There was an easy work-around and we were back on track, heading up the canyon ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Photos from some of our hikes this year.  Above: Indian Pass Canyon in Death Valley.  As always, if you click on the photos, they will take you to our trip photo logs on Picasa.

Preston Falls full frontal ©http://ba​ckpackthes​ierra.com

Preston Falls on the Tuolumne River

Airola from near our campsite that night ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Carson-iceberg Wilderness

And more reflection here ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Lassen Volcanic National Park

Yosemite's new chief

posted Oct 18, 2016, 11:25 AM by Paul Wagner

"Starting Monday, October 17th, Woody Smeck will be joining Yosemite as our Acting Superintendent. Woody has been serving as superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for the past 3.5 years, where he shepherds conservation efforts not only in the parks but also throughout the Sierra Nevada. Prior to his position at Sequoia and Kings Canyon, he served as deputy superintendent in Yosemite from April 2012 to April 2013. Prior to Yosemite, Woody served as superintendent for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (November 2001-April 2012), the nation’s largest urban national park."

"Woody began his professional career with the National Park Service in July 1991 as a landscape architect and has worked on complex land use planning, recreation, and open space management issues for 28 years. His other accomplishments for the NPS include serving as Regional Director for the National Capital Region of the National Park Service. Woody is a graduate of Cal Poly with both Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Landscape Architecture. He is a native Californian (born in Bakersfield) and is married to wife Karen. They have two daughters, Allison and Megan, attending college in California."

All this from Yosemite News and Discussion, a great website for those interested in the park.

More road closures

posted Oct 17, 2016, 1:12 PM by Paul Wagner

The recent storm here closed both Sonora Pass and Tioga Pass, although both are expected to re-opened.

Just a reminder that if you have plans to go backpacking this time of year, you should be prepared for much colder weather, snow, and the possibility of roads being closed.  Short days make it harder to cover the same distances you might tackle if it were mid-summer. 

Plan accordingly.

On the other hand, the scenery is wonderful this time of year...quiet, subdued, peaceful...as you can see below.  And there are far fewer people out and about.  Makes for some really great hiking.
Lukens Lake. Nobody else.©http://backpackthesierra.com

Tioga Pass closed

posted Oct 2, 2016, 7:50 PM by Paul Wagner

From the Yosemite facebook site posted 10/2 :

Due to an incoming winter storm, the Tioga Road will be closing at 7:00 pm PDT and the Glacier Point Road will be closing at 9:00 pm PDT TONIGHT! Road conditions will be reassessed tomorrow morning. Call 209-372-0200209-372-0200 (press 1 then 1) for current road conditions in the park.


New Neo-Air

posted Sep 29, 2016, 2:08 PM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Sep 29, 2016, 2:22 PM ]

      We've had a lot of people ask us about what we use for sleeping pads.  "How can you be comfortable sleeping on the ground?" they ask.  They seem to think that sleeping on the ground is...hard. 

    Well, to be fair, the ground is hard, and we've made some adjustments over the years. 

    P slept for many years on a 1/2 inch piece of closed cell  blue foam.  M was always trying something new, and usually in combination with at least one other pad--the best combination was a Thermarest Z-rest mattress over 1/2 of foam pad. 
Our tidy little camp.  A bad view of M. sorry.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
    But then one year for her birthday, P bought her a Thermarest Neo-Air mattress--the modern version of that old inflatable plastic thing that we used as scouts.  It was a revelation, and she was in heaven. 

    P remained unconvinced.  "Goldurn fancypants foolishness" or something like that, was what he could be heard to mutter under his breath.  

    Until, that is, one day when he accepted her offer to borrow her Neo-Air to take a nap in the afternoon.  Holy Mackerel was that nice!  He quickly bought one for himself.  One order of fancypants foolishness to go, and make it snappy!

    You can see them above, showing yellow underneath our bags.

    They are relatively light (about 12 ounces, all in) and inflate to a VERY comfortable 2 inches or more.  Of luxury.  All part of our home away from home. 

    So we used these pads for about four years, and were pretty darn happy with them.  Over time they began to leak and flatten out over the course of a night. And after living with them for a couple of years that way,  re-inflating them in the middle of the night, we finally contacted Neo-Air about getting them fixed.

    Very simple process, and they made it easy.  We sent them our mattresses, and they promised to fix them for very little money indeed--all in the course of a promised 4-6 week turnaround.  Can't beat that.
Well, you can beat that. 

Because about two weeks later, instead of fixing all of the leaks in our older model mattresses, they sent us brand new ones that don't leak.

We're sold.  Again.  We can hardly wait to sleep on them. Again.

Fall is in the Air

posted Sep 23, 2016, 1:24 PM by Paul Wagner

Lembert, Dana, and Gibbs©http://backpackthesierra.com
Sonora Pass was closed for snow recently.  It's back open again, but it's a good reminder that we are now in that season where serious weather can happen much more often, and quicker, than in the summer. 

Be careful.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't hike.  This is a glorious time to be in the mountains.  Pick routes that offer easy "escape hatches" in case you need to bail out early, and we usually try to avoid getting our car trapped on the East side of the Sierra...

That long drive down around the southern end of the mountains is not much fun.

Survival Mode?

posted Sep 21, 2016, 9:36 AM by Paul Wagner

We're continually puzzled by those who make backpacking sound like some kind of survival adventure, particularly when it's in the Sierra Nevada.  And no, we're not talking about those idiot survival shows that take a star and a helicopter and camera crew somewhere and then act like everyone's life is in danger.  Give us a break.*  Very pleasant seventy year-old couples regularly hike the John Muir Trail from one end to the other.  It's not life or death.  It's not even exciting.  It's beautiful. it's relaxing.  It's not a survival show.

Survival is pretty simple.  In terms of basic needs, you need water, shelter, and food, more or less in that order.  You can die after three days without water---but you are never more than an hour or two from water in the Sierra.  Shelter?  That's what you have in your pack, unless you are really trying to be stupid.  A tent and a sleeping bag will get you through anything that can happen to you in the summer in the Sierra.  And food?  You can live for a couple of weeks without food.  By that time, you will have hiked out.  It's hard to get to somewhere in the Sierra that is three days from a trailhead.  

The water was like glass  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Of course, you can die in the mountains, but it's far more likely that you'll die driving on the highway to the trailhead.  

If you do die in the Sierra, chances are it is because you have drowned--that's the leading cause.  Swimming in ice cold water, particularly in roaring springtime rivers, is not smart.   And you can become hypothermic if you don't pay attention.  Or lost. 

We try (successfully) to avoid those things. 

That's not to say that we always know exactly where we are and what we're doing.  We hike off-trail often, and sometimes we don't know exactly where we are, or how to get to where we want to go.  Fair enough.

But here's the important fact:  we've never been in a situation where we didn't know how to go back the way we came, and get out and get home safely.  That's pretty darn key. 
M amazed ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Because whatever we do in the mountains, we never take a risk that says:  OK...that was so difficult and dangerous that we have to keep going forward, because going back is not an option. 

Common sense. Not something found on some of those TV shows. 

When we get to one of those kinds of places, we look it over carefully and think it through.  And if we're not convinced that it's safe for us to proceed, and will be safe on the way back, we find another route.

Common sense. 

Which means that we sometimes find ourselves making decisions based on what would be nicest, easiest, or more comfortable.  Backpacking is recreation, not a life and death struggle. 

We like nice, easy, and comfortable.  And we hiked to amazing places.  Staying alive.   

*The new Dual Survival show with Grady Powell, an American Green Beret,  and Josh James, a Kiwi outdoorsman is much better--primarily because they don't try stupid stuff, they don't act like the are about to die at every moment...and they use pretty good common sense to solve the usual problems of water, shelter, food, and getting found. 

Bear Boxes

posted Sep 16, 2016, 6:27 AM by Paul Wagner



On topic of conversation we had in SEKI with Ranger Cindy was the use of bear boxes in the remote backcountry of the park.  We were wondering how they got those heavy steel bear boxes into the wilderness areas of the park.  And while a few of the newer ones disassemble for transport, Cindy told us that most of them were flown in by helicopter.  

They are installed in areas of heavy use, where backpackers might be tempted to leave food around.  

Since we carry our food in Bearvaults at all times now, we barely (!) used the bear boxes in SEKI at all.  In the upper Cloud Canyon there were none.  But the one in Comanche Meadows made a perfect bench for our lunch stop--shady, flat, and just right for both sitting and spreading out our picnic.  

More on dogs from a reader...

posted Sep 15, 2016, 2:21 PM by Paul Wagner

Joe saw our post and sent us this:

On a recent trip to Emigrant Wilderness, a group of us setup camp on the south end of Upper Buck Lakes. Later that day, we encountered a group on of people on horses accompanied by an unleashed dog (looked like a Foxhound). They were looking for a campsite somewhere around the east side of Upper Buck Lake.

Later that night, we could hear the hound barking and some yelling by the owners. It didn't last long, but it sounded like the hound happened upon some night critters. The next morning, shortly after waking up, we heard the sound of an animal calling out, somewhere in the southwest side of the lake. We also heard the hound barking. We were surprised to hear the hound in this area since his camp was clear on the other side of the lake.

After a few minutes of this, we decided to take a look, but we did so cautiously, because we thought that the dog might have chased a bear cub up a tree. It turns out that the hound had trapped a fawn on a hillside. When we got closer, we could see the fawn was exhausted, laying down, and appeared to give up. The hound was holding the fawn by the hind leg, in his mouth.

We decided to move closer and start yelling at the hound to get him to release the fawn. We even threw some rocks in his direction (not at him), and after numerous attempts, he eventually let the fawn go. I tried to put myself in between the hound and the fawn, to keep him from going back. He was set on trapping this fawn. I'm guessing he is a skilled hunting dog.

During this time, the fawn was able to join up with 2 does nearby. I wasn't sure if the does and the fawn stayed together or not. I wondered if they might have abandoned the fawn because of the scent the dog likely left on the fawn. I'm not sure if that happens with deer.

We ate breakfast after that and we think the group on horses with the hound left the area. Later that night, we heard a pack of coyotes on the north side of the lake howling. We worried the worst happened, that maybe the does didn't stay with the fawn, but we really don't know. We were kind of bummed out about this.

Of course, it could have been different prey. That is nature, and nature happens. We reported the issue to the ranger station when we got back. Later that day, I got a call from a very concerned Fish & Game officer and told him the story.

There's probably not much they can do, but I'm hopeful the rangers will continue to reiterate to people with dogs that they are required to keep the dogs under control. 

Blue Skies Above

posted Sep 13, 2016, 12:00 PM by Paul Wagner

Dramatic clouds made it even better!©http://backpackthesierra.com

Before and After, above.

We've come to a sad realization about our summer backpacking trips to the Sierra.  It used to be that one the most dependable elements of those trips was the deep blue skies that we would find above.  There is something about being up at 10,000 feet that helps make those skies truly memorable.

But they may well be a thing of the past.  Over the past few summers, those skies have almost always been smoggy with the smoke of forest fires, either near or far.  You can see this as you explore our photos.  What was once blue, blue skies and views that went on for tens of miles are now dingy skies, and the distant peaks are barely visible through the smoke.

It's sad.  And given the state of our trees (Will they ever recover from the combination of drought and beetle infestations?) those vistas of deep forests that cover the lower slopes like a blanket may also be a memory that we can only tell our children about.  Or show them our photos from years ago.   
From another angle.  You can see the shadows are getting longer.  We didn't start hiking until well after lunch...so it's time to find a spot to camp.  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

One slightly happier note is that we noticed both blue skies and healthy trees in our last trip up to the Caribou Wilderness, just to the north of the Sierra--as in the photo at right. 

It was lovely.  And it made us just a little sad to realize that we hadn't seen either skies or trees like that in a number of years in the Sierra. 


Battle Stations

posted Sep 9, 2016, 1:32 PM by Paul Wagner

It was a quiet weekend at our cabin up by Sonora.  P was clearing away the last of the leaves in the yard to create more than the usual defensible space, and M had decided to join our daughter in a quick dip in the nearby lake. 

It was quiet. Too quiet. 

Suddenly loud CDF planes starting flying by overhead--their engines roaring what seemed like only a few yards above the trees.  Then a CDF chopper came almost overhead, thumping away and creating its own downdraft in the trees. 

As P continued to work, a neighbor stopped  by to chat.  The fire, it turned out, was only about a mile away in the Stanislaus National Forest.  And while the wind was blowing towards the fire, that was still a bit close for comfort. 

Then P saw the chopper headed for the local lake, to pick up a load of water to fight the fire. 

The ladies were in for some exciting action. 

Over the next twenty minutes or so, the chopper made four trips to the lake.  Then the planes disappeared, the noise stopped, and P kept working away on those pine needles.

A few minutes later, M and Estelle returned.  They had left all of their things, including towels, books and clothes, on one of the swim platforms in the lake and swum to the far side just before the chopper first arrived.  It blew everything all over the surrounding territory.  And every time they decided it was safe to swim back across the lake, the chopper returned again. 

When they finally got back to the platform, the towels and clothes were in the water, on the beach, in a tree...and in one case, a red t-shirt was never seen again.  The books fluttered and flapped in the down-wash. and every single page had a light coating of water and sand on it. 
The ladies themselves were in much the same condition as the books, with their hair blown into wild knots and their bodies covered with grit and sand by the 100 mph+ winds from the chopper.   

We're delighted to note that the CDF crews stopped the fire in its tracks and had it well under control by the time M and E returned from the lake.  Very impressive.

Just another quiet day at the cabin. 

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