Trip Report: very dry leaves sketchy water sources, 2 nights up Rush Creek

Some gear notes below, but for now let’s start at the beginning: I drove up Hwy 395 last Thursday, enjoying mountain views now that the wind changed direction and the area was more hazy than filled with brown smoke. By the time I made it to the June Lake Loop and skies were blue and views were clear… Always watch forecasts for not just weather but also the wind ones are pretty accurate for a good 48 hours and it’s important to do in late summer if you don’t want the backcountry to smell like campfire for your trip (not to mention the lung irritation).

I was on the trail up Rush Creek at noon. The bathroom is closed – they are going to demolish it, just FYI. The first half mile was over two creeks (one dry) and under a canopy of aspen that were changing color for fall – those cute, round leaves in green and gold waving in any tiny breeze. After that it was warm and it’s a dusty, exposed slog that gains about 1200′ in 1.5 miles. Good thing it’s an interesting walk: it’s cut into a steep ridgeline, Silver Lake views below, some brush and flowers when it’s not sheer rock, the crazy rail line to carry equipment up to the dams, the falling water of Rush Creek, mountain views, an nearly all hikers seemed in a great mood (the entire trip, actually) so smiles all around. Still, despite a light-ish pack weight (22.5 w/liter of water but before camera and a few other doo-dads) it is a bit harder to climb mountains backpacking than day hiking due to carrying your house on your back added to jumping out of the car after driving all morning living at sea level and little sleep and not being in any kind of hurry = 1.25 miles per hour. Whew, that’s slow! haha.

At just over 2 miles from the parking lot I turned off onto another trail and took the crossing before Agnew Lake and dam. The water being let out was a nice cascade and there was some dense plants here for shade so after a small climb (about 1/4 mile) I sat for a break and snack overlooking the lake and looked out at the mountains and listened to the birds. Now the trail got “real” and it’s honestly shocking that my path was going to somehow get over the near sheer mountain – intimidating, really. I had one more quarter mile along the lush edge a bit above the lake before the trail cut a straight line across the rocky slope for 1/3 mile and 300′ gain. It reached a pine grove crowded around a drainage at the south side of the lake and made a *lot* of switchbacks for another 300′ in another 1/3 mile. It continued the unrelenting climb up and around Spooky Meadow (unsure about the name, to me it was just a super steep wash covered in dense pine forest with a good size clearing once the first ridge was gained. I sat on a rock and ate a bit more overlooking this sloped meadow and looked at the trees and plants clinging to every rock until the rocks were basically just walls – have I said the word ‘steep’ enough?

The punishing climb continued but I did cross another dry drainage and stopped to take some photos of lovely flowers, some of which I hadn’t seen before. While I did this a day hiker came down – first person I’d seen in almost 2 hours! A final push to gain the pass I could finally see (it’s nice to have a visual goal) – it was about 4.25 miles and I was at around 10,050 feet elevation – so about 2800′ gain, some bits easy, some bits very hard. Up here the terrain changed – the pines were different and twisted and stunted, the rocks seemed as pumice and were dark in composition like old lava, the views opened up and Gem Lake lay below ringed with lovely peaks and autumn colors in a streak up the far north side.

As I came down the pass the trees started again, but the entrance to the forest was a gate of dead trees. Now *that* was spooky. The rest were healthy and after a bit I turned a corner and the forest stopped and there was a grass-rimed lake sitting in a half bowl of sheer rock. There were trailside flowers and also end-of-season plants in seed, many of which were very scratchy and loud in a breeze and downright obnoxious if touched on accident, which I did as I bent for a picture, which made me jump. I was at the start of Clark Lakes, around a cliff corner was a larger one, and they were gentle, quiet bodies of water. The mountains were drama, but it was slow along the shores, and quiet. I passed a pack camp and left the softness behind for Summit Lake: the forest crowded it’s north shore, and the low water revealed a black sand beach of sorts, while the rocky south shore ended at a pass and it was steep on the other side – but that’s where I was going!

Yeah, real steep going down – and rocky enough that a lot of steps were careful. 9840′ to 9510′ in 1/3 mile. My knees! But it was over quick, and the next three miles were up and down but basically nothing major all the way to Thousand Island Lake. I was loosing light at this point and needed to find a camp, so I totally skipped by other lakes I really wanted to visit. My original plan had been to camp at Summit Lake for the night, but I didn’t for a lot of reasons, one of which was being scared of water filtering. I can’t explain how unusually dry it is in California right now – the winter was real bad (not much snow) and the summer didn’t have the constant afternoon rain. *Every single lake was stale* and nothing was draining and all creeks and drainages were dry outside of the dams / Rush Creek. Toxic algae is confirmed not too far south of my location, so I was hoping the larger lakes were safer to drink. I highly prefer, and almost exclusively do, filter water from falling and moving creeks – but there are none. Sadface.

Ponds were drying up on the lake approach and I didn’t bother any side trails to other small lakes which I assume were just as low. Some fish were stuck in the small ponds which was weird, and it was over 6 hours and 7.5 miles in, and it was 6pm with dying light when I got to the Thousand Island Lake dry outlet. I walked a over a mile on the north shore pining for a campsite. Despite only a few people here and there on the trails, the obvious places were all taken here. I was also looking for a pack trail that cut up the pass so I didn’t have to walk back the text day plus campsites higher up from research I’d done, but I didn’t find what I was looking for and wandered around for too long until I was so tired I just gave up and dropped pack in the next patch of dirt I found. It was basically dark as I put up the tent and settled in for the night. Oh, great, I forgot my fuel can. I eat so little while hiking (exercise and elevation) that I just ate a lunch instead (crackers, dried cheese, tuna in coconut oil) and passed out. I did wake up for a couple night shots, but I just stuck the camera on a small tripod outside the tent and didn’t even leave it: it was getting cold. For a bit there was a frog croaking, and a couple chipmunk squeaks, then it was silent. Overnight, the full moon was so dang bright, so that was annoying, and condensation froze on the tent walls…Day 1, 9/23, about 9 miles:

I tried to ignore the sun, plus I was so cold I just wanted to stay cuddled, but I knew I’d be sad if I didn’t take some early morning photos when lake surfaces are usually calm and mirror-like. I wander out in some warm layers, small plants were frozen and crunchy underfoot, until I got onto a peninsula. Whoops, someone’s tent, sorry… The lake level was really low and I didn’t find it as amazing as most people seem to, but Banner Peak is dramatically prominent and sported a nice reflection at 7am as sun finally made it over the western ridge and lit it’s top.

There would be no morning trek to North Glacier Pass: the winds did as expected and the pass looked full of fire smoke brought up from the south now, just an hour after a clear morning. Smoke was all around west and south – but north looked clear, so I figured staying down here instead of Summit Lake worked out as I got to enjoy the area without haze for a bit. Packed up and off to try to find this pack trail to Island Pass after 8:30am – I did finally find the campsite I was thinking of, doh! But I turned right at the drainage when I think I should have headed left – I never saw any definite trail. It was just woods, though, so I kinda just followed the dry creek all the way up until I hit the PCT a bit east of where I thought the trail should have been, though I also never saw it: rangers have done a bang up job making that old trail disappear. I know leave-no-trace methods and ranger preference hate it when I go off trail, but it’s just so much more fun that slogging on a dusty, exposed, common trail that always seems to take the long way around. *shrug* If everything wasn’t so dang dry, it might not be as boring normally…

Island Pass is quite the wide open mound – a boring pass itself, but astounding views all around. The lakes up here were drying up fast, the sandy edges dotted with rocks reminded me of the movie Return to Oz when Dorothy and the chicken arrive and the water just disappears: the deadly desert! I had planned on staying only 2 nights, for smoke inhalation reasons, but knew I could push food to 3 if it was favorable, unfortunately that failed because, you know, no fuel can so no dehydrated meals which meant a lot less food. So did followed through on the original plan to leave the trail and cross-country hike east and find a path to Weber Lake. The worst that could happen is getting cliffed out and having to come back, and that would suck because I’d have to head down the pass and around Waugh Lake – I could manage the mileage but why bother? Plus, I did really want to check out Weber, which was my original 1st night plan before I switched to clockwise last minute.

Sorry, plants, I tried to walk on rocks and did find a patch of animal trail here and there – in fact, stacked rocks and flattened grasses and paths through brush seemed more people-y than expected, so I cannot be the only person to do this. A drying lake with a duck family with a muddy shore containing deer, critter, and cat (?) footprints. A steep pile of rocks to get over or around. A drainage meadow overlooks Waugh Lake which, drained, looked like the dead mashes or maybe the desolation of Smaug (Lord of the Rings references) – seriously, it looks terrible. Hydroelectric and dams aren’t “green” energy to me: they destroy natural habitat of meadows and flood zones. Now it was stumps and dead land, though I’m sure lovely looking when full – the mountains all around sure are. Eventually I reach the hard part – how to get around and over the ridge that borders the lake’s southwest shores. Elevation maps are often 40 foot intervals, and in real life this isn’t helpful – a guide only but a 40′ line could turn out to be a 60′ cliff with no path (I do not climb, only walk). I tried to walk further down, but this was definitely a steep cliff and I walked back up a bit and found a natural path up and over – this happened twice. It worked out in the end as if I’d stayed farther up I might have come back down to the lake too south and there was a block of granite on the shore that I couldn’t have walked around. On these sloped it was all pines and domes of rock and shelves of shale so natural switchbacks down to the lake shore. Good news, I didn’t die or injury myself! Much more exciting than a dusty trail, but not for most people, I don’t advocate for off trail, it can go very, very badly and you hurt delicate alpine plants. But I’m a selfish human so here we are.

Weber Lake is really lovely and, for me, the highlight of natural lakes for this trip. Ringed with cliffs, brush in fall color, no other people – the use trail heads back around east, passed nice and well-used campsites, over a ridge, back to trail proper, then down to the east side. All lovely, seriously, except that it was absolutely not draining, just like everything else, and there was stringy growth on the surface on the north side which was likely toxic algae – yikes. I walked around, almost tried to reach Lake Sullivan lower down but it was so overgrown, so I came back and sat at an peninsula and ate lunch in silence while a big, blue dragonfly paced the shore endlessly.

Eventually, I left and it was time to be back on the trail proper and it suuuuucked. It was warmer today, as expected, and I was getting grumpy in the heat as I walked yet another dusty trail, dodging road apples, on a bunch of switchbacks down to the dams and Rush Creek again: 600′ foot loss in a painful 3/4 mile. But the next 2.5 miles, despite being even warmer, were mostly gentle and sometimes the sound of water or birds cheered me up. I rested at a junction before a small climb – but took wee breaks to enjoy the drying but grassy ponds, including Billy Lake, eventually cresting and coming down to the north shore of Gem Lake, which was lovely. Here, it was wooded, Crest Creek was actually running to my complete shock, and the aspens, running like veins through dense pines in the watersheds, were gold and orange. Nice! I walked passed the drainage and eventually down a peninsula between two sandy beaches looking very vacationy with blue waters lapping at their shores (though also odd as lines of water lines ran in 2 foot intervals, sometimes marked with tiny plants). I set up and enjoyed the sights but I was also WIPED for whatever reason and basically started sleeping before sunset – so kind of a 14 hour session, haha. The water from Gem Lake tasted the best, honestly, and though some gusts picked up at the end of the day and some waves were heard, it was once again quiet all night except the full moon which was, again, so bright it was loud. (-: I could hear some people on the trail for as long as there was sunlight, but nothing after that until daybreak. Day 2, 9/24, about 7.6 miles:

I still technically had a salmon packet, outside of my useless dehydrated meals, but I ate some other snacks as I packed up for the “short” hike out. Some haze was on the mountainside I had come up the first day, but not bad and I hoped as the trail turned that way it stayed high up (it did). I felt really good in the morning despite not eating, I’m sure, enough calories at all. Eventually the sun warmed camp but still shaded the first trail section so I headed off a bit late (8am) to try to beat the sun and it was nice under the changing color of aspens. It didn’t last long and it was real hot real quick – I did still have my puffy on, though everything was unzipped. I didn’t want to drop pack yet and was hoping for shade but that never arrived. The danger of being comfortable off trail, and hiking alone, is that sometimes you get off it on accident on those wee use trails that sometimes are near turns and switchbacks and it takes you longer than it should to realize it and turn around. LOL Anyhow, I got some interesting images from that short “why is this trail so steep?” accident and was back on the normal, easy trail soon enough. Okay, it was too hot and there isn’t shade, drop pack to remove layers, snack, drink the last of my water (it’s less than 2 miles left where my car and trailhead bear box has much to drink). Everyone heading up is in such a damned good mood. Probably because it’s gorgeous and fairly clear of smoke. I did stop to chat (me, the person annoyed when I have to say ‘good morning’ constantly) and had a nice conversation – I did take the opportunity to warn of dangerous, stale water – unsure if day hikers even filter (a ranger at the car said they often don’t, this is terrible idea, IMO, in these conditions). I didn’t get sick, though, but I did only drink like a liter or two a day (I know, I’m weird, but I felt great so… that’s just me). Hot and dirty and done I was at the car drinking chocolate protein, electrolyte water, and a small energy drink. Chatted up the ranger, talked about water quality and the ‘new normal’ of extended, dry conditions and the dangers it can have if it continues too long – fires aside. Silver Lake was full of people: RVs, kayaks on the water, etc. Time to drive home. I wished for another night, this was too short in too lovely an area. I’ll be back – in better conditions. Sure, no bugs, but sketchy water isn’t nice, either. Day 3, 9/25, about 4.7 miles:

Gear Notes

I had packed a month ago for a trip that never happened farther south in the Sierra. This included a tent instead of a hammock because it was likely to be on a moonscape down there and I just wasn’t sure there would be large enough, or any, trees in the planned campsites. I did have a single freestanding tent that probably would have worked better anyhow (you know, cause the ground is rocks) but I bought one of single-walled tents the kids like nowadays that use trekking poles and require staking out (Gossamer Gear’s The One) out of a misplaced need to save weight. I never use trekking poles, but thought what the heck – but ours were old and not really functioning so I also bought two new pairs (why?) one aluminum and one lighter carbon. The gusts would be occasional on this trip and otherwise winds were still, so I opted to bring the lighter ones. I used the poles the first day and I think they slowed me down: just another thing to be mucking with. Also, there were trees here so I could have hung (my hammock system is warmer and, including poles and sleeping pad, the same weight). I *hate* sleeping on the ground. Man, it hurts. So I re-learned to never do that unless absolutely necessary (ie. need a tent for sleeping on rocky passes). Also, the Sierra is all rocks so… stakes don’t really work. It is a lovely tent, though, with nice space inside and good headroom, but a bit fussy to set up – hammocks are, too, but only two points of contact whereas this tent has 6. Both need a good spot, so hunting is needed, and both need proper contact to be well set up. I swear these pole tents are for back east and, obviously, pretty great if you actually use trekking poles – on it’s own it weighs NOTHING near as I can tell. I have to bring a substantial pad, though (inflatable), and I’m still uncomfortable all night long. My hips! My back! Ouchy!

Trip report: into thin air on San Gorgonio

Yesterday I summitted San Gorgonio via the Vivian Creek Trail. It took 4:50 to get up there (11,503 ft) and 4:03 to get down (6,080′) for 18 miles in 9 hours, but my overall moving time was 8 hours and that is pretty great for me so training has really paid off. I must say the GPS continues to not be fully accurate, something I don’t like, saying 18 miles but showing just over 17 in the elevation map; not reading the summit correct, varying elevation at the car, etc. I mean, it’s accurate enough to read and use, but the stats are annoyingly wrong and not sure what to make of it.

I felt pretty slow getting near 11k, but after that was great – the mean, hot sun on exposed trails probably wasn’t helping but the reality is the air is thin at that altitude and it’s pretty hard to be above 10k even in the Sierra Nevada for practice. Going down should have been faster, and I’m telling you I did jog in places, but I guess when you are tired and the path is mostly rocks there’s only so much you can manage speed-wise: I ain’t out to trip or fall, which is always my main fear hiking solo. My recovery was fast, I managed known issues pretty well, and I felt physically pretty good the entire time (standard back pain and knee complaints aside, strength training helps so much), though I am wiped from it just being a tough day plus I don’t think I ate enough so I did have a couple pouts coming down when I was extra hot and tired. My left front inner calf (does that make sense?) hurts again – on San Antonio I thought it was maybe a cramp but now it’s so localized it’s probably a repetition injury, like a sore ligament or something, not exactly shin splints, though – and I had a new shoe problem that hasn’t occurred in many, many miles that maybe was swollen feet from an extra long trek plus the instability of these runners on a trail that is mostly rocks – some seam rubbing on the outside of one foot.

Anyhow! I was driving before 5am and there were not many people out. It was cool in the morning but the thick fog on the final drive into the mountains sadly disappeared just before the parking lot. The day was cloudless and very sunny. Luckily, the way up is shaded in in the morning by not just Gorgonio (the entire range around the trailhead in a U facing east is above 10k) but also very dense pine forest despite the impossibly steep mountainsides. After bathroom trip, I walked up a rough dirt road for 1/2 mile before crossing the giant, rocky wash to the actual trailhead. The trail heads straight up with very steep switchback to the 1 mile marker. WHEW. Now that I’m all very worn out, time to do the majority of the hike! haha! It started by following it’s namesake, Vivian Creek, and it’s lush plant life through 2 campsites, but it was dry on this trip. That was a nice break – it felt flat, though the elevation map proves otherwise. Time to climb again – up and around more steep slopes until reaching High Creek Camp and it’s namesake waters, which were plentiful. Backpackers filtered water and I sat on a fallen log which is familiar to me. I haven’t been here in years but still this lovely place exists and I can swing my tired feet while listening to falling water in the all-day shade provided by a dense pine forest.

Now that I forced myself to take a break, even if only a few minutes, it’s time to climb. A slog of too many switchbacks get me up another steep slope and up onto a ridgeline. The view are astounding… San Jacinto looms south and a bit east, the saddle back (I was atop one last weekend) is visible above dense clouds to the southwest, and the eastern slopes from the trail down were all burned: blackened tree husks above brush just starting to sprout new green leaves. Now the trial followed the ridgeline up relentlessly – either straight or small switchbacks in steep areas. Trees start to thin out or get small and twisted, and this is where I get a bit tired as the 10k boundary is crossed and left behind. Ahead, I can see where the trail just straight up traverses the side of the mountain, leaving the ridgeline and clinging to the wall. I can see people walking on it and it seems far but I’m on it in no time. I just sucked it up and pushed though without much breathing breaks. People I passed are long gone, people I’ve been going back and forth with are no where to be found (honestly, some must have turned back because I didn’t see them again), and people that passed me are already at the summit.

A helicopter circled and I stopped to watch. By all accounts, it was a training mission. They flew dramatically, very low, made lots of circles, and landing on a clear, flat spot just southwest of the summit. Neat. The rest of the way is pretty flat – just a final short climb to the top. I must say I don’t remember it. It seems a smaller area than I recall, and there are lot of stone structures (not uncommon on bald mountains – wind breaks), and the very top is a small pile of boulders. Since the ridge is so high and long, and the area around the summit seems flat and wide, it’s not a very exciting summit to get to – you’re just kinda there. Lots of people today spread all over and chatting. I looked around and exclaimed ‘ta-da!’ and got some giggles and conversations from it. As expected, a fair few are training for Mount Whitney and, I think, this is about a good a trainer as you can get for some high miles on a steep but well-maintained trail – but, as others were discussing, nothing prepares you for sucking air above 13k trying to get to a 14.5k summit. Anyhow, I’ve run out of things to say and despite laughing at fat squirrels begging (this was a good crew – they did not feed them and no one was going to steel the sign, just holding it for pictures whom everyone but me helped take), so I leave. I’ve become quite poor at taking breaks. My feet and tummy would probably appreciate it if I did more substantial rest stops.

The way down was uneventful – it’s down, it hurts, it feels like I can’t go as fast as I “should” etc. I break again at High Creek Camp on the log want was so happy to just be there in that beautiful place. A backpacker stops me just after leaving and he’s young and new to these mountains and training for a Whitney overnight trip so we talked about hiking and plans and how lovely this small strip of meadow was. <3

I complain to myself all the way down that I’m tired and it’s so dang hot. I jog some bits, when it’s not too steep or rocky, including the final road back. I’m happy to be at the car but it’s soooo hot! Stupid weather forecast, it must be mid-80s – and it is. 70s my butt! I open the wee cooler and enjoy a cold boiled egg and chocolate protein drink while listening to laughter from the picnic area as kids are swinging dangerously in hammocks. I smile, start my car, and try to relax on a stressful drive home.

Trip Report: a hot Modjeska Peak

The training continues, this time super locally (25 minute drive on local streets). Most of the area to the east is closed due to a devastating fire, but this area was green and lush looking (when you are in it, it’s poking brush and cactus). I’d never been on this trail before, idea and hiking partner (shocker, I know, me not being solo) was my boss! Second highest peak in the Santa Ana Mountains at 5495′ (barometer on GPS consistently incorrect at this point), it’s just over a half mile west from Santiago Peak (5689′ and covered with microwave and telecommunication antennas), and this hike comes right into the saddle between that gives the area the name Saddleback which can easily be spotted from peaks all round SoCal. GPS:

The parking was along a dirt road, which was surprisingly graded (used to be a near riverbed of rocks), and now lined with blocks to prevent off-roading. We started out pre-dawn near 1240′ for our 4255′ climb (plus some additional gains and losses for an extra 600′). For a few moments, there were clouds and they were lit cotton candy pink over views across Orange County all the way to Catalina – very clear, though a marine layer sat atop the ocean.

The morning was mercifully shaded by the rest of the mountain range, including the ridge up to Santiago. The middle section follows a drainage and is also shaded by twising oaks – and there was water higher up. We did reach a section that was very lovely but difficult to enjoy as there was a swarm of annoying bugs (didn’t seem to get any mosquito bites…), so we just pushed though before the heat arrived.

We gained the rocky, brush-covered peak in 3:17. Very much a thigh burner on the way up as I felt a tad shaky. Snacked, made idle chatter, admired the views in all directions, and started the decent. There are some overly steep parts, but overall less rough on the knees that some previous recent hikes – that they are already sore is besides the point. Most of it was just steep dirt and, fear of slips aside, you could jog it – but I just shuffled. The last 3.2 miles were rough for me, though, because it was way too hot. I am not made for this stuff.

So, my poor companion not only had to listen to me prattle on about nothing endlessly, or some TMI, but now some complaining and he slowed for me as I had to get my body temperature down. Only a couple breezes and the occasional cloud cover to help out, I finished the last of my two liters of electrolyte-supplemented water when, at one mile left, we saw the cars below get close and I just tried to push through it. Honestly, my eyes still sting and I have more weird heat rashy patches in places nothing rubbed – gotta figure that one out or, you know, stop hiking when it’s hot. It was 90F plus bare soil in direct sun.

Anywho – GPS says 14.66 miles (a bit was extra from a missed turn, another danger of my chatting) with moving time of 6:01, total 6:26. If you read the other trips, you might be thinking – wait, that seems way faster. You’d be absolutely right. The reason is no thin air. Maybe 1/2 hour was pushing a tad harder since I wasn’t alone, but nearly all other hikes started near where this one topped out and climbed to over 10k’ where the air is dry and thinner and that counts for a lot. Leg muscles are large and less oxygen usually means a slower speed or frequent breaks to catch a breath. Not so today, this was just exercise!

Hair so sweaty it dyed my visor.
Trail so dirty!

It was a very dusty trail and my toes were almost muddy, my legs sported a dark dirt tan though I was wearing full length pants, and my arms and shoulders still got a bit too much sun despite being covered. It was very sweaty business and my white runners visor is all pink in the back from my hair color sweating into it and my lower back was drenched (I used a hip pack for day hikes – the only Osprey pack I’ve ever liked [loved] a Tempest 6: I never have to take this thing off with bottle holsters, hip belts, and pockets I can reach, I bought grey from REI, but here’s the brand’s page: The shower was much enjoyed, and a protein-packed, cool lunch of salmon and cream cheese wraps was followed by a nap. Whew! Until next time, mountains!

Trip Report: Cottonwood Trails of the Eastern Sierra

Smoke from the Dixie fire filled the high desert. When I was driving up early Saturday the Inyo Mountains were not visible at all and the Sierra was faint from the 395. I was not optimistic about hiking. The winding, steep Horseshoe Meadows Road felt like being in a void: nothing could be seen over the edges, little going forward… then the last turn and decent to the Cottonwood trailheads proved nearly clear. It was still slightly hazy, but became less so as the day went on. Only a couple breezes smelled of smoke, though the first day I admit my mouth felt dry and I did cough a few times. So, despite nearly everywhere else in Sierra Nevada, this area proved the most clear and by Sunday almost totally – couldn’t say that for anywhere else! 🤗

I took the 5 to the 14 to the 395 both ways this time rather than just the return drive. The morning sun hitting the colored, columned cliffs in Red Rock State Park proved too difficult to resist and I stopped in a lovely place with nearly no one else to worship at an awe-inspiring cathedral of red and gold and white structures – gazing overhead and from afar I decided it was more beautiful than any stained glass windows. 🤩 It wasn’t hot yet, so my hopes for the weekend were high! RIP me.

I made it to the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead about 10 and got started at 10:30. It’s a very mild climb with limited mountain views, lots of pine trees, and, eventually, a bunch of lakes spread throughout the large upper drainage – Mount Langley nearly always in view, though this was not a summit trip this time. Lake 3 was lovely, 4 and 5 fairly similar, and I walked to the base of Old Army Pass and did consider an ascent… but it didn’t look like fun and it was already 1:30, a terrible time to start a climb (best be off peaks by 2 even in fair weather). So, time for something new and I headed south, around Lake 1, to South Fork Lakes. Cottonwood trails are very crowded, but now I was alone and it was lovely. Mountains, lakes rippling in the occasional large breeze and by ducks making dives and lined with flowers, twisted pines growing out of the rocks which were everywhere and mostly tan but sometimes a bit of peach or pink and maybe some white quartz… 🥰

So… I wasn’t paying attention, having much fun on the trial, and passed where I should have turned, I guess, though I never saw a junction, and ended up at Cirque Lake where the trail ended. Whoops. 😉 Don’t tell anyone, but I went off trail here – it was mellow (no real chance of being cliffed out) and the drainage was dry so I just set off cross country, saying “sorrrryyyyy” to some of the plants I stepped on (ala Thor from his visit to Dr. Strange). I walked on some paths, but they weren’t from people, they were from years of marmot use and were covered in generations of poo and led to holes under rocks and disappeared. When the drainage when a bit steeps, I stuck to the very soft sand / pine needle ground by the pines and many a critter were very angry about it: birds and a marmot where dismayed by my unexpected presence. Sorrrryyyy. 😬 After a rather steep bit down I found what looked suspiciously like a couple switchbacks… I was debating if it was a bear path, if those where large paw prints, when I spotted at cairn (stack of rocks). I don’t know where the “trail” was before, nor after, but I sure was on something for a few feet there.

Anyhow, I was in another drainage meadow and the actual trail should have been to my north, but I couldn’t see anything and crossing soft mud wasn’t my idea of fun so I just stayed south and the going was pretty okay, still on soft ground under pines for the most part, sometimes grasses in the dry marshes. Eventually I crossed the mostly dry creek and looked for the trail proper… I thought it would be kinda light and use-y but, nope, lol, it was really proper and quite the luxury after 2 miles without a clear path! It immediately crossed a meadow and this was the BEST PART of my entire trip. It was after 4pm, silent save some insects and birds in the pines, and small stones crossed a long, narrow, wet field. It was absolutely full of flowers floating atop a sea of green grass. 😭 A deer pondered me nearby, wee butterflies were about, the sound of a creek… total paradise. 😍 I should have stayed longer. I might return and do just that. ❤

After that, the watershed actually had water and was sweetly tumbling nearby, covered in green and bordered with some flowering corn lilies. There was a squat structure someone built of wood – no idea what it was about, but the area was so serene it didn’t seem scary but, rather, made total sense to me to want to build here. *sigh* After that it was back to dry trails and I met back up with the way I’d come in for a very hot, very tired 1.5-felt-like-4 mile trek out. 10k start, 11.2k top a couple different times (ups and downs), so pretty easy and I ended just shy of 15 miles on the day. A good trainer for elevation itself, not so much for elevation change. But it was a nice day and only slightly too warm, but overall pleasant with a breeze.

I drove to Whitney Portal as I debated what to do the next day, but it was still kinda icky air there despite the joyful yells of those returning from successful summits. I decided I wouldn’t be hiking here and drove all the way back down – taking a moment to study the extensive recent fire damage (wow, brutal and complete, still areas with pink fos drops) – and ate some pulled pork with a soda for a late dinner in town where it was 92F at 7:30pm. Then I tried to check out a BLM campground in the dark – it was okay but it was still so hot so I just wasn’t interested… I made long drive back up to Cottonwood and cheated by sleeping in my car (I was too exhausted to figure something else out). Shhhh, no telling anyone. 🤫

I had a fitful but fairly full sleep and took a couple photos of the incredibly clear skies: the Milky Way was easily visible and I swear there wasn’t a black spot, totally full of stars. Just lovely… but too lazy to try for better images, I just enjoyed it out the window and for each bathroom break. It was downright cold overnight. I swear it was sub 40 when I finally got up at 6:30, having cuddled in while ignoring the sun. I had no warm gear, so just stayed huddled in my bag as I prepped for the day.

I was on the trail to Cottonwood Pass by 7:20am with my arms wrapped around myself for warmth… an hour later it was mid 70s with a brutal sun, and by the time my hike was done it was in 84F… at 10k feet elevation. SUUUUCCCKKKKED. It was actually nice a bit after the start – the second 2 miles where the trail actually climbed and the pass was windy and full of vistas. I was going to revisit Chicken Spring Lake and the views off the PCT just above it which look at so many dramatic mountains, but decided to do the loop instead just because it was new. It was too flat, which hurts me for whatever reason, and long, sandy, and terribly hot. The PCT stays pretty level turning this way and that around the range, mostly with views of large meadows (some with cows 🙃) eventually meeting up with Trail Pass for an 11 mile loop. I was really mad: nothing seems direct, but rather the trail meandered seeming to prefer no shade and the most gentle slopes possible. 🥵 Boring, hot, bothered to tears, I am left with some heat rashes including one around inside of my legs near sock line that I’ve had before recently that I can’t figure out (rest are bumps from sweat, no big deal, but this stings). But… it’s done and it’s always worth doing something new. Just below 10k to just above 11k elevation -nothing hard, only thin air and with all the training this wasn’t an issue for me today.

The drive home was often in 104F heat, sometimes higher, so taking a stop wasn’t interesting to me. Traffic was meh… worse once finally on the 5 and I decided a stress / potty / food break was in order. Haven’t had fast food often, but Wendy’s fries hit the spot, as did a chocolate shake. Burbank was only mid 80s, so it felt nice, haha. Much cursing and exasperated sighs ensued, but we all seemed to survive and then I was home and enjoyed a shower – what a blessed thing to have whenever I want! Onto planning the next punishing adventure as I limp about the house. 😄

Trip Report: Lovely San Jacinto

Whew, another tough one! I revisited the steep Marion Mountain Trail for the first time in many years: a 5.6 mile (official, my elevation map shows 11 total, which is a bit low, but some people claim 11.4+?) one way trek to the summit of San Jacinto (a rare peak that is a pile of large boulders, usually they are small rocks or just dirt – everyone, regardless of trail, has to do a bit of scrambling / hopping to get up there). The trailhead is off a road that leads to campsites and is at 6480′ elevation (official, my map showed 6300′) and is a mostly relentless ~4500′ gain to the summit at 10834′ (new GPS has proven consistently incorrect elevation when high up) – 2300′ of it is in the first 2.5 miles with a few knee-bustingly steep bits care of tree roots and rocks for big steps. GPS:

San Jacinto is a lovely mountain. It’s covered with often dense pine forest, a couple creeks were still running and full of flowers (yellow deerweed, grayswamp whiteheads with monarch butterflies, red columbine, purple lupine, and seemingly endless fields of California corn lily topped with large bunches of white flowers – which I’d never seen the plants do – amongst a lot of other finds) and birds (small ones playing in water, tweeting adorably), the small valleys offered not just a slightly more flat trail but also fields of lush greenery (ferns and more corn lilies), the views are outstanding in all directions and not just from the summit but often from some open switchbacks in thorny or flowered brush buzzing with all kinds of bees and giant flies.’

It was warm, but higher up the breeze was cool in the morning and lots of trees for shade. My knees complained, still sore from last weekend, and the drive home showed 104F – yikes! Not very many people, did have some nice conversations – just a lovely day despite over 7 hours for just over 11miles! Whew!

Oh, and I touched a few caterpillars because of a savior complex (wanted to move off trail so they wouldn’t get stepped on) and they weren’t friendly so very sore fingertips for hours (first hour stung like hell). 🤦‍♀️

Trip Report: Steep trails around San Antonio (Mt Baldy)

Okay… OUUUUUCCCHHHH. Writing now that I showered (the amount of salt and sand-turned-mud in the humidity and sweat I could scrape off my face, and I left heel marks on my way in to get clean, ew) and ate pancakes (eating while intense exercise is difficult, so I was real low on calories despite fruit I happily ate upon returning to the car – I was running on fumes = caffeine bloks). The good: flowers, 360 deg views, moody weather, less traveled trails = far less people, pushing myself to my physical limit usually feels pretty good in the long run (not so much right this second). GPS

Look, I know the the hike up San Antonio is steep, I’ve done it a few times, but I added some extras and my knees are pissed! The ski hut / baldy bowl route starts at 6172′ (my car location in lot that was crowded by 6am) to the highest peak in L.A. county at 10066′ (my gps is wrong if you look at elevation map) so that is 3894′ gain inside 4 miles and it took me 2:50 (h:mm) LOL!! Almost nothing else does that, not even in the Sierra unless you are climbing with gear off-trail. These trail builders just don’t like switchbacks or steps – they were clearly very mean people. But then, in my quest for more mileage for training reasons, I decided to take North Backbone (a trail that made me quit in 1/3 mile on the northern end) to Dawson Peak, which is a loss of nearly 1500′ in 0.7 miles (FML), up again to 9575′ for a gain of almost 1000′ in .6 miles, then did that in reverse for the return and let me please emphasize that it was mostly loose scree which SUUUUUCKKKS. There were only 3 other people and these were the only people that passed me the whole day (one with an overnight backpack!), so just FYI that as painfully slow as I was it by far wasn’t the slowest, so don’t laugh at my speed which was only 11 miles but took over 8 hours! Lord have mercy, it was hot, sweaty, dirty work and I guess I find torture fun?

So now I’m atop the mountain again (so nice I summitted twice? I hugged the sign at the top and got some laughs) and it’s time to head down… I do so with the small crowds, but decided to turn off to Mount Harwood… I was so tired earlier that I didn’t hit the west summit, but now I’d been going down again and despite not peeing since 6:30am (it would be 10 hours before I would again… 2 liters is good for 11 miles, but not 8 hours it seems) I felt pretty good, though my legs were fatigued and my left shin was kind of cramping. Anyhow, after losing 700′ I went back up 200′ to 9551′ and it was like the moon up there: a rocky landscape and a few random bits of equipment that looked like rovers, haha. Cool rainbow-ish slopes, too, on the northwest. I dropped back down 400′ and met back up with the main trail (not the one I took up, this comes from the other side at the ski resort for a possible loop).

Here’s where I made a really not fun decision: I did more new-to-me things and took the ridgeline trail straight down.2440′ lost in 1.34 miles. WTAF!! Why are there no switchbacks? Stupid steep, most of it loose scree again, and after a mile my shaking legs forced smaller steps and a couple breaks and after many slides-almost-falls I did spend a minute crying when cursing stopped working for me. I was alone, so that’s great, but, shit, that destroyed my poor knees and shoved my toes into my shoes no matter how tight (and they were, I have red spots to prove it).Anyhow, that was rewarding but really rough and tomorrow is going to be my ‘off’ day due to my knees needing some recovery – probably use a muscle scraper on my shin and roll/massage-gun my thighs and calves. Hurray?

Trip report: hiking all over Bishop Creek for Fourth of July weekend

Trip report! Man, I had a great time in the ever-stunning Bishop Creek rec area this past weekend. I did day hiking, rather than backpack, and the goal was to do trails I had not done before.

I woke up shortly after 4am on Friday and was on the road by 5a to get to a car campsite as early as possible for fear of holiday weekend crowds. I easily found one as no one was at the 5-spot, no reservation, non-signed Mountain Glen along South Lake Road. It did fill up that night, but the next night was only 3 spots taken, then just 2 Sunday night. There were people everywhere, but most seemed to have left Sunday and preferred cabins (hotels in Bishop were also booked). Nice! The campsite are spread out and private and the roar of South Fork Bishop creek, just a few steps away, was ever present… didn’t need to set an alarm, though, as a bird was loud every morning from 4:15-5am. Stupid bird!

I paid for the campsite, set up camp under a hot sun, then took off for a day of hiking. I drove up windy, unpaved North Lake Road and started off for Piute Pass (11400′, though unit said 11308′) which is 5 miles from the trailhead, but there is an additional 0.7 miles to the parking lot (9280′), with a 12:15pm start time. An absolutely stunning trail with only a few steep switchbacks but otherwise a moderate, steady climb past lovely lakes that drain into one another down a fairly wide watershed of meadows and fens, the pass approach is gentle and long, an interesting place. The hot day turned to afternoon clouds that started cute and became a bit dark, but they didn’t look too bad yet, and I noted that several trails branched off from the top. I checked my handheld and decided it was less than a mile, mostly flat, to visit Muirel Lake. I had promised myself to turn around by 4pm, and before I had finished the side trail, 0.8 miles at a view point for the lake, it was 4:06pm and the clouds were getting darker, so I turned around and walked back up to the pass through a wet fen and headed down. I had the trail mostly to myself, which was amazing! I cannot describe accurately all the amazing things I saw: flowers, peaks, lakes, endless vistas – truly, a gem of a hike. On my return, some people were still just going up… um, gonna get dark before you make it back, yo? Plus, after about 1.5 miles down, those clouds coalesced into what looked like one big storm and thunder started to roll so I half jogged here and there to get down and out ASAP. A few rain drops, but the storm stayed in the backcountry and the bottom was again sunny and too hot and, sadly, the last bit back to the car was now a nasty swarm of mosquitos and I have a lot of bites. Coming from elevation low on sleep after a drive and starting in the mid-day sun on a hot day is a bit rough, so I thought I was a tad slow for a day hike ending with a bit over 6 hours, including breaks. I had calf cramps that night and a headache – I actually thought I was drinking more than usual and eating well, but I felt real beat up as though I’d done a bigger hike (the last 18.5 miles I did I felt fine, sooo… unsure wassup with dat). GPS accidentally paused for .8 or so miles, so the total was 13 on the day:

I was utterley wiped from the first day: 13 miles with 2000′ gain isn’t the most I can do, but maybe the heat and a month out of elevation just did me in. Sometimes you just don’t feel tip-top. I was in my tent a long while in fitful sleep, and a 2am bathroom trip showed a stunning night sky that was utterly clear and the center of the Milky Way was easily visible but I was so wiped I didn’t break out my good camera and tripod despite bringing it just for this purpose. Anyhow, I slept in despite the noisy bird and when I drove to South Lake parking lot it was shockingly packed at 8am so I left and thought about what to do instead. I wasn’t going to attempt the 12-15 mile day out of Sabrina Lake that late, and that tired, either, though I did walk across the dam and back (.5 miles, flat,, so I drove around a bit. It was still very warm, but Saturday the clouds were not cute and covered most of the sky both east and west – definately looked like rain in the Inyo and White Mountains (east) and deeper in the Sierra (west). I got gas in Bishop (so hot even early morning!) after driving down and up the 395 to see the extent of the storm – it was large that also didn’t bode well for a long hike.

I drove back up and stared at maps and decided on Tyee Lakes – unplanned but also never done it before. Trailhead was again hot and sunny… sucks! This path didn’t hold back and climbed fast up the steep eastern slopes of Table Mountain: from about 9000′ to 11,000′ at the drainage between the lovely 2 main upper lakes sitting in a bowl and in just 3 miles: 700′ gain average per mile isn’t the worst, but it’s definately no joke. I decided I felt good and could do more mileage, the sky still seemed clear overhead, the storm still deeper in the mountains, so I took the use trail straight up the side for a short but steep 400′ climb (whew!) eventually finishing the extra mile atop Table Mountain, which I found really weird! It’s very wide and flat-ish – the ground was tiny stones and covered in delicate alpine plants and their tiny flowers. A stream cut it and was lush with flowers and critters in alarm at my presence – on the other side was a forest of pines and it was easily a mile north in this flat place. The views were unmatched: the dramatic peaks were all around and while I couldn’t see into the bowls where all the lakes sit, but I felt rather even with most of the range and could see lower peaks like the brown/red mound of Chocolate Peak deep inside the valley past South Lake, which was shocking. I was really in awe of this place… but, man, those ominous clouds didn’t look good. It was a steep climb down to George Lake on the other side, which didn’t sound fun, and, sadly, could not see it from on top, so I turned around. I few drops here and their, the sun traded places with stormy shade on and off until just before the car when it started to rain: not heavy, just big drops here and there, but by the time I made the short drive to camp I had just enough time to eat, pee, trashcan and get inside the tent for the storm to get very, very real and for 3 hours there was rain, 1 solid hour of which was frequent thunder all around and overhead. The temps dropped about 10 F (the previous night was about 50, this night would drop to 40) and I just sat inside listening to the rain and wind and reading. <3 10:45am start, a bit over 8 miles, 2500′ gain, 5 friggin’ hours:

I was up and out a couple hours earlier Sunday, determined to hike out of South Lake – the longer hike out of Sabrina now scraped because I did feel kind of crap after both previous days on the trail despite doable mileage. 6am start with a goal of Treasure Lakes: a 3 mile hike I wanted to just take calmly and enjoy being out there. The morning was cool and shaded along the eastern shores, climbing from 9800′ to 10,200′ then, sadly, dropping after the junction back down to 10,000′ as the path turned west to travel the south side of the lake and around omnipresent Hurd Peak, before making a steady climb up the drainage to the main lakes at 10,680′ where I found a lot of overnight campers (weird, I thought, for a non-through trail with low mileage) just getting up and making warm beverages and wandering about and one of their dogs stood near me while I took a couple pictures and looked at fish – probably the only dog I’ve ever immediately liked, though I still wasn’t into petting, as he just sat there wondering what I was looking at. There were annoying swarms of bugs, but those mosquitos were young so not yet biting, but that bloom is going to utterly suck in another couple days if there isn’t a freeze, and that doesn’t seem likely. I definately had the notion that 3 miles and 800′ wasn’t long enough for me, and I was there so early (it wasn’t yet 8am) and had all day left, so decided to push it and make the use-trail (barely) up to more lakes. After almost 1 hour for a 500 foot climb over 0.7 miles though brush and scree and a giant boulder field up the drainage of falls were the only green was near the water, I made it to the first upper lake with no injuries, whoo-hoo! Someone’s stupid drone buzzed overhead for a bit, but after that it was UTTER SILENCE AND ALONENESS! RESULT! After admiring the area (lovely lake, steep mountains all around, brutal landscape) I managed even more boulder climbing without twisting or breaking any limbs or having anything fall atop me and made it the last 1/3 mile over to a space between two more lakes and rested long and gratefully to be in a such an absolute stunner of a place. Sunny but cool, only a couple spots of ice remained here and there, little six foot bits in the nooks. The drainage between the lakes, where I sat, was lush with flowers and birds singing and flying about seemingly dipping more of join in the occasional gust of wind than actually catching bugs. A few critters ran around the rocky shoreline, which was covered in mostly delecate, tiny, alpine ground plants but there were some pine here and there, mostly on the eastern side. I didn’t want to leave. Maybe I should have stayed longer, basking in the sun and watching it change how the landscape looked over time. A couple other people made it up, but stayed elsewhere, and a couple more as I was leaving, but clearly most people wouldn’t attempt the climb – enough for the path to be there, though. Have I mentioned there were a lot of rocks? I took a different way down from the lower lake over into the drainage and it turned out the incorrect choice because it even more boulder jumping and than before, whoops. Otherwise, a nice hike back with still few people and loaded with views: the perfect day. The GPS: 8 miles, 4.5 hours moving time, 2500 again (so ended up similar to the day before, with a big steep bit right at the top)

I took my time the rest of the day: enjoying a sandwich, packing up, and generally being leisurely. I drove back out and walked around another nearby campsite in the heat (my skin was sad). I slept a bit better, though did read late, and managed to get out the camera and take some night pix pretty early – sadly, clouds were coming in so, after a shot east at the clouds lit from fireworks, I packed in in a just laid in the tent reading unti I slept. I was up early Monday (stupid bird) and left, on the road down a bit after 6am. The drive was decent and took about the same time as it had coming up. I had considered hiking that day, but I thought it best to avoid traffic and heat: it was 94 F in the high desert at 8am and the 395 is a dangerous one lane where people pass at terribly scary places. Coming down the 15 the smog was so thick the visibility was cut: I guess I missed a lot of illegal fireworks. I wasn’t happy to be with people again, and quickly retreated into the safety of our home. (-:

Until next time, Sierra Nevada!! I can’t hardly wait.

Trip Report: one night car camp, southeastern Sierra Nevada

I woke up before my alarm and was out the door by 5, arriving at Lower Gray’s Meadow Campground outside of Independence a bit after 9 for my quick Eastern Sierra trip. It looked full, but around a corner two spots were open. It was private so peeing and changing clothes were easy for me. The road was very near, but there were few cars and the sound of a tumbling Independence Creek filled the air.

The day was already getting warm… I decided not to ignore the ‘road closed’ sign going up to Onion Valley (it will void your car insurance, even if you think you know better that the road conditions are fine) and instead drove back south to Lone Pine and up Whitney Portal Road a bit. A lot of people were parked at that ‘road closed’ sign (were they walking the road? weird), so I went back to Lone Pine Campground to day hike. I was glad I didn’t stay there – it’s wide open and was terribly hot and there were bugs. The moon was setting behind the peaks with white clinging here and there to crevasses.

Day 1 Hike

Anyhow, 11:36 I started. I kept my short sleeved shirt and left behind a warm layer, and I knew my dark cargo pants and hiking shoes were a bit much… I brought many winter layers and gear and needed none of it! Then I threw on sun sleeves, slapped on my hat, and started up the Whitney Portal National Recreational Trail, which I’d not yet done other than small walks from the top. Starts at 5900′ and heads up for 4 miles to Whitney Portal at 8400′ – quite the climb! It was really lovely, actually, despite the high desert heat and punishing sun to start. Many tortured plants (I felt their pain) and a few wee butterflies (one was iridescent green), the trail went from sandy to packed dirt, some ups and some flats. I could see why some crazies run it.

Eventually a pine forest builds as the switchbacks head up the hillside opposite the road across Lone Pine Creek and Mount Whitney is and and out of view, standing watch over all. There is a rock-damaged crossing at Meysan Creek, right at the confluence with Lone Pine Creek, and the entire area is a wreck of broken trees and fallen boulders. I could see some falls but I didn’t venture in. The climb intensifies, and there are stone steps in a few places, but now there was more shade from trees and the music of Lone Pine Creek falling and tumbling on my right. I couldn’t believe the number of cars stretched along the road: they passed the ‘closed’ sign and started parking at the gate, I guess. I didn’t see so many people around, so the wilderness is big enough to hide many.

A few icy patches, nothing my over-kill studded shoes couldn’t handle, and the path wound through the campground and passed a few cabins. I knew in my heart that the trail was probably supposed to be closed and was preparing to encounter the remains of last year’s devastating rock fall at Portal (earthquake started). The trail was mostly clear nearly to the end: the last 1/8 mile or so was destroyed. The official bridge does still stand on the other side. The rocks and broken trees allowed a crossing over Lone Pine Creek (running low anyhow) and POOF I was in the backpacker camp staring at the giant rock leaning against a tree basically right near my old favorite campsite, and a big hole where it bounced in the spot nearby. RIP campsite!

Whitney’s Siren Song

I knew I didn’t have time to make it to Lone Pine Lake, but after looking at a frozen Portal Pond (so weird to see in the heat) and a the Lone Pine Creek falls also frozen (neat!) I did hit the Whitney Trail – it’s pull is so hard to resist! She calls to you – but it’s a siren song and I think she’s trying to kill people, and sometimes it works but mostly she kicks the crap out of hikers. I told myself to turn around at 3pm but that’s basically when I started up, (I sighed at myself and shook my head and went up anyhow).

By 3:35pm I was about 1/2 mile or so from the lake (2 miles in), but I stopped and snacked while looking at the expansive views across the desert floor to the Inyo Mountains, over the tops of trees, then headed back down. I saw a bunch of dummies (so I thought) still going up, some with very little clothes and others with kids… but I didn’t have a headlamp and I didn’t have a warm layer and I wanted dinner before dark. I turned around just below 9600′ at 6.37 miles on the day and came back down the 6.15 – this time heading down the road and cutting back to the trail at the campground, thankful during the last two miles that the shade of these tall peaks spared me the sun.

And, Done!

It was nearly dark by the time I drove back to camp. I downed a salad (nice in the heat) while I changed, then tried a new low-carb backpacker food in the dark after boiling some water (it was tasty!). It dawned on me that I hadn’t pee’d in 8.5 hours – man, the sun really did me in – plus the dry air and elevation. I felt okay, but that’s… wrong. So I drank a lot of water. I relaxed with a book and fell asleep, warm in my bag and staring at so many stars you can hardly believe it.

After midnight, the winds started absolutely roaring down the mountains. My tent is nearly all net, so without the fly it was silent and I was unbothered and managed sleep despite the noise. The trees were still bare so not much debris was falling in the mayhem. Sometimes the moon was in my face and I had to cover my eyes, but otherwise I slept until 7am when my skin was warning me to get out of the sun which was already warming the campsite.

Day 2

Some more water, energy drink, packed up and in Independence about 7:45. I stopped at the rail junk yard (museum) to admire a car and a loco I hadn’t see on the tracks before. A guy arrived and yelled ‘good morning’ after hopping out of his truck. He invited me in and I sat in the locomotive engine, fun! His group of train lovers had been taking it apart and putting it together and winched it out of the big garage bunker recently. Tomorrow it’s off to Colorado. Neat! He said they realized at some point that it was still able to run if they wanted to fix it that far. I got a flyer and he took a photo and I was off back south on my beloved, dangerous 395.

I decided to stop at Alabama Hills to walk out to the arch for some morning photos, the sky again bright blue. It remained windy, but warm. There were more people camping out there than I’d ever seen before. Anyhow, that’s it! The drive was warm and slow and stressful, as ever, but I made it home safe and am busy planning my next trip to the mountains… especially because the last of my new gear came so I’m dying to try it out.

Second Time Out with New Gear

The new shoes (Merrell, Zion) are pretty good – a bit low on comfort, but stud-like tread and leather top have proved great on snow. With the large fanny pack (Osprey, Tempest 6) I can access everything without taking it off and I love the hip pockets and water bottle holders. Has been a blast to use – it still has more space than I need and no sweaty back.

A Selfish Rant

This is a year in SoCal where we actually had a “March Miracle” snow run in our local mountains which is continuing as I write and due to government rules I cannot visit Snow Valley to ski! *cry face* I’m sure this is terrible for them, too, as so much money is seasonal.

In addition, my employer gave today as a floating holiday and I would be arriving somewhere in the eastern Sierras by now to either car camp and hike or go backpacking (probably the former due to the weather: there’s been a few feet of snow). So sad for my wants and desires! *extra cry face* Cabin fever is real, y’all.

Regardless of your politics, pension for conspiracy theories, or personal beliefs about whether we are taking the correct actions – I hope you and yours remain healthy, fed, mentally stable, and safe.

Trip Report: Whitney Trail Trash Pickup

tl;dr; PICK UP YOUR TRASH – THIS INCLUDES YOUR TOILET PAPER and all the gear you bring with you when you hike.

Selfie at Whitney Portal
Selfie at Whitney Portal, happy in my car camp tent.

I took the opportunity to clean up trash with another volunteer and we went with a ranger Saturday morning. I did not acclimate, I have been only running recently, and I do not like spring melt conditions, so I did not bring my ice axe on purpose to keep myself out of trouble as I had no intention of a summit (switchbacks and chute were still too sketchy for my liking based on reports – I was super proud to see a couple people with helmets!!). I did, however, dress for cool weather but it was HOT… We took the old trail up to avoid walking in water so early in the hike – it’s in okay condition, but I would not personally attempt it in the dark.

The trail is easy, if overly warm (this weekend saw no clouds), through to Lone Pine Lake, which was lovely and full. Any snow remaining is melting fast and can be edged around on rocks or walked across carefully (slippery from use). Some longer stretches still exist on the way to Outpost camp as well as some water coming over and down the trail, nothing that requires more than careful steps. I was pretty dang slow, but it made for a nice day and I am looking forward to going through pix (I brought the big guns this time: a7III with my fav Loxia 21m lens).

Past Outpost camp I ran into several areas of snow that hid the trail and a small ton of boot paths leading in all directions. I don’t think you can really get lost unless you are heading back and fail to keep left back to Mirror Lake. On my way back I totally took a different way but was still somehow on the trail? Weird. (aside: our break above Mirror Lake with another group gave us some shaking of heads as we watched 3 people slide down that incredible 70 deg slope on the west side – yikes!)

The long boot path to Trail Camp is still starting pretty early (it crosses Lone Pine Creek south, then heads west over the Consultation Lake drainage) but… everyone including the rangers thinks that is getting sketchy. Plenty of people going that way, but you can hear water rushing beneath and the extreme melt is going to cause a collapse soon. You can stay on the trail a bit longer and cut left later when the trail is near the creek and the fall wouldn’t be bad then cut over rocks and get back on the boot path… even there the snow is pitted and underneath is pretty empty despite looking solid on top. BUT this would have appealed to me a bit more because even though the rangers did a great job cutting a path on the short bit of trail that runs north/south just north of Consultation Lake (if you look at a map) that is a hell of a traverse for me (it’s a steep slope) so I turned back (with, what, 1/3 mile left?). Most people were slipping back down the boot path, people going up were split. If you have steady legs (mine were wobbly) and no fear of heights or slipping it will be no problem for you: the snow is sticky and it’s along the actual trail. I am just not into steep traverses w/o a helmet, personally, nor the path everyone was slipping on with the water underneath…

I told the crew I’d return to Outpost and pick up trash on the way that we’d seen plus at that camp, which I did. Other than an occasional breeze, it was really, really warm. People were trying for a summit at all hours of the day: midnight to about 3am headlamps went through camp, then about 6am+ some people that I just cannot imagine thought this all through, followed by backpackers taking their time then more people that are way out of their league and I hope weren’t serious about asking me about conditions (crossing my fingers they just went to Lone Pine Lake). I took the regular trail out and the crossings are doable but no joke: fast water to my calf (I am tall) and the smaller one was pretty sketchy since it was thin and sloping. Otherwise, no issues: just lizards, birds (including grouse, a red one, a yellow one, etc.), and wildflowers (lots of shooting stars).

Trip highlight: taking photos both nights (I camped Friday night) of the sky with the Milky Way just in stunning form and meeting great people!

Trash found: mostly paper for pee wipes, a broken hiking pole, toothbrush & paste, and tons of tiny plastic from the corner of snacks. Oh, and one rusting can of “food.” Overall, ya’ll doing good! Just please pack out your wipes and watch it when you open snacks! The rangers were over nice and gave a ‘thank you’ note and some teeny gifts. I felt like I should have gloves and a trash bag with me on every hike! It’s the least I can do.

Things I didn’t need and regret bringing: tent stakes, rain jacket/outer layer, puffy mid layer winter down jacket, gloves, wet pants (over my hiking pants).

Things I didn’t use but still glad I brought: an extra meal (I wasn’t sure if I’d stay another night), micro spikes (I’d expected to come down from Trail Camp in the morning when the ice would have been hard), extra socks (I was trying SealSkins for the water crossings and was still wet but between my snow gaters and those it was more like barely wet vs drenched, so I puddled all day w/o a care!), and the tent cover (you never know…).

Things I wish I had brought: a summer-temp long sleeve layer instead of my insulated one (probably would have worn the down jacket in the mornings, then, and sweat way less during the day) and actually worn my sunscreen instead of it being lost in my bear box (my nose, cheeks, and fingers are burned).

Edit to add: I saw at least 3 people running it. o.O It takes all types! Never be afraid to stop if you are uncomfortable – it’s about “you” not “them.”

Fin! Questions? Ask!

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clothing, gear, and complaining