Adventures in hiking…

Archive for September, 2014

Kearsarge Pass – A Thru Hiker Highway

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Ask any Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hiker about Kearsarge Pass and they will confirm that it is a main resupply route.  We would run across more PCT and JMT hikers than ever before.  Generally, they are the most laid back people you will meet.

After a restless nights’ sleep near Pothole Lake, we decided to leave our camp set up and venture out west of the pass.  A nice breakfast of bacon and eggs got us going.  The crytallized eggs are real and when mixed with water, scramble up perfectly.  The pre-cooked bacon is trail ready and is good to go.  We lightened our packs and carried enough supplies for our day hike.  The plan was to drop down into the Kearsarge Lakes area and grab lunch next to the water.

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Our camp was within sight of the pass so the last 400 ft of elevation gain was easy-peasy.  There was one other hiker taking a break and we dropped our packs to soak in the vista.  The views to the west were beautiful.   In the Sierras, one will run out of words to describe the scenery.  There were several lakes below;  one I recognized from the map as Bullfrog Lake.  We wanted to explore down below so we ate a snack and chatted with a thru-hiker going back to town for resupply.  Like so many other long distance hikers we’ve seen, he looked like he was in need of a bath and some good food.  We started down, the slope steady with what appeared to be pulverized granite rocks for the trailbed.

We ran into a few day hikers huffing their way up and stepped out-of-the-way.  Trail etiquette being what it is, the uphill hiker has the right of way.  We ran across a lonely stream making its’ way down to the lakes.  The source of water appeared to come out the side of the mountain.  A bullfrog could be heard croaking steadily.  We never saw it, but heard that sucker for the next 30 minutes.  We made our way down some switchbacks to a trail junction.

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Wishing that we had more time to hike to Charlotte and Rae Lakes area, we hiked another 1/2 mile or so to the Kearsarge Lakes area.  The trail is fairly well-defined and meandered down to the first lake.  It was warmer now, around 75 degrees and other than a few people fishing on the other shore, very quiet.  The only other sound were the streams emptying into the lake.   We took off our shoes and stepped in to the cold, clear water.  After a minute, the bones in my legs started aching.  Well, probably not but that’s what it felt like.  It was brisk and felt good on our hot feet.  The trout were jumping every few seconds.  The Golden Trout Wilderness is aptly named.  We discussed getting our fishing licenses and gear before our next hike into this area.  I can taste the fresh trout cooked in a pan with just a touch of lemon and garlic.

 

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After eating our lunch and filtering some water, we reluctantly started back up the trail.  The climb out was less strenuous than it would have been with a full pack.  We ran into a PCT hiker who had lost the cap to his water filtration chemical bottle.  It was tiny and we struck up a conversation and he eventually found it.    As I was taking a breather on a bend in a switchback, another hiker was coming up behind.  I usually ask hikers where they are coming from or where they are going out of curiosity.  She was a PCT hiker, who had recently gotten back on the trail.   She passed me and struck up a conversation with my wife who  (as always) is ahead of me.  They immediately hit it off and continued talking as we slowly made our way up to the pass.  Conversation is a good diversion when you are in a steep climb.  Of course it helps if you’re not out of breath.

The women continued to chat and it was a nice experience to meet a thru-hiker who took the time to relate their experience on the trail.  PCT hikers run the gambit from those that are on a sabbatical to modern-day hippies.  Sometimes I believe that long distance hikers are a sub-culture within our Americana.  Her trail-name was Pillsbury,  and she was quite the character.  Before long, we reached the pass where we hung out with Pillsbury and the other PCT hiker who went my the moniker Dances with Bacon.  He was a nice guy and we chatted for a bit.  Heck, with a trail-name like that, he couldn’t be bad.

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Pillsbury  wanted to take some fun pics, so she climbed an outcropping and asked me to take some pics with her camera.  She got up her nerve and did some hand-stands.  The blustery wind was a bit much and I was glad when she finished.  She was heading into town to resupply and had another 4-5 miles to go.  While it’s mostly downhill from here, the town of Independence is about 13 miles from the trailhead in the Onion Valley Campground.  We enjoyed our time with Pillsbury and parted ways when we reached the part of the trail where our camp was located.

We had time to enjoy our camp this time.  It was nice at the site and we didn’t rush through dinner.  The Black Bart Chili tasted great.  It’s one of our favorites.    As we settled in for the night, the wind was not as strong so the water from the lake was not lapping the rocks as loud as the previous night.  Did I mention that the first night, the sound of the water was like footsteps? We were sure that someone (or some thing) was walking around our tent.   Freaked us out for a few minutes until I stuck my head out of the tent around 2 a.m. and discovered it was the sound of wind-driven water against the shore of the lake.

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No AMS symptoms tonight, we were fully acclimated.  Slept soundly and awoke to a crisp Sierra morning.  Not wanting to cook breakfast, we had some snacks and departed our hidden campsite on Pothole Lake.  We took a different route out and had to do some boulder scrambling.  Not sure that it was a wise choice.  A fall here would have hurt.

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Our walk down was fairly quick and the scenery nice.  The coolness of the air as we went in and out of the forest was refreshing.   The lakes that we had passed going up looked so different.  Still lots of jumping trout though.  We took a break near a cascading creek, the breeze and sound of rushing water enough for one to desire a nap.

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This hike was a good one for many reasons, but it turns out to be our best way in for our JMT section hike next year.   The JMT is a short trek from Kearsarge Pass.  Mt. Whitney, here we come.

Some lessons learned on this trip:

– We experienced mild Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) symptoms on our first night.  Our symptoms were headaches, nausea and a bad nights’ rest.  While we have camped around 10,000 ft. before, on this trip, we left San Diego in the morning from an altitude of 500 ft.  Ten hours later, we were at 11,400 ft.  Our bodies didn’t have a chance to acclimate.  Recommendation:  When hiking at high altitude, camp at a lower altitude on the first night to give your body a chance to adjust.

– Dehydrated foods take longer to cook at high altitude.  In our case, the normal 12-15 minutes of rehydration took almost 30 minutes.

– If given the opportunity, start a conversation with fellow hikers.  You will meet the most amazing people from all walks of life.  Many have funny, interesting stories from the trail.  You won’t find many creeps out here – they’re mostly back in the cities.

– Take the time to kick your shoes off and enjoy a dip in the water.  Next time, I’m up for a swim. 🙂

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Hiking With Children

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As young grandparents, 🙂 we look forward to the time when we can take our grandchildren on the trail to experience the beauty that we’ve seen.  Perhaps you are parents and are wondering if it is safe to take your little ones out on the trail.  Should you strap on the child-carrier and head to the backcountry?  It depends.  Here are some things to consider.

What is the earliest you should take a child hiking?

Well, you can pack an infant into a child carrier if you are comfortable with that.  Toddlers may not do so well in carriers. We’ve heard a few toddlers crying their way up the trail in those things.  It didn’t look like much fun either.  Toddlers also can’t walk very far so the 5 mile hike may be a bit extreme.

In my opinion, the ideal age to introduce a child to hiking is around 6-8.  One idea is to start out car camping and combine it with day hikes near the campground.   The earlier the better, you’ll get less whining that way!  We have seen children as young as 7-8 on long backcountry trips.  Just remember, those little legs have to take twice as many steps as we do.  On a 10 mile hike, an adult takes approximately 20,000 steps.

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Kids will never forget views like this.

Safety:  

– Many trails have wild animals that can present a real hazard to children.  While mountain lions are rare, coyotes are not.  A child who startles a female bear with cubs is in real trouble.  Heck, if an adult surprises a bear, it means trouble. Rattlesnakes are common out west and often do not provide much warning.  Back east you have rattlesnakes, moccasins and more.  The venom may be more potent on a small body, so  consider the risks.  If you take the little ones into the backcountry, keep them close at hand.

– Terrain can present significant challenges to children.  It may be too risky to take them where a fall can cause serious injury.  Start out with easy treks to build up their trail legs and confidence.  Stream crossings can be dangerous – use common sense here.

– Hydration is critical.  Water is heavy, so plan your hike accordingly.  The hydration bladders that fit in packs work best because kids can sip as they walk.  Monitor their water intake to avoid dehydration or heat stress.  Avoid sodas or drinks with a lot of sugar.

– Nutrition is important too.  A good breakfast and plenty of snacks for the trail.  Trail mix, energy bars and food with protein like beef sticks. Sturdy fruits like apples and oranges are great on the trail.

– Sunscreen is important as is a good first aid kit.  If your child is allergic to bee stings, the epi-pen is the first thing you pack.  If not allergic, a credit card is a good way to get the stinger out.  Just scrape with the edge of the card-it works better then tweezers.  It’s good to keep a topical cream for bee stings in the first aid kit.  Just ask my wife, it works within minutes.  Ticks can be a real problem.   Be careful if you use bug repellants like permethrin on small children.  Otherwise, light clothing is best.  Always check the kids at the end of the day for those pests.  Ticks will gravitate to the head, armpits, groin.  Have some tweezers in the first aid kit and ensure you get the critter’s head if you pull them out.  Use an alcohol pad to clean the bite area and watch for any symptoms like fever, spotted rash and lethargic behavior.  If you remove the tick before it gets too embedded, it should be ok.  By the way, ticks freak me out, I hate them.

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Water crossings can be a challenge

When nature calls:

– Keep a baggie with some single ply toilet paper, hand sanitizer or handi-wipes.  Carry a cat-hole shovel if appropriate.  Teach kids early about leave-no-trace (LNT) practices and how to properly bury waste.  Don’t bury the handi-wipes, they don’t degrade easily.    Believe it or not, they will adapt quicker to going outdoors than most adults.  Keep them in sight for safety reasons.

Equipment:

– A pair of trail shoes, small backpack, hydration bottle and a hat are a good start.  As you progress, a set of trekking poles and maybe some gaiters on those dusty trails.

Skills:

Hiking presents amazing opportunities to teach young ones valuable lessons on wildlife and being good stewards with our beautiful land.  You can talk about survival, navigation, meteorology, geology and so many other life lessons.  Give it to them in small doses or you will bore them quickly.

Hiking is a great way to spend time with your children or grandchildren.  It can lead to an appreciation of nature and our national parks.   It can teach young people how important it is to be good stewards of our environment.  So, take a hike! – with your kids.

Hot Wheels 9-Car Gift Pack (Styles May Vary)

Either way, these are tough miles.

Either way, these are tough miles.


Fuller Ridge Trail – San Jacinto Peak

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If you are up for a bit of four-wheelin on a fire road followed by some sweet views, then this is the trail for you.  Don’t forget to pick up your hiking and camping permits at the Visitor’s Center in Idyllwild.

In the past two years, we have hiked almost every trail in the San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area.   This area has some of the most beautiful alpine hikes ever.

The Fuller Ridge Trail is located approximately 8 miles up Black Mountain Fire Road (4S01)from SR243 north of Idlyllwild.   We did this one in early Nov during a mild and dry fall weekend.  It follows the western ridge up to San Jacinto and is a tough 14.2 mile out and back hike to the peak with approx. 4,000 ft. of elevation gain.  I’d give the full hike a good 7-8 hrs.  We didn’t have enough time for that and just hiked a few miles in.   If hiked in its’ entirety, it is a good practice hike for Mt. Whitney.

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Driving up this single lane fire road is a bit of a bone jarring experience, but believe it or not, a vehicle with good clearance can make it through.  It does require some maneuvering but the Jeep had no problem tackling this one straight on.   The road takes you up the north side of the San Jacinto range with views of Banning and Palm Springs along the way.  Ol’ Grayback  (Mt San Gorgonio) is a close neighbor.  Amazingly, we didn’t run across any vehicles coming down as it would have required some jockeying to make room for two.  You might want to hit the restroom before this drive because it will test the strongest of bladders.   There are a few pull offs along the way for pics.  Around 6,800-7,000 ft., the road comes to an end with the entrance to a campground and Fuller Ridge trailhead.  Only one other vehicle here this fall afternoon.  We began our ascent through a heavy cover of conifers.  It was cool and crisp with the wind whispering through the gentle giants.

 

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The trail meanders through the forest with occasional views into the desert below.  It is one of the most peaceful  and secluded trails that you can hike around San Jacinto.   Most people will not drive 30 minutes up a fire road to hike.  It’s also a nice back way in to San Jacinto Peak.  We would not be doing the 7 miles to the top,  but it is a fairly mild if not long journey there.

The only sounds were the woodpeckers seemingly fussing at each other and the occasional chatter of the chipmunks.  This appears to be a nice trail for runners as the slopes are generally mild and the trail is mostly single-track.  We noticed a fair amount of ups/downs the first few miles.  No water sources were available on this trip, so bring what you need.  If hiked in the spring, you may run across some PCT through hikers on their long trek north.

It is a mostly shaded, well maintained trail with occasional steep slopes on either side.  Almost all trails in San Jacinto are worth the trip.  This one is no exception.

Today’s tip:  Always let someone know where you will be hiking.  We usually send a text to a family member with the trail name, location and when we expect to return.


San Jacinto Wilderness – Devil’s Slide to Tahquitz Loop

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It’s been over a year since the Mountain Fire consumed over 27,000 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest in Riverside County.  As a result, some of the trails in the San Jacinto range and some of the Pacific Crest Trail are closed indefinitely.  The cause of the fire was attributed to electrical equipment failure on private property.  Fortunately, no lives were lost.  Since last fall’s hike on Fuller Ridge, we haven’t been back in the San Jacinto area.  We love to hike up here in the summer because you can usually escape the hotter temps in the valleys below.

Today, we would venture out on Devil’s Slide and hit Saddle Junction  From there, we would see which trails were open.  On the weekends, this is a popular trail so the recommendation is to come early or start late (around noon).  Humber Park is a popular area to picnic and the Earnie Maxwell trail is a 2.6 mile one way shuttle hike for a nicer walk in the park.   Parking in Humber Park requires an adventure pass.  For the Devil’s Slide trail, you will need to pick up a permit at the ranger’s station in Idyllwild.

I usually check the weather forecast when we hike. Now, a tropical storm off the Baja Peninsula was pumping in moisture to the desert regions east with subsequent scattered thunderstorms in the mountains.   One thing about hiking, the longer you do it, the better you get at understanding the weather.   The cumulus clouds were definitely about, but were spread out and not building into thunder-cells.

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Well now, looks like the cumulus clouds got together.

The trail up Devil’s Slide is well maintained, wide – with a mix of dirt, granite and some sand and scree.   It gains a steady 500 ft. or so for the first mile and then you get switchbacks that are around 700 ft. per mile.  It’s a steady climb with nice views of Suicide Rock and Lily Rock, both favorites for local climbers.  You can hear them calling out to each other as you head up.

Unfortunately, this has been a low snow year so the trail is totally dry.  If you want to find water sources in the wilderness, watch for bees.  They seek out moisture and will actually pull water out of moist dirt that usually has a water source underneath.  They often will take the water back to the queen to cool her down.  I love nature.

After 2.5 miles, we reached Saddle Junction and most of the trails were roped off by the USFS.  The Mountain Fire did impact a large area, but many mature trees survived because the fire was not as intense.   Some species of pines in this area have bark that is 3-5 inches thick.  It’s like armor and protects the conifers from the heat.

We took one of two available trails toward Tahquitz Valley, hoping that we could work our way toward Law’s Camp a few miles away which has decent views of the desert.  After a half mile or so, we would run into some volunteer ranger’s and I automatically gave them my permit.  The people who volunteer are usually locals that love this area and are a big asset to the Forest Service.  They check permits, clean up trash and seek out illegal campsites or fire rings.  Often, they assist with search and rescue.  We had a nice conversation with them and were on our way again.  We came to another junction and unfortunately, the trails to the north were closed so we went into Tahquitz Valley toward Tahquitz Peak.

IMG_3117We were rewarded with a display of colorful ferns.  Some were orange and yellow, probably due to the lack of rain, but it seemed like fall foliage to us.  We had the trail to ourselves for the next few hours as most people stopped at the junction or went straight to the peak.  The trail meandered through the forest passing a couple of remote campsites.  These would be nice if there was water around.  Otherwise, you’ll need to bring it in like a camel.

One of the volunteer rangers mentioned that thunderstorms were due in around 3 p.m.  We pushed up the last 500 ft. just past the Tahquitz Peak junction and wandered out to an outcropping for views of Lily Rock and the valley where we would take a late lunch break.  Good thing too, because I hit the classic wall where I was out of energy.  Many long distance hikers experience this frequently where they just run out of steam.   For them, trying to stay ahead of the calorie deficit is the key.  For us occasional day hikers, it’s a matter of eating a decent breakfast and snacking along the way.

We heard one group pass on their way to the peak and then the first rumbles of thunder.  I looked around to see the source and the cumulus clouds were gathering to our south and moving north towards us.  We finished up and began a fairly quick retreat down the mountain.  Unfortunately, the first mile or so was parallel to the storm so we didn’t make much headway, but ended up getting out of harms way fairly quickly.  I found out later that the storm dumped several inches of rain with hundreds of lightning strikes to our south and east.  Did you know lightning can strike 20+ miles away from a storm?  We took the opportunity to talk about lightning safety and what actions we would take.  Feel a tingling on the back of your neck or arms?  Drop those poles and squat near the ground ASAP.  Don’t touch the ground though.

Anyhow, hike long enough and you are bound to get wet and/or experience lightning.   Be prepared and have a plan.  Pack a rain-pancho or raincoat – you can get hypothermia even in the summer.  Avoid peaks and summits in thunderstorm conditions around the noon to early afternoon hours.

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In summary, the Devil’s Slide trail to Saddle Junction is fairly limited for the time being due to the fire, but take the loop to Tahquitz Peak as it is a worthwhile trek.  The views from the peak and the Lily Rock canyon are stellar.   You’ll log around 9.5-9.7 miles on this walkabout.  Take at least 2-3 liters of water with you, there’s none to be found this time of year. Hike on……


Glacier National Park – Up in the Clouds

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Here’s the BLUF **on Glacier National Park: Add it to your bucket list of hiking.  On our RV trip to Ontario, Canada we had the opportunity to enter the states through Montana and sample this amazing area.  We stayed in a nice RV park just outside the main entrance to the park in St. Mary’s.  It was a mostly overcast day and we walked in to the Visitor Center.   By the way, cloudy days make for great landscape photography.   Since we didn’t have our vehicle that we tow behind the RV, we would have to rely on the GNP shuttle system.  The main thoroughfare – the “Going to the Sun Road”  has a limit of 21 ft.  All but the smallest of RVs are longer than that.  Sadly, we would have only one day in this magnificent park.

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Anyhow,  not knowing which trails were the best, I asked the ranger which one would be a good day hike.  He asked me great questions like “Is this your first time in the park, how far/how much elevation change do you want?” He pointed us to the Piegan Pass – Siyeh Pass trail, a 10+ mile with approx. 2,800 ft. of elevation gain.  He mentioned that it provided the most bang for the buck for a single day in the park.  Looking over my shoulder, my wife motioned that there was a shuttle loading, so we hustled over.

The shuttles vary from small 16-20 passenger ones to city-like busses. The first few miles of road were paved and then changed to gravel.  Construction crews were making the most of the brief summers, so there are usually delays.  Thirty minutes later, we were hopping off and noticed how low the clouds were.  Oh well, we were prepared for most weather conditions.  We usually pack our layers, warm jackets and rain gear.

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The Piegan Pass trail started out following a rushing creek, elevation was around 5,400 ft.  Going-To-The-Sun Mountain was shrouded by clouds which were hugging the peaks.   Oh, did I mention that Glacier has grizzly bears?  I’ve hiked for several years in different parts of the U.S., but grizzlies scare me.  Most bears are dangerous, including blacks and browns, but the grizzly is just a massive creature that you don’t want to startle.  We would be prepared though.  I had the bear spray in a holster, my wife had a bell on her backpack and we made plenty of noise with our hiking poles.  It helps to talk loudly too.

We were probably over-cautious, but in my mind – one of the worst things that you can do is surprise a grizzly feeding, or one with cubs.  The trails in Glacier have plenty of bushes – and huckleberries.   The trail was as awesome as the Park Ranger said it would be.  He mentioned that we would pass through several eco-systems.  It was very green here in a Riparian like zone.  The lilies had already bloomed but there were many other wildflowers around.  Saw our first bear grass, it really sticks out like the yucca plants in the desert.  We entered a forest area with a significant canopy.  I’m sure Glacier National Park is a botanist’s dream in the summer.  There were so many varieties of plants with pines, firs and those quaking aspen trees.  The mushrooms do well here with the moist climate around 6,000 ft.  A light rain started, and the temps dipped into the 40’s so we put on our rain gear.

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Passing through the ecosystems. A meadow full of wildflowers.

We took a lunch break under a stand of small pines near the Siyeh-Piegan junction and were joined by a few others.  We met a nice German couple who were appreciating the American wilderness.  They and another group decided that the cold, wind-driven rain was too much and turned back.  We sized up the weather and pushed on, determined to follow the U.S. Postal Service’s old motto ” Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” ; well you get the gist.

Imagine if you had all the time you needed to just wander and appreciate the beauty of this area.  You would learn many of the plant species and see so much wildlife.  Wishing that I had more time, I was in awe of the land around me.  It’s easy to let your mind wander as you walk along the trails in Glacier.  The trail opened up into a valley that was crisscrossed with streams.  The far off glacier was feeding the alpine lakes and tarns.  The overflow from these would create little tributaries that would make their way down to St Mary Lake, the second largest in the park.

I could barely make out Siyeh Pass as it was partially obscured by clouds, but a couple of hikers 10 minutes ahead assured us that the switchbacks would take us over the top.  The wind picked up as we passed 7,000 ft., and it began to sleet.  Nothing too bad, but enough to second guess my decision.  Actually, no hike is worth putting yourself in jeopardy.  Weather conditions can change rapidly up here, so you have to be prepared to deal with it.  We were almost to the summit, so we kept going.  What came next?  Snow, of course!  Nothing too bad, flurries.

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At the summit. Downhill from here.

We hit the summit and the views were phenomenal.  One can run out of adjectives trying to describe what the eyes behold.  At Siyeh Pass, we saw several glaciers and a long, deep valley.  Pushing on, time to go downslope.  Oh, man the view looking south was sweet.  The clouds parted, with an excellent view of St Mary Lake and a glacier to our right.  The vegetation ceased awhile ago, probably because the winds up here can be fairly harsh.  The rocks were colorful with red and purple hues.

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A break in the weather.

There were more switchbacks on the Siyeh Pass side and the trail was full of scree and slow going.  The clouds enveloped us again and visibility was reduced to around 100 ft.  I saw something move ahead, off the trail and froze.  Hoping that it wasn’t a bear, I raised my hand signaling my wife to stop.  The mountain goat was passing from right to left and was curious.  She maneuvered in an arc around us and climbed a rock and came to within 20 ft.  My camera always at the ready, I snapped away and noticed a family of goats about 75 ft away.  A small juvenile hung in the back and peered over a ledge at us.  We watched them for the next 10 minutes and continued back down.

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A mountain goat keeping an eye on us.

The clouds seemed to absorb some of the sound as we entered the brush and bear grass.   We started making noise again, sometimes breaking out into a song or two.   Ahead, there was fresh scat on the trail.   Hmm, huckleberries.  Bears love them.  This bear was on the move because there were 4-5 splats on the trail in a few different areas.  Maybe he heard us singing.

 

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Lots of bear grass.

We sped up a bit, trying to make the next shuttle.  I think the eastbound shuttles run every 30 minutes.  The last couple of miles were long as we passed through brush along side a fast flowing creek.

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We came out on the Follow-The-Sun Road about 100 yards from the shuttle stop.  We logged about 10.7 miles with about 2,800 ft. of elevation gain and 3,500 ft. of loss.  All in all, this trail ranks in our top 5 ever.   Gotta come back to this place-so much to see.   I think July and August are the best for hiking here.

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** BLUF=Bottom Line Up Front