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Summary of Emigrant Wilderness trip

June 11 – 13th, 2009

Thursday Crabtree trailhead to Camp Lake 2.6 miles, 7145’ to 7630’ elevation

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

Saturday 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 attached it to my backpack with a carabiner.

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.

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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.

Friday 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.

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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.

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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.

Saturday 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.

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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.