Category Archives: Trip Reports

Kibbie and Many Island Lakes

This was our first backpack outing of the year.  We usually do an easy one for our first trip of the year to dust off all the gear.   This trip is perfect for that.  It’s only 4.3 miles into Kibbie Lake with a mere 650 feet of climbing, and most of that climbing is in the first 1.3 miles.   Of course the area is gorgeous so it’s not a waste of time.

Kibbie Lake is in the northwest quadrant of Yosemite Park.  Unfortunately, that area had been ravaged by the Rim Fire back in August of 2013.  This was an unbelievably huge fire.   It was big news back then.  But we had no idea just how huge it was until we drove through a chunk of it on our way to the Kibbie Lake trailhead near Cherry Lake.  Fortunately, the Kibbie Lake area was beyond the northern reach of the fire (barely) so the fire damage we saw was from older fires.

Our trip had three parts.  Day 1 was the drive to the trailhead and the hike into Kibbie Lake.  Day 2 was what turned out to be a fairly aggressive day hike (15 miles with say about 10 miles being cross country).  And then Day 3 was the hike out and a side trip to see the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (which neither of us had seen before).

The hike in wasn’t really notable so I won’t spend much time on it here.  The terrain for the hike in is a fairly steep climb until the trail junction.  As I said, you gain about 650 feet in 1.3 miles.  After that it’s flattish with some ups and downs.  There wasn’t really any water to speak of so bring what you need from the trail head.

Once you arrive at Kibbie Lake, you’ll immediately see some flat areas right next to the lake.  These are nice of course.  However they’re almost right on the trail coming into the lake and they’re closely packed together.  So unless you like the company of other nearby hikers, and are okay with incoming backpackers tromping through your camp, I’d suggest moving on.  That’s what we did.  There are LOTS of great sites on the west side of the lake.  The only difficult part (and it’s not that difficult) is to find your way across the outlet of Kibbie Lake to get over to the west side.  Once you do that, just pick yer spot.

Next day we set off on what turned out to be a pretty damn awesome day hike.  We had no goal really.  I had a buncha boxes I wanted to check off.  But since I’m such a lazy ass, I didn’t really expect to actually check off any of em.

  1. I wanted to hike along the Kibbie Ridge Trail to see what that was like.  (Turns out that it’s not that bad.  Certainly not as tough as the first 1.3 miles in.).
  2. I wanted to find the Sache Spring.
  3. I wanted to look out over the rim of the Cherry Creek Canyon.
  4. I wanted to go to Many Island Lake.

As it turns out… we were able to do all of these things… And they were ALL awesome.

The Kibbie Ridge Trail, while not overwhelming, got better and better as we climbed higher, and is a pretty descent trail.

And Sache Spring was simply amazing.  The water was cold but not too cold.  And it tasted SO good.  I’ve never had water that tasted like that.  I usually don’t care much for the taste of water, but I easily drank about 60 oz. while standing there.  It was like a little oasis around the spring too.  No sign though.  So except for all the nearby greenery, you could walk right by it.  It’s a little bit off the trail so be on the lookout.

Then later I got to look out over the rim of Cherry Creek Canyon.  The trail doesn’t go along the edge so you have to hike say a half mile to get there.  You can see the detour on the topo.  I took a buncha pictures.  Go to our additional pictures link to see more than you need to see.  It was just that awesome.

Then we hiked a bit further along the trail and at what we thought was the appropriate time departed the trail to cut over to Many Island Lake.  That lake is awesome.  If I were going to design a lake, that’s pretty much the lake I would design.  It’s kinda perfect.  Again, check out the pictures to see what I mean.  And the coolest thing is that it’s hard to get to and hardly anyone knows about it.  We saw no signs of humans.  We totally had the whole place to ourselves.  We’re probably gonna go there again someday but this time stay the night.

Now the only part left was to get back to our camp three or four miles away and something like 1300 foot descent back to Kibbie Lake level.  The first 3/4s of that distance was smooth sailing over granite.  But then there was the brush.  Oy!  While it’s not impenetrable (we demonstrated that cuz we got through it),  it’s the next closest thing to impenetrable.

At last we made it back to our campsite, made a quick dinner and collapsed into our sleeping bags.

Next day we hiked out.


Climbing El Sombroso and Bald Mountain

Road zig zagging up to the top which is the high point at the upper left of the photo

Road zig zagging up to the top which is the high point at the upper left of the photo

Type of hike: Out and Back

Difficulty: 6 – Route is entirely on old road, but steep in places

Trail grade: A bit of a climb at first followed by about a 700 foot decent down to where the Baldwin Trail joins the Woods Trail.  After crossing  Rincon Creek and Guadalupe Creek, the trail climbs from about 1700 feet to 3000 feet at the top of El Sombroso.

Trail use: A few people… more when we joined up with Woods Trail

Highest elevation: ~3,008 at top of El Sombroso.  We parked at 2,328′.

Total climbing: 2,603′ but that included climbing a hundred feet or so to get up Bald Mountain.

Round trip distance: 12.1 miles including 1.4 miles round trip to Bald Mountain

How long: About 4 hrs 30 minutes

Quality of views: Pretty awesome… gotta be at least a 9.  The top of El Sombroso was disappointing though.  Hard to see anything because of all the brush.  But there were places where there were views of the entire Bay Area … and then there are almost constant views of Mt. Umunhum.

Weather conditions when we did it: Sunny, 70 degrees-ish, mostly clear ‘cept for some haze

Red tape: None

Maps we used: Internet, Google Earth, Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve

Water: None – bring what you need.  There are a couple creek crossings so I guess you could pump and filter if you wanted

Restrooms: At parking lot.  Restroom was wonderfully clean


Parking: In a lovely parking lot off Mt. Umunhum Road

How to get there:  Starting at the intersection of Highway 17 and Highway 85, go south on 85 for about 2.5 miles and exit onto Camden Avenue and turn south (towards the mountains).  Go down Camden for about 2 miles and then turn right on Hicks Rd.  Follow Hicks Rd for about 7 miles, passing Guadalupe Reservoir, and up a large hill until you reach the Hicks and Mt Umunhum intersection.  Continue driving about 1.3 miles until a gate bars any more vehicular access up the road. Park here.

Now for a few of the details…

Select this link to go to lotsa pictures

This was an outing with Donna’s hiking group.  This included Joan, Anita, Judy, Tai, and Chris.  We all piled into the van for the trip to the trail head.

From the parking lot at the trailhead we decided to knock out Bald Mountain first so with lively legs we went the 0.7 miles over to the view point.  From there we had a lovely view of Guadalupe and Almaden Reservoirs.

After this short warm up, it was time to get started.

DSC01087 (2)

This hike was a bit different from most of the hikes we’ve done in that it was entirely on road.  So for the most part we just walked and talked our way to the top of El Sombrosa.  There was quite a bit of walking though… so lotsa time for talking.  However, besides being long, the road was steep in places.  And of course all the heavy breathing had an impact on a the talking.

Anyway, we eventually arrived at the top.  Kinda weird top though.  Power lines ran right over the peak.  That and the fact that we had never left the road took some of the adventure out of the outing.  But the views were stunning.  And we were in good company.

We stopped for lunch at a road intersection near the top….  Checked out the views for a while… And then headed back the way we came.  On our way down, since we were now facing that way, it was very noticeable that we could see the van off in the distance, parked at the Bald Mountain parking lot.

DSC01164 (1)

And all the while the cube at the top of Mt. Umunhum sat brooding above us.  The trail basically wraps around the eastern side of Mt. Umunhum so the cube was almost always visible.

It was a very pleasant outing.

Hike – Boronda Ridge Loop


First – Nuthin’ but the facts…

Boronda - Deangulo

Zoomed out to show that this hike is about 30 miles south of the Monterey Penninsula

Type of hike: Loop
Difficulty: 9 – I suppose it could be harder somehow
Trail grade: Boronda is say a 7 until Timber Top – dirt road for 2 miles  – then de Angulo Trail is say a 3 – 4.  Overgrown with treefall – described below.  We felt extremely lucky that there actually WAS a trail though.  Thank you Jimmy and Kim Chi for resurrecting it.
Trail use: Hardly anyone on the trail – We saw people but it was Easter weekend.
Highest elevation: ~3,263 at top of de Angulo.  Timber Top is 3,060.  Highway 1, where we parked, is about 580′
Total climbing: 3152′
Round trip distance: 10.6 miles (1.4 along Hwy 1 to Boronda TH, 3.0 to Timber Top, 2.2 along Coast Ridge Road and 3.3 down de Angulo plus a little bit)
How long: About 4 hrs 40 minutes not including time eating lunch at Timber Top
Quality of views: Pretty astounding… gotta be a 10.  If it’s not a 10, what could a ten possibly be?

Weather conditions when we did it: Sunny, 70 degrees-ish, mostly clear ‘cept for some sea haze and fog in the distance
Red tape: Absolutely none
Maps we used: Green Trails Big Sur Ventana Wilderness but mostly Robert Stone’s book Big Sur
Water: None – bring what you need
Restrooms: None
Parking: Only parking is on the side of Hwy 1 in turnouts

How to get there:
From Santa Cruz, take Highway 1 through Carmel.   Proceed down the coast another 27 miles to the Big Sur Ranger Station.  From there, go another 5.3 miles where you’ll find turnouts.  This is the Boronda Trail trail head.  The trailhead is behind a green gate on the inland side of the road.  There is also a cattle chute and some signage plainly visible.

Another 1.45 miles down further south are another set of turnouts, and another green gate to a road.  This road goes into a ramshackle neighborhood.  If you park here (this is where we parked), park along the highway outside the gate.  This is where we came out from the de Angulo Trail.

Now for the details…   Additional pictures

Donna and I have been trying to do more in the Big Sur area.  And as I’ve said elsewhere, we like to hike loops.  Well actually, I prefer loops and Donna humors me.  She does lots of ‘out and backs’ when she’s out with other folks and doesn’t have to deal with my nonsense.  Anyway… this is a loop.  Kind of a tough loop but still a loop.

Our overall plan was to park at the base of the de Angulo Trail, then walk along Hwy 1 until we reached the Boronda Trail trailhead.  From there we’d climb Boronda, have lunch at Timber Top camp.  Then make our way south along the Coast Ridge Road until reaching the top of the de Angulo Trail.  From there we descend back to the car via de Angulo for a total of about 10 miles (10.6 by GPS).

We chose to park at the base of the de Angulo Trail cuz we wanted to use the easy beginning of walking along the highway as a warm up before doing the climb.  We also rightfully predicted that we’d be pretty hammered from the hike that all we’d want to do at the end of the de Angulo Trail was climb into the nice comfy car without having to endure an additional 1.5 mile walk in traffic on Hwy 1 to get back to the car.  Turns out this was some good thinking.

So off we went.  After walking the on and a half miles along the highway to get to the base of Boronda, we started the climb.

The climb is pretty steady, relentless really.  For the most part the trail is an old ranch road that was clearly used for transporting farm animals back in the day.  The grade ranges from flat to more than 30% (by GPS).  The views are constant and get more and more stunning as you go up.  Sooner than you’d expect,  you notice the sound of the highway has completely disappeared.  There’s just the wind, which seemed to build as we got higher.  Of course this could also have been because the wind just got stronger as the day wore on.

The 2,500 foot climb up to Timber Top covers almost exactly 3.0 miles (for an average grade of about 16%).  We did this in late March and the grass was so green that it almost hurt to look at it.  The wildflowers were everywhere, and thick.  Everything was lush.  So we had plenty to distract us from our suffering as we trudged upward.  Donna was in heaven with all the blooming wildflowers.  Her borderline rapture  She took lotsa pictures so she could identify them later when we got home.  This was good for me cuz with all the picture taking, I was managing to keep up with her.  I just kept walking as she took pictures of the flowers that we passed.  The flowers were really pretty amazing though.  Even a cretin like me couldn’t help but be amazed.


One thing about this climb that makes it special…  After about say 1000 feet of climbing up this bluff…


…the trail then goes along this long, grassy ‘arm’ or bluff almost all the rest of the way to the top.  It’s very unusual and only adds to the wonder of it all.  And of course it was especially amazing because everything was so incredibly green.  I’m a little troubled cuz the photos here just didn’t capture the deep green that we could see with our eyes.  I guess it may be time for a little Photoshopping.

Eventually we arrived at Timber Top.  Not sure what the history of this camp is but if I find out, I’ll update this blog post accordingly.  Crazy as it seemed, there was zero flat ground anywhere for the entire two hours of our climb, but suddenly here was a very pleasant place to camp.  Only problem was that you gotta climb 2500 feet with a pack on to get to it.  Timber Top is at 3060 feet… and yes it really is true, I do keep carrying on about the elevation.  But if you had climbed all the way up there, I’m betting you would mention it once or twice too.  My body got a pretty good reminder that 2500 feet of climbing is non-trivial.  Anyway, the camp has a picnic table, a barbecue stand (stove in the parlance of the Ventana Wilderness), a fire pit, and even some nasty water… but most importantly, lots of luxurious flat ground.  And of course the views continued to be absolutely astounding.

We ate lunch and rested a bit.   Then we were off onto the Coast Ridge Road to get over to the de Angulo Trail.  You’d think that finding the road would be easy… but it wasn’t.  We were a bit tired from the climb so we were trying to minimize our walking to find the road.  Our search grid wasn’t very big.   I could go into why it was a puzzle but that would likely be tiresome to read.  I’ll just say that at last we figured out where it was so we could start walking (hobbling… I was getting tired and my foot hurt) to the next trail head.  Previously, I had fantasized that the road would offer astounding views of the coastline.  After all it is on a ridge top overlooking the Big Sur coastline.   However on the section we walked, it does not.  It’s tucked into the ridge on the inland side of the ridge, not on the ocean side.  We did however have an amazing view of the northern most mountains of Ventana Wilderness area.

Now that we were on the road…

…the goin’ was pretty easy.   Since it was our first time on this route, our biggest concern was finding the top of the DeAngulo Trail so we could get back to the car.  We didn’t want to just walk by it on the road, so no matter how miserable I was feeling, I had to stay ‘heads up’.   From the Robert Stone book, we were expecting to walk say 1.8 miles.  We got to 1.8 miles from Timber Top, and no de Angulo Trail… Robert Stone had been spot on with his mileage notes so far so I was starting to worry a little.  We didn’t see anything though so we kept walking… Of course we eventually came upon it in logically the right location.  Just a bit further than 1.8 miles.

The descent down the de Angulo was horrific.  A combination of factors made it pretty unpleasant.  First my foot was bothering me, and we were tired.  The descent was pretty steep and steep descents aren’t any fun.  I knew Donna wasn’t feeling much better.  Neither of these factors helped…  The descent was steep and went on for 2,500 feet with an average 15% grade.  But sometimes there was a  little uphill only to be countered by a stretch of 20 – 35% grade.  Tough on the ole quads… I was losing my sense of humor.

But the views continued to be phenomenal, even though I was getting to be too uncomfortable to properly enjoy them.

On the way down we ran into this guy doing trail work… His name was/is Jimmy.  He told us that he and his wife had pretty much single handedly brought the trail back from the dead after it was nearly destroyed in one of the Big Sur fires.  They had scratched it back out of the side of the hills all to honor the legacy of Jaime de Angulo, a local legend (Jaime de Angulo wiki).   After coming off Boronda, and then the Coast Ridge Road, this trail seemed pretty rough though, and of course I was sniveling.  However it soon became clear that there were some genuine heroics behind the maintenance of this trail.  It was obvious that it literally had been clawed back from the dead after the fires.  So now I want to say a big THANK YOU to Jimmy and his wife, Kim Chi for doing all this for us.  I wish I had gotten a picture of Jimmy but when we talking I just didn’t think of it.

Now then… not gonna lie, the trail WAS overgrown… in places with poison oak… and it was the juiciest poison oak that you’ve ever seen.  The leaves just glistened.  Oy!  AND… there were LOTS of ticks… I’d never had so many ticks on me.  Donna and I were flickin’ em off each other right and left.  It was like there was a tick hatchery nearby just spewing em out.   I’m sure this isn’t a permanent situation… but it was a real concern.

We met another guy along the trail… Richard.


He was on his way up the road to fetch some sheep he had left to graze up higher…

Room with a view

Richard was very friendly and pleasant to chat with.  He told us more than we could absorb about the local history.  Finally, Richard had to tend to the sheep and we had to get a move on back to our car so we parted company.  We still had about a half mile to go down the hill… ouch!

And then we were back at the road.  Getting back to the car felt unbelievably good,  and that was only to be exceeded by how good the shower felt when we got home.

Additional pictures


Buzzard’s Roost on a Rainy Day

Buzzard's Roost

First – Nuthin’ but the facts…

Type of hike: Out and back
Difficulty: 6 – (climbing but well graded on nice trail and relatively short)
Trail grade: 9 ‘cept for near the top… becomes say a 5 with a little bouldering
Trail use: Hardly anyone on the trail but it was raining
Highest elevation: ~2150  (starts at 1000′)
Total climbing: 1238′
Round trip distance: 4.4 miles
How long: About 2 1/2 hours including time at the top
Quality of views: Cloudy… no view but I’m sure it’s awesome

Weather conditions when we did it: Rainy, windy,
Red tape: $10 State Park Day Use pass unless you have one of these cool passes
Maps we used: Green Trails and State Park Map
Water: Bring what you need
Restrooms: Bathrooms at park headquarters
Parking: Yes – however on a normal day, Big Basin is very crowded so go early.  After lots are full, you will have to wait until someone leaves.

How to get there:
From Santa Cruz, take Highway 9 to Boulder Creek.  Then left onto 236.  Stay on 236 until you arrive at the park.

Now for what happened on our junket… Additional pictures

So… what were WE thinking?!  It was raining… and had BEEN raining for quite some time… We were still wanting to get out and do something though.  A few ideas were batted around… Fall Creek?  Henry Cowell?  Our usual local hikes?  No, let’s do something different.  We had just gotten a Limited Use Golden Bear Pass and were dyin’ to use it… so I came up with the genius idea of going to Big Basin and hike to Buzzard’s Roost… Did I mention that it was raining?.. As the name sort of implies, it’s kind of a view point.  But it hardly even occurred to me that the view might not be all that great on a rainy day… But like I said, we were pretty desperate to get out, so off we went.

The Limited Use Golden Bear Pass is a fun pass to have cuz with it, it’s free to use the California state parks nine months out of the year…  We’d never used it before so I wasn’t sure what to do.   But once we got to the park, I just showed em the pass and they cheerfully gave me a little ticket to put on my windshield… Wow!  It actually worked!  And it was easy.   No muss, no fuss… no additional fees.  Sah-weeet!  And since it was raining, we were among the few who ventured into the park so there was lots of parking to choose from.  Usually parking at Big Basin is a bitch.

Now for the hike… Well like I said, it was raining… pretty hard actually… Donna usually wears a poncho when it’s raining so that’s what she put on.  DSC00889I like ponchos too, but recently I’ve been playing around with using an umbrella for hiking in the rain.  So I went with that but carried my poncho just in case.

There are a labyrinth of trails in Big Basin so we carefully wove our way through the various intersections to get to our trail up to Buzzard’s Roost… hmmm… probably would be nice to tell you here which trails to use to get to the one that takes you to the top, huh?  But I wasn’t really paying attention.  We just used the map they gave us and figured it out.  Next time we do this (and there will be a next time), I’ll take notes and update this post with the information.  Sorry… All I can say for now is to be careful with your navigation.  There are lots of choices.   It’s probably easier than I’m making it sound but it was harder than I expected.

Anyway… once we crossed the Blossom Creek Bridge, we were mostly on our way.  DSC00851





Not long after the creek crossing the trail starts relentlessly up… and up … and up.  But as ‘ups’ go, it’s an okay kinda up.  The trail is well graded.  I was guessing at a pretty steady 10%.  But that’s an average.

The trail is very nice until you get near the top… within a few hundred feet of elevation from the high point, the trail goes from a pleasant, duffy, flat surface to being pretty rocky and uneven.  And there are also a couple points where you literally have to rock climb… pretty minor rock climbing but still, it’s not actually hiking anymore.  I think it would have been pretty easy if the rock were dry.  There would have been plenty of traction.  But we were climbing this rock in the rain.  Both our sphincters were a little puckered at times as we made our way up.

Finally we made it to the actual Roost.

It’s pretty cool up there.  We were trying to imagine the views.  I’m sure we could have seen the ocean, and had a view of Big Basin park headquarters, Eagle Rock, maybe Chalk Mountain… and who knows what else.  But not today…


We didn’t  stay on the top all that long cuz even though it wasn’t raining much at that moment, the wind was blowin’ us around and we were both getting cold.

This is an ‘out and back’ so goin’ back was the same as the way up ‘cept easier.  It started raining again though so out came the umbrella… Was totally dumping when we got back to the car.  A nice warm shower felt heavenly when we got home.

Alamere Falls – Hike

Type of hike: Out and back
Difficulty: 5
Trail grade: 9
Trail use: Extremely crowded!
Highest elevation: ~570′
Total climbing: 2000′
Round trip distance: 11.5 miles but this includes side trips
How long: About 8 hours but that also included side trips, and lunch
Quality of views: 8+

Weather conditions when we did it: Clear and warmish
Red tape: None
Maps we used: Mostly Tom Harrison and the Hiking Marin book
Water: None – bring all that you need
Restrooms: Outhouses in parking lot but no water
Parking: Yes – however VERY crowded – go early to get parking in the lot otherwise parking is alongside road with the additional hiking required to get to and from your car.

How to get there:
From Santa Cruz, take 17 to 85 then 85 to 280…  and finally 280 to San Francisco.  Proceed through the city however you like to get to the Golden Gate Bridge.  Cross the bridge and a mile or so after the Rainbow Tunnel, exit 101 onto Highway 1 where it exits at the bottom of the hill.  Take Highway 1 for what seems like forever on a hyper curvy road to Stinson Beach.  And then go another 4.5 miles beyond Stinson and take a left onto the possibly unmarked turnoff into Bolinas.  Continue 1.7 miles and then turn right onto Mesa Road.  Follow Mesa Road all the way to where it ends at the Palomarin Trailhead.  The road turns to gravel at some point.  Beware of super huge potholes.  Oh and special note… when we were leaving for the day, we saw that cars were parked all the way out from the parking lot, along the road to just about where the road turned to gravel!  Maybe a mile… If you ended up parking there, this would add significantly to your hike… so GO EARLY.  We arrived at the parking lot at 9:30 AM and the main lot near the bathrooms was already full.  I guess from there, cars just kept parking along the road as they arrived.

Pt Reyes Map
Where the trails fit in the grand scheme of things…
Alamere Falls
Our hike

Hike description: Additional pictures

It’s almost exactly 4 miles from the Palomarin parking lot to the trail branching off that goes to Alamere Falls… Then this trail goes toward the beach for about a half mile or so before you arrive at the falls… that means that if you’re just going to the falls then this is about a nine mile day round trip… plus whatever you end up hiking to get to and from your car.

However… the mileage on our junket was longer… first we kinda overshot our exit off the main trail (“Coast Trail”) to the beach and the falls and didn’t figure it out until we had gone an additional half mile or so extra.  And then besides going to the falls, we also included an excursion up to Double Point.  This turned out to be my favorite part of the trip but it did add to our total mileage.  So by our GPSs, our final mileage was about 11.5 miles round trip.  A good 2.5 miles further than you would go if you did everything right.

Now then… I just can’t go any further without carrying on a bit about how crowded it was.  When Donna and I hike, we mostly go to places where there aren’t many people.  Not by design necessarily, it just kinda happens that way.  And, not gonna lie, I guess I kinda prefer it that way too.  But it’s never been much of an issue.  But from that you can imagine my shock when upon arriving at the parking lot, at what I thought was pretty damn early (we left our house in Scotts Valley around seven and arrived at the Palomarin trailhead parking lot at 9:30 or so), the lot was already completely full?!  We ended up among the last people to get to park in the lot.  After that folks were being directed to park along the road.  An already harried National Park Service employee indicated a spot for us to leave the mini-van.  She was very friendly but didn’t have a lot of time to chit chat.  Turns out that we were among the lucky ones.  When we drove out that night, cars were parked on the side of the road all the way to where the gravel road ended… that must have been at least a mile.  That’s adding another two miles (round trip) to the hike for the folks who had to park out there.  Anyway… I’m getting carried away about the parking… So to cut to the chase… GO EARLY!

All day we were buffeted by this mass of humanity.  It was UNBELIEVABLE!  I was stricken.  I guess it kinda makes sense though… I mean we’re less than an hour of drive time from San Francisco, on a lovely day… and the falls are kind of a phenomenal natural feature.  But the teeming hordes was a bit of a shock to my fragile little system… took me awhile to adjust, get my legs under me and figure out how to enjoy the day.  So the moral of the story is… like I said… GO EARLY!

Okay… I’ll quit carrying on about the crowds… on to the reason all those people were there…

It’s just an absolutely AWESOME place to be… simple as that.  From the parking lot, after passing through a grove of some seriously fragrant eucalyptus trees, the trail starts off roughly paralleling the ocean.  So fairly quickly you get views of The Farallons off on the horizon.  I’m always pleased when I get to see these islands, because conditions don’t often permit it.  But there they were…

The Farallon Islands about thirty miles away. This photo tested the limits of the telephoto lens on my humble ‘point and shoot’ camera.
Takin’ in the view

After say a mile or so, the trail turns abruptly inland and begins to gain some elevation reaching around 570 feet.  This is the highest we got including our climb up to Double Point.

DSC00711  The trail is mostly under tree cover.  Which was welcome because you’re climbing.  It’s so lush in places… the greens almost hurt to look at.

After awhile we started passing some small coastal lakes, followed by the larger Bass Lake…

Bass Lake

And then Pelican Lake…

Pelican Lake

This is where the wheels started wobbling… Somewhere amongst the mass of people was this seriously graffitied sign that identified the trail to Alamere Falls…


So we missed it… and instead of stopping and turning down this trail to Alamere Falls, we kept rolling down the Coast Trail until we came to a fork in the trail… Ocean Lake Loop goes left and the trail to Wildcat right… Hmmmm… we didn’t expect this fork.  It was then that we remembered a clump of people about a half mile back that was probably the Alamere Falls exit that we were looking for… We (well actually ‘I’) thought, what the Hell, we’ll just go down this Ocean Lake Loop trail, maybe find a way to the beach and walk back along the beach to the falls.   Well, I guess that wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had.  Our access to the beach was blocked by this cliff down to the beach that just seemed to sketchy to negotiate… Eventually we turned around and made our way back to the actual trail.  Sigh… I don’t think I was doing very well in the popularity polls at that point.

Finally we arrived back at the trail down to Alamere Falls.  Of course the trail was crowded and weaved it’s way down to the beach through masses of bushes, vines and way too much poison oak.  We’re so screwed… I hate getting poison oak and now we’ve all got it for sure.  Eventually we came out to the overlook above the falls… we made it!… we were here!   Hmmm…  we still had to get down to the falls though.  Seems like that part would be trivial… but here was the same kind of cliff we had already encountered further down the trail.  There WAS a trail though.  But it was still gonna be an ordeal to get down there.

Just to orient you… There are three levels: the level that we had just come out onto, then there’s the next level down to where the pools were, and then down to the beach level where the big falls came down.  These levels were connected by steep gullies that the mass of hikers would descend through.  Each one was narrow, allowing only one hiker through at a time.  So sometimes a bit of negotiation was required.

Gettin’ down to the beach is kinda crazy….

However, once you’re down on the beach, it’s pretty cool.  And here we were at the famous falls…


Jack and Donna in front of the falls

We hung out on the beach for a while… it was a gorgeous day, there was lots to look at, but it was a complete circus… there were folks rappelling and then rock climbing back up the falls, there were women doing their mysterious duck faces (does anyone know what that’s all about?) while standing under the falls with their over indulgent boyfriends taking pictures of them, there was a drone flying around, kids playing in the creek, guys doing yoga on the beach (really?!)… but mostly there were folks … lots and lotsa folks just standing around doing what we were doing, i.e. taking photos and looking at the falls… it was difficult to tear ourselves away from all this.

However, we still had a lot of hiking to do before headin’ home so better not dilly dally too long… time to get a move on….

However, when we turned to move toward the crevice in the cliff, that’s when we saw what we had to do to get back up off the beach… besides climbing back up the cliff, there was actually a line… a long line… to climb up to the next level.  Seriously!?  This was getting to be a bit like Disneyland.  I wondered where the ‘2 hours to go’ sign was.

Here we are taking our place at the end of the line


As we moved forward in the line, we had a lot of time to watch the process.  It was pretty cool how it was working out.  Imagine a one lane road.  Only cars going one direction can proceed at a given time. Then the flow mysteriously reverses and cars start going the other way.  But in this case there was no sign guy.  There was only our senses of fair play that governed.  So here folks would make their way down, then some negotiation would take place and the flow would switch to allow people going up.  This would go on for a while then more negotiations… the flow would then switch to go the opposite way.  It was amazing to see this ad hoc ‘system’ actually work.  Donald Trump notwithstanding, who says that we in the United States are a bunch of selfish, boneheads?  My faith in humanity got a big shot in the arm as I watched this.  Finally, I had to break away from being fascinated though… It was our turn.  Must focus or risk embarrassing myself…


Turns out that I’m pretty reasonable I guess… When Jack and I got to the point where the line turned right in the picture above, we stopped and left a gap so the folks going down could get down… they had been waiting pretty long… and the flow reversed.  Aren’t we just the nicest guys?

Eventually we made it through the labyrinth to the overlook above the falls (top level), and back through the tunnel of poison oak to the main trail.  Next stop… Double Point.

Double Point is an overlook about 500 feet above the ocean.  We never did decide what the name ‘Double Point’ referred to.  Was it the point we were climbing?  Or was it the one further south?Was it both?  Or was it the cove in between?  No idea… But getting up there was a bit of an adventure… The start of the trail was about 100 (or maybe 150) feet back (south… toward the parking lot) along the Coast Trail.  The opening to the trail is pretty easy to find… but the trail itself is something else.  Right away we (‘I’) lost sight of it (such as it was).  The trail was there.  It just wasn’t easy to distinguish from the other animal trails and channels through the bushes.  So we just made our way as best we could.  We found the trail again later but only after some serious scrambling through the bushes and poison oak.  Somehow everyone in our little group was able to remain polite to me even though I’m sure they weren’t too happy about the bush whacking.  I was expecting a mutiny at every step.  But everyone seemed as stoked as I was so I kept on.  The scramble up to the top of Double Point was wonderful in one aspect though because we were finally away from mass of humanity that had surrounded us all day.  A welcome respite… And because of that (and the views) it really was my favorite part of this whole junket.

After some determined scrambling…

…we ended up at the top.  And the views were astounding… Better than I imagined them to be.  The Farallon Islands, the end of Point Reyes, the beach below, the cove below us next to Double Point… Photos are better than words… so I included a few of them here.  I have lots more.

None of us wanted to leave… but after a while, it was time… we still had a long way to go to get home… four miles of hiking then at least three hours of driving through Sunday night traffic… oy!  Better get a move on.

An hour and half of pretty fast hiking brought us back to the parking lot… which now was relatively empty.

I had been kicking myself all day for not taking a photo of the parking lot when we first got there in the morning…. I thought the full parking lot early in the day was crazy for this outing… but that was before I saw that there were cars parked along the side of the road for something like a mile from the trailhead.  Absolutely nuts… but I guess, considering how near this wonder was to the San Francisco metropolitan area, to be expected.  Clearly, this destination is not for those who are troubled with crowds.

Another thing that I found to be pretty amazing was that here I am, a Bay Area dweller of more than 30 years (hmmmm…. make that 34 years), and I had never heard of Alamere Falls?!  Meanwhile it’s this huge attraction with easily more than a thousand people visiting it on some random Saturday in February?!  It’s been here all along and I just never knew it.  And I call myself a local?!  All I can say is WOW!  What else am I overlooking?

Chalk Mountain Climb

This is the first of the local peaks in our “Parade of Peaks” challenge that we climbed.  It’s 1609 feet high on the map.  But on the GPS we got 1643 or so.  Pretty much the same I guess.  I think we will definitely include this peak in our final list.

Type of climb: Out and back
Difficulty: 5
Trail grade: 7
Trail use: moderate on a weekend
Elevation gain: 1200′
Total climbing: 1440′
Round trip distance: 5.8 mi
How long: 2 hours 10 minutes RT
Quality of views: 8

Weather conditions when we did it: Clear
Red tape: None
Maps we used:
Water: None
Parking: Yes

How to get there:
From Santa Cruz, take Highway One for something like 22 miles, pass Waddell Beach and Ano Nuevo, then start looking to your left for an unmarked road called Whitehouse Road.  The road junction is across from a turnout off of the main highway.  Proceed up Whitehouse Road for 2.3 miles until you reach a small parking area and signs warning not to drive further along road as it is now private.  Park… Trail is obvious and heads directly up hill from road.

Hike description: Additional pictures
Redwood shaded trail climb with two viewpoints, to junction with ridge road.  Then road takes you to two more lookout points; the final being the top of Chalk Mountain.

The trail is a steep (at times over 20% grade), redwood shaded climb of 1.3 miles climb that gains almost 1000′ before joining a road. There are two view points along the trail during the climb up to the road.  First is at 0.5 miles, 900 feet.  The second is at 1.0 miles, 1200 feet.   Viewpoints are westward facing with views of the coast from Pidgeon Point to Ano Nuevo.   The trail intersects with the road at 1.3 miles and 1360 feet of elevation.  At mile point 2.0 (1570′ of elevation) there is a large turnout along road connected to a parking lot.  These are the best views of the hike looking south overlooking Ano Nuevo.   From here you can see the top of the climb to Chalk Mountain proper by looking carefully about a mile eastward along the ridge road to see an antenna nestled in the trees.  This is the summit of Chalk Mountain and is at 2.9 miles into the hike.  From here you can see into Big Basin and Mt McCabe (see write up) to the east.

After enjoying the views and using the outhouse (yes, there’s an actual outhouse at the top of Chalk Mountain) simply turn around and proceed back along the road, being careful not to miss where the trail leaves the road again at 4.4 miles.


  • The first time you do this hike, you’ll probably want to go all the way to the actual top of Chalk Mountain (especially if you need to use the outhouse).  However after seeing it once, I think you can safely stop at the first lookout and get the majority of the value out of this climb.
  • There are other ways to the top of Chalk Mountain.  For instance, you can get there from Waddell Beach.  But this is something like a 14 miler with lots of up and down.  However I’ve heard that it’s gorgeous.  If you’re looking for an ordeal, try that route.
  • For those of you who are training for say hiking in the Sierra, this climb could be used as one of those ‘workout’ type climbs. In that case you could turn around at say the trail junction with the road and have your steep 1000 feet or so of climbing… or maybe jam up to the first parking lot (1570′) along the road before turning around.   There is a negligible amount of climbing after that.


More detail… To get there, we drove up the coast through Davenport, by Greyhound Rock, etc. until we get to Ano Nuevo Park.  Just before you get to Costa Noa there’s a no name road across from a highway turn out that turns inland.  Actually it has a name… it’s just not labeled except in very tiny letters on a transformer or whatever that is, on the side of Highway 1 is the name Whitehouse Road.

We drove pretty far along the road.  Not sure how far cuz I wasn’t paying attention.  But eventually you get to the trailhead.

The parking area for the Chalk Mountain hike

The climb starts rather abruptly… you get out of the car, put on our hiking stuff… and right out of the gun barrel, the trail starts going up.  You start out at about 400 feet of elevation and in the next mile or so, you climb about a thousand feet… then in the half mile or so remaining,  you climb an additional say 200 feet to get to the first lookout.  I think this lookout is the best because you have a view of Ano Nuevo, Pigeon Point and out into the ocean.  As you climb you’re in lush, deep redwoods so it’s cool, and there are two vista points to pause at and take pictures.

Once you break out into the sunshine.  The trail starts to look a bit like the Sierras.  The redwood trees turn into shrubs and pine trees.

Then you come to a road.  It’s probably obvious but don’t go right onto the road.  According to the map, the road ends… go left, that’s where the top of the mountain is.  Oh and be sure to take note of the sign next to where the trail meets the road.  That will be your marker on the way back.  It’s easy to be talking as you walk along the road and miss the trail.   No idea what the sign says.  The writing is all sun bleached away.

Now we’re out on the roads. This is the intersection of Chalk Mountain Road (which runs along the ridge top) and Whitehouse Road

We followed the road for a little while until coming to a structure at a hairpin curve that was obviously carved out.  No idea what all these solar panels were about but the view was tremendous.

Not sure what this place was. It had lots of solar panels, a little building and a pole for Jack to climb

And Jack did a little climbing to get an even better view…

We could see the antenna at the real top of Chalk Mountain about a mile away so after some more gazing off at the view, we struck out down the road again.  Seemed like it took forever to get to the next antenna but it was a pleasant walk which followed the ridge.  Once we got there, the views were still tremendous ‘cept now we were looking inland.  Of course my preference is looking out over the ocean.

It was a very pleasant day… sunny, warmish, clear… kinda perfect. We all had things to do when we got there.  We ate, I changed my clothes into something cooler, Jack climbed another tower (this one was sturdier and higher), Donna examined the wildflowers and Kalika took a nap… oh and the outhouse at the top unexpectedly became a big attraction.

Then it was time to head back down.  Of course we took more pictures along the way.  The views continued to be pretty dialed ‘cept now we didn’t have to turn around to take it all in.

Found the junction with the trail and descended back into the redwoods.

Before this outing, I always thought of Chalk Mountain as an epic local climb.  But now I think of it more as one of the local “workout” climbs… sorta like Fall Creek has become.  It’s got this sustained, steep 1000 foot climb right from the parking lot and you’re rewarded with some awesome views so that makes it worth getting up there.  Up and back it’s about 4 miles then if you add in the trail/road over to the top of Chalk Mountain proper, it’s about 6 miles round trip.  But in the future, unless I simply gotta use the outhouse, I think I can miss the extension.



Our “Just Out Havin’ Fun” Backpacking Trip

Donna and me at the top of Mt. Whitney
Donna and me at the top of Mt. Whitney
Trip Overview

Additional pictures
Donna and I went on a backpacking trip in early August 2015.  Out of convenience, we prefer one car loops… that’s where you drive one car, go backpacking, then return to the car where you parked it.  Sounds simple and obvious right?  But it’s challenging in the High Sierra.  Most trips require either two cars, or some transportation from the end point back to where your car is parked… or some nice friend to give you a ride.  But this trip was planned as a loop.  Wasn’t easy to come up with though.  That’s why this loop took us on a grand tour of Kings Canyon and Sequoia.

Overview of the route:

Mt Whitney Trip final

We parked the van at Road’s End in Kings Canyon (about 5,000 feet) and spent our first day  climbing about 3600 feet up the Sphinx Creek Trail that parallels (duh) Sphinx Creek.  That’s 3,600 feet within about four and a half miles!  At the time it felt nearly vertical… And actually it was kinda vertical in places…  The next day we finished the climb to Avalanche Pass, another 1,500 feet…  (which felt like a lot more for some reason), then descended to Cloud Canyon, something like 2,600 feet down… so we were back to 7,400 feet.  For these first couple days we kinda had to hit the ground runnin’ with our packs heavy with food.  After that, things kinda settled down a bit… not much, but a little… the third day was all moderate climbing but had some flattish places, and the fourth day, after topping Colby Pass (12,000 feet)  was all descending (about 4,000 feet of descent, our record for one day… ouch!…) Then the climb up to Whitney started.  The approach from Junction Meadows (8000 feet) took us to the shoulder of Mt. Whitney (Timberline Lake ~11,400′).  The next day we climbed the rest of the mountain (14,505′).  That felt like a long day.  From then on we were hiking the John Muir Trail and were surrounded with JMTers… after the almost complete solitude of our first four days, the trail came alive with people.  Busy year for the JMT, no doubt due to the success of Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and the subsequent movie.  I’ve read the book but haven’t seen the movie.  She’s a wonderful author.  But it’s ironic that in the course of doing something like half the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), she didn’t do the John Muir Trail part.  It was a big snow year so the High Sierra was blocked up with snow when she got there.  But the fact that she didn’t do this part yet the JMT was packed wasn’t lost on the JMT hikers.  We heard it mentioned a number of times.  Seems harsh but I think everyone was surprised by how many hikers were out there.  Hmmmm… I seem to be digressing… From Whitney, there were four or five days on the JMT before we took the Woods Creek exit… and then two days later we were back at the van… for a total of 11 days and 113 miles by my GPS.

This was Donna’s and my longest backpacking trip ever (maybe by a factor of two).  We carried all our food for the entire trip with no resupply.  Sounds amazing right?  But it wasn’t that tough to do.  We were provisioned for 10 days from the start.  But we could have carried more if our backpacks were bigger.  We try to keep our packs smallish cuz we’re older now and heavy packs are kinda hard on us.  When we left home, my pack was about 45 lbs and Donna’s was about 35 as weighed on our garage scale.  Neither pack had water when we weighed it.   Water is about three pounds per full bottle.   I carried one bottle and Donna would carry two.  So that jumped our pack weight up a notch.   Then when we finished the trip, my pack was 31 lbs 7 oz. with the water I had when I finished (about a quarter bottle) and Donna’s was 26 lbs 1 oz with no water.

I know we can get Donna’s pack weight down further so that’s an upcoming project.  I already see a new poncho in her future.  Not sure that I’m ever gonna be able to talk her into a new and lighter sleeping bag though.

Gear breakage… The only significant breakage was one of my trekking poles.  The bale broke off in a fall.  No way to repair it so I’m gonna get a replacement pole during the off season.  After fighting it for years, I’ve now added trekking poles to the ‘must have’ column when preparing for a trip.  The breakage occurred on the way down from Forester Pass so I was only using a pole without the carbide tip for the last three days… but it amazed us  how much the pole wore down in that time.

Our travel speed seemed to be around two miles per hour on average.  There was an hour coming down Avalanche Pass when conditions were just right and we managed a mile every 20 minutes, for an hour, or three miles an hour.  That was cool.  We felt like we had super powers and the Sierra was ours for the taking.  But after that we didn’t manage that speed for an entire hour ever again.  Although there were a few times when we went a mile in 20 minutes, but couldn’t hold it.  On the climbs it seemed like our speed was more like one and a half mile per hour… and of course slower when we stopped to chat with other hikers.  And the descents weren’t as fast as you would expect them to be… if it was an easy descent, then maybe two and a half mph… but most of the time it was slower… We stopped to take photos a lot though… drink water… and chat with people on the trail… or just rest and try to choke down a little food.   All these little interruptions of course had the effect of keeping our hourly speed down.  I really don’t know how the 20 mile per day crowd does it.  We were almost always hammered at the end of the day and we were only doing about ten miles per day on average.  We did 15 on the Whitney day so we definitely can do it… But when we were done for the day, I felt like I needed to be put on life support… and we definitely felt it the next day.  Of course the 3,500 feet of climbing might have had something to do with it.  One thing though… after feeling nearly totaled at the end of most days, it always amazed me how a night’s sleep would restore us.  Then we’d be off and running again.  I think one key to racking up 20 mile days is getting an early start.  And because I was usually such a poky puppy getting started, that hardly ever happened… sigh… Another thing I don’t understand about the 20 mpd crowd… my feet just got sore.  Maybe they toughen up after a while.  I don’t know but my feet seemed to accumulate soreness.  And of course blisters are a big problem too.

Trip Statistics

11 days of hiking (10 nights), total of 113 miles hiked, 25,770 feet total ascent, crossed over four passes (Avalanche – 10,013′, Colby – 12,000′, Forester – 13,200′, and Glen – 12,000′), and climbed Mt. Whitney (14,505′), and between Donna and me, took 1,620 pictures.

We saw lotsa deer, saw/heard three trees fall (all on our second day), met lotsa fun people, saw a momma bear and her cub on our last day, crossed countless streams, and ate about 25 lbs of food… but never once encountered a ranger or had our wilderness permit checked.  I’m not really saying anything with this last statement.  We know there were rangers out there.  For instance one south bound woman JMTer we met had been checked three times.  But until the last day we hadn’t seen a bear or a ranger for the whole trip so I just had to say something.

Couple other things to start out with….

First… This post is WAY too long.  There I said it.  I’m sorry… blog posts are supposed to be shortish no longer than say 500 words.  But I just didn’t know any other way to do this.  I’m sure there’s something I coulda done but I just didn’t think of it and ended up doing this.  I could certainly leave out material/photos/maps/etc. … but this blog probably serves more as a family history or photo album for us California Fogelquists than anything else.  And this is about as brief as I could make it and still have it be meaningful to us.  I guess that applies to everything else in the blog too.  But I tried to structure this post so you really don’t have to read the text to get the meaning.  The pictures are arranged in the order (mostly) that they were taken… and captioned… So you probably can skip the text if you want.

Next… What’s the story behind the above  (Just Out Havin’ Fun) post title?  Well I had this friend, Tom Lowmen… He’s dead now… sigh… but we used to go out on backpacking trips in the High Sierra together.  These trips usually turned into ordeals for me cuz he was tough, in awesome condition and most of the time would pack a solid two days of hiking into each day we were out.  Often I’d marvel at what we were doing, or attempting to do.  But the trips were a flat out ordeal for me.  I could tell you stories… Sometimes when I’d be taggin’ along behind him, …my sniveling fading off into the distance as he strode on ahead… I’d hear him say,  “Hey, we’re just out here havin’ fun.”.  Of course I was having anything BUT fun.  So it was funny to me when he said it.  After he died, Donna and I started saying that whenever whatever we were doing was a bit of an ordeal… It got to be kind of a family joke… But I’m not gonna lie… there were times when this trip was a total ordeal…. mind over matter torture… On this trip I reached some of my highest highs… and some pretty challenging lows… However, now that we’re home, we both wanna go back out there more than we wanna take our next breaths… So we decided to name this post accordingly.

Okay… now we can get on with it.

For lack of any other way to organize this post I decided to do it chronologically… day by day… First I’ll display the terrain and elevation profile for our day of hiking.  Then some text… then the pictures… If you want an expanded view of the photos, just click on the photo gallery and the display will change.


Day 1 – 8/3/15 – Climb up the Sphinx Creek Trail from Road’s End in Kings Canyon

Route - Backpacking Loop

Sphinx Creek climb out of Kings Canyon. Short but a lot of elevation gain.
Sphinx Creek climb out of Kings Canyon. Short but a lot of elevation gain.
Something like 3600 feet of climbing over about three miles. Felt like more.
Something like 3600 feet of climbing over about three miles. Felt like more.

Whitney - 1st Day

This was a tough climb… Something like 3600 feet of elevation gain.  And as if that wasn’t enough, after crossing Bubbs Creek and getting started on the ascent, we ran into bugs!  Not mosquitos, but flies.  They were everywhere.  It was difficult to breathe without inhaling them as we huffed and puffed our way up the trail.  Donna lost it and fled.   No way I could keep up with her.  When she wants to go, she can totally boogie.  So we lost contact for a while.  Then when the bugs finally subsided, and I caught up with Donna, the climbing just kept going… and going… and going… switchbacks… stairs… regular trail… then more stairs… seemed endless… and our packs were heavy with ten days of food.  The only thing that wasn’t an issue was the altitude.  We were low… but getting higher of course.  Finally the ground leveled out.  We found a place to cross Sphinx Creek and decided to make camp there.  We coulda kept on for at least another hour, maybe even more I think but we just didn’t know about the water situation up higher… and whether there was anyplace flat to lay down our sleeping bags.  So we called it a day at about 4:30.  Very pleasant, leisurely evening though.  This stopping early stuff was nice.   I hope we get to do it more often.

Day 2 – 8/4/15 – Over Avalanche Pass and down into Clouds Canyon

Route - Backpacking Loop

Up and over Avalanche Pass then descending into Clouds Canyon
Up and over Avalanche Pass then descending into Clouds Canyon

Elevation - Avalanch Pass j

Whitney - 2nd Day

Early… but not early enough, we broke camp and  resumed our climb.  Still had about 1500 feet before getting to the top of Avalanche Pass.  I really thought this was gonna be easier after the yesterday’s climbing… but I guess 1500 feet is 1500 feet and that’s hardly ever easy.  Started right into switchbacks almost from our campsite… Oy!  We eventually made it to Avalanche though.  Once we got there, we were expecting a sign or something to mark our achievement.  But there was nothing.  I think other hikers were disappointed about this too because there was kind of a hiker built monument.  And of course we added to it before leaving.   Actually we added quite a lot because the longer we were adding stuff to the monument, the longer we could rest before getting started again.  But Donna, being the family VOR (Voice Of Reason) finally put a stop to our crazy… time to put our packs back on and get movin’ on down the trail.  Now the descent into Cloud Canyon was beginning… We had to drop 2600 feet in the next 5.7 miles to get to the Scaffold Meadow Ranger Station… Oy!  These first two days definitely kinda sucked.

Once we got down to the Roaring River, we did another couple miles just so our next day would be shorter.  Those couple miles were totally mind over matter.  But later, we were grateful we did them.  The next day had some serious climbing toward the end and we wanted to have some gas in the tank for it.   We finally stopped after about two miles where Brewer Creek crossed the trail.

That night we washed up in the creek.  That was our first time to do this.  We also washed some of the dirt and sweat out of our hiking clothes.   And except for the cold water it was a great thing to do.  We hadn’t seen anyone all day (or yesterday either) so we stripped down buck nek-ed and used our buffs as wash cloths.  Was great to knock down the dust and stickiness.  My pits had clearly become almost toxic  Was also a good time for me to start my hand sanitizer experiment.  You see I have this theory that because pit smell is a byproduct of bacteria, that if you kill the bacteria once a day with hand sanitizer, that I could eliminate pit smell from my hiking experience… and everyone around me too.  sigh… spoiler alert: … the experiment didn’t yield the result I was hoping for… sigh… however it did seem to provid Donna with some amusement.

Another thing amazing about today… Not gonna lie… In my life, I have spent a lot of time in the forest… backpacking, biking, hiking, working in the forest service, fighting forest fires… etc.  And in all that time, I have never seen or even heard a snag just fall over (a snag is a dead tree).  They’re dead trees after all.  They gotta fall down sometime.  I’ve just never seen it.  But this morning, not long before Donna and I were going to hit the trail, we heard this CRACK and as we looked over toward the sound,  saw this snag fall into some other snags and knock the whole bunch over.  Whoa!  Lotsa noise, dust… and a little spooky.  Then in the evening we saw the same thing again near our campsite at Brewer Creek.  Then after we had gone to bed, and silence had descended upon us… across the creek and up the cliff, we heard the same distinctive CRACK and listened as a tree fell down the cliff kicking loose rocks and creating all kinds of havoc.  OY!  8/4/15 – Bad day for trees… or I should say, bad day for snags.  After that we didn’t see or hear another tree fall for the rest of the trip.  But we started looking around us before making camp to see if there were any snags that might go in the night.

Day 3 – 8/5/15 – Climb to Colby Lake

Route - Backpacking Loop

Terrain - 8:5 Colby Lake j


Elevation - 8:5 Colby Lake j

Whitney - 3rd Day

Today we’re going up to Colby Lake.  And I’m not gonna lie… it was a little harder than I thought it would be.  However compared to later in the trip, not very hard at all.  We just paralleled the river.  Didn’t expect to see anyone… however right before we left camp, ‘the two chicks’ walked down the trail.  I say “Two Chicks” because that’s what we called them… sorta became their secret trail name.  it kinda startled us when we saw them walking by our camp as we were getting ready to leave  cuz we hadn’t talked to anyone ‘cept each other since the ranger station…. and we could also see just how close we had camped to the trail.  Gonna have to be more careful about that in the future.  We exchanged some polite conversation and they were on their way.  As it turns out we would be passing each other throughout the rest of the day and got to know each other a bit.  This was before we dreamed up our picture idea though, so no pictures.

One thing that had been growing on my mind was adding the Rae Lakes Loop to the end of our trip.  That would be about three days of food that we hadn’t budgeted for.  To make up for this I had secretly not been eating as much to see if, over the trip as planned, I could save enough food for us to do the loop at the end.  I was starting to feel it though.  As a side note, oddly you don’t eat all that much on these trips.  We seldom ate more than 2000 calories a day each and most often it was more like 1500… and on the Whitney day, neither of us had more than 700 calories… and that was forced.  You’re just not hungry.  Many times you really have to force yourself to eat.  Our theory is that it’s the altitude.  But we never did figure it out.  All this explanation is necessary to tee up what happened next.  After we had been on the trail for a while today, and we were stopped for short ‘packs off’ break.  As we stood there in that little flat place (me peeing), up came these two guys.  It was a father-son pair.  We got to chatting about what most hikers chat about… that is where we’re going… where we started from and where we’d been… and I mentioned that we were thinking about adding the Rae Lakes Loop to our trip but we might be a little short of food for that.  They totally pounced on this last though, saying that they had WAY too much food and would we like some?  This of course would take weight off their backs …and put it on mine, but I was totally up for it if it meant being able to extend our trip.  They dropped their packs and started digging, and ended up giving us a loaf of sunflower seed bread (heavy), a salami (even heavier… shoulda said we were vegetarians) and a bag of soba noodles (not as heavy)… WOW!  The promised land!… They asked us if we had any extra sunscreen and we quickly produced an extra  tube that I had been carrying as backup to Donna’s supply.  Everyone  closed their packs and we all went on our way.  But Donna and I stopped at the nearest big flat rock where dove into our new stash.  We wolfed down half the bread and half the salami in that one sitting… the rest of the bread and salami were gone by breakfast.  The noodles lasted another three meals  (just a note… they’re great for breakfasts)… But for a while, it was carb city!  Just what we needed!  Note to self: Soba noodles are the perfect hiking food.  And … note to Eric Bradfield: Crazy as it sounds, the practice of getting food from other hikers is called “Yogi-ing” .. It’s a verb, as in – ‘to yogi’.  So I can now really say that I’m smarter than the av-er-age bear.  Note to everyone else… In college my nickname (that Eric gave me) was ‘Yogi’.  He still calls me Yogi to this day… I don’t think he even knows my real name.  But I digress (get used to it)…  After this food recharge, we now had barely enough food to do the Rae Lakes Loop.  Nice!

The rest of the day was ambling alongside the Roaring River until we got to Big Wet Meadow and the Whaleback.  There we took a left turn to do our climb up to Colby Lake… more switchbacks and steps.  Colby Lake was gorgeous, AND we had it all to ourselves.  This part of the High Sierra isn’t well-traveled so it woulda been surprising if there had been others at the lake.

We camped on a ledge about 20 feet above the lake… Yes it was awesome… thank you for asking… but I didn’t realize how precarious it was until we were bedding down and trying to figure out where to put the bear canisters so that an inquisitive bear wouldn’t knock em into the water below.  Yikes… maybe we should rope up so we don’t go into the lake ourselves.  All settled in for the night, we watched the alpine glow on a nearby peak as it faded into the twilight.

Day 4 – 8/6/15 – Over Colby Pass and down to Junction Meadow

Route - Backpacking Loop

Except for mountain climbing our record descent for one day... ovder 4000 feet.
Except for mountain climbing our record descent for one day… over 4000 feet.

Elevation - 8:6 Junction Meadow j

Whitney - 4th Day

Tough day… First we climbed up Colby Pass… easy at first but then it got seriously steep and became the pass we measured all the other passes against for the rest of the trip.

The pass itself was awesome though…  We sat up there for at least a half hour… maybe longer… enjoying the view.  Usually passes are pretty inhospitable places… windy, cold… forbidding… you get there,  catch your breath, quickly look around, take the requisite photos, then drop down outta the wind.  But this time it was just wonderful.  We could see what we thought was where Whitney was… (turns out that it wasn’t even close).  We snacked, drank, rested… it was a nice, flat place to procrastinate from hiking.  But too soon, it was time to get moving again… the descent to Junction Meadow awaited us… 4,000 feet of going down… Oy!  I usually don’t like giving up all that hard won altitude, but this time I just hated it. Even with the amazing countryside that we were going through, it was no fun.  We crossed through all kinds of terrain though… subalpine, meadows, pine forests, fern glens, level ground, steep sections… we had it all… until at last we came out to what turned out to be a difficult creek crossing at Junction Meadows… and the flat forest floor beyond.  We were there.  Almost time to rest our battered legs.

We made camp in a palatial camp site and even made a fire.  Now that the trip was extended, I thought I was about two days short of alcohol for the stove so every time we were below 10,000 feet for the night (which wasn’t going to be often) I wanted to cook over a wood fire until I made up the shortage.  It’s forbidden to make a campfire above 10,000 feet in Kings Canyon (the line in Yosemite is 9600′).  I don’t think I’ve ever actually cooked over a fire so this was weird… and dirty.   As a practice, we don’t make fires when we backpack… it’s just not a good thing to do.  So I was a very inexperienced fire cooker.   Did it for both dinner and breakfast and with that, theoretically, we were good on alcohol for the rest of the trip.  Which worked out cuz after this morning we’d be over 10K’ each night for almost the rest of the way.


Day 5 – 8/7/15 – Junction Meadow to the base of Mt. Whitney

Route - Backpacking Loop

We actually finished higher than this GPS plot shows... We slept on the uphill side of Timberline Lake ... where the green dot is on the next days plot.
We actually finished higher than this GPS plot shows… We slept on the uphill side of Timberline Lake … where the green dot is on the next days plot.

Elevation - 8:7 Timberline Lake j

Whitney - 5th Day

Today we would climb back up to altitude and start getting close and personal with Mt. Whitney.  We started at about 8,000′ and we had to climb up to well over 11,000.  Basically we had to regain almost everything we had lost yesterday.  The Sierra is like that… up and down… and then up again.

Junction Meadows was also where we would end our solitary existence and join the High Sierra Trail… and then after climbing 2,500 feet we’d join the John Muir Trail where it crosses Wallace Creek.  So we were expecting to start encountering people and started brushing up on our social skills.  After four days of hardly interacting with anyone, we had pretty much gone feral so this was going to be a challenge.  The JMT would be our life for the next six days until we peeled off at Woods Creek to go back to Road’s End.

No idea why, but the climb up to the JMT seemed almost easy, which was odd since it was 2,500 feet of pretty continuous ‘up’.  At first we just climbed and looked over at the Kaweah Canyon that we had descended the day prior…. weird that we were just over there the previous afternoon.  It looked so nice and inviting from here.  Then we took a right to climb out of Kern Canyon to the JMT.  Then once we joined the JMT, we took another right to head toward Whitney.  Complicated huh?  Well trailwise, It was a pretty complicated day.  Other than that, we just had one mission… climb.

Everything went according to plan except at the end of the day when we were trying to get as close as we could to Mt Whitney.  Our original plan was to get to Guitar Lake… but we were tired and content to camp above Timberline Lake (no camping at Timberline so we had to keep going) near the stream.

It was sizing up to be a gorgeous night so we didn’t even consider setting up the shelter.  Turned out to be kind of a mistake though cuz during the night, it got very cold.  We both had a lot of moisture build up on our bivies and the next morning everything was frozen. As I sat up to greet the new day, a bunch of ice fell off me.  Oy!  No wonder I was cold!


Day 6 – 8/8/15 – Mt. Whitney

Route - Backpacking Loop

Terrain - 8:8 Whitney j

Elevation - 8:8 Whitney j

Whitney - 6th Day

Today was Whitney day!

Lotsa delays getting started though… All our sleeping gear was wet from the previous night so the first task of the day was to hang everything so it would dry out while we were climbing the mountain.  Then we laid out the stuff for our day packs.  To speed things up, we just had a Clif Bar each for breakfast, and then we were on our way… but still it seemed like it took forever for us to get going.  I’m always the slow one and I don’t remember specifically what the hold up was but it was probably my fault… We were on the trail again by 9.

The climb started out to be fairly flat cuz we were skirting Guitar Lake and some other smaller alpine lakes… but then we got to the famous switchbacks.    They start about 12,000 feet and go up to aroud 13,500..  We filled up all our water containers at the last creek crossing.  After that, no water for the rest of the day.

The switchbacks were well graded.  So the climbing while never easy, wasn’t all that tough either. There weren’t many of those nasty steps and the view was more astounding at each zig (or zag).  I took a picture of the Hitchcock Lakes at the most southerly side of each switchback and included them here so you can see us going up up up.  But even though it was relentless, the climb just didn’t seem all that bad.  The altitude wasn’t even very noticeable.  Clearly Donna and I were acclimatized.  We felt like we had super powers.  It was just long… but only half as long for us as the Shasta climb (see earlier post on this blog) so I didn’t feel justified in sniveling.

Crazy as it sounds, as we drew closer to the top, we still saw birds (in particular there was a raven at the Trail Crest junction) and also there were, of all things, wildflowers… here we were in a landscape that was reminiscent of what I’d imagine the moon to look like… and there were these lovely little flowers.  Especially, there were some cool bluish-purple ones that we later learned were Sky Pilots.  And some yellow ones that we thought were Alpine Gold.  Donna also photographed some pink ones that I didn’t see.  The splashes of color were startling because the back drop was a tossed sea of weathered granite.

After the junction with the trail from the Whitney Portal (Trail Crest), it was 1.9 miles and about a thousand feet more of climbing to the summit.   The trail was deteriorating though. This next two miles  was across jumbled rocks and wasn’t as easy traveling as were the switchbacks up to the junction. Of course this makes sense… we were climbing a damn mountain for Christ sake.  It was easy to forget this because there was a well engineered trail.  Most mountains don’t have trails to the top.  The views just got better and better as we got higher of course.  Also the trail would go by these ‘windows’ to the east side of the mountain that many times would expose sheer drop offs of many thousands of feet and an astounding view of the east valley and Lone Pine.  Often it was sphincter puckering to look down, but the view was incredible.  We started to be able to see the summit hut at the top now… Wow!  This was really happening!   One thing that neither of us had anticipated was the large number of people making their way up this trail.  We didn’t have much company on the way up the west side through the switchbacks… there were a couple other south bound JMTers, a High Sierra Trail person and a solo dude… and us… but once we joined up with the Whitney Portal side at Trail Crest with all the day hikers and  north bound JMTers comin’ up, … well it got pretty busy… And we were all jockeying for position on that one ridge trail.  Holy social skills batman!  Exercising social skills at 14,000 feet can be a bit of a challenge.

We made it to the top around 1PM.  And almost immediately saw Victor.  He had been up there and was about to head down so we just had time to say our hellos, take a few pictures of each other, and then he was gone.

The view from the top of course was dazzling.  Donna and I aren’t used to having a view at the top of the mountains we climb.  There’s usually a fire somewhere nearby with smoke that blankets everything.  So at those times we usually try to put on our most cheerful face and keep going.  But this trip up Whitney almost made up for all those other times.  It was absolutely perfect.  Astounding view of the surrounding High Sierra.  I just wish that I knew what I was looking at.  There were unfamiliar mountains everywhere.

Then… while we were on the top, the most surreal thing happened… a glider buzzed us… It was amazing.  I heard a hissing sound and looked over in that direction just in time to see a glider streak across the face of the mountain. Unbelievable!  It floated above us for a few minutes before streaking off into the distance.

After about an hour on top snapping pictures, gazing at the view and talking to people, it was time to head back down.  While I was a ball of fire on the way up… now that we were going down, I just felt sapped… drained.  Suddenly the altitude mattered.  Was barely putting one foot in front of the other as I stumbled down the trail.  Had to stop to eat something.  Got a little better but not much… At one point I told Donna that, ‘I got us up here girl, but now you gotta get us down.’.  So she took the lead and pulled me back down to the thicker air.  The food of course helped some as well.  I just don’t seem to care much for descending I guess.

Took us about four hours to get to the top… an hour and a half on top… then about three hours to get back down.  When we got back to our campsite, we still had a lot to do… We had to pull our drying stuff off our makeshift clothes line and then repack everything from our day packs into our big packs… Then we had to hike the three miles or so back down to the Crabtree Ranger Station, where we were planning to spend the night.  Once again Donna saved the day.  My eyes were REALLY a problem.  I have a dry eye issue that has to be managed.  Clearly I wasn’t doing what I needed to do to manage it properly, because I could barely see.  The sun was going down so time was of the essence.  We felt some urgency to get down to Crabtree before the sun set.  So I didn’t have time to fiddle with em to make things better… So I just mostly closed my eyes and tagged along dutifully behind Donna as we headed down the trail.  After way too long, we arrived.  Fixed my eyes, set up the tent, ate some crackers and went to bed.  For that whole Whitney climb, Donna and I had only eaten two Clif Bars, a couple of GUs and those crackers, each… the altitude just sucks out your hunger.


Day 7 – 8/9/15 – End of day… Tyndall Creek Area

Route - Backpacking Loop

Terrain - 8:9 Tyndall Creek Area j


Elevation - 8:9 Tyndall Creek Area j

Whitney - 7th Day


Today was all about heading north on the JMT again.

We got a late start cuz we slept in a bit, reorganized our gear, dilly dallied with the marmots, dried our stuff and finally headed off onto the trail say about eleven.  Oy!  That was a record even for us.  But it was quite  pleasant just hanging out at the Crabtree meadow.

Crabtree is one of the places backpackers converge for the night just before the Whitney climb.  They go to bed early then around 2AM, get up, break camp and begin their climb.  I know cuz I got up to take a leak around 2:30 and the woods were alive with little headlamp lights of campers packing up… I think these folks harbor some fantasy about watching the sunrise or something.  But almost everyone was gone the next morning so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

Nuthin’ all that special about the day… When we finally got on the trail, we just hiked north on the JMT.  We ran into some fun people, took their pictures, had a last look at Whitney, made a face on rock by the trail (see photo below), etc. etc.  It was just a pleasant day hiking in the High Sierra.

Only real objective was to get as close as we could to Forester Pass.   That would make the climb tomorrow easier.  But we got kind of a late start so that wasn’t gonna happen as well as we’d hoped.  We made it a little past Tyndall Creek though.  We stayed at an unnamed lake off the JMT… It reminded me of Stonehenge and Donna humored me, so that’s what we started calling it.  Surreal place to spend the night.  Soooooo quiet… only sound was the pikas chirping.  The moon was getting to be a crescent and coming up in the early morning… I woke up in the middle of the night and got to watch as the lunar glow barely illuminated the surrounding rocks and reflected off the bear cannisters… It was a blessing to get to see that.


Day 8 – 8/10/15 – Forester Pass and down to Vidette Meadow

Route - Backpacking Loop

Terrain - 8:10 Forester Pass j


Elevation - 8:10 Forester Pass j

Whitney - 8th Day


Today… Forester Pass…

This seems like a big deal since it’s a 13,200 foot pass… Except when climbing Shasta… and Whitney, this is the highest we’ve ever gone under our own power.  We were taking it seriously.  However, as you can see by the elevation profile, from the south it’s a well-managed grade climbing only a couple thousand feet.  It gets steep at the end though and then it’s not really that steep… not Colby Pass steep that is.  From the north it’s a different story… it’s a much longer and a sustained steeper climb.  But we were coming from the south so life was good.  The climb really didn’t bother us that much.  Was kinda funny cuz we’d encounter south bounders coming down and they’d almost always give us a cheery, “you’re almost there” or “it’s not that far now”.  We’d always thank them cuz we knew they meant well.  But the climb was fairly easy (as climbs go).  Later when we were descending, we understood why they were so encouraging.  The climb up Forester as a south bounder is endless.  It starts at about 9,500 feet and marches relentlessly up to 13,200… that’s almost 4,000 feet… Oy!

Forester was actually kinda fun… well as fun as a climb up a pass can ever be.  We didn’t even notice the altitude.  Near the top you start to see the amazing engineering it took to put this trail in.  Just WHO were the people who built this?  And how did they do it?  How did they lift and move these heavy rocks?  As you’re hiking, you often get wrapped up in your own suffering… your feet hurt, you’re outta breath, your muscles sometimes scream at you, you’re tired, you’re dirty, your pack is heavy and you’re hot… Then you look down at some amazing spectacle of trail building and you forget all that for a few seconds and just marvel… and… you feel like a total wimp… you can’t imagine what it must have taken to do that… You may quickly take a picture… but the awe passes and you quickly go back to the suffering again.  But let me say this out loud… The people who built and maintain these trails are awesome… even the ones who break up all the big rocks to make those annoying, little fist sized rocks that cover the trail from time to time.  Even though us hikers hate that surface, we know it’s necessary for some reason and are still grateful to you trail crews for the work you do.

When we got to the top of the pass, there nestled in the rocks out of the wind were Dave and Steve, enjoying the sunshine.  They are a father/son pair hiking the JMT.  It wasn’t too windy on the pass so we stopped for a little while to chat.  Still had a long way to go though so too soon we took their picture and then dropped on down the trail.  I included them in the previous post if you’re interested.

The rest of the day was descending.  It was a fairly gentle day of going down… and down… and down… but after the excitement of going over Forester, it seemed like we would never get to Vidette Meadows… We could see the entire canyon laid out in front of us… and could see where we’d be at the end of the day.  And it seemed to be taking forever to get there.  As usual it was troubling to lose all that altitude.  I had a little mishap on the way though… I slipped on what Donna calls a “Skitter Rock” and went down.  As always I leaned on my trekking pole to stabilize me… but my left one got stuck between two rocks and I couldn’t get it free before falling on it.  Felt the pole snap and looked down in dismay.  There was my nice, light, expensive trekking pole in two pieces…. sigh… The break was near the bale so I was able to use the pole for the rest of the trip.  But it got shorter every day… and now of course I gotta replace it.

We eventually got to Vidette Meadow… set up camp (and the shelter this time) at the first stream crossing we came to.  We were a little late so we immediately set about our domestic chores… putting up the shelter, preparing dinner, washing up, washing clothes (and hanging to dry), inflating sleeping pads, etc. etc.  Before we knew it, it was getting dark (and cold) so was time to call it a day and crawl into our nice warm sleeping bags.