Adventures in hiking…

Posts tagged “Backcountry

Big Pine Creek North Fork – Palisade Glacier – Day 1

DSC_0148

2nd Lake, Big Pine Creek – North Fork

Tucked away on a mountain road near the eastern Sierra town of Big Pine is the entrance to one of the most amazing getaways.  The Big Pine Creek collection of campgrounds, lakes and trails are magnificent.

This trip was a last-minute adventure.  My wife was back east helping out with a new grandchild and I knew that I didn’t want to sit around over the long Labor Day weekend.  The Sierras are only 4-5 hours away from San Diego, so I packed up my gear and headed toward the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine to get my backcountry permit.  I researched a few areas to hike and was prepared to “settle” for whatever was available.  Normally, this holiday weekend is one of the busiest up here.  You should especially avoid Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne unless your plans are very flexible.  One could write a blog on the best ways to get backcountry permits.  The trails in the various areas are under the jurisdiction of the USFS or National Parks and traffic is controlled through the use of permits.  About 40% of permits are reserved for walk-ins, the rest can be reserved through recreation.gov for a small fee.

DSC_0142

The visitor center was actually not that busy and I was able to easily obtain the permit for the Pine Creek North Fork trail.  Another 40 minutes and I was in Big Pine.  The sign on the road that takes you to the trail is fairly obscure and starts out as Crocker Rd.  The road passes through a neighborhood and gradually climbs several thousand feet.  The rocky, desert landscape starts to change as you approach the sub-alpine area where the campgrounds are.  The aspen and Jeffrey Pines are abundant in the lower elevations and I imagine that this is even more beautiful as the deciduous trees change in the fall.

The overnight parking lot for the hikers comes up on the right.  There is plenty of room, but I found out that the trailhead is almost a mile away.  Oh well, I needed to loosen up a bit.  I passed the pack-train corral and noticed signs for the various campgrounds and Glacier Lodge.  It was fairly busy in the camps as people were getting in their last bit of summer vacation.  The trailhead is well marked at the end of the road.  There is limited day use parking at the end and I recommend to drop off your gear if there are two or more hikers.

The trail wastes no time in elevation change as the steep, short switchbacks get the heart beating.  You cross the first footbridge and the creek is rapidly descending through cascades and waterfalls.  Normally, this time of year many of the creeks in the Sierras are dry.  Not here, the Palisade Glacier ensures a year-round flow.  The trail meanders through the forest but stays close to the creek.  The rushing water provides the assurance that you can follow it all the way up to its’ source.

DSC_0116

View from Black Lake trail

After the second footbridge, the trail gradually climbs the canyon and then flattens out for a bit.  The riparian environment changes to a desert landscape with some cactus hiding under the chaparral.  The trail diverges from the creek, but never far enough to lose sight or sound.  Occasionally, the sound of the cascading water is an indicator that you will be climbing again.  The louder the water, the steeper the incline.  I’m a simple guy, so I tend to associate simple things you know.

One of the things I love about hiking in the Sierras is the change in eco-systems as you ascend the trails.  You can start out in an arid desert and pass through riparian areas to sub-alpine forests with deciduous trees, followed by alpine forests and end up in snow-covered peaks above the tree line.  It’s so cool to see the flora change while you hike.  This trail appears to dead-end in a canyon and one knows there is only one way out – and that is up.  The path diverges from the creek and the long switchbacks quickly take you above 8,500 ft. Evidence of the pack trains litters the trail where their path emerges from the corral.  Fortunately, the trail is wide enough to step around the mule doodles.  The trail is well maintained with many man-made steps carved from the granite.  You round the corner near a significant cascade and the view is impressive.  Temple Crag comes into sight and the trail rises above the creek.  During the afternoon, the wildlife was missing but imagine that this is a place where deer would hang out.

Big-Pine-Creek05

Big Pine Creek – North Fork – First Fall

Due to my late start and occasional thunder, I started looking for a campsite.  100 ft. from water and trail, that makes it a bit harder.  Well, that and a flat spot for the tent that isn’t in a wash or drainage area.  I found a suitable spot under some fir trees and set up the tent quickly.  The two-person Eureka tent has been a good one.  Lightweight and easy to set up.  The bugs were almost non-existent.  Mosquitoes are bad here in early summer, but this was perfect.  Dinner was a Mountain Home chicken and noodle- too much for one person.  The housekeeping routine when you camp solo is a bit different.  Normally, you split chores like setting up the tent, getting water and cooking but tonight it was all mine.  Within 45 minutes, it started sprinkling and by 7 p.m. a steady rain ensued.  Fortunately, the lightning was distant and the trees seemed to reduce the impact of the rain.

Combined with the drive and a couple of hours of hiking, the rain was a natural sleep machine.  The pitter-patter on the tent was peaceful and the rushing creek was a great combination.  I was asleep by 8:30.

Next: This place has it all

We use the Nikon 3300 series for most of our pics.  An easy to use camera a step up from the entry-level model. Nikon D3300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR with AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II Zoom Lens (Black)


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 7 – The Last Day

DSC_0834

Wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God’s wild fields, we find more than we seek.

John Muir – My First Summer in the Sierra

The last day was bittersweet.  Ready to finish our week on the trail, we broke camp after a light breakfast.  We filtered water at the creek last night and the flow was just a trickle, full of water bugs.  The mosquitoes were relentless at the creek and we were glad that we didn’t camp near there.  Generally, it’s not a great idea to pitch your tent near calm or stagnant water. 🙂

The John Muir trail guide was very helpful as it listed plenty of campsites – all were spot on.  Today, as we made our way toward the Half Dome spur we met a large group on their way back to their base camp.   Seems that the area we stayed in is often used by those who climb the dome.  This group must have left camp around 4 in the morning to climb the rock.  I’m sure Half Dome is a neat experience, it just wasn’t on our itinerary.  Remember, as they say on the A.T. –  “hike your own hike”.

DSC_0023

As we passed the spur trail to Half Dome, we started seeing a lot of people.  Alas, the splendor and solitude of the JMT started to fade.  Within the next 30-45 minutes, we would come across more people than we had seen all week.  It’s probably the main reason we don’t do the main attractions, too many people.

Continuing through Little Yosemite Valley, it seemed like a decent place to camp, but looked crowded.   We have enjoyed the ability to pick out our own campsite on the JMT.   The Merced River came up beside the trail and the smell of jasmine filled the air.  Well, I thought it was jasmine, but they were probably fragrant mountain dogwoods with beautiful white flowers.

_DSC0047

The Merced at this point was leveling out prior to the leap over Nevada Fall, and it was deceitfully calm.  Clear with a slight green tint, this water has traveled many miles from its’ snowy origin.  We passed the junction to Vernal Falls and the Mist Trail and emerged on solid granite.  Dropping our packs, we removed our shoes and dipped our feet in the cool waters.  Some adventurous souls were wading out into the river.  We were probably two hundred yards from the precipice, but it still unnerved me to see people in the water.  Almost every year, someone gets too close and is swept over the edge.  On the other side of the Merced River, a foreign tourist had climbed down and was within 6 feet of the edge.  This was surely a Darwin Award candidate so I took his picture.

We filtered some more water as the day hikers watched.  One gentleman asked me if it was safe to drink.  I explained that if it was filtered, yes.   After a while, my brother and I ventured over and took some pics.  The whirling cascade just puts you in awe of the power.  John Muir captured this with eloquence:

The Nevada is white from its first appearance as it leaps out into the freedom of the air. At the head it presents a twisted appearance, by an overfolding of the current from striking on the side of its channel just before the first free out-bounding leap is made. About two thirds of the way down, the hurrying throng of comet-shaped masses glance on an inclined part of the face of the precipice and are beaten into yet whiter foam, greatly expanded, and sent bounding outward, making an indescribably glorious show, especially when the afternoon sunshine is pouring into it.

DSC_0815

“The Nevada”

Ready to complete our journey, we got back on the trail and began the longest stretch to the valley floor below.  I’m not sure why it seemed long, maybe because we were mentally finished.  The stretch from Nevada to the valley was tough on our tired feet.

The scene at Vernal Fall bridge was chaotic.  People, like ants milled about seemingly without direction.  At least ants have a purpose.  We just wanted to get through the throngs of people so we trudged on.  I am sure that we looked haggard after a week on the trail, but it felt good to be near the end.

DSC_0025_2

Vernal Fall

The asphalt sidewalk on the Mist Trail was another reminder that we were back in civilization.  It felt awkward to walk on it with our poles clacking about.   “Move over people, make a hole, real hikers coming through!”  I wanted to say that, but my subconscious did not prevail.

At the end, the sign that lists the various trails was our last photo-op.  While the sign showed 211 miles for the JMT, we actually only did our 68 mile section.  It still felt good and I was proud of my wife and brother for completing it.

DSC_0029

The shuttle ride from Happy Isles to the Visitor Center was tough.  Throngs of people made their way on the shuttle and we were separated from my brother.  We eventually found each other and enjoyed a good sandwich from the deli.  The YARTS bus stop is across from the Visitor Center.  In the summer, it leaves once daily at 5 p.m.  from the valley and makes multiple stops on the way to Mammoth Lakes.  For $18, it was a wonderful ride, comfortable with amazing scenery.  Google YARTS and you will find the various schedules.

2012-05-16 new yarts waterfall

This was a good way to get back to our car in Mammoth.

DSC_0045

Emery Lake from the YARTS bus.

For the next few weeks, the memories of the trip would resurface and we would laugh about things that happened.  It was an amazing journey and one that created great memories.  I did push my brother and wife hard on this trip, but they persevered and made it through.  It doesn’t take an athlete to do backcountry hiking.  It takes a desire to explore and the ability to push yourself a bit beyond your limits.

jmt-logo3.5x3.5-11-08-07

YouTube slide show of our trip:

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

Part II – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7zHwNLPY6A


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

DSC_0234

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.

DSC_0247

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.

DSC_0262

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”.

DSC_0255

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.

DSC_0278

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.

DSC_0284

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

DSC_0296

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.

DSC_0307

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.

DSC_0319

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.

DSC_0354

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

DSC_0142

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.

DSC_0051

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.

DSC_0137

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.

DSC_0182

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

DSC_0206

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

DSC_0221

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

DSC_0225


San Gorgonio Wilderness – The Lost Creek Trail

lostcreek2

U.S.D.A. Identifier: Lost Creek Trail, 1E09

Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil.

Distance as hiked: 8.8 miles

Approximate elevation: Trailhead-6,300ft., Top of trail-8,200ft.

Temps: 60-70 degrees

Difficulty: easy to moderate

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

Today, we would venture out farther from home and drive the 90+ miles to check out the trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness (SGW).  While a day hike to San Gorgonio Mountain is possible, it would be a very long day for us and is better attempted as an overnighter.  All trails in the SGW require the perfunctory wilderness permit, which can be obtained by stopping by in person at one of several ranger stations, via fax or by snail mail.  Follow the swa.org link above for permit directions.   I’ve become a bit of a purist and believe trail permits are government out of control, but  I am a rule follower.

We stopped in after noon to obtain our permit at Mill Creek Ranger station.  While inside, Mary met an old friend and insisted that I take their picture.

Image

Old friends since childhood.

From Mill Creek, follow SR38 to the South Fork Campground.  Parking for the trailhead is across the road from the campground and is co-located with the Santa Ana River Trail.  It is fairly well-marked and breaks off at a marker in the campground. The trail wastes no time gaining elevation over switchbacks that gain 400-500 ft.  The trail joins a fire road for a mile and changes to a wide creek bed laden with rocks before narrowing into a rutted single track.  Evidence of recent equestrians is scattered along the trail.

IMG_1381

A Steller’s Jay, a very social bird found throughout California mountains

This is one of the most interesting and diverse trails that we’ve been on in the San Bernardino National Forest.  We traversed areas with deciduous trees, rounded a corner and saw cactus on the verge of blooming.   As we crossed the top of a meadow, we saw an area of seasonal springs.  There were a few blow-downs and widow-makers throughout the hike.  At times, the trail became narrow with sheer drop-offs into the Santa Ana River canyon below.  Overall, the climb was gradual with few switchbacks and limited scree to slip on.  Pine straw does cover sections of the trail and is a bit slippery. On a side-note, the PCT skirts many of the trails in the San Bernardino Forest and is located less than 10 miles east of this trail.

IMG_1409

Grinnell Campground

For the first couple of miles, Sugarloaf Peak to the north is the prominent land mass and the perspective changes as you pass through 7,000 ft.  Eventually, the path takes a 180 and you  head in an easterly direction with views of snow-covered peaks to the southwest.  For this area in southern California, I believe the best altitude for hiking is between 6-8,000 ft.  The temps are usually mild and the sub-alpine surroundings offer respite from the sun.  This trail is especially appealing due to the solitude.  We would run into only one other couple all day.

We stopped at Grinnell Campground, an open area with awesome views to the south-southwest.  It was peaceful and we enjoyed our hot tea.  When hiking 8-10 miles, it’s a good idea to cool your jets by removing shoes and socks to allow for some air to dry out those puppies.

Our descent was quick with minimal stops for photos.  Rounding a switchback, we did see this in the distance and like most hikers is one thing you don’t ever want to see.  Notice the smoke was blowing in our direction.

IMG_1438

Fawnskin fire, about 16-18 miles away.

A fire in the backcountry is a scary thing.  Fortunately, this one was far enough away and we were only a couple of miles from the trailhead.  Cal-Fire had it contained within a few days.  If you hike frequently in this region, you know how much fuel is on the ground. Fires can be swift and devastating.  It’s a good idea to talk about an escape plan and how you would deal with a fire when out on the trail.  Trail maps and/or knowledge of the local terrain is invaluable and can make the difference between life or death in a forest fire scenario.

Well enough of the gloom and doom.  We lived to see another beautiful day in southern California and have discovered an amazing array of trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness area.   This will serve as our practice area for our section hike of the JMT this summer.  My parting advice this week:

– Take trail maps, GPS and discuss escape route options.  These Tom Harrison maps are the best: San Gorgonio Wilderness Map (2015) (Tom Harrison Maps Waterproof and Tear Resistant)

– In fire situations, avoid canyons and ravines as fires often ravage these areas.

– Consider a GPS locator for emergency situations.  I use a SPOT GPS Messenger.  SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger – Orange   While there is no guarantee that it works 100% of the time, it operates consistently if used properly.  There are other higher quality GPS locators out there.

– On day hikes, take extra water and snacks – just in case.  This week, several more novice hikers got lost in SoCal.  Fortunately, all were found quickly. None of them had water or food for their unplanned overnighters.

Use common sense out on the trail and enjoy the outdoors wherever you are.  Consider stocking up on a couple of pieces of survival gear including: Heavy-Duty Stainless Steel Camping Mirror – Personal Use, Emergency Signaling or this whistle: UST JetScream Whistle


Why I Hiked the 100 Mile Wilderness

It’s been two months since I completed my northbound hike through the Maine wilderness.  It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done.  It took between 95-100 hrs, almost 12-13 hrs average per day.

Why did I do it?  For me, it was the challenge.  Maybe it is my midlife crisis, but I  needed to prove to myself that I could do something that was physically and mentally difficult.  At times, I wanted to quit but there was no easy way out of the wilderness.  The hardest part for me were the SUDs (Senseless Up-Downs).  But wait, isn’t this the Appalachian Trail?  There are supposed to be mountains.  We would experience over 30,000 ft. of elevation change in one week.  The roots were the next hardest thing.  For some reason, most of them are above the ground in Maine.

We met over 100 Southbound thru hikers (So-Bo’s) who started their hikes at Mt Katahdin.  The wilderness would test their resolve.  Many would take the opportunity to jump off at White’s Landing, spend the night and get a hot meal. Most were Americans, but on our northbound trek, we would meet hikers from Canada, the U.K., Germany, Australia and New Zealand.

As section hikers, we didn’t get into the culture that thru-hikers are immersed in.  Their journeys are for months on end with life on the trail being a totally different experience.  Our goal was to complete the 100 Mile Wilderness in 7 days while enjoying the beautiful Maine backcountry.

For me, the wilderness tested my limits for physical endurance and tolerance of pain.   I learned to work through the frequent muscle aches and ate as much as possible to stretch my endurance.  At times, I would just run out of steam, eat some food and hit the trail again.   We never thought that it would take over 12 hours a day to reach our goal.  We underestimated the terrain and my preparation was inadequate.  While I was probably in the best shape that I’ve been in for at least 10 years, it wasn’t good enough.  My younger friend who is an active duty Marine, admitted that it was tough.   I’m sure he could have finished a day earlier, but in hiking you are only as fast as your slowest member.  Mentally, it was a daily challenge to keep taking the next step.   At this point, I’m not driven to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.  The time, dedication and fortitude to do this for months on end takes a special person.

I learned a few things about myself.

– When presented with a difficult situation, I was able to persevere and complete the task.

– Pain is somewhat relative.  Unless you are dealing with an obvious injury, it is mind over matter.

– My determination overrode my perceived limits.

– As a believer, I prayed for the ability to endure.  It was answered with endurance.

– Living a week with only what I could carry  on my back helped me to re-examine my desire for “stuff”  I have too much stuff.

Getting “off the grid” to escape the rat race is really quite the privilege.  Of course, most of us have to return to a job, but it sure clears the mind and provides the opportunity to see the amazing creation.  In the end, my trek through the 100 Mile Wilderness confirmed why I am drawn to the backcountry.  It can bring out the best in you,  is therapeutic and can provide focus to the things that are really important in life.


Off The Beaten Path (in Southern California)

A Southern California sunrise

I admit to being a bit of an introvert.  Maybe that is why hiking in the backcountry is so enjoyable to me.  The solitude and peacefulness that one can experience is guaranteed to lower your blood pressure by ten points.  Admit it, you don’t really enjoy crowds.  With over 22 million people in Southern California, the thought of having a space pretty much to my wife and me is ok.    If you make it to the backcountry, you will see what it’s all about. After a few hours are spent on the trail, you may notice certain sounds that are missing.  You don’t hear cars, sirens, doors slamming and people talking loudly. You hear the wind blowing through the trees.  You hear the woodpeckers, hawks, chipmunks and quail.  The sounds of nature envelope you.  You hear your footsteps as you walk, the clicking of the hiking poles on the granite.   You see blue, open sky.   The contrast between the terrain and horizon, especially at sunset is amazing.  At night, the heavens reveal as many stars as the descendants of Abraham.  The moon is so much brighter.  The air seems much more crisp and cleaner.

The “blue hour”. Sunrise on the Socal Peninsular Range.

If you are a believer, you may recognize that your surroundings in the wilderness are not just happenstance.  I think the beauty was created by a God that loves us and provided this for our enjoyment.

Wildlife (Southern Cali)

Admittedly, in SoCal there aren’t many large animal encounters on the trail.  Hikers typically aren’t  stealthy because we actually want the large animals to hear us coming.  Startling a bear or cougar is probably not a good idea.  In our experience, we have come across more deer than anything else.  I’ve found that the earlier (or later) you go in the day, the chances of viewing the critters are better.  On the trail, it’s mostly birds, reptiles and small mammals. In the spring and summer, the rattlers are out and it’s not uncommon to run across a few.

A Red Tail Hawk on the hunt

I love to take pics on the trail; it’s a way to share my experience with others.  Up until last year, I used a point and click camera.  It was ok for landscapes, but not for wildlife.  After getting a DSLR, my desire to take better photos increased.    Now photography is another part of my hiking experience.  I still don’t know much about it, but found if you take enough pics, some will turn out just fine.  Just get the basics down like composition and lighting.

Most of the hiking that I do with my wife are day hikes.  We tend to walk an average of 7-10 miles and try to include some decent elevation changes.    We stay on the trail, but there are often side trips to check out the scenery or just to explore.  Sometimes, we lose the path and bushwhack for a bit.  For me, the experience of hiking is better enjoyed when you can share it with someone.  My wife of over 30 years is a great partner on the trail.  While we’ve had some close calls, lots of tumbles and have been a little lost, she trusts that I will get her back to the car eventually.  Our time on the trail has forged a special bond within our marriage.  Now, if I can just get her out on a multi-day backcountry trip. ….  For now, I’ll just have to do that with the guys.

A SoCal sunset

I tend to bring more stuff (proportionally) on a day hike than on a backcountry trip.  Plenty of water, 1st aid kit, survival, GPS, maps, extra snacks and clothing.  Sometimes the temperature varies 25-30 deg. on a day hike.  We’ve hiked when it was as cold as 18 in Yosemite and as high as 98 in the Borrego Desert.  In our experience, hiking in the cold was more comfortable.  The heat just saps your energy.

Occasionally, I will hike solo and always let family members know my destination.  A text to a family member or friend is invaluable.  This year, I purchased a SPOT Messenger, a GPS locator that can send my location to friends, family members.  It also functions as an emergency beacon if needed.   While I don’t take risks while hiking solo, it provides some peace of mind.  I used it on a hike this past summer on the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness (part of the Appalachian Trail) and our family members could track us on a daily basis.  Even a couple of my coworkers followed our trip as it plots your location on Google Maps.

On Mt. Baldy

I’ve learned  and experienced many things on the trail.  After 3 years of hiking, mostly in California, I’m still quite the novice.  I’ve learned to be aware of my surroundings,  and have not taken a serious tumble yet.  Oh, I’ve fallen in streams and came within a couple of feet of a coiled Pacific Rattler, but am convinced that I must have a guardian angel with me.

Most trails that we hike are not easy, that would be boring.  Do the research, find some with hills and varied terrain.  I’ve sought out guidebooks for my area like:  60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego: Including North, South and East Counties  and  Afoot and Afield: San Diego County: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide    Seek the obscure trails and you may be rewarded with killer views of sunsets or lush alpine meadows.  Find the websites that lists the hikes.  They don’t always turn out as advertised.  On a couple of occasions, we’ve had to turn back due to overgrown brush.  Oh, and if you tend venture off trail,  take a trail map-they are invaluable.  You can’t worry about bugs out here-ticks,  arachnids and once a tarantula.  No scorpions yet, thank goodness.

The bottom line is just get out my friends.   This doesn’t only apply in SoCal, there are trails all over this great country.  I guarantee after you spend a few Saturdays off the beaten path, you will be hooked.

I now use a Nikon 3300 series DSLR, a great camera for the trail: Nikon D3300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR with AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II Zoom Lens (Black)