjoying the wilderness and sharing their appreciation with their friends and family. Please keep hiking, camping and getting out in the woods. In is the single best way we can demonstrate how important our parks are. And finally, to those who read this blog and send us notes, comments, and suggestions. We read them all, and deeply appreciate your feedback and input.

And here's hoping that all of the above can continue for many years into the future. Well, except that part about the miserable budgets, That, we need to fix!

Winter Prep Post date: Nov 26, 2019 4:12:17 PM With Yosemite National Park announcing that the Glacier Point Road is now closed due a winter storm...and unlikely to open again until spring...This is a great time to go through all of your equipment and make sure it's ready for your adventures next spring and summer.

And it's a good idea to do this now, while some of the issues are still top of mind. You know--that little tear in the bug netting of your tent that you've been meaning to stitch up. If you leave it until spring, you will probably forget, and remember just when those mosquitoes start creeping through the hole on your first trip next year....So here's what we'll do in the next couple of weeks:

> Give our tent a nice rub down with a damp cloth, inside and out. And when it is nicely dry, we'll pack it up carefully in its stowage bag.

> Replace the batteries in our headlamps. These wear down over the season, and we found ourselves squinting a bit...fresh batteries!

> Sew on the missing button on my favorite hiking shirt...and give all of our clothes a quick inspection for loose stitching etc.

> Wash our puffy down jackets, that now smell a lot like hikers. And maybe the sleeping bags, too.

> Take an inventory of our stove gas cannisters and figure out which ones are full, which ones are only good for short trips.

> Give the water filter one more clean and rinse. And do the same with our water bottles.

> We like to give our hiking clothes a shot of permethrin...but that only lasts 42 days or so. So we'll collect all those clothes in one place, ready for the spring shower of bug repellent.

> And speaking of bug repellent, make sure we have enough--and sunscreen too--to get started in the spring.

> Make an inventory of our hiking food. Maybe it's time to work through some of those old ramen packages!

> think about the trips we're planning for next year. Do we need maps or guide books for any of those?

Hmmm...that's a good idea for a holiday gift wish list...

What Wine Should you Choose? Post date: Nov 22, 2019 5:40:24 PM OK. This is blatant. P's Great Courses lectures on wine have been released just in time for the holidays. Drink up!

The one you like the best!

Passes closed Post date: Nov 22, 2019 3:49:00 PM It's getting to be that time of year.

When we drove up to our cabin on Wednesday, both Tioga and Sonora Passes were closed because of snow. Tioga Road was closed at Crane Flat, and Sonora Pass was closed at Kennedy Meadows. That still leaves some trails and roads to enjoy, but winter is definitely on its way. And storms are projected for next week. Which is a good thing. We REALLY need some rain and snow right now.

Going to Chile Post date: Nov 19, 2019 5:29:40 PM P is invited to speak at the World Wine Tourism Conference in Colchagua, Chile next month. It should be quite an amazing event...and Chile is always interesting!

@UNWTO #UNWTO @subturismo @sernatur @Sernatur_VI @IntendenciaLBO @CORE_OHiggins @ChileEnoturismo @vinascolchagua

A Lovely Day for Hike Post date: Nov 18, 2019 10:56:11 PM As we enjoyed the glorious fall weather this past weekend, we decided to head for the hills and take a hike. This time, our plan was to leave the giant metropolis of Strawberry (near Pinecrest Lake) on Highway 108 and follow a trail up to Catfish Lake.

You know that with a name like Catfish Lake, this isn't going to be a deep blue jewel filled with rainbows, don't you?

But the trail was a delight. We crossed Herring Creek, choosing to use a few large boulders in the creek rather than the more elaborate fallen tree with rope handrail that someone had created. And from there, we hiked up the hill, past massive granite boulders, to reach the lake in less than an hour. It was lovely. And we were pleased to find an Oomacha, a Native American structure, by a nearby pond. Sadly, someone had left some canned food there, making a bit of a mess inside.

But still, it gave us a nice sense of having reached the destination. And the return trip followed a loop back to the shores of Pinecrest Lake, where we met scores of hikers. On the trail from Strawberry we hadn't seen a soul. And we didn't meet anyone on the last leg, back along the Stanislaus River to Strawberry.

Lovely day, lovely hike, and a great way to welcome fall weather to the Sierra. The rest of the photos are here:

It's a beautiful time to explore the Sierra Post date: Nov 12, 2019 11:30:01 PM These fall days are ideal for day hikes in the Sierra. While the weather might be a bit cool for a high-country backpacking trip (we're seeing temperatures down into teens and lower--ice on the lakes!) and the daylight hours are getting shorter (meaning those temperatures last longer and longer) it's still great for hiking. Some of our favorite day hikes have been in October and November, while the rains have held off and the landscape has slowly morphed into its more somber shades of gray, brown, and orange. You can't park overnight on Tioga Road anymore, but you can certainly park there and hike out of Tuolumne Meadows during the day. The same is true of Sonora Pass, Ebbetts Pass, and the roads around Tahoe. And when you are done hiking, you get to climb into your car, drive to a nice dinner, a warm shower, and a soft bed.

Pretty nice hiking, all in all.

Another note from our correspondent Walter Post date: Oct 29, 2019 9:48:49 PM Over the years we've heard from Walter a few times--always thoughtful comments, and well written.

We thought we'd share this one with you:I’m a fan of point-to-point hikes, and my wife and I have done a few. It’s simple. You take two cars, park one at your destination, and drive the other to your starting point. A shuttle. But what do you do when your wife “retires” from backpacking?

I decided to try something different this year, which I call the “naked” or “hopeful” point-to-point hike. You park at the trailhead, you take off, and you just hope you can get back to your car somehow.

This year I decided to hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail northbound from Sonora Pass to Echo Summit (Tahoe). It’s about 70 miles, which I thought I could do in about five days. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of being on the PCT because I expected to encounter a lot of southbound through-hikers — it being mid-September — and I would rather be alone; but at least the trail would be easy to follow (or so I thought), which would be nice for me because I tend to get lost on less-travelled routes.

My plan was to spend one night acclimating in Bridgeport, eat a bacon cheeseburger at Rhino’s, and drive up to Sonora Pass in the morning. At the end of the hike I would try to hitch back to my car. I had no Plan B. Also, I had never hitched before in my entire life.

The hike went well enough, for the first two days through the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. The hike up to the Sonora Gap (10,500 feet) is spectacular as is the hike down into the East Carson River canyon. By the second night I had reached Noble Lake, a few miles short of Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4.

My troubles started the following morning as I hiked down the rocky switchbacks into Noble Canyon. At some point I apparently blew right past a junction and headed off on the wrong trail. I have to say that it was a remarkably easy trail, the kind you can hammer down at full speed, so it had that going for it; but I eventually realized that it was going on far longer than it should have — about four miles. I came out on Highway 4, but several miles down from Ebbetts Pass where the PCT crosses; so I was going to have to hitchhike much sooner than I had reckoned.

I am 72 years old and only marginally presentable in the best of circumstances. I didn’t know what sort of effect that might have on a potential ride. I was hoping for pathos but thinking that fear and loathing were equally likely. I hoisted my thumb and hoped for the best. No luck.

After half an hour of rejection I decided I would just have to hike up to the pass; but I hadn’t gone more than a few hundred yards when I encountered Amy, who had apparently pulled over to enjoy the view. She basically asked me what the hell I was doing walking up this lonely road, so I told her my sad story. Without hesitating, she turned her car around and drove me up to the pass. This may be the first time in history that a hitchhiker has caught a ride from someone going in the opposite direction, Kindness knows no reason.

Amy was on her way to visit her sister in Yerington, but she was also in the mood for adventure, apparently, which is why she was taking Highway 4 in the first place. I guess I was just part of her adventure. Anyway, thanks, Amy!

I was back on the PCT and on my way again although having lost a couple of hours.The rest of the hike went fine. I enjoyed the Mokelumne Wilderness and it’s strange volcanic landscapes, especially the trail down from Raymond Pass. On my fourth night I made camp at a wonderful spot called Lost Lakes, which I had all to myself, and the next day I made it down through Carson Pass and onward through the El Dorado Forest to within three miles of Echo Summit. I lay awake that night wondering how in the hell I was ever going to get back to Sonora Pass. The weather had been cold, windy and clear to this point, but the forecast for the next day was for high, gusty winds and rain, with snow above 8,000 feet.

In the morning I hiked the remaining three miles to Highway 50 — steep and rocky — and at ten o’clock I hoisted my thumb once again. Now there is no simple way to get from Echo Summit to Sonora Pass. You need to take Highway 50 to the 89 junction, 89 to the 88 junction (the Carson Pass highway), 88 to 395, which goes down the eastern side of the Sierras, 395 south to 108, and finally 108 up to Sonora Pass. But a journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step.

To my great surprise a car pulled over after about 20 minutes, and a nice couple gave me a ride of about three miles down to the junction with 89. Turns out they had seen me on the trail earlier that morning as they were taking a short run. It also turns out that the woman graduated from the same college as me and recognized the school logo on my knit cap. Alumni benefits. Then there I was at the 50/89 junction, so what next? Another 20 minutes passed as did dozens of vehicles. It occurred to me that it might help if I made eye contact with each passing driver. This made hitching a little more personal, but not in a good way. I felt myself getting angry. I mean, this guy has room in his car, he’s going my way, and I need a ride; but he zooms right by. WHAT KIND OF PERSON DOES THAT?

Eventually I heard someone shouting from down the road. A guy in a carpet cleaning van had pulled over and was waving to me. Incredible. He told me he drives a lot for his business and likes to pick up backpackers. He was on his way to Kirkwood. We talked about his cleaning business, rich people who live in Kirkwood, and so forth. Nice guy! He dropped me at the junction of 89 and 88, which is basically in the middle of nowhere.

Another fifteen or twenty minutes passed. Dozens of heartless, selfish people drove past. Finally a guy pulled over in a nondescript little car. He said he was a wedding photographer on his way to a job at Mammoth, which meant that he would be turning south on 395, which meant that he could drop me off at the 108 junction.

Perfect! I couldn’t believe my luck. It turned out that he was himself a serious backpacker and that his upcoming gig would require an overnight backpacking trip to a remote lake. We had a grand time talking about his hiking experiences, his photography business, his family, etc. I began to think that this hitchhiking stuff was a lot of fun. Meanwhile, the wind was picking up big time. Tumbleweeds were flying across the road.

He dropped me at the desolate junction of 395 and 108. Highway 108 did not seem promising. There was no traffic whatsoever for quite some time. I decided that I would just have to hike up to the pass. It was still only one o’clock, and I thought I was only about 12 miles away. (In fact it was almost 15.) I could hike that in four hours, I thought, and be there well before dark. It’s just a road. If the weather turned, which it hadn’t yet, I could hunker down for the night at the Leavitt Meadows campground, which was about halfway. I’ve camped in dreadful weather before.

But I didn’t get more than half a mile down the road before a woman in a big shiny SUV pulled over and offered to drive me up to the pass. She was a very large woman but said she had been a backpacker herself in her younger days. She had been raised nearby but had been out of the country for the past six years. She was absolutely delighted to be back in the mountains that she loved. As we drove the sky grew dark. By the time we reached Sonora Pass the wind was howling, and it was snowing furiously. She dropped me in the trailhead parking lot and went off to take some photographs.

I stashed my gear in my little car as quickly as I could and rearranged things so that I could offer a ride to the three forlorn-looking through-hikers I had seen by the side of the road as we drove in; but by the time I got back to the road they were already gone. I assume that my benefactor had taken them down to Kennedy Meadows Lodge and safe shelter. By three o’clock I was in Sonora enjoying a cheeseburger. So, I had hitched four rides in one day. According to Googlemaps I had gone 95 miles, a two-hour trip, in just three and a half hours, and I had beaten the storm. It was pretty exciting, to be honest.

At my age some guys don’t get out much, you know. I am very grateful for the kindness of so many strangers and the fellowship of people who love the outdoors and help backpackers when they can. I had heard about “trail angels” who provide random support and assistance to through-hikers, but this was something even more spontaneous and random. Kind of a miracle.

Good to know the old thumb still works!

Packing Light Post date: Oct 29, 2019 9:30:55 PM For our trip to Africa, we tried to find a few books to read. There were a couple that were really good, including "A Primate's Memoir" by Robert Sapolsky, and "Affluence without Abundance" by James Suzman. Both excellent.

But we also read that classic African adventure novel of the late 1800's, "King Solomon's Mines" by Rider Haggard. It was not excellent, but it did capture some of the colonial perceptions of the British Empire back then.

It wasn't a pretty picture. But in the middle of the book, the heroes undertake a long cross-country hike that made us think of backpacking. Except they had a slightly different take on ultralight. In the book, five men start out on the journey cross the desert, each one carrying a load of forty pounds.

Here's the packing list for the group--described as traveling light!

3 express rifles and 200 rounds of ammunition.

2 Winchester rifles and 200 rounds

3 colt revolvers and 60 rounds

5 one gallon water bottles

5 blankets

25 pounds of Biltong (like jerky)

10 pounds mixed beads for trade

a selection of medicines and surgical instruments

Knives, compass, matches, pocket filter, tobacco, a trowel and a bottle of brandy

Times have changed...

Africa! Post date: Oct 14, 2019 1:08:31 AM No. we didn't do much hiking there. But thanks to P's long history in the wine business we got invited on a spectacular trip to visit Southern Africa, from Capetown to Kruger Park, with stops in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe as well. it was a truly memorable experience.

We began in Capetown, where we visited the infamous Robben Island prison and were given a tour by an ex-political prisoner of the apartheid regime. It was very moving to hear him describe the enormous courage and fortitude of the prisoners, who effectively overthrew the government from inside the prison--a true triumph of the human spirit. Our welcome to South Africa, in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront was amazing, with singing and dancing... From there we visited the Cape of Good Hope, where Vasco de Gama found his way around Africa towards the eastern spice trade. Beautiful scenery. and some remarkable wildlife, including penguins, elands, baboons, ostriches, and more. And we polished off the day in the wine region of Constantia--legendary wines that even Napoleon revered. The next day we visited the wine region of Stellenbosch, where we tasted great wines and ate wonderful food. It is something else to see a vineyard with impala grazing in a field nearby...After Capetown we flew to Botswana and then took small boats to Namibia for a cruise on the Chobe River. Astonishing wildlife were, and we loved the huge herds of Cape buffalo and elephants, And yes, we did get quite close to them! During our time on the Chobe, we also did a land safari along the river in Botswana, where we got very close to some lions...Since we were only about 75 miles away, a visit to Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe was in order. Even though this was the dry season, and the falls were only about 10% of peak flow, they were still thoroughly impressive. And from there we flew back to Johannesburg to tour the Nelson Mandela House in Soweto and the Apartheid Museum--both remarkable. I wish our politicians thought this way... And finally, we spent four days in Kruger, doing more wildlife safaris, morning and afternoon. Each one seemed to raise the bar in terms of the wildlife we saw, including a long list of antelopes (Impala, eland, kudu, duiker, bushbok, springbok, puku, waterbuck, wildebeests, roan antelope, sable, letchwe, steenbok...I am sure I am leaving some out here) plus hippos, hyenas, wild dogs (quite rare and endangered) leopards, warthogs, baboons, vervet monkeys, water monitors, giraffe, was an absolute smorgasbord of nature. And that doesn't even begin to touch the huge variety of birds, from eagles, vultures and storks, to endless brightly colored bee-eaters, oxpeckers, rollers, weavers, kingfishers, hornbills, was almost overwhelming. Every day we were treated to a sunset worthy of are all the photos: go!

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