Posts Tagged ‘backpacking’

Joshua Tree x2 (Part 1)

April 17, 2011

Been awhile since I posted.  Rather than a music post, wanted to do a quick hiking/backpacking post about two recent trips to Joshua Tree.  Sarah’s dad was visiting the Joshua Tree area for 9 days, and Sarah and I joined him for the two weekends we were there.  We had two pretty distinct experiences with the weather highlighting the extremes of desert camping.  The first weekend we were there had warm temperatures during the day and pleasant nighttime weather.  We didn’t even need to put on our tent’s rainfly the first night and got to look up at the stars at night.

Our first weekend plan was to take one car to the Boy Scout Trailhead, hike on the Boy Scout trail, set up camp a mile or two in, hike to Willow Hole, and then pack up camp the next day and continue on the Boy Scout trail to the other end of the trail, where our other car was waiting.  Having two cars is nice, since you can avoid having to backtrack over trail you already hiked to get out.

There’s Sarah to the left on the Boy Scout Trail.  You can see that it’s a relatively flat trail and is surrounded by the ubiquitous Joshua trees and large rock piles.  We only backpacked in about two miles before veering off trail to find a site to set up camp.  With most of the backcountry open for camping, you don’t have to go to designated backwoods camping sites, which has been most of our experience in Sequoia National Park.  We found a spot near some rocks that would offer shelter from winds and after leaving most of our stuff in our tent, we decided to walk off-trail for a bit and then would hook up with the Willow Hole trail, which leads to one of the larger water holes in the park.

Sarah and her dad have both gotten pretty good at navigating using a topographic map and a compass.  I was given a quick tutorial earlier in the morning.  It is a lot of fun trying to guide yourself from point to point, and obviously a good skill to have if you ever get yourself lost.  So, we got our bearings and headed off to Willow Hole.  We eventually caught up with the main trail, which eventually went down into a wash, which is basically a dried up waterway that is now full of sand.  There was actually a substantial amount of water at Willow Hole, and there were even two ducks swimming around in one of the waterways.  I was somewhat surprised, as previous “oasis” we’ve been to in the park held very little water other than a few puddles of green water.

After relaxing for a while we headed back, going cross-country again, and then decided to walk up the Boy Scout trail a bit before dinner time.  We spotted a peak called Key’s Peak and Sarah and I decided we wanted to try and climb it.  It was very rocky (see the picture to the right) and there was no trail, but we figured we’d give it a shot and turn around if it got too difficult.

We skirted around boulders bigger than us and slowly made it up to the saddle then started going more vertical.  Along the way I had an encounter with one of the many cacti dotting the rocks.  Jumping from rock to rock, I stabbed my left leg into a single pointy spine.  Ouch.  I could tell it was bleeding, so I rolled up my leg and indeed it was.  Luckily we carry our trusty first aid kit, so I was patched up and we continued on.  We made it near the top pretty quickly, but found ourself in a spot where we thought we’d be stuck.  A narrow passage between two rocks had a rock wedged in between them that was taller than us.  Eventually we figured out that we could wedge one foot in to boost ourself up and we scrambled the rest of the way to the top.  We had a really good 360 degree view of the surrounding area.  A couple pictures later, we made a quick descent, finding an easier path down a gully.

The wind was picking up as we got back to camp.  That night we experienced a first.  So, the desert because of the dry air and lack of water, abounds in static electricity.  When we set up our camp, we picked a spot that only allowed us to stake down one of the two doors on our tent.  The door on my side just was laying there, though I had tried to keep it pinned down with a few rocks.  Well, the rubbing of the tent’s rainfly on the desert floor created a lot of static electricity.  All night, every time the wind hit the tent, it created weird noises.  At first we were freaked out by the noise, since it sounded like something was hitting the tent, almost like raindrops except it wasn’t raining.  After figuring it out, it was just an annoyance.  Lesson learned.

The next day, we packed up and continued on the Boy Scout trail, going past Keys Mountain, and then beginning a long descent to the other end of the trail and our car.  We purposely planned the route so as to get to go downhill on that section of the trail.  Smart thinking, it would have been a bear toting our full packs up that.  I’m out of shape right now for backpacking, so the downhill trek was welcome.  The trail went down into a big wash which you walked through for a while, flanked on each side by large rock walls.  The last mile or two was back up hill, but not too steep.

We spent the rest of the day driving from the north end of the park to the south end in hopes of seeing more desert flowers in bloom.  We’d seen quite a few during our backpacking, but in the lower elevations we thought we’d see even more.  There were patches, below is a sample of some really nice yellow ones I took right before we exited the park.  There were some blooms on a large cactus-like tree whose name eludes me at the moment.  All in all a very nice trip.

Backpacking, Round 1 (Part 4)

July 15, 2010

Continuing from yesterday’s post, I slowly dried out as we went in and out of the morning sun on the trail.  The views were nice, especially when we’d descend to the river crossings which thankfully were covered by real bridges, not skinny logs.  The only bad thing was that once you got down to the river, the trail then would take a steep vertical climb on the other side.  When we got to the point where we needed to detour around the washed out bridge, we thought about going on the original trail just to see what the condition of the bridge was, but decided not to.  I have a feeling at might have looked something like this (which was taken at a river crossing on our next trip in the same park):

The detour was a brutal mile and a half straight up.  Then after cresting and making a slight decrease in elevation, we hit another stream crossing.  On the other side a couple were on some rocks, laying out the entire contents of a backpack.  The guy was down to his skivvies, obviously he had fallen in.  Like this morning, the water was fast-moving, not quite as deep, still freezing.  Difference was this waterway had about a one hundred foot waterfall about 10 feet from where the trail crossed the water.  Taking the morning’s experience to heart, we immediately started looking upstream for a crossing point that would give us some breathing room if something bad happened.  The female hiker came over and then told us how her friend had fallen crossing, and lucky for him had gotten swept into an eddy right by the waterfall.  He was stuck there until she tied a sweatshirt to a tree and he was able to pull himself out.  Otherwise, he would have gone over and well, that would have been that.

We eventually found a spot that had some promising-looking rocks to use as anchors, and we each grabbed a long branch to steady ourselves as we crossed.  We’d tossed our packs across to the female hiker so we didn’t have to worry about the extra weight.  We each made it without incident, other than some cold legs.  We came across snow on the trail in our last mile and once we saw the big sequoias we knew we’d reached our destination.  It was very peaceful, we were the only ones there.  There were campsites, but no one was there.  In the middle of the big trees there was a grassy meadow.  We ate our lunch on two log stools in front of  a giant sequoia.  After a stroll around the meadow, we decided we needed to get going back.

The trip back was mostly uneventful, though when we came to Mehrten Creek again, I swore it was not the same creek.  It looked totally different to me.  I think Sarah thought I’d lost it, or maybe I’d already blacked out the entire memory of the morning.  This time we eschewed the log, which was now in the water (thanks to me or some other unlucky soul we didn’t know).   We waded through the water instead.  We helped out some guys whose water filter wasn’t working to fill up on water, then we headed back to our campsite for dinner.  We figured we’d gone about 18 miles, which is a good job for a day hike.  We had our second freeze-dried meal, only worth mentioning because when Sarah dumped out my portion I got the silica gel packet that we’d forgotten to remove.  I ate anyways, and some googling on our return determined that there was no harm in doing so.

The next morning we broke camp and got off early.  Legs were tired and I still was hiking in my Keens since my boots never got fully dried (the insides were still damp even after leaving them by the campfire for a bit).  We moved pretty quickly and made it back to the car in a couple of hours.  Overall, a successful first trip.  No problems with any of our gear, though my boots didn’t get the workout I wanted them to.  Our MSR stove and water filter performed fine (though our attempts to backflush the filter did not work).  Amazingly, the cooler we’d left in the bear canisters at the trailhead had remained cold enough to yield a cold Coke, so that was a welcome bonus as we drove out of the park.  For a first backpacking trip, we were very happy and definitely learned some things.  (Btw, a bag of rice and a few days later, my camera was working again.)

Backpacking, Round 1 (Part 3)

July 15, 2010

Wanted to continue writing about our first backpacking trip to Sequoia National Park.  Parts 1 and 2 here and here.  So our goal for our second day was to do an out-and-back to a grove of Sequoias called Redwood Meadows.  We had been told that one of the bridges on the way had been washed out, but that there was a way to still get there, it just required a longer hike.  We got an early start, and it was still a bit chilly when we got going.  About a quarter of mile after starting out, we came to our first creek crossing of the day, Mehrten Creek.  This was the same creek we were camping by.

The creek was moving quick, and it seemed pretty deep.  A guy who was filtering water in the creek said he was camping nearby and that there was a log a little bit upstream that he had been using to cross.  Without thinking, we headed upstream and found the log.  It did not inspire confidence.  It was less than a foot wide and stripped of all its bark.  Looking back on it, if we hadn’t run into someone who said they had crossed that log, I don’t think Sarah and I would have tried it.  Some sort of psychological grip was on it to cross this log.  I also blame not being fully awake yet and our lack of experience crossing waterways.

My Kaylands were already slippery from just getting in the water near the log.  Sarah decided to take a crack at it first.  She took several quick steps and jumped off the log onto a large rock and made it safely to shore.  Later, she said she used her yoga training to center herself.  Unfortunately, I don’t do yoga.  I got one foot on the log and decided to go for it.  Nimble as a mountain goat, I got one step onto the log and promptly fell.  Somehow I was able to stop myself from falling all the way by grabbing the log with my arms.  Now I was in some frigid water, that was moving much faster than I thought.  So much so that I couldn’t get my feet down, so for about 10 seconds I just held on.  Once the shock of the coldness, the wetness, and the falling had worn off I got my feet down into about waist deep water, and was able to wade my way to the rock Sarah had gotten to.

So, less than 15 minutes into our hike I’d gotten my boots completely soaked, all my clothes wet, and my body quite cold.  Sarah insisted we go back to start a fire and get me warmed.  I said I’d be ok, my pants and shirt were quick-dry and I had my Keen sandals, and once we got moving I would warm up.  My fleece was soaked through, and we tied it around Sarah’s pack to dry.  We tied my boots to the outside of my bag.  My Gregory backpack had done remarkably well, the outside was completely dry, despite being mostly submerged when I was hanging on the log.  Some water had gotten in the top of the bag, which resulted in one ruined bag of trailmix, but otherwise no harm.  And off we went.

A little while later, I stopped to take a picture.  Then I realized my camera had been in a mesh hip pocket on my backpack.  It was wet.  Not good.

So that’s why there’s no pics with this post (or any to follow about this trip).  Valuable lesson learned:  always figure out the way that is comfortable for you and take the time to figure what that entails.  Sarah and I approached water crossings with a whole new perspective after this.  We’d soon get to test out this new perspective.

Backpacking, Round 1 (Part 2)

June 16, 2010

Day 2 started very cold.  There was a layer of frost on the car and we quickly packed up camp and headed to the lower elevations where our backpacking trip would start.  On the way we got a glimpse of bear number 5 from the road!  We went to a picnic area near our trailhead and ate some oatmeal for breakfast and packed up our gear, trying to split the weight evenly between us.  We then drove the 2 miles to the trailhead on a dirt road and parked the car.

We were very excited to get started.  First, we had to drop our cooler off in a bear canister at the trailhead, apparently to keep the bears from clawing at the car.  Gulp.  Then, we threw on our packs and started down the Middle Fork trail.  Our goal was to hike in approximately six miles to a campsite and stay there for the next two nights.

We knew there was going to be some river/stream crossings, but we weren’t expecting to have one in the first half mile.  Last post I’d mentioned the heavy snows in Sequoia over the winter.  Well, that snow was melting and making all the waterways higher and faster than usual.  A waterfall was feeding a stream that we had to cross to continue on the trail.  Another group ahead of us was taking off their boots and crossing in their sandals.  We followed suit, since the water was too high to cross in boots.  It wasn’t a tough crossing, you just had to wade through the water, but, man, that water was cold.  On the other side, we rebooted and were off again.

The picture above was taken during the first three miles of the hike.  That’s the middle fork of the Kaweah River, and the trail generally followed the river, though it was quite a distance from the river in many places.  The trail was a series of ups and downs (more ups) that followed the hillsides, meandering in and out of the morning sunlight.   This was my first time carrying serious weight in my new Gregory Baltoro 70 backpack.  The pack felt good, but while I heard that the weight of your pack should be on your hips, I was definitely feeling the straps on my shoulder.  My Kayland hiking shoes were doing great, feet were feeling good.

At three miles we came to our second river crossing at Panther Creek.  This was the site of the first camping sites on the trail and also a big waterfall.  To the right is Sarah making the crossing (I made her stop her crossing to get the picture, she was a good sport about it).  This one we were able to make across by skipping across rocks.  Out east, I haven’t had much experience with crossing waterways other than ones that you could easily cross by rock-hopping.  The crossing here required some patience and figuring out which rocks to jump to next, and the added weight of the pack definitely affected my balance.

Still dry, we saw that there were already several people camping here.   Rather than checking out the falls, we decided to march on.  We wanted to make sure we got a campsite at six mile mark and several other groups had started out at the same time as us, though we had only seen one other group after the first mile.

We stopped in a shady spot with some big rocks for a quick lunch of summer sausage and cheese on baguettes, along with dried fruit and trail mix.  Yum.  The campsite we were looking for was on a turnoff from the main trail that went about a mile and appeared to end near the Kaweah River.  We weren’t exactly sure where on the trail the campsites would be.  We made it to the fork much earlier than we expected and were actually not sure if it was the right turnoff.

After consulting the map and running into another hiker who was camped in the area, we figured out we were in the right spot.  The hiker we spoke to pointed out that there was a site across the creek.  So we crossed a nicely placed, large fallen tree and walked to a great camp site.  There was an existing fire ring (complete with firewood) sheltered by some huge rocks, a nice flat spot for a tent, areas away from our tent where we could store our food and prepare dinners, and to top it off, right by the creek.

It felt good to take off the backpack, my shoulders thanked me!  We set up our tent and moved our food away from the camp.  The trail we were camping off was supposed to continue for another mile and end down by the Kaweah river.  The hiker we spoke to said that the trail was not really maintained, but that if we felt like bushwacking a little, you could find the trail.  He told us if we found a gravesite on the way, we’d know we were on the right trail.

Never to turn down a challenge we decided to check it out.  There were lots of downed trees that you had to clamber over and the trail had obviously not been kept up because there we were constantly having to push our way through underbrush (and at one point small trees).  But, enough people had been back there that a faint trail was almost always visible.  We found the gravesite.  A 15 year-old’s gravemarker was on the side of a small hill.  Don’t know if he died on the trail or what and I’m not sure how someone carried out the rather large gravemarker that  far.  A strange sight indeed.  As we got closer to the river, we kinda lost whatever trail there was and had to scramble down some steep embankments to reach the river.  There was supposed to be a campsite down there, but we couldn’t find it.  We enjoyed the solitude, listening to the roar of the river and the sounds of birds.

The trip back was uneventful (meaning we found the trail with no problem) and we were happy to get back to camp.  We gave our new MSR water filtration system its first test in the creek by our campsite.  It worked well over the weekend and we even used it to help out some other hikers whose own filtration system had malfunctioned.  For dinner, we boiled some water and tried out our first freeze-dried camping food.  Beef stroganoff was the main course.  With a little salt and pepper, and our leftover baguette from lunch, we were quite pleased with the quality.  Both us were actually looking forward to our next freeze dried dinner.

After a little work, we got a fire started.  It had rained for most of the week leading up to our arrival, so most of the wood by the campsite was wet.  But we found enough dry stuff to get a fire going and then were able to dry out some of the wet wood.   We played some cards after dinner and soon after darkness arrived we gladly turned in.  It had been a tiring day, around 9 miles total.  Tomorrow we were hoping to hike double that amount, so we needed the rest.  The sound of the creek provided some great white noise to fall asleep to.

Backpacking, Round 1 (part 1)

June 6, 2010

Sarah and I went on our first of three backpacking trips we have planned for the summer.  After acquiring all the necessary equipment, it was time to set out into the wild.  This trip was on the Middle Fork Trail in Sequoia National Park, California.  We set out on Friday morning and were going to camp at the Lodgepole campground our first night and then head down into the Valley to backpack Saturday and Sunday nights.  We spotted our first bear of the trip not too far from the entrance of the park.

There he is to the left.  He took off when he accelerated after stopping for this picture.  When we picked up our wilderness permit, we were told we would definitely see bears where we were backpacking.  I think we were both a bit apprehensive about this part of the backpacking experience, and this wasn’t welcome news.  Though black bears are supposed to be less aggressive than grizzlies, we weren’t relishing running into one in our campsite or on the trails.  We had the bear canister required for the trip, as well as bear spray (which though technically illegal, the ranger said just don’t tell us about it, so we didn’t).

It was still quite cold in the Lodgepole area, and the Topokah Falls trail we had hoped to walk in the afternoon was supposedly impassable.  We set up camp and decided to investigate the trail.  There was snow, but it was definitely walkable.  We soon saw our next two bears, at a distance.  Apparently some others had been about 10 feet from a mother and her cub, and the bears had retreated further away from the trail when we got there.  We were on high alert now for bears.

However, our next encounter was of the human kind.  We found an Indian family of three who apparently had been wandering around for 30 minutes and looked very happy to find us.  They asked if we knew where the falls were.  We hadn’t been there, but the trail seemed pretty straightforward, so we told them they could follow us.  We finally made it and because of the heavy snows this year in the mountains, the falls were raging (more on the effects of the heavy snow later).  Here’s a picture of the falls:

It was pretty impressive when we got up close too and you could feel the spray from the falls.  It was starting to get cold and we wanted to get back to camp to start a fire to cook dinner.  The Indian family that had been following us asked if they could follow us back out.  We said sure, though we knew this was going to slow the exit process.  They were moving slowly and the 12 year old daughter was having difficulty on the snowy parts of the trail in her tennis shoes.  Eventually there was crying and I knew the mother had her fill when she (wearing cotton slips on with no socks) trudged through one ice-cold stream without even attempting to cross on the rocks that we used.  Then we saw bear number 4.  Or more accurately the family saw it.  They were behind us a bit and we had gone down the path so that the were above us.  The girl started yelling that there was a bear, so we yelled back to not run, since we thought they had seen it further back on the trail.  Actually, it was ten to fifteen feet behind us and  he loped by and stopped at a nearby tree.  I snapped this shot and then we slowly moved on away from him.

We finally got out and left the family to find their car (which they were not sure where it was; I wouldn’t have been surprised to find them frozen huddled together like this the next morning, but we felt our responsibility for them was over).  After some struggles with wet wood, we got a fire started and cooked a salmon filet on the fire.  We also heated some water and made some couscous and had an appetizer of cucumber/tomato salad.  The salmon turned out perfectly, a little crispy on the top but juicy on the inside.  Matched with the couscous it was delicious.  We then had a few smores.  With night time temperatures supposed to reach 23 degrees, we bundled up in our zero degree bags and hit the hay.  This was my first real test of the bag, and it passed with flying colors.  I was not cold and slept relatively well.  Next, on to the backpacking…..[Part 2 to follow]