Friday, September 3, 2010

Sierra Nevada

Well, it was a pretty eventful August this year. Nice time to take vacation.

I'm curious to see what everyone else has been doing too! So, once you've read this, feel free to leave a comment, a link, a something. I shall relate my adventures in the middle of California as best I can, and offer whatever insight I've come to in the last couple weeks.

Well, I took off with Monica Heiken on the morning of the 9th, headed to Yosemite. We drove all day, and were lucky enough to find a quiet spot at Cold Spring, right outside the valley.

After a fairly early night, we were up at six a.m.

Hah. . .
just kidding.

Actually, I slept in until like ten.

Then we made a leisurely breakfast. Really important part of the day.

At this point we decided that we should hike Half Dome. After getting some fresh ice for the cooler, we headed over towards Glacier Point and started trekkin' up with all the other folks towards Vernal Falls. We were in really bad moods by this point, and it was okay. To be quite honest, we probably started a bit late.

It was pretty hot, and it was a hard day of hikin'. Spot on though - last ones on the summit. We enjoyed an amazing sunset; it was great to be up there, all alone on the cables, and with no crowds on top.

Silence. Wind.


Damn tired. . . still stoked though!

After getting down, we began the drive to Tuolumne.

Small note here: Signage in Tuolumne is tough to navigate at night, regardless of the fact that the main road runs east to west, with no junctions. Better yet, campgrounds fill up quickly in the summer - definitely not many openings between one and two a.m.

So we found a spot off a dirt road, and slept. It was a very, very long day by this point. One of the longer ones I can remember.

By the time morning came, we were still tired. After sleeping in, we headed to Tenaya lake to make some breakfast and relax a bit.

We were headed out of Tuolumne by mid-afternoon.

Highway 120 runs basically east from Tuolumne to Lee Vining, and 395 runs north and south from there. After a stop for a milkshake, we headed towards Bishop.

Our backpacking destination was south of Lee Vining and north of Bishop - Rock Creek Canyon.

We arrived at Mosquito Flat by late afternoon, with intention to leave in the morning.

It's really not a bad drive in the Sierra. Everything is gorgeous and super alpine, and driving distances are fairly short - 'specially with two drivers. It's about an hour from the border of Yosemite to great backpacking, climbing, skiing, etc.

Looking down an upper section of Rock Creek Canyon

The morning came quickly.

By the afternoon we found ourselves at Ruby Lake, below Mono Pass. We swam, relaxed, made some dinner, and were sleeping as it got dark. The climb the next day was gonna be long!

We got a fairly quick start in the a.m. - oatmeal fueled crazies. We were over Mono Pass and headed southwest by one in the afternoon.

Mono Pass rises to just over 11,900 feet, though the peaks around it are much higher. It was roughly the highest point on our backpacking trip.

Though our original plan was to continue to Pioneer Basin that night, we found a beautiful little spot near a small creek, and chose to take an easy day instead. Hard to beat lying in soft grass next to an ice cold stream - especially after the long, hard, dusty slog over Mono Pass and down.

. . .Proved to be a good choice.

In the morning we were hiking down to the valley that holds Golden Creek. We saw several groups of people - everyone very nice - and had the usual yummy lunch right next to the water.

Looking north up Golden Creek

The mosquitos got worse as we headed closer to Pioneer Basin.

I had to remind myself that even though we were packin' in the right time of year for the Sierra, the season was still early because of the amount of snowpack (late snowpack). Pioneer is like a alpine marshy place - sort of meadow like, with incredible lakes and some very rocky patches.

Thus, the insects were still pretty bad.

Pioneer Basin was the worst though - everywhere else seemed fine.

Hate bear canisters

Luckily we found the best island ever - smack dab in the middle of the larger lake, in upper Pioneer. Plenty of breeze, and the best swimming.

We took an extra layover day.

Next, we headed down into the valley again, and back up Golden Creek to its head. Golden Lake was one of the higher lakes we camped at. We got there fairly early, so we set up camp, and I eventually scrambled up an easy 5th class ridge to the top of an adjacent peak.

The rock up there was phenomenal. I even found several slabby boulder problems, and one of the most perfect finger cracks i've seen in a while - 15-20 feet of perfect granite and precise finger locks. Very nice way to spend the afternoon above 11,000 feet, sending wilderness granite!

Looking south down Golden Creek, back towards Pioneer Basin

Golden Lake

In the morning we were out early - heading east back over Mono Pass, past Ruby Lake to our exit trailhead.

We'd hoped to stop at Pie in the Sky, located at the resort just below Rock Creek lake, for some. . . pie. (Apparently some of the best pie ever), but by the time we got there. . . the pie was sold out.

We were fairly depressed about that. We got some more ice for the cooler, cried a bit about our lack of pie, and continued on.

After a refuel stop in Lee Vining, we drove west back to Tuolumne. Before hitting the park border, we turned off and found a great camping spot in a meadow below a walk-in campground. It was nice to have a comfy night in the grass again, without all the dusty, dry air and knobby granite to lie on.

Still mosquitoes though. . .

And super awesome lenticular clouds!

Since we were so close to Tuolumne, we decided to spend the next day there.

We climbed Lembert dome, hung out for a while.

Then, suddenly plans got rearranged.

Realizing that we were somewhat tired for now of the incessant sun, and the dry air. . . we kept driving west.

Before we knew it, we were in San Francisco.

This was weird.

We kept on talking about the coast, and got super psyched up.

We were in Fisherman's Warf, downtown for dinner, walking around.

We definitely looked out of place - greasy, grimy, probably not smelling too good. But we went to the best restaurant around - Buena Vista Cafe, for the original U.S. Irish Coffee and seafood. Stuffed.

By sunset, we were out, headed northwest past the Golden Gate, Point Reyes, and Highway 1.

We spent the night on the beach south of Mendocino, after a lot of extra driving. It was a really late night, and all the campgrounds were either way too expensive or full. Sleeping in random locations isn't as easy when you're not in National Forest land. . .

The next day we drove north through a wonderfully foggy California coast, and by the early evening we were in the Humboldt Redwoods!

Our last day was spent at Gold Bluffs, near Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This is without a doubt my all-time favorite campsite on the California coast. Right on the beach, and absolutely beautiful regardless of the weather. . . get there before 1pm if you want a spot!

We cooked alfredo pasta with salmon, butter, parmesan - adventured around the beach - and tried hard not to think about all of the things we had to do upon our return the next day.

Fern Canyon. 1 mile-ish north from Gold Bluff

The open road has magic that can't be compared with anything.

All photos - Monica Heiken

Monday, August 2, 2010

Las montaƱas de la trinidad

What an incredible wilderness area, those Trinity Alps.

We're so lucky, living here in southern Oregon. We have access to some of the best wilderness areas in the entire nation - all within several hours of driving.

I was lucky enough to have a bit of vacation. My good friends Torrey Johnson and Dashiel Bivens accompanied myself as branches of a guiding trio - providing wilderness experience for incoming High School sophomores. What a lovely bunch of boys. Serious though - we all had a blast, guides and the guided.

We left on Saturday 7/24 - early in the morning. We experienced a blown radiator cap on Dash's Honda soon after passing Etna, but we managed to make it to the TH in relatively short time! Bit of a later start for a long first day, but it worked great.

Snowslide Lake, with Little Caribou to the west

Our first night was spent in the Caribou Lake basin - Little and Big Caribou, Snowslide lake. We camped at the latter, and were eating dinner in the dark.

Photo by Dashiel Bivens

The next morning we were up and hiking south. We crossed the top of Sawtooth Ridge above Caribou Lake in the afternoon, and after enduring a tough evening downpour, and some awesome thunderstorm weather, we pitched a hasty camp on the northeast side of Emerald Lake. It lasted maybe 30 minutes to an hour.

Caribou Lake, below Sawtooth Ridge

Can you say ex-Glacier?
Photo by Dashiel Bivens

Our next day was a much-needed layover in the Emerald/Sapphire/Mirror valley. Relatively heavy packs, and general business of providing services beyond the personal level made for a strenuous couple days! We were all stoked though, and the boys and Torrey and Dash and I enjoyed a day hike through the valley to Sapphire and Mirror Lakes. I got whipped into shape quick. Mirror Lake was frigid. One of the coldest I've entered in a long time - but awesome. So clear afterward. The approach up the valley had some inspiring views. Waterfall after waterfall.

Sapphire Lake!

Photo by Dashiel Bivens

Waterfall below Mirror Lake

Sub 40 degree water

The third day was our longest in terms of mileage. We hiked south to Morris Meadows, and then up over a pass into the Deer Creek drainage. Nine and a half miles later, we were making camp in some large boulders beneath Luella Lake. Really awesome little secret spot.

Photo by Dashiel Bivens

Upper Deer Creek Drainage, looking southwest

In the morning we were up early, and hiking east to Granite Lake. I'd never been, and was very excited. The climb from the valley was short and intense. By one p.m. we were at the lake, and circumnavigating to find the ideal spot. The rocks on the southeast part of the lake provide awesome exposure to sun in the morning, and a cut in the amount of biting insects you encounter. Plus, the swimming is great. We enjoyed a leisurely day in the sun - tanning, swimming, replenishing our water supply. I was tempted to summit the ridge running the length of Granite Lake's basin, but decided against it as the sun fell lower and lower. I'll come back for it!

Granite Lake

We encountered rescue helicopters that day. A scout, and then a larger chopper an hour later - flying super low. I have yet to talk to the USFS about it, but I will - we were all curious as to what had occurred. Something requiring evacuation via aircraft! I'd never seen a helicopter fly so close to a ridgetop before.

We were up early again the next day, and found ourselves back up on the ridge summit by noon. Hiking north below Seven Up Peak, we enjoyed an awesome panorama of views throughout some of the best parts of the Wilderness. Sawtooth mountain, and the whole glacial shield-like formation of the ridges adjacent to it are so awesome from a distance. I love it.

We took a late lunch, and instead of descending into Bowerman meadows, cut cross-country to Horseshoe Lake across a ridge and a small valley. This was an excellent decision, and it saved us about two and a half hours of grueling ascent in the late afternoon. It's pretty clear on a topo which way to do this cut - if you have a large group spread out in the meadow, it clearly sees a lot of traffic in this regard.

Our last two days were fairly laid-back. We enjoyed it immensely. Real vacation, with some serious wilderness. Both Horseshoe and Ward Lakes are a bit less cold than the rest. Ward's swimming isn't ideal, but Horseshoe has the best camp/swim/climb rock around, on the west side of the lake. Complete with bear-hang tree on site!

Somewhere between Horseshoe and Ward Lakes, my camera suffered a malfunction. I'll have to send it back to Canon to get the lense repaired after I return from the Sierra. Such is life with technology..

Photo by Dashiel Bivens

Ward Lake was the last day, and it was a great way to relax and exit the wilderness with calm and poise. I took a couple naps. We were on the road the following day by 1 pm - south to Weaverville for a stop at NAPA Auto (replacement radiator cap), and east to Redding.

Redding. *sigh*

I avoid this particular city like the plague, but our clients had specifically requested In-and-Out Burger. There is but one in the area. Luckily it was literally in, and then out.

We arrived home on Saturday the 31st, in the mid-evening.

I can't even capture the refreshing feeling I've had for the last couple days! Exiting the wilderness is hard for me in many ways - I often feel a disconnect from people around me, from myself, and sometimes my moods play havok. It's some type of post-wilderness depression. I don't know if I can really quantify this for you. No doubt it's been the same for this 8-day trip, but the Trinities always provide the most refreshing perspective, and they take care of you in ways that other mountains can't even compare with. I view the wilderness as a type of medicine, and this trip was so necessary for my mental stability! I wish photos could do such a beautiful place justice, but they never will.

Photo by Dashiel Bivens

I've felt so much more healthy and clear-headed as a result of this trip. The magic of the Trinity Alps truly goes much deeper than most really wish to attend.

Sapphire Lake
Panorama by Dashiel Bivens

What's the best part? The best part is that backpacking season is just beginning!

Go. Get it.

Snow coverage is still present, but it is all very doable. Even the Canyon Creek drainage is on-point right now. We crossed the Sawtooth Ridge above Caribou Lake without incident or trouble. We encountered a men's group (yup) who had high hopes of crossing from Mirror to Canyon Creek Lakes. I doubt they accomplished this, considering the types of gear they had brought, but it sounded like an awesome idea to me. If you're stoked on that sort of ultralight mountaineering, bring a pair of 4-6 point trekking crampons and a self arrest pole, and have at it. Woo!

Mosquitoes aren't so bad this year either. I've seen so, so much worse in the Trinity Alps. I mean, like to the point where even DEET doesn't do anything. It's not like that this year! Sure, bring a tent/mosquito net/etc - but strive to find sites that have minimal tree coverage above all, and exposure to wind - I slept out without tent, net, etc for five nights in a row without suffering at all - it's all in the site selection. Those bushes and trees provide mosquitoes with the elemental protection they need.

If you have any specific questions, need maps, or any type of help whatsoever - contact us at the store (541) 488-1202.

Alternatively, feel free to email Web Support

Thanks for reading, and namaste to you.