We get this question a lot: Where should I camp when I get to _______?
We don't know. Every person who hikes likes different things in a campsite. We prefer sites that are isolated and relatively unused, Others prefer those with constructed stone furniture and built in fireplaces. (We almost never make a fire in the backcountry. We've only done it twice in the last ten years.) We know some people who really prefer to camp on open granite slabs. Others like wooded sites.
And sometimes we get the impression that people are afraid they won't find a place to camp at all, which is silly. All you need is a flat spot about 3x6 feet and you can sleep. What else do you need? Make that 5x7 for a couple.
Yes, it's nice if there is water near at hand--but many of the "established" campsites are legally too close to water to be used. And we often choose to be farther away from the water, both to be legal, and to avoid the higher concentrations of mosquitoes that thrive in lakes. After carrying a pack all day, it's not hard to carry a couple of bottles of water for a 1/4 of a mile or more.
Hiking destinations are not like hotels, with a certain number of bookable rooms, some with ocean views, some without. In fact, the backcountry is full of really nice places to camp. Some by lakes, some by rivers, some on top of ridges or mountains. We've done all of them.
We've also chosen to camp below a lake on the outlet stream, because there were too many people at the lake. And we had our little slice of heaven all to ourselves.
We've chosen to camp on a ridge above the lake to avoid mosquitoes, and heard the campers on the lake complain about how bad they were.
We've camped in Death Valley where there was no water within ten miles, and loved it. We've set our tent up in the sun, and then napped by taking our Z-rests under a nearby tree for shade. And loved it. We've walked by one lake because we didn't like the look of it, only to return after seeing the next lake on the trail--and ended up with one of our favorite campsites of all time.
Don't sweat the campsite thing. There are lots of places for you. And part of the fun of backpacking is finding one that is just right for you.
After our recent trip to the Emigrant Wilderness, we got a few questions about mosquitoes. Mainly, people wanted to know how bad were the mosquitoes...and were they the worst mosquitoes we had ever seen?
We'd have previous experiences that remained powerful images in our brains. Hiking the Mitchell Peak trail through a cloud of mosquitoes (and we had no bug dope!) that kept us constantly wiping our hands on our arms and legs to get the bugs off. No fun at all, unless you had a video camera to capture the dance we did as we hiked.
And about eight years ago we did a trip up into the Red Mountain Basin that not only encouraged us to put on our headnets for the first time, but we even ate inside our tent. And later on that trip, we wore our headnets while we were hiking, to keep from inhaling some of the mosquitoes that were hanging in clouds around us as we hiked. That's the glamor shot, above.
Those were bad.
But at the West end of Emigrant Lake this year, we ran into dense clouds of mosquitoes that were waiting in every little corner of the trail. Yes, we had on our headnets. Yes, we were wearing 100% DEET. And still they came after us, clouds of them pinging against our arms and legs as we hiked through them. And the whining of their tiny little engines is still ringing in our ears...as is the image of those clouds, dark against the sky.
Luckily, we found that they were not quite so bad at the East end of the lake, and we camped there. And yeah, they came out in the evening and still made our lives...interesting. See M's back in the photo at right.
But two nights later, we camped on a granite ridge above Upper Bucks Lake and didn't see twenty mosquitoes all night. Go figure.
The one thing all of these trips had in common? They were early in the summer, right after the snow melt. That's when the bugs come out to play, and attach anything in sight.
And we remember one trip in the Hoover Wilderness where we were hammered by mosquitoes the first night at Fremont Lake. It was miserable. The next night, 800 feet higher, we had zero bugs at Cinko Lake. And the following night, we hiked up Long Canyon until we got up to roughly the same elevation, so that we could escape the bugs again.
Moral to the story? Avoid hiking right after snowmelt--often around the 4th of July weekend. Or hike up high where the bugs are still frozen. And take DEET and headnets.
And embrace it all as part of the experience.
The Summit Ranger Station in Pinecrest had a large display up in the parking lot, identifying those areas of the Stanislaus National Forest that were considered high fire danger. Fires were prohibited in those areas.
Now this report from Yosemite National Park:
Yosemite National Park is experiencing high fire danger, along with continued hot and dry weather patterns. Due to current and predicted fire conditions and fire behavior, the Superintendent of Yosemite National Park implemented Stage 1 Fire Restrictions until further notice.
By order of the Superintendent Yosemite National Park and under authority of Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 2.13(c):
Fire restrictions reduce the probability of an accidental fire that could threaten visitors and employees during times of high fire danger. Cooperation in complying with these temporary restrictions is greatly appreciated.
A few folks were surprised by the fact that we hiked fourteen miles on the last day of that trip to Huckleberry lake and back. So we thought we'd explain.
We are not what you might call speed hikers. On a good day, we'll put in ten miles over the course of the day, which might be six or more hours of hiking. Of course, that includes stops for snacks, water, fording rivers, photos, rest, lunch, etc.
And we often hike less than that: from five to eight miles. We start around 8 or 8:30, sometimes 9 a.m., and usually wrap up with an hour's hiking after lunch. That means we get into camp about 2 p.m., in time for a nap, rinsing off the dust, and a little fishing, etc.
But still, how fast do we really walk?
On a good day, on a good trail on flat terrain, we might hike two miles an hour. Make us hike up a steep, rough trail at high altitude, and that could easily drop to barely more than one mph.
It's all right. We still get there.
And yes, on our last trip we hiked out 14 miles in a little over 8 hours, including stops for lunch and fording a river. That worked out to about 1.8 mph over the course of the day.
Not bad for old folks.
If you read our last trip report, you'll know that we met nearly 100 people on the trail the first day of hiking in the Emigrant Wilderness. That's a lot, for us. We like to backpack where we seldom see anyone at all--often going a day or more without seeing another soul.
And then we met another thirty or so people on the second day. And we began to think, "Was Yogi Berra right? That nobody goes there anymore, because it's too crowded?"
Of course, we were hiking on the main drag in Emigrant--Gianelli Trailhead, heading East. And as soon as we got a bit further into the forest, we found ourselves a lot more isolated. From Emigrant Lake to Bucks Lake on the return trip, we saw a total of two people. That's about 13 miles and two days of hiking.
The rule is always the same in the backcountry. If you want solitude, head off-trail or more than one day in. Either way, you will lose about 85% of the people who backpack. And if you do both, as we did in our trip up Conness Creek in Yosemite last year, you won't see anyone at all.
Over the 4th of July weekend we hiked out of Gianelli Trailhead for five days of adventure and mosquitoes.
Day One: Off to a late start after getting our permit at Pinecrest, where we were warned about lots of snow and high water levels--which we never found. But the miles clicked right along, up over one ridge, down into the valley, back up over the next ridge,,,and on and on. When they wrote "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" they were in the Emigrant Wilderness.
And we were not alone. Our first clue was the more than fifty cars at the trailhead. And we met about ninety people and fifteen dogs on our first day's hike. But most of them were on their way out from Chewing Gum, Y Meadow, and Toejam Lakes. And they were leaving, after all.
We stopped for lunch at the junction to Y Meadow Lake, then pressed on through Whitesides, Salt Lick, and a series of smaller meadows. When we got to the ford at Spring Meadow, we called it a day and camped on an exposed granite ridge up in the breeze. And still got clobbered by mosquitoes. But we did have a nice view...see below...through the headnets and DEET.
Day Two: Nothing like an early morning icy ford to get you moving--especially when you are swatting mosquitoes the whole time. From here we quickly reached the junctions to Wire and Long Lakes, and then down along a cascading stream to Deer Lake. At the junction we met a nice couple of rangers who checked our permit and suggested that we'd see fewer people from here on out. And that the bugs would be fierce everywhere. They were almost right.
The climb down into Bucks Lake has never been our favorite--steep and clunky with lots of big steps, loose stones, and eroded trail. But there is that lovely moment when you see the deep blue water of the lake through the trees--and it promises a water break, a snack, and an end to the descent. We'd heard by this point that the mosquitoes at Emigrant Lake were horrific, and that was our next stop.
They were worse than that. Huge clouds of mosquitoes, visible as balls in the air, awaited us on the trail on the West end of Emigrant Lake. We had on headnets and DEET, and still we could feel them bouncing off us, filling the air with their whine, as we hiked through them. At least we now have a new mosquito point of reference. We hope you never experience a High Emigrant Lake Level (HELL) of mosquito action.
We stopped about half-way down the lake to catch our breath and take stock. Hiking in those conditions is nerve-wracking, and we needed a break. And we noticed that the bugs at this end weren't so bad. So when we found ourselves facing another ford at the top end of the lake, and another climb up over another ridge to the next lake, we decided to see if there were any decent campsites nearby. We found one, again on a nice dry granite ledge overlooking the lake, and settled in. P fished a bit, but fly-casting into a 20 mph wind was no fun. The good news is that the wind limited the bug action as well.
This day we only met about thirty people, and half of those were a single group of kids from the Overland School whose parents had flown them out to California to hike for a week or so. And there was the fellow with his family who had camped along the shores of Emigrant Lake, complete with camping chairs and a car camping tent--clearly all delivered by mule.
But we saw some other cool stuff at Emigrant Lake, like the spawning trout that were holding steady in the shallow current of the ford, and the bald eagle whose cry alerted us to its presence. And once we finally spotted it, on a treetop far away, we really felt that our Fourth of July hike was complete!
As the shadows lengthened over the lake, the wind died, the mosquitoes came out, and we dove into our tent for the night.
Day Three: Today was planned as a easy day. Only six miles (the previous two days had been a total of nineteen) and much of that was going to be an easy stroll down Cherry Creek Canyon to Huckleberry Lake.
We started with a short but beautiful climb up to Blackbird Lake, through a few patches of snow and lots of granite and mature trees. From there the trail opened up as we hiked by Blackbird Lake, and the scenery was an alpine spectacular. But the bugs still kept us company.
From here we went up over the ridge (again) and down into Horse Meadow. You can imagine that we were not excited about seeing yet another juicy meadow...and we only stopped briefly to have a snack before following the trail down Cherry Creek.
Except that it wasn't much of a trail. It was an old and very abandoned road, full of large round rocks. We have no idea who built it or why. It was like walking through a stream of small granite pumpkins, and it was no fun at all. But there were some lovely sights...like this delightful waterfall below.
We passed the junction for the trail that leads up to Twin Lakes in Yosemite (another trip, for sure) and were a bit anxious about the ford. But it was a piece of cake, and we then wandered slowly down to Huckleberry Lake through the canyon. A lovely bit of hiking. Sunny slopes, towering forests, and the stream always nearby.
Huckleberry Lake itself was huge, and we spent some time looking for a decent campsite. Most people must arrive via Bucks Lake, because that area of the trail was very heavily impacted. in fact, we almost didn't find the trail out the next morning...because it was so heavily flattened by traffic and nearby campsites.
We found a stiff breeze in our face on a peninsula, and camped there, hoping to avoid too many of our little friends. And we were reasonably successful.
We had a quiet afternoon, rinsing off the trail dust, taking a nap, and generally enjoying the rest of the afternoon of our "off" day. And after seeing three people at the first ford at Emigrant Lake in the morning, we hadn't seen another hiker all day. We had the place to ourselves.
P decided to do a little fishing again, but with the wind right in his face, he thought it might make more sense to head over to the north side of the lake.
As he got there, he found that the shore was grassy---and flooded. No worries. He waded in, sinking deeply into the mud, until he was out enough to cast over the weeds. A few casts later, and he felt something bit his ankle. Or was that simply a sharp stick in the mud? Nope, a few seconds later, another sharp bite, this time on the other side.
This was no fun. And so he began to back out of the lake. Did we mention the gluey mud that reached up to his shins?
As he began to back out of the lake, one of his feet stuck fast in the mud. And slowly, majestically, like the fall of a titan, he slowly sank butt-first into the water.
Within seconds, he was back out, and shaking off the water like a dog. He quickly remembered that he still had his wallet in his pocket, and took that out to dry off. And he checked his other pockets...fishing gear, headnet, bug dope...
It was only when he patted his last pocket that he realized that it held the camera. It was soaked. he pulled it out, set it in the sun to dry....but the poor thing never recovered. Which is why there are no more photos from here on.
Day Four: Which is too bad. Because after a slightly less buggy night at Huckleberry Lake, we had one of the greatest hikes of our life the next day, climbing up out of Cherry Canyon. The trail worked up a series of granite ledges, and each one offered something different: a lily pond, a view of the lake, a lagoon of ferns, some towering old growth trees, another view of the lake, with the peaks of Yosemite behind, a tiny tarn set in a forest of trees, more vistas...it was heaven.
And when we got to the top, we soon found ourselves at Letora Lake--an absolute garden spot in its own right. Set on the top of a ridge, sprinkled with forested islands, and surrounded by inlets and white granite points, it would make a great place to spend a day exploring. As it is, we simply hiked by and tried to etch the images in our mind.
The deepest ford of the trip was at Cow Meadow Creek, where an old snag had fallen right into the middle of the ford. There were a few trees that might have worked to cross the creek, but M doesn't like hanging high over the water on a narrow trunk. So we forded it, climbing up and over the snag in the middle of the stream. M got her knees wet. P didn't. And for the first time in a day and half, we met two day-hikers who were camping at Woods Lake above.
From there it was a steep but pleasant climb up to Buck Lakes, and we strolled along the shores of the three lakes, thinking again of a relatively light day and an early campsite. We didn't want to tackle that climb up to Deer Lake, so we ended up near the ford across the creek between Upper and Middle Buck Lakes. An ideal spot. Lots of granite, and a steady breeze.
We napped again, P tried to dry out the camera again, and eventually went fishing to catch some lovely rainbows up to twelve inches--and saw a few more that were certainly larger. It was a perfect evening. The bugs never came out. And for the first time in the trip, we looked at each other and said: "This is really heaven."
Day Five: Between us and the car were fourteen miles of climbing up and down over ridges. M suggested that we might just be able to do that, and avoid another night full of millions of miniature fighter pilots buzzing our brains. We decided to play it by ear. The first hour took us up the climb and to the junction at Deer Lake. The second hour got us to the junction to Wire Lakes. The third hour took us over the fords at Spring and Salt Lick Meadows, and by a bit after noon, we were just west of Whitesides Meadow.
P filtered water, M made lunch, and we reconsidered our day. We were now only a little more than six miles from the car. At one-fifteen We packed up, sucked it up, and started hiking. Suddenly, we started meeting people again. A couple here, a family there, another group of Boy Scouts...and soon we were running into day-hikers visiting Chewing Gum and Powell Lakes.
And by 4:45 we were at the car. Fourteen miles in about eight hours of actual hiking. Not bad for a couple of old folks. The whole trip turned out to be 46 miles in five days.
Last weekend the weather in Lassen Volcanic National Park was perfect--warm in the sun, cool in the shade. But we were surprised by the amount of snow: they had just opened the road through the park the week before, and snow levels were still around 7500 feet on the trails. Which meant that we tried to hike up from the Devastated Area to Terrace Lake, only to get turned back by heavy snow at about 7400 feet on the north side of the ridge.
Still, this is an amazing park that gets very little traffic and attention. And nice to see all that snow feeding the streams and rivers!
Each year we take our team out for the company/family camping trip, and this year we ended up at Manzanita Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park again. Great food, good wine, and lots of good company make this trip a lot of fun. And we get in some pretty nice hikes, too.
We loved getting this note from one of our readers:
Thank you so much for getting me started on the right foot for my trip to Yosemite last weekend. I reserved for Young Lakes via Dog Lake. When I got to the wilderness office to get my permit and bear canister, I learned that the Tuolumne area of Yosemite is still under snow and the rangers said I would have to forge my own trail in some areas. Being new to this… I did some research and opted for the Porcupine Creek trailhead. I ended up hiking to North Dome, then going across to Yosemite Peak/Yosemite Creek and Falls, then coming back to Yosemite Peak to camp for the night.
It stormed like crazy at night and I got nervous that it would be storming all day, so I woke up early and opted for going the “easy” way out, straight down to Yosemite Valley. Little did I know that this route was all rocky switchbacks and was far from easy. When I got to the Valley, I learned that the hiker bus did not start until later in the season, so I ended up making a hitchhiking sign to get back to my car on Tioga Road. A nice hiker couple (who mentioned that they had taken many hitchhiking rides in their heyday) picked me and another girl up and took me back to the car.
The whole trip was life changing. I met so many friendly people along the way and saw some of the most beautiful natural landscapes while at Yosemite. I genuinely want to thank you again for your detailed recommendation for my trip. This weekend I did Big Sur on my own too, and camped along Pine Crest Trail. Next weekend I plan on going to Tahoe and trying to find a trail there!
We can hardly wait to meet Sara out on the trail!