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

Starting out right

posted May 28, 2015, 9:45 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated ]

We recently got this note from a reader of our blog:

My middle son (12) has become interested in backpacking after reading a book about the AT.

We've done a lot of day hikes and a few multi-nighters with their grand father on a horse pack (he likes to fish but can't walk up the mountain any more)

I found your site last night researching multi day hikes in California and have very much enjoyed the calm practical advice. 

Thanks very much for taking the time to post your advice and experiences. 

Tom M

How nice is that?  We were enchanted.  And so we asked for photos.  And Tom delivered:


We can hardly wait to meet this crew out on the trail!

Here's picture of P at about the same age...


A walk in the woods...

posted May 26, 2015, 8:18 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated ]

This past weekend, we were once again reminded that it is the journey, not the destination, that matters. 

It all began as we spent the weekend at our cabin near Twain Harte.  We had considered a backpacking trip, but the weather looked a little rough, so we opted for a quiet weekend at the cabin, and maybe a little adventure by car.  That turned out to be a good decision, as Saturday night we saw thunder, lightning and hail pelt our part of the Sierra around dinner time.  As we drove up Highway 108 the next morning, there was ice and hail alongside the road in many spots. 

So the next day we decided on a car adventure, instead of a hike.  For years we have meant to visit the Bennett Juniper, the largest juniper in the Sierra, which stands near a fire road in the Emigrant Wilderness.  So we drove up to the Summit Ranger Station to confirm the location, and were told that the road was closed to protect a small frog that lays its eggs in puddles of water.

It turns out that the best puddles are in the middle of the road.
And this wall of moss  ©http://ba​ckpackthes​ierra.com

OK.  Instead, we suggested Waterhouse Lake, another day hike that we had always planned on taking.

Same problem:  same frogs, same puddles. 

A third option, a pair of lakes near Sonora Pass, would be snowy and icy after the storm, so we asked for suggestions from the rangers.  And one of them suggested a hike to Burgson Lake, about a half-mile off trail from the route to Wheat's Meadow. A quick trip into Carson-Iceberg Wilderness over Memorial Day...this is the first small lake on the trail to Wheat's Meadow  ©http://ba​ckpackthes​ierra.com

Great!  Off we went.  At this point, we should point out that we were not really prepared for a hike.  We didn't have any raingear, because we were planning to spend most of the day in the car.  And while we had a nice lunch, we didn't have much more than a local road map, and a book of mini-topo maps from the ranger station. 

Nevertheless, we headed out on the hike.  And it was lovely.

We saw more snow plants than we have ever seen before, and then forded three streams that required removing our boots and wading. The forest was lush and damp from the rains, and yet we saw only a few mosquitoes. And there were some nice views on the trail of the volcanic Dardanelles and the crest of the Sierra to the east.  There were snowplants EVERYWHERE on this trail.   ©http://ba​ckpackthes​ierra.com

The only problem was the ducked route to Burgson Lake. We followed it to what appeared to be the very edge of the canyon over Donnell Reservoir, and yet we didn't see any lake. Hmm. We poked around a bit, but the sky was threatening, and we had no rain gear. We decided to sit down and eat our lunch on a beautiful granite bench above the canyon. And as we ate we decided that the views and the hike were well worth our time and effort, even without the lake. 

When we got back home, we checked out a larger topo. We had stopped about 100 yards short of the lake. Which gives us a reason to go back and enjoy this lovely hike.

Water.....we need water....

posted May 21, 2015, 10:19 AM by Paul Wagner

There is some hope on the horizon that our four year drought may be coming to an end.  While the few light rains of this spring have dampened the ground and plants, they haven't done anything to address the miserable lack of snow in the Sierra, or the reservoirs levels that depend on that snowpack later in the summer. 

So it's good news that at least some experts are seeing a potential el nino effect beginning to form in the Pacific.  Here's the link:  

Let's hope that this turns out to be true...and that next year brings enough rain to let us all relax just a little bit. 

A busy week of celebrations...

posted May 20, 2015, 2:19 PM by Paul Wagner

No, we haven't been backpacking.  In fact, we've been doing something much more fun, if you can imagine that!   We've spent the last week attending the graduations of our two wonderful daughters from law schools. 

First was Liz in New Orleans, where Tulane organized a real celebration graduation, complete with fireworks, a Dixieland band, clouds of glitter, and the Superdome. 

And then a more sober graduation at Fordham in Manhattan, where Estelle received a special award from the Association of Women Lawyers, and joined a few of her friends in singing the Star Spangled Banner to start things off. 

It was wonderful fun, seeing our girls doing well, and celebrating their amazing achievements with their friends. 

We were delighted, and honored, to be a part of it all.

The Santa Cruz Trek, day by day

posted May 9, 2015, 9:33 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated May 9, 2015, 1:41 PM ]

Day One:

We had spent the previous two and a half days acclimating at about 10,000 feet in Huaraz, having taken the noon bus from Lima three days before.  The first day after we arrived we walked around town and saw the sights (including the pre-Inca Willkawain ruins outside of town) and did some shopping.  The second day we took an organized tour of the much more ancient Chavin de Huantar ruins—an all day trip to the eastern side of the Cordillera Blanca. 

The good news for hiking the Santa Cruz in this direction is that the first day is not a tough one, so you don’t need to leave the hotel before dawn.  Our guide Hector picked us up at the very civilized hour of 7 a.m.  We picked up our hiking companion Kalie, a fit young woman from Pennsylvania who had been doing volunteer work in Cuzco, and we were off.

And peppers....  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

From Huaraz it was an hour drive down the valley to Caraz, where we turned off and climbed a tiny dirt road for two hours up to the trailhead, in the hamlet of Cashapampa.  This is where we met Clemente our arriero or muleteer, who would manage the donkeys that took a lot of our stuff. ©http://backpackthesierra.com

The weight limit per person was 12kg, but of course, as lightweight backpackers, this was way more than we needed—especially because we wouldn’t hike with the donkeys, so anything packed on them was gone for the day.  We sent our sleeping bag and extra clothes with the donkeys, as Hector was providing both tent and two sleeping pads per person.  And the donkeys had all of our food, the kitchen and kitchen tent, a “toilet tent” and Hector and Clemente’s packs as well.  We hiked with our rain gear, a warm jacket, a few snacks, bug juice, water, and our “box lunch” from Hector in our packs. 

Lush vegetation at over 10,000 feet.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

The trail starts at 9,500 feet, and starts climbing up along the Santa Cruz River immediately.

But don’t think that 9,500 feet is alpine.  The vegetation here was almost tropical, and in Cashapampa there were fields of corn, amaranth, and tons of flowers and fruit.  

And the temperature was in the mid 70’s and humid.

The trail climbed steadily, and it was enough for us to ignore the warnings about mosquitoes to roll up our sleeves and take off the legs of our pants.  Hot sweaty work.  But the river was tumbling and roaring down the canyon, and we had plenty of reasons to stop and take photos and a rest.  Only later did we discover that the mosquitoes look different from our Sierra bugs...but do the same kind of damage.  We were all bitten a few times.

At around 1. p.m. Kalie and I arrived at a lovely waterfall right by the side of the trail, and we picked this as the spot to eat lunch.  Bromeliads covered the nearby trees and hills, and it was pretty darn spectacular.  The elevation was about 11,000 feet. 

Our lunch spot the first day.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

This is also where we learned a little more about Hector and his company.  The lunches were extensive.  Each of us had two sandwiches, (including an avocado sandwich—the avocados in Peru are phenomenal) a piece of fruit, a box of juice, cookies, energy bars, chocolate, dried fruit, crackers…in fact, we found each day that our initial stock of snacks that we had packed was steadily increasing, as we could never eat all the food they had given us each day.  What a luxury on the trail!  We brought some of those snacks back to the US at the end of our trip...

Because there are lots of 600+ year old stone walls along this section of the trail, and we don't want to mess them up!   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
After lunch, the trail settled down a bit, and we followed the river up a huge glacial canyon.  The local population still used this part of Huascaran National Park as grazing grounds, and there were often donkeys, cattle or a few horses in sight.  But there were also pre-Incan stone corrals, which indicated that the area had been used this way for something like 800 years. 

As we worked our way up the canyon, waterfalls were cascading down the sides, and occasionally we were given a glimpse of a towering peak behind the canyon walls.  We got to camp about 3:30 and set up next to one other hiking group at 12,000 feet.

Dinner that night was a classic Peruvian appetizer of fried won tons with guacamole, soup, chicken filets with rice, fruit, dessert, and as much hot water for coca or regular tea, whichever you preferred.  Again, it felt sumptuous at that elevation.  A big wind came up right after dinner, and we spent most of the night listening to it howl and shake the tent.  We were thankful to Hector for the solid four-season tents he had provided.
A note about the campsites: these are specific locations along the trail, and everybody is supposed to camp in that area.  They were originally provided with stone pit toilets, but those are now completely unusable, so we had a small tent with a hole in the ground for our toilet.   They are generally large open fields with lots of room...but not a lot of privacy.

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

Day Two: 
This was to be the easy day, although there were a few adventures in store.  We were awake at six, and supposed to be packed up by 7 and in the dining tent.  At 6:30 Clemente delivered a small bucket of piping hot water to our tents, so that we could wash up a bit.  We found the schedule quite easy, and were often in the dining tent well before 7.   Oatmeal, fruit, toast, hot cocoa (and coca tea) for breakfast.  By 7:45 we were on the trail, ahead of both Hector and Clemente.  Hector stayed behind to help Clemente a bit, and we set off down the trail.  Within a few minutes, Hector had caught up with us, and we walked comfortably up along the gradual rise of this valley, always on the southern side of the river. 
Still windy today, but not cold.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
This was pretty easy walking for the first few hours, and then we came to Lake Ichicocha.
  Beautifully set into the heart of the canyon, this lake was a talisman for many miles afterwards.  Above the lake, the remains of a massive landslide dominated the canyon.  It had happened some years ago, far above in one of the side canyons, but was so massive that it blew out a lake far above, and carried that sediment down all the way to Ichicocha, filling in another lake (Juntacocha, which still appears on some of the maps of this area) along the way.  Quite impressive, and a good reminder that these mountains are still quite alive!
Our guide Hector--trained as a journalist, he was extremely thoughtful and insightful on a wide range of topics.  And he's climbed many of these peaks.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Above the lake, the landslide had covered up the old trail, and we were surprised by a tiny traverse of class 5+ rock climbing to get past a tight point. M was suitably nervous, but passed the test with flying colors and a small assist from Hector.  But after that, it was a few miles of walking over the dead flat rock and sand of the catastrophe, to eat lunch in the first spot of greenery, just across a small bridge at the foot of the next steep section of the canyon.   That's Hector enjoying his lunch under the trees, at right.

Another filling lunch led to a discussion of our route from here on out.  The simple route was straight up the canyon to camp.  The alternative was an hour longer, but would take us up a steep trail that switch-backed up the side canyon that would give us a better view of Alpamayo, the “most beautiful mountain in the world.”  Who could pass that up?
And we got a brief glimpse of the summit of Alpamayo.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

We found the trail not that hard….and Kalie and I actually hiked past the turn-off to our camp in our enthusiasm.  But a few hundred yards past it, we stopped to enjoy the view and hope that the clouds would part for a clear view of the peak.  They did.  And Hector and M arrived just minutes later to lead us to camp.
Now nearing our campsite above the landslide,   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

As we hiked this last section we could see the whole valley below us, including the lake and even a small section of the Cordillera Negra opposite us.  Spectacular.

Camp here was at 13,400 feet, and it was more crowded, as this was a key spot on the trail, and groups heading both directions were camped here.  But the setting was stunning.  And as we enjoyed the view, the clouds blew away, the peaks came out into full view, and even a pair of condors sailed overhead.  This was well worth the trip!  Zoom in on the photo below to see the condor... 

That's a condor  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Here is where we also heard some sad stories from some of the groups who had paid less for their trips.  One group learned that they had paid for a four-day trek, and were going to do the hike in three days.  Anyone who disagreed would be left behind without food or shelter. 
Now we're talking.  And someone started to see condors...  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

There were people who complained that there wasn’t really enough food for the group (one serving for each person, and some of the young guys were really hungry) others whose tents leaked or seeped water, etc.

 Our hike was flawless in this regard, and we really liked both Hector and Clemente.  Hector, in particular, seemed to know everyone on the trail, greeted them all as friends, and was accorded great respect by the other guides and arrieros.

A dinner of hot buttered popcorn appetizer (!) soup, trout filets, and chocolate pudding left us with lots left over!  And afterwards, we watched the sun go down and cast a rosy glow on the surrounding peaks.

That night, however, it rained all night long. In our tent, we worried whether the hike over the pass (15,500) would be possible the next day.


Day Three:

It was still sprinkling when we woke up, but by the time we were into a breakfast of eggs and toast, juice and hot beverages, it was down to a very light and occasional drizzle.  And that continued, off and on, for most of the day.  Again Hector sent us out on our own for the first twenty minutes, while he assisted Clemente in packing up camp.  He knew that he would catch up quickly…and Clemente, even though we know he left camp an hour after we did, always beat us into camp by hours.

Nice stonework  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
This was a steep climb.  From the campsite it was about 2.5 miles, and we would climb over 2,000 feet in that distance. But this part of the trail was stunning.  We were surrounded by peaks, albeit often with their heads in the clouds, and views back down the canyon to our campsite and beyond. 

The lake, the trail.  Gasp.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
After the first mile we could begin to see the small lake below Mount Taulliraju, as well as other hikers (and Clemente and his donkeys) working along the trail below us.  Parts of this trail had been built by the Incas, and it was a pleasure to hike it.  It took a good two hours to get to the pass, Punta Union, which is at 15,617 feet.  As we rested here, Clemente passed us by. 
M. P, and Hector.  He's the one who looks like he hasn't been working.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

The following section was nowhere near as pleasant.  Equally steep, but with jumbled boulders everywhere, it was slow going down this side of the pass.  And while there were some lovely lakes below, we were now having the worst day-time weather of the trip, with rain and hail showers in between minutes of intense sunlight.  The surrounding peaks were generally hidden by the clouds.

Walking through the lakes.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

We ate lunch along the shores of one of the many lakes in this section, but then came the worst part of the trail. About six miles of pure, unadulterated mud, often six to ten inches deep.  Hector did his best to pick a path through the mud that kept his (and our) feet dry, but this often involved rock hopping, climbing well above the actual route of the trail, and endlessly slow going.   That's the mud, below.  Six miles of it.
But the scenery in this section was amazing.  We kept thinking of Jurassic Park as we hiked through this fantastic setting of towering peaks, jungle vegetation, and cascading water on all sides.
In the end, it took us just about ten hours to hike those twelve miles—and we had certainly used up all of our water by the time we collapsed into camp at 5:30.  We were at a little over 12,000 feet here.

Most of the last few miles of the trail was like this. A mess.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Hector, amazingly, set immediately to cooking dinner, and by 7:30 we had soup, spaghetti, dessert, and as a special treat for all of our hard work, hot mulled wine afterwards.  Incredible. 

Hector surveying the mud.  There were miles of this.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Kalie struggled on this day.  She had started very strongly (Hector told us later that he thought she had pushed too hard on the first climb, and never really recovered.) but after the pass, she began to feel poorly.  She could still hike faster than we could, but she was not feeling well at all, and eventually Hector sent her on ahead.  She said later that it was enormously difficult.  She was probably dehydrated, certainly suffering from the altitude, and in the end went straight to bed before eating any dinner.  Hector insisted that she drink some tea before sleeping that night, and by the next morning she was partially, if not completely, recovered.

Day Four:

Looking back...with regret.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

This was a piece of cake.

 A stroll down the canyon was on a perfectly good trail, with no mud and no boulders.  We were in high spirits.  We stopped in at the National Park office to get our permits and chat with the ranger.  And then it was a nice walk down to the tiny town of Huaripampa, (elevation 11,000) where the local children had already learned that we might be carrying cookies.  (When we made our reservations for this trip, our contact in Peru had suggested that we bring pencils or ballpoint pens for this situation.  The school was always short of supplies…)
The town as we passed through  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
So we began to give out little pens, and we were extremely popular for a few hundred yards. 

There is a road to Huaripampa, but it is so long and rough that the trek doesn’t end here.  Instead, it climbs another 1,000 feet along trails and roads to reach Vaqueria, where our van awaited.  Here we could buy sodas, use a clean restroom, and get settled in for our long drive back to Huaraz.  And here we said good-bye to Clemente’s four-legged friends.

P, M, Kalie, Clemente, and Hector.

But we were not prepared for the scenery of the drive that followed.  Starting at 12,000 feet it soared and climbed up to 15,600 feet at the pass, with snow, rain, and hail on the way, and then dropped down through endless narrow switchbacks for more than two more hours.  Along the way we passed the shrine to those who went over the edge on a hairpin turn a few years ago, killing everyone on the bus. 

It was stunning, electrifying, and we are happy we don’t have to do it very often!



We passed a small local rodeo where the local veterinarian was treating the cattle, drove alongside the glorious Llanganuco lakes, where we stopped to take the photo below, and eventually dropped back down into the valley near Yungay, where a massive avalanche from Mt. Huascaran had completely covered the city in 1970, killing virtually everyone in town.

Kalie and the lake.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

By that time we were back on a paved road, and it was an easy drive back to Huaraz.  We checked into the hotel, took long, reviving showers, and enjoyed a great dinner at a local restaurant.  We were back in civilization.

This was a great hike, and we enjoyed all of it.  We were very happy with Hector, whom we hired through ActivePeru in Huaraz.  In Huaraz, the local contact is Romer, who was also full of information and very considerate.  We stayed in relative luxury at the Hotel Santa Cruz, although Kalie spent only about $10 a night to stay in a local hostel. While Huaraz has 80,000 inhabitants, it's a small town at heart.  There are lots of shops selling anything you might have forgotten for your trek...albeit maybe not exactly what you might buy in the US. And there are many, many agencies offering to organize any adventure you would like.  Caveat Emptor---not all of them can deliver, and some of the ones with the nicest offices have terrible reviews on tripadvisor.

Hiking the Santa Cruz trail in the Andes

posted May 1, 2015, 9:55 PM by Paul Wagner   [ updated May 2, 2015, 4:29 PM ]

Lots of different kinds of fruits...and potatoes  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
You may remember that we had a great time on our hike to Machu Picchu a few years ago, and we'd always said that we wanted to go back to Peru and see more of that amazing country.

Well, we did just that over the past two weeks.  (That's why we've been a bit quiet here.)

We flew into Lima, spent a day there, and then took the eight hour bus ride up to the town of Huaraz, which nestles in a valley in the foothills of the Cordillera Blanca.  The foothills, in this case, start at 10,000 feet and go up from there.  The Cordillera Blanca has a number of peaks over 20,000 feet high.  It's time for your big boy pants!

After two days of poking around Huaraz to get acclimated, we joined our guide Hector and his assistant Clemente, and took off for four days into Huascaran National Park, where we hiked up the Santa Cruz Valley, over 15,500+ foot Punta Union Pass, and then down the Huaripampa Valley to our exit at Vaqueria. 

We knew that this was the end of the rainy season, so we were taking a chance with the weather.  As it turned out, the worst weather of the trip happened at night--one night of very gusty winds, and a second night of steady rain.  But during the day we had only a few showers on the third day, and spectacular weather during much of the hike. 
M hiking up the trail  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

The combination of tropical latitude and high elevation is a strange one.  We were hiking at over 13,500 feet in a cloud forest, with jungle vegetation at times, and looking up at massive rock and ice massifs hanging 5,000 feet or more above us.  We rarely needed a warm jacket--a simple windbreaker was enough, when coupled with one of the alpaca sweaters we bought in Huaraz for $15.  And some of the time we were actually too hot, even wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.

While we took it a bit easy over the high pass, we had no real trouble with the elevation.  We did have trouble with the miles of boulders followed by more miles of pure mud on the third day.  But we did finally make it into camp, and the next day was a perfect trail and a piece of cake to finish.  (See photo below left for some of that mud...)  
Most of the last few miles of the trail was like this. A mess.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

And then there was the ride back to town from the trailhead, over another 15,000 foot pass, and a road that met every possible standard for an e-ticket ride!  That's the road, below right.

And down....  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Perhaps the most lasting memories are of the truly warm, helpful, and nice people we met at every stage of our visit to Peru; from hotel staff and guides to people on the street, we were always made to feel welcome and appreciated.  We're sure that it helped that we speak quite good Spanish, but we saw other visitors who spoke only English getting much the same treatment. 

And the archeology of Peru is truly fascinating--more than 5,000 years of continuous civilizations, from the pyramids of Caral to the mountain roads of the Incas.  Add to that the remarkable cuisine which includes Inca, Spanish, Japanese, African, Chinese, and other influences (including the best avocados in the world and more than 600 kinds of potatoes...) and you have a country that keeps surprising you and delighting you at every turn.  Not to mention the sheer verticality of the landscape!

And the most amazing ceramics in the world, over hundreds, even thousands of years.

The full photo bucket of our trek is here: https://picasaweb.google.com/balzaccom/PeruSantaCruzTrek2015

And in a few days we'll try to post the rest of our photos from two weeks in Peru.

Open Season!

posted Apr 15, 2015, 11:03 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Apr 15, 2015, 11:05 AM ]

Apparently, the visitor centers on the East side of the Sierra are reporting that both Highway 120 (Tioga Pass through Yosemite National Park) and Highway 108 (Sonora Pass through Carson-Iceberg and Emigrant Wildernesses) are going to be open for traffic by this weekend. 

That's the middle of April.  There have been years when these passes didn't open until mid-June or later. 

Ebbetts Pass, on Highway 4, is still closed but it can't be far behind. 

What this means for hikers is complicated.  Yes, we now have early access to some of the greatest hiking in the world, and that's great.  But bear in mind that we are still in April.  Cold temperatures are still very possible this time of year, as are snowstorms.  So please bear that in mind if you head up into the mountains.

And then, of course, we'll have to deal with the rest of the summer.  There will be less water in the creeks, dry sections of trail, and a very real danger of major fires.  Plan accordingly, and stay safe, whatever you do and wherever you go.

And if you do make an early season trip ( as we did two weeks ago) we'd love to hear about it---and see your photos.

The Myth of Sleeping Nude

posted Apr 14, 2015, 12:07 PM by Paul Wagner

We've heard this story for years, even from a salesperson at REI.  Well, he wasn't talking to us, but to an attractive young lady, so he may have had other intentions.  But the story he told was that you will sleep warmer in a down sleeping bag if you sleep nude.


Keeping warm is all about insulation.  The more insulation you have, the warmer you will be.  (This was brought home to us as we tried to sleep warm on our most recent trip to Yosemite, with temps into the 20s.  P was fine in his bag, M never really did get fully warm that night.)

So where did this silly myth come from?  We think it started with a treatment for hypothermia.  In that case, the victim is so cold that his body temperature can't warm up the bag....and hypothermia becomes a critical problem.  In that scenario (and ONLY in that scenario) it makes sense to put the person into a sleeping bag nude---but you must also put ANOTHER person in the sleeping bag nude.  That second person will provide the body heat to warm up both the bag and the victim.  Without the warm body, the cold body will suffer even more.

There is also a rare situation where a sleeper will have so many clothes on that the down in his sleeping bag is so compressed that it won't fully reach its insulation properly.  In that case, more isn't necessarily better.  

But the laws of physics are pretty clear on this one:  More insulation is better at keeping you warm than less insulation.  And dressing in layers on a cold night will keep you warmer than sleeping nude in the same bag.  No matter what that young chucklehead at REI tells you. 

Before we could write this, we were sent a lovely article about other myths backpackers encounter.  Here's a link to that story---which is a fun read.  We particularly liked the line about the two man tent, since we prefer a three man tent for the two of us:


When you are least expecting it...

posted Apr 13, 2015, 10:38 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated May 2, 2015, 4:21 PM ]

We've written before about stream crossings.  P tends to rock hop across, a skill developing over decades of fly fishing in the Sierra.  He can't dance a lick, but he can glide from one rock to the next quickly and seemingly without effort.

M, on the other hand, struggles a bit with streams.  She uses hiking poles, which help her balance, but she takes a slow, cautious, and even a bit fearful approach.  This despite the fact that she dances with great elegance and style, and can never figure out why P is such a klutz on the dance floor.

So on our last trip into the wilds of Yosemite, P struck out across each stream and hopped across easily.  M took much longer, slowly picking her way along. 

At least, until the last crossing of Bridalveil Creek, just a mile or two from the trailhead.  In this case, M had really worried about this creek on the way over, and P was determined to find an easier way for her to cross.

So instead of carelessly hopping from rock to rock, he gently eased out onto a larger boulder, sat down on it, and then worked his way around to the other side, where he would reach a series of smaller stones and walk across.

All went swimmingly (!) until it came time for him to push off the larger rock with his right foot.  The bottom of that hiking boot had become wet in the process, and when he pushed off, it immediately slipped off the rock and threw him face first into the stream. 

M hid her delight with expressions of concern,  then walked twenty feet downstream where she carefully picked her way along a series of small flat rocks successfully.

With bruises on both knees and wet feet to boot, P hiked the last two miles with a severely bruised ego.

This is the fearful Chilnualna Creek in April.  Normally a roaring torrent this time of year.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
The deadly stream, hiding beneath a veneer of placid waters.

We couldn't wait to get out there...

posted Apr 4, 2015, 6:41 PM by Paul Wagner   [ updated May 2, 2015, 4:23 PM ]

As you know from our last post, Yosemite National Park opened up Glacier Point Road last week.  We thought that it would make a perfect way to spend the Easter holiday.  So we loaded up our packs and headed out to visit some of the distant lakes in the southern part of the park. 
M working through the trees that had crashed on the trail  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

We started out hike at the Ostrander Lake trailhead, just past the Bridalveil Creek campground.  While there were four other cars in the parking lot, we didn't see a single soul during our hike, and only saw a few pairs of footprints.  And as you might expect, since we were hiking long before any trail crews would get in here, there were quite a few downed trees along the way.  That's M picking her way through one at right.

The trail weaves through the forest without doing much climbing or descending for many miles, and that was fine with us.  After about four miles, it climbs up to a ridge, where you can barely make out a few of the peaks in the Clark Range, and even a shot of Mt. Hoffman through the trees.  And then it goes down to Chilnualna Creek.

We had already decided that if this creek was too high, we were going to let it stop us.  We always decide that about high water, and Chilnualna is famous in the spring for roaring along.

And then we saw the creek:   (see photo below)
This is the fearful Chilnualna Creek in April.  Normally a roaring torrent this time of year.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Not much to worry about there!  It was as easy a crossing as we've ever done, and even just a bit of a disappointment.

From there we climbed up to Grouse Lake to camp for the night.  It took us a while to find it, because the trail was not marked well, and the lake is not visible from the trail.  P finally called a halt to our hike when he realized that we were now climbing past the lake to hike over the ridge to Crescent Lake. 

At that point we turned south and wandered in the woods until we found a decent campsite by a stream...but no Grouse Lake. 

P wouldn't give up, and eventually worked his way out into a meadow that gave him a better view.  Looking up the canyon, he strained his eyes to see where the lake outlet might be, but couldn't see anything that looked right.

Then he turned around to see the west side of the meadow...which turned out to be Grouse Lake.  (If you're taking this hike, it's much easier to simply follow the trail up from Chilnualna Creek, and when the trail starts to run parallel to the outlet of Grouse Lake, follow the outlet stream for 1/4 mile to the lake.  That's way easier than either Nat Geo or Tom Harrison's map show.)

And the lake was pretty.  Normally, we would worry about mosquitoes near a lake and a big meadow, but it was way too early, and too cold, for any bugs at all.  We didn't see a one. 

We spent the night there, and it got cold.  The next morning our water bottles were frozen, and M was feeling very much the same way.  After some consultation, we decided to head back to the car and a warm cabin for the next night. 

The hike out was more of the same, with a little more downhill.  We'll go back someday, to see Royal Arches and Buena Vista Lakes...and make the whole loop. But we'll do that in July, when the weather is a little more accommodating.  And in the meantime, a big storm is headed to the Sierra this week...and let's hope it dumps a ton and a half of snow up there. 

From what we saw on this trip, the snow situation is really dire. 

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