Archive for the ‘backpacking’ Category

Hoover Wilderness (Fremont Lake)

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Summary of Hoover Wilderness / Fremont Lake trip

September 23 - 24th, 2016
GPS track

Saturday (9 miles)
Drive to Leavitt Meadows
Pick up permit from self-serve station
Hike south to Fremont Lake via Secret Lake

Sunday (9 miles)
Returned via the meadow route

We took an overnight trip to Hoover Wilderness in late September with our SiTime friends. Between work schedules, we were limited to an overnight trip, and so the Leavitt Meadows trailhead was a good compromise between distance from the Bay Area and novelty. Although the Twin Lakes trailhead and Barney Lake looked appealing, it would have added at least an hour to the travel time.

With our Tom Harrison map in hand, we drove to Leavitt Meadows and filled out a self-serve permit form. By taking the trip after September 15th, there were not any trail quotas in effect, and the trails were relatively empty.

Hoover Wilderness is dog friendly, so long as you do not stray into Yosemite National Park on its southwest border. Accordingly, we brought both Lola and Max on the trip. The trails were relatively dry and dusty, although the temperatures never went far past 70F. The hike to Fremont Lake was relatively flat, with about 1000 feet of net elevation gain. We stopped by three lakes on the way (Secret, Roosevelt, Lane) and crossed the West Walker River after paralleling it for most of the trip.

Leavitt Meadow

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Roosevelt Lake by Joey Doll on

The overnight temperatures were forecast to reach 30F, and so we picked up Ruffwear Quinzee jackets for the dogs. To help with the cold, we also brought our three-person tent (Copper Spur UL3) and an old Thermarest pad. Lola is pushing 10 years old, and upon reaching Fremont Lake she has happy to go hide in the tent to sleep and stay warm. Max, however, used the warmth of the jacket to stay up all night and successfully beg for Pad Thai.

The hike back to the car the next morning was uneventful. The weather was warmer than the day before and we opted to take an alternative route with less shade and fewer lake stops, resulting in slightly overheated dogs and people. I'd recommend sticking to the Secret Lake route for future backpackers.

Fremont Lake by Joey Doll on

Untitled by Joey Doll on

During the trip, we found that the trail maps used by GaiaGPS (OpenStreeMap-based) were inaccurate, resulting in the use of phones causing more confusion than good. We experienced a similar issue on our Carson Pass trip earlier in the summer. After returning home, I bit the bullet and learned how to edit maps on OpenStreetMap so that future backpackers can safely stare at their smartphones.

Carson Pass Loop

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

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Summary of Carson Pass Loop

June 18 – 19th, 2016
GPS track

Saturday (10 miles)
Drive to Carson Pass Information Center
Hike south on Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)
Hook west to approach 4th of July Lake from the backside

Sunday (6 miles)
Hike north back to the trailhead
Drive home

We recently investigated options for one night backpacking trips in the Sierras starting from the Bay Area. We typically go on longer trips, but wanted to find a short weekend option.

After looking at options in wilderness areas near Tahoe, we settled on Mokelumne Wilderness (map). We decided to start from the Carson Pass trailhead at the north end of the wilderness due to its proximity (3.5 hours) rather than starting from the south near Ebbett's Pass. In addition, there was a promising loop on the map that placed 4th of July Lake at its approximate midpoint (see here and here).

The dogs, Cassie and I drove up on Saturday morning and picked up our permit from the information center, which is adjacent to the trailhead. Camp sites are numbered and reserved when you acquire your permit - we selected campsite number 6, although in retrospect we would recommend sites 1-3 for improved access to the lake.

Although there were quite a few day hikers, most turned around within a few miles, and we saw relatively few backpackers. The temperatures were perfect for the dogs (40-60 F) and there were no mosquitoes. What we did encounter was snow, varying from 50-100 foot long patches that just obscured the trail to longer snow covered slopes that required some care in crossing or cross country bypassing. Fortunately this was only an issue for us - the dogs had no trouble with the snow and Max tended to either (1) try to initiate dog battles with Lola or (2) slide down the slope, run back up and repeat.

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Untitled by Joey Doll on

The southward hike on the PCT was relatively nice, with frequent small streams from the melting snow but no significant creeks. After turning west towards 4th of July Lake, the trail became less distinct and clearly less trafficked. The underbrush was dense enough to cut up my legs a fair bit. On that portion of the hike we lost the trail for about a mile, due to the combination of bushwhacking and an out-of-date map in the Gaia GPS app on my phone. It was not a problem due to the wonders of GPS, fortunately.

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Untitled by Joey Doll on

We arrived at 4th of July Lake with plenty of time to cook and get settled, despite getting started on the trail slightly after noon. The only uninvited guest at the campsite was a marmot, who vanished and did not return after he saw the dogs.

Speaking of the dogs, this was Max's first backpacking trip. After leaving him on leash for a requisite amount of time (Carson Pass has a special management area where dogs are technically required to be on leash) we let him run wild. Actually, he tended to stay within about 5 feet of Cassie at all times, kept in place by the invisible "leash of separation anxiety". Lola does not have this affliction, for better or worse, and so she needed to stay on leash lest she roam too widely. We did let her off for awhile at the campsite, and although she has become more docile in her old age, she still climbed up into the rocks to look for her marmot friend.

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Untitled by Joey Doll on

On Sunday morning we headed out towards the trailhead, with a relatively short hike ahead of us. There was more snow on our return hike than on the way in, as it hugged the north side of the central peaks that our loop encompassed. There was one snow covered traverse that was particularly sketchy, with the snow covered slope terminating in what looked to be a cliff. Again, Max had a grand old time in the snow while the humans had to carefully dig into the snow on each step to avoid plummeting down the mountain. Upon getting within a half mile of the trailhead we put Max back on leash, hopped in the car, and headed out.

The trip was enjoyable overall. An overnight trip has a lot of benefits in terms of ease of planning and vacation day consumption. The driving was long but not too onerous, and we had enough time on the trail to tire ourselves out and see some scenery.

Although the low temperatures and snow made this trip a blast for the dogs, we would recommend waiting until late July or August and avoiding the southern trail segment between 4th of July Lake and the PCT.

In terms of photography gear, I opted to pick up an A6000 after the Hawaii trip and brought it along with 12mm, 20mm and 55-210mm lens options.

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Untitled by Joey Doll on

Big Island of Hawaii

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Golden Fields by Joey Doll on

Summary of Big Island trip

March 8 – 15th, 2016

Flight, drive from Kailua-Kona to Hilo

Drive to Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea Iki loop, Hike to Keauhou
11 miles backpacking

Return from Keauhou, hike to Napau
13 miles backpacking

Return from Napau, drive to Kona, Manta Ray snorkeling
6 miles backpacking

Honokohau Beach, drive to Fairmont Orchid
2 miles hiking

Lay on beach, snorkeling

Puu Waawaa Cinder Cone, A-Bay
9 miles hiking

Return flight


We had an uneventful flight from SJC to KOA. The security line at SJC was long enough to finally spur us to register for one of the TSA pre-clearance programs.We arrived in Kailua-Kona in the afternoon and drove east across the island to Hilo to get an early start backpacking the next day (daylight hours and permit office closed at 4 pm).

This was our first backpacking trip that required flying to the destination. We each brought a backpack and a duffel bag for post-backpacking hotel time. One novelty was that we left our fuel canisters, lighter and multitool (security) at home in addition to our hiking poles (limited space). Online reports indicated that we could pick up Jetboil canisters from Sports Authority, but we had no such luck at the Hilo location. Fortunately, there is a Jetboil dealer located in Hilo, KapohoKine Adventurs.

There were quite a few vegan-friendly food options in Hilo, and we opted to visit Prabha's, which was delicious. Hilo was not particularly photogenic, and so I didn't take any photos.

After our Iceland trip, which was similar to this trip in many respects, we enjoyed the perks of traveling within the United States: English, Starbucks, and no SIM card swapping for data. The Iceland trip involved a significant amount of driving and we mostly did short day hikes, with the exception of a long day hike in the hills above Akureyri. The Hawaii trip was planned to address those issues via relatively short drives (<2 hours each day) and a significant amount of mileage as originally planned, before the weather interfered.


We arrived at the Volcanoes National Park backcountry office after a short drive from Hilo. Our original plan was to do a one-night trip to the coast before a two-night climb to the summit of Mauna Loa, stopping one night each at Red Hill Cabin and Mauna Loa Cabin. It was a fairly ambitious plan, averaging 15-20 miles per day. The mountain was closed above Red Hill Cabin due to high winds, but the ranger thought that it would reopen the next day, and so we headed to the coast and planned to return the next day to check on Mauna Loa.

One interesting aspect of backpacking in the park is that water is only available from rainwater collection at cabins/shelters, and the availability of water can drive your trip itinerary. For the coast trip, we originally planned to visit Halape. However, the rainwater storage was nearly empty because it is a popular destination, and so we opted for nearby Keauhou. In addition to rainwater collection, the shelters provide protection from the sun and high winds on the coast.

Before heading out, we decided to visit two popular nearby destinations: Thurston Lava Tube and Kilauea Iki. The lava tube was underwhelming compared with the rest of the trip, but makes for a popular tourist destination - our walk through it preceded the arrival of multiple full tour buses. Kilauea Iki, on the other hand, was a fantastic short hike (~3 miles) and we would highly recommend it.

Afterwards we drove to the trailhead of the Keauhou Trail and headed down towards the coast. The first portion was through lava fields marked by cairns before transitioning to grasslands. It's worth noting that hiking through the lava in the dark would be fairly treacherous due to the lack of trail markings except for the cairns, which would be nearly invisible (black-on-black). The trail tended to follow the lava flows, and so it was consistently rocky and windy.

We reached the Keauhou shelter, set back 1/3 of a mile from the ocean, after about 2.5 hours. We did not encounter any other hikers on the Keauhou trip (either out or back), which was fortunate because the shelter would have been a cozy fit for two tents. We explored the beach and took some photos before returning to the shelter to wrap up for the day. Although the lack of the usual bears was great (cook near your tent, no bear canister required), the ground was absolutely swarming with ants, and so food preparation required some care. The wind howled all night, and camping outside of the shelter would have been madness.

Thurston Lava Tube by Joey Doll on

Through the Rain by Joey Doll on

Halape Cliffs by Joey Doll on

Keauhou Shelter and Bathroom by Joey Doll on

High Winds by Joey Doll on


The hike back up from the beach was even windier than on the way down, and so we were not feeling good about our chances of hiking Mauna Loa. This was confirmed when we reached the backcountry office. We decided to do another out-and-back to Napau, but decided to drown our sorrows in Thai food before heading out.

The first half of the Napau hike was in a lava field and the scenery was reminiscent of Mordor - gray and rocky to the horizon with steam rising from the ground. We passed by several enormous craters and ventured as closed as we dared with the high winds, but photos don't capture the sense of scale. The last several miles transitioned to a lightly traveled jungle trail. Hiking through it with shorts and sunburnt legs was character building, and I would highly encourage anyone reading this to take the time to pull on pants before entering the jungle.

The endpoint was a small clearing with a short walk to another excellent crater view. We encountered a few dayhikers but the trail was relatively empty, and we did not encounter any backpackers. Unlike Keauhou, there was no shelter at the endpoint and hence no water. We each carried 4L though, and water was not a problem. Overall, we would recommend skipping Napau and instead sticking to the coast or to the summit if it is open.

Besides the other various differences between backpacking in Hawaii and the Sierras (weather, scenery, terrain, wildlife, water), it is worth commenting on the bathroom experience. Every backpacking destination that we visited in Volcanoes National Park had a composting toilet, which was unexpected. The Keauhou facilities were amazing - between the raised height and the open sides it represented the pinnacle of the bathroom experience. In contrast, the Napau facility was a closed building with a horde of spiders living inside, and only a crazy person would use it.

Besides the Napau bathroom spiders and the Keauhou ants, the only other wildlife that we encountered was a Small Asian mongoose who tried to eat our food at Napau. Surprisingly/fortunately there were no enormous spiders inhabiting the very narrow jungle path that we took to Napau.

Where the Shadows Lie. by Joey Doll on

Makaopuhi Crater by Joey Doll on

Crater on Crater by Joey Doll on

Napau Camp by Joey Doll on


It rained sporadically in the morning as we hiked out of Napau. At the backcountry office we found that Mauna Loa was still closed, so we decided to grab lunch at Cafe Ono (meh) and decide on our next move. The park ranger had recommended a trip to Pepeiao in the Ka'u Desert, but after perusing photos online it was hard to get excited about it.

We decided to cut out one night earlier than planned from the park and stay at the Sheraton in Kailua-Kona to snorkel with Manta Rays. Before leaving the park, we drove to the end of Chain of Craters road and saw the sea arch.

We took the south route around the island towards Kona, and although there was traffic at several points it was a pleasant drive. The snorkeling experience with My Kona Adventures was great. We would highly recommend the experience in general and that snorkeling outfit specifically (friendly, stayed out on the water longer than planned waiting for a manta ray to show up, fresh pineapple afterwards).

More Mordor by Joey Doll on

Chain of Craters Road by Joey Doll on

Holei Sea Arch by Joey Doll on


We drove up the cost from Kailua-Kona to the Fairmont Orchid, stopping at the Lotus Cafe for lunch. The food and gelato were both great, and we would recommend it as a good food/gas stop on your way to or from the airport. We also stopped at Honokohau Beach for a short walk and saw numerous sea turtles. The rest of the drive was uneventful.

After arriving at the hotel, we walked one mile to a nearby shopping center to grab dinner at Under the Bodhi Tree. We ate the majority of our meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) over the next few days. Besides the lack of vegan options at the Fairmont Orchid, the food was far more reasonably priced, delicious, and it was a pleasant walk. Dishes that were particularly exceptional: french toast, Reuben sandwich, and the veggie burger. Afterwards we walked back to the hotel and enjoyed mixed drinks while watching the sunset.

Black on White by Joey Doll on

Resting by Joey Doll on

Perspectives by Joey Doll on


After enjoying some french toast, scrambled tofu and french press at Under The Bodhi Tree, we read on the beach and snorkeled for most of the day. Snorkeling was a success and we encountered a sea turtle and an eel in addition to the swarms of fish. Afterwards, we did some more reading on the beach and enjoyed the sunset again.

Orange Sunset by Joey Doll on

Palm Sunset by Joey Doll on


We got back to hiking after a day of laying on the beach. First up was a Cinder Cone hike, which was reminiscent of Mission Peak in the Bay Area. Afterwards we picked up Starbucks and Thai food, then did a few miles of hiking at A-Bay.


Desolation by Joey Doll on

Picture Perfect Form by Joey Doll on

Waves Rolling In by Joey Doll on

Rocky Profile by Joey Doll on


On our last day in Hawaii, we had a lazy morning and then drove down the highway to the airport.

Photo gear

I used some new gear on this trip.

  • Peak Design Capture Pro
  • Ultrapod II
  • Canon 6D with 24-105L and Rokinon 14mm
  • Sony RX100 iii

The Capture Pro and Ultrapod were fantastic and I will bring both of them on every trip in the future. The 6D was a bit heavy, and carrying it on my shoulder with the Capture Pro resulted in some numbness that persisted for about a week after the trip. For future trips I will either bring it and mount it in a different location, bring the RX100 instead, or invest in an APS-C mirrorless to save a few pounds.

Ventana Wilderness

Saturday, September 12th, 2009
More striations

Summary of Ventana Wilderness Trip

July 17th, 2009

Bottchers Gap to Devil's Peak, Turner Creek Camp and back again
5.8 miles, 2100' to 3500' feet

Ventana Wilderness is a convenient place to backpack in theory. It's close (about 2 hours away), the roads are paved the entire way, and dogs are allowed. So we set out on a Friday in July to do the 30 mile round trip from Bottchers Gap to Double Cone Peak and back again. We were hoping to fill up on water at Pat Spring, spend the first night at Little Pines, leave our packs there for the day hike to Double Cone, and camp at Little Pines again before heading back to the trail head. However, things didn't quite work out that way.

The drive was definitely nice and quick, although the last 10-20 miles are on a windy road. It's wide enough for two cars in most places and still better than most of the places that we've been to. We arrived at 10am, and as soon as we stepped out of the car it was blazing hot and the flies were all over us. The sheer number of flies was incredible. We planned to do a three day trip, so I put $15 in the collection box, we changed, and started off.

You start off on well maintained singletrack trail that has some really nice views of the Santa Lucia mountains. Lola started off strong but the heat (in the mid 80s to low 90s) got to her quickly. We crossed two muddy puddles in the first hour that she was able to lay down in to cool off. I started sucking water from my water bladder, spitting it on her head and back, and rubbing it in to cool her off whenever we stopped to give her water. We took a quick break after about 2 hours for a quick snack and for C to put on her mosquito net and a long sleeve shirt. I am better at zoning out the bugs so skipped the net.

Hot, muddy dog
Fly party
Pico Blanco

The day continued to get warmer. The landscape was brown and had been ravaged by fire in 2008, and you could tell. The fire lines from the Basin Complex fire were clearly visible. We came across two other hikers, but for the most part it was just us. We saw a few deer scamper across a clearing at one point, but that was it for large animals.

Eventually we came to a fork just before the climb up Devil's Peak. We had gone maybe three miles, about a third of our goal for the day, and Lola was starting to lie down in the shade and only reluctantly get up again. We headed up the hill but after just a few minutes on the shadeless climb, Lola was done. We headed back to the fork to reconsider things.

Lola rested and I continued spitting water on her. On the map we saw that we could turn left at the branch towards a campsite at Turner Creek. We decided to do this in hopes of finding some water to filter and for the hot dog to cool off in.

We headed off in search of the creek, which was dry at first but started to carry a trickle of water after about a mile. Around then we came across a section of the trail that looked a little bit odd from a distance, like it was moving. Once we got closer, we knew what it was. Remember in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” where the kid thinks that he's stepping on fortune cookies? The trail was like that, except it was covered with ladybugs. Thousands upon thousands of them. It was solid lady bugs for about ten feet of the trail at least.

More Devil's Peak
The Ventana and Double Cone
Turning back
Fortune Cookies?

A few minutes after the ladybug encounter we crossed the creek, and the air was suddenly filled with buzzing. A whirlwind of insects started swarming around a nearby tree and we started running. They didn't follow and we're not quite sure what they were. C managed to get bitten a few times but Lola and I made it out okay.

After we had turned down towards Turner Creek, the trail had gone from a wilderness freeway to being overrun by poison oak. It continued narrowing after the swarm encounter, and at that point we decided to turn around on the trail and find somewhere else to camp.

We waded through the poison oak and past all of the insects until we got back to the fork in the trail and decided to take a break for Lola. By then we had emptied our water bladder and were down to 1.5 liters in our Nalgene bottles, so decided to head back to the car and either camp there or drive out.

After about a mile we came across a huge flying insect, maybe two inches in length. I whacked the plant that it was sitting on so that it would be out of Lola's way and we continued on. Later, we realized that it was a tarantula hawk, which has one of the most painful stings in the world and a brutal method for laying its eggs.

Dense Shrubbery
The Ocean
Large Bugs

We came across the mud puddles that Lola had previously rested in, but they had dried up in the four hours since we had first passed them. We took Lola's pack off and strapped it to C's pack to help cool her off instead.

Eventually we made it to the car. Still covered in flies, we took our things to the car and looked around for any potable water. We couldn't find anything, and even if we had, the flies and heat were making the place unbearable. We gave Lola the last of our water then hopped in the car, blasted the air conditioning and headed home. We didn't have any water in the car, but since then always keep a couple of gallons of water and a bottle of apple juice handy. We stopped at a Safeway for some cold caffeinated beverages and then did the rest of that nice, quick drive home. We'll come back for Double Cone again, but it will be in the spring next time.

Quick summary:

  • Ventana Wilderness has lots of flies and no water in the summer.

  • There is a vast amount of poison oak. Long pants and possibly long sleeves are a must.
  • Probably best visited in the spring when the temperatures are lower and there is still water.

Emigrant Wilderness

Saturday, September 12th, 2009
More striations

Summary of Emigrant Wilderness trip

June 11 – 13th, 2009

Crabtree trailhead to Camp Lake
2.6 miles, 7145' to 7630' elevation

Camp lake to Cherry creek, backtracked to Piute lake
7.0 miles, 7630' to 7840' elevation

Piute lake to Crabtree trailhead
8.7 miles, 7840' to 7145' elevation


The drive to the ranger station was faster than expected, about 3 hours. We stopped at REI and picked up a nice lightweight tent (REI Quarterdome T2) which weighted in about five pounds less than our previous monstrosity. There wasn't any traffic once outside of the Bay Area. We picked up the trail permit when we got to the Pine Crest Lake ranger station, which was free, and we didn't even need to call ahead. They didn't care about dogs or have any special instructions. The ranger mentioned that the creeks were quite high, but we didn't fully grasp the full meaning of this at the time and figured that we could hop across on some rocks. From the ranger station it was another 45 minutes to the trail head (Crabtree Camp). The roads, which were paved all the way to the ranger station, quickly turned to very rough dirt. There were a few speed bumps that we scraped the bottom of our car on.

At Crabtree Camp we changed into our hiking gear and looked around for the trail. It took awhile, because the trail initially hooks north across a bridge before heading south along the creek. We got going around 5pm and the trail was extremely empty and we didn't see anyone until later that night.

The first part of the hike was rough. C was wearing jeans, which caused some serious hip rash. Lola was also very excited and was focused on pulling me into the woods to chase squirrels together. Initially she was on the stretchy leash, but after she tangled herself up a few times we switched to the six foot leash and carabined it to the backpack.

We got to Camp Lake just a couple of hours later, around 7pm. There weren't any campsites near the lake because the trail ran along a slope and there wasn't any flat ground near the shore. Even if there were any flat areas, they are in the middle of restoring the wilderness around the lake and have signs posted that redirect you elsewhere. We found a nice site uphill from the trail, underneath a few trees and near a fire ring.

Starting Out
Thursday Campsite

We ate some couscous with mushroom sauce for dinner and some dehydrated onion soup. Both were prepackaged from Safeway, and worked nicely. Lola went on a hunger strike and wouldn't eat her food, but was willing to eat some string cheese in between whining that she wanted to go chase squirrels. I managed to burn my finger pretty badly when I grabbed the handle of the cooking pot without realizing how hot it was. We added a pot grabber to our list of things to purchase. After eating and cleaning up, we went on a quick walk behind our tent and had a look at the valley off to the south. There weren't many mosquitoes out. We went to bed right away because it got cold as soon as the sun went down, with a low in the mid 40s. Lola alternated sleeping on the foot of each of our sleeping bags, which wasn't too comfortable for either of us but it did keep our toes warm. Eventually she found a nice spot between our bags and curled up there.


We didn't realize it when picking the site that getting direct sunlight in the morning is a very good thing. Everything was wet and didn't have a chance to dry off before we headed out. I filtered water while C cooked breakfast. The filter (MSR Miniworks EX) pumped well at first, near the theoretical 1L/min rate, but clogged up quickly. This was despite using a water bucket and letting it settle for 5-10 minutes before pumping. Cleaning the ceramic filter helped enormously but I vowed to use a prefilter next time. We used a pocket shower as our water bucket, which worked extremely well. Lola was not getting enough attention at this point so she decided to start whining. We started holding her leash rather than tying it to a tree, which made things go more slowly but made her much happier. Lola's joy in life is chasing small and large animals alike, so we decided to keep her on leash for the entire trip in case she managed to go get lost or find a bear. I had oatmeal with dried blueberries for breakfast, C had a toasted bagel with butter, and Lola stuck to her string cheese.

The second day started out on a downhill stretch. C offered to take Lola on Friday to give me a break from the pulling and some time to take photos. Lola was great for the uphill sections though, where she definitely made things easier. At the bottom of the hill we arrived at the first creek of the day. It was maybe 6-12” deep and 30 feet wide, just high enough to get to the top of your boots in certain places. We spent awhile exploring for a nice crossing, but eventually ended up just going straight through when we couldn't find any better locations. Our socks got wet in the crossing and we continued to hike for about a mile before deciding to try to squeeze out the water, which was pretty ineffective with the wool socks. Also, putting the wet, cold socks back on afterwards isn't fun. Our synthetic sock liners worked very well though, because we didn't get any blisters or sores even with all of the wetness.

The hike started uphill again after the creek. Lola is a climbing machine and helped to keep our pace up. We lost the trail a few times along the way and had to spend some time finding it again, primarily along a few rocky sections where the cairns weren't obvious. We stopped for lunch (peanut butter and blueberry jam sandwiches) at a small lake. We let Lola swim (while on the stretchy leash) and she loved it. The mosquitoes found us though, so we had to eat quickly and get away from the water. It wasn't hot, highs were in the mid 60s and we were wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts.

Crossing creek #1
Back to shore
Smells like wet dog
Rolling downhill

A few miles later, after passing through some meadows, we came to the second creek. The creek was much larger, deeper and faster than we had expected; about 2.5 feet deep and 20 feet wide, with the current fast enough that you needed to cross in the slower parts to avoid being pulled along too much. Another group had crossed the creek ahead of us, and we asked them where they had crossed but they surprisingly didn't remember. C tried to cross first at a location downstream from the trail where there were a few rocks near one another, but we underestimated how fast the current was and how large the gaps between the rocks were. She got stuck halfway through and one of the people on the otherside came and gave her a hand with a hiking pole, which was very nice. She eventually told us that her group had crossed in a chain, passing the packs along in order to avoid needing to jump between rocks over the rapids. I decided to take the safe approach with Lola, and we waded across upstream where it was almost waist deep but had a fairly slow current. Lola swam across the river with me, and with her pack on she resembled the oxen in Oregon Trail fording the river. We decided that it's better to get wet than to risk being pulled downstream in cold, fast water with your pack on.

After the creek, we passed one of the secondary trails that connected our east-west trail with a parallel trail to the south. The trail headed uphill to Piute Lake and we weren't making very good time, between searching for the trail and our slow creek crossings, so we headed off at a quickened pace. By the time that we got to Piute and took a break, the clouds had started to gather and it began to look like rain would be coming soon. We hurried off again towards Cherry Creek along some relatively flat meadows. This creek was much deeper than the last one, about 3 feet deep and 40-50 feet wide. It was starting to get late and cold, and we didn't have any sturdy sandles to cross with, so we decided to turn back at this one.

Piute Lake
More green!
More Creek Fun
Sleepy dog

We found a nice place to camp at Piute Lake, a few hundred feet from the lake and with a clear view to the east for the sun the morning and lots of rocks nearby for sitting on. We cooked about 30 feet away from our tent as usual to keep any smells far away. We had a much better hang of setting up the tent and managing all of the cooking with Lola. She was exhausted after about six miles of hiking and curled up in a little ball to sleep while we set up. I filled up our water bottle and Camelbak bladder with filtered water to save some time in the morning. We ate Annie's pasta for dinner and had some apple cider too. Lola ate more cheese and finally ate a little bit of her dog food. Afterwards we read on the rocks (Home Game by Michael Lewis and The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch) until it became too cold to feel our fingers.

I woke up during the middle of the night to see flashlights whipping over our tent and footsteps nearby. Eventually we heard a voice, “Chris! Chris! Blow your whistle!” and figured that it was another group of backpackers that had stopped at the lake just as we were heading to bed. It was a little bit eerie to say the least and I was imagining all kinds of crazy scenarios, mainly involving running through the woods Blair Witch style screaming. This went on for about 20 minutes until Chris eventually blew his whistle and his friends were able to find him.


We woke up to about 15 minutes of rain. The much hoped for sun never came, and our boots and socks were still cold and wet. We had set up a clothes line the night before, and everything was wetter than before. We decided to make a break for home rather than spending another night, so headed back on the eight miles of trail to our car. C wasn't quite prepared in the clothing department and she wore her rain pants on the hike; her jeans and pajama pants had already seen duty on the previous days. For breakfast we opted to not cook anything and had bagles with chunks of butter on it. Not cooking in the morning saves a lot of time and is quite convenient.


We were very speedy and covered the eight miles in about four hours. We stopped once for a five minute break and ate some fruit leathers, and we decided that we prefer just taking a quick break for lunch and eating with the packs on our backs. Things were also much faster because we knew where the trail was and barreled through the creeks without pause. Lola again was adorable swimming across the large stream. Unfortunately her pack wasn't waterproof so everything inside got wet, but there wasn't anything critical and only a deck of cards was ruined.

The trail was much busier on Saturday than on Thursday. We probably ran into thirty people (several large Boy Scout groups, by the way, where are the Girl Scouts?) and a few other dogs. Lola was the only dog on leash, but once she is older and wiser and less prone to run off and get lost she will have her freedom.

We got back to the car around 2pm and headed back on the rocky road home. Lola passed out immediately in the back. The Prius started making strange sounds while applying the brakes (regardless of whether the car was moving). This has happened before and we think that it is related to going to high elevation, but need to look into it. After getting off the dirt road we stopped at a gas station and picked up some caffeine to fuel the drive home. Later, we enjoyed the fruits of civilization and picked up fresh strawberry and cherry pies sold near the orchards on the highway.

Backpacking in Mineral King

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Lyell, Evan, my Dad and I went backpacking in Mineral King last week. Mineral King is on the western edge of Sequoia National Park, and varies in elevation from about 8,500 feet to 11,500 feet. Back in the 1950s and 60s, Disney tried to build a ski resort there, but environmental groups held them off and Mineral King was annexed into Sequoia National Park in 1978.

We drove down there on Sunday, 7/27 and came back on Saturday, 8/2. We camped at the trailhead the first and last nights. Our route took us over Timber Gap to Pinto Lake (Day 1), over Black Rock Pass to Little Five Lakes (Day 2), a layover (Day 3), past Big Five Lakes through Lost Canyon to Columbine Lake (Day 4), and over Sawtooth Pass past Monarch Lake back down to the car (Day 5).

Here's what our trip looked like on a USGS topographical map (here's a good free source of USGS maps).

Mineral King Route

I brought my handy GPS along for the trip in order to geotag the photos I took. A nice side effect is that I recorded the distance (27.9 miles), total climbing descent (about 10,000 feet), and maximum elevation (11,679 feet). Nice. You can see the raw data and export it from here.

I've included some photos from the trip (there are many more on Picasa). Also, in writing about the trip, it was interesting to see all of the other people who have taken a similar trip.

We met up on Sunday with Tom and Doug, two co-workers of my dad, and Doug's son Chet, who works as a hunting guide in Alaska. We took off Monday morning on the trail.

The Brothers Doll

There was late snow this year, so we ran into quite a few creeks and fields of wildflowers.

Sierra Lilies
White Poofs

We stopped on Monday night when we came across a bear box and some nice looking campsites. We couldn't find Pinto Lake and were a little bit unclear on where exactly we were.

Mountain King

The next morning we started up Black Rock Pass, and could clearly see Pinto Lake now that we were above it. I came across a few marmots on the trail and made it up to the top of Black Rock Pass around noon.

First Morning Light
Snow in the Cracks
Surveying the Land from Black Rock

From Black Rock we descended into Little Five Lakes and setup camp beneath some trees. Interestingly, a married ranger couple was living out there this summer off of a few thousand pounds of supplies brought in by helicopter. They had a yurt surrounded by an electrical fence powered by solar panels to fend off the bears. Once we setup camp, we had some tasty dinner and passed out for the night.

The next day (Wednesday) we didn't move camp and mainly sat around reading. Doug and my dad did some fishing and Lyell managed to get caught on the wrong end of a fly fishing line. We also caught some nice photos of the sunset over the mountains. The mosquitoes were out in force, and there were typically 10-20 of them on you at any given time.

Pole in the Sky
Over the Hills
Three Hats

On Thursday we parted ways with Tom, Doug and Chet, who decided to stay another day at Big Five Lakes. We headed down into Lost Canyon and back up, following a creek to a nice climb to reach Columbine Lake.

Red Sprout
Rocky Cliffs
Canyon Group Shot

We played in the snow a bit, looked at Black Rock Pass from a completely different perspective, and enjoyed the relative dearth of mosquitoes. That night the stars all over the place and the Milk Way was a stripe of milk foam across the sky.

Snow Fun
Sunset over the Rocks
More Stars

We headed back to base camp the next day (Friday). On the way down we came across a few more marmots and covey. We camped back in the realm of toilets and running water that night and had a blueberry cake to celebrate Lyell's 18th birthday.

One Last Look
Marmot Contemplation
Lyell is 18!

I've been fiddling around with EveryTrail, so here's a slideshow that shows the photos overlayed with the map and more detailed view of the GPS data. It's what Flickr should have but doesn't yet.

Mineral King

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