Saturday, November 20, 2010

Backpacking in the Inyo with the fam

Shortly after my impromptu Yosemite trip, I embarked on my scheduled family backpacking trip. Sticking with this Summer's theme of "Going to California", we had decided to go to the Inyo National Forest / Ansel Adams Wilderness. I had heard about this spot from Anthony Jones and his Anthony's Audio Journal podcast. If you haven't stumbled upon this, I highly recommend it.

Anthony has several postings describing a couple of trips he's been on to the Ansel Adams and spoke very highly of the trek from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake. He draws a detailed mental picture which drove me to want to see it and share it with my family. So, I planned it out, used my frequent flier miles and got myself, my beautiful wife and two eldest children ready to go.

Our trip began early one Tuesday morning flying from D/FW to Reno, NV. In Reno, we would rent a car and drive to the Reno REI to stock up on fuel and a little extra food. We grabbed some fast food and started the 3 hour drive from Reno to Mammoth Lakes, CA. We had to make a couple of stops along the way, and arrived in Mammoth Lakes around 3:30pm. Permits are required in the Inyo, so we stopped at the ranger station in Mammoth Lakes to pick up our permit and the required bear canister. From there, we drove the short drive down Minaret Road to the Agnew Meadows campground where we would stay the first night. We set up our front country campsite and headed back into Mammoth Lakes for dinner.

On the way back into town, we passed a big sign that read "Fault Line". Being from Texas and having never seen a fault line, we decided to stop. This is a nice little area with an up close look into an actual fault. The crack is probably at least 20 feet deep and about 4 feet wide. If you're ever in the area, it's worth a stop.

For dinner, we decided to stop in the famed "Burgers" restaurant. It's a quaint family-owned business on Minaret Road, near the ski area. Anthony had mentioned this in his podcast and I had read other postings of people who highly recommended it. The food is typical burger-joint-style cuisine, but is mighty tasty and would keep us warm tonight as temps were expected to be in the 30's. After dinner, we headed back to camp to organize our gear for the next morning's hike.

Back at camp, we started a fire with whatever firewood we could find to help us stay warm while we unpacked the gear from the flight and repacked it for the next 3 days in the backcountry. With four of us, for 3 days, we were going to be carrying around 20 pounds of food. My wife and I decided to each carry a bear canister, so we divided the food up. I took most of the heavy food and carried our larger Bear Vault BV500 and my wife carried the lighter food in the rented Garcia bear canister.

The menu for the three days consisted of:
  • breakfasts - pancakes, Mountain House breakfast wraps and oatmeal
  • lunches - chicken or tuna pouches, cheese, pb&j and tortillas
  • dinners - Mountain House Beef Stew, Backpacker's Pantry Shepherd's Pie and Mountain House Grilled Chicken and Mashed Potatoes
  • snacks - PowerBars, Clif z-Bars, raisins and Clif Shot Roks
That first night in the front country, the temps, as expected, dropped to around freezing. This was a good test for everyone's new gear such as my wife's Outdoor Research Aria down hoodie and her new MontBell Super Stretch Down Hugger sleeping bag. My wife is a cold sleeper and while I think she was a bit warmer, she still got cold, and she was wearing about every piece of gear she brought. My daughter got pretty cold as well. She was using my wife's old The North Face Cat's Meow sleeping bag and I gave her my MontBell UL Down Inner Jacket. My son and I were warm as usual. My son uses a Kelty Light Year synthetic bag and I use an REI Mojave down bag. We all sleep on the Big Agnes Air Core pads, while I have opted to upgrade a bit to the Insulated Air Core. I highly recommend the Insulated Air Core, more so for the feel and reduced noise than any sort of added insulative value.

In the morning, I was the first up, teeming with anticipation of the trip. All of my planning was culminating in this beautiful crisp morning. I started a small fire to warm everyone up when they arose and began making the first breakfast, Pancakes. This is a great breakfast for the front country or backcountry. I use the Bisquick (add water only type) mix and measure out the amount I need for the trip into a sturdy gallon Ziploc bag. I carry Syrup in small eye dropper bottles and you could probably bring butter as well if you wanted. I also like to bring dried blueberries to make blueberry pancakes for those who so desire. In camp, I simply measure the amount of water I need and use my hands to mix or knead the dough. Using my lightweight frying pan over my SnowPeak Giga stove, I heat the pan up. I snip one of the bottom corners of the Ziploc bag and pour a small pancake sized amount into the pan. I carry a small lightweight spatula to flip 'em and then serve 'em up.

After breakfast, we broke camp down and packed our gear up. Our main gear consists of:
  • Tents - (1) REI Half-Dome 2HC 2-person/3-season tent and (1) Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 2-person/3-season tent
  • Bags - (Dad) REI Mojave +15 Down bag, (Mom) MontBell Super Stretch Down Hugger #2 +25, (Brandon) Kelty Light Year XP 20 Synthetic, (Lauren) The North Face Cat's Meow +20 Synthetic
  • Pads - (Dad) Big Agnes Insulated Air Core 3/4 length, (Everyone Else) Big Agnes Air core full length
  • Packs - (Dad) REI Flash 65, (Mom) Osprey Aura 65, (Brandon and Lauren) Gregory Jade 50
  • Water filtration - Katadyn Hiker Pro

Everyone would carry their own clothes and water, which we would filter using the Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter. I carried the Half Dome tent and the Bear Vault bear canister. My total weight was somewhere around 35 pounds. My wife carried the Garcia bear canister and her total weight would be somewhere around 25 pounds. Brandon carried the Big Agnes tent and his total weight was around 18 pounds. Lauren was left to carry just her clothes totaling around 11 pounds. All in all, we did a pretty good job of packing and dividing up the gear.

We finally made it to the trailhead at around 9:30am where we would leave the car and load our scented items into one of the parking lot's provided bear boxes. The plan was to hike north about 3 miles, going past Olaine Lake to the outlet of Shadow Lake, then turn west heading up the Shadow Lake drainage. We would stop at Shadow Lake for lunch and then continue up Shadow Creek to Ediza Lake where we would camp for the first night in the backcountry. The next day, we would backtrack about 3 miles to join up with the John Muir Trail and head north over to Garnet Lake and then to Thousand Island Lake to camp the second night in the backcountry. On the third day, we would hike south along the high trail back to the Agnew Meadows trailhead. It was very ambitious, but I felt it was do-able.

The first part of the trail leaving Agnew Meadows is very flat and dusty from the many pack trains. About 1.8 miles in, you arrive at Olaine lake. There's no access to the lake, but there's one flat area near the south bank which was a great place to stop for a quick snack. Crossing a foot bridge at the base of the Shadow Lake drainage, you start the ascent to Shadow Lake. Rising around 700 vertical feet in about 1 mile, you pass some beautiful cascading falls and eventually arrive at Shadow Lake, see the picture below. The trail leading up is very well maintained and has a couple of large sweeping switchbacks. The anticipation grows as you near the top. You will see Mammoth Mountain and the towering ski lifts in the southern distance. It is a gorgeous view up and down the canyon.

After lunch, we began the 4 mile hike to Ediza Lake. Overall, this part of the trail was fairly level, only gaining 500 or 600 feet. Most of the elevation gain is saved for the last mile or so. Just past Shadow Lake, you cross the famed John Muir Trail (JMT). We will come back and hook up with this trail the next day. Heading onward and upward, we followed the calm waters of Shadow Creek, stopping occasionally to splash some water on our faces and cool off in the shade. We passed many California Conservation Corps (CCC) workers doing trail maintenance. I made sure to give them my thanks for all their hard work and give 'em a hearty handshake.

We crossed two small footbridges and then a large drift of snow still left in the shade at over 9,000 feet and Ediza Lake came into full view. With the sun hitting the water, the ripples looked like thousands of twinkling lights. The Minarets and Mt. Ritter loom large over Ediza and provide a wonderful backdrop to this natural beauty.

Camping is limited to the northeast shore of Ediza. There is a trail that leads you along the west side of the lake. You must make several small water crossings. I can imagine in June and July, the snow melt might make this a bit treacherous. We had very little difficulty getting across, but it's probably 1 mile around to the other side. Ambitious groups navigated the east shore, which is a large boulder field, but a much shorter route. There are many campsites to choose from, but it is not easy finding them. The terrain is pretty steep and finding level ground can be a challenge. We found a wonderful spot that was shielded from the winds on all sides. While we didn't have a direct view of the lake, we simply crawled up on one of our four walls and we had a bird's eye view of the lake in all directions. Here's a shot of me at sunrise on the second day.

On day 2, the plan was to hike back down the Shadow Creek drainage to the John Muir Trail (JMT) and head North to Garnet Lake. Everyone was up shortly after sunrise. Breakfast was a Mountain House Wraps Breakfast Skillet. Eggs, red/green peppers, potatoes and sausage all mixed together. After breakfast, we broke camp and were back on the trail.

The hike down to the JMT was quick and the day was warming quickly. We took a break at an area near the creek where we could all rinse off in the cool water. It felt great to get some of the sweat and grime off. The hike up the JMT to Garnet Lake is a steady climb. There's no real steep inclines, but it is all uphill. The last section is a set of switchbacks up a talus field. The payoff is well worth it. Here's a panoramic of Garnet Lake from atop the pass.

We then hiked down and around the east end of the lake to a foot bridge. Linda and the kids stayed at the bridge while I hiked around to the north side of the lake to find us a camping spot. Garnet is a very popular place and the north side is where most of the spots are, so finding a good campsite is a bit of work. I found a great site with good views of the lake and Banner Peak. I dropped my pack to save the spot and went back to get the rest of the family.

We made our way back to where I had marked my spot and set up camp. Everyone was pretty wiped out by the hike, so we all laid down and tried to nap a bit. Around 5pm, I started filtering water and preparing dinner, Shepherds Pie. After dinner, we took a few pics and everyone was asleep by probably 9pm.

Part of the allure of Garnet Lake for photographers is Banner Peak. The sunrise casts a very striking, deep orange color on Banner Peak for only about 5-10 minutes and then it's gone. Here is a shot that I took at sunrise. This has not been altered at all.

I got Linda up to see this and we sat and watched with amazement. It is truly moments like these that inspire me to get out more and see some of God's glory in the wilderness.

Later that morning, I got everyone up and we had some oatmeal for breakfast and packed everything up for our hike out. Getting from Garnet Lake back to Agnew Meadows would prove to be a bit challenging. The path heading east is difficult to find from the footbridge and requires some boulder hopping and route finding. Once you drop off the boulders, the path becomes well marked. It is possible that we took the wrong way, but we made it nonetheless.

Dropping around 700 vertical feet to the Middle Fork San Joaquin River below Garnet was very uneventful and pretty easy. Crossing the river proved to be a bit more of a challenge. Unlike the crossings at Thousand Island Lake and Shadow Lake, there is no footbridge. So, we sought to find a place to cross. We began to follow a trail along the west side of the river heading south towards Shadow Lake. It was an easy hike for about 1 mile, the began to get a bit more challenging climbing over rocks and downed trees, but we were finding it difficult to locate a safe place to cross. Eventually, the trail dead ended at the river. Fortunately, it was a very easy crossing, although we all got a bit wet. The one issue with this was that there was no trail leading us back onto the main River Trail which would take us back to Agnew Meadows.

This is where having a compass and a map come in handy. I was able to find a few land marks and roughly knew how far we had come. I estimated where we were and what direction we needed to head to intersect the trail. At this point, though, my family was doubting me. Within 5 minutes, we hit the River Trail and we were on our way.

I knew at some point on the River Trail, we were going to hit a dry section and we were running low on water. The family was tired and ready to get back to the car and eat a big burger in town. Instead of stopping to filter a liter of water for us, we chose to push on. Looking back on it now, as the guide, I should have forced everyone to sit while I filtered at least a liter of water. But, I let the family's desire to move on outweigh my common sense.

The daytime temps were pushing into the mid-70's and the sun made it feel hot. Plus, the last section from Olaine Lake to Agnew Meadows is very dry, dusty and exposed. We all completely ran out of water with about 1 mile to go. With tired legs, it was difficult to keep the troops moving. We found whatever shade we could and would stop for short spells. We arrived back at the Agnew Meadows campground and drank from the first water spigot we found. Later, my daughter would suffer from mild dehydration, getting sick in the parking lot of the restaurant.

In the end, everyone was fine and we had a big meal of hamburgers and french fries, iced tea and milk shakes at Burgerz in Mammoth. We relaxed in the cool restaurant for a good hour. We cleaned whatever grime we could off in the sink and freshened up a bit for the 3 hour drive back to Reno. I was glad to hear the response from the family when I asked if they would do it again. I got a resounding "YES". Music to my ears.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Impromptu trip to Yosemite

After our family trip to Sequoia and Yosemite, and only getting a taste of Yosemite, I wanted to get more of the Yosemite experience. The weekend of July 30th provided the opportunity. I had two days of meetings in San Francisco on Wednesday and Thursday. I checked with my wife to see how she felt about me spending the weekend in the Yosemite backcountry with a buddy that I was working with in San Francisco. She thought it was a great opportunity for me to see the Yosemite backcountry and said I should go. That set the short term planning in motion.

We would have part of Friday after driving up from San Francisco, all of Saturday and part of Sunday, needing to be on the last plane home to Dallas by 5pm. My first idea was to do a 26-mile loop near the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. After consulting my hiking partner, we decided we wanted something a bit more leisurely, so another co-worker recommended the Ten Lakes area. This would be an out-and-back 6.5 miles each way and about a 2,000 foot elevation gain and 600 foot loss on the way in. I checked with the backcountry office and we were able to reserve permits for the area, amazing considering this was planned about a week in advance.

On Friday, we drove up from the San Francisco area. It took about 4 hours to get to the park. We picked up our permits and proceeded to the Ten Lakes trailhead. We unloaded all our gear, stashed our smelly items in the parking lot bear boxes and had a little lunch consisting of Hickory Smoked Tuna in a Tortilla. We saddled up and were on the trail by 1:30pm. With 6.5 miles and 2,000 feet + / 600 feet - to go, we estimated we'd be at Ten Lakes by around 4:30 or 5:00.

The trail starts off with a slow, gradual incline for the first 2.5 miles or so. You meander through wooded areas and out onto granite slabs occasionally. It was cool in the shade, but on the granite slabs, in the sunlight, it was extremely warm and dry. If you are going to do this hike, be sure you fill up with water at the trailhead. There are not a lot of water sources until you hit about mile 2.5 where you will cross a small creek, which could be dry later in the summer. This is also where the incline gets severely steeper. I think you go up about 500 feet in the first 2.5 miles and 1500 feet in the second 2.5 miles to the pass. The scenery also changes here, as you enter a more wooded area and passing an occasional meadow. The wildflowers in the meadows were beautiful. Yellows, blues, reds and whites were in abundance. There is also more water sources in this section, just be sure you are filled up prior to hitting around 9300 feet and around mile 4. This is where you are nearing the pass and there will be no more water until you reach Ten Lakes.

We stopped a few times on the way up for breaks. We had come from Dallas (near sea level) to Costa Mesa (at sea level) to San Francisco (at sea level) straight to the Ten Lakes trailhead at around 7500 feet. This provided no time to acclimate. Our sea level lungs were having difficulties in the thin air at around 9000 feet. We ended up arriving at our campsite around 5:30pm, which was not too bad.

We made camp and started working on dinner. Our first nights meal was a Mountain House lasagna with meat sauce and some tortillas for dipping and sopping up the goodness. Paired with dinner was a fine Maker's Mark and Coke, which was chilled over what little snow we could find and put in an inverted frisbee. This would keep us warm for the first night with temperatures dropping into the low- to mid-40s. We stayed around camp and went down to the lake's edge for a few pictures. Here are some from near our campsite.

The next morning, I experimented with breakfast, based on a tip I got from Backpacker Magazine for cooking pancakes in the backcountry. Theirs were actually beer pancakes, but I opted for just plain old Bisquick and water. Just buy the bottles of Bisquick that you add water, shake and pour. Empty the Bisquick contents into a ziploc bag at home. When you are ready to make them in camp, just add the water and compress the ziploc to mix it up. Once mixed, snip a small hole in one of the bottom corners to pour it out of into your fry pan. I brought a small eye dropper bottle with some maple syrup as well. What a tasty treat.

After breakfast, we decided to do a short day hike past the next lake to the northeast of our campsite, and head north along a 9000 foot ridge around Grand Mountain. This should put is in a position to look at the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne River. This is a 4000+ foot deep canyon that cuts through the Yosemite backcountry, north of Tioga Road from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to Glen Aulin. We would follow this ridge line around, boulder hopping occasionally and doing our own route finding as there is no visible trail. The route finding is not difficult, but my HighGear altimeter watch made sure we stayed around 9000 feet, which was extremely helpful.

Once out on the north end of Grand Mountain, we had some decent views of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne valley. We couldn't see completely into the Canyon, but the Valley is breathtaking.

We arrived back at camp in time for some lunch, a quick rinse in the lake and a nice hour long nap. Rick found comfort in his hammock and I laid out my Big Agnes Insulated Air Core mattress on a flat piece of ground with my Thermarest Compressible Pillow.

Later in the afternoon, we set out on another short day hike. This time, we would ascend about 500 vertical feet in a little over 1 mile to the highest and largest of the Ten Lakes. The first half mile or so of this hike from our campsite consumed most of the 500 vertical feet, so it was pretty steep. In the process, though, we were served up some spectacular views of the lake where we were camping at a couple of the 180 degree switchback turns. Here's a sample of what we were blessed with.

The lake at our destination was as gorgeous as the others we had seen, but seemed to be much less populated, probably due to the additional climb required to get here from the trailhead. We were also treated to someone in the distance playing their harmonica. It was a brief, but very tranquil moment. If I ever make it back to this area, this high lake may be a great spot to camp.

We turned around and headed back to our camp, arriving shortly before dinner time, allowing us some more down time to sit and soak our feet in the lake and watch a group of Dads and their teenage sons fish. Dinner tonight would be a Backpacker's Pantry Santa Fe Chicken with some tortillas, and of course, Maker's Mark and Coke. On this night, as well, we decided to have a campfire. Campfires are allowed below 9600 feet in the Yosemite backcountry, in established fire rings. It was nice to sit next to the fire, sipping a bit of Maker's, and re-visiting the past two days, and starting to plan the next trip.

In the morning, we packed up camp, ate some oatmeal with our coffee and tea, and bid farewell to our short-term home in the woods. Before heading out, we snapped a great photo from our campsite looking out over the lake. This is definitely a place I would come back to.

This was also a great warm-up for my next trip in a week, where I'm headed back to the same general area, but heading into the Ansel Adams Wilderness within the Inyo National Forest. This trip, I will be taking my wife and my two oldest children, ages 13 and 11. Look for that trip report soon.

Friday, July 9, 2010

2010 Summer Trip Part 2 - Yosemite National Park

On Day 11 of our Summer Trip, we left Sequoia National Park and headed about 3 hours north to Yosemite National Park. We had tried to book campsites well in advance for Yosemite, but found out later that the campsites book up for the entire year in the first 7 minutes the reservation system opens for the season. So, we were just going to spend the afternoon in Yosemite Valley. As with most of this trip, we were seeing places not even the Canyon Man has seen. This would be everyone's first glimpse of this slice of Heaven on Earth.

We entered the park from the South, through Wawona. If you ever plan a trip to YOSE (pronounced Yo-see) and the Valley, I recommend coming through the South Entrance. Doing so offers up a dramatic entry into the Valley. You drive through a short tunnel and emerge into Eden. I had seen pictures and was in awe of the grandeur of this hallowed ground. You quickly understood why John Muir fought so vehemently to save this land for future generations to see. As beautiful as it looks in photographs, the 2-dimensional images do it no justice, it must be seen in person to behold.

Thanks to the late snow and the heavy snow melt, the waterfalls were gushing as if a dam had broken open. It was a site to see. You immediately are hit in the face with the distinctive Bridalveil Falls to the right and the behemoth slab of granite that is El Capitan. Immediately upon exiting the tunnel, there are turnouts and parking lots on either side of the road. You can stop and snap your own memory. Above is a panoramic I took.

We arrived to the valley around 2pm and we knew we only had a few hours. We headed straight away to Yosemite Village where we would park and grab some food and head out on a short hike. After speaking to some of the workers and explaining we wanted big payoff for little time, they recommended the short hike up to Lower Yosemite Falls. It's a short, paved trail leading you right to the base of the lower half of the two-part fall. Upper Yosemite Falls is reachable, but requires a bit more time than we had. We were not disappointed.

We passed through some groves of large pines and redwoods along Yosemite Creek. Although crowded, it is still quite peaceful. You round a bend and you notice immediately probably a 15-20 degree temperature drop and see large quantities of mist in the air. A few steps onto the bridge and you see the Lower Falls. Very impressive. I recommend wearing a light jacket when visiting any of the falls in Yosemite. The temperature drops dramatically and you will get wet. Here's a couple of shots of the Lower Yosemite Falls.

And from a distance, here is a shot of the Upper Yosemite Falls. There is a trail that leads you to the top.

On the way out of the Valley, we stopped near a meadow with a great shot of El Capitan. El Capitan is a revered climbing spot and often time requires multi-day climbs. If you are not familiar with how someone might achieve a multi-day climb, I offer this photo of a climbers PortaLedge. From Wikipedia
- A portaledge is a deployable hanging tent system designed for rock climbers who spend multiple days and nights on a big wall climb. There is also a picture of a couple of guys climbing up together with their gear hanging below them.

We were running out of daylight and wanted to get over Tioga Pass and off Tioga Road before dark. For those not familiar with this area, Tioga Road takes you through some of the majestic backcountry of Yosemite including the famed Tuolumne Meadows. The road reaches elevations near 10,000 feet and is impassable most of the year. It had been opened only a week or two before we arrived, and still had 8 foot snow drifts on the side of the road in places. It is a high winding road which is reason enough to not attempt the drive in the dark, but I also wanted to be able to see some of the backcountry areas I wish to return to at some time. This pristine backcountry appears to be very special and I look forward to spending time basking in it. Below is a shot of one of the lakes along Tioga Road, I believe it to be Siesta Lake, but I could be wrong.

Finally, just prior to darkness, we arrived at Lee Vining, the eastern end of Tioga Road. Here is a shot of the moon shining over the snow that lined most of the higher elevations of Tioga Road. It's unbelievable that this was the middle of June.

While our time in Yosemite was short, it was very memorable and inviting us to come back. Myself, my wife and my two oldest children are already booked for a backcountry trip towards the end of the summer, maybe 15 miles from the spot in this picture above. We are going backpacking in the Inyo National Forest and the Ansel Adams Wilderness. I am so looking forward to that.

I heard about that particular spot from Anthony Jones of Anthony's Audio Journal. His is a terrific podcast that details some of his day hikes and overnights in and around areas in Southern California, one of my favorite places to go. If you are a fan of the outdoors, I highly recommend giving him a listen, along with my faves, the Southeastern Backpackers, Rylan and Golden. These are two terrific ways to find some fabulous places to visit. They give you the sense of being there and make you want to follow in their footsteps.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 Summer Trip Part 1 - Sequoia and King's Canyon NP

On Day 8 of a 16 day epic trip, we arrived at Sequoia National Park in California. By this point, we have driven almost 2,000 miles and had spent 3 days at the beach and 2 days at some of California's theme parks. It was time for a little relaxation and enjoying the great outdoors. This was to be the first trip to Sequoia by anyone in the family. We had no idea what to expect apart from seeing some of the largest trees in the world.

We arrived from the south, through Bakersfield. Of the nearly 2,000 miles we had driven to this point, about 1,900 of it had been through various parts of the desert that is the great Southwest United States. The sudden emergence of pine forest was a welcome sight. Equally as welcoming was the cooler temperatures. We went from 100 degrees in Bakersfield to 68 at our home for the next 4 days in the Lodgepole Campground. Overnight lows, in June, were expected to be mid-30's to lower 40's with daytime highs in the low to mid 70's. The perfect camping weather.

We arrived later than we had planned, requiring a fast camp set up in the dark, along with a mad dinner prep. Having done this many times over the past 10 or so years, our family has learned to work well with each other. Everyone knows their assignments and carries them out quite well. My oldest son, Fire Man, is responsible for setting ablaze the camp fire and preparing the grill for some well deserved meat. My wife, daughter and oldest son take care of setting our tents up, a two-man and a four-man tent. I offload all of the gear and distribute to the appropriate family members while I also prepare the dinner. The two little guys, are responsible for playing and staying out of the fire. They also help carry small gear and setting up the camp chairs. Within about an hour, the gear is unloaded, the tents are erected and dinner is almost ready to be eaten. This same ritual will be replayed a few days later when we arrive around the same time on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

After dinner, we had the chance to meet our neighbors, who kindly provided us with some firewood for the evening, until we could get some from the store the next day. They were a kind family from San Diego, up for a few days. They had brought their dogs with them, which I had concerns about, but the dogs proved to be very well behaved and caused no issues.

Prior to turning in for the evening, we started what would be the nightly ritual of loading everything with a scent into the campground-provided bear box. As we would find out over the next few days, there is a fairly substantial bear population in Sequoia National Park. And as these are siblings of the Yosemite Bears, there are strict regulations that must be followed to protect you and the bears.

The next morning, we awoke to a brisk 40 degree morning, it was 35 overnight. My morning ritual began with getting water boiling for tea and coffee and starting a campfire to warm my troop when they would arise. Our plan for the day was to go on a hike near General Sherman's Tree, the largest tree in the world, through the Giant Forest and then determine if we wanted to make it a loop or come out and take the shuttle back to the car. After breakfast, we gathered the gear and the kids and headed to the trailhead.

From the Sherman Tree Parking lot, we would descend a couple hundred feet in a half-mile to the General Sherman Tree. We had seen several of the Giant Sequoia trees coming in, but this one is massive. It doesn't come into perspective until you place something of known size next to it.

We continued down the Congress path through several groves of Sequoias, including the Senate and the Presidents. We stopped for lunch underneath the Senate grove. Continuing on after lunch, we headed towards Circle Meadow and the Bears Bathtub, where we encountered our first bear. It was a cub, playing and eating in the meadow.

You can see in this picture, we were close enough. The boys kept trying to get closer, but we pulled them back. Knowing this was a cub, I surmised that Momma couldn't be too far behind, so I directed us away from the bear and up onto a ridge away from the meadow where we would meet the trail on the other side of the meadow. As soon as we got up high enough on the ridge and around a grove of trees, we spotted Momma Bear, right on the trail. She spotted us, let us know she was there and that she didn't want us any closer, but stayed put. We went about our business and carried forth. Definitely an exciting first day. We would spot several more bears in meadows, but none as close as this pair.

After about 3.5 miles, we arrived at the Crescent Meadow parking lot. Everyone had had enough excitement and danger for the day, so we caught the next shuttle back to the parking lot. Although, the shuttle driver added to our danger and excitement by driving well over the posted speed limit around the many curves through the park.

Back at the Lodgepole Campground, we made a stop into the Lodgepole Village Store. If you ever come to Sequoia and camp here, I definitely recommend a stop in the store. They have quite a variety of items including a full grocery store, camping gear, souvenirs, beer and wine and firewood, something we were in desperate need of. We purchased some kindling and firewood and ice and went back to the campsite to start preparing dinner and turn in for the evening.

On Day 3 in Sequoia, we planned a hike up to Tokopah Falls. The trailhead leaves directly from the Lodgepole Campground. This is a moderate out-and-back hike, 1.7 miles each way with an elevation gain of probably 500-700 feet. The payoff is a giant waterfall at the back of Tokopah Valley.

The trail starts with a fairly strenuous stretch of switchbacks up a series of rock outcroppings alongside the roaring Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. We stopped many times to look at various waterfalls and rapids along the way. The kids found many different species of lizards on the trail as well. About halfway up, we started finding large patches of snow, which the kids loved to jump and play on.

At the end of the Valley, we stopped in front of Tokopah Falls for lunch on a large boulder within the Mist from the waterfall. The temperature dropped probably 10-15 degrees from the trail to the point where we took this picture. It was a terrific place for a picnic lunch.

After powering up with some protein and chocolate, we headed back the way we came. We stopped to filter water once on the way down. The kids enjoy using my water filter and drinking "Glacier Water". Near the end of the trail, we stopped to take a break. Everyone was exhausted and leaned on Daddy.

We arrived back at camp with enough time to explore the area near our campsite. The Lodgepole Campground is a wonderful area. There are plenty of trees to shade your sites. They have full-hookups for trailers, they have semi-primitive and primitive campsites as well. All are near the Marble Fork and are all near the Lodgepole Village, which includes a visitor center, store, post office and public showers. I would highly recommend this as a spot to camp any time you come to Sequoia.

The next morning, we were to pack up and head out after 4 nights, 2 short days and 2 great long days of exploring. This is definitely on the list of places to come back to.

Next stop, a short visit to Yosemite National Park.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Remembering Gary Mittelholtz - Gary "The Outdoors Guy"

For those who may have not heard, we have lost a friend. A friend, whom I've never met face-to-face, but I feel like I know very well. Gary Mittelholtz was the voice behind one of my favorite podcasts, Doing Stuff Outdoors. According to his site, he was an avid outdoor enthusiast, video producer, writer and recently retired broadcast journalist with over 30 years experience in radio and television. He’s currently the Publisher/Editor of a community newspaper serving the River Valley area of southern New Brunswick and a New Media Content Creator. Gary passed away on March 13, 2010 while enjoying one of his favorite outdoor activities, cross-country skiing. An article is published on the CBC website at

Gary's podcast was the first outdoors-related podcast I ran across. His love of the outdoors and willingness to share it with me and others was extremely inspirational. It's hard to believe someone as active and young as Gary could be taken so suddenly. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.

I had always hoped to meet up with him on a snowshoe or a hike on the trail. He will be missed. I am on one of my family camping trips that I would have loved to share with Gary "The Outdoors Guy". I know he's looking down from above and will be enjoying all the stories we have to share. There will always be thoughts of him on all of my Outdoor Adventures.

Gary will be missed.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review of the Mont-Bell U.L. Down Inner Jacket

I received the Mont-Bell U.L. Down Inner Jacket as a Christmas Gift from my Mother-in-Law. Way to go MiMi! I had been searching for an alternative to carrying a fleece. As I mentioned in some of my earlier posts, I'm not a rabid ultralighter... yet. However, after carrying my fleece and my sons' fleece jackets on numerous day hikes, I figured there had to be a solution to the problem of warmth without the weight.

After hearing about people wearing "down sweaters" I did a bit of research. I first looked into the down vests by The North Face. It seemed like a good choice, but was still a bit bulky. I then heard from a friend who was a huge fan of the Patagonia Down Sweater. These were terrific, but the price was a bit high, somewhere around $200 USD.

Then, on a business trip to Boulder, CO, I stumbled upon the Mont-Bell Flagship store. I really enjoy Boulder! If you ever get the chance to go to Boulder, you gotta stop in the Mont-Bell store. It's a Candy Store for gear heads. Anyway, they turned me on to their U.L. Down Inner Jacket, which can be part of a layering system. Take a good base layer, then through your U.L. Down Inner Jacket over it, then put a wind-proof, water-proof shell over it and you'll be roasty, toasty warm. The price is right, at $150 USD. Ordering off the Mont-Bell site, I saved tax and shipping due to a promo they had going on. It weighs in at around 7 ounces, is stuffed with 800-fill power down and compresses down to the size of a softball. It is going to be ideal for backpacking in the higher elevations and for those shoulder seasons.

MontBell U.L. Down Inner Jacket

I was hoping I would get the chance to use it and this winter has been a proving ground for it. We've had record snow falls in Dallas and have had many more cold days than I can remember. I unfortunately haven't had the chance to wear it on the trails to see how it performs, but having worn it in Appleton, WI in near 0 degrees, I can tell you it is plenty warm. I wear my REI Taku Jacket, which I reviewed here, over it and I'm more than comfortable.

So far, I'm more than pleased and am looking forward to field testing it. I will let you know when I do.