Photos from some of our hikes in 2017.  The Blog posts are just below the photos.

(Until July of 2016, if you clicked on the photos, they will take you to our trip photo logs on Picasa.  But then Google decided to make that impossible, even though they had provided us with both the website software and the compatible Picasa software so that we COULD do that.  Now the photos are on Google Photos, where we cannot make albums visible to the public.  We HATE Google photos.)

Cerro Torre, Patagonia                                                                           Buckeye Valley, Hoover Wilderness                                                   


Evelyn Lake, Mineral King, SEKI                                                            South Sister, Sisters Wilderness, Oregon


Summit City Canyon, Mokelumne Wilderness                                      Echo Peaks, Yosemite

Reader Response

posted Dec 10, 2017, 9:38 AM by Paul Wagner

We love hearing from the readers of our blog, and one of them, in particular, always has something interesting and often funny to say.  Walter read our post about advice for beginners, and he sent us this note.  After laughing out loud at it, we asked if we could post it here, and Walter kindly gave us permission. 

" Deer M and P

"We are not beginners, but I still enjoyed reading your blog today. You write so well, and the advice is just so sane and reasonable. There was one little problem. I was reading your blog at breakfast this morning and noticed a few typos. I mentioned this to my wife, who is an editor, and suggested that she offer her services. For example, I pointed out your recommendation that people should bring a “top map” (you left out an “o”). This led to a short and unpleasant exchange.

"Wife: A topo map! Did they mention that you have to know how to READ A TOPO MAP? Like what the little lines MEAN?

"Awkward silence. It was kind of a rhetorical question.

"Me (quietly): Yes, I think they mention that.

"We have not spoken since. Apparently she has a long memory and has not yet forgiven me for some perfectly honest mistakes concerning certain summits that had to be climbed. Yes, I realize (now) that you need to pay attention when all the little brown lines are close together. But I really don’t know why there is a problem. It’s not that important, is it? You are in the mountains. It isn’t flat. What do you expect?

"Your advice on many different topics has been very useful. I would add a few things to your list of things to take on your next backpacking trip.

"First, a sense of humility. The Wilderness is big, and you are small, and the wilderness doesn’t care. Be very, very careful, especially if you are hiking solo. And even if you are experienced, you can and probably will screw up. Allow for mistakes, and forgive yourself. If everything went according to plan, it wouldn’t be much of an adventure. I would add that dehydration and hypothermia aren’t the only things that can make you stupid. Fatigue works just as well, at least if you are my age. Why did I pitch my tent on this nest of ants? Why did I leave my stove out in the rain? Why did I think i could rock-hop this stream (and how long will it take me to dry off)?

"Second, a sense of humor. A comedy of errors is still a comedy. The wilderness is full of jokes for those who keep their eyes open. I know it’s a drag looking at photos from other people’s trips, but for an amusing time check out “Death March” on my wife’s site, www.oldbev.smugmug.com , concerning a trip we took a few years ago. Also, if you are going solo, as I often do now, it’s good to have an imaginary friend to share funny stories with. I’m not going to tell you my friend’s name (it’s not “Wilson”), but we have a pretty good time together.

"Third, a sense of wonder. My wife wonders how she got talked into taking another trip. But seriously, it is a wonder how easy it is to get lost in some of the most beautiful wilderness in the world and have it all to yourself. You just have to walk for a couple of days. In a state in which more than thirty million people live, you can go bed at night and know that there is no one else within three miles of you in any direction. Once or twice, late in the season, it was more like five miles. The moon, the stars, the dark mountains all around. It takes your breath away.

"You guys are an inspiration. I intend to keep backpacking until I just can’t do it any more.

Walter J"

Thank you for sending this to us. Walter.  We loved the humor---and love the suggestion of taking those three things along. 

P thinks everybody has made that topo map mistake at least once.  he did it memorably in Yosemite with a Nat Geo map that had so many different color codes on it that you couldn't see those tiny little lines to well. But we found out what we were missing once we starting climbing and climbing.   That's when M asked to look at the map.

He knows we're in trouble when M does that! 

Getting Started--a planning guide for winter!

posted Dec 4, 2017, 7:28 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Dec 10, 2017, 9:43 AM ]

A lot of people have asked us for basic advice on their first backpacking trip. And winter is a great time to start planning. 

While it's been some time since we went on our first trip (something over fifty years for P!) we've given the question some thought, and would make these basic suggestions:

1.  Start with something easy.  Keep the mileage around five miles or less, and make sure that there is some kind of water at the end of the trail, either a lake or a creek.  A shorter trip allows you to bail out more easily if something doesn't go according to plan...like you forget to bring matches to cook all your food.  (Don't laugh, it nearly happened to us a few years ago...) And if you do choose this kind of hike, you can be pretty sure that you won't be the only people there.  Nice hikes to lakes within five miles of a trailhead are usually popular.  For a first timer, that's a good thing, because you may just want to ask someone a question or two...or even borrow some matches. 

2.  Don't sweat the latest equipment.  P's first trip was famously made with a pair of his dad's pants tied up into a backpack, into which he threw his basic boy scout sleeping bag.  And he had a great time.  Take a tent, take a sleeping bag, and take enough clothes to keep you warm and dry.  You may think you need more than that, but the more you hike, the less you are likely to take.  Everything you take weighs more than anything you leave at home.  Your "list of ten" items should include a flashlight, map, matches or lighter, bug repellent, sunscreen, first aid kit, etc.  But you don't need the family size of any of these things--P has been using the little airline tubes of toothpaste on the trail for years. 

3.  Do stay warm, dry, and hydrated.  If you read out section about the dangers on the trail, these are the big ones.  Getting wet makes you cold.  Getting hypothermia or dehydrated make you stupid.  And stupid is bad when you are out in the woods.   Don't hike in bad weather--make that decision before you leave the trailhead.  Bring enough clothes to stay warm, and use them.  Most of all, drink lots of water.  If you are not peeing every couple of hours, you are not drinking enough.  The higher elevations of the mountains mean that you won't always notice how much you are sweating---but they will dehydrate you much faster than at sea level.  Drink lots of water.  If you're thirsty, drink immediately.  If you're not thirsty, drink some water anyway, to keep yourself from getting thirsty.

4.  Don't sweat the food. You won't starve to death on an overnight hike (you can live for a couple of weeks without food) but take enough to feel good about eating it.  It doesn't have to be freeze-dried.  We know some long-distance hikers who prefer to avoid the time it takes to cook food, so they live on ready to eat things like dried fruit, energy bars, and GORP.  On a recent trip, we took ramen noodles for dinner one night, instant mashed potatoes for part of another meal.  They were both light, nutritious and reasonably tasty.  And we got them at the local supermarket.  And don't worry about liquor.  You can live without it for one night, and it weighs too much to carry it. 

5.  Do test all your equipment BEFORE you leave home.  Set up your tent in your backyard, or in your living room.  Light your stove and cook a meal on it in your kitchen. Try your water filter to make sure you know how it works.  The time to find out this stuff is way before you get out on the trail.  And this is not just advice for newbies.  We do this with every new piece of equipment we take on a trip.  It's just common sense. 

6.  Do sweat the navigation.  Staying found is a lot easier than getting lost, and getting found again.  Take any kind of navigation tools you want, from GPS to SAT phones, but always take a paper topo map and know what it means.  P learned navigation as a sailor, where tracking your course is an absolute must.  Every time you come to a junction, a big turn, a lake, creek, or other obvious landmark, mark it on your map (maybe even with the time, too).  That will not only allow you to backtrack more accurately if you do get lost, but it will also allow you to make a rough estimate of how long it takes you to hike each section...and plan for future hikes accordingly.

7.   Do sweat the weather report.  We've cancelled trips because of lousy weather, and will do that again in the future.  While it is possible to sit in a tent for fourteen hours in the rain, it isn't fun.  Go on your first trip when the weather will be nice, and don't be afraid to bail out if the weather doesn't cooperate.  We've done this many times. And on one memorable July hike near North Lake in the Eastern Sierra, the people we met the next day coming out had experienced hailstones the size of large marbles.  We didn't, because we didn't like what the weather was doing, and bailed out.  We were smart.  They looked really miserable.

8.  Be smart and have fun.  Despite the stories you have read and seen on TV, backpacking is not about you against the primal elements of nature.  It's about having a lovely time in a beautiful place.  Don't be stupid and make it epic.  Be smart and make it pleasant.  If you really want epic, you can binge-watch something horrible on TV.  This includes crossing rivers in high water, climbing steep snowfields, or taking a look over the edge of that cliff, just for a second.  There are no guard rails in the wilderness.  The guard rail is your brain.  Please use it. 

A few more from the sketchbook...

posted Nov 29, 2017, 3:59 PM by Paul Wagner

Our younger daughter enjoying Mist Falls in Kings Canyon

And that's the Iceberg and Iceberg Meadow from Carson-Iceberg Wilderness

Hiking Herring Creek

posted Nov 26, 2017, 5:59 PM by Paul Wagner

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we spent a few days at our cabin up above Sonora, and while some of the time was spent doing the usual "getting ready for winter" yardwork, we also found time for a nice day hike.

We had tried to get to Herring Creek Reservoir at least four times before.  In each case, we were stopped by gates, bad roads, bad weather, or distractions that took us in another direction.  But on Saturday we finally made it. 

It's a perfectly easy drive.  The road leaves 108 to the right just a few miles past Strawberry.  The first few miles are paved and two cars wide.  Just before you get to the second gate (the first one is right at the highway itself) the road narrows to one lane.  And just beyond the gate the pavement stops, leaving a dirt/gravel/mud road for the rest  of the way.  This road makes a large loop around most of the Herring Creek drainage, but we turned right at the junction and 100 yards later saw the road down to the campground and the reservoir.  Because we were in a 2wd car and the road was both muddy and steep, we parked there and walked the last 1/4 mile to the campground.  We could have driven it in a pinch--but it stops at the campground, so it didn't make much difference to the length of our hike. 

And from the end of the road the trail leads past a few campsites, then to a walk-in campground with a few more campsites, and finally to Herring Creek Reservoir, about a half-mile in.  We checked out the reservoir, noted the thin layer of ice and slush in the shady coves, and the followed the clearly marked trail for another few miles up the creek. 

Lovely.  We found a nice spot for a quiet lunch.  We saw absolutely nobody once we left the campground, and wandered past quiet meadows, gushing cascades, and the always burbling Herring Creek.  Eventually we turned around and headed back to the cabin for dinner.  It was a great day in the mountains, and it reminded us that you don't need to tackle an epic hike to have an amazing day in the Sierra.

Sometimes just a quiet walk in the woods will do. 

The rest of the photos are here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/jNHcdoFnHhw7HlWc2

A product review of the Survival Hax Roadside Emergency kit

posted Nov 18, 2017, 4:08 PM by Paul Wagner

Every once in a while a company offers to send us a product if we will review it on our site.  We usually turn these down, because the products they offer often aren't anything we would be interested in using ourselves.  But we just bought a new (to us) 2006 Ford E350 van as our new road trip vehicle, and not ten days later, got an offer from Survival Hax to review their new roadside emergency kit. 

Since it included a few things we decided that we needed to buy, we agreed.

A few days later the kit arrived in the mail.  The kit claims to include 92 pieces of emergency equipment, but that's only true if you can every Band-Aid and cable tie as a piece of emergency equipment.  So here's what the kit has that we thought was helpful:

It does have a basic first aid kit, with 4 Gauze Pads 20, Band-Aids x 20, 6 alcohol Prep Pads , a tourniquet, 4 Antiseptic Wipes, Scissors, First-Aid Tape, Metal Tweezers, a Mylar Blanket, an Elastic Bandage (small), an Elastic Bandage (large), PVC Gloves, a Triangle Bandage, 5 Cotton Balls and 6 Safety Pins.  OK.  No aspirin/ibuprofen--in fact, no medicines at all.  But still, a decent basic first aid kit that might get you through a few scrapes, cuts, and bruises.  Anything worse than that, and you should probably get medical attention any way.

And then there is the rest of the contents of the bag:  What we liked most was the jumper  cables (although they are light and cheaply made, they would work in an emergency) the 8" Crescent wrench, the hand-powered flashlight, and the light sticks, reflective triangle (you can never have too much visibility)  and reflective safety vest.  All of these items are pretty basic, bottom of the line quality, but they'll all do in a pinch. 

And then there is the rest of the kit:  3 Bungee Cords, 15 cable ties, a candle, some light cotton gloves with rubber nubs, an imitation Swiss Army knife (key element there is the emergency corkscrew!) a tire pressure gauge, a thin plastic rain poncho, an emergency whistle, a glass breaker and seatbelt cutter (I don't even want to think about that) and a very short, light 9 foot tow rope that would work only if the tow vehicle is close enough to kiss the vehicle being towed. 

Is that everything?  I think so.  And the list price is $50--which seems a bit high, but maybe in the ballpark.  Given that the jumper cables, crescent wrench, flashlight , knife, and light sticks/triangle might each sell for $5 or so, and the first aid kit probably closer to $15.  That's about $35-40.  And then add in a few bucks each for the bungie cords, glove, poncho, etc, and you'd get close to $50.  At that price it's not a bargain, and since you'd be paying for at least some things you either wouldn't need or wouldn't want, not a great deal.  But they also sent me a code for a discount that will give you 50% off---so the total price is $25, and should include shipping. 

At $25 we think it's a pretty good deal.  Again, if you run a tow truck service or are an EMT, this is not for you.  But if you just want to have a simple basic kit that gets you through a few minor scrapes and struggles, this could work. 

Here's the low-down on the discount:

As for the $25 OFF discount code, it is OFROAD50 and here's how your readers can use them:
1. Go to Amazon.com
2. Search for “survival hax roadside kit”
3. Add the ‘Roadside Emergency Kit with Jumper Cables’ to your shopping cart and then checkout.
4. On the last screen where it says “enter a discount or promo code” use discount code OFROAD50

Watch the weather

posted Nov 11, 2017, 7:45 AM by Paul Wagner

This time of year is beautiful in the Sierra.  There is something about the quality of the light and the coordinator of the autumn leaves that seems to touch your heart.  There are no bugs, the creeks are generally low and easy to cross, and the crowds have disappeared.

All good.

But Sonora Pass has now closed twice for snow, and the nights in the high country are regularly getting down below freezing.  And those nights are a lot longer now, too.

It is great time to get out, but we usually aim for shorter trips and day hikes this time of year.  We don't mind a little snow, but we don't want to have parked our car for the winter at a trailhead.  Yosemite won't let you park overnight on Tioga Road now, just for this reason.

So get out and enjoy the wonderful show...but make sure you check the weather report carefully.  We don't want to read about you in the papers.

More artwork...

posted Oct 21, 2017, 8:52 AM by Paul Wagner

P's been at it again.

Summit City Canyon

Kolana Rock and Hetch-hetchy

So what did we take?

posted Oct 17, 2017, 9:28 AM by Paul Wagner

A number of people have asked us what we took with us in our bags when we took a load of things out of Napa during the recent fires.  It was an interesting, if somewhat anxious, experience.  And with time to think about it, we might have done something differently.  But we began with deciding that we would put everything in our van.  The van is now our backpacking/camping mobile, and it would give us a place to live if everything went completely to hell.   And in that van we also put all of our backpacking equipment, because it was almost ready to go anyway, and it would give us everything we would need to live for a few days, or even a few weeks, except for food:  first aid kit, water filter, sleeping bag, clothes, raingear, etc.  And the van even had 3 gallons of drinkng water, just in case.

What else?  Photos.  We took every darnn photo we could find.  We didn't stop to decide which one was best.  We generally kept all of our photos in boxes in one room of the house,. and I just grabbed every single box and album, and put it in the van.

Financial stuff:  M collected the latest statements from our accounts etc. and put them all into one folder, so we would be able to track it all down later if we needed to do that.  And our passports, since they are a real pain to replace, and would serve and foolproof I.D.

And then M grabbed most of her knives.  As a chef, that's the one thing she didn't want to try to replace.  I took my computer, because despite my occasional efforts at backup, I didn't want to have to try to find or recreate those files again.  No thanks.  And of course our phones, for obvious reasons.   

M took a family heirloom afghan, as well as her most treasured jewelry.  A few bottles of her homemade nocino liqueur.  All of that pretty much fit into one large box, except for the afghan.  And I took most of my recent watercolor paintings.  Yeah, I had photos of them, but photos wouldn't look all that good on the wall...

What didn't we take?  Almost everything else.  We looked at this and that, and decided that we had enough.  And that we could replace the other stuff if we had to.  The Christmas decorations and kids artwork in the attic got left behind, as did the artwork on the walls, mainly because we didn't want to take it all, and we didn't have time to select what we really loved.  Sometime when we have a day, that would be a good exercise for us...

Most of all, we took each other. 

Still Burning

posted Oct 14, 2017, 8:57 AM by Paul Wagner

One more update on the fires in California's wine country.    We live in the center of Napa City, and so far we have had no fires or damage in our part of the city.  The smoke has been quite intense from time to time.  Since Sunday night the fires have burned some 200,000 acres in the hills on all sides of Napa, but the Napa Valley floor itself has had very limited damage. 

Over the past few days, the fires burned in many directions, and fire crews have been able to use that development to establish burned out zones that give us some protection.  The two largest fires are the Atlas Fire, in the hills between Napa and Solano Counties; and the Tubbs Fire between Napa and Sonoma Counties.  Both of those fires are now more than 40% contained, due to these burn zones.  The Nun Fire is in the Mayacamas Mountains between the towns of Napa and Sonoma, and it is still only 5% contained.  It is in very steep, rugged terrain, and very difficult to manage.  Even in the other two fires, we expect that there are areas that will continue to burn until we get a significant rainfall.  But since they are now far from undamaged homes, and hard to access, those areas are not of major concern. 

So what's happening right now?  Strong winds from the Northeast are blowing on the fires at 20-40 mph.  For the Atlas Fire, this means that most of the fire is being driven back over an area that had previously burned in Napa County, so we're hopeful that it won't mean much further damage.  But the southern end of this fire is burning towards Green Valley near Fairfield in Solano County, and towards Highway 12 between Napa and Fairfield.  We hope our friends over there are still safe.  Some areas of southwestern Solano County are now under a mandatory evacuation order.

The more northern Tubbs Fire is burning into the southeast part of Santa Rosa.  There are new mandatory evacuation orders in those areas, and the city of Calistoga in Napa County, also south of this fire, is still under a mandatory evacuation. 

The Nun Fire is burning towards the town of Sonoma, and mandatory evacuation orders are now in place for most of area east of Sonoma itself.  Those are new orders as of last night due to the wind and the growth of the fire. 

So eastern Sonoma County is quite seriously threatened.  The evacuation orders along the eastern edge of the city of Napa have been lifted in some areas, because there is nothing left to burn, and the active part of the fire is now farther east.  And as a result, the evacuation advisories for neighboring areas of Napa have been lifted.  Right now the biggest threat to Napa County seems to be the Nun Fire, to the West, which is burning up over the ridge from Dry Creek Road towards the main valley, and the Tubbs Fire threatening Calistoga at the northern end of the valley. 

Today the air in the city of Napa is sparklingly clear---due to the winds that are pushing all the smoke south. 

More than 90,000 people have been evacuated because of these fires, and the death toll now stands at nearly 40--although more than  200 people are still reported missing.  Among our staff, we have one employee whose home is in the mandatory evacuation zone in Sonoma County, one whose home is still under an evacuation advisory in Napa, and another whose home is in an area where the evacuation orders have now been lifted.  Friends and colleagues in Napa, Sonoma, and Solano Counties continue to have a gamut of experiences, from miraculous escapes to sad losses of homes. 

We have taken a few of our most treasured possessions out of town to keep them safe, and among those are our backpacking equipment.  We figured if we really had to manage to live away from home for a while, what is in our backpacks gives us most of what we need:  clothing, shelter, water filter, first aid kit, raingear, etc. 

The wind is expected to slowly ease later today, and after that we hope to get three or four days of calmer weather, followed by a tantalizing prospect of rain later in the week. 

Thanks to everyone who has sent the kind wishes.  And thanks also to the emergency personnel, who have done a really remarkable job in utterly overwhelming conditions. 

More Fire News

posted Oct 13, 2017, 11:51 AM by Paul Wagner

We made it through another night last night.  But tonight they are concerned about high winds and very low humidity again, conditions expected to continue through Saturday evening.  The winds will be highest on the ridge tops.  No telling what that will bring. 

We're fine in our house in the downtown part of Napa.  The smoke is still quite thick in Napa, and the streets are pretty quiet.  No tourists, and even some of the local have left for greener or safer pastures.  We've taken a  carload of our most treasured items to M's father's house in the East Bay for safe keeping.  Calistoga remains completely evacuated, while in parts of Napa those evacuation orders may be lifted.  Others have already lost their homes.  Many businesses, including official offices, are closed due to the smoke.

And it all depends on the wind tonight.  None of these fires is more than 10% contained...

Thanks again for all who shared their thoughts and concerns.

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