Decided on the Garmin Fenix 6S Pro

Well, so much for trying to find a tiny GPS watch! In prior posts I discussed my love for the Samsung Galaxy Fit2 as a daily wear – the only issue being no GPS so I always end up bringing a Garmin handheld for longer day hikes which seems like overkill on familiar or established trails. I would bring my Polar M400, but that is geared towards runs, IMO, and the battery life isn’t really great for hiking which is more than 4-6 hours, which it almost always is.

Fit2 vs Fenix 6S watch face

In the end I decided that if I couldn’t find a tiny GPS watch I’d just buy a full-featured one instead. It’s only money! I found it for the lowest price I could and I’ve been very happy with it after some adjusting to settings (1 sec interval, no idea why that isn’t default – why would anyone want inaccurate tracks?), t’s been great. It *is* heavy on my wrist even though this is the smallest version, which also makes the map a bit harder to see, but, hey, it has a map, that’s so cool! The battery life is more akin to a modern handheld unit, depending on settings, and it’s easy to grab and go. I have dropped it once trying to put it on as the face is pretty hefty so any loss of grip before it’s strapped on is a precarious time. It kinda knocked up the outer ring a tad, but the face was unharmed. I put it on over my lap now.

I would prefer the inset-type band on it instead of the belt-type band, that’s my only complaint. I don’t like having some extra bit that can catch on clothing and I find the search for the correct loop a bit of a struggle on my skinny wrists.

Fit2 vs Finix 6S band size and style

Feature-wise, it does far more than I will ever need it for. It’s fairly attractive and about as small as I can expect. Lots of stats can be added per-screen and per-activity, which I like as I like to read as much as possible with one glance without scrolling.

I still prefer a hearty handheld for multi-day trips for it’s big screen that is easy to plan route changes, but if I was on familiar ground I might grab the watch instead. It is still too big and heavy for me to want to use it for daily-wear, so the Fit2 remains attached to me 24/7 and my go-to for easy timers during strength training and basic tracking for small hikes and local walks.

Part 2: Tried FitBit, Mostly Fixed Garmin, More Stats

Ignore all my long-stressed over words and skip to Bottom Line.

In the last post, I was complaining about a lack of Garmin accuracy on the smallest watch with built-in GPS I could find between Polar and Garmin, the Garmin Venu Sq. It’s not really much smaller than the Polar M400, but it’s less bulky and the band is thinner and just feels tad nicer to wear (plus newer tech is fun). Anyhow, I am pretty irritated that I have to dive into Garmin settings on all their newer devices to get their GPS to be accurate. I never used to have to do this, but the new handheld 66i is a constant struggle (the 64 never was) and this watch I finally got distance and map accuracy to match the laser-sharp Polar – mostly due to asking it to save every second versus whatever “auto” was doing. Hilariously, to me, the choice between “Smart Recording” and “Every Second Recording” states “Smart recording captures key data points as changes occur in your direction, speed, heart rate or elevation. This method is recommended as it saves space on your device and has no negative impact on GPS accuracy” which is total bull as it was 3% off (not massive, but annoying) before. The result is now tit-for-tat mile notifications between both devices on a recent 7.8 mile run on a hilly trail. The only issue left is the elevation chart which is really choppy, and I think inaccurate, resulting in the gain/loss being wrong. I’ll dive into the details below…

Did I run with four watches on? Yup. It was weird and very sweaty but during activity it wasn’t bothersome outside of a bunch of beeps and shakes from all over the place.

The problem still was that I wasn’t going to wear a 38mm wide watch constantly, and that width is on the small side! I have been hoping to find the one GPS watch to rule them all so I could have just one gadget and one app and one website. I somehow realized that FitBit makes watches with built-in GPS that are really small! Great, I thought, and immediately bought the FitBit Charge 5… a week before it’s on sale for Black Friday, of course. ANYHOW, it’s 22.6mm wide, which is more the width of bands on most watches – and it’s shorter than all my other contenders at 36.6mm tall. Nice. Still, despite being nicely far shorter than the very tall 46.6mm of my daily-wearer, Samsung Galaxy Fit2, it does feel noticeably wider than the Fit’s 18.6mm width and every other watch’s band feels huge compare to it’s mostly 16mm width. But this was far smaller and really tempting, especially as there are more features on the FitBit besides GPS such as oxygen levels, so the only thing left was to test its GPS on a run. Spoiler alert: it sucked. I’m returning it. It’s a really great lifestyle band, actually, but I already have one of those and my goal was to use one watch and there is no way this thing is made for serious activity tracking. I wish I read DC Rainmaker’s review first, though I did not experience loss of GPS or heart rate as he did.


BandTimeDistanceCaloriesPace (min/mi)Cadence (steps/min)StepsElevation GainElevation LossElevation MaxHeart RateGPS TypeExportBattery DrainCableFace DimenionsBand
Polar M4001:41:277.8 miles83713:02 avg (max 9:01)138 avg (max 222)13,888820 ft804 ft841.8 ftN/AGPS, GLONASS, GALILEAOGPX, TCX, CSV~16%Micro USB38mm W x 50mm H x 12mm D29mm, thick and stiff classic watch style
Garmin Venu Sq1:42:237.8 miles93713:00 avg (max 8:59)134 avg (max 166)N/A, user error1117.4 ft1179.9 ft850.1 ft156 bpm (max 178)GPS, GLONASS, GALILEOGPX or TCX ~16% Special endpoint37mm W x 40.6mm H x 11.5 mm D20mm, soft and flexible, classic watch style
FitBit Charge 51:41:438.1 miles94112:26 avg (no max given)Not shown13,732No elevation map or stats provided in their apps151 bpm (no max shown)GPS, GLONASSTCX only ~16% Special magnetic cradle22.6mm W x 36.6mm H x 11.2mm D20mm, soft and flexible, come w/two sizes, wraps inside
Samsung Galaxy Fit21:43:02
7.2 miles (no GPS)63214:34 avg (max 7:56)131 avg (max 166)not per activity, but under 14kN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AImperceptible, though heart rate was not fully activeSpecial clip-on cradle18.6mm W x 46.6mm H x 11.1mm D16mm, soft and flexible, wraps inside

The obvious:

  • it’s not that the FitBit didn’t have some of these stats, like elevation, they just refuse to show them within their mobile app or website. I don’t know why, it’s insane.
  • the Samsung won’t track heart rate unless I actually start a session, I just kinda forgot and let it auto start – so it also marked it as a walk (I guess I was slow? lol) – and it doesn’t have built-in GPS so it’s just guessing (I don’t hit the trails carrying a phone, I don’t even take a walk with it).
  • Setting the Garmin to track every second definitely worked to improve accuracy and it buzzed nearly with, but usually a smidge after, the Polar beeped. I somehow, while digging around to get the GPS up-to-snuff, turned off “activity tracking” which meant no step count. /-:
  • NONE of the built-in GPS watches are gonna last longer than a day hike and they all went down in battery life about 16% for 1.75 hours. The Polar M400 will start to cry about low battery if I’m out for 8 hours, and it seems the rest will, too. Also, the others are more set up for ‘smart watch’ things and drain a bit just sitting around even when not worn, so you’ll be charging often if using as your daily-wear. Fitness bands, especially the Samsung Galaxy Fit2, never seem to wear out. The first gen one was about week and this one is about 3 weeks: daily workouts, auto-activity for walks and runs (I’m sure I could waste battery if I manually started hiking which uses the heart rate monitor much more frequently), wearing all day and night, wearing for days on end in the backcountry – and, unlike the others, it charges FAST – within 20 minutes usually. It’s a bit nuts.

About The Bands

Polar’s M400 is kinda stiff so it’s a bit difficult one handed and it’s super long on me and sticks out / can occasionally catch on clothes (doesn’t stick, just a pull). The clasp and pin are metal which is not going to rip. Again, this thing is a tank, but I do have problems getting it on at the correct size and off is a small struggle. It’s not as soft as other bands, so it slides – especially when sweat-soaked.

Garmin’s Venu Sq is a very soft band, you choose the size when you order, and it’s all plastic. These are marketed as “women’s” watches so it generally feels a tad more delicate than you might find on their more activity-focused, large-faced options. Like the M400 above, it’s a standard watch clasp system that goes under a loop, just like pant belts. The pin is plastic and I kept getting it caught in another hole while trying to remove it – not the biggest deal.

FitBit Charge 5 band is similarly nice and soft. They sell you both band sizes – I guess this is nice for off-the-shelf purchases, but it’s a bit of a waste as I doubt anyone would use both. This is the newer style where the end wraps inside. There is no pin on the clasp, but there is a kind of button that fills one hole after you fit it on. It’s a tad awkward, I just personally didn’t love it, but it was fine and I do like having the band inside.

Samsung’s Fit2 also has the inner band, but there is a pin on the clasp. This thing is real easy to get on and off, once you get the hang of the inside-band style.

I must have freakishly tiny wrists because I am within one or two holes of the end on every single band. As my wrist changes sizes with body heat or whatever, I sometimes change the Fit2 to be on hole 2 when the usual 3rd hole is feeling really loose.

Website Screens Note

The last post goes into what I like and don’t like about the Polar and Garmin website screens, but FitBits was every bit as unpleasant as Garmin’s, more so, maybe, because it wasn’t even responsive to browser window width. See screenshots below.

Chart Comparison

I am not showing anything from FitBit on here as the charts given on the website didn’t give at all the same level or detail or the same stats – they were kinda pointless graphics, as seen in the mobile app screens later on. It did require another click to make them be distance vs time, just like Garmin, which I hate: just show both rather than making me choose? Anyhow, I continue to strongly prefer Polar’s all-in-one which shows allll the data (except heart rate since the watch doesn’t have that built-in) which I adore. Again, Polar ‘just works’ across the board without editing settings of any kind.

App Screen Comparisons

Well, now that I have paid good money to allow four companies to sell my data, I can judge their mobile apps. I have never downloaded Polar’s before – I never used the M400 as a smart-watch, though it can and, judging by it trying to connect to my Fit2, desperately wanted to Bluetooth pair with something. It’s not much different than the website, hurray! It also makes syncing, which has always been slow and is no different now, a bit easier as it doesn’t need to be plugged in, obviously, to my desktop computer.

FitBit info was thin, even less than the Samsung Health app, which was really shocking to me. Maybe they would give me more information if I paid their monthly fee for ‘Premium’ but that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard and not something you need from these other brands. And, again, I could not find an elevation map, cadence, or max pace stats anywhere. Maybe if you used your phone? But then what is the point of built-in GPS if you have a phone?

Garmin’s app screens were only slightly more condensed than their website: there is a lot more scrolling than Polar on activity details.

The only issue I ran into Polar’s apps overall was it was difficult to see step count: this isn’t on the main activity page, it’s in a seperate ‘Reports’ area, which is kinda weird… unless it’s considered that Polar is, thankfully, made for athletes and every other aspect of their UI shows this: there’s less stupid lifestyle stats, unless you want them, the charts and info are easier, less white space and more data, less colors and more focus. To that end, there are only 2 screenshots instead of 3, for this app.

Might as well throw in the Samsung Health app (aka my daily wear that provides a wealth of data for whatever Samsung does with it). Overall, it’s more lifestyle focused which is totally fine as it’s my daily-wear and doesn’t have GPS so I don’t use it for distance accuracy: it’s more step count and estimates and tracking of data I enter. It’s also by far the cutest. It has changed a lot over time, which is kinda nice to know they are always improving it – though the calories bit was de-emphasized (I was tracking specific foods for a while and that is totally removed). I get the feeling it wasn’t worth development time plus some social response that we shouldn’t be so stressed out about weight and calories and macros? Dunno.

Statistics Comparison Tool

I downloaded Garmin, Polar, and FitBit activity, all in TCX since FitBit won’t gimme GPX which is weird, and put them into an online tool to merge them. Ignore the top stats as ‘merge’ make it one long event that was over 5 hours long, haha, just look at the map and charts below at:

The Garmin is now tracking nearly exactly with the Polar – there were a few blips but the Garmin I am using is a “less serious” type of device than the “made for athletes” Polar I have. There are “better” Garmin watches, but my goal, if you remember, is SMALL. This one is nearly the same size, nearly every other option is, to me, impossibly larger. No, thanks! That being said, once I messed with settings, the Venu Sq results are really very good… save one issue: the elevation chart remains very choppy, which is incorrect, and the gain/lost is way off which I assume is due to this. I have no idea what is going on there, and I’m not sure how much patience I have left for spending time in settings and with Garmin’s customer service. There is a per-activity setting, no idea why it isn’t a global setting, to use “Elevation Correction” – without it the values are worse for me, so enabled is better, but 300 ft difference in gain and loss is nuts. The claim is “Elevation Corrections are calculated with data from professional surveys instead of the data from your device. If your device has a barometric altimeter, Elevation Corrections are disabled by default” but I can’t believe this based on the results. I don’t love the barometric altimeter on my Garmin handheld 66i, but even if the exact elevation is off the gain and loss are still accurate and chart is okay – the Venu Sq is just not a serious enough device for my elevation needs.

The FitBit bounces off track a lot, though not enough to account for the extra 1/2 mile distance. In the map, you’ll notice there are no mileage markers for the FitBit – whereas the Garmin and Polar are really close to each other and are very accurate to real, measurable distance, IMO. I don’t know what this means, except that the FitBit Charge 5 must not use GPS for distance tracking which is the most insane thing I’ve ever heard of. No elevation map, no distance tracking, what the heck does this GPS do, just save a map? That is basically useless for activity tracking – afterward, it’s the least important part of a run. I know where I’ve been, lol. I can only assume FitBit is taking a wild guess at distance based on steps, which is what the non-GPS Samsung Fit2 already does. The difference appears to be that it over estimates vs under. This is when I decided to return the FitBit Charge 5 which I now deem totally useless for running and hiking. I have no idea what is going on, but this company’s stats and GPS usage are garbage. I do think the watch face is small and nice, and it’s an attractive product overall, but I already have a lifestyle / step counter and it’s way thinner with and app that is nicer and a price that is less than one third. Yikes!

Where Does That Leave Me?

The Garmin Venu is the only one that sits flat like a non-tracking watch might. This seems nice but the downside is the fragility: I’m not just leaving it atop a pile as the screen or rear monitors will touch or rub on things.

I don’t know. I cannot find a small enough GPS watch to daily wear and I’m not convinced the Venu Sq is worth keeping: it may look nicer than M400, have built-in heart rate and some other newer technical features, have a thinner band that is also shorter so it doesn’t stick out and catch on things, but the elevation is troublesome and I don’t like the app screens as much. Before a run or hike I do not want to have to mess with settings, and afterward I just want to have a quick glance of stats and not have to dig around to multiple screens.

I am also concerned about toughness with the Garmin: I can’t toss it into a pile as it lies flat so one part or another will rub against something. It feels like I shouldn’t abuse it. Meanwhile, that Polar M400 is an indestructible beast and, if I would just clean the filthy thing, looks brand new 6 years in. I bought it to train for a half-marathon (which I will never do again because running far on pavement sucks IMO), and I keep it as the small alternative to a handheld GPS unit for trail runs and small hikes. It does lack modern features: no buzzing only beeps, no color screen, no optical monitors for heart rate or oxygen, band is too wide and too stiff, no touch screen (honestly, I kinda like that bit) etc. But it has worked as expected from day one, shows 4 stats on a screen that is easy to read while moving, and the Polar ecosphere is just more focused than others on activity – all data presented fast and together, for the most part.

Product Bottom Line

There isn’t a tiny watch face with built-in, accurate GPS. Bummer.

If you need accuracy, you’ll need to buy a bigger watch from Polar or Garmin that are absolutely made for training. You might need to fight with Garmin settings, as their customer service will point you to actually pages in their support about this, but most things can be fixed eventually – except elevation which I struggle with on watch and handheld. I care about elevation so much that I’m thinking I have to sell this Garmin and am “stuck” with the Polar which I’ve never needed to monkey with at all to work correctly.

FitBit Charge 5 GPS is useless outside of a map that is good enough for most people, but who cares about a map without splits and elevation? So you could be fine and happy if you want this as a fitness band and use your phone as GPS when out, but then why pay this much for built-in GPS when you can pay 1/3-1/2 as much for a thinner tracker that can do that anyhow? If I wanted to bring a $1k phone with me on walks, my cheap, thin Samsung Galaxy Fit2 can get GPS, too. I do not understand the market for Charge 5 at all.

I can’t quit Polar, Garmin accuracy lacking

Backstory and Motivation

Skip to review if you don’t want to put up with how much I type or don’t care, I’ll understand.

It doesn’t make sense that I have been buying new GPS watches hoping to replace something that has never failed me. I think I’m doing it because I want something smaller and more attractive to me with a side of I’m a good consumer and also into gadgets. I bought a Samsung Watch4 recently because of some “free” money they gave me as part of a promotion that came with buying a new phone and I just didn’t know what else to spend the gift card on: I have plenty of SD cards and don’t need any other accessories… But while it was en route I did more research and the battery life just wasn’t going to fly with me – plus the 40mm round watch face still seemed way too big, though very much on the small side for baked-in GPS wrist devices. I sent it back without opening it. But as I was researching “small GPS watch” I ended up seeing all the other options out there and that led me to buy another.

I had a Swatch when I was young that I thought looked neat, but otherwise have never worn watches. I do, for reasons unknown, look at my left wrist when discussing the time, even if nothing is there and even if my phone is nearby or in-hand.

My First Integrated GPS Watch

I bought a Polar M400 in 2015 or so because I was running a *lot* more and decided to trail for a half marathon. Having distance accuracy and easy access to pace and cadence was immensely helpful. I only wear the watch when out of a run, its battery doesn’t last long enough for high-mileage hikes, let alone multi-day trips into the backcountry – but I have pushed it and always enjoyed the features during both activities. Splits are easy, what shows on the screen is customizable, etc.

It does not track heartrate, which I only glance at when I do have it, and it won’t buzz so I will occasionally not hear the beep if I’m in a noisy area such as along busy streets or near people talking. I do find it bulky – the band is kinda extra wide, too, and so long it wraps all the way around and I should trim it but never have. My small wrists combined with not wearing a watch often so it feels huge when on – but it’s gear for a purpose and hasn’t had any problems and I truly do not notice the perceived bulk while running. It is filthy currently, as seen in the photo, but that’s on me except that the band had these ridges underneath that I need to get a brush to clean and it’s unfortunate.

All-day Wear with Samsung Fit2

Samsung Fit2 and Polar M400 on my wrist
Samsung Fit2 and Polar M400

Anyhow, when I starting doing exercise from home Q2 2020 because, you know, Covid-19, I decided it might be fun to have a tracker. I love stats but also don’t care about them outside of right after the activity: I love the quick post-workout run down. Otherwise, it’s just calendar tracking which I still do on paper, too, since I print out calendars for work already. Helps me to see schedule, rest days, what strength training I did, etc. To that end, I bought a Samsung Fit. It’s basically a kind of Fitbit thing: tiny at under 19mm wide, no GPS, easy to track workouts and steps, does have heart rate which is useful for HIIT, and battery lasts a long time so I am able to leave the thing on *all the time* which offers sleep stats (but I found these questionable and pointless so I don’t look anymore). It does get phone alerts which allows me to ignore things that aren’t important and avoid getting lost in the phone too much. I upgraded to the Fit2 which gave a slightly larger usable screen while only being functionally a little taller. A physical button was lost, and sometimes the touch-only screen stops a workout if it touches my back or something else, but it’s rare and the battery life on this thing is incredible. I can do daily workouts of 45-60 minutes, go on a multi-day backpacking trip, and it still has juice for days. It also charges crazy fast, easy to do when I sit at work for a few minutes every few weeks. The old Fit is here, but dormant, as I just got used to this new one and just love it. Software updates have improved at lot and it accurately auto tracks walks and runs. It’s a pretty good guess for distance, too. <3

Research Led Me To Garmin

On my quest to find a smaller GPS watch I ended up back at Garmin, which I do use already: I carry a handheld unit for hiking and backpacking. Those units have battery power for an entire day at least. I had the 64 and it was very accurate, bullet proof, and I needed nightly charging. I just switched it out for the new 66 mostly because I was ready to starting using Satellite for emergency help back up and for my loved ones to track me (monthly only when needed). The 66 is having fairly significant distance issues: in-unit is overestimating by enough to bother me but when I sync up at their website, the elevation chart is accurate and ends long before the summary so with every single recording I check the chart and edit the distance on the main stat. I have been with customer service about it, it doesn’t matter. The 64 had no such problems. The 64 unit used GPS and GLONASS and GALILEO. The 66 unit could get the same 3 plus more, but for the InReach capabilities the antennae set up cannot handle it so it’s GPS and GALILEO only. I think it also tracks some statistics different due to a barometric altimeter as I am finding elevation stats also way off. Some settings have gotten this better, but it is absolutely nowhere near as accurate as the 64 was. I might find myself 30 feet off on the maps, but now the distance and elevation stats are significantly wrong. The screen is far better and the battery life is outstanding, but I’m fairly upset at the lower accuracy compared to cost. ANYHOW, the point is that I am coming in angry to another Garmin device.

Samsung Fit2 and Garmin Venu Sq on my wrist
Samsung Fit2 and Garmin Venu Sq

Back to the watch part: Garmin makes “women” watches which basically just means they are smaller and, arguably, more cute. I found their color selection very boring: white with gold (ew), lilac (no to pastels), and grey (better than black, I guess). Zero fun colors. I did consider a “kids” one but those lacked features, I think.

The round faces were, just like the Samsung Watch4, 40mm, which I still find too wide. Good news, though, as the Venu comes in a square variant, also drastically on sale (ie. on the way out) and it’s a bit thinner. It’s good looking, IMO, but the touch screen wants my attention and I’d rather use buttons while running or hiking: my hands are sweaty and dirty so having to go without buttons is very annoying and works less often. There are buttons, but it seems to want other input for a lot of things – the physical buttons just don’t always do what I’d like them to so forced to touch the screen to change screens and make choices. I also thought being in the Garmin ecosphere might be good since I was already there for hiking, but… more on that later.

My Review: Garmin Venu Sq vs Polar M400

Size & Looks – GPS winner is Garmin.

For reference of what I like for all-day wear, the Samsung Fit2 is 46.6mm high x 18.6mm wide x 11.1mm tall, touch-only, an underneath band setup so no bits poke out, and it’s a fun, bright red color. The charger is like an inch long, lol, and is snap in (the first gen was is also a custom cradle, but is an un-fidgety magnetic grasp and the cord is long).

Polar M400 is 50mm high x 38mm wide x 12mm tall, the band is effectively as wide which is big for me, the band is long and really sticks out the other end which sometimes catches on things, it’s just solid black, I don’t like how big and black it is. To be fair, during activity I don’t really care, but no way I’d wear this thing all day. Very rugged: it can take a beating. Micro USB to charge, a cord I have for a lot of things like cameras and the Garmin handheld.

Garmin Venu Sq is 40.6mm high x 37mm wide x 11.5mm tall, it’s a generic grey that doesn’t offend or ask for attention, the band is thinner / standard at 20mm and is still long but not so much it catches on things, the screen is touch and wants to function that way for most things leaving the 2 buttons not doing much which is difficult during activity, it just *feels* smaller than the Polar M400, though almost seems too delicate for rough use, which is better for looks but unsure about what happens if branches hit it or I bump a rock. The cord connection is completely proprietary: I hate that!

In-Watch Functionality – Tie

Polar M400’s screen is simple in black and white with large letters that stay visible so very easy to read during a run. With no touch screen, the four physical buttons are so easy to start, manage, and end activity. I love how it works, I love being able to show four stats of my choosing that I can read easy without pausing my run to inspect and how easy it is to get to other screens with more stats. No heart rate integrated and it does kinda have a clunky old tech feel to it. I have never had a problem operating it, but there is only a small beep and sometimes I cannot hear it. Gets GPS real, real fast on clear days. The battery life on 9 mile was good, lots left.

Garmin Venu Sq doesn’t seem to offer the same screen settings (not all the stats I wanted on one view) and I often think the font is too light, but the screen is super bright so it’s still easy to see. Integrated heart rate, if you are into that, plus an oximeter and generally it feels modern. It is also basically a smart watch, so will get alerts to let you avoid picking up the phone, and it vibrates so I can feel each split and never miss passing a mile. Took a bit longer to lock onto GPS, but not enough longer to matter. Battery was similar to the Polar, I think it got a bit less once I was near my phone – the whole “smart watch” thing sucks juice. But does it have to? The Fit2 does the same thing: I get notices from every dang thing on my phone on that wee band, do workouts daily, and its battery lasts forever.

Accuracy – Polar wins and, to me, it isn’t even close

As I mentioned in my long, meandering intro, I did come in biased as the new handheld Garmin has accuracy problems during use, but I have brought all three watches on 3 trips: two 1 mile walks and one 9 mile hike/run and every single time the Garmin is over. And not just against the Polar, but also the non-GPS Fit2, which is only guessing based on steps (pedometer). First 1 mile walk: Garmin says 1.07, Fit2 guessed 1.02. Second 1 mile walk: Garmin says 1.04, Fit2 guessed 1.01. 9 mile hike/run: Garmin says 9.24, Fit2 guessed 8.88.

I know these paths, I can build them with Google Maps or add up known park trail lengths, the Polar is accurate, the Garmin is not. If we look at the two maps screens zoomed in to an area of the 9 miler from today (below), it’s easy to see the accuracy of Garmin isn’t at all the caliber of Polar. The lines vary, not tight like Polar. This will not matter if you are 10k or less – it’s close enough – but I am glad I was using Polar while training for that half-marathon! I continue not trust Garmin for long runs and hikes. Also, I wouldn’t want to pay *hundreds* of dollars for a high-end watch, like I did with the handheld 66i, and have it not be this accurate. I can’t say whether this is unique to the more lifestyle-y Venu or not, but since the handheld also has problems, I can say I’m getting fairly upset with new Garmin devices at this point.

The cadence on all three varied wildly so it’s impossible for me to say which is accurate unless I manually count, too, which I will never do. First 1 mile walk: Garmin says 99 avg/132 max, Polar 102/120, Fit2 95/109. Second 1 mile walk: Garmin says 96/133, Polar 102/112, Fit2 99/144. 9 mile hike/run: Garmin says 120/178, Polar 130/208, Fit2 118/161. This tells me these stats are generalized. The Garmin seemed more believable on the long one, and the averages on walks seem correct, but it’s max’s were too high on the walk. I don’t know what to think about the others – but I have used Polar cadence to try to move my legs faster vs just loping along and during a run it seems accurate – ie. looking down from time to time seems to work… EDITED to add link to comparison tool: even the elevation chart on Garmin is not smooth, which is wrong. )-:

Websites – Polar wins, easily, but could be preference

The dashboard for Garmin is far to messy for me, and even with the handheld I thought this. Polar’s calendar dashboard is a dream for me: easy to see all the recent activities, tiny summary, all space used. Garmin had left over white space, I could add a calendar widget but that doesn’t show activities at all! It just wants to hook into my personal calendar. LLLAAAAMMME

The activity page is much the same: Garmin has it all, but the right side space is wasted, it’s all spaced out so there is more scrolling. I far prefer the condensed view, with option to see more, on the Polar page.

Bottom line: I wish Polar was easier on the eye and much smaller, but I’m selling the Garmin because for GPS accuracy is king

I want to keep the Garmin Venu Sq because the form factor is superior for me. I can get used to website differences and using a touch screen on the watch face. I’m sure there are settings I just don’t know about to fix some watch style issues and screen data. But, man, I just can’t with that accuracy. It just falls farther and farther behind as the miles stack up. I have no idea what that is about, but I have to guess that software and methods of processing data are just way, way better on Polar. Honestly, a ton of people that use other GPS watches still buy the Polar chest straps for heart rate monitoring, which proves some of their gear is just way better for accuracy on key metrics.

I am about to resell the Garmin to make a few bucks back, but I do want to have one more outing after I spend time with some settings. I do NOT like that you have to dig in to get Garmin accuracy better: I don’t feel like Polar or Samsung are like that at all. Polar just works – the only settings I dug into was watch faces and that has a website interface that makes it sooooo easy. Never had to monkey with it to get GPS to work better. /-:

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.

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