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

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

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 poled, 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

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 simple 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 a 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. 

Some Good News

posted Mar 29, 2015, 6:34 PM by Paul Wagner

Among all the doom and gloom about the lack of rain and the dry forests, Yosemite National Park
The view from Glacier Point©backpackthesierra.com
announced that the Glacier Point Road is now open for cars.  That gives hikers access to a couple of great trailheads:  Glacier Point itself, along with Mono Meadows, has great access to Illilouette Canyon, Ottoway Lakes, Red Peak Pass, Merced Lake Pass...

And Bridalveil Creek Campground can lead you to Ostrander Lake, Chain Lakes, and the Buena Vista Crest. 

Those are all great destinations, and we can hardly wait to get hiking. 

You may recognize Half Dome here...a photo taken from Glacier Point a few years ago.

Alaska seems almost too easy...

posted Mar 25, 2015, 3:43 PM by Paul Wagner

Remember those cyclists from our last post?

"After cycling 25,000 miles through searing heat in Africa and subfreezing nights in the mountains of South America, what better place to rest for a few days than the bike-centric college town of Davis, with a stop at a local brewpub on a temperate spring day?

Polish couple Adela Tarkowska and Kris Jozefowski, both in their early 30s, have spent the last five years riding through the Middle East, Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico and now the United States.

They said men with machetes ambushed them in Nicaragua but ran off when a vehicle approached. Their bike tires turned to goo “like cheese and pizza” when the mercury topped 120 degrees in Botswana. They froze their sprockets on the high plains of Bolivia, where the temperature in their tent fell to almost zero. And they rode for days into 40 mph headwinds during winter in Patagonia.

What made them do it?

“Curiosity,” Jozefowski said. “Or maybe madness,” his girlfriend added quickly.

Read more here:

Looking for Something to do this Summer?

posted Mar 19, 2015, 8:41 AM by Paul Wagner

P  tries to get in a bike ride most days after work. It’s a great way to breathe some air, clear his mind, and write all those emails he should never send. And since we live in the Napa Valley, it’s a pretty nice place to ride.

But yesterday was a little different. As he rode along one of his usual main routes, he noticed two cyclists stopped by the side of the road. These were not your run-of-the-mill day bikers. They were heavily laden with panniers and backpacks. And from their rear fenders they sported small Polish flags.

He stopped to see if they needed any help.

No, they were fine. Just checking their location.

So he asked them where they were going.

The young man looked up at him with a smile, and answered: “Alaska.”

P suggested that they might not make it by nightfall. The biker laughed and replied that maybe tomorrow…

They explained that they had met a Polish expat on their ride earlier in the day, and were on their way to his house for dinner and a shower.

That sounded like they were in good hands, so P left them to continue their ride…to Alaska.

So what are you doing this summer?

How dry Is it?

posted Mar 18, 2015, 8:46 AM by Paul Wagner

Well, it's so dry that we're seriously considering taking a few backpacking trips this spring that head up into the Sierra high country.  Normally, we're not excited about sleeping on snow, spending ten hours of darkness in our tent, or slipping and sliding over ice and mush for much of the day. 

But this year, those seems like high class problems.  There is no snow in the Sierra, particularly if you head further south.

We called four different ranger stations in the last twenty-four hours to discuss the conditions on the trails in their area.  Here's what we learned:

Beasore Road out of Bass Lake in the Sierra National Forest is open and clear all way to Globe Rock.  The side roads to the various trailheads in that region may also be clear, but nobody from the USFS has bothered to drive them yet.  This road generally doesn't open up until late May or June.  It's March.  Snow levels are at about 8500 feet or so. They suggested that hikers might be more worried about mud than snow. 

On the East side, many roads and trailheads are open.  Snow begins at about 8,000 to 8,500 feet, and doesn't really get to full coverage until about 9,000 feet. Kirman Lake, Buckeye Canyon, and most of those East side trailheads are at least open.

Emigrant Wilderness snows levels are lower, down to about 7,500 feet, so the roads and trailheads are not open.  108 is closed at the snow park 7 miles past Dodge Ridge.  Crabtree Road is closed at Dodge Ridge.

Donner Pass snow level is much lower, down to 6,500 feet or so.  If you want to hike this area, you'll be hiking on snow. 

It's so dry...

posted Mar 12, 2015, 11:21 AM by Paul Wagner

We're finally back in California after a ten days of traveling around the US on business...and seeing snow everywhere.  And then we flew back over the Sierra on our way home. 

Boy, it is grim!

As we flew right over the northern part of Yosemite, we could see that there was very little snow below 10,000 feet in the park...and no snow at all in the western part of Emigrant Wilderness.  This is so sad.

The photo below left is Yosemite, with Benson Lake in the center.  Below right is Emigrant Wilderness, with Leighton and Karls Lake in the middle.  Normally there should be about three feet of snow everywhere in these photos...

But don't take our word for it.  Listen to the experts:  "Nearly a third of our SnoTel sites in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada are reporting the lowest snowpack ever measured," says NRCS Hydrologist Cara McCarthy. "For the first time, some sites were snow-free on March 1. These areas can expect reduced summer streamflow."

What does this mean for backpacking this summer?  It's hard to say.  A big set of storms in April could change this a lot, but right now we're guessing that the whole darn summer will be changed.  Streams will be lower in June, and may dry up by late August or September.  Roads and trailheads may open early.  And many plants and animals have to adapt in a big way, or die. 

Yosemite Celebrates 125 years, and 100 Years of the NPS

posted Feb 27, 2015, 9:26 AM by Paul Wagner

On August 25, 2016, Yosemite National Park will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS). Yosemite has selected ten centennial signature projects that are designed to enhance the visitor experience, restore critical ecological and wildlife habitats, and connect with the next generation of park stewards. The projects will be completed over the next several years and will be combined with other anniversary celebrations in which visitors can take part in. The Centennial will commence a second century of stewardship of America’s national parks and engaging communities through recreation, conservation, and historic preservation programs.

“These ten signature Centennial projects will continue the legacy of the National Park Service and celebrate the past 100 years of preservation and enjoyment of national parks across the country,” said Don Neubacher, Yosemite National Park Superintendent. “We look forward to the continued engagement of park staff and park visitors in celebrating this historic anniversary.”

On October 1, 2015, the park is also commemorating the 125th anniversary of the establishment of Yosemite National Park. President Benjamin Harrison signed the legislation, thereby creating the nation’s third national park. The establishment of Yosemite National Park preserved over 1,500 square miles of land including Tuolumne Meadows, the park’s high country, Hetch Hetchy, and lands surrounding Yosemite Valley. The celebration will include numerous gateway community events and in-park themed events.

Signature Centennial projects in Yosemite for the National Park Service’s anniversary include:

Restoration of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (2013 – 2016): The NPS begun work to restore the Mariposa Grove and ensure it thrives to be enjoyed by future generations. The restoration will restore ecological processes including the giant sequoia habitat and wetlands, and increase the resiliency of the Mariposa Grove while improving the overall experience for visitors.

Engaging the Next Generation (2012 – 2016): Adopt the Class of 2016 is a multi-year program bringing the park and its resources to Yosemite gateway community students who will be graduating in 2016. This program will develop long lasting relationships between students and the park through a wide variety of activities inspiring ownership, stewardship, and awareness of the National Park in students’ backyards. Activities will take place both inside and outside of the park.

Youth Environmental Education Center (2013 – 2017): NatureBridge operates an environmental education campus at Crane Flat under a cooperative agreement with the park. This campus serves both the park and Yosemite Institute by fulfilling their shared mission. The current facilities are comprised of older buildings and structures that have been assembled over time and were not originally designed for educational purposes. To address this issue, the park and NatureBridge began implementing a new campus in 2002, which is underway at Henness Ridge, on the Western edge of Yosemite National Park.

Meadow and River Corridor Restoration (2014 – 2017): Yosemite National Park will begin implementation of ecological restoration actions outlined in the Tuolumne River Plan and Merced River Plan. Restoration of the natural hydrology and plant communities in Tuolumne Meadows includes filling ditches along the Soda Springs Trail, removing multiple informal trails, and reducing erosion and preventing conifer encroachment by planting native plants.

Recovering Two Endangered Sierra Nevada Amphibians (2015 – 2018): The Yosemite toad (threatened) and Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (endangered) are federally listed with the potential for their critical habitat to be listed in 2015. Restoring lakes and meadows focuses primarily on habitat restoration to improve breeding suitability where each species is currently present. For both species, through successive multiple year translocations, self-sustaining breeding populations can usually be established within 4-6 years after sites are restored.

A great trip in the middle of summer out of Tuolumne Meadows....on a trailhead that few use.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Returning Endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep to Yosemite’s Wilderness (2015 – 2018): This project will reintroduce a self-sustaining herd of endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep into the Cathedral Range in the heart of Yosemite’s Wilderness, in effect beginning the last major step needed for species recovery. Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (SNBS) were listed as federally endangered in 2000 after the population plunged to a low of about 100 individuals. The population has since increased to over 500, but remains below the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) recovery goal. 

(Imagine Big Horn Sheep added to the photo at left!)

Camp 4 Restoration and New Campsite Creation (2016 – 2018): Through this centennial project, Camp 4 will be expanded by doubling the present number of camp sites from 35 to 70. The existing parking area will be improved to include 130 parking spaces. A new comfort station will be built to serve the additional campers.

Visitor Restroom Improvements (2015 – 2017): Park management will be replacing three of the current portable toilet units at Churchbowl with a permanent restroom building. The new facility will contain flushable gender separate toilets, diaper changing stations, and will be accessible. Future projects include Camp 4, Camp 6, and West of the Lodge, which will replace or add additional facilities.

The Ahwahnee Rehabilitation (2015 – 2016): This project will serve multitudes of guests and visitors by completing fire code upgrades to secondary egress from the upper floors to the ground floor in the east wing. In addition, this project will improve accessibility to persons with disabilities by adding a limited use/limited access (LULA) elevator to the heavily used public spaces on the south mezzanine. Furthermore, two additional ADA-compliant guest suites will be created so that the hotel fully meets ADA guest room ratio requirements. Lastly, the hotel bar and associated kitchen will be renovated to improve visitor service and accessibility. All of these improvements will protect and reinforce the historic character of this unique landmark.

Emergency Services Complex Rehabilitation (2015 – 2016): The park’s headquarters for the search and rescue program in Yosemite Valley will be rehabilitated and modernized to bring the facility in conformance with current life and safety codes. The project will perform electrical, mechanical, plumbing, fire suppression, structural, accessibility, egress and seismic rehabilitation improvements.

For more information about the centennial celebration of the NPS and Yosemite’s celebration of the 125th, please visit: http://www.nps.gov/yose/anniversary.

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