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John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 3 – Thousand Island Lake to Donahue Pass

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One of many marmots.

First half slideshow of our hike:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

The continuing story of our northbound JMT section hike…..

By day 3, we all had our trail legs.  You know what I mean, the steadiness that you get after a few days of stepping on, around and over stuff.  Backpacks have a way of changing your center of gravity.  Bend over a bit too far to smell those lupines and you’ll see how blue they really are.  The night at Thousand Island Lake was amazing.  The sound of the distant snow-fed waterfall created a peaceful nights’ rest.

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Floating islands at Island Pass.

At Thousand Island, it was a bit difficult to find a private place to do your business.  Sorry for bringing it up, but it’s just one of those things that you have to do.  One could write an entire blog about it, but I’ll spare you the details.  Let’s just say that sometimes you have to venture out to find that secluded spot and hope that the nearest trail is out of view.  It is arguably one of the most challenging yet natural chores in the backcountry.  Mosquitoes present a significant challenge with this, so you may need to apply some repellant where the “sun don’t shine”.  The cathole shovel, tp and antiseptic wipes are essential gear.  However, in a pinch so are a stick, leaves and some handfuls of dirt.  Let’s leave it at that.

We admired the view from our campsite and did the usual tasks.  Filtering water, making breakfast, tearing down camp and repacking those packs.  The last task was usually the biggest pain.  Packing around those bear canisters is like emptying a sardine can and then stuffing them back in.  The climb out of Thousand Island Lake was steady and hot.  The views over our shoulders of Banner Peak were ever-changing and dramatic.  As we rounded a ledge, a fat marmot sat perched on a rock and it looked like a good place to stop.  This is their territory and the scat is enough to prove it.    Pausing occasionally to catch our breath, we would hunch over to shift the weight of the pack and lean on our poles.  It was a funny sight for sure.  Island Pass was like something out of a movie.  Little archipelagos of grass seemingly floated around us.  Birds were abundant here as were so many varieties of flowers.   This area made me regret that we had to cover 10 miles today.

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We descended into an area near Wough Lake and heard rumblings of thunderstorms.  The skies to the north were menacing and I kept an eye on the direction it was moving.  We discussed what our plan would be for inclement weather, especially if caught out in the open.  Things like avoiding meadows, tall trees and shallow caves if lightning is nearby.  Lightning is a strange and dangerous occurrence and you should have a plan whether you are alone or hiking in a group.  In a group, it’s a good idea to spread out so a stray bolt doesn’t take everyone out.   If possible, find a clump of medium-sized trees for shelter.  The tallest and shortest trees are not advisable.   The position for protection is simple.  Sit on your backpack or sleeping pad with your two feet touching the ground or pad.  Don’t lay or stand up if possible.  If in a tent, do the same and don’t touch your tent frame.  Enough of the morbidity, you can do some research on hiking and lightning.  It is “enlightening”.

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We would cross several streams over single logs perched 6-8 feet above rushing streams and creeks.  It requires a sense of balance with a pack and if you are unsteady should consider having a mate take your pack across for you.  Something about a skinny log, sights and sounds of roaring water can unnerve almost anyone.

We passed through a canyon and ran into a large group from Tennessee.  They proceeded to tell us how they were pummeled by hail and rain for 1 1/2 hours.  I must say, God protected our little group because we avoided bad weather all week.  Either way, be prepared.  We started the steady climb up Donahue Pass and a 80% cloud cover made it much more comfortable as we were totally exposed.  The trail is well-defined and there are plenty of boulders to take breaks on.  We ran across a couple of SoBo’s (southbounders) who provided upcoming trail conditions.  We did the same.  It’s very common to briefly stop and chat to discuss weather, trail conditions and experiences.  People who are out here most often share our appreciation for the outdoors and generally are friendly with good attitudes.   While I still scratch my head when we come across solo female hikers, they are safer out here than in their urban neighborhoods.

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We would also run across a PCT thru-hiker who was disappointed that he wasn’t going to be able to walk 30 miles today.  Man, I thought we were doing good at 10 miles per day.

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Reaching the Pass, we would tread across the last remnants of snow fields and cross into Yosemite territory.

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The trail becomes a bit hard to follow on the north side of Donahue as you cross more snow.  Some cairns indicated the general direction.

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We quickly descended into the beginnings of Lyell Canyon.  The landscape, ever-changing was devoid of all but the hardiest of vegetation.  The hiking poles made the descent easier as we snaked our way down.  Forty five minutes later, we reached a wide creek and realized that we would have to ford it.  Two hundred feet downstream was a waterfall and cascade, so no crossing there.  We put on our water shoes and stepped in the cold creek that would become the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne.  Here, underneath the snow of Donahue Pass, the water was a chili 40-45 degrees.

_DSC0112  I crossed without incident, my wife mentioned that her feet were getting numb within 30-45 seconds.  When fording water, it’s best to unbuckle your pack in case you fall since it can absorb water and drag you under.   It took a bit to warm up from the creek as I imagined what it would have been like if there had been a heavy snow year.

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We would cross countless tributaries to this creek as we ventured further in the valley.   Some streams were cutting across the trail on a ledge that was five feet wide.  Rock hopping was common and we definitely got better at it.  We would also cross the creek twice more before finding a campsite.   At the last crossing, we did it in our hiking shoes.  My shoes, while excellent on the trail, were not waterproof.

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We made camp around 100 ft. from the water in a beautiful stand of pines within earshot of the cascades.  The sun was setting quickly as we ended a tough day on the trail.  Dinner was spicy beef stew.  We slept like hibernating bears.  Tomorrow, July 3rd would be a race to Tuolumne Post Office to retrieve our supplies.


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 2 – Rosalie Lake to Thousand Island Lake

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See a YouTube slide show of the first half of the hike here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

The first full day of hiking on the JMT was enjoyable but tough.  On any extended backcountry trip,  mileage is important.  It’s good to have a zero day planned in your itinerary just in case you are coming up short each day.  Our goal was to do 9-10 miles per day.  For a seasoned hiker,  easy enough – right?  Well let me tell you from experience,  pack weight is everything.  If your pack is heavy, your speed and distance drop.  Anyhow, I tend to err on the side of caution and bring a few extra things .  Bottom line is you will determine what you absolutely need because the extra weight will slow you down.

We would have a good breakfast of eggs and bacon before leaving Rosalie Lake. My brother would fish a bit and pull in a couple of rainbow trout.  As would be the norm for our week, we would break camp late and hit the trail by midmorning.  No need to rush out here, you just hike until you want to stop.  Yesterday’s climb of 1,800 ft  brought us up to our current altitude of 9,400.  Today, we would have a handful of SUDS (senseless ups/downs before going back up to around 10,000.

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There is water everywhere in this section of the JMT in July.  Brooks, streams, creeks, rivers, ponds, tarns, lakes – omigosh.  Even with minimum snow this year, this area has plenty in early summer. We would pass Shadow Lake,  which appeared to be approx. 1,000 meters  long and 300-400 m wide.  The views were really beginning to open up now.  As we passed to the south and west of Shadow Lake, we came upon Shadow Creek which we would follow for a few miles.  Its’ cascades were fast and amazing.  Something about fast-moving water just leaves you in awe.  The noise and the way the current flows around rocks and down the gullies is so cool.  Around every turn was another beautiful view.  We would see Banner Peak and Mt Ritter in the distance, both majestic in their own accord.

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We would leave the cascades of Shadow Creek and began a steady 1,400 foot climb into a canyon that seemed to have a dead-end.  The boulders and scree were large as we picked our way to the top of the canyon.  The wind really picked up and was gusting 20-30mph. It was starting to sprinkle a bit.  Nearing lunchtime, we found a tarn with a small stand of trees that offered some shelter.  Garnet Lake was below and in the distance, there were numerous dark cumulus clouds.  We need to keep an eye on those clouds.  One thing I’ve learned is to avoid peaks and passes during mid-day storms.  In the Sierras, summer afternoon thunderstorms are common, especially when it has been hot.  The heat wave that hit the Sierras created a recipe for strong storms.  We would have our lunch amidst the little trees while the wind buffeted us as we held our belongings.  We broke out the rain gear as intermittent sprinkles were pelting us.  Below on Garnet Lake, you could see whitecaps blowing across the lake.  There was some serious wind down there.

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The wind calmed a bit as we got back on the trail and descended to the lake.  We met a rider and his mule who said that his animal would not cross the log bridge across the Garnet Lake Outlet.  Another southbound hiker said earlier the winds around the lake were gusting between 40-50 mph.  Well, that will take your toupee’ off.  Filtering some water, we started a hot climb out of Garnet and topped out around 10,400 ft.  The afternoon sun and heat really saps the energy.  We prayed for some cloud cover and were rewarded with a nice forest covering before we descended to Ruby Lake. Quite a few nice campsites around this little lake, but we wanted to go a bit farther.  We use this Katadyn water filter, it is fantastic: Katadyn Vario Multi Flow Water Microfilter

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We were reaching the end of our hiking day as we neared Emerald Lake.  It was an awesome lake, but camping was prohibited between here and Thousand Island Lake to the northwest.  I scouted out some sites nearby, not realizing that it was still a no camping zone.  Dropping my pack at the top of a granite outcropping, I went back a few hundred yards to tell my wife and brother about the potential sites.  Another southbounder reminded them about the no-camping zones around these lakes.  Drat, I had found a nice spot with killer views.  Oh well, there is a side trail on the north side of Thousand Island, we will go there.  As I returned to retrieve my pack, I noticed a big fat marmot sniffing my pack.  Still a hundred yards away, I yelled but it ignored me.  For some reason I thought about the gophers in Caddyshack.  I started running up the granite slope and picked up a few rocks which I threw at the vermin.  He trotted off, fussing at me.  “Au revoir gopher”.

Fortunately, I made it to my pack before it was pillaged.  Lesson learned, don’t leave your pack alone for long – especially if there’s food in it.   The lake below was the best one yet.  We made our way west on a side trail and began looking for a site.  You have to hike another half mile or so and if you get there late, most of the good sites have been taken.  We did find a granite slab about 100 ft. from the lake and it was stellar.  If you hike the JMT, I highly recommend camping around Thousand Island Lake.  The mosquitoes were bad, but ourheadnets and long sleeves kept them at bay.  I imagine that there are less bloodsuckers in late Aug/early September.  To cut down on mosquitoes, we treated our stuff with Permethrin: Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray, 24-Ounce

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We were bushed and actually ate dinner in our tents.  The cool night air wafted through our tents.  Sleep would come quickly…..

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John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 1 – Devils Postpile to Rosalie Lake

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Link to YouTube slideshow:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

If you’ve ever camped near rushing water you may understand that it’s like taking a sleeping pill.   In the Sierras near Mammoth, the San Joaquin River is small as rivers go, but grows as it makes its way west.   It is born at Thousand Island Lake where we would camp on day 2.   As the San Joaquin descends into Devils Postpile, the cascades provide some character to the little river branch before it provides vital nourishment to the California Central Valley.

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We were awakened by the dawn light as it filtered through the trees in the campground.  Breakfast would be scrambled eggs and bacon.  Food is a priority for me in the backcountry.  I found out about these crystallized eggs and pre-cooked bacon from Backpackers magazine.  The eggs are real, in powdered form and when mixed with water – come to life when heat is applied.  These aren’t the old-school powdered eggs, they are the real deal.   The bacon is real and just reheated.  Put two checks in the protein box for today.   Only thing missing was toast, but that’s ok.  We would have to get our carbs from the pita bread and snack bars.

We packed up our site and headed toward the Devils Postpile Monument less than a half mile up the trail.  Afterward, we would hit the JMT and head north.  We would be one of the odd 10% of JMT hikers that go north.  It just worked out that way mainly for logistics.   Devils Postpile is an amazing display of a geologic formation of lava that cooled in long geometric columns.  Definitely worth a side visit.  We would run into a family that was hiking the JMT from north to south and they proceeded to tell us about the onslaught of mosquitos.  A couple of the younger women had 50 or 60 bites – on their arms.  Hmmm, either bug repellant wasn’t applied, or these are mosquitos from Hades.  They also told us how a bear tore into their non-food bags that were hanging from trees in Lyell Canyon.   I wasn’t fazed by these tales of woe, thanked them for the info and looked forward to meeting the challenge (and our dementors) head on.

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We made our way up the hill several hundred yards before I realized we were going south.  Oops, the morning sun was on my left – that’s not right.  I flipped my map around, apologized and asked everyone if they were warmed up yet.  I felt like Dr Lazarus in the movie Galaxy Quest, when he was reading his tricorder thingy backwards.    We found the JMT junction and crossed the San Joaquin on a nice footbridge.  My brother and I brought our DSLR cameras on this trip, the extra 2 pounds worth it since we knew about the vistas that lay ahead.  The trail wasted no time increasing elevation as we left the river and the mid-morning heat was on.  We peeled off a layer and unzipped the legs off our pants.  A bit of sunscreen and bug repellant and we were on our way.  Much of this area was devastated by a freak windstorm last year and required much trail maintenance to clear the blow-downs.   I was impressed at the amount of work done to restore the trail.  Kudos to the Forest Service employees and their army of volunteers.

Our packs were heavy with our full complement of food.  We would carry 2 liters of water and a spare .75 liter bottle.  Prior to hitting the trail, we would tank up – drinking as much as was comfortable.  Hydration is everything when you hike, especially when your body is working hard at altitude with a heavy load.   Pulling my Tom Harrison map out, I would occasionally check our position and compare the various landmarks.  Eventually, the JMT and PCT split and we would go left to follow the JMT toward a land of lakes.

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The trail was fairly steep at 400-500 ft per mile and came with an array of SUDS (senseless up-downs).  In a hikers’ mind, you should go up or down, not both.   We could hear the cascades of the river below and see waterfalls in the distance.   We cinched the shoulder harnesses and load balancers to bring the packs closer to our shoulders as the incline seemed relentless.   With a full pack, comfort is not really an option.  You shift the load from hips to shoulders and move the pain points around.  General rule is uphill-bring the load in close to your shoulders, downhill-shift it to your hips.  Always a good idea to play around with waist-shoulder-sternum-load balancer straps as you hike.  All good quality backpacks have those adjustments.  It takes practice to adjust those while holding hiking poles, sipping water and keeping your eye on the trail.

As the GPS altimeter continued to click up, I glanced again at the maps.  The Harrison maps have great detail, but man it was hard to make out those contour lines.  As we approached 10,000 ft later in the day, we realized that we should look for a camp near a water source.  That wouldn’t be too hard since there was water everywhere.  I knew enough to avoid ponds since their still waters are just breeding grounds for mosquitoes.  I had cut out select pages of the John Muir Trail: The essential guide to hiking America’s most famous trail, which listed elevation profiles and campsite coördinates along the JMT.  It is an invaluable guide and highly recommended.

The guide recommended an area near the Rosalie Lake outlet and it was spot on.  There was evidence of a previous camp close by a stream.  Too bad we couldn’t make use of the fire ring since there is a moratorium on campfires in the Inyo National Forest.

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The campsite was full of those big black carpenter ants.  They are pretty harmless from what I remember unless you get close to their colony.  They are persistent and get into everything that isn’t sealed up.  We learned to co-exist with these critters.  One thing, you can’t be afraid of bugs in the backcountry.  In the Sierras, most are harmless and bug repellant with 33% Deet works ok.  Be careful with the 100% Deet, it melts most plastics.  Another thing worth mentioning is that prior to our trip I sprayed our outer garments with Permethrin.  I’ve used this on the A.T. and it works great as most bugs will bounce off your clothes-especially ticks.  It also is effective for up to six washings.  It can be applied to your tent or tarp too.

Dinner was a Mountain Home Chicken & Mashed Potatoes.  It’s a good one, four stars.  We would wind down our day chatting about how hard the first day was.  I told everyone how well they did on the trail and that it would eventually get easier.  It didn’t get easier until the last day…

The mosquitos were definitely in charge here, but our headnets and long sleeves/pants kept them at bay.  As the night cooled and the breeze picked up, their numbers diminished.  The heat of the day was gone and the coolness of Rosalie Lake wafted over our campsite.  Temps would drop into the low 50’s at 9,500 ft.  The lake outlet was a babbling brook which made it so easy to sleep.  If at all possible, seek out those streams, they are nature’s sleep machine.

Late at night, we would see flashes of light through our tent.  Why do strange things happen late at night?  I was concerned about a forest fire, so I unzipped the tent to watch the sky.  To the south – southeast, it appeared to be fireworks.  It was only June 30th, but some town must have gotten an early start.  Maybe there was something going on in Mammoth Lakes.

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Gear we recommend:

shoes/boots –Five Ten Men’s Camp Four Hiking Shoe

hiking pants – Columbia Men’s Silver Ridge Cargo Short

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 0 – Devils Postpile

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The big day was here.  Anyone who has ever hiked in the Sierras can tell you the allure of these mountains.  The vistas are like fuel for the soul.  This trip was planned about six months ago.  We decided to do a south-north section hike of the JMT starting in the Mammoth Lakes area and ending up in Yosemite Valley.  90% of hikers do the north-south route and finish at Mt. Whitney.  While that fourteener is on the list, this trip was meant to enjoy a seven-day trek up the legendary trail.

My friend obtained the permit through the recreation.gov website ahead of time.  He couldn’t make it, but listed me as an alternate group leader which made picking up the permit easier.  I will not go into detail, but if you don’t need to climb Whitney or Half Dome, obtaining the permit is very easy online.  Overall, the fee for four people online was $26, which included a processing fee.  At the Wilderness Centers or ranger stations, it is around $5 per person.  There is no guarantee of trail availability for walk-ins, so plan accordingly.

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Campsite at Devils Postpile.

Since my friend could not make it, I asked my trusty hiking partner – aka my wife to go.  She reluctantly said yes!  We also asked my older brother who said that it was on his bucket list.  Early morning, June 29th we left suburban San Diego heading toward Mammoth Lakes.  Today was a hot one, with forecasts putting the temps between 100-110 degrees in the Owens Valley area.  Mammoth was projected to be in the 90’s. Whew!

We picked up our permit at the Mammoth Visitor Center and spoiled ourselves with a burger at a local tourist trap before heading to Mammoth Lakes Inn to catch the Reds Meadow Shuttle.  The shuttle was $7 and would drop us at our choice of campgrounds.  We chose to stay at Devils PostPile Campground.  At $14, it was a good bargain and had nice sites located close to the San Joaquin River.   We pitched our tents and settled in for a leisurely night before our first hiking day.  The camp has bathrooms, potable water, picnic tables and fire rings.  This was luxury camping to us compared to the rest of the week.  You can tent or RV camp.

We would try out our first dehydrated dinner at the camp.  It was an Alpineaire Black Bart Chili.  Yummm.  We hung out by the river, my brother trying his hand at fly fishing.  Discussing tomorrow’s itinerary, we would rest well with the sound of the cascading San Joaquin River 100 ft. away.

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Sun setting on the small San Joaquin River.

Temps are forecast to be in the 80’s tomorrow.  Hopefully, as we climb out the temps will drop between 3-5 degrees for each 1,000 ft.  Oh well, at least there is plenty of water up here.

Next:  Section Hike of the JMT – Day 1


Planning for a Section Hike of the John Muir Trail

jmt-logo3.5x3.5-11-08-07After much preparation, our section hike of the JMT commenced.  Our plan was to do a 60+ mile section from south-north.  We would start around Devils Postpile and finish in Yosemite Valley.  There are a lot of logistics that go into an extended backcountry trip.  From clothing, food, transportation – the options are numerous.

How much will it cost?  It will vary widely depending on your choices for transportation, gear and food.  Don’t go cheap on essential hiking gear.  You get what you pay for.  The $25 tent is not a good idea for a High Sierra backcountry trip.

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It started with choosing a time of year to do it.  In the Sierras, the previous winter has a lot of impact on trail conditions.  This year was a low snow year, so the streams were not very high.  Since there was less snow, that usually means less standing water so mosquitos should not be as bad.  Well, that’s debatable.  To some, any mosquitos are bad.  Ensure that you don’t have problems fording streams or walking across logs over rushing water.  Late June/early July worked for us.  I hear late August/early September is a good time.

Next choice was the distance to hike.  This is where you need to know what your limits are.  Can you hike 8-10 miles per day with a full pack at high altitude in 80 degree temps?  I can tell you as an avid day hiker, there is a lot of difference between hiking 10 miles with a daypack and with a 40 lb. pack.  It’s not pleasant to do a forced march just to make your mileage.

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Clothing was another choice.  What to wear?  Best advice I can give is to check blogs and user groups to see what others are doing.  Yahoo has a great JMT user group with relevant info.  Due to a forecast of high temps, we would take synthetic short and long sleeve shirts, convertible pants and rain/wind jackets.  Still, conditions in the Sierras vary widely, so an extra layer or two is a good idea.  Those light weight hiking shoes may not provide enough support on a multi-day hike with a full pack.  Test it out first.

Food was next.  Dehydrated meals are the easiest and they’ve come a long way.  Test some out ahead of time and read the reviews for each.  There is some amazing innovation in the area of crystallized eggs and pre-cooked bacon.  Ensure they you have plenty of snacks like energy bars, trail mix, beef sticks and fruits like apples.  My wife found healthy alternatives in the form of grass fed beef sticks and even some gluten free snacks.  It’s amazing how many calories you can burn in 6-8 hours of hiking, so do the math.  Bear canisters are mandatory in most areas on the JMT, so plan to rent or bring your own.

Transportation.  Since we were doing a section hike, we chose to leave our car in Mammoth Lakes, catch a shuttle to the trail and for the return leg, catch public transportation (YARTS) back to Mammoth.  It ended up working out great.  Have a backup plan in case you miss your ride.

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Research and planning was everything on this trip which helped make it successful.  I learned so much reading others’ blogs and experiences.

NEXT:  John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 0

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle


Packing a Bear Canister, Unpacking a Bear Canister

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Yes honey, it will all fit.

As we prepare for our section hike of the JMT,  I am enjoying watching my wife pack, unpack the bear canister.  Her frustration mounting, I assure her that it will all fit or we will hang the non-essentials from a tree.  Hopefully, by the time we hit Yosemite where bears come to feast, we will have mostly empty bear cans.   Whoever created the saying it’s like packing 10 pounds of “stuff” in a 5 pound bag must have invented the bear canister.

The logistics of a section hike in the backcountry are significant.  Permits, transportation, food, clothing, checklists, on and on….  Watching her pack, it’s obvious that organized people can get more in their canisters than the rest of us.  If you’ve ever crammed a bear canister into an ultralight backpack, you realize that you may be wearing the same clothing all week because it’s either food or clothing.

Keep in mind the pack-it-in, pack-it-out rule.  While I agree that we should be good stewards and not leave our trash in the wilderness, it literally stinks to carry your garbage around for a week.  I would advise that you rinse out those foil tuna packs after you empty them or your apples will smell like Chicken-of-the-Sea by day three.

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This is why you need a bear can in Yosemite.

Should you pack your bear can with each day’s meals?  Like day 5 on the bottom, day 4 above that and so on.  I guess if you are OCD then yes.  Otherwise, it’s fun finding your food, kind of like the treat in the bottom of a Crackerjack box.

When I got our bear cans, by the way I picked two different types, a Garcia and a Bearvault, I got some reflective tape and made smiley face designs on them.  That way, if we need to find a bear can in the dark after Yogi rolls it away,  it will be smiling back at us.  Along with my phone number, I added a little graffiti like “eat me” and “sorry Yogi” on the reflective tape with a Sharpie.  If I have to use those darn things, I will make the best of it.

The old standby canister used by the Park Service: Backpackers’ Cache – Bear Proof Container

BearVault BV500 Bear Proof Container Bear Vault  – This one is my favorite, roomy and you can see your stuff.

Always stow your bear canisters between 50-100 ft. away from your tent and wedge them between rocks or trees.  Never place them around a cliff or near water unless you plan on fasting for a few days.  Enjoy packing them, practice or watch others pack a bear can for cheap entertainment.  It’s better than watching Duck Dynasty.


Hydration on the Trail

DSC03187Most of our hiking is in southern California with a desert climate that is arid and dry.  From the Colorado Desert in the Anza-Borrego region south to the San Bernardino Mountains,  we can go for months without significant precipitation.  Water is one thing you can’t scrimp on.  The mind plays tricks on you if deprived of this vital liquid, especially since the brain is made up of approximately 75% water.

It’s really important to understand the area that you hike in.  On longer day and section hikes, you should know where there are water sources or carry a boatload with you.  At over two pounds per liter, it adds up quickly and can make up the bulk of your pack weight.  Hydration really is a common sense thing-especially if you’ve ever run out of water.  On multi-day and section hikes, it’s a good idea to research trail conditions and water availability.  During low snowfall years, many streams are dry by early-mid summer.

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How your body loses water

On the trail, the most obvious ways are 1. perspiration (evaporation), 2. breathing-especially if you’re a mouth breather, and 3. urination.

Let’s talk about the  symptoms and effects of dehydration on the body first.  Dehydration simply put is “deficiency of fluid within an organism”  Ha, I like that one.  Deficiency is lack of and the organism is your body.  When your body lacks the fluid, it’s like running your car with no water in the radiator.  You can only go so far before the engine shuts down from overheating.  Your body can only go so far because your blood plasma needs water and your organs need the blood.

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Symptoms of Dehydration

Dehydration doesn’t occur instantly, there are stages and warning signs along the way.  The most obvious symptoms may be thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, headaches and nausea. Urine is a great indicator of your hydration state.  Dark or yellow pee is an obvious sign that you need more water.  However, in some cases people in a dehydrated state don’t even urinate because there isn’t enough fluid in the body.  As your body loses water through dehydration, it can reach a point where it starts taking fluid from the organs, which is a very bad thing.

Prevention/Treatment

I am the master of the obvious.  Prevent dehydration by taking in more fluids than you lose.  If you start out with a deficit, and you exert yourself on a tough hike, you never catch up and put your health at risk.  We always try to “tank up” and drink 16-32 oz. of water before a hike.  Doctors say it’s always good to start your day that way.  The two cups of coffee don’t count either.  On the trail, we ward off the thirst by frequently sipping from our water bladders.   Drinking a few sips every 5 minutes or so while going uphill barely keeps us ahead of the curve on a hot day.  Some people use water bottles like a 32 oz. Nalgene or Camelbak, but use whatever works best.  We prefer the 100 oz. Camelbak bladders and I carry a spare liter of water in a bottle.

If you recognize symptoms of dehydration in yourself or a fellow hiker, take a break and drink as much water as is comfortable.  Other health issues like heat stress or acute mountain sickness are made worse if you are in a dehydrated state.  Remember the car radiator analogy….   Your body regulates itself better when it has plenty of fluids to work with.  On a challenging hike, a liter of water lasts me 2-3 miles. Figure out your usage and plan accordingly.

I have used some of the following products for water filtration and highly recommend them:

Sawyer mini-filtration: http://amzn.to/1FDDL48

Katadyn Vario Water Filter: http://amzn.to/1cDgkRd  (the absolute best)

Platypus Gravityworks 2L: http://amzn.to/1JtIWee  (for several people, good for group camping)

Common Misconceptions

1. You don’t need as much water in the winter time.  Actually, you may need more as cool temps provide a false sense of hydration.  It’s typically drier in winter and you may lose more through perspiration and respiration.

2.  You can get fluids from other drinks like soda, tea. Some beverages actually act as diuretics and can cause increased fluid loss through urination.  Water is always best.  You can add flavor or add electrolytes if needed.  Alcohol and hiking? Niet.

3.  I can drink water from that stream. Sure you can.  Be prepared to get a classic case of diarrhea due to giardia and cryptosporidium, two bacteria that can probably only be eliminated with antibiotics.  You should always filter or treat water from a stream or lake.  The animal that pooped upstream just didn’t know any better.

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Hiking and good hydration practice go hand-in-hand.  Never hit the trail without enough water.  Bless you friends, enjoy your walkabout – where ever you are!

P.S. – I often use my Nikon 3300 series camera on the trail.  Durable and takes amazing pics.  http://amzn.to/1F0F38L


Lost in the San Bernardino Mountains – Part II

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This is Part II of a story that I started a few weeks ago….

https://thelatebloomerhiker.com/2013/05/30/lost-in-the-san-bernardino-mountains-part-i/

The temperature dropped quickly after the sun settled behind the ridge.   Before it got totally dark I had gathered up some rocks and made a tiny fire pit on the ledge.  There was enough kindling and scraps to make a small fire.   I couldn’t imagine trying to keep it going all night and it wasn’t needed for a signal fire – yet.  I was also a bit paranoid about setting the San Gorgonio Wilderness on fire and ruining the forest for everyone else.  In 2003, the San Diego County  Cedar Fire burned over 280,000 acres, destroyed 2,820 buildings and killed 15 people.  It was caused by a lost hunter who lit a signal fire.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cedar_Fire  Eventually, I let the fire go out.

I finally settled into an uneasy sleep, not really asleep but one like you’re in a strange hotel room and you wake up confused.

The sound was strange, in my dream it was a rustling sound.  Except it wasn’t a dream.  I woke up under the space blanket and peeked out from under to see what the sound was.  My eyes strained to see the shape that was nearby.  The shape snorted and began to move away.  Omigosh, it couldn’t be!   A bear came upon me and was dragging something.   I shouted at him, “Hey that’s my backpack!”, but Yogi kept taking my bag away.  Knowing better than to wrestle a bear for my belongings, I tried throwing rocks at him.   Probably not a good idea, but I was mad and not thinking properly.

The rocks only made him trot away with my bag and he disappeared.  I went back to my bed of pine branches and sat down.  As the adrenaline faded, I started trembling from the encounter of a black bear only a couple of feet away from me.  Thankful that they aren’t normally carnivores with human appetites,  I was demoralized from losing my belongings to a stinkin bear.   It was impossible to sleep from that point on as the thought of another ursine visit plagued me.

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Hey, that’s my backpack!

I was down to a cell phone, my wallet, keys and the clothes on my back.   My pack had the water, emergency supplies and food.  I began to wonder what else could go wrong when something cold landed on my nose.  I went to flick it away and nothing was there.  Another piece of coldness landed on my eyelash and then another.  Wonderful, the 30% chance of snow flurries just turned to 100%.   Clouds must have rolled in over the last couple of hours because I could no longer see the moon or stars.  For a moment, I felt like Job and asked God if he hated me.  However, Job knew that God loved him and so did I.  He would see me through this.

The flurries turned to a light snow and I noticed the landscape became somewhat brighter.    I huddled under the pine tree with my space blanket and thought about my wife and warm bed 100 miles from here.  I knew that I would get out of this situation and continued to pray for safety and that the temperature wouldn’t drop much more.

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The night seemed to last forever and the sound of pine cones and branches falling unnerved me for several more hours.  The snow would continue and provided a cold blanket over the barren landscape.   Eventually, the sky started to gain some color.  I made up my mind that once there was enough light to make out east from west and some landmarks, I was getting the heck out of here.

It was overcast, and the snow had stopped.  I couldn’t see the sun, but was able to make out the general direction of where it was.  Knowing that I needed to head west-southwest, I began a slow traverse toward what I hoped was the trail.    The snow had accumulated a couple of inches, so it wasn’t difficult to walk.  Eventually, I broke out into a meadow with a lot of downed trees.  It looked vaguely familiar, but the dusting of snow covered any trail that might exist.  Continuing in a westerly direction, I heard what sounded like water flowing.  That was a good sound and immediately boosted my morale.

The stream was a vernal one, but ended up cutting through a trail.  Hallelujah!, I found the trail.   I almost ran to Alger Creek, but saved my energy and focused staying on the path. Crossing Alger, I knew that cell phone reception was within 30-40 minutes.  The path had less snow and estimated that the altitude was around 7,000 ft.   Seeing Mill Creek Canyon through the trees ahead, I tried the cell phone and got two bars.

The phone was working and I was able to get through to my wife.  I explained some of what happened, leaving out the parts about falling down a steep hill, the bear and snow.  No need to worry her you know.

The snow disappeared around 6,000 ft. and I emerged into the Mill Creek Wash where I ran into a day hiker heading up.  It must have been around 8 a.m. I didn’t tell him about my ordeal, but he did give me the strangest look.  After I got to the car, I  could see why.  My face was covered in dust and I had abrasions on my cheeks.  On my drive home, I had plenty of time to think about the past 24 hours.   In my rear view mirror, Ol’ Greyback (Mt. San Gorgonio) faded in the distance.

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While this was my attempt at fiction, the fact is solo hikers get hurt (and lost) a lot.  It’s always a good idea to let someone know where you are going.  It will give the Search & Rescue team a good starting point.  Also, check the weather forecast and do not throw rocks at bears.   Don’t forget the 10 essentials in your backpack:

  1. Navigation (map and compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter

Credit for the 10 essentials – Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, by Mountaineer Books.


Marion Mountain Trail to San Jacinto Summit. JMT, We are Ready.

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U.S.D.A. Identifier: Marion Mountain Trail-2E14

Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil, rocks, pine straw

Distance as hiked: 12.5 miles

Approximate elevation: Trailhead-6,400ft., Top of trail-10,834ft.

Temps:75-90 degrees

Difficulty: strenuous

The last time we hiked Marion Mountain Trail was in April/May of 2012.  Snow covered a good portion of the trail above 8,000 ft, and we only made it to the junction.  It is known as one of the shortest and steepest routes to the summit of San Jacinto.

We took my brother on this hike as a warm up for the JMT at the end of the month.  this is a challenging trail with difficult terrain.  You must keep a sharp eye out for the path as it gets tricky.

Less than half a mile into today’s hike, I came within a foot of a Pacific rattler, who warned me in the nick of time.  My hiking pole was inches away from his tail.  I backed away slowly to allow this 4-5 foot adult make his way up the slope.  Close encounters with rattlers gets the adrenaline going.   The color and pattern of this one blended in perfectly with the trail.   While I’ve had over a dozen encounters with rattlers in my few years of hiking, this was the closest.  Our altitude was approx. 6,700 ft.  In my observation, snakes are rarely seen above 8,000 ft. in the San Bernardino Mountains.  It made me more cautious the rest of the day and I also took the time to brief my hiking partners on how we would handle a poisonous snake bite situation.

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Crossing paths with a 4-5 foot Pacific Rattler.

After snapping a few photos of this viper, we focused on our journey to the summit.  The trail wastes no time in elevation gain as it climbs out at over 900 ft. per mile.   The short switchbacks and rocky, sandy trail makes for a calf and quad burning extravaganza.

Due to the lack of snowfall last winter, the vernal streams are fewer and water flows much less.  The first significant stream was around 9,300-9,400 ft., and probably feeds into the tiny San Jacinto River.  The temps stayed in the 80’s for much of this trek and we were using up our water faster than predicted.  There were a couple of other streams where a someone with a pump could extract some water.

Sometimes, I question why we do these tough hikes.  Marion Mtn is one of the hardest ones around.  It’s really mind over matter because it isn’t always fun.  It does build confidence in the sense that once you put your mind to something,  you can conquer it.  Besides, if you always hiked on flat terrain it would be boring.

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We took many breaks today due to the heat and intensity of the trail.  We started feeling the possible symptoms of mild acute mountain sickness (AMS) around 9,000 ft.  To compensate, a motrin and increased fluid intake helped, as well as slowing the ascent.   Symptoms may include nausea, light-headedness and a mild headache.  We kept an eye on this and agreed to head back down if the symptoms did not go away.  AMS is nothing to play around with and is important to recognize it as it can lead to a more serious condition.  You can read about it here: http://www.altitude.org/altitude_sickness.php

We took a lunch break at the junction of the PCT/Marion Mtn/Seven Pines trails.  From the junction, you enter a heavily wooded area for 1/2 mile and begin a steady climb that is exposed to afternoon sun.  The trail is rocky with occasional shade under some conifers. We continued on to Little Round Valley campground.  It is a nice area with private campsites less than a mile to the summit.  The nearby vernal stream  was pretty much dry, so I recommend you top off at the stream about 700-800 yds before camp on the ascent.

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We broke out into a clearing with signs that pointed us to the summit and points to the tram, Wellman’s Divide, Deer Springs Trail and Humber Park.  The views to several 10,000+ peaks and the desert below are beautiful.

No hike to San Jacinto is complete without stopping by the summit cabin.  The last 200 ft. to the summit are spent scrambling up boulders and around the flora.  At the top, we saw several others – not too bad.  Sometimes, you can run in to 30 or 40 people crowded around the sign.  It was 5:30 by then, so that might have something to do with it.

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We started down by 6 p.m. knowing that it was going to be a close call on darkness.  I have to admit, this trail is no easier going down  since you have to pick your way around the rocks and scree.   We burned through our food and snacks due to the extra effort going up. Now, we were on auto pilot.

As darkness approached, we broke out the headlamps and realized we would be hiking for at least another hour.  The forest and moonless night made for a slow descent as we picked our way over the obstacles.  My headlamp needed the batteries replaced, but I kept going.  I did have spare batteries, but just didn’t want to stop.  After a week of night hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness last year, this wasn’t too bad.  My hiking partners weren’t digging it though.  Actually, I was tired and ready for it to end too.

If you’ve hiked this trail, you know how hard it is to follow  – especially at night.  As Mary discovered, the scorpions come out at night here.   While I was struggling to see the trail ahead, she was seeing every crawling critter on the path.  Oh well, at least the scorpions are small.

After 1 1/2 hrs, we finally reached the parking area and were dog-tired.  We were still committed to the post-hike celebratory meal of In-N-Out with “animal style fries”.  Well, if you live out here – you know what that is.

This hike is a great workup for a Mt. Whitney type trip.  We used it as a warmup for the JMT.  Even though the trail humbled us, we came away confident with a few lessons learned.

1.  Take more water than you think you need or have the ability to filter some.  For me that’s 1 liter for every 3 miles.  Your mileage may vary.  I carry a backup 24 oz. Camelbak bottle and needed it on this hike.

2. Take extra food and snacks.  While we had enough, it wasn’t enough if we had gotten lost and needed to spend the night.  Keep some of those nuclear proof classic Clif Bars in your emergency pack.

3.  Hiking at night is slow going, especially in tough terrain.  Scree isn’t as obvious and a rolled ankle 3 miles from the trailhead is a bad thing.

We use trekking poles when hiking.  This is a good set that is reasonably priced:  Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue  Unless you are a pro, don’t spend your money on the carbon fiber poles.

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Mount San Gorgonio – A Three Day Journey – Day 3

Momyer Creek going down

It’s funny how much time you waste piddling around the campsite.  By the time we loaded up, it was almost 9 a.m.  We had a 7 mile descent ahead.  Other than the difficulty of carrying a full load uphill, going down is harder.  You tend to slip more and your toes feel like they’re coming out the front of your shoe.  The talus was steep and the trail angled, which caused us to compensate by putting more weight on the uphill foot.  It was slow going but we were ready to finish this.  The focus required to maintain footing was intense.  When you think about every step on this terrain being calculated, your brain gets a real workout too.

The volunteer trail crews have done an amazing job out here.  On a previous scouting hike of Momyer Creek Trail, I counted no less than 10 blow-downs blocking the trail.  By Memorial Day, they had cleared them all.   Sometimes, I will make a note on the position of a trail issue and report it back to the ranger station on the way out.  The hiking community is tight-knit and are good stewards of the trail.  By noon, the exposed areas on the trail were heating up.  It was a blessing to go in and out of the forest as the temps would drop 5-10 degrees in the shade.

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Toward the end, we started to run into day-hikers and people who seemed to be out for a stroll.  As we neared Mill Creek, we heard groups of people and lots of kids.  We passed a family heading uphill, their daughter asking us “where the river was?”  “River? Oh, you mean Alger Creek, it’s 3.7 miles that-a-way.”    I doubt they made it that far as they towed an elderly woman who was inching along.  They also had their sodas and snacks in a clear trash bag.   Please don’t take me wrong, I don’t mean to make fun of them, it’s the contrast between a few days away from society and being thrust into an urban picnic.  We came across another family and after we told them about our 27 mile hike, the daughter asked to take our picture.  Of course, we agreed.  Wow, we were puffed up now!

We entered Mill Creek Wash and the atmosphere was that of a park, with people gathered around the creek, umbrellas, blankets and picnic supplies.  It was too much for us – as in culture shock too much.   Civilization smacked us right in the face.  What we saw as a simple wash with a creek running through it became a beach front resort to the people of metro San Bernardino.

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After getting back to the car, we laughed for a long time about what we just witnessed.  Imagine, going into the backcountry for a few days without having time to acclimate to society.  We still giggle about it.  In the end, our trip to Gorgonio was hard, but great practice for the JMT.  Time spent together as a couple was primo.   Taking the bear canisters gave Mary an idea what it was like to pack everything (including trash) in a can.  One more hike up San Jacinto and we will be ready for one of the best treks in the country.

The scene at Mill Creek showed us one thing – people love to get out and away from the city.  Imagine how much more fun it is to venture a few miles out.  I encourage you to go higher and farther.  Amazing times await you…


Mount San Gorgonio – A Three Day Journey – Day 2

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Day hiking is definitely a good way to warm up for section hiking.  Just like car camping is a good way to warm up for wilderness camping.  At least that’s how we approach it.

The first day up Momyer Creek Trail was a challenge.  With 3,000 ft. of elevation gain and difficult terrain, we were ready for a quiet night.  Our first task after getting camp set up was to get water for dinner and the next day’s trek.  I’ve had a Sawyer 2-bag water filtration system for a few years now and it is dependable, albeit a bit bulky for two people.  It does require an adequate water source and doesn’t work well in small puddles.  The gravity feed from the dirty bag to the clean bag through the filter is slow and takes awhile to filter 6-7 liters.

Dinner consisted of dehydrated meals.  Mountain House makes some decent ones that are fairly palatable. We use the portable Pocket Rocket stove with propane-butane fuel.   Also found a MSR knockoff stove to use as a backup.

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We settled in for the night into our tent as the temperature dropped quickly.   After a full day of hiking, it’s amazing how fast you can go to sleep.  The first night takes some getting used to, kinda of like sleeping in a strange room or hotel.  Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.  At first, the sound of the helicopter was distant as we heard it pass through nearby canyons.  Suddenly, the sound of the blades were overhead, followed by a bright searchlight.  I was like, what the heck?  I unzipped the door to the tent to see what was going on when the searchlight illuminated me like a Sci-Fi movie where the spaceship beams you up.   The pilot announced through his speaker that they were looking for a lost hiker.   I shook my head no,  and the pilot proceeded a couple of hundred yards uphill where he lit up the camp were the boy scouts were.   This continued for about 10 more minutes and then it was gone.  That was midnight.  The rest of the evening was uneventful. We never did find out who was lost.

Morning was brisk and breakfast consisted of crystallized eggs and pre-cooked bacon.  Crystallized eggs, sounds yucky huh?  Actually it is one of the best inventions in a long time when it comes to freeze-dried type food.  I don’t know how they do it, but when mixed with water and cooked in a skillet, it is exactly like scrambled eggs.  Well, they are eggs. The pre-cooked bacon was also near normal taste and texture.  Overall, a tasty breakfast with hot tea.  Maybe coffee next time.

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Today, we would hike from our base camp at 8,400 ft. to the summit at 11,500.  I had Mary drop her main pack and carry a Camelbak hydration pack that I use for mountain biking.  I dumped most of the stuff out of my backpack and used it to carry our days’ supplies.   We hit the trail and continued through a sub-alpine forest before emerging on the edge of a meadow.  Another small stream a mile away provided the last water until our return leg. Crossing above Plummer’s Meadow, we would see the first of many awesome views that day.   The switchbacks up to Dollar Lake Saddle junction were steady and steep.  This portion of the trail gained about 700 ft. per mile.

At the junction, we ran into a group of boy scouts trying to melt some snow.  They had quite the quandary as they did not bring adequate water with them for the summit.   It takes a lot of fuel to melt snow and in the end, I believe they failed to make the top that day.  Planning, especially water – is everything on this mountain.

As we continued, the elevation ticked off, 9,000, 10,000…  No altitude sickness today.  It helped that we camped above 8,000 ft. last night to get acclimated.  Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is nothing to mess with.  It could begin with a persistent headache, nausea or dizziness and can affect the healthiest of people.  Don’t confuse it with a hangover because the symptoms are the same!  For a mild case, often hydrating and a couple of ibuprofen help.  For persistent or worse symptoms, the only cure is to descend.

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We could see Mt. Baldy on one of the switchbacks and the views only got better.  We passed through the last trail camp and the tree-line was around 10,700.   Up the next switchback, Mt. San Jacinto came into view.  The closest of the Three Sisters, its’ majestic peak stands out as a sentinel to the sprawling desert below.  Streaks of snow remain at her higher elevations.  The trail intersected with Vivian Creek Trail, the shortest-steepest route to the summit.  We began to see more people as the trails converged on the summit like freeway ramps.

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Near the summit. I was dragging at this point.

There are several false summits along the way.  Unless you’ve been there before, each view to a taller hill appears to be the top.  It’s only when you see people nestled in the boulders like eagles on their nests do you realize you are there.  We would take our pics, write in the journal, text our families and have lunch right there – only feet away from people you’ve never met before.  The summit had a celebratory atmosphere to it, with everyone smiling and quietly chatting.

You could see for miles or as far as the L.A. smog would let you see to the west.  It actually wasn’t that bad today.   Big Bear Lake to the north, the high desert to the east and the Peninsular Mountain chain farther south.  By the time we left, there were over 100 people up there.  Oh well, it is Memorial Day weekend.

The six-mile trip down was pleasant as we would run in to a few more people making their way up to camp at the top.   We did not see anyone else after two miles.    The constant downhill was harder on the feet and we took a “foot break” at Dollar Lake Saddle.  There was a cool breeze as we aired out our socks.  The  pounding takes a toll on your arches and toes.

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By the time we got to camp, we had logged 12 miles and were ready to eat dinner and crash.  After filling up our reservoirs at the creek, we had a spicy Mountain House chili meal.  It was actually pretty good and one bag was enough for two people.  Well, one hungry dude could probably eat the whole thing.  After cleaning up, we nestled into the tent around 8:00 with the intent to relax and read a bit.  By 8:30 we were in la-la land.

I would be awakened some time later by a bright light next to my head on the outside of the tent.  “What is that?”  Mary was like – “huh?”  I said “that light, what is it?”  The flashlight in my backpack pocket must be on I thought.  I unzipped the tent and stepped out into the chilly night air.  The full moon in all its’ glory had crested the ridge and lit up our tent like the spotlight from the rescue chopper.  We laughed and went back to bed.

The wind picked up a bit that night and made a soothing sound as it passed through the conifers on the exposed ridges.  Soothing, but a bit eerie as the pitch would vary.   Our campsite was on a downhill slope and not affected by the wind.  Eventually, we would drift off only to be awakened by the woodland birds at dawn.  Most were pleasant to listen to, except for the woodpecker.

Next:  Mount San Gorgonio – A Three Day Journey – Day 3:  Talus Is Hard To Walk On.


Mount San Gorgonio – A Three Day Journey – Day 1

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Plummer’s Meadow, Momyer Creek Trail

As part of our workup to a section hike of the John Muir Trail this summer, Mary and I decided to do a 3 day practice hike to the summit of Mt San Gorgonio via the Momyer Creek Trail.   The tallest of the Three Sisters (San Antonio, San Jacinto, San Gorgonio) it stands out at 11,503 ft.  Southern California isn’t necessarily known for its’ majestic mountains, but these peaks are often used to warm up for longer backcountry trips into the Sierras, especially Mt. Whitney.

It’s always good to check in with the rangers to get the latest on trail conditions.  Also, get an update on the water flows at the creeks and streams.  The office is often staffed with volunteers who are a wealth of knowledge.  Having obtained the backcountry permit several weeks prior at the Mill Creek Ranger station, we arrived at the Momyer Creek Trail parking area  around 0900 on what we expected to be a busy Memorial Day weekend.  Altitude at the trailhead is approx. 5,450 ft.

This was Mary’s first time out with her new Gregory 60 liter pack, complete with a few days worth of food in a bear canister.  While the canisters are not mandatory here, I suggested it to get used to our next backcountry on the JMT where they are required.  She has the BearVault 500, and I picked up the Garcia canister.  Both are highly rated, and I’ve rented the Garcia type in Yosemite.  They are cumbersome and take up a lot of space in the pack, but we just dealt with it.  My wife is an amazing hiking partner.  She really kicks it on the trail and doesn’t complain a bit.

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Now that’s a big girls backpack.

We began our trek by crossing the Mill Creek Wash, which has two sections of the creek that are fairly easy to cross.  The terrain gradually changes from the rocky, sandy wash to a single track laced with chaparral.  We passed through several wooded areas before breaking out into the open.  You want to hit this section of the trail early because it does get hot by midmorning during spring and summer.

The trail begins a gradual climb (around 400-500ft. per mile) with a few switchbacks and moves in and out of deciduous forests.  The acorns from the oak trees are among the largest I’ve ever seen.  Due to the weight of our packs, we would stop every mile or two for a break.

The first water source on Momyer is Alger Creek, about 3.8 miles up.   We climbed to 7,300 ft. before dropping into the canyon at Alger Creek Camp at 7,000 ft.  Prior to the creek, I noticed a brightly colored snake on the switchback below.  Knowing that it wasn’t a rattler and not poisonous, I slowly approached it.  It didn’t budge, so I gently coaxed it with my trekking pole and it slithered away.  Come to find out, it was a California King Snake.  The water flow was decent with several cascades nearby.  We dropped our packs, pulled our lunches out and enjoyed a break at one of the cascades.  Taking our shoes off, we dipped them into the  stream and laughed at how cold it was.  We would also spend some time doing our couples devotion.  It was time well spent.

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We noticed a Boy Scout troop pass by.  We would see them many more times throughout the weekend.   We packed up and began a steep climb out of Alger to the next checkpoint – Dobbs Camp junction.  We passed through an area of many fallen trees and a 500 yd. gauntlet of thorn bushes.  Long pants are advisable through here.

The trail changed from dirt to decomposed granite and became even more narrow as it passed through areas of talus and scree.  We encountered a volunteer trail crew pushing blow-downs off the trail.  The trail crew leader politely asked for our permit and I obliged.  Once he knew we were frequent hikers, he tried to recruit us.  We are thinking about doing some type of volunteer work for the Forest Service, but trail maintenance is tough.  🙂   The one bit of bad news they provided was that the large Boy Scout troop was heading to the camp we were shooting for.  Man, I wasn’t looking forward to camping near a bunch of kids, but knew that we could find another site in the forest.  It was slow going as we passed Dobbs Camp junction but the views of Little San Gorgonio and Mill Creek Canyon were getting better.  Momyer isn’t the most scenic of the trails around here, but is definitely less crowded.

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Alger Creek, a great source of water

We crossed another trickle of a stream before crossing a larger stream near our destination.  It ended up being 300-400 yards before our site.  As we neared Saxton Camp, I saw a clearing in the woods downhill.  We bushwhacked to the area and found a semi-level location.  There were some smaller widow-makers nearby, but the weather forecast was looking good, so it was a risk I was willing to take.   We pitched our tent and set up for the night after hiking 6-7 hours.  It was a long 7 miles today.

Next: Mount San Gorgonio- A Three Day Journey – Day 2: Lost Hiker!


Lost in the San Bernardino Mountains – Part I

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The sun was rapidly sinking below the ridge as I struggled to get my bearings.  As it dropped out of sight,  it would be dark in 45 minutes.  A bit of panic set in as I lamented over my ineptness.  Headlamp shattered, my flashlight was gone.  Banged up and lost, it was going to be a long night.

Coming up on three years of hiking, I’ve spent many hours learning about backcountry navigation, survival and general stories of thru hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail.   I’ve managed to put some of it into practice and have never been lost for more than a couple of hours.  In southern California it seems that a hiker gets lost almost every week.  What follows is a tale of something that I hope never happens to me – or you.

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The day began like any other solo hike.  I picked my route out ahead of time, texted my wife with my intended route and off I went. It was late March and there was plenty of daylight left.  The Momyer Creek Trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, is part of the San Bernardino National Forest.   This area is loaded with challenging trails, many intersecting and often leading to multiple summits over 10,000 ft.

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The trail, one of the less popular in the area is peaceful and offers good solitude.  It’s also one of the least maintained with many blowdowns and much erosion.  Volunteers take care of these trails and it is hard work, so no complaining here.  It was also early in the season and there was still snow at the higher elevations.

I had checked the weather before leaving and it was pretty standard for early spring in the mountains of southern California.  Above 6,000 ft, daytime highs in the 60’s, night-time lows in the 30’s with a slight chance of flurries above 7,000 ft. after midnight.

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The hike up Momyer was a good workout, mostly a single track trail that generally followed an easterly direction.  By late morning, the sun was warm and the sounds of the woodpeckers echoed through the forest.  I stopped every couple of miles to rest and take in the surroundings.  So far, no other hikers were around.   Off in the distance, the rumbling of a rock slide could be heard.  The melting snow must be loosening the granite on the slopes of “Old Greyback” as San Gorgonio Mountain is affectionately known.

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My goal was to hike to 9,000 ft. and turn around.   Stopping in Saxton Camp, I had a snack and noticed that it was around 4:00 p.m. Thankfully, Daylight Savings Time was a couple of weeks ago, so I could reach the trailhead by nightfall. Yep, 7 miles to go, I can do that.

As I was making my way down,  I came across a landslide on one of the slopes.   Debris totally blocked the trail.  It was a steep talus, too steep to climb.  The drop-off was even more precarious and too risky to traverse.  No problem, I would backtrack and find a way above the slide.  With approximately 90 minutes of daylight left, this needed to be a quick detour.  I have a headlamp and flashlight, so I was prepared in case of a delay.  Checking my map, I estimated that I was around 7,500 ft. and in an area of steep slopes for a half mile in each direction.  Going back, it was difficult to find a path up a slope that wasn’t covered in scree, those loose rocks and pebbles.  After about 15 minutes, I noticed an easier route and began a climb up.  Reaching a clump of trees, I could see the trail below.  Holding my hand up to the sun, I  noticed two fingers between the sun and the ridge.  That meant 30 minutes until it dropped out of sight.

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Looking around for a reference point, that’s when it happened.  One second I was standing next to a Jeffrey Pine and next thing I knew I was sliding downhill.  Trying to slow myself down, I attempted to dig in with my heels.  That wasn’t having much of an effect so I rolled over trying to grab the scree with my hands and clawed as much as possible.  Digging my knees in, it felt like I was gaining more speed and bringing the mountain down with me.  Then, there was a sensation like the bottom dropped out, and I landed on a ledge.  The abrupt drop knocked the wind out of me.  I was gasping like a fish out of water.

Well that sucked.  After what seemed like an eternity, I rolled over and sat up to assess my situation.  No broken bones that I could tell, lots of cuts and abrasions and a goose-egg on the side of my head.  One hiking pole was still strapped to my hand, the other nowhere in sight.  Worse yet, I was disoriented and unsure of where the trail was.   Covered in a light, powdery dust, I must have been quite a sight.  A crow flew over me and cackled.  I’ve always disliked those birds.

Before the sun went totally down, I checked the supplies in my daypack.  Emergency kit, first aid kit, water, snacks, gloves, knit cap, warm jacket, extra socks – you know the ten essentials and then some.  My headlamp was a casualty of my excursion down the slope, the lens busted and bulb gone.  The Otter Case protected my phone from getting demolished, but no cellular signal.  I cleaned my wounds, none of the cuts too deep.  The lump on the side of my head concerned me a bit, but I didn’t feel dizzy or lethargic.   Looking for my backup flashlight, it wasn’t in the side pocket of my pack.  What else could go wrong?  With the sun setting and no light I needed to find shelter for the night, out of the winds that would come in from the northeast.  Searching the immediate area, I located a spot that looked ok.  The patch of  flat dirt was clear of widow-makers, you know the dead trees that can drop branches and crush you in the middle of the night.  I collected some pine boughs to insulate the ground near a boulder about the size of my car.  I had about 1.5 liters of water, a couple of snack bars and an apple.  I pressed the button on my Spot GPS to alert my wife that I was ok.  Hopefully, she gets the message.  Unfortunately, it is a one-way transmitter.

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Like many areas in the mountains, cellular coverage is sporadic.   Checking my phone one more time, I was disappointed to see no signal.  Wait, one bar but no 3G – would it work?  I  tried a call, but it failed.  Tried sending a text and it failed too.  Oh well, better save my battery for when I do have a signal.

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The last bit of light faded from the sky.  No city lights for reference. Pulling out my jacket and space blanket, I settled in and stashed my pack to the side.  Hearing crickets, the sky turned darker shades of blue, some pink and then black.   Stars began to emerge as the daylight faded.  A waning crescent moon was my only nightlight.  My eyes adjusted somewhat and I prayed for an uneventful night.

NEXT- Lost in the San Bernardino Mountains-Part 2 – “Hey, that’s my pack!”


San Gorgonio Wilderness – Vivian Creek Trail to High Creek Camp

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U.S.D.A. Identifier: Vivian Creek Trail, 1E08

Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil, rocks, pine straw

Distance as hiked: 10.8 miles

Approximate elevation: Trailhead-5,500ft., Top of trail-9,200ft.

Temps: 60-70 degrees

Difficulty: moderate-strenuous

http://www.sgwa.org/trails2.htm

Did a spur of the moment hike back to San Gorgonio on a day off.   A couple of weeks ago we did the Lost Creek Trail and discovered the solitude of a little used trail that intersects a few others prior to the summit of San Gorgonio.  According to the San Gorgonio Wilderness website www.swga.org, the Vivian Creek Trail is the second busiest after the South Fork Trail.  On this weekday, I would come across 8-10 others and several more in the Halfway Camp.

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View in to Mill Creek Canyon from Vivian Creek Trail.

Pass through the little hamlet of Forest Falls and the road ends at a picnic area, which was still closed – perhaps to state budget cuts or an ongoing renovation.  You will need an Adventure Pass to park in the large parking lot on the left.  From there you can follow Mill Creek Wash east along the bank and you will see the trail sign come up on your right.  Otherwise, you can follow the paved road in the picnic area east and you will come to the same trail sign.

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This lizard has his own chunk of granite. Look how long the claws are.

The trail begins on an access or fire road for approximately .5-.7 miles and turns to the left where you are looking at Mill Creek Wash.  The wash is approximately 300 yards wide, full of boulders with Mill Creek running on the north side.  Today, the creek was barely two feet wide.  On the far side of the wash, there is another trail marker where you quickly gain elevation on steep, rocky switchbacks.  The gnats were annoying and continued to sporadically pester me for another mile.  Around 7,000 ft., they thinned out and the hike became more pleasant as the view opened up to Mill Creek Canyon and points farther south.

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Don’t forget the permit!

This trail is one of the shortest (and steepest) routes to the summit of San Gorgonio.  Today, I would do 5.5 miles of the roughly 9 mile hump to the summit.  Not yet a speed hiker, I enjoy the eye candy (the wilderness views) and took a steady pace with stops to snap pics.   Overall, the trail is single track and in good shape due to its’ frequent use.  It traverses a rocky wash with lots of shade from various conifers.   There are exposed areas with chaparral as well.  I crossed several areas with decent water flow, each several miles apart.  As always, recommend a filter to ward off the giardia and cryptosporidium.   Man, that last bug sounds nasty, doesn’t it?  I’ll talk about hydration in a future blog.

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Steller’s Jay, a frequent companion on my hikes.

I stopped at the spur to Halfway Camp and had lunch on a boulder.  No one in the camp yet, but people usually start settling in late afternoon.  I wonder if the feds have a mandatory check in time for these camps?  🙂 The trail breaks in and out of small flats with dry creek areas.  A mix of chaparral and deciduous trees slowly starts changing into mostly conifers.  The landscape in this area varies immensely between 6,000-8,000 ft.

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After I heard a rock slide, this guy showed up.

About two hours into the hike, I heard a rock slide that sounded like it was to my east, but the way sounds bounce off the canyon, wasn’t sure.  Within 30 minutes, a helicopter was flying around near Mill Creek but I never did find out what happened.  Not long after this trip, several guys from north county San Diego got lost off of Fish Creek Trail for a couple of days.  Seems that these “experienced” hikers got turned around after they traversed a snow-covered gully.  I will not make fun of them, it could happen to anyone, right?   Next time bring a map or GPS fellas.

After hitting 9,000 ft. and reaching High Camp, I decided to take a break and head back down.   Most of the time, I’ll take my shoes/socks off to air out before turning around.  On longer treks, it’s a good idea to do it a couple of times each day.  I’ve managed to avoid blisters with this regimen.  Gorgonio Peak is certainly do-able in one day via this trail with an early start for a determined hiker. Still some patches of snow above 7,000 ft. in early May.

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I heard quite the ruckus and peeked under this rock. Do you see what I see?

On the way down, I met a couple doing a 2 or 3 day trip to the peak.  You meet the nicest people on the trail.  Most are laid back and enjoy sharing their experiences with you.  I ended up jogging for three or more miles until I hit the rocky part of the trail near Mill Creek Canyon.  It was a good workout as my knees reminded me that I was no longer 18 years old.

This is a good trail if you are practicing for a High Sierra trip, as the elevation change and trail conditions are similar.


Hiking Poles Are Not For Wimps

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You can usually tell the experienced hikers from the rookies on the trail.  With only 3 years of hiking under my belt, I’m no longer a rookie you see, I’ve moved up to a novice.  Not that I don’t make rookie mistakes on the trail now and then.  Like the time I almost lit my friend’s JetBoil with the little foam koozie thing still on. Man, I might dedicate one of my future blogs to my rookie mistakes.

So back to the subject at hand – hiking or trekking poles.  Almost every seasoned hiker uses them.  Early on in hiking, it was with a single pole. Not sure why I started using one.   One pole was ok, but it didn’t seem to make much difference.  Either that or I wasn’t using it properly.  After some research, it became obvious that I could have gotten by with less knee pain with two poles.

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Not the best spot to use poles….

Most people will tell you that they use poles to lessen the impact on the knees.  The knee is an amazing feat of design by our creator.  It absorbs repeated pounding and tremendous weight over and over.  The compressive force exerted on the knee going downhill is significant.  One study revealed that the typical runner’s knee absorbed between 2-4 times the bodies’ weight.  for a 150 lb hiker, that’s approximately 500 lbs each time!  The average person’s stride is 2.5 ft.  So, in a 10 mile hike, you take roughly 20,000 steps.  So here’s some numbers that will blow you away.  That’s over 10,000,000 pounds of force or 5,000 tons absorbed by your knees on this particular hike. Good golly, check my math on that one.   No wonder my knees ache sometimes.  Supposedly, a 1999 Journal of Sports Medicine study revealed that used properly, poles reduce the stress to the knees by up to 25%.

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Cooling the trekking poles off near Mount Laguna.

I bought my single trekking pole a partner and that’s when the benefits became obvious.  With two poles, I developed better balance going downhill, didn’t slip as much, moved faster and even learned how to “spider” with them.  Yes, I know arachnids have eight legs, but someone came up with the name for the technique.  The poles even gave this boy some rhythm, where there was none before.

One of the reasons I took up hiking was to get some exercise.  Using the same math as before, imagine lifting your trekking poles even 5,000 times on a hike.  At an average of 10 ounces each, that’s over 3,700 lbs of lifting.  Wow, who needs a Nordic Track?  Back to the balance discussion – poles provide the stability when carrying a heavy pack on those extended backcountry trips.  They are invaluable when you have to ford those fast-moving streams.  Think about it, having 3 points on the ground at all times when crossing over those slippery rocks.

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Not exactly carbon fiber, but they lasted over 750 miles.

There are times when poles are a nuisance or even a hindrance.  Bouldering or rock scrambling is not the time to be using your poles.  Hand over hand climbing or bushwhacking through dense vegetation may be some other situations where they are best left strapped to your pack.  Lash them down and stow them with the tips down to avoid skewering yourself in the neck or head.

If weight is an issue, then shelling out the money for lighter high-tech carbon poles may be for you.  Expect to spend $150 or more for  those.   I remember a time on the A.T. where we ran into a fellow with 1 – 1/2 carbon fiber poles.  We saw the other half of his pole 20 miles later in a swamp with thigh deep mud.  The brittle carbon fiber pole was no match for the Maine muck.  On the other hand, my $25 aluminum poles were going strong 200 miles later.  Even something as simple as this comes with accessories.  Rubber tips are more eco-friendly, mud and snow baskets will keep them from sinking down.  Some have compasses and thermometers built into the handle.   Handles are typically plastic, rubber, or even cork, with straps to prevent flinging them over the ledge when you point out the awesome scenery or mountain lion.  I prefer cork handles since it is comfortable and doesn’t cause as much sweating.

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Poles came in very handy here. 100 Mile Wilderness, Maine.

Some other uses for trekking poles:

– The make great spears for self-defense.

– You can wrap duct tape around the shaft which can be used in emergencies.

– You can make a huge cross symbol for those trail vampires

– Use them to make noise so that you don’t sneak up on a bear or to scare away mountain lions. No, really.

– Sword fights or fencing around the campfire.  Rubber tips on of course. 🙂

So, like anything else in hiking gear, you get what you pay for.  If you’re not sure about the need for poles, borrow some from a friend or spend a small amount on an entry-level set.  Your knees will thank you.