Category: backpacking

Tamarack Lake in Desolation Wilderness from Echo Lakes Chalet via the Pacific Crest Trail

Let’s start with some pics. Lots of pics:

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Only 1½ hours from Sparks to the trailhead (about two hours to get back through South Tahoe traffic). That’s about the same as getting to the San Gorgonio Wilderness from Costa Mesa, but with much nicer scenery and less traffic.

This was a short hike, less than four miles each way, but there’s lots more to do up there. It’s a vastly different landscape from what we are used to in SoCal. I was annoyed that parking was nearly full at the trailhead; suddenly I was back in the SoCal crowds. Plus there were a lot of people camped at Tamarack. But it wasn’t so bad. Sunday morning we went exploring the neighboring lakes Ralston and Cagwin, and learned that by hiking past Tamarack Lake you can find some very nice and very remote campsites.

We heard from hikers coming down from Aloha Lake that the latter is very dry this year. Everyone was shocked.

I was especially proud of Bella on this hike, but also realized she’s difficult enough that I don’t want to take her with me if I am meeting other people for an outing, as she does slow things down.

San Gorgonio solo

San Gorgonio fale this weekend. Ingrid said I could backpack alone (something I used to do a lot in the 1980s, and haven’t done since then), so I decided to do a trip she wouldn’t want to do, a hike 8 miles and 5,500 feet up the Vivian Creek trail to the summit of Mt San Gorgonio, where I was to spend the night.

I made great time at first, doing the first five miles and 3,200 feet in three hours. Then I had a break and a snack and collected some water and almost immediately hit a wall. Every step of the next mile was a huge effort, and I started getting sick. Then my left knee began to hurt. After a mile I crawled to the side of the trail and laid down for a while. Then I headed back down to the last water, a trail camp called High Creek. Because my knee hurt so badly I moved very slowly. From the time I left High Creek until I returned four hours had elapsed. I spent the night at High Creek and had a pretty difficult hike back out on Sunday.

At least I got some nice photos:

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Fuck this shit. I need to start really training. I also won’t have anything to drink in November; maybe December as well; maybe longer.

Kelly’s Camp overnight

Sunday and Monday we did an overnight hike up to Kelly’s Camp in the Cucamonga Wilderness. We would have preferred going somewhere in the northern part of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, but that area is now closed due to June’s Lake Fire. Kelly’s Camp is second best if you can’t get to San Gorgonio.

The spring at Kelly’s Camp has been dry for at least a couple years, so we had to carry water up from a more reliable spring two miles below. That sort of knocked Ingrid out and she and Bella napped most of Sunday afternoon; which was good for them because we sure didn’t get any sleep Sunday night, now that we have learned for certain that Bella is too big to share the tent with us.

We got a late start Monday morning:

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And on the way back down the we encountered a pair bighorn sheep (which we always see up there between Icehouse Saddle and Ontario Peak):

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The sheep were digging in the dirt with their hooves, maybe looking for moist roots. Their normal water supply in that area would be the now-dry spring at Kelly’s Camp.

The hike down below Icehouse Saddle was one of the worst hikes of my life. We decided to descend the Chapman Trail sort of spur of the moment; Ingrid had never been down it. But I wasn’t thinking. It was already around 11:00 when we started down the trail, much later than I thought; it follows a south-facing ridge; it’s almost two miles longer than the Icehouse Canyon Trail; there is almost no shade; and down in the valleys it was one of the hottest days of the year (over 100F on Monday; we had no idea, since Saturday it was so mild). While Ingrid and I were not uncomfortable, there was no relief from the heat for Bella until we could get her 3.7 miles down the trail to where it rejoined the Icehouse Canyon Trail next to icy cool Icehouse Creek.

We used up all my water on her and toward the end I had to physically pull her up to keep walking as she would drop to the ground every time we encountered a bit of shade. Poor baby, it was a real death march for her. Towards the end we were moving as rapidly down the trail as Bella would let us (she kept trying to stop in the shade).

As soon as we got to the creek she just plopped down into the water and lay there for a while. In less than ten minutes she was fully recovered from her ordeal on the Chapman Trail, and she got up and started hunting along the creek for sticks to chew on.

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All’s well that ends well, I guess.

Found my old slides

After my father died, we pulled out the photo albums and looked at them for a few days and then I resolved, finally, to get everything scanned and uploaded to Flickr. There are literally a thousand or so photos. I bought a slide scanner and pulled the flatbed scanner I bought a couple years ago out of its box.

When going through my folks’ 35mm slides, I found a set of the slides I took on my first expedition backpacking trip, from Giant Forest to Mineral King with my Boy Scout troop in 1976. I thought these slides had been lost long ago:

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This was a sort of shuttle hike that took us south along the western side of the Sierra Nevada. The main High Sierra Trail continues on east across the range and comes out at Whitney Portal. For over 35 years after the 1976 hike, I wanted to go all the way across, and that’s what Ingrid and I did in 2013, retracing my steps from 1976 for the first two or three days.

Here is Ingrid standing in front of that same Precipice Lake 37 years later:

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Ultralight skepticism

Ultralight sounds great in theory, but in reality it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient (compared to more traditional backpacking). Not for everybody (certainly not for me, though I’d like to lower the weight of my gear next year). I also get the strong impression it’s as much a fashionable buzzword as anything else, and of course I am suspicious of that.

A few years ago I used to administer a series of slide shows and lectures for the local hiking club. The one that got the biggest turnout was a presentation on ultralight hiking put on by the president of Gossamer Gear. Lots of people came to that, most of whom I had never seen before on club outings. It was a very enthusiastic audience. But as I sat in the back and watched the show all I saw were cold, uncomfortable hikers. Ultralight didn’t look like fun at all, not to me. But boy was there a lot of applause and excitement at the end.

Those ultralight packs ought to hold up well to walking around with them on your back all day, but it’s hard to believe they will last very long after begin thrown to the ground a few times, sat on, dragged across rocks, etc, which is how packs are actually used. One of the reasons my pack is heavy is because I carry a repair kit (among other things that never get used). I imagine a repair kit is one of the first things a true believer ultralighter jettisons, which is ironic since he’ll probably need one more than I will with my Osprey.

Not the summit

San Gorgonio summit overnight was a bust. We got to about 9,500 feet, six miles in (halfway) when I decided we were never going to make it by nightfall, and we hate hiking and setting up camp after dark. So we spent the night at Dollar Lake, one of two natural lakes in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, which like its sister, the Tarn, was dry. This was a first for Ingrid, and I hadn’t been to Dollar Lake since 1990 or so. Even though we didn’t make it to the top, it was a nice weekend. Bella is proving to be a real Mountain Dog, and she enjoyed thrashing around in the snow patches we found.

We didn’t bring a tent because we don’t use one on the summit, just a couple of bivy sacks (Bella slept in three layers of fleece). My pack was so light before we filled up with water, just like old times. It felt great (after loading four liters of water, not so great). I hadn’t realized until this weekend that Ingrid regarded a tent as a virtual necessity, not just a luxury. She was palpably nervous about animals and bugs. I was nervous about keeping Bella warm, but we sure were cozy in our bivies.

Couldn’t believe how quiet it was up there. No wind, not a sound. We passed only four other parties once we got above Horse Meadow; what a great time of year to go hiking on San G. It’s too bad we didn’t make the summit. Last time we did it was Halloween 2009 and we were in much better shape.

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Hiking and camping permits

The San Gorgonio Wilderness has designated trail camps, permits required, one of which is Mt San Gorgonio summit (11,500 ft). Technically, we camped illegally at Dollar Lake, since our permit was for the summit, but this time of year it doesn’t matter, since there were hardly any backpackers in the Wilderness Area anyway. They have trail patrols in the summer, by volunteers in National Forest uniforms (I did this for a couple years, 1989-90); but after the deer season opener, which was a couple weeks ago, there’s no one up there from the Forest Service.

The Cucamonga Wilderness in the San Gabriel Mountains also has designated campsites, one of which is 8,858 foot Cucamonga Peak (I assume, anyway, since people camp up there all the time; but then the Cucamonga Wilderness doesn’t have a volunteer ranger program like San Gorgonio, so you don’t see a lot of trail patrols up there).

The route up to Mt Baldy is in National Forest, but not in any kind of a designated Wilderness, so I get the impression you can camp anywhere you want to. I’ve camped on Baldy summit (10,060 feet) a couple times, and also camped other places nearby. No permits, no rangers, no big deal.

This winter we’d like to start camping at the old Poopout Hill trailhead at the end of a closed year round access road on the north side of San Gorgonio. It’s at the edge of the Wilderness Area, so I don’t believe a camping permit is required (a fire permit probably is, but we never build fires). Just ski up and camp. We secure permits for winter camping inside the Wilderness Area, but we camp wherever we want: the logic of using only designated campsites goes out the window in winter, and there are no patrols up there then anyway.

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Back from the High Sierra Trail

We survived the hike, the food, the storms that caused some JMT and HST parties to delay their exit. We got up to Trail Crest on Thursday morning just after dawn, but it was 30 degrees and windy as fuck and we didn’t have winter gear and the trail to Whitney summit was in the shade, so we bailed on that and came down to the Portal. We’d already been to the top of Whitney.

I wasn’t all that hungry when we reached the Portal Store, not like you’re supposed to be. I ate a patty melt and some fries, just, but drank two bottles of milk.

Our package was awaiting us at the Dow Villa and we plunged into it with delight. It contained clean clothes, underwear, shampoo, etc.

As always happens, we made friends on the trail, and on Thursday night we bought a couple from Maryland a Chinese dinner at the Merry-go-Round.

Friday we rode the Eastern Sierra Transit bus (no spare seats available, it was full of JMTers), then the Metrolink, to get home just in time to set up for the bi-weekly Friday night sangria party we host on our lawn.

Photos are here. There are 65 photos still uploading this morning, and nothing is captioned yet. I have my work cut out for me (it took me all weekend to process these photos, culling them from the 826 that were snapped in total).

Due to popular demand, I am hosting a slide show on my lawn on 7 September, if anyone is in Costa Mesa that weekend.

Prepping for the big hike

Apparently my relationship with Ingrid survived packing for the trans-Sierra hike, but barely. We spent all weekend at it. She is not as organized as I suppose I would prefer, and I might be too anal about it (I worked out the menus on a spreadsheet, after transcribing the caloric content of about fifty or sixty different foods and dehydrated meals). At one point around the middle of the day Sunday the entire dining room table was covered with packaged food and it looked like it was never going to get organized and packed. But we got it all packed. We also packed an overnight bag that will be shipped to the Dow Villa by my crew at the end of this week.

My pack, including three liters of water, is 53lbs, and hers is 37lbs. Fifty-three pounds is not so bad; I carried over 60lbs up Mt Whitney’s Mountaineers’ Route. For the first two days of the hike there is little elevation gain, and I can walk forever on relatively flat ground; it only gets hard when the climbing begins, as it will on the third day. But by then I should be acclimated and ready to rock and roll.

SO much of what we packed was food, averaging between 1,300 and 2,000 calories per day per person (all my clothing for the hike takes up less space than a football). It will be amazing how little we will have left in our packs as we approach the end of the hike. Which will be a relief, since I’d really rather not descend the 97 Switchbacks with a heavy pack.

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