A great trip in the middle of summer out of Tuolumne Meadows....on a trailhead that few use.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Photos from some of our 2014 hikes.  Above: Echo Peaks from Echo Lake, in the heart of Yosemite's high country.  As always, if you click on the photos, they will take you to our trip photo logs on Picasa.
M in the meadow of Carson-Iceberg Wilderness
m enjoying a hike through a meadow on Disaster Creek. ©http://backpackthesierra.com

and below, Leopold Lake at sunset in the Emigrant Wilderness 

Perfect reflections  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

And then West Lake in the Hoover Wilderness, below.

Nice shot, huh?     ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Thirsty Bear Vault update

posted by Paul Wagner

Sarah at BearVault was kind enough to respond to our recent questions about water getting into the BearVault during a storm.  Here's what she wrote:

There is a small lip on the BearVault housing which prevents a bear’s claw or tooth from getting under the lid during an attack.  If the BearVault is almost perfectly upright then during a rain this lip can allow a small “moat” of water to form at the top of the housing.  If the storm then passes during the night, the atmospheric pressure gets higher and this forces the water in the “moat” up the threads and into the housing.

To prevent this, just tilt the unit slightly during the night so that the water cannot accumulate in that “moat” if it rains- it’s that simple.

Here's the original post:


Where to eat in Bishop?

posted Jul 23, 2015, 9:33 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Jul 25, 2015, 11:03 AM ]

We're always looking for somewhere to eat that will be a bit different, and a bit better, than the usual small town trailhead fare.  Yeah, we've found good burgers in a few places, and every town has a pizza place, a Mexican place, and at least one BBQ joint...etc.  But our last visit to Bishop gave us another reason to return.  Not only was the hiking great, but we found a really nice restaurant there.

While the location isn't ideal (it's in a small local shopping center on the road that leads to the North Lake/Sabrina/South Lake trailhead) Sage Restaurant is a step above the usual small town café.  The menu is interesting, with enough dishes that we were tempted to eat there two days in a row.  The wine list is reasonable, and has some good choices on it.  And the whole feel of the place is more sophisticated and food focused than anything we'd expected--at least, anywhere on 395.  

True, if it were in Napa, where we live, we probably wouldn't give it a second thought.  But it's not in Napa.  It's in Bishop.  And if you want a culinary experience in Bishop, it may not only be a good choice---it may be your only option.  We were delighted with it. Check it out the next time your are in Bishop:  621 W. Line St. #101 Town & Country Plaza. 

On the other hand, we also stopped for lunch at the Cardinal Café in Aspendell.  The menu had three choices--a hamburger, a hot dog, and a grilled cheese sandwich.  We asked if they had a salad, and the very perky and cute waitress suggested that we could order lettuce, tomato and an onion on the cheese sandwich---and that would be kind of be like a salad.

Well, not really.  Oh dear.    

Luckily, the guy running the store in the other half of the building pointed out that he had a green salad in his cold cases...and we bought one of those.  It was green, a little faded, and came with a package of dressing in the box.   But we won't go out of our way to eat there again... 

Found far off trail...

posted Jul 22, 2015, 7:50 AM by Paul Wagner

We hate finding trash in the back country at any time, but we were absolutely depressed to take a hike far from any trail across Humphreys Basin and find all sorts of trash along the way.  In one short section we found a rifle shell, a comb, a shoelace, a plastic bag, and a Clif Bar wrapper.  All this at least a mile and half from the nearest trail, and given the various stages of decomposition of the items, they were left by more than one person and over a period of time. 

It's pretty sad...
Snuffing giant candles?©http://backpackthesierra.com

We've found everything from mylar balloons (too many to count---thanks to birthday parties everywhere) to sweatshirts, a perfect good cooking pot (still in use with us!) toiletries bag with toothbrush and toothpaste, tons of old fishing lures and line, a rainfly for a tent, at least two pairs of hiking boots, a day pack...all of this far from the trailhead. 

What's the wildest thing you've ever found?  And no, you can't count the "historic" items like old mining equipment and refuse, tin cans from 50 years ago, or a steel cable and bucket from the Hetch-hetchy dam project....

Bear Can Suction: Physics at work

posted Jul 21, 2015, 8:18 AM by Paul Wagner

On our recent trip to Mono Pass and Pioneer Basin, we had something happen that really took us by surprise.  No, it wasn't the hailstorm that clobbered us right at dusk--although we had hoped we would miss that particular adventure.  But it's related to that.
Time to dry out our things...amid the hail  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

The next morning, when we got up and inspected the damage around our campsite from the hailstorm, we were surprised to see about a half an inch of water sloshing around inside our Bearvault.  Huh?  The bear can was sitting away from our tent, in a small clearing among some trees, and it was upright the entire time---from before the storm hit to the next morning.

So how did all that water get into the can?  All we can imagine is that the small lip on the bear can that sticks out beyond the lid was saturated during the rain and hailstorm, and that the can and its contents were relatively warm from the day's hike.  As the contents cooled, they must have created a bit of a vacuum, and if the lip were saturated with water, maybe the vacuum sucked the water standing on the lip up through the threads and into the can.  And that continued for some time, because the storm lasted a while, and the really cooled down everything--there was still an inch of hail on the ground when we woke up the next morning.

Anybody got a better explanation? 

Exploring Humphreys Basin

posted Jul 20, 2015, 7:54 AM by Paul Wagner

After giving the weather a couple of days to settle down, we were back at North Lake to spend four days exploring Humphreys Basin. 

Notice how the snow is already leaving Mt. H?   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
It’s easy to understand why this is such a popular trailhead.  The first half of the climb up to Paiute Pass is through forested slopes along the side of a creek.  But it gets more serious as it nears Loch Leven, with sections of big stone steps.  Because of the rains of the previous days, we were often stepping from one large step to the next trying to stay out of the puddles of water in between. 

Not so much fun.


The small alpine ponds above the lake were charming  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

But the views from Loch Leven onward were lovely, and as we climbed we could see the string of lakes and smaller tarns stretched out behind us into the morning sun. 

Once above Paiute Lake, the views were even better.  And when we got to the pass, the whole Western slope came into view—including just a peek at the top of Mt. Humphreys.  Later on, the whole mountain came to dominate the landscape.  That's it's above.  


On the far side of the pass the trail is gradual and in better condition, so we were able to wander into Upper

Evening at the campsite  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Golden Trout Lake in the early afternoon and set up camp on a sheltered rocky knoll just east of the lake itself.  From here we had great views of Humphreys and some of the lesser peaks of the Glacier Ridge.  I fished the steam with success for smaller brook trout and a few brilliantly colored golden trout, and then we ate dinner and enjoyed the evening show.  This was a nice first day.


The second day we decided to do some exploring.  We headed up cross-country to Wahoo Lakes, two small lakes sitting on a bench a few hundred feet higher than our campsite.  And from there we continued cross-county to Muriel Lake, closer to the pass. 
Muriel Lake is below 

Muriel far below   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Then we hiked straight up the ridge to see the last two lakes in this chain—the smaller has no name, but the larger lake at the back is Goethe, after the German scholar.  These last two last were incredibly blue, and seemingly barren—only rock and water.  But we’re been assured that there are trout in both of them.  We didn’t see any.  But we did see the route up to Alpine Col---a rough trip over big talus that would get you into Darwin Canyon on the west side.   

On our way out, we met three intrepid guys who planned on hiking over Alpine Col and climbing a few peaks before hiking out over Lamarck Col. 

The trip back to camp was easy and beautiful…and we finished up just around lunchtime. Then it was time for a nice siesta on our z-rests under the trees.  After lunch we spent some time fishing and relaxing around the lake, then enjoyed a nice dinner and the usual sunset show in the High Sierra.

Looking West, downstream  ©http://backpackthesierra.com


That night we had very heavy condensation on the tent, and we noticed a few other campers dealing with the same issue.  Since we were staying another day, we just let everything dry out in the sun and hoped for the best for the next day.   

Day three was dedicated to the north side of the basin, and we started by hiking up past Lower Desolation Lake to Desolation Lake itself.  There’s an easy use trail for this trip, and it took us to the eastern shore of the upper lake.  It was cold, blue and windy up there, and we decided to have a bit more fun on the return trip. 

It's big.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

We hiked over to the outlet stream, where we saw some large trout in deep pools between the rocks, and then followed the stream downhill---stopping from time to time to fish, admire the flowers, take a few photos, eat lunch, etc.  What a great way to spend the day.  The cross-country travel could not have been easier, and the stream kept us entertained at all times. 

A great way to spend a day.

By the time we got back to camp, it was time for another shady siesta, and the some fishing and exploring down to Lower Golden Trout Lake.  No camping is allowed within 500 feet of this lake, and while it was larger than the Upper Lake, it also seemed a bit less welcoming—with more rock along the shore.

Pilot Knob   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

The last night was lovely, and we took even more photos near the end of the day.  From our campsite we had a really nice view of Pilot Knob further down the canyon.  There must have been an article about Pilot Lake recently, as many of the people we met on the trail were either headed towards Pilot Lake, or coming from Pilot Lake. 
There was a big different in the appearance of Mt. Humphreys.  When we arrived, the recent storms had left it nicely powdered with snow. Now there was very little snow to be seen.

Mt. Humphreys.  Get used to seeing photos of this  ©http://backpackthesierra.com   Humphreys over 4 days   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

A spectacular view down from the pass...  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
The last day we packed up and headed out over the pass early in the morning.
  It was a wonderful day for a hike, and we sailed up to the pass quickly.  But then we hit that same old combination of mud wallows and high stone steps—now augmented with plenty of horse manure from pack train that had come over the night before.  If you didn’t like this trail on the way in, you were going to like it even less on the way out. 


We were at the trailhead by lunchtime, and drove down to Aspendell for a quick bite at the café before getting into the car and driving back to our cabin above Sonora, filled with some pretty nice memories of a beautiful part of the Sierra.

Lamarck Lakes

posted Jul 19, 2015, 6:46 AM by Paul Wagner

Grass Lake, a side trip we refused, given that we were already facing an army of mosquitoes.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Since we were keeping a close eye on the weather, and we had one day “left over” from our Mono Pass trip, we took the opportunity to day-hike up to Lamarck Lakes on July 7.
  The weather report was for thunderstorms, rain, hail and snow, so we felt just fine that we were going to end the day back in Bishop, rather than in a tent at 11,000 feet. 

After our adventures over Mono Pass, this little hike seemed pretty darn civilized.  The trail climbed steadily but smoothly through the forest up to the junction with the trail to Grass Lake.  At that point things got a bit rougher, but the views opened up as well.

Lower Lamarck Lake.  Some decent campsites on the ridge behind me here....but this is pretty close to the trailhead for us.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Before we knew it, we were at Lower Lamarck Lake…and we stopped only for a minute before continuing on to Upper Lamarck.  Just long enough to take a photo or two.


Upper Lamarck Lake.  Pretty barren, and we didn't see any great campsites.    ©http://backpackthesierra.com
It’s harder to really get to the water at Upper Lamarck, and we ended up eating lunch on a rocky knoll just east of the lake—which was just as well, because the mosquitoes were fierce closer to the water.  The water here was an intense blue.
Well, some turn out OK  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

After a sun-drenched rest on the rock, we started down before the clouds could gather too much momentum.  We met quite a few hikers on this trip coming down from Lamarck Col—some of whom told of quarter-sized hail pelting them the night before.  They looked pretty whipped.

And while the views were nice on this hike, there was also a lovely flower garden at the base of the trail, just a few yards from the trailhead.   We enjoyed the flowers, dodged the raindrops, and spent the night back in Bishop, getting ready for our next trip. 

Pioneer Basin Trip Report

posted Jul 18, 2015, 8:20 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Jul 18, 2015, 7:21 PM ]

The first of our three trips in July was out of the Rock Creek Canyon up over Mono Pass into Mono Creek and the Pioneer Basin.  We’d picked up our permit in Bishop, and the ranger there suggested that the backpackers’ campground at Mosquito Flat was likely to be full. 

Ruby Lake from below Mono Pass  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
That was a problem, so we spent the night before the trip in Bishop.  When we arrived at Mosquito Flat the next morning there were only two tents in the campground…so next time we know to check the campground, not the ranger in an office 45 miles away.

This is a lovely hike.  The trail leads up along the North canyon wall, with beautiful views of Little Lakes Valley and the peaks above Morgan Pass. For a while you track the stream as it gurgles beside the trail.  The junction to Ruby Lake comes quickly, and then you get into the real climb, switchbacking up on the granite, with vistas opening up in all directions. 

You get a great view of Ruby Lake from above, and then the trail turns the corner and you are climbing straight up to Mono Pass, at over 12,000 feet. 

The far side of the pass is a little disappointing—a barren sandy desert with a meagre little Summit Lake sitting in the middle, but once you reach the edge of the ridge, you get great views of  Pioneer Basin, Mono Canyon, and the rest of the Sierra.  We ate lunch just below Trail Lakes, and ran into ranger Michael Rodman, who not only checked our permits (a first for us!) but also gave us great advice about all of the various destinations on the route.  He stopped by our camp later in the day to check out our tent and talk fishing a bit.

And it was beautiful...Fourth Recess in the morning light.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
On his advice, we camped on a ridge above Fourth Recess Lake, enjoying the 800 foot cascade on the far wall of the lake.  Over the course of the afternoon, the clouds had been building, and we watched with some concern as we heard thunder and saw showers in all directions.  By 8 p.m. there was only one cloud left in the sky, and P remarked that it looked like we had dodged a bullet. 

Five minutes later we were hammered by a hailstorm for close to an hour. While the hailstones weren’t large, they came down in buckets, and the next morning there was at least an inch of hail still on the ground.  So much for dodging bullets.  Not a lot of fun.

The next day, after we dug out of the hail and dried things off a bit, we packed up and hiked to Mud Lake, the lowest of the lakes in Pioneer Basin.  We set up camp on a ridge West of the lake, and then day-hiked up onto the bench above to explore. 

A spectacular sight   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

What a beautiful garden! There were lakes everywhere we looked, small trees and grass grew between them, and we spend a couple of hours just wandering along and enjoying the sights. As the day progressed the clouds gathered again, and we decided that an exposed ridge was not the place to camp that night.  Instead, we packed up again and descending into Mono Canyon, where we found a protected campsite and enjoyed a lovely evening.  In fact, we only got a few sprinkles of rain, although we did see dark clouds and heavier rain up above near our original campsite.

Day three, we packed up and started back towards the trailhead.  We wanted to investigate Golden Lake, and so we left our packs near where the trail crosses Golden Creek, and then day-hiked up the creek to the lake.  This was a joyous hike—beautiful High Sierra scenery, warm sunshine, a crashing, cascading creek to follow, and a lovely lake at the end.  There were some big trout near the outlet of Golden Lake, but they were very deep, and completely uninterested in any flies that P tossed at them.

M hiking in front of Mono Rock   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
After a rest at the lake, we hiked back to our packs and ate lunch back on the main trail.  A decision needed to be made.  The weather was looking worse again, and we were not in a great spot.  There are a few campsites at Trail Lakes, but they are a bit exposed.  We decided to hike up and look at them—at the very least, it would take us closer to the trailhead, and make the next day a bit shorter. 

At Trail Lakes, we didn’t really see a campsite we liked, and so we took one more look at the sky, and decided to try to make it over Mono Pass to Ruby Lake before the storm hit. 

That was a cold, windy hike.  By the time we got to the pass, it was sprinkling a combination of hail and rain, but only very lightly, and so we kept on moving East and down.  By the time we got to the junction with the Ruby Lake Trail, the sky was black and it was clear a big storm was on its way.  We chose to hike down into Mosquito Flat and camp at the trailhead campground.

On the last few miles of the trail, we were meeting quite a few day-hikers, and we all descended with a certain amount of focus, looking up at the sky all the time.  We arrived at the trailhead about 5 p.m., with a black sky overhead, thunder in our ears, and lightning flashing around. 

Little Lakes Valley, before the storm   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

When P stopped at the car to chat with some fishermen, he only had time for two questions before we were hammered with rain and hail.  We threw our packs in the car and sat inside, waiting for the storm to let up so that we could set up camp.

Almost two hours later, the hail was still coming down, and we gave up and drove to Bishop for a warm bed, a hot meal, and a shower.  A real shower, with warm water, instead of hail.

Did you miss us while we were gone?

posted Jul 16, 2015, 9:13 PM by Paul Wagner

We're finally back after a couple of weeks in the mountains.  And while we had planned to take three different hikes over fifteen days, the weather and our own common sense led us to take a few days off in the middle, and rest up in our cabin.  So we did two trips:  one over Mono Pass into Pioneer Basin, and one over Paiute Pass into Humphries Basin.  Add in a day-hike to Lamarck Lakes, and a couple of days resting up in Twain Harte, and we had a great vacation.

We'll post trip logs and reports on all the hikes over the next few days, but here are a couple of photos, just so you get an idea:

Clouds were amazing   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
It was very cold...mist rising off the stream  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Mt. Crocker  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Like we said--more in the next few days...

Ebbetts Pass

posted Jul 1, 2015, 2:56 PM by Paul Wagner

This last weekend marked the 20th annual company campout for our team.  We close the office for a couple of days, and take everyone out into the woods for a few days of R&R, teambuilding, and mainly just having fun in the mountains.

Down canyon  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
This year we chose Lake Alpine.  In keeping with our tradition, we were just a little too close to a large forest fire to be completely comfortable, but in the end the fire was under control by the second day of our campout, thanks to hard work by the firefighters and a little rain.

Did we have fun?  We had a great time.  We did a couple of really nice hikes:  A shuttle hike from Sandy Meadow Trailhead to Woodchuck trailhead, and then a rougher day-hike down the Mokelumne River to Deer Creek and back. 

We ate and drank like kings, and fortunes were won and lost at the gaming tables.


We are now all back in the office.  sigh. 

Mosquito at 11 o'clock!

posted Jun 24, 2015, 10:06 AM by Paul Wagner

The lake and reflections ©http://ba​ckpackthes​ierra.com
In mid-June at 10,200 feet, Roosevelt Lake was a wonderland.  And it was also wondrously full of close encounters of the flying kind.  The mosquitoes were so bad that we were not only wearing insect repellent, we were also fully clad in headnets. 
Yep--it was a buggy trip~! Here we are modelling the latest in designer headwear on the North Fork of the Kings River. But the flowers were stunning, the place was amazing...and thanks to the bugs, we saw a total of 14 people in five days.©http://backpackthesierra.com

And after enjoying a stunning sunset and the alpenglow on the peaks, we were ready to escape the bugs in the safety of our tent.  We nimbly ducked through the mosquito netting and zipped it up quickly and carefully behind us. 

P settled into his bag and closed his eyes.  It had been a long day of off-trail hiking, and he was ready to sleep.   M was soon to follow, and there was a wonderful stillness in the tent as she lay down to rest. 

And then she sat up again.  

"There's a mosquito in the tent!" she cried.   

P tried to rest as she pulled out her headlamp and started scanning the tent for the offending skeeter. As he opened his eyes, P saw the beam of the headlamp slowly panning across the ceiling of the tent without success. 

the last rays of sun '©http://ba​ckpackthes​ierra.com
He surrendered, and pulled out his own headlamp and added it to the search pattern.  Quietly, out of the side of his mouth, he began to make the slow, mournful siren of the air raid horns from London in the Second World War.  The searchlights continued to pan across the ceiling in a random pattern.

"There it is!" M called out as she took a swipe at the MO-109 flying mosquito.  She missed. 

Again the lights searched the sky.  Again the air raid siren wailed to life. 

"Got it!"  she said happily, as the bug got squished against the netting and fell slowly out of the sky.  We only missed the sound effects of the tailspin as it went down. 

The searchlights went off.  The siren signaled the all clear.  And we settled in for a quiet night's sleep, protected against the enemy by a thin wall of gauze.

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