Tag Archives: CA

Exploring The Desolation Wilderness

27 Sep

Backpacking The Sierra Nevada in September

I recently returned from a 3-night backpacking trip in the Desolation Wilderness. This adventure offered a cornucopia of surprises including 50-mph wind gusts, heavy rain and snow and campground thieves. It was a heck on adventure!

The serendipitous choice to visit this remote pocket of wilderness near South Tahoe was based on logistics, subject matter, budget, and weather. The 50-mph wind gusts were predicted but not accounted for. I simply did not believe the forecast. And snow was never mentioned…

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“Enchanted Dreams” Off-trail in the Desolation about an hour before the rain

Three of the four days featured stormy, windy, and overcast conditions while a layover day was mostly sunny and breezy. Temperatures never exceeded 65 degrees. The howling winds smashing the side of my tent often affected my sleep. The last night was notably piercing and the open basin sounded like a wind tunnel.

Fortunately the smothering rain changed to snow after sunset and the frozen sides of my tent helped weigh it down. If it hadn’t snowed my tent would have surely flooded. The next morning was gorgeous until 9:45 am when the weather soured. By 11:15 am I experienced blizzard-like conditions ascending 8500-foot Maggie’s Peak en route to the Bayview Trailhead.

Overall, the wilderness was gorgeous with shimmering water and shining slabs of granite. Most peaks here top out just south of 10,000 feet so there isn’t as much vertical relief for photography. We saw only 5 people over the last 3 days and I was elated with the level of solitude! Obviously, the weather had something to do with that.

I’ll have a few more pictures on my website soon. Enclosed are a couple of cell phone shots. If you want to learn more about this trip, hit me up and I’ll pen a follow-up!

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A remote lake in the Desolation Wilderness

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A view near base camp.

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Wild Moments in the Wilderness #4: Wild Weather + Bad Trail Maps = Mental Anguish

17 Jan

Ask any seasoned outdoor traveler and they’ll tell you that if you spend enough time outside, you’ll see just about every kind of weather imaginable. This is especially true when traveling in the mountains. Weather forecasts are generally unreliable when dealing with high altitude backcountry travel.  Currently, I find the national weather service’s website to be the best for detailed weather forecasts of hard to get to wilderness locations.

For example, this past summer Joyce and I were planning a series of two backpacking trips to the southern part of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In late September, the weather is usually clear and mild even into the far reaches and heights of the High Sierra. For the weeks leading up to our trip, I continuously checked the weather forecasts. The forecasts, much to my dismay were clear, clear and more clear skies. They called for unseasonably warm temperatures during the first leg of our trip.

However, the forecasts also predicted a strong cold front  coming into the region (from the Pacific NW)  by the middle of our trip. This was not supposed to change, and believe me, I scoured every website looking for anyone or anything calling for clouds.  

There weren’t any surprises concerning the weather (clear, blue Sierra skies) when we started our trip. Unfortunately, the weather on day two was even much hotter than what was forcasted. It was literally scorching hot without a cloud in the sky. Coincidentally, it was also one of our most arduous days of hiking. Despite the incredible scenery, this made traveling unpleasant. Oh, not mention, our National Geographic topographic map seemed entirely inaccurate. What looked to be a fairly straight line on the map was actually a winding, weaving, up and down, thigh burner of a trail. It ended up being at least 3/4 mile longer than what was stated.

When combined with the hot weather and long distances can really demoralize a hiker’s attidue.

This was sunset at Hamilton Lake taken on the hottest evening of the trip. The High Sierra Trail is visible on the far side of the lake - this is where it makes its final ascent towards the Great Western Divide.

The  following day the weather started to change. Just my luck, another perfectly clear sunrise without a cloud to be seen.

Taken shortly after sunrise near Hamilton Creek.

The Changing Day

Two hours later, the clouds came out of nowhere and started rolling and swirling around. At first it was in a concentrated area and then things really started to intensify. We didn’t break camp until almost noon and so thereafter the fog started descending on us – hard.  On this particular day, the map was even less accurate. It was a long, cold, strenuous, uphill venture and fresh bear scat along the trail added to the intensity and mystery.

This is the view from the top of a steep fall on the way to Tamarack Lake.

What was even more difficult was the fog covered all of our vantage points so we really had no visual frame of reference as to how how far our final destination was. Long story short, after several hours of exhausting travel we arrived at the lake.  A couple of times, I actually thought the fog might lift and we would be treated to a spectacular sunset. Alas, that never happened.

Later that night, it started to snow. It snowed hard for several hours, which seriously worried Joyce. Rule one for wilderness travel is to hope for the best, be prepared for the worst and keep a level head. That’s what we did and things turned out just fine. The next morning it was sunny and clear. Once again, not a cloud in sight. Later that day, the fog settled in, right on cue.

That’s about three days worth experiences summarized in three paragraphs. There are several lessons to learn from all of this. Remember, the difficulties in backpacking are 50/50 mental and physical. Weather patterns while traveling high in the mountains are completely unpredictable.  It is crucial to be both mentally and physically prepared for the worst. Keep a level head and take one step at a time. Don’t rely too much on trails maps for complete accuracy.  If you need to cut back on some weight, you can always leave some of your camera gear at home . Well, hopefully not! I hope you enjoyed this post. Look for #3 around next Friday.

How to Watch TV in the Wilderness

7 May

Today, our discussion involves one other potentially important item of business while vacationing in our National Parks – television programming. Now, I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do enjoy sports. And occasionally, when I am on the road, there is a sporting event that I’d like to catch. So one could say I have a lot of experience in this subject matter.

Let me give you a quick story to illustrate this post. At the end of last summer, I found myself in Capitol Reef National Park hiking and photographing on the weekend leading up to Labor Day. Coincidentally, it was also the start of the college football season. Because I was camping in the park I ended up missing the first game of the season, Boise State v Oregon. It turns out Boise State won the game, which wasn’t that great, but you might remember Oregon’s star running back, Legarrette Blount ended up sucker punching onr of Boise State’s players after the game, and long story short, and a melee ensued.

That was on a Thursday night and on Friday my fiancée and I were trying to figure out where to watch the Ohio State (my alma mater) game on Saturday. It was their first game of the season against Navy. We didn’t want to get a hotel room in Hanksville and we thought maybe we could watch it at a bar or restaurant. Our initial plans were to head up to American Fork Basin just south of Salt Lake City spend Friday night in the wilderness and then stay in a hotel room Saturday and Sunday in Salt Lake.

The problem was the Ohio State game started at 12pm EST on Saturday. There was just no possible way to make it work. We didn’t have time. We thought maybe we could spend an extra night in Capitol Reef and stop somewhere on the way to Salt Lake City, but for those who haven’t been to Capitol Reef – it’s literally in the middle of nowhere. And there just isn’t much between it and the two hundred and some miles to Salt Lake. Also, between either backpacking and or driving we figured there was no way to drive to Salt Lake by 10am and find a place that was open with ESPN. I mean, this isn’t New York City, it’s Mormon country. In the end, we ended up driving to Salt Lake on Friday and getting a hotel room Friday and Saturday night instead of Saturday and Sunday. It worked out well, because the game was very exciting and Ohio State won 31 – 27.  That’s what this post is all about – how to watch TV in the wilderness.

 However, this isn’t all about sports though…it can apply to whatever it is on television that you are interested in watching. What’s the best way to go about doing this when you can’t get any TV reception in the park even at a hotel? Well, I am going to list out some comprehensive guidelines to understand. Follow these and your won’t miss your favorite show or sports broadcast while on vacation in the parks.     

1)      The amenities at every park hotel are different. For instance, in Death Valley NP you can get cable television at the hotels, while in Yellowstone NP there are no televisions at all.

 2)      Don’t assume the hotel you are staying at has the channel you want to watch. Call them and find out! I’ve been burned on more than one occasion because of this.

 3)      Make sure you know the dates ahead of time. This applies to the time of the show or event, and where you’ll be staying on that date.

 4)      If you are staying at a campground inside the park – plan on driving to the nearest town to watch your show. There are some notable exceptions to this rule – make sure you call the park and find out if there is anywhere in that area to watch TV.

 5)      Be fully aware of which time zone you are in. When traveling around the Southwest between Nevada, Arizona, and Utah this can be particularly confusing.

 6)      If possible, try to stay in a hotel the night you really want to watch television. This takes a lot of planning, but it usually worth it in the long run. It’s also the best tip I can offer and it works great for sports. Because many sports, like football, get played on the weekends, we usually stay in hotels then and in campgrounds or the backcountry during the week. This is best of both worlds because the parks are much more popular during the weekends, especially the campgrounds, and it’s the perfect time for some peace and quiet in a hotel.

 7)       Have an equal amount of planning, preparation, and flexibility. Unforseen circumstances can easily come up and its good not be locked into too tight a schedule. For example, road construction, natural disasters like forest fires, or even a flat tire or a bystander in need of some help. Always err on the side of caution when planning commute times and activities.  In my opinion, it is good to tentatively plan out most of your trip, but be mentally prepared for change if necessary.

 Hopefully you’ve picked up some good tips from this list and we will continue with the list theme on my next post when I talk about the 10 best parks for summer travel in the lower 48. We’ll see you then. God Bless!

Intricacies of Decision Making

29 Apr

Let me give you an example. This one has to do with backpacking, but it can easily apply for even the most “metro” of travelers. Last summer, we made an epic voyage backpacking through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite National Park. For those of you who don’t know, the Tuolumne River provides the city of San Francisco with its drinking water and has to be one of the most inspiring and pristine rivers anywhere in the world. In a course of approximately 20 miles, its aquamarine, crystal clear waters turbulently spill, plunge, and drop through a canyon of sheer granite walls and almost unimaginable beauty. 

 We made the trek in early July of last year when water levels were still very high. This had its pros and cons. The waterfalls were absolutely incredible running at almost peak volume. Around every corner and turn, there was white water. Conversely, it was difficult and dangerous to swim because the current was SO swift.

 I greatly enjoyed my experience, but if and when I visit again, I’d like to come back in late August or early September just to experience a different kind of tranquility. Water levels are lower and much slower moving then. It is easier to go swimming, especially when it is very hot out.

What’s even more interesting is the reason we chose this time of year. It was because of the water levels, but it’s not what your thinking. You see, we were doing a backcountry loop of 70 miles, which finished in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, but didn’t start there. The trip began with a 13 mile passage on the Pacific Crest Trail, through an area known as Virginia Canyon, which has notoriously very little water in it. The streams there trickle and by late in the season run dry. We didn’t want to deal with spending a night in the backcountry without a reliable water source for cooking and drinking and that factor greatly influenced our decision to make the trip earlier in the season. 

Here’s the ironic part, because of the water (the snow was still melting at 8000 ft) and time of year, the bugs were absolutely atrocious! (see picture on previous post). Knowing what I know now, I would rather deal with the lack of consistent water sources and have little bugs then vice versa. So if I were to do the hike again, I’d do it in late August instead of early July. In case you are wondering, yes, we closely monitored the temperatures in making our decision and early July and late August are historically about the same in Northern Yosemite. It’s the middle of July to the beginning of August that are the hottest times of the year there. 

Standing at the top of the Waterwheel Falls section of the Tuolumne River after 60 miles of hiking with 40 plus pounds of gear. It was a grueling trip. This water was really moving fast and one slip could end in certain physical death! This picture was taken near the top of the canyon coming out and there were many more tributaries down below adding to the rivers intensity.

Hopefully,this story gives you an entertaining and insightful glimpse into how these factors (temperature, time of year, elevation, bugs, wildflowers, and water levels) all influence one another. There are always pros and cons in every decision and it just depends on what is important to you and how it fits into your schedule. 

Lord willing, during my next post I will discuss one more potentially important consideration when making your summer travel plans to our National Parks. You don’t want to miss it. Until then, may the good Lord bless you and have a wonderful day and we’ll talk to you again soon. 

This is Return Creek. A major tributary of the Tuolumne River. This scene was about 3 or 4 miles down the canyon from the last shot. One interesting tidbit about Return Creek is that it also forms the northern boundary of Virginia Canyon - so we actually crossed it twice. Joyce captured this wonderful image from a bridge, but while leaving Virgina Canyon - we precariously forded this puppy! In between, we looped around up and over two high mountains passes and up the canyon for 40 miles.

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