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October through December of 2011

Post date: Dec 30, 2011 6:19:01 PM We just got word that we are now in the top TEN outdoor blogs on the internet. That's wonderful news.

Here's the official wording: "Each year, Justbackpacksonline spends weeks reading and ranking hiking, backpacking, and camping blogs to determine who has the best content, advice, and ideas in the Bloggosphere.... we believe that you have proven yourself to be one of those."

Well yes, that's very nice. And we'll save you the long speech about how we never really dreamed we would get this award...because you know that the reason we do this is because we love backpacking, and we couldn't stop if we tried.And just to be fair, here's the list of all ten winning sites!

We think it's probably worth checking them ALL out!

Post date: Dec 18, 2011 2:37:25 PM

You know the problem. You are hiking along the trail, happy in your pace, and bit by bit you mind starts to wander...and the next thing you know, you are humming a little tune. In most cases, it's not a tune you would normally choose, and there are people who go to great measures to get rid of these so-called earworms.

As a musician, I have a different approach. I embrace the idea, but I get to pick the tune. If I find myself humming along, I often select the appropriate music for the trail. Sometimes I choose a piece of music that I am practicing, because that really helps me explore the different ways to play certain passages. I take control of the earworm.

Other time times, I simply pick a great piece of music that seems to catch my mood and the terrain, and hum along happily.So in the holiday spirit, I'd like to share favorite earworm from Handel's wonderful Messiah.

And as you are struggling up a steep trail, or down in into deep canyon in the wilderness, this is just the music you need to keep going.

The lyrics?"Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain."


Post date: Dec 8, 2011 1:38:50 PM

P travels about 125,000 miles a year on airlines. And over the years he's fine-tuned his luggage based on ultra-light backpacking philosophy. It's a system that has served him very well for many years now.

Here are his rules for lightweight airline travel.

1. Never check luggage--always carry on. Admittedly, P gets priority boarding, so there is always space for his bag. But even when he is flying on smaller planes with no overhead storage, it still works out better than checking your bags.

2. Now that we know the bag is going to be smaller, he packs with an eye to lightweight and reusable items. He onlys take a few shirts---all of them wrinkle free so that he can wash and wear them on the road. He uses his backpacking undies as well, and socks that will dry quickly. Those get washed in the evening and are dry the next morning. Pjs are the same ones he uses on the trail.

3. One nice sports coat and a couple of pairs of slacks for meetings. And he'll take a sweater, scarf, and umbrella in the winter. When it is really cold, he puts it all one, including the Pj shirt underneath. Just like backpacking.

4. Slip on shoes and no belt, so that security checkpoints go quickly

5. A small toiletries bag, charger for the Blackberry, and that's about it.

6. P wears a very comfortable cotton dress shirt and indestructible slacks, with the sports coat on the plane. That's saves weight in the bag and keeps the coat from getting wrinkles.

If he needs a laptop it goes on top of everything. That outfit will get him through a week of travel to Europe, and weighs about 22 pounds--including the suitcase and all its contents.

Then again, he always says that if he has his passport and credit card, that's about all he needs to get by!

Post date: Dec 6, 2011 4:31:25 PM

On our hike up to the top of Stag’s Leap last week, we had a bit of a misadventure. The problem was, we didn’t know how much of a misadventure until more recently.

We followed the use trail, and it climbed straight up to the top of the ridge, then clambered over every single rock and hummock on the top of the ridge. That made for great view of the scenery, but we got a little tired of the constant up and down. So on the return trip I suggested that we parallel the trail below the top of the ridge. Now the West side of the ridge is sheer cliffs in many places, so we stayed on the East side.

And the plan worked perfectly for quite a while. And then we came to a hillside covered with brush that lay between us and the final descent into the valley. We poked away at game trails for a while, but like most game trails, they didn’t go where we wanted to go. And so I finally decided to break through the brush for about fifty feet, and did so. On the other side, the trail waited for us calmly.

Yeah, I thought about poison oak when I did it. And I knew that poison oak can affect you even in the winter, when it has no leaves. But this didn’t look like poison oak to me—at least most of it. And I also seemed to remember that poison oak was a bit uncomfortable, but nothing to really worry about. And besides, we were close to home, and ready to hop into a shower to soap up immediately after we got home.

So what have we learned?I was right. Most of what we hiked through wasn’t poison oak. Thank God. Because a week later a few of those scratches on me were bad enough that I had to go see a doctor about getting some kind of help. The heavy use of Benadryl and Cortisone cream was making no headway. And all the rest of that stuff I remembered about poison oak? Forget it. A quick and intensive session with soap and water did not prevent the poison oak reaction. And poison oak is a lot more than a little uncomfortable.

And yeah, yeah. I know. You told me so.

No need for photos--some of you may be eating breakfast. Or lunch. Or a donut.

Post date: Nov 29, 2011 10:11:24 PM

There was a side benefit to our visit to the John Muir exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) this past weekend.

We learned something! (Not the first time, nor the last, you can bet on that.) You may remember that this summer we hiked out of the Granite Creek trailhead into the Ansel Adams Wilderness south of the Yosemite. It's lovely country, and our trail took us over Isberg Pass and into the southern reaches of Yosemite itself.

While we were there, we camped off-trail at Lake 10005, just to the east of the trail that goes up towards Isberg and Post Peak Passes. Lovely lake, great campsite, excellent fishing...

And during our afternoon rest and relaxation along the shores of the lake, M noticed that there were little piles of native grasses everywhere in the meadows. It was almost as if tiny people had gathered the hay together to feed their tiny cattle over the winter.Almost, but not quite.

Walking through the OMCA exhibits, M started reading about picas, and read that they often pile grass up during the summer for their winter food stores.Mystery solved--although we still like the image of little people in the alpine meadows...

Post date: Nov 28, 2011 4:44:48 PM

With the mountains full of snow and ice, and our free time quite limited, we stayed close to home for the Thanksgiving holidays. But that's not to say that we didn't get out and enjoy ourselves. You may know Stag's Leap as a part of the Napa Valley (a couple of wineries share that name) that is famous for world-class cabernet sauvignon.

But the name comes from a mountain in the Vaca Range east of the Napa Valley. And there just happens to be a trail to the top of it. With a nice more or less sunny day in late November, we couldn't resist the temptation to climb up and take a look around. There is no official trail or trailhead, just a parking area on the side of the road, and a use trail heading up the hill.

And it's quite a hill. The trail climbs about 800 feet in the first 3/4 of a mile. The good news is that the views start almost immediately, and so there are lots of reasons to stop and rest--I mean look at the views.

Once up on the ridge the trail tracks the ridge line southwards, showing first one side and then the other of the views. Napa Valley to the West, Rector Reservoir and Pritchard Hill to the East. And looming over it all is Stag's Leap. The last mile is a steady and sometimes steep climb up the rocks to the top, where you have views over the whole northern San Francisco Bay area, from Mt Diablo to Mt. St, Helena and Cobb Mountain. And if you looked carefully, you could see the peaks of coast range even further North. Best of all, since it was autumn, the leaves of the vineyards were a wild range of colors, from bright yellow to deep red, and often in fascinating patterns. The hike was six or seven miles, and we loved every foot of it!

Post date: Nov 23, 2011 1:42:16 AM

A business trip took P to NYC this last weekend. That's always a reason for celebration because he gets to visit our oldest daughter there. And her law firm can get free tickets to many museums, including the Museum of Modern Art. We're big fans.

While he had a few extra minutes, P wandered through the gift shop there, and found some very cool items that belong in any backpackers backpack! First of all, an improvement on his old drugstore seven-day pill box that has more compartments and is lighter and smaller--just perfect for his fly fishing gear. Beautifully designed.

(Duh! It's in the MUSEUM!) Each type of fly now has its own compartment. Cost? $3.50 And in a similar vein, he found a very clever collection of little plastic cylinders that screw together to make a tower about five inches tall and one inch in diameter. He picked one up for M as a mobile spice rack for our pack trips---and she immediately decided it would also work for some of her creams and lotions. Weight is a couple of ounces. Also under $4.00.

Next up? A flyweight camera case made of space age materials that would be perfect for our little cameras. That one cost about $12--but he didn't buy it. He just mentioned to our daughter that it would make a nice Christmas gift, if that's the sort of thing she was looking for. nudge, nudge.

And then he found the piece de resistance. Yes, a Superman wallet (they had other designs, from a dollar bill to a map of the NY subway system) made of Tyvek. It's practically weightless, and has room for all the stuff you need---a few credit cards, a driver's license, and some cash. $15 and well worth it.That's another one that got put on the Christmas list.

Just like on the trail, you often find the coolest stuff when you aren't really looking...

Post date: Nov 12, 2011 3:44:14 AM

Every two or three days that we're out on the trail, we find a warm, sunny, breezy afternoon to do some laundry. No, it's not what you think. There is no soap involved, just a chance to rinse out the biggest clumps of dirt, and generally give our clothes a refreshing dip in some mountain water. Then we'll air dry them on a bush or some warm rocks.

P's famous and indestructible shirt gets a rinse and dries within an hour, looking like new. We do the same for a pair of socks and undies, so that we can hit the trail the next morning with more or less cleaner clothes. The socks do not end up looking like new. In fact, even after a few washings at home in the machine, they still carry a trace of our life on the dusty trails. And every night we'll dip our feet in the water...a soothing ritual on hot days.

That's M in the photo above, doing just that. And if you look carefully, you can see P's shirt drying in the grass behind her. When we are really off the trail and alone, we'll even rinse ourselves off, from top to bottom. It's amazing what a difference that makes after a few hot days on the trail. But we're not going to post photos of that, thank you.

We have run into a few people who use soap and water--the best version we saw was a couple who emptied out their bear canister and used it for a washtub--but we've found that plain water works pretty well for most things.

Using this system, P manages to hike for at least a week with only one shirt, and one extra change of socks and undies. M usually carries one more set of everything. But then she always was the stylish one. If you've got a wash day ritual in the backcountry, we've love to hear about it!

Post date: Nov 9, 2011 4:17:02 PM

Over the past few years we've been contacted by some great people who are also blogging about their adventures in the Sierra Nevada. When we really liked their stuff, we put a link on our links page so that you can enjoy it, too.

So in the last few days we got two great notes from fellow backpacking fans:One is from Julie, who works at a non-profit that is dedicated to protecting the Sierra. here is her note, and the link to her blog:...thought I would share with you the blogs I wrote on a "solo" (had my furry friend accompany me) trip I did this summer in the Emigrant. . Scroll down to the series "Backpacking the east side of the Emigrant" if you are so inclined :)

While you are at it, you might want to check out what CSERC does. Good work.And our old friend Alex spent some time in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness as part of his Tahoe-to-Whitney website. That's area we love, and it doesn't get the traffic of many other areas.

Here is his link: Unable to miss the whole hiking season due to injury, I just completed a nice 51 mile loop iin the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness using the TYT heading South, and returning North via the PCT.I wrote about this trip and the many fine PCT-TYT loops that you can carve out of the Carson-Iceberg in a Trip Report. If you have not explored this Wilderness in depth, now is the time to start thinking about next year's hiking. The Carson-Iceberg deserves your attention.

It does indeed, as do these websites! Just what we need as winter closes in and the backpacking season goes on hiatus for a few months...

Post date: Nov 8, 2011 5:39:14 PM

We were delighted to get the news today that we've been honored as one of the top 100 backpacking sites on the web--which is pretty darn cool.

Here's the official wording: "Each year, Justbackpacksonline spends weeks reading and ranking hiking, backpacking, and camping blogs to determine who has the best content, advice, and ideas in the Bloggosphere.... we believe that you have proven yourself to be one of those."

Well yes, that's very nice. And we'll save you the long speech about how we never really dreamed we would get this award...because you know that the reason we do this is because we love backpacking, and we couldn't stop if we tried.

Post date: Nov 6, 2011 5:35:29 PM With winter approaching and the High Sierra now less hospitable, we've been doing a little daydreaming about next year. And that brought up the subject of perfect campsites. What's a perfect campsite? The obvious things that people want are a source of water and a flat space on the ground to sleep. In a pinch, you can always hike a bit for water, so let's say that goal number one is FLAT GROUND. You don't need a lot of this--just enough for your tent. It's doesn't need to be soft--that's what your sleeping pads are for. But it does have to be pretty flat, if you want to be able to walk again the next morning. Next in line is some source of WATER; the cleaner the better. We avoid muddy or algae filled sources, simply because they can clog up your filter in minutes. And we generally prefer lakes to steams only because the views are often better. Lakes, especially the top six inches, may also benefit from some UV radiation from the sun, so the water is even healthier.When you find a spot with those two elements, you have all you need to camp. But there are many other "optional" conditions that can really make the difference between a workable campsite and a memorable one.

VIEWS are the reason that we hike in the SIerra to begin with, so a campsite with a view is always a positive. We often take a little stroll after dinner to explore the area around our campsite...and most of the time, that stroll is aimed at climbing the nearest point of elevation to improve the view. But eating dinner with a view is part of great campsite. Luckily, these are a dime a dozen in the Sierra!

FURNITURE: No, we are not fond of those backwoods craftsmen who create elaborate and contrived campsites out of stone or wood. It's all a little too "developed" for us, and we'd rather they just left things as they were. But that doesn't mean we don't appreciate a campsite that has a sheltered nook for our kitchen, or a log or nice flat rock to sit on. And for real luxury, P is a big believer in a waist high rock that serves as a kitchen counter when he makes our lunches. Add one large flat rock in the sun for drying out the groundcover in the morning, and this is a well-furnished apartment.

FACILITIES: We don't mind hiking a ways to do our business in the backcountry, but sometimes that can be harder than you think. With popular sites, there are just too many people around, and that makes things more complicated. And some of the more austere sites have so much rock that you have to work to find a spot. That's OK. But it's better if it's easier.

PASSIVE SOLAR: The best campsites always have a nice exposure to the East, so that the early morning sun warms you up the minute you climb out of your bag. That's luxury. But equally important is some afternoon shade, so that when you lie down to take a siesta, the tent is cool and comfortable. Sure, you can always take a sleeping pad over to a shady spot for snoozing, but in mosquito season this isn't a great solution. The best is morning sun and afternoon shade. FISHING: Well of course we have to mention this, because for P, fishing is the closest way to touch nature. It does't have to be magnificent fishing--just a few native trout over 8 inches will keep him happy, particularly if they are brightly colored and lively. But the more the merrier.

SOLITUDE: To be fair, most of what we have outlined above can be found in any number of State Park campgrounds (well, maybe not the great views of the High Sierra). But we're backpacking, for goodness sake, so we do want to feel a little bit isolated from the madding crowds. And on a really good trip, we'll be so far away from everyone else that it seems like it's our own private mountain range. (P did a recent poll on a series of backpacking website about this topic. Between 60-80% of the respondents all mentioned solitude as being the most important part of a great campsite. But many also mentioned that views and fishing were easy to find, so solitude got their vote. We know what they mean.) There's another element to solitude that matters. These isolated areas not only don't have neighbors, they don't get heavy usage. And heavily used sites end up looking like hell: lots of ugly tamped down earth, lots of refuse from previous campers and horses, scarred trees, massive fire rings, fish bones, "tame" wildlife, awful "rustic furniture" and worst of all, plenty of toilet paper to discover. It's a bit like camping in the local dump. When you add all that up, Solitude becomes pretty darn important.

BEST CAMPSITE EVER? I don't think we could choose any single place. Lower Ottaway Lake in Yosemite certainly is on the list, as is Devil's Punchbowl in the John Muir Wilderness. Lake 10005 below Isberg Pass, Laurel Creek in the Mono Basin, and Five Acre Lake in Emigrant Wilderness were all truly memorable. And there is one campsite, above Lyons Lake in Desolation Wilderness, that meets just about all the criteria---and included some big flat slabs of granite that baked each day in the sun. After dinner, we discovered that we could lie on these radiant heated couches and watch the stars come out, on by one.

Post date: Oct 30, 2011 4:14:30 PM

We thought we'd share a few lines from Mark Twain's classic story of the West...just to add a little quality and class to these pages. The section here refers to his attempt to homestead a claim on the shore of Lake Tahoe:

"If there is any life that is happier than the life we led on our timber ranch for the next two or three weeks, it must be a sort of life which I have not read of in books or experienced in person. We did not see a human being but ourselves during the time, or hear any sounds but those that were made by the wind and the waves, the sighing of the pines, and now and then the far-off thunder of an avalanche. The forest about us was dense and cool, the sky above us was cloudless and brilliant with sunshine, the broad lake before us was glassy and clear, or rippled and breezy, or black and storm-tossed, according to Nature's mood; and its circling border of mountain domes, clothed with forests, scarred with land-slides, cloven by canons and valleys, and helmeted with glittering snow, fitly framed and finished the noble picture. The view was always fascinating, bewitching, entrancing. The eye was never tired of gazing, night or day, in calm or storm; it suffered but one grief, and that was that it could not look always, but must close sometimes in sleep.

We slept in the sand close to the water's edge, between two protecting boulders, which took care of the stormy night-winds for us. We never took any paregoric to make us sleep. At the first break of dawn we were always up and running foot-races to tone down excess of physical vigor and exuberance of spirits. That is, Johnny was—but I held his hat. While smoking the pipe of peace after breakfast we watched the sentinel peaks put on the glory of the sun, and followed the conquering light as it swept down among the shadows, and set the captive crags and forests free. We watched the tinted pictures grow and brighten upon the water till every little detail of forest, precipice and pinnacle was wrought in and finished, and the miracle of the enchanter complete."

Yes indeed.

Post date: Oct 29, 2011 6:14:21 PM

From the stories section of our website, here is a tale from many years ago...just in time for Halloween.

The first pack trip that I ever took was to Paradise Valley in Kings Canyon. I was twelve years old, and went off with my older sister and her best friend, both of whom were about sixteen. We were young and adventurous, and prepared for just about anything.

Almost. Actually, we were green and a little nervous, but what could go wrong on a simple overnight trip? My pack was cleverly contrived out of a pair of my father's pants: the two legs became the shoulder straps, tied into the belt loops, and my sleeping bag and clothes went into the torso section of the pants. The two older girls also carried the food and a tent.

And in those days, we drank straight from the stream, out of our Sierra Club Cups.We hiked about seven miles up to Paradise Valley, and managed to get there in plenty of time. We set up camp and had a pleasant evening around the campfire. Paradise Valley really seemed like paradise!It was so peaceful...too peaceful!

Near dusk, as the sun settled behind the canyon walls and shadows reached over the forest, we began to hear a metal clanging noise--a bit like the noise of someone pounding metal tent stakes into hard ground. We had thought we were the only people there, and yet...We let it go on for some minutes...and the more it continued, the stranger it seemed. Ping ping ping.We tried to find the source of the noise, but it was getting dark, and we didn't want to wander around the forest and away from our campsite. We'd seen enough horror films to know that was a bad idea.

The noise stopped for a while, then started up again. Ping, ping, ping.Now we were getting worried. We tried calling out, to make some kind of contact--but there was no answer. We called louder. Still no answer. That was weird. Ping, ping, ping.

We convinced ourselves that the person making the noise couldn't hear us, because we were close to the river, and the noise of the rushing water obliterated our voices. But we didn't really believe that. And then the noise started getting closer. Now we knew it wasn't another camper,m pounding in tent stakes. As we discussed the matter among ourselves, we tried to imagine what was making the noise.

Then we began to realize that this might be a bell attached to an animal. And what kind of animal would require a bell in a National Park?

Our best guess was a dangerous bear--one that needed to warn people of his approach.

And still the noise got closer. Ping, ping, ping We climbed into the tent and huddled inside, hoping that the bear would pass us by. The pinging came closer and closer to our camp. As we listened intently, the noise got closer and closer, until it was just outside the camp site. Right outside. Twenty feet away. Maybe fifteen. Right in front of the tent. Our eyes were huge as we looked at each other. What should we do?

We could take the suspense no longer. We threw open the tent and flashed our lights in the direction of the noise.There stood beautiful stag, rather stunned by the bright lights in the night.

We watched for a minute, just to make sure that this wasn't a Dangerous Deer, and then closed up the tent and fell asleep to the sound of ping ping ping walking away in the forest. The next morning we felt good enough to laugh about the incident.

When we returned to Road's End, we mentioned the deer to one of the rangers. He immediately asked us what color the bell had been--this was a new program to track the deer within the park.

We thought the bell was either silver or blue.

He smiled indulgently, and told us that there were no silver or blue bells in the program.

Hmmmph. It seemed like a stupid idea to us at the time---and I bet they don't bell stags in the parks anymore, either!

Post date: Oct 28, 2011 3:57:48 AM

We're not the fastest hikers on the trail. We generally average a little less than two miles per hour, unless the going is really steep, or we're hiking off trail, and then we slow down even further. And because M dislikes downhill hiking even more than a steep climb, that's true whether we are going uphill or down.

We aim for comfort far more than speed.So when we meet a fellow hiker on the trail, we always suggest that he or she go first. There is nothing worse than pushing ahead to be first on the trail, only to have the other hiker pass you in the next 200 yards of the trail. We try to avoid that.

On our hikes, we very conscientiously allow the other hikers to go first. But that isn't always the end of the story. On one memorable occasion last summer, we allowed a hiker to take the lead up to a lake ahead of us, only to see this young man hike for fifty yards, pull over to the side of the trail, and wave us forward.

He was gasping for breath. We, on the other hand, were moving slowly but surely, keeping a steady pace that we could maintain for the next hour or so--which we did. And by that time, the young man was far, far behind us.It turns out that even though we are both darn near sixty years old, our steady pace and reasonable conditioning allow us to keep moving along the trail rather nicely.

We have covered a lot of ground at that slow and steady pace...and we've had many wonderful adventures without ever needing to break into a jog. So if we meet you on the trail, we'll still wave you ahead, and give you the chance to leave us in the dust. There have certainly been hikers that blew by us like a freight train.

But if you find that after a few hundred feet you really feel like resting, and you allow us to hike on by, we'll understand. When it comes to backpacking you don't have to be the hare to win the race, especially if you are carrying your house on your back.See you on the trail!

Post date: Oct 10, 2011 3:57:22 PM

We recently had a conversation with a local tradesman who was doing some work on our house. When he saw that we had lots of camping and backpacking equipment in the house, he asked about that.Turns out he was really interested in backpacking and wanted a lot of advice. So we chatted for many minutes, and gave him what advice we could.

It was a fun conversation, and we finished it up by handing him a card with the web address of this site. So if you see him hanging around here, be nice to him!But one topic he was really interested in: what kind of sidearm did we carry in the mountains?

So we told him--- we never carried a gun in the mountains, or anywhere else. And especially not in the mountains, where it would give even more meaning to the term dead weight. He still insisted that he would pack heat.We asked if he would carry it in his pack--in which case it would be completely out of reach in an emergency. Or would he carry it on his hip or shoulder---and how much fun would THAT be on a backpacking trip? And again, if it weren't loaded, in an emergency, what would be the point? If it WERE loaded, we hoped we'd be far away from him as he struggled to take his pack on and off with a loaded gun in a holster.

Well, he thought that was crazy. He was trained in the military, and he felt his personal safety was his responsibility.So we asked him: What kind of sidearm do you carry when you are working around town, or going to the store?

He said he didn't carry one. There was no need.

We pointed out that there was a far, far higher chance of him being attacked or robbed in our town that in the backcountry of the High Sierra.

So if he didn't carry one in town, why would he carry that extra weight on a hiking trip in the Sierra, where the dangers were far less?

"I would just feel safer," he said.And we resolved not to confuse him with any more facts.

For a discussion about the real dangers you might face on the trail, check out the Dangers on the Trail section of our website.

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