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

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

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

Preston Falls on the Tuolumne River

Addition to our First Aid Kit

posted Apr 25, 2016, 8:23 AM by Paul Wagner

We've added one more item to our first aid kit for backpacking, but it's not something we suggest for everyone.

As you know if you've been reading this blog, P is an avid cyclist.  He tries to ride just about every day for 15+ miles, and has regularly ridden over 5,000 miles a year.  But over the past few years, he's been stung by bees a few times, and each time the reaction to the sting has become more pronounced.

The last time he was stung, about month ago, it was on the thigh, and his entire thigh swelled up to about 150% of it's normal size.  That's when he decided it was worth going to the doctor about this.  The doctor prescribed some massive dosages of prednisone, and then asked P what he liked to do for fun. 

When P mentioned backpacking, the doc immediately prescribed a couple of epipens.  He was concnered that if P were stung near his head by a bee, the reaction could easily prevent him from breathing.  There's a happy thought. 

So we've added this to our FAK for in the mountains, even though it adds a few ounces to our packs.  Wonder if there is an ultralight version? 

Bears and Guns

posted Apr 21, 2016, 11:03 AM by Paul Wagner

Sometimes we meet someone who suggests that the best way to defend yourself against bear attacks is to carry a firearm. 

If you think bears are a significant danger in the Sierra, first read our website about dangers in the Sierra.  Bears are not on the list.

On the other hand...you could always read this great story from the Lewis and Clark expedition.  They ran into a grizzly bear (there are no grizzlies in California):

Lewis described the encounter as follows:
…they took the advantage of a small eminence which concealed them and got within 40 paces of him unperceived, two of them reserved their fires as had been previously conscerted, the four others fired nearly at the same time and put each his bullet through him, two of the balls passed through the bulk of both lobes of his lungs, in an instant this monster ran at them with open mouth, the two who had reserved their fires discharged their pieces at him as he came towards them, boath of them struck him, one only slightly and the other fortunately broke his shoulder, this however only retarded his motion for a moment only, the men unable to reload their guns took to flight, the bear pursued and had very nearly overtaken them before they reached the river; two of the party betook themselves to a canoe and the others seperated an concealed themselves among the willows, reloaded their pieces, each discharged his piece at him as they had an opportunity they struck him several times again but the guns served only to direct the bear to them, in this manner he pursued two of them seperately so close that they were obliged to throw aside their guns and pouches and throw themselves into the river altho’ the bank was nearly twenty feet perpendicular; so enraged was this anamal that he plunged into the river only a few feet behind the second man he had compelled take refuge in the water, when one of those who still remained on shore shot him through the head and finally killed him; they then took him on shore and butchered him when they found eight balls had passed through him in different directions.

Lewis and Clark subsequently forbade any of their men to shoot at grizzlies for the rest of the expedition. 

Seeing is Believing

posted Apr 20, 2016, 9:46 AM by Paul Wagner

On a recent post on this blog, we reported seeing both Mt. Shasta and Lassen Peak from the top of the bridge in Terminous, California, about 250 miles away.

Happily, one of our readers pointed out that such a thing was impossible.  Austin wrote to say that Shasta would have to be 40,000 feet tall in order to be visible from 250 miles away.  And he gave us proof: a link to a site that allows you to calculate everything visible from any point you choose:

Which is all really cool, except that we know what we saw.  On a sparkling clear morning with no clouds, we clearly saw the white snowy bumps on the horizon right where Lassen and Shasta should be. 


And, of course, P being an amateur astronomer, he know what must have happened:  atmospheric diffraction.  To quote Wikipedia:  "Terrestrial (atmospheric) refraction usually causes terrestrial objects to appear higher than they really are, although in the afternoon when the air near the ground is heated, the rays can curve upward making objects appear lower than they really are.

Which is exactly what happened that morning in Rio Vista.  We literally saw things that were around the curvature of the Earth.  And if Austin hadn't written to us, we'd never have known.

What Could Go Wrong?

posted Apr 19, 2016, 3:20 PM by Paul Wagner

But the terrain was really rough...and covered in poison oak. ©http://ba​ckpackthes​ierra.com

On our trip to Preston Falls this spring, we spent about an hour or so trying explore the Tuolumne River above the falls--a section that is rocky, steep, and covered in poison oak.  But we thought if we could just get past that tough section, there might be a mile or more of river to explore. 

Of course, there's a reason that the trail stops where it does.  Beyond the falls is rocky, steep...well, you get the idea. You can see some of this in the photo above.

As usual when we explore, P led the way.  As he found a route, M would follow and look for even easier paths to follow.  But there came a point where P gave up. He was surrounded by clouds of poison oak, and hopping from one large chunk of granite to the next with a full pack on.  Ooof.

So we turned around.  And as we worked our way back to the trail, P thought he might climb up a little higher to see if he could catch sight of what we were missing upstream.  He couldn't. 

But as he worked his way back down the ridge of rock, one of the big boulders he stepped suddenly shifted underneath him, and seemed like it might roll down the hill.

He leaped clear of that, trying to also avoid poison oak on all sides, he landed, hard, on both feet and grabbed another boulder with both hands.  His left knee gave him a twinge, but what really worried him was the pain in his right ankle.  That ankle bent at an awkward angle on landing, and now something was feeling not quite right.  

He flexed the ankle, and felt a further twinge of pain.  hmmm.  He stepped gingerly on it, and it seemed fine.  He took a few steps, and was relieved to find that he could walk without too much pain. 

The good news?  He walked 3.5 miles back to the car without too much discomfort.  And if he really had damaged his ankle, we had enough gear to be safe, sound, and well fed for 24 hours.  

The bad news?  Two days later, his ankle is swollen and discolored.  He won't be available for swimsuit photos for a few weeks.  

Talus is a full-body workout

posted Apr 18, 2016, 5:26 PM by Paul Wagner

When we go off trail, the challenges are two-fold:  finding our way to the next destination, and finding our way through the next fifty feet.
M climbing through the talus blocks©http://backpackthesierra.com

It's that latter part that can get really complicated.  On a map, it may look just fine, but when you get there, it's whole different matter.  And the thing that makes us most concerned is talus--big chunks of rocks in a pile.  You have to climb up, around, over and through these rocks, and it's a ton of work.  You end up using your hands, feet, knees, butt, and just about anything else that might help you keep moving through the pile of huge rocks.

Here's a photo of M as she worked through the talus in the upper reaches of the Mono Creek drainage.  Note the size of those rocks that she is climbing around.  And while those rocks may be big, they are not necessarily stable.  If one shifts underneath you as you are walking, it can make things pretty darn exciting.

Just one of the reasons that off-trail travel is almost always slower, a lot slower, than walking on a trail. 

And it's why we always find ourselves pretty darned tired after an hour of this.  Now if you could only develop a work-out program based on climbing through talus... 

Making progress!

posted Apr 17, 2016, 4:05 PM by Paul Wagner

Glacier Point Road in Yosemite is now plowed and open to cyclists! 

No word yet on when it will open for cars, but it shouldn't be too long now. Check here for conditions.

Where to eat in Oakdale

posted Apr 16, 2016, 8:20 PM by Paul Wagner

If you're traveling to Yosemite via the Big Oak Flat entrance station and Highway 120, there are not a lot of good options for food.  We've written before about the Old Priest Grade Café, and we've also eaten heavy but tasty Mexican meals at the Cocina Michoacana restaurant in Groveland. 

But if you want something closer to Oakdale, we've found a very nice alternative--in a very unimpressive Grocery Outlet shopping center just west of town.  Go figure!

Pho 38 is a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in noodle dishes, and they are delicious.  It's a family restaurant in the most basic sense--I don't think they have any employees who aren't part of the family, and we've been waited on by Mom, Dad, and at least one of the young kids.

The last time we ate there our bill was about $20 including tax.  And we were in and back out on the road in about 30 minutes.  And the food was yummy.   Hard to beat that.

We've eaten here three times, and always enjoyed it!

Rio Bella Vista

posted Apr 10, 2016, 12:18 PM by Paul Wagner

During our last trip to Preston Falls, the air was clean and clear as we drove across the Central Valley.  We noticed that we could see plenty of mountains stretching up and down the Sierra, particularly to the north.  First the Crystal Range, west of Tahoe, and then we picked out the snowy summit of Mt. Lassen, further north.  And then, as we hit the top of the bridge over the slough at Terminous, we looked hard, and saw the tiny but identifiable bump of snow even further north:  Mt Shasta.  According to Google, that's 250 miles away. 

No, we didn't take pictures, because we were moving to fast, and our little camera was too small to truly capture the moment.  But it was amazing. 

What we have here is a lack of communication

posted Apr 7, 2016, 2:22 PM by Paul Wagner

We don't mind the process of getting wilderness permits.  In fact, we often enjoy the conversation with the rangers, and sometimes we learn a bit, and sometimes we're able to tell them a bit about a place that they might not have visited.  But our experience at the Groveland Ranger Station (part of the Stanislaus National Forest) was a bit odd this spring.

P called them to ask about permits to hike down to the Tuolumne River over the coming weekend.  P talked with a pleasant woman who explained the rules and clarified a couple of questions that P had.  She pointed out that there might be a few problems with fire damage and other things, but that the trail to Preston Falls was open.

P told her that we planned on hiking in this weekend as a backpacking trip, and she immediately informed me that we'd need to stop in to get a permit. 

No worries, we'd done that many times before, and that we would see her on the weekend.

She said that would be fine.



So we arrived on Saturday morning, and everything at the Groveland Ranger Station was locked up tight.  Jeeze!

In the end, there was so much poison oak and enough other visitors that we decided not to stay the night at Preston Falls, and hiked back out again. So we didn't need a permit for that. But we did think that a shower might be in order after all that poison oak.

To her credit, when P called her back on Monday to talk about this, she was quite apologetic, and suggested that it really would have been fine, since we had called and talked to her, to do the trip anyway.  She admitted that she didn't understand that we were going to be hiking that very weekend...

Rim Fire Photos

posted Apr 5, 2016, 8:56 AM by Paul Wagner

Our recent trip to Preston Falls took us right through the area burned by the massive Rim Fire of 2013.  In fact, this area had been closed to all hiking for a while.  But now it's open, and slowly recovering from the fire damage. 

Along the trail, we were charmed to see some signs erected by "Nerds for Nature" that encouraged us to place our camera in a bracket on side of the sign and take a photo.  We were then asked to send that photo via various social media platforms to their attention, and help them track the recovery of the forest.
We ran into a couple of these---nerds for nature! ©http://ba​ckpackthes​ierra.com

First of all, we love the name Nerds for Nature.  Secondly, we love the idea of using camera phones and social media to monitor the forest.  And third of all, we love the fact that these nerds got out into this area and put the signs up to make this all happen. 

And yes, we took photos.  Now all we have to do is join Twitter, Instagram, or Flicker...hmmm.

Here's the photo, at any rate:


And here's a link to Nerds for Nature:


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