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Backpacking Trip Reports

CDT Section Hike 2021 – Never Summer Wilderness & Parkview Mountain

hiking parkview mountain, colorado along the continental divide trail

CDT Section Hike August 2021 – Rocky Mountain National Park, Never Summer Wilderness & Parkview Mountain, Colorado

hiking parkview mountain, colorado along the continental divide trail

    • Hike Location – Rocky Mountain National Park, Never Summer Wilderness & Parkview Mountain, Colorado
    • Land Administration – National Park, National Forest
    • Hike Type – Point to Point
    • Fees & Permits – No fees or permits needed (unless camping overnight in RMNP)
    • Start Trailhead – Shadowcliff Hostel, Grand Lake
    • End Trailhead – Forest Rd 104
    • Length Of Time Hiked – 3.5 Days
    • Miles Hiked – 60
    • Route Difficulty – 4.5
    • Scenic Beauty – 7.5
    • Solitude – 8

Pre-Hike Planning Notes

I’ll be joining my friends Alex Maier and Amy Robin on their 2021 CDT thru hike as they walk from Grand Lake to Steamboat Springs. I’ve hiked this before myself on my 2018 CDT thru hike, and know it probably isn’t the highlight of the CDT. But, I wanted to join Alex and Amy for a section of hiking this summer and logistically, this is where it worked out for us both. I’ll have a friend pick me up along FR 104, south of Little Haystack Mountain. He’ll take me back to Grand Lake to get my van, where I parked it at the Shadowcliff Hostel, and I’ll follow him back to his place in Colorado Springs afterwards.

You’ll need a permit if you plan on camping overnight in Rocky Mountain National Park. But the RMNP section is only a few hours walk out of Grand Lake, and much of it has been burned recently in a fire, so you wouldn’t want to camp here anyways. Recent fires have also burned sections of the CDT south of Parkview Mountain. Much of this section has good trail and is a relatively easy hike.

Map of my CDT Section Hike:

Caltopo map of my CDT section hike from Grand Lake to, well, not quite Steamboat Springs

Elevation chart

Download GPX file of this hike

Video: CDT Section Hike: Grand Lake to Steamboat Springs, Colorado


Day 1 – August 2nd, 2021

Miles Hiked – 12.92
Elevation Gain – 2973′
Route Hiked – Grand Lake to Upper Bowen Gulch

My newly-built Astro Adventure Van in northern Utah, a few weeks earlier

It’s pretty comfy inside!

Let me start by backing up a bit. Two nights ago, my friends Alex Maier and Amy Robin hiked into Grand Lake. They have been hiking since April on the Continental Divide Trail, having started at the border of Mexico and New Mexico. This puts them roughly 1300 miles into their hike, with another 1700 remaining to the border of Canada. I completed the CDT in 2018, and now it’s my privilege to join Alex and Amy for a section of their hike this year. I had been touring the west for the past 6 weeks in my newly built camper van, and it’s here in northern Colorado that our paths cross this summer.

alex maier and amy robin of wilderness mindset on their 2021 cdt thru hike

Alex Maier and Amy Robin

Alex is a documentary film marker, best known for his “Figure It Out On The Hayduke” movie. I really enjoyed Alex’s take on the benefits of being in the wilderness, and his ability to put profound concepts into clear, distinct words. So I was very interested in his latest project, “Mind Body Soul“. This project follow Alex and Amy’s 3,000 mile hike on the Continental Divide Trail, with a goal of exploring the effects hiking has on the mind, body and soul. Alex also has a youtube channel called Wilderness Mindset, where he shares high quality videos of his outdoor adventures and thru hikes.

rocky mountain national park meadow landscape

Rocky Mountain National Park

We started the hike out of Grand Lake at Shadowcliff Hostel. Alex and Amy are also hiking with their two service dogs, Echo and Minnow. From here it’s a short walked through some burned forest. This had all burned since my visit here in 2018 on my CDT thru hike. The route I took before had us continuing north for a few more miles, but the trail was closed and we had to detour west. This led us back to HWY 34, the main road north/south running road in the area. And now it’s a few miles of road walking through Rocky Mountain National Park.

upper colorado river in rocky mountain national park

The mighty Colorado River

North of Onahu Trailhead, we leave the paved road for a dirt one. Life is suddenly more quiet and calm away from the traffic. We cross the Colorado River here, not all that far from its headwaters just 10 miles away, as the crow flies. We stop here for a lunch break along the banks of the river. This is nice. This brings back memories.

hiking bowen gulch in never summer wilderness colorado

Never Summer Wilderness

We leave the Colorado River behind and hike towards Bowen Gulch. We hike uphill though the the forest for a while and enter the Never Summer Wilderness. The trail is good and the grade is excellent for those long, continuous pushes uphill. This makes a 2,000ft climb like this one much easier.

fog over mountains in upper bowen gulch

Upper Bowen Gulch

The trees break as we reach the upper Bowen Basin area. We see a few moose in the area, and I remember seeing them here in 2018 too. This is their turf.

camping in colorados never summer wilderness in august

Campsite in upper Bowen Gulch, Never Summer Wilderness

We found a pretty nice campsite with good tree cover not far off trail. The clouds moved in and out rapidly as the evening progressed.

Day 2 – August 3rd, 2021

Miles Hiked – 13.75
Elevation Gain – 2411′
Route Hiked – Upper Bowen Gulch to Willow Creek Pass

Last night we had a lot of animal activity. By the sound, they were large animals, and they were close by. We assumed moosr, since we saw several in the area lst night, and there were little trails leading through our general campsite area. One animal was probably only 4ft from my tent at one point.

never summer wilderness colorado cdt section hike in fog

Hike up to Bowen Pass

never summer wilderness colorado cdt section hike in fog

Looking back down Bowen Gulch

After leaving camp, we still had a few hundred feet left to climb to reach the top of Bowen Pass. We saw a few more moose down lower in the valley. They really like this area.

never summer wilderness colorado cdt section hike in fog

West side of Bowen PassThe top of Bowen Pass was a bit of a let down, with all the fog around. This pass separates the Arapaho National Forest and Route National Forest though, so that’s something.

never summer wilderness colorado cdt section hike in fog

Coming down the west side of Bowen Pass. Entering the Routt National Forest

On the way down form Bowen Pass, we stop at a small creek for water. I remember stopping here for water too on my 2018 hike. I don’t remember the miles ahead being very memorable, though.

never summer wilderness colorado cdt section hike in fog

These clouds never left all day

My memory served me right; the rest of the day was not that interesting. It had been raining on and off today, quite a bit in the afternoon. We were pretty wet and when we stopped, it was cold. We kept our breaks short and kept moving.

Later this afternoon, we hiked through several large burn areas. I didn’t take any photos here, apparently. It was pretty bleak looking, but very easy to walk. The terrain was pretty open and free of vegetation, and some erosion was starting to occur as a result.

We found camp above Willow Creek Pass. Nothing special, but campsites on the CDT seldom seemed special to me. This fits my recollection of CDT camping perfectly; a subpar campsite that looks a lot better at the end of a long day.

Day 3 – August 4th, 2021

Miles Hiked – 14.26
Elevation Gain – 4523′
Route Hiked – Willow Creek Pass to Poison Ridge

We got clobbered with rain last night. It was coming down heavily. Probably heavier than any single rain event on my entire CDT thru hike in 2018. But it barely rained at all on my 2018 hike. Now, I’m getting the full Colorado experience here.

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

Beginning the hike up Parkview Mountain

We pack up camp wet this morning and hit the soggy trail. We emerge from the forest and find ourselves at the bouldery base of Parkview Mountain. We skirt this base and begin our ascent of Parkview as we punch through the clouds.

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

Clouds rolling in fast. Like, really, REALLY FAST!

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

wooden post with cdt trail logo burned in on parkview mountain colorado

CDT, this way…

The weather is weird today; low clouds that rapidly come and go, alternating periods of high winds and total silence. Once we gain the crest of our first ridgeline, we get above the clouds for the first time. Well, we’re hiking in them now, too. It’s sunny and clear blue skies one minute, and within seconds, a big cloud blows in and visibility goes down to mere feet. It’s wild, and pretty damn cool.

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

Our four legged friend making it look easy

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

The hike up the ridgeline is great. I enjoyed it in 2018, when the views were wide open and vast. But I enjoyed this more. Alex and Amy hadn’t had any days like this either on their CDT hike this year up to this point.

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

Cloud blowing over the ridge… wait 10 seconds…

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

10 seconds later, and the ridge looks like this!

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

Optimism has my tent on the outside of my pack today, hoping it will dry out after last night’s rain

Conditions continue to change second by second and keep us on our toes. But, there seems to be no threat of rain. We take our time heading up the mountain now, as the 3 of us are all photographers. We are sidetracked with the constantly changing lighting, mood and landscapes!

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

Alex emerges from the cloud on the final approach to Parkview Mountain

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

Final push to the summit of Parkview Mountain

parkview mountain colorado summit shelter august 2021

Shelter on the summit of Parkview Mountain (12,300ft)

We reach the summit of Parkview Mountain mid-day. For northbound CDT thru hikers, Parkview Mountain is the last 12k peak they will encounter. Unless you do the Wind River Range High Route alternate, and you’d be a FOOL not to! Just saying. We take lunch inside the shelter and enjoy the wind break. I’m sure the rodents would be an issue if one tried sleeping in here. The dogs were going nuts trying to get at them while they scurried around underneath the shelter.

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

Descending Parkview Mountain

cdt section hiker view climbing parkview mountain colorado

Looking back up Parkview Mountain

cdt section hiker view descending parkview mountain colorado

We begin the descent down Parkview Mountain by doing exactly what I did in 2018; taking a wrong turn here and walking down the obvious looking ridgeline. While there is good trail leading this way, and good views too, the correct route was to take the ridge to the west. This was a dumb mistake, and even dumber because I made it twice.

cdt section hiker view descending parkview mountain colorado

Looking back at Parkview Mountain

cdt section hiker view descending parkview mountain colorado

Descending this ridge

cdt section hiker view descending parkview mountain colorado

Alex with a backdrop of Parkview Mountain

Back on trail now, CDT signs and posts lead the way. The hiking here is excellent, just as I remembered it from 2018. It’s not the most scenic place you’ve ever been, but it has a simple beauty to it. It’s mot going to wow you, but it’s extremely pleasant. You just feel good being here.

cdt section hiker view descending parkview mountain colorado

Awesome perspective of the landscape

cdt section hiker view descending parkview mountain colorado

Follow the CDT posts…

cdt section hiker view descending parkview mountain colorado

Oh yeah! I dig it. I can walk ridges like this all day 🙂

We get some distance from Parkview Mountain and watch it become smaller on the horizon. It’s also an excellent backdrop now to the scenic ridge we’re hiking.

cdt section hiker view descending parkview mountain colorado

Haystack Mountain ahead. These mountains have a different feel to them. Wyoming is getting closer…

cdt section hiker view descending parkview mountain colorado

cdt section hiker view descending parkview mountain colorado

Next, we hike around Haystack Mountain. The trail drops down off the ridgeline about 450ft and contours around the east side of Haystack at the 10,200 mark. This section had a few downed trees and minor obstacles, but nothing too bad.

cdt section hiker view descending parkview mountain colorado

Woof, maybe

campsite along continental divide trail colorado

Nice campsite on Poison Ridge

We cross Troublesome Pass and keep hiking towards Poison Ridge. The sun is getting lower in the sky and it’s time for camp. We find a pretty nice spot with an elevated view over Sheep Creek. With the full sun of the afternoon, we have been able to fully dry out our gear. What a great end to a day that started out wet and dreary.

Day 4 – August 5th, 2021

Miles Hiked – 15.47
Elevation Gain – 3075′
Route Hiked – Poison Ridge to FR 104

hiking the rabbit ears range in colorado on a cdt section hike

hiking the rabbit ears range in colorado on a cdt section hike

hiking the rabbit ears range in colorado on a cdt section hike

This morning’s hike was nice. Clear skies and sun, good trail and good views. Again, this area is not spectacular. But it’s enjoyable. I felt good being here. However, today is the day I’ll meet up with my friend who will pick me up somewhere along FR 104. And so, after a few hours, I say goodbye to Alex and Amy and hike ahead. I’m slightly behind schedule now, and increase my pace to make up for the time. I don’t want to keep my friend waiting any longer than he has to, he drove quite a long ways to meet me out here.

hiking the rabbit ears range in colorado on a cdt section hike

hiking the rabbit ears range in colorado on a cdt section hike

hiking the rabbit ears range in colorado on a cdt section hike

The ridgeline hike continues to be enjoyable. Eventually though, it’s time to drop down to Middle Fork Arapaho Creek near Hyannis Peak. It’s here that I run into another moose along the trail. Fortunately he went on his way, and I could keep running down the trail. And that’s what I was doing now, jogging where possible.

I climb out of Middle Fork Arapaho Creek to the ridge on the south side of the canyon. This is FR 104, the 4×4 road I have been shooting for. The spot my friend and I chose was a little farther downhill, so head that way. The road looks pretty good here, but I have a feeling it’s rough lower down the mountain. I get a brief moment of cell service and call him. He’s about 6.5 miles downhill from here, but the road is really rough. I get going to try and knock out these final miles as fast as possible.

I hike another hour or so, and was surprised to see my friend’s Subaru coming uphill. He was able to keep driving since our last call, but as rough as the road was here, I was not expecting him at all. So that saved me about 3 miles of the 6.5. But I would not recommend driving on this road without a high clearance vehicle!

That’s it for this hike. What’s next? I have a killer Wind River Range hike planned for next week!

 

 


Wallowa Mountains, OR – Eagle Cap Wilderness 3 Day Hike

calm as glass reflection on glacier lake oregon

Wallowa Mountains, Oregon – Eagle Cap Wilderness 3 Day, 40 Mile Hike

sunset view over glacier lake, wallowa mountains, eagle cap wilderness, oregon

  • Hike Location – Wallowa Mountains – Eagle Cap Wilderness
  • Land Administration – Wallowa National Forest
  • Hike Type – Point to Point
  • Fees & Permits – No fees or permits needed
  • Start Trailhead – Wallowa Lake
  • End Trailhead – Two Pan
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 3 days
  • Miles Hiked – 39
  • Route Difficulty – 7.5
  • Scenic Beauty – 8.5
  • Solitude – 8

Maps

Here’s the caltopo map of the 3 Day Eagle Cap Wilderness Hike: 

Elevation gain/loss chart for the 3 day Wallowa Mountains hike:wallowa mountains oregon 3 day backpacking hike route elevation chart

Video: Wallowa Mountains, Oregon – Eagle Cap Wilderness 3 Day PNW Hike

Pre-Hike Planning Notes

If you are driving a long ways to the Wallowa Mountains for your hike, you may want to camp near the trailhead to get an early start the next day. There are plenty of paid campsites at Wallowa Lake State Park and in the variety of campgrounds in the area, but The Wallowa Mountains, outside of Joseph and Enterprise, do not offer much for those looking to do any boondocking or dispersed camping on public land. We drove up Hurricane Creek, the drainage west of Wallowa Lake, and found a few crappy spots alongside the road suitable for an overnight stay in the camper van. Tent camping would be harder here. 

Joseph and Enterprise, the two gateway towns to the Wallowa Lake area, are very touristy. The Market Place grocery store offers a decent selection, probably enough for most hikers to pick up 3 days worth of food. However, if you are in doubt, get your food at a larger grocery store on your way. 

There is plenty of parking at the Wallowa Lake trailhead. Nearly all of the license plates were Oregon or Washington, which ought to tell you what a hidden gem this place. It’s an out-of-the way place, but worth the drive. 

We hiked this route in mid July. The snow had almost entirely melted out, and the mosquitoes were terrible. A mosquito head net would be a good thing to have, and perhaps bug spray.

The system of hiking trails in the Wallowa Mountains are very good. There are trails leading up just about every valley and over every saddle, so there should be little need for off-trail bushwhacking here. Besides that, the trails seem to be pretty well maintained. We encountered very few blow downs. 

The Wallowa Mountains are not very well suited for any kind of continuous ridgewalking, or high routes. Instead, the Wallowas are a series of deep valleys separating segments of high country with huge climbs. As much as I wanted to put together a more dedicated high route here, it just wasn’t possible without climbs of 7,000ft daily. The valleys are pretty incredible here, though!

After your hike, there are showers at the Wallowa Lake State Park campground. They are for campers only, but it’s a busy park and you will likely go unnoticed. 

 

Wallowa Mountains/Eagle Cap Wilderness 3 Day Backpacking Trip (July 2021)

Day 1 – July 9th – West Fork Wallowa River, Lake Basin, Mirror Lake, Glacier Lake

Miles Hiked – 18

hiking through pine forest near the wallowa lake trailhead oregon

Leaving the Wallowa Lake Trailhead

Sam and I left the Wallowa Lake trailhead sometime after 8am. Right away, huge pines towered above us and quickly caught our attention. The trail is wide and well beaten here as it begins a continuous climb uphill along West Fork Wallowa River.

We passed several groups of people in the first few miles. There were a lot of cars at the trailhead, but often times, the majority of these people are only hiking a few miles. We encountered a group of horseback riders, and and couple of guys who look like they had quite an adventure… one guy had blown out his show, the sole was gone. He had rigged it up with some tape the best he could, but it didn’t look like a fun walk.

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

Hiking along West Fork Wallowa River

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

West Fork Wallowa River

The roar of the driver grows louder when we near it. Soon we get our first view of the water, and a view up the canyon. I saw a mink running across the trail, which was a cool thing to see. I’ve only seen a couple of other mink in my life. It could also have been a pine marten, but after comparing the two animals after the hike, I think it was a mink. 

hiking through sixmile emadow in the wallowa mountains oregon

Sixmile Meadow

At Sixmile Meadow is where the scenery really starts to get good. Across this big green meadow, the high country began to show itself. We begin to notice how green and lush our surrounding are. The mountains are steep, and heavily forested. No beetle kill here, just a healthy green wonderland. 

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

Blue waters of West Fork Wallowa River

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

View down West Fork Wallowa River from Sixmile Meadow

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

Fording West Fork Wallowa River

We hike across Sixmile Meadow and cross West Fork Wallowa River. Here, it’s only a foot deep. A beautiful scene, too. The water is a deep turquoise blue with outstanding clarity. The river here reminded me of a past hike in Glacier National Park. 

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

View up the valley. That’s forest fire smoke rolling in

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

View of Peters Point ridgeline, to the east

Next the trail begins to ascend towards Lake Basin. The views open up now as we gain elevation. A sea of healthy green pines cover the entire basin, up to the treeline. 

eagle cap wilderness backpacking along horseshoe lake

Horseshoe Lake

eagle cap wilderness backpacking along horseshoe lake

Views along Horseshoe Lake

After an 1100ft climb up to the Lake Basin, we find ourselves on a flat shelf with a view of Horseshoe Lake. Very nice. The trail follows the shoreline, offering great views of this beautiful lake. 

hiking lake basin wallowa mountains oregon

hiking along deep turquoise blue alpine alke wallowa mountains oregon

hiking lake basin wallowa mountains oregon

The next segment of hiking is an enjoyable one. We hike by Lee Lake, and then Douglas Lake. The trail alternates between segments of flat ground and climbing 200ft or so. Good trail, good views.

hiking lake basin wallowa mountains oregon

Moccasin Lake

moccasin lake view hiking the wallowa mountains oregon

Upper Moccasin Lake

The trail then follows the shores of Moccasin Lake as it continues up higher into Lake Basin. The crest of the Wallowa Range is now in sight, it’s peaks and ridgelines capped in patches of snow. The upper Moccasin Lake area was really beautiful!

hiking lakes basin trail to mirror lake in wallowa mountains oregon

Trail to Mirror Lake

hiking lake basin wallowa mountains oregon

Looking back down on Moccasin Lake

We decided to take a short detour to check out Mirror Lake, since we are so close to it. Good views looking back down on Moccasin Lake from the saddle above Mirror Lake. 

hikers view of mirror lake, wallowa mountains, eagle cap wilderness oregon

Wildflowers at Mirror Lake

hikers view of mirror lake, wallowa mountains, eagle cap wilderness oregon

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake was definitely worth the side trip. This is a top notch alpine lake with outstanding scenery. The north face of Eagle Cap peak, which we’ll summit tomorrow, provides the perfect backdrop. Indeed, this will make a fine lunch spot. 

Our lunch spot along Mirror Lake was a great place to stop, for the scenery, but perhaps the worst place we’ve been so far along our hike for bugs. The mosquitoes were thick here, and we could hardly eat a snack without also eating mosquitoes. I put on my rain gear for long sleeve protection while we ate, but really, it was one of those times where you’re just constantly swatting at the air in front of your face, just to keep the bugs at bay. Slack for a few seconds, and they’re on you again. Bastards. 

mirror alke hiking trail wallwoa lake oregon

hiking lakes basin wallowa mountians

We left Mirror Lake and hiked back downhill to Moccasin Lake, where we take a trail that will lead us to Glacier Pass. I really enjoyed this area here.

trail of rocks across water for hierk to cross stream in wallowa mountains oregon

Crossing the inlet at upper Moccasin Lake

hikers dive and swim in moccasin lake, wallowa mountains, oregon

Instant refreshment swimming in Moccasin Lake

We hopped rocks to cross the inlet stream leading into Moccasin Lake. On the other wise, we found a nice spot along the lake with some rocks at the edge of a deep section of water. Perfect place to stop for a swim! We jumped in the water and enjoyed the brisk refreshment that comes from a dip in a freezing alpine lake. 

hiking up glacier pass in wallowa mountains long couloir filled with snow and water

Ravine along the trail up to Glacier Pass

hiking across snow in eagle cap wildenress, wallowa mountains backpacking trip

The hike to Glacier Pass

The trail begins climbing up to Glacier Pass steeply now along a deep ravine. There are patches of snow still lingering and a stream of water flowing downhill. 

hiking trail to glacier pass in wallowa mountains, oregon

View north from the trail to Glacier Pass

hiking below glacier pass, eagle cap wilderness oregon

Glacier Pass in view, Glacier Peak beyond

backpacking trail to glacier pass in wallowa mountains, oregon

Above the ravine, the views open up and Glacier Pass is in sight. The Eagle Cap peak begins to come into sight, just barely, over the ridge. Also in sight now along the ridgeline is Glacier Peak, and this one is much more prominent looking from this angle than Eagle Cap itself.

backpacker on glacier pass in eagle cap wilderness oregon

Sam enjoying the view from Glacier Pass

hikers view from glacier pass, wallowa mountains oregon

View down to Glacier Lake and Glacier Peak

The view from the top of Glacier Pass initially isn’t that great. That is, until you drop down slightly from the pass, and Glacier Lake comes into view. Wow! This basin was pretty stunning. Glacier Peak provides an impressive backdrop behind the distant waters of Glacier Lake. There are multiple small islands in the lake, with a few pines trees growing on them. This reminded me of the Sawtooths in Idaho, while the mountains themselves were reminiscent of the Sierras. In other words, excellent views.

backpacking trip to glacier lake oregon

Hiking down to Glacier Lake

hikers view of turquoise blue glacier lake in wallowa mountains

Glacier Lake and Glacier Peak

glacier lake view in the wallowa moutnains

That peninsula jetting out into Glacier Lake is where we’d like to camp

As we dropped lower in elevation from Glacier Pass, we could get a decent view of the lake from above and scope out potential campsite locations. We settled on a spot, and noticed a curious scene playing out just 40 yards away… a mountain goat kicking up a ton of dirt as he digs and rolls around. He’s probably just as annoyed with the mosquitoes as we are.

hiker eating dinner at glacier lake in wallowa mountains oregon

Dinner at Glacier Lake

hikers view from cap at glacier lake, eagle cap wilderness oregon

Glacier Lake at sunset

reflection on glacier lake at sunset with wildflowers and glacier peak

The magic hour at Glacier Lake

We find a spot for our tents and eat dinner, swatting mosquitoes the entire time. It was a challenge not to eat any of the mosquitoes too, there were so many swarming my face. Besides that, we enjoyed an outstanding view of Glacier Peak with a nice reflection on Glacier Lake as the sun set. 

tarptent notch li campsite at glacier lake, eagle cap wilderness oregon

Campsite at Glacier Lake

Soon enough, we retreated to our tents, where we could be safe from the bugs. That’s always a great feeling, the moment you are able to lie down after a long day of hiking and breathe that first sigh of relief as your head hits the air mattress. About 18 miles on the day today. Tomorrow, we summit Eagle Cap peak. 

 

Day 2 – July 10th – Eagle Cap Peak, Horton pass, Frazier Pass, Minam River, Minam Lake

Miles Hiked – 10

glacier lake sunrise reflection eagle cap wilderness oregon

Glacier Lake reflection at sunrise

The sunrise over Glacier Lake was a great way to start the morning. We enjoyed the same beautiful reflection of Glacier Peak over the water as we witnessed for last night’s sunset. We ate breakfast by the water and filtered our water for the morning. Sam and I had just hiked a awesome 81 mile route across Dinosaur National Monument last week, where water was often an issue (except when we rafted the Green River for 6 miles!). So all this water in the Wallowa Mountains was a luxury to us.

view of glacier peak with alrge boulders in foreground and glacier lake

Scouting the route up to the saddle between Glacier Peak and Eagle Cap (not pictured)

Today we will climb Eagle Cap peak, the second highest peak in the Wallowa Mountains. The standard route to summit Eagle Cap is along the northwest ridgeline, where there is a trail to the summit. However, we wanted to hit Glacier Lake, and so we’ll approach from the east slope below the saddle directly south of Eagle Cap. 

calm as glass reflection on glacier lake oregon

Incredible reflection on Glacier Lake

hiker climbs boulder field in wallowa mountains

Looking up at Sam as he traverses the steep slopes of Glacier Lake’s northwest side

view down into alpine lake from hike across steep talus slope in wallowa mountains oregon

Steep slopes

hikers view of glacier lake from wallowa mountains backpacking trip

Looking back down on Glacier Lake

From camp we studied the mountainside in the upper basin and compared that to the route we have planned up it to Eagle Cap. We choose a line a begin working our way around the steep slopes above the northwest side of Glacier Lake. It’s steep and rocky, but we make it across. The reflection on Glacier Lake, and the color of the water, was incredible form this angle. 

purple wildflowers below eagle cap peak in wallowa mountains oregon

Wildflowers below Eagle Cap peak

hiker climbing boulder field along flowing waterfall cascades in wallowa mountains oregon

Good flow of water through this boulder field

After traversing the steep scree slope, we meet the slopes of Eagle Cap’s east face. The terrain flattens briefly, and there’s a small green meadow with colorful wildflowers. A small stream trickle through from the patches of snow lingering higher up the ridgeline. 

two hikers below wallowa mountains crest on summit hike to eagle cap peak

Up we go

hiker scrambling qbove alpine lake in wallowa mountains oregon

Now it’s a 900ft climb to the top of the ridgeline. Some mountains might be solid boulder fields now at this elevation, but here the boulders are thin enough that we are also walking in-between patches of soil. This made the going a little easier. 

eagle cap peak summit hike through boulder fields non standard route

This is NOT the standard route to summit Eagle Cap peak. But it’s a relatively easy class 2 hike up

eagle cap peak summit hike through boulder fields non standard route

Ridgeline leading to Glacier Peak

wallowa mountains peak bagging eagle cap view down to glacier lake

View down to Glacier Lake

Yesterday we noticed a bit of forest fire smoke rolling in, but the skies were predominantly blue. Today though, the smoke is winning. And it’s really starting to build up. Bummer, because we want that distant summit view.  

 

 
hiker walking through snow and boulders on off trail non standard climbing approach to eagle cap peak

Traversing the final snow patches below the crest

hiker traverses snowfield in eagle cap wilderness on summit hike

Sam traversing the snowfield

hiker traversing snow in eagle cap widlerness oregon summit hike

Sam cresting the ridgeline at the top of the snowfield

Towards the top of the climb, we encounter snow patches. Fortunately they weren’t incredibly steep, and we picked our line up. These snow patches are like mine fields though. Sam did punch through and posthole a couple of times, but I lucked out. We spotted a couple of Big Horn Sheep going up to the pass themselves, above us. 

hikers view of ridgelong along crest of the wallowa mountains, oregon

Crest of the Wallowa Mountains, view southeast to Glacier Peak

hiking trail to the summit of eagle cap peak wallowa mountains oregon

Trail to summit of Eagle Cap from the south face

At the top of the crest below Eagle Cap, the terrain becomes a very manageable walk. Not only because the boulders have mostly given way to a mostly dirt landscape, but because we’ve also stumbled upon a game trail leading up to the summit. It’s also possible that this is a social trail, perhaps from others taking a similar approach as we did from the east slopes. However, we did not see any other evidence of some sort of route up to the crest along the way… no cairns, no faint paths, nothing. 

hiker walking the crest of the wallowa mountains with forest fire smoke

Easy walking now on the crest of the Wallowas. But, that forest fire smoke!!

It’s a 350ft climb up the game trail now to the summit. An easy walk. Excellent views along the ridgeline to the south, towards Glacier Peak. 

eagle cap peak summit view by wallowa mountains hiker

View north from the Eagle Cap summit

eagle cap peak summit view by wallowa mountains hiker

eagle cap peak summit view by wallowa mountains hiker

Sam measuring the vastness of the Wallowa Mountains

The summit of Eagle Cap (9,577′) is broad and flat, but with a big drop off on the north face. The view overlooking the Eagle Cap Wilderness to the north is massive. We spent some time here soaking up the summit views, despite the thick forest fire smoke limiting the distance. 

hiker stands on trail overlooking vast poregon wilderness in wallowa mountains

Sam enjoying the view as we begin the descent down from Eagle Cap

view of hiking trail in wallowa mountains high country, eagle cap wilderness

Excellent hiking along this trail

stunning mountain views in wallowa mountains oregon

Wow!

As soon as we began our decent down the northeast slope of Eagle Cap, we picked up on a trail. It was a steep descent down a series of switchbacks, but an easy trail to follow nonetheless. We passed a few people hiking up to the summit.

hiking the ridgeline down to horton pass from eagle cap peak, wallowa mountains oregon hiking the ridgeline down to horton pass from eagle cap peak, wallowa mountains oregon

hiking the ridgeline down to horton pass from eagle cap peak, wallowa mountains oregon

Horton Pass

The trail we follow now will take us to Horton pass. We enjoy excellent views here as well, and we’re very much enjoying what the Wallowa Mountains have to offer thus far. Some really excellent high mountain scenery here.

backpackers view of hiking trail in wallowa mountains east fork eagle creek

Hiking down Horton Pass into East Fork Eagle Creek

backpackers view of hiking trail in wallowa mountains east fork eagle creek

Hiking below Horton Pass

backpackers view of hiking trail in wallowa mountains east fork eagle creek

Well this is pretty nice

At Horton Pass, we take the trail leading west/south down East Fork Eagle Creek. A series of switchbacks lead down from the summit and seem to go on for a while. The trail is rougher here though, it’s rocky and there is a tiny stream occasionally flowing through it.

hiker filtering water sawyer filter and smart water bottle with wildflowers in oregon mountains

At around 7,660′, we reach a small but beautiful meadow. East Fork Eagle Creek flows through it, and we stop here to filter some water. It’s a beautiful spot, lush and green, lots of colorful wildflowers.

hiking trail in lush green mountain forest landscape oregon wallowa mountains

Good hiking down East Fork Eagle Creek, once you get below the pass

We continue downhill along the trail, which now is a bit more of a solid path. The hiking is easier now and we’re finding the walk to be quite enjoyable. It’s another heavily forest valley filled with healthy pines. I have grown accustomed to the beetle kill in the Rockies, but that seems to be much less of an issue here. 

off trail hiking in the wallowa mountains oregon

Sam crossing East Fork Eagle Creek

off trail hiking in the wallowa mountains oregon

Traversing the slope to Frazier Pass

off trail hiking in the wallowa mountains oregon

Views of the ridgeline above East Fork Eagle Creek

off trail hiking in the wallowa mountains oregon

Looking back at the slope we’ve traversed. Not terribly steep, but enough to be an obstacle

We leave the trail around the 7,425′ mark and begin contouring around the mountainside over to Frazier Pass. This will save us 2 miles and 900ft of elevation loss/gain, but we’ll have to traverse some steep slopes. We cross a creek and enter what looks to be easy-going grassy slopes. However, the grass hides a multitude of rocks to trip over and twist an ankle. Some sections of the slope were quite steep, but we could have easily dropped downhill to cope. We just didn’t want to lose any elevation.

hiker on trail up to frazier pass wallowa mountains oregon

Trail up to Frazier Pass

Eventually we regained the trail leading up to Frazier Pass. It’s patchy pine forest here, and the path leads up a dusty ravine. The steepest section is right before the top.

hiekrs view from frazier pass wallowa moutnains oregon

View from Frazier Pass

hiker walking trail in forest in eagle cap wilderness oregon

Sam hiking the switchbacks down from Frazier Pass to Minam River

hiking through downed trees in oregon wallowa mountains

Some downed trees here as we enter Minam River valley

Frazier Pass itself didn’t really offer a view, there were just too many trees. We began the descent down the west side of Frazier Pass. The trail here is really dusty, with that finer dirt that gets over everything and into your shoes so easily. The forest is thick here, and more downed trees than pretty much anywhere else we’ve been so far in the Wallowas. For a moment, I felt like I was back on the CDT. Still, the blowdowns had been cleared from the trial mostly, and wasn’t an issue.

hiker fording minam river in the wallowa mountains on a backpacking trip

Sam crossing Minam River

hiking trail running through minam river valley eagle cap wilderness oregon

View west down Minam River valley

hiker walking through wildflwoers in wallowa mountains oregon

A nice walk here

At the bottom of the descent we reach Minam River. This is the upper reaches of the river, though, and it’s pretty small here. We hop rocks across and enter a big, green valley with many wildflowers. 

purple wildflowers in minam valley, wallowa mountains, oregon

Wildflowers in Minam Valley

hiker walking trail in minam valley oregon in the eagle cap wilderness

Hiking Minam Valley below peak 8543

The hike along Minam River just north of Frazier Pass was excellent. At first, the view of the valley is simply “pleasant”. However, as we progressed up the valley towards Minam Lake, the scenery became incredible. What an amazing valley to walk through. Peak 8543′ is the high point along the ridge, which rises sharply nearly 2000′ from the valley floor. There are many colorful wildflowers here as well. 

view from the south shore of minam lake oregon

View north from the south shore of Minam Lake

The trail below Minam Lake passes through trees, and obscures the view. That is, until the trees break and we get our first view of Minam Lake. It’s nice, but nothing like Glacier Lake or Mirror Lake. Minam Lake is at 7373′ elevation, and although some lakes at this elevation are quite impressive, this really isn’t one of them. The backdrop of the mountains are less impressive, heavily forested and more rolling hills than the imposing mountain peaks and rock faces we like to see surrounding an alpine lake. 

One interesting feature of Minam Lake is that it basically sits on top of a saddle separating two valleys. The south side of the lake drains out and forms Minam River, while the north side drains out and forms Lostine River. It’s a strange feeling to hike up a valley, get to this lake at the top, and descend down another river valley. Typically, these high lakes are nestled in the upper basins, and only flow into ONE valley. 

backpacker view along east shore of minam lake oregon

Hiking along the east shore of Minam Lake

minam lake view

View west across the middle of Minam Lake

The hike around the east shore of Minam Lake mostly stays away from the shoreline, and slightly elevated. We’re looking for a place to camp now, but we’re really not seeing much.

hikers view from minam lake shoreline

Minam Lake north shore, view south

hiker crossing logjam at alpine lake outlet in wallowa mountains oregon

Sam crossing the outlet of Minam Lake

tarptent notch li at minam lake oregon campsite

Minam Lake campsite view

We hike down to the southern end of the lake, and the views are better. We find a nice campsite along the lake, with good protection from the trees. This will do.

minam lake oregon campsite view

Not a bad place to spend the evening

purple wildflowers and sunset view over minam lake with reflection on water

View of Minam Lake at sunset

We had a few hours of sunlight left today, and enjoyed our time along the lake. We soak our feet in the water and soak up the views. The sunlight fades and another great day in the Wallowa Mountains is behind us. 

 

Day 3 – July 11th – Minam Lake, Lostine River

Miles Hiked  – 11

sunrise view with reflection over minam lakem wallowa mountains

Minam Lake at sunrise

hiking the lostine river trail oregon

Sam crossing the Lostine River below Minam Lake

After leaving camp, we cross a network of braided streams below Minam Lake’s outlet. It’s clear animals like this area, too. There were many tracks and piles of scat here. We could hear animals moving around near the lake last night, too. We have seen no signs of bear though along our hike in the Wallowa Mountains, which always seems to be the question a hiker is asked. 

hiking trail upper lostine river wallowa mountains oregon

Hiking upper Lostine River

We’re now hiking along Lostine Creek as we leave Minam Lake. The valley is deep, and it seems to take forever for the sun rays to reach us. The forest fire smoke hasn’t built up yet for the day, and bluebird skies prevail. The upper section of Lostine River was nice, before it drops down into the forest.

boulder field along lostine river mountainside

lsotine river trail hiking

Hiking through the forest along Lostine River

hiking views along the lostine river backpacking the wallowas

Lostine River

The trail enters a thick forest, drops 400ft and Copper Creek pours into Lostine River. Many streams will pour into the Lostine as we drop down lower into the valley. We watch the river grow as the trail descends. It’s a 2200′ descent for us. and it’s a real knee buster to begin the day like this. 

hikers view from trail along the llostine river, wallowa mountains, oregon

Lostine River

hikers view from trail along the llostine river, wallowa mountains, oregon

Whitewater along the Lostine River

Lostine River continues to grow in size, and with the steep grades, is now whitewater. The roar of the river is nice to hear. Big pines, stray rays of sunlight finding their way down to the forest floor. It’s a really pleasant walk.  

two pan trailhead hiking lostine river

Hiking trail along Lostine River, near Two Pan Trailhead

spider web with sunlight behind it in oregon wallowa mountains forest

Spider web near the end of our hike

We reach Two Pan Trailhead, which has plenty of cars parked here. We really didn’t see that many people though, both along Lostine River/Minam Lake and in general throughout our Eagle Caps Wilderness hike. We kept walking down hill, passing Shady Campground, French Camp Picnic Area, before getting a hitch near the Lillyville Picnic Area. 

When we reached WHY 82 in the small town of Lostine, our ride was going north, and we need to go south. So, we stuck out our thumbs again and within 15 minutes, got our ride. She was a local on the way into Joseph to get groceries, but ended up driving us all the way up to the Wallowa Lake trailhead, where my van is parked. 

The Wallowa Mountains were awesome. I was very impressed with the scenery here. Despite the trails being good, it’s hard hiking. There is a lot of elevation gain needed to see the high country here. Otherwise, it’s all valley walks, which is still pretty nice. I would love to return to the Wallowa Mountains, and do a longer backpacking trip in the Eagle Caps Wilderness. Someday!


Basin and Range Trail Thru Hike Complete!

hiker walks ridgeline in great basin national park on thru hike of the basin and range trail in nevada
Pioneering America’s newest long distance hike: The 1000+ mile Basin and Range Trail in Nevada

Woohoo!! 1000+ mile Basin and Range Trail thru-hike complete!

The BRT is a brand new long distance thru hike route that I created and hiked over 67 days through Nevada this summer.  Nevada is the most mountainous state in the country, outside of Alaska, with over 310 separate mountain ranges. The BRT aims to combine as many of the best mountain ranges in the state as possible in one long loop-style thru hike route. In  much of the Great Basin, specifically central Nevada, the term “Basin and Range” is used to describe the topography… an alternating landscape of parallel mountain ranges and valleys. Hence, the name Basin and Range Trail. 

I created the Basin and Range Trail to satisfy my curiosities about Nevada. For a chance to explore a mysterious region almost entirely untouched by the backpacking community. I never knew what to expect, whether or not the route down this mountain or canyon would pan out. Whether or not I would find water. With so little available information about the area, water sources etc, every single day was a real adventure. Every single day, I felt like I was walking into the unknown.

Nevada is crazy wild. The majority of the state sees extremely little human use. Mostly hunters and ATV riders, and exponentially less use by hikers. You will seldom be the “first person to walk here”, but you will often feel like it. There aren’t many places left like that. The towns are small and isolated, often around 100 miles from the nearest/next anything. Many towns don’t even have a grocery store, and rural Nevadans routinely drive 200 miles for food. Things are spread out here on a scale that you must see to comprehend. That is one of the things that brought my attention to Nevada, and a big part of the draw to hiking here. 

Along my 1000+ mile walk on the BRT, I encountered hundreds of wild horses, many elk, deer, big horn sheep, badgers, and only two rattlesnakes. I discovered numerous caves, countless creeks, waterfalls, and summitted the high points of several mountain ranges. I dodged lightning strikes, saw the oldest living things on earth (Bristlecone Pine trees), swam in hot springs, walked the pony express trail, cowboy camped under the starriest night skies imaginable, visited a nuclear test site, found arrowheads and Indian artifacts, had 6am wake up calls from the sonic boom of military aircraft, explored forgotten mine shafts, battled 102 degree temperatures and crossed dried lake beds, bushwhacked my way to hell and back, collected rocks along the way including many garnets, cowboy camped in a cave, and nearly got swept off a cliff by a dislodged boulder. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen and experienced what I have, and to have returned relatively unscathed. 

I ended my 67 day BRT journey in the town of Baker, NV which has a population of 68. Ending alone, in a small town like this, is rather anti-climatic. It’s a quasi-loop route, with no definitive start/end points like the CDT, PCT, AT etc. No monument to celebrate at. I stretched out the miles on my final day walking into town, giving myself a little time to process the completion of my most ambitious adventure yet. The array of emotions one feels at the end of such a journey are varied and quite intense. All the trials and triumphs of a months-long expedition have passed, and suddenly, your goal is complete. It’s a great feeling, a relieving feeling, to be done and to be able to relax. On the other hand, it’s difficult to comes to terms with… is it possible this may have been my greatest adventure, never again to be topped? What does the future hold? Indeed, much to ponder, an entirely different topic on it’s own. It’s been a real privilege to spend a summer roaming here.

**I’ve filmed the entire hike (carried 6lbs of camera gear, roughly 1/3 my baseweight) with the intent of producing a movie, as well as a vlog-style video series for YouTube. 𝐒𝐮𝐛𝐬𝐜𝐫𝐢𝐛𝐞 𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐲 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐨𝐮𝐜𝐡:

👉 https://www.youtube.com/c/SeekingLost

I also plan to release detailed info on the route (website/guidebook) for anyone who would like to take on the Basin and Range Trail themselves. And finally, I plan to write a book about my journey, as it has been just too powerful of an experience not to share in greater detail!

Stay tuned for more updates throughout the fall. Happy trails! 


Glacier National Park 95 Mile Hike (Sep 2019) – Wateron Lakes CDT Finish

6 day, 95 Mile Hike in Glacier National Park – Glacier Highline Trail (Modified Route)

In 2018 I thru hiked the Continental Divide Trail, and the last section (NOBO) goes through Glacier National Park on the Glacier Highline Trail. It’s one of the best sections of trail on the entire CDT, and a fitting way to end a 3000 mile hike. However, it was the end of September when I reached East Glacier, and heavy snow in the high mountains forced me to bail down to the road and walk the highway to the border of Canada, finishing at the Port of Piegan. Yuk! I still completed the CDT, but not at the monument at Waterton Lakes. This was a bit crushing to end my 5.5 month hike in such a way. So, this year I came back out to Glacier to hike the Highline Trail again, and get the finish I missed last year at Wateron. This is my second chance at a true CDT finish. This is my redemption!

Check out my CDT finish video for the backstory:

Unfortunately we couldn’t get permits for the exact Glacier Highline Trail route. Instead, we started at Cut Bank (already did most of everything south of here anyways last year on the CDT up to Old Man Lake), hiked north to Many Glacier, then had to detour from the Highline Trail by going through the Ptarmigan Tunnel. From here we follow Cosley Lake to Stoney Indian Pass and into Waterton. Finally, some closure to such a long and grand journey! 


Sawtooth Wilderness, ID High Route – 8 Day Solo Hike Aug 2017

clear lake refelction of jagged mountain peaks

Sawtooth Wilderness High Route – 8 Day Solo Hike August 2017

 

 View All Sawtooth Wilderness Photos | Watch the Sawtooth Wilderness Hike Video On Youtube 

  • Park Administration – National Forest Service
  • Fees & Permits – No fees to access the Sawtooth Wilderness. You need a permit which is FREE. Permits are available via self-registration at the trailheads.
  • Trailhead – Tin Cup Trailhead at Pettit Lake
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 8 Days, 7 NIghts
  • Miles Hiked – 67
  • Route Difficulty – On marked trails, 6. Off trail sections, 9
  • Fires Allowed – Yes, on a fire pan or fire blanket. Campfires are not allowed: Off-trail from July 1st through Labor Day. In the following drainages: Alice/Twin Lakes, Toxaway/Farley Lakes, Goat Creek (tributary of the South Fork of the Payette River), or Alpine Creek. Within 200 yards of Sawtooth Lake, Goat Lake and Alpine Lake near Iron Creek, Alpine and Saddleback Lakes in the Redfish drainage, and Scenic Lakes.
  • Scenic Beauty – 9
  • Solitude – 4 on Trail, 9 Off Trail 

Sawtooth Wilderness Pre-Hike Planning Notes

Actually, the route I set out to hike was much longer, closer to 90 miles and over 25k feet of elevation gain. Averaging 8517′ over 89 miles, I called it “The Ultimate Sawtooths High Route”. Over 50 miles of the 89 mile route was off trail. A route like this would have a lot higher chance for successful completion if one had firsthand knowledge of what to expect in key sections. I didn’t have that luxury though, this will be my first visit to the Sawtooths, and first to the sate of Idaho. I will be sharing more info on the Ultimate Sawtooths High Route later on. 

My goal with the route was to to stay as high as possible, while hitting as many of the places I could that were on my “must see” list. As far as planning a hike goes in the Sawtooths, you’ll find information from scattered sources online but there is no dedicated forum or “go-to” resource for the Sawtooths. I gathered what info I could about my route between trip reports and pictures, google earth, and studying the topo maps to create the route. 

Sawtooth Wilderness Weather Forecasts

For weather in the Sawtooth Wilderness, I was using mountain-forecast.com for Mount Cramer:

https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Mount-Cramer/forecasts/2500

Sawtooth Wilderness Backpacking Maps & Route Information 

Here’s my caltopo map I used to plan my route:

[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/Sawtooths_Aug_2017_Route_Hiked1.gpx”]

Download GPX file of this hike

 

Day 1 – Friday August 18th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 6.35
Elevation Gain – 2090′
Route Hiked – Pettit Lake to Alice Lake

The road to Pettit Lake from ID-75 was well graded and in great shape for a dirt road. I was driving a Chevy Cruze, and wouldn’t hesitate to take the smallest car. High clearance not need whatsoever. I arrived at the Tin Cup Trailhead (located at Pettit Lake) around 6pm, and man was it packed. I was able to find a spot, but there were’t many left if any at all. I changed clothes and did my final packing, and was on the trail at 6:30pm. 

My destination tonight is Alice Lake, hopefully. I have 2.5 hours of daylight max to work with, better get moving. I quickly passed several groups of hikers, walked past the lake and hit the Wilderness Boundary sign. Here is where you self register for your permit. 

The trail is mostly forested for the first few miles. Eventually, it emerges into a couple of open areas where boulders and talus have spilled down the slopes above. Hiking is still easy through these sections because this is such a well traveled trail, and in great shape. Once the first set of switchbacks are encountered, roughly half the way there to Alice, you start to get some nice elevated views. The Sun was already going down fast at this point.

Hiking to Alice Lake

sawtooths wilderness hiking near alice lake

The hike to Alice Lake was pretty nice for a day 1 hike. Normally, the trail taking you to the high country is in a low valley, long and rather uneventful. I would say the trail to Alice Lake is much more interesting, and if nothing else, shorter than many of the approach hikes I’m used to. 

Dusk near Alice Lake

Alice Lake at sundown

Right before I reached Alice Lake is a couple of small ponds, with great views and lots of people already camped there. Farther up the trail, at Alice Lake proper, I was again out of luck finding a campsite in a prime location such as the outlet. With the Sun fading quickly I hurried on farther along the lake. The trail starts to climb above the lake offering no viable campsites.

Towards the center of the lake, at a point where the trail had veered farther from the water, I found a place to hang my hammock. Not the most scenic spot, but who cares, it was already time to bust out the headlamp. Nothin’ to see here tonight. No need to use the tarp over my hammock, skies are looking clear and will remain so for the next couple of days according to the weather forecast.

I arrived at camp around 9pm, and after setting up headed to bed at 10. I’ve got a long week ahead of me!

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Eagles Nest Wilderness (Gore Mountains), CO – 4 Day, 25 Mile Hike July 2017

Eagles Nest Wilderness, CO – Gore Mountains 4 Day Backpacking Trip July 2017

panoramic view of the gore mountains in eagles nest wilderness colorado

 View All Eagles Nest Wilderness Photos | Watch the Eagles Nest Wilderness Hike Video On Youtube

  • Park Administration – US Forest Service – White River National Forest
  • Fees & Permits – No fees to access the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Register at trailhead (although I didn’t see where!)
  • Trailhead – Gore Creek Trailhead
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 4 days, 3 nights
  • Miles Hiked – 25
  • Route Difficulty – 7.5
  • Fires Allowed – Yes
  • Scenic Beauty – 9
  • Solitude – 7, less within 4-5 miles of trailhead

Eagles Nest Wilderness Pre-Hike Planning Notes

Gore Mountains Weather Forecast

– https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Buffalo-Mountain/forecasts/3894

Gore Mountains Road & Trail Condition Reports

– https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd542981.pdf

The Eagles Nest Wilderness is a 133,496 acre tract of land located within the White River National Forest. The Gore Mountains are the backbone of this wilderness area. It’s right off I-70, giving you the impression that it’s going to be a popular, well known hiking destination, but it’s not. Apparently, this area doesn’t get much use in comparison to other Colorado backpacking hotspots. One reason for this is the fact that there are no 14ers in the Gore Mountains. Don’t let the lack of notoriety fool you, as the Gore Mountains are definitely a hidden gem.

The first thing you need to realize about hiking the Gore Mountains is that it’s a rugged place with a lot of steep terrain. Because of this, many of the valleys are “dead ends” for the average hiker, and some are completely unpassable by all except the most skilled climbers. Stringing together a long hiking route that stays high is pretty difficult here. To make long loops, you either have to be OK with spending a lot of time in the lower valleys or be a really good climber. 

Access to the Eagles Nest Wilderness is said to be easier on the west side near Vail. See this map for trailhead locations in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. I parked at the Gore Creek trailhead, 2.3 miles east of Exit #180 off I-70 on Bighorn Road. This road to this trailhead is completely paved, so you can access it in any vehicle. Watch out for all the bikers on the road, there’s a tons of ’em here. Coloradans are probably used to seeing this many cyclists, but here in southeast Michigan the only people riding bicycles on the road are doing so because they have a DUI! The Gore Creek trailhead was pretty packed but many of them were bikers, not hikers. 

Nearby towns of Vail, Silverthorne and Frisco should have everything you need for last minute stops. Also note that you can get a shower after your hike for $5 at the Silverthorne Rec Center if needed. The address for the Silverthorne Rec Center is 430 Rainbow Dr, Silverthorne, CO 80498. 

 

Eagles Nest Wilderness Backpacking Maps

[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/EaglesNestWilderenssJuly2017.gpx”]

Download GPX file of this hike

Here’s my caltopo map of the route I hiked:

Day 1 – Saturday July 8th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 6.54
Elevation Gain – 3058′
Route Hiked – Gore Creek Trailhead to Gore Lake

I started my hike at the Gore Creek trailhead (8688′ elevation) around 10:15 am, just in time for a few clouds to start brewing. The trail immediately begins to climb after leaving the trailhead. The trail itself is pretty well maintained here. There’s a sign marking the entry to the Eagles Nest Wilderness after about 1 mile. Once you pass the sign, the trail goes over the top of a small hill where you lose sight of I-70. The sound from the road is also gone, and replaced with that of Gore Creek. The trail winds through a few patches of aspens before the evergreens become the dominate tree with increased elevation. 

Gore Creek Trail near Gore Creek trailhead

On the Gore Creek trail

The crowds of people started to thin out about two miles from the trailhead. Most of the people on the trail were older folks, and seemed to be locals coming out to get a few miles in for exercise. I stopped along a slow bend in Gore Creek after an hour to eat a little food. I didn’t see any fish, but it looked like there would be potential if one were to walk the bank looking for deeper holes. 

view of gore creek from the gore creek trail in the eagles nest wilderness of colorado

Gore Creek

There were few sweeping views of the valley, and the trail only occasionally swings alongside Gore Creek. The trail maintains a pretty manageable incline much of the way to the intersection with Gore Lake trail, with occasional steeper bursts. I passed a guy who said he’d just seen a large bear at the intersection, which I arrived at about 10 minutes later. No bear, fine with me. 

At the intersection of Gore Creek trail & Gore Lake trail, the elevation is 10,180′. AT this point, the elevation gain is roughly 1800′ (with the ups and downs of the trail) over 4.15 miles. Now on the Gore Creek trail, I’ll climb 600’+ in about a half mile. There’s a little view of the valley below after gaining a little elevation. The trail then overlooks a creek, although don’t believe it’s the main creek flowing out of Gore Lake. I saw my first patch of snow around 10,700′.

mountain peaks beyond the meadow in eagles nest wilderness below gore lake

At the top of the 600′ push I was rewarded with a nice meadow. It was flat, open and green, the first of the hike. It sprinkled a little now, but not heavy enough to be a bother. The views were definitely improving now. In the meadow, jagged peaks and snow capped mountain sides loom in the distance. There were some small patches of colorful flowers here and there, still a ways off from peak bloom though. 

hiking trail just below gore lake in eagles nest wilderness colorado

Approaching Gore Lake

hiking trail near gore lakecolorado

After passing through the meadow, the trail then climbs another 500′ in .6 mile along the final stretch to Gore Lake. I enjoyed the final approach to the lake, where your view of a nearby peak is hidden and then revealed as you crest the top of the final slope. A somewhat “dramatic” way to arrive at such a beautiful lake!

ice on small pond next to gore lake colorado

First view of Gore Lake

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Pinto Valley Wilderness, NV (LMNRA) – 3 Day 25 Mile Loop Hike March 2017

Backpacking The Pinto Valley Wilderness, Nevada (Lake Mead National Recreation Area)

Pinto Valley Wilderness Viewed From Hamblin Mountain

 View All Pinto Valley Wilderness Photos | Watch the Pinto Valley Wilderness Hike Video On Youtube 

  • Park Administration – National Park Service (Lake Mead National Recreation Area)
  • Fees & Permits – No fees or permits to access the Pinto Valley Wilderness, but there IS a fee to enter the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (in which the Pinto Valley Wilderness is located)
  • Trailhead – Northshore Summit Trail parking lot off Northshore Rd.
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 3 days, 2 nights
  • Miles Hiked – 25
  • Route Difficulty – 6.5, except where on descent into Pinto Valley near the “choke point” on my GPS file where it’s an 8.5
  • Fires Allowed – Yes, but only if you bring your own, or use driftwood below the high water line of Lake Mead (which is not nearby)
  • Scenic Beauty – 9
  • Solitude – 8

Pinto Valley Wilderness Pre-Hike Planning Notes

The Pinto Valley Wilderness is relatively new, only being designated a wilderness in 2002. Therefore there are not a whole lot of references to this wilderness online. Many people just refer to the area as the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which is technically also correct since the Pinto Valley Wilderness is located within the LMNRA. 

The northern boundary of the Pinto Valley Wilderness is Northshore Rd, and this is pretty much the only place to park unless you have a 4×4. Here, there are several pull-offs along the road where you can park for a day hike. But what about overnight hikes? Well, you aren’t supposed to park in the pull-offs overnight, and even that was OK with the park service, would you want to leave your car there? Probably not. For me, the only real option was parking in the Northshore Summit Trail parking lot. It’s located approximately a half mile east of mile marker 20 on Northshore Rd. The southern boundary of the wilderness is Lake Mead, the western border is Callville Wash Rd and the eastern boundary is Boathouse Cove Rd. Also not that Boathouse Cove Rd separates the Pinto Valley Wilderness (39,173 acres) from the Jimbilnan Wilderness (18,879 acres) to the east. You can access the Pinto Valley Wilderness from the east, west and southern boundaries, but by far the easiest is Northshore Rd.

Water sources in the Pinto Valley Wilderness are limited. While there are likely other water sources located in the Pinto Valley Wilderness, the two most prominent sources (from my pre-hike research) are Sandstone Spring and Cottonwood Spring. I did not make it to Sandstone Spring to check if it was flowing. I passed by Cottonwood Spring, but did not search for the source. I did see that an animal had dug down into the wash near Cottonwood Spring and there was a pool of water about 6 inches down. Neither one of these springs are reliable enough to count on as a easy water source (you might have to dig for water). Pack in all water you will need for this hike and assume you will not find any!

It does not appear that backcountry camping is very popular in the Pinto Valley Wilderness. The lack of trail heads with overnight parking, marked trails and water sources seem to indicate that most people use the area for day hikes. However, the off-trail enthusiast will find that the Pinto Valley Wilderness provides some excellent 2-3 day hikes to those willing to haul their own water. 

Pinto Valley Wilderness Backpacking Maps

[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/PintoValleyMar17RouteHiked.gpx”]

Download GPX file of this hike

Here’s my caltopo map I used to plan my route:

Day 1 – Saturday March 25th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 8.26
Elevation Gain – 1228′
Route Hiked – Northshore Summit Trail parking lot to Pinto Valley near Sentinel Peak

lake mead national recreation area from northshore rd

Driving along Northshore Rd

Dan and I spent the previous day in the nearby Valley of Fire State Park, and camped in the Arch Rock campground. From here, it was about a 30 minute drive to the Northshore Summit trail head. It was cloudy this morning and was sprinkling when we were packing up our gear, but that quickly faded away. The drive along Northshore Rd was very scenic, and worthy of spending some time here by itself. However, we did not have the extra time, and drove directly to the parking lot.

When we arrived at the Northshore Summit Trail parking lot, we were the only ones there. Good sign. Yesterday, Valley of Fire State Park was packed. There’s a bathroom and garbage cans here, but that’s it. We left the parking lot around 9:30am and started walking east on Northshore Rd. While road walks are never ideal, this was the best route I could come up with that fit together a starting point, the destinations I wanted to hit and the time frame. Despite walking this paved road for 2 miles, it was beautiful country. Big views to the north, looking across Bitter Spring Valley. 

entering the pinto valley wilderness from northshore rd

Leaving Northshore Rd behind

Climbing up Pinto Ridge

dead turtle shell found in the pinto valley wilderness

We found this turtle shell hiking up Pinto Ridge

After 2 miles, we reached a pull-off where another vehicle was parked. Here, we leave the road and head south towards the Pinto Ridge. We hiked up over a small ridge to start the climb up. The terrain is pretty jagged here, with lots of sharp rocks. As we climbed up the ridge, I came across a turtle shell. The turtle itself was long gone, but the shell was an interesting find. A few hundred feet farther and I saw a second shell.

On the “pass” at the top of Pinto Ridge

Farther up the ridge, the path narrows as we reached the top of the “pass”. The vegetation was a little greener, thicker, and thornier here. Lots of wildflowers in bloom, and some of the cacti as well. There’s not much of a view form the high point, but this changes as you descend into Pinto Valley.

Descending into Pinto Valley

descending a steep rock slab in the pinto valley wilderness

Looking back up the way we came. Very steep!

The descent from the top is pretty gradual at first. We could tell there was a steeper section ahead, which I anticipated. Now the views of Pinto Valley were materializing, and they were impressive. However, the immediate problem was the terrain that lies between us and the valley below. The steepness would have been enough to worry about, but of course, loose rocks and debris compounded the difficulty. The angle was such that you could grip decently walking down slowly, but only just. Any steeper and this would have been questionable. I crab crawled in a few spots after watching Dan fall a couple of times. 

The chute funnels you to this choke point

It took a good amount of time to safely work our way down this steep slab, only to be led to a choke point… a couple of boulders wedged between the steep, narrow canyon walls. There’s no easy way to climb down it, but there’s a route around it. Backtrack about 50 feet from the boulders and go up a ridge on your left (to the east). Here, there’s a more manageable route down and the rest of the way is less frightening. 

pinto valley wilderness upheaval

Them rocks ain’t supposed to be angled like that!

Now down off the worst of Pinto Ridge, jumped down into one of the two washes, which merge, and headed out into the valley. It’s a whole new landscape here. In the wash we could see chunk of earth pushed upright, with a variety of layers visible. This isn’t solid rock like granite, though. It’s made up of compacted, crumbly dirt and smaller rocks. 

prickly pear cactus flowers in bloom in the pinto valley wilderness

Sentinel Peak behind a blooming Prickly Pear cactus

pinto ridge

Vibrant colors of Pinto Ridge

Looking west into Pinto Valley. Pinto Ridge on the right

After emerging from the wash, we found ourselves in the expansive Pinto Valley. Sentinel Peak was in front of us, dominating the view with shades of orange and red. We decided to camp here, on the north side of the valley, so we could have a good view of Sentinel. 

pinto valley campsite near sentinel peak

My campsite in Pinto Valley. That’s Sentinel Peak in the background

flowers in front of sentinel peak - pinto valley wilderness

Sentinel Peak from Pinto Valley

We found a couple of flati-ish spots and cleared the sharp rocks to make way for our tents. The view was great, but there’s no shade anywhere nearby. After setting up camp, we took a break for lunch. Afterwards, Dan rested while I took some pictures.

Approaching Sentinel Peak

After our break, we headed over towards Sentinel in an attempt to climb to it’s summit at around 2:30pm. The path to Sentinel from our camp involved dropping down into and climbing out of several washes along the way, before finding the main wash that runs through Pinto Valley. We took this to the Base of Sentinel where the route I had planned begins. The path up to the top was not very obvious from here, so I was hoping the track I created in Caltopo, based off someone else’s route up Sentinel, was accurate. 

At the base of Sentinel Peak

Climbing up Sentinel Peak

We started climbing up Sentinel, and quickly found the most promising route to be blocked by a huge boulder. We moved farther east and started uphill here. Dan wanted to go right up the mountainside whichever place looked easiest from his point of view, while I wanted to try and stick to the GPS route I created ahead of time. We both pursued various route options but keep finding ourselves in tough spots. I ended up breaking one of my Gossamer Gear LT4 trekking poles, again. Looking back, I think I’ve broken more of these poles than I have completed hikes with them. I don’t think I can use those poles anymore, need something beefier. 

Dan carefully walking across a rock face with a healthy fall below

Coming own Sentinel Peak looking north towards Pinto Ridge

The climb was a lot harder than we anticipated. While we probably could have made it to the top and back to camp if we continued, we decided that it was getting late in the afternoon and didn’t really want to be getting back right at dark or after if the route continued to be as challenging. We turned around and headed back to camp, somewhat defeated. At least there’s Hamblin Mountain tomorrow, which should have an easier route up. 

Main wash running through Pinto Valley

hiking the main wash in pinto valley

While we walked back to camp in one of the washes, we saw what looked to be bobcat tracks and poop. We saw lots of similar tracks throughout our hike, but of course, never saw anything.

pinto valley wilderness from from camp in pinto valley

When we got back to camp we still had no shade. Dan set up his emergency blanket (he was using it as a footprint under his tent) as a lean-to, and we had a nice shaded spot to escape the sun for a while. 

There was a TON of plane and helicopter traffic overhead in this region. Commercial planes I understand as we’re not that far from Las Vegas. The helicopter though, I don’t understand why there were so many. Throughout the day we saw a couple per hour. Right before nightfall, I saw 6 in row, flying the same flight path spaced about 1 minute apart. Maybe some sort of training exercise? 

pinto valley

View to the west before sunset

Looking to the east, the views of Sentinel and the mountains beyond were colorfully illuminated by the sun now. To the west, the distant landscape looked lush and green as the sun shined on it, although it in reality the vegetation is much more sparse up close. Dan said it looked like Jurassic Park. I watched the sun set and headed to bed shortly after.

 

Day 2 – Sunday March 26th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 9.88
Elevation Gain – 2173′
Route Hiked – Pinto Valley near Sentinel Peak to Pinto Valley Castle

It was a calm night with no animal sounds or high winds. The only sound I could hear was Dan snoring, as we set up our tents a little too close together. I got up around 6:30 to watch the sunrise, and tried to wake Dan. Of course, Dan continued to sleep and didn’t get up until 7:30 or later. 

pinto valley wilderness sunrise

Sunrise in Pinto Valley

While Dan wrestled with the agony of leaving his tent, I sat on a small hill near camp and took some pictures. The sunrise was not very impressive from this spot though as it was so high in the sky by the time it peaked out over the top of Sentinel Peak. I was already packed and ready to go by the time the sun rose and Dan finally left his tent. 

View of Hamblin Mountain from our camp in Pinto Valley

We broke camp around 8:30, following the nearest wash to the main wash running through Pinto Valley. Walking in the washes is the easiest route through Pinto Valley. This is not because the terrain outside of the washes is difficult, but because the washes are cut steeply and often deep into the surrounding earth. Hiking in and out of them gets old after a while. 

Hiking west through the main wash through Pinto Valley

Hiking the main wash was very easy. We made good time as we traveled west through Pinto Valley. We passed an outcrop of rocks and boulders that people have been signing their names on for years, dating back to the 1920s. Even though some of the writing is nearly 100 years old, it still looks brand new. Is is really that old then? Surely they would have been weathered somewhat in 100 years, right?

Wash leading to Pinto Valley Castle (the tallest point in the very center of the horizon) 

interesting geology in the pinto valley wilderness

What a mad place!

West of the rocks with writing along the main wash, we could start to see the colors of Pinto Valley Castle in the distance. Soon we left the main wash, and headed up another wash towards Pinto Valley Castle. This is a really interesting area, visually and geologically. Lots of upheaval going on, exposing many different layers of sediment. Small patches of “badlands” can be found all over here too. 

backpacker in front of pinto valley castle

“And behind me is Pinto Valley Castle…”

pinto valley castle panorama

View south near Pinto Valley Castle

Pinto Valley Castle

Pinto Valley Castle was impressive. Erosion has shaped the walls of PVC in an unusual way, with sharp edges and symmetry. The top is made up of some lighter colored sediment, while the bottom is comprised of a contrasting red color. 

sunflowers near pinto valley castle

colorful badlands

Looking northeast from the small pass, where we just came from

pinto valley wilderness badlands

Looking southwest from the small pass, towards Hamblin Mountain

After heading general north for a while through the Pinto Valley Castle area, we abruptly turned west after passing by PVC. After hiking through a small patch of badlands, we noticed an obvious path up one of the ridges, which led us to the top of a small pass. This is the general area I wanted to camp, since it looked so colorful from the satellite maps I studied before coming out here. It certainly lived up to the hype I had in my mind. Now, we just needed to find a place to set up camp. 

pinto valley wilderness best campsite

Campsite 1/4 mile west of Pinto Valley Castle

sunflowers in front of colorful mountain background

pinto valley wilderness

colorful mountain scenery pinto valley wilderness

Coming down from the little pass, we followed an obvious path down and along the side of the high ground. This path appeared to be an old mining road or something. We followed it a short ways before find a couple of small flat areas for our tents. Excellent views, and enough space to spread out more than we did last night. 

After setting up camp and eating lunch, we headed out to climb Hamblin Mountain. From camp, it appeared that there was a high and low path to take. We opted to take the high ground since we were already up here. This path led us generally where we wanted to go, but then started curving south. We backtracked a little and realized we had to go over a ridge to get to where we wanted to go. We should have taken the low ground from camp as it would have gone around this ridge, but I didn’t realize that at the time.

pinto valley wilderness

Wow!

Still not on the trail yet

We followed the ridge for a while looking for a weakness. After a short but steep climb over it, we still didn’t see an obvious route to follow. We headed down hill and along the top of a very deep cut wash below. On the other side we could see a trail, but we needed to cross this wash. We found a spot to descend, and even saw a cairn in the wash. We figured we were on the right path now. 

A faint path led up hill

Looking back the way we came

view of pinto valley wilderness from hike up hamblin mountain

The land was changing from red washes and badlands to green, rocky mountainous terrain. We followed our new trail up a ridge and along the mountainside. The path was very narrow and barely cut into the steep slopes. Eventually this path merged with a larger one, and it was much easier to follow from here on out. We hiked a short ways before seeing a path that led down into  the wash below, which looked easier and more direct than the route we took up here. We noted this and decided to go this was on the descent. 

hamblin mountain trail

Next we encountered are first humans of the trip, a couple from Henderson, NV who a had just left the summit of Hamblin Mountain. We chatted for a few minutes and parted ways, knowing they had only been hiking 25 minutes from the top. I was really looking forward to this view!

 

The hike up was not technically challenging or particularly steep, but there were a few false summits. Really great views as your near the top. Not far from the summit, we passed an older couple from Colorado making their way down. The woman seemed bewildered that we had “large” backpacks on, and asked if we were camping at the top. Ha, nope. Just carrying our water, snacks, camera gear, etc.

hamblin mountain summit view southwest

View southwest over Lake Mead from Hamblin Mountain

view from hamblin mountain summit south/southeast

View south/southeast from Hamblin Mountain summit

Lake Mead from Hamblin Mountain. The narrows is just out of frame to the left (east)

Hamblin Mountain Panorama

view of sentinel peak from hamblin mountain

Sentinel Peak from summit of Hamblin Mountain

 

We had the summit of Hamblin Mountain to ourselves when we made it up here at 2:30. It had taken us 2 hours from camp. From the top I could see Lake Mead, Bowl of Fire, Sentinel Peak, Pinto Valley and all the other landmarks for many miles. Las Vegas lies hidden from view in a valley, but beyond that the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Charleston can been seen. Several USGS markers dot the summit as well as a summit log/register. 

view of the pinto valley wilderness from the summit of hamblin mountain

Hamblin Mountain Summit View

view of the muddy mountains from hamblin mountain

Muddy Mountains to the north

view of the pinto valley wilderness from hamblin mountain summit

Pinto Valley & Sentinel Peak Viewed From Hamblin Mountain Summit

View northeast from Hamblin Mountain

We stayed on the summit for about an hour taking pictures and soaking in the view. However, we were also soaking in quite a bit of sun, and with no shade, it was time to head back to camp. 

hamblin mountain hike

Trail down Hamblin Mountain

Dan went ahead of me as I snapped a bunch of pictures on the way down. For some reason, I enjoyed the view better going down than up. 

Before we knew it, we reached the path that leads down into the wash that we noted on the way up. We headed down here and found this route to be quite obvious, and in fact, the actual route. The first trail we found on our way up was actually an alternate route the just happened to meet up with this main trail. This was confirmed by passing the same cairn that we passed in the wash on our way up. We originally thought the cairn marked the way to the main path that we took, instead, it marks the main path which we crossed right over without realizing. 

pinto valley wilderness hiking in a wash

Almost back to camp

Our path in the wash was leading us directly back to camp now. We passed the junction of the old 4×4 road that passes by Cottonwood Spring and heads out to Northshore Rd. This would be the route the day hikers would have taken, parking at a pull-off along the highway. We walked past this junction and the path led us right back to camp in a very direct way, much more so than the way we took up the mountain. We made it back to camp in only 1 hour from the top of Hamblin, half the time it took to reach the top. 

Back at camp, we sought out the only shade around and exploited it for a while. Having not eaten anything since noon, which was just some snacks, I devoured my bacon & cheese wrap for dinner. Dan was running lower on water than I, so I gave him a half liter. That’s about all I had left myself when I went to bed.

sunset in the pinto valley wilderness

Sunset at camp

Dan was whooped and went to bed at 6pm. With another hour and a half of daylight left, I couldn’t do that. I found a decent spot to sit and wait for sundown. Several bats were out at dusk, and flying closely overhead too. 

Day 3 – Monday March 27th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 4.99
Elevation Gain – 531′
Route Hiked – Pinto Valley Castle to Northshore Summit Trail parking lot

I woke up at 5:45 this morning. From my tent I yelled, “Hey Dan, time to get up”. To my surprise, he actually did get up without any additional prodding. That’s good, because I have a plane to catch at 12:45pm this afternoon, and we need to hike back to the car, drive back to Vegas, get some food and clean up. Originally I planned to hike an off-trail route back to the car, but worried about time, we opted to take the route the Hamblin Mountain day hikers use to get to Northshore Rd, then road walk a few miles back to the car. This would be the safest route from a time perspective.

We packed up quickly this morning and were moving by 6:30. We took the low ground this time for a direct route to the junction with the old 4×4 road, now called the Cottonwood Wash Trail. 

Cottonwood Wash Trail

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash trail was easy. Some spots were more narrow than others, and made you wonder how a vehicle passed through. Much of it is wider though. This road would have been in use up until 2002 or prior, when the area was designated as the Pinto Valley Wilderness. 

Lone tree at Cottonwood Spring

dense green shrubbery at cottonwood spring

Cottonwood Spring

A lone Cottonwood tree stands in the middle of the wash at Cottonwood Spring, hence the name. I did not see an obvious source, but I didn’t look around much either. There were lots of thick, green shrubs and bushes in some areas, an indicator of water, but I had no desire to wade through them looking for water. We did see a small hole dug in the middle of the wash with water about 6 inches down, but no natural emergence of water to the surface. 

Cottonwood Wash Trail

After leaving Cottonwood Spring, we headed down the home stretch. This was offered the same interesting geological features as others, a variety of rock and sediment layers exposed by upheaval.

backpacker walking along northshore rd in the lake mead national recreation area

Road walk along Northshore Rd

When we reached Northshore Rd, we headed east. We still had about 3 miles to cover before getting back to the parking lot. I didn’t even mind walking the road so much since the views were so great. It was a steady incline the rest of the hike back.

We reached the Northshore Summit trailhead at 8:30, plenty of time to take care of my pre-flight needs. Another successful adventure under the belt. 

 

Final Thoughts About Hiking The Pinto Valley Wilderness

This place exceeded my expectations. It’s uniquely colorful, and an all around cool place. Access is tough and some of the off trail segments can be challenging. Lots of aerial traffic remind you of how close this place is to civilization, yet we still felt solitude. Especially at night. The nights were calm and silent, with no animal sounds. We saw few animals the entire trip, just a couple of chipmunks and birds. The vegetation wasn’t too thick or thorny overall, only a few short spots where we encountered that. We saw no snakes or spiders, just a couple of butterflies and a beetle. I was expecting wildlife to be a little more active this time of year. 

Camp on our second night was my favorite. You can’t go wrong pitching your tent anywhere near Pinto Valley Castle in my opinion. Hamblin Mountain is an easy hike with a great view, and would make a great day hike (as the two couples we passed had done). 

 


Coxcomb Mountains 3 Day Hike – Joshua Tree NP, CA – Dec 2016

Joshua Tree National Park – Coxcomb Mountains 3 Day Hike

sunrise over the coxcomb mountains

View All Coxcomb Mountains Photos | Watch the Coxcomb Mountains Hike Video On Youtube 

  • Park Administration – Joshua Tree National Park
  • Fees & Permits – Free permit, self register at one of 12 backcountry registration boards (none near the Coxcomb Mountains) or at one of the Joshua Tree national park visitor centers
  • Travel Logistics – Flew into Ontario, CA airport, drove (with a local friend) to Joshua Tree NP
  • Trailhead – There is no dedicated trailhead to access the Coxcombs. However, you can park along Hwy 62 (TwentyNine Palms Rd) at 34.095135, -115.420799. This is 11.9 miles west of the Hwy 62/Hwy 177  junction. This starting point is recognized by the park though as the main point of access to the Coxcombs. BEWARE of deep sand here at the parking area! We found another place to park (north side of hwy 62) a half mile or so east of the designated spot if you don’t have a 4×4. 
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 3 days, 2 nights
  • Miles Hiked – 25
  • Route Difficulty – 7.5 
  • Fires Allowed – No
  • Scenic Beauty – 7
  • Solitude – 9.5

Coxcomb Mountains Pre-Hike Planning Notes

The Coxcomb Mountains are situated in the northeast corner of Joshua Tree National Park. This region is seldom visited, and considered the most rugged area of Joshua Tree with many jagged peaks. The highest peak in the Coxcombs is Aqua Peak. Although most maps label the high point as Aqua Peak, Aqua actually refers to 3 separate peaks… Spectre, Tensor and Dyadic. Tensor Peak is the lowest, and Aqua is the tallest at 4,416′. 

There are no dedicated campsites in the Coxcomb Mountains.

There are no reliable water sources in the Coxcombs. We hauled our own water in for this 3 day hike.  

The Inner Basin and Aqua Peaks are day-use only, but I could not find any official information on this within the Joshua Tree National park website. There’s no signs telling you where you can/can’t camp, and there’s nobody around to enforce it, but still you should try and honor these regulations as the are set in place to protect the local population of Big Horn Sheep. When I arrived at the park to get my permit, I asked the ranger to show me on the map the boundaries of the day use area. His map was a Trails Illustration/Nat Geo map of Joshua Tree National Park, and it the boundary was clearly marked on it. Later at home, I created this image to show the boundary of the day use area in the Inner Basin of the Coxcomb Mountains:

inner basin day use area boundary lines marked on a map

The day use boundary for the Inner Basin area of the Coxcomb Mountains can be seen on this map

Coxcomb Mountains Hike Maps

Download GPX file of this hike
[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/CoxcombMtnsPostHike.gpx”]

 

This is the caltopo map of the route I hiked. I’ve highlighted the Inner Basin day use are for your convenience.

 

 

Day 1 – Friday December 2nd, 2016

Miles Hiked – 7
Elevation Gain – 1704′

Dan’s Mustang stuck in the sand

When it came time to park at the trailhead, we tried to drive on some sand that was way too soft for my friend’s Mustang, and the car got stuck. Very stuck. We had to call a tow truck to pull it out, which was a 4 hour ordeal. The only reason we we able to call that tow truck is due to a passing motorist, who stopped and drove Dan to an intersection several miles away that had cell service. 

We didn’t start hiking today until around 2pm. I was hoping to make it past the Inner Basin today, but was also considering camping before the Inner Basin if it didn’t look like we could make it before sundown. 

We parked about .85 miles east of the “designated” spot. From here, it would be slightly out of the way to walk back towards the standard route. which runs west of the outcrop of small mountains (marked 806T on my caltopo map). Instead, we started hiking south and aimed east of the 806T benchmark. This wash appeared to be easy and take us to the same place, so we felt confident about of choice and headed out into the desert. 

distant view of the coxcomb mountains in joshuia tree national park

Coxcomb Mountains from the wash near Hwy 62

The desert floor consisted of soft sand in the washes, and slightly firmer sand elsewhere. Not the hard-packed desert soil I’ve hiked in much of the time in the past, in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Vegetation consisted of low brush, much of it very thorny. No Joshua Trees here on this side of the park. We saw an occasional Prickly Pear and even a Sotol plant. Along the washes were some larger trees, at least compared to the rest of the scrub. 

a tarantula in the coxcomb mountains

Not 10 minutes into the hike, and we saw a tarantula walking around, making it’s way back into it’s hole. This was the first time either Dan or myself had seen one in the wild. It was only about 55 degrees today, and being December I thought most of the snakes and spiders would be laying low somewhere. Cool to see!

coxcomb mountains approach from a sandy wash

 I’m not sure it would have been any easier had we taken the standard route, but walking along the wash east of the outcrop was really easy. We made great time through here. Looking back towards the car, we couldn’t see hwy 62 running through the desert. Pretty quickly you feel isolated here. The mountains around us were really rugged looking, especially compared to the rounded boulders of the iconic Joshua Tree landscape. 

When we reached the point along our route where it intersects with the standard route, right before it heads uphill to Inner Basin Pass, we had a decision to make: camp here, or push on and hope we make it out of the Inner Basin before dark. We’d made great time so far, so we decided to chance it and keep moving. The terrain here remains easy, hiking up a sandy wash as the canyon narrows. I saw a jackrabbit darting through the wash, just about the only wildlife wee’d see this whole trip. 

coxcomb mountains inner basin pass

inner basin view at dusk in the coxcomb mountains

Hiking down the pass into the Inner Basin

Eventually, our route in the sandy wash becomes a boulder climb. Not terribly difficult or long, but a bit of a scramble in spots. Once at the top, it’s actually a bit of a flat plateau. Our first views of the Inner Basin were impressive, but the view is best right before the trail drops down in elevation. 

hiking a sandy wash in the inner basin of the coxcomb mountains

After dropping down into Inner Basin, it was back to an easy walk in a sandy wash. There’s a lot of thorny bushes around to snag clothing, but nothing too thick. The sun was really disappearing now, and the entire basin was shaded at this point. 

When we reached the end of the Inner Basin, there were cairns leading southwest. I was expecting the route to continue southeast and up hill. I could have taken the route I had marked on the map, but I just followed the cairns. The route winded through some narrow canyons and involved a little more boulders. Eventually, we popped out into the large flat area nestled in the heart of the mountains seen from my map. I originally thought this was the Inner Basin, based on the look of it on the map and the piss-poor descriptions available on the web. To be clear, I am talking about the open area on the map at these coordinates: 34.0195, -115.3733. Since this area is not part of the day use area, we started to look for a campsite. It was really windy, so we walked to several outcrops of rocks to see if they provided ample wind break. Wind always seemed to be hitting us no matter where we stood, so we just picked a spot. I had to use my headlamp to finish setting up my tent. The sandy soil was so soft, I had to weigh down my stakes with rocks to keep the tent from blowing over. 

After setting up camp, Dan and I ate dinner. It was 5:30 now and the stars were shining bright already. In fact, we could clearly see the milky way despite competing with the moon’s light. It was also getting pretty cold. Tonight was supposed to get down to near freezing. After shivering in the wind for a while, Dan and I decided to turn in around 6:30. Nights in the desert are long in the winter! 

 

Day 2 – Saturday December 3rd, 2016

Miles Hiked – 10
Elevation Gain – 1671′
I woke up at 5:50 this morning, hoping to get in position for the sunrise. I walked over to Dan’s tent and woke him, but he didn’t get out of his tent by the time I was ready. In fact. he was snoring again. So, I let him sleep while I climbed up rocks behind our camp. 

first light over the coxcomb mountains

Sunrise in the Coxcomb Mountains

coxcomb mountains mountaintop view at sunrise

huge open basin in the coxcomb mountains

My camp is along the base of the rocks I’m on

From my spot on top of the rocks, I had a pretty good view of the large flat basin in which we’re camped. I could tell the sun wasn’t going to be directly in view, but I had had a good spot to capture the glow of light in the distance.

mosaic of colors at sunrise in the coxcomb mountains

coxcomb mountains sunrise

I spent a good while up here taking pictures of the sunrise and enjoying the excellent scenery. This was one of the better views of the whole trip. 

cholla cactus in the coxcomb mountains

Some variety of Cholla Cactus

sun peaking over mountain in the desert

sun shines behind tree on rock in desert

When I returned to camp, Dan was still snoring. Again, I let him be and continued with my search for some good early morning photo ops. Next, I headed southwest from camp to the edge of this flat open area. Here, the map shows a large drop off down to Pinto Basin below. 

view of pinto basin from the coxcomb mountains

View of Pinto Basin and the Pinto Mountains beyond

Once at my destination, I realized most of it lies within the shade currently. maybe this would be better to return to this evening. I took a few pictures here before moving around some, trying to get to a higher vantage point. I bounced around from spot to spot along the tops of the nearby hills, but eventually I gave up on the area and decided to head back to camp. 

Dan still wasn’t up when I returned after 8am now, so I tried waking him again. This time, it worked. After Dan ate breakfast and got ready, we headed out to do some exploring. Today, our plan is to go wherever we feel like going! 

A small cave in the Coxcomb Mountains

sitting inside a small cave in the coxcombs

First, Dan wanted to check out a small cave we saw last night as we exited the Inner Basin area and entered the flat open area we camped in. The cave was a rounded cavity in a rock face, sitting about 8-10ft above the ground. With some effort, it’s possible to climb into it from below.

vibrant sun shines down over the coxcomb mountains

hiking off trail in the coxcomb mountains

Dropping down into the wash below

After this, we headed south across the open flat area. We hiked up over some boulders and dropped down into a wash below. We followed this was downhill for a ways. I had this marked on my map as a potential spot of interest, as the canyon looks like it narrows further down and is flanked by some cliffs ranging from 400′-1200′ plus. Might be worth checking out.

The hike down this wash was pretty easy at first. There were some occasional boulders that needed to be climbed in order to continue along our path. We had no intentions of following this canyon out into the desert, just to follow it for a ways. We didn’t see much of interest here, so we decided to turn back at our first real obstacle. There was a short drop off along the wash that might have been hard to get back up if we had continued down past it, so we figured this was a good turn around point. 

We hiked back uphill and eventually made it back to the spot where we had originally entered the wash. From here, I suggested hiking higher up the same wash. On the satellite maps I saw at home, I saw a sizable patch of green here, which might indicate a spring or seep. Since thee was nothing marked on the map and no info on natural water sources in the Coxcombs online, we decided it might be an interesting destination. 

a class 3 boulder scramble in the coxcomb mountains

Climbing up the rock chute

View north from the rock chute

Dan enjoying himself

At first, our hike was again easy, winding through a sandy wash. Soon enough though, it turned into a boulder climb. This was a fairly long and sometimes challenging scramble, too. There were large boulders here, stacked on top of each other creating huge spaces in between them in which to fall. Sometimes, traversing the boulders meant walking along steep faces of the boulder with little or nothing to grip. A slip could result in a slide down the boulder and then a fall of up to 25ft onto various size and shapes of boulders below. Not exactly a high exposure type danger, but a real risk of injury if one step is out of place. 

green trees in the coxcomb mountains

Lots of green around. I didn’t see water, but this is the closest to it I’ve seen out here

After a tough scramble to the top, there wasn’t much to see. The vegetation was thicker up here, and this meant mostly more thorn bushes. We had already been cut up pretty good during the rest of today’s hike, but the worst of it seemed to be up here. We pushed through the thorn bushes and headed for the spot of green I saw on the satellite map. Once at the spot, we did see a high concentration of some coniferous trees, the exact species, I’m not sure. They were so thick that I couldn’t penetrate them to check for existence of water, either.  

We took a break here in the sun and relaxed for a while. We debated taking another route down, but that would require traversing some steep territory. Who knows what that will look like when we get there. It was early afternoon now and we end to start thinking about heading back to camp. We ultimately decided to take the same route back as we know it’s traversable already. 

Descending the chute

Red rocks. Yup

skull of a big horn sheep sits on boulder in the coxcomb mountains

Big Horn Sheep skull

rugged landscape of the coxcomb mountains

The jagged peaks that surrounded us looked more impressive going down than it did when we went up. It was hard work, but offered up some of the best views of the day. We also saw a big horn sheep skull that we didn’t see on our way up. It had both horns intact. 

campsite in the coxcomb mountains

My campsite

Coming down was a little easier. Before long we were in the sandy wash again and headed back to the place where we entered this wash. We could go over the little ridge we did this morning, or take another route, running northeast from benchmark 927T. We opted for the second choice. This took us back to camp, where we relaxed and rehydrated.

cholla cactus at sunset in the coxcomb mountains

Sunset over the Pinto Basin

It wasn’t long before the sun was on it’s way down again, and fast. We decided to head back to the spot I visited this morning, on the southeast corner of the large open area. It was aonly a 10 minute walk to get there, but when we did the sun was just going down over the Pinto Mountains. It wasn’t the best vantage point base don the angle of the sun, but I snapped a few photos I was happy with. We ate dinner here as we watched the glow of the sun disappear. 

Back at camp, we pretty much mirrored last night: sit on the rocks, watch the stars and chat. By 7pm we were both in bed again, seeking the relative comfort of the tent and the warm it provides. 

 

Day 3 – Sunday December 4th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 7
Elevation Gain – 375′
I woke at 6am this morning, and Dan even woke on the first try. My original plan for today was to bag Tensor and Spectre peaks today on the way back to the car. However, Dan was not really wanting to do that after the climbing we did yesterday. He’d rather get back to the car early and spend the rest of the day driving through Joshua Tree or other areas nearby. While I was really looking forward to the great views from Aqua Peak (the name for Spectre, Tensor and Didiac Peaks), you really can’t go wrong with his plan either. So, I went along with the idea and started packing up my gear. 

Hiking through the Inner Basin

We started hiking at 7am. It was a little warmer last night, and so this morning was easier to get moving. He hiked back towards the elevated cave, then down into the narrow wash leading into the Inner Basin. 

We were able to follow our tracks back through most of the wash, not that that was necessary. The route is very straight forward, just follow the wash through the canyon. There is one large side canyon running northeast, but it’s obviously not the main path. This is the alternate route that’s marked on my caltopo map. I know nothing about this alternate route though, and skipped it because it looked like it would involve more climbing and steeper terrain that we won’t have to deal with if we continue the way we came. 

inner basin coxcomb mountains photography

Looking south into the Inner Basin

coxcomb mountains inner basin pass view

Inner Basin Pass, looking south

shadows of hikers in the coxcomb mountains

Heading out of the Coxcomb Mountains

We made it to the top of Inner Basin pass in good time, and had some nice views of the basin. We continued on down hill through a couple of patches of boulders, but the rest is pretty much sandy wash from here on out. 

Back down in the main wash, we followed it out of the canyon and took the same path we took in two days earlier. We followed our own footsteps on and off as we hiked through the small canyon. I saw another jackrabbit through here, and wondered if it was the same one I saw Friday. It was practically the same area. 

walking through the desert near the coxcomb mountains california

The landscape looked unfamiliar as we returned, as we now had a huge open desert in front of us. On Friday, all that was at our back and we only saw it as we turned back. It was nice to have this contrast as we left the mountains and now entered the desert. 

desert hiking panorama in the coxcomb mountains joshua tree national park

The final stretch of desert had us talking about our dreams of a hot lunch. It took a while to actually spot hwy 62. The car was parked behind some boulders along side the road where others had clearly camped, and we headed for a graffitied rock that marked the spot. We were relieved to see that the car had not been broken into. The time was just before 10am, so almost a 3 hour hike from our camp. 

From here, we headed back into 29 Palms and ate ate the Andreas restaurant. Good burgers, they really hit the spot! After this, we headed into Joshua Tree National Park on Utah Drive road to explore the park by car. 

 

Final Thoughts About Hiking In The Coxcomb Mountains

The Coxcomb Mountains are a great place for a weekend hike, provided you’re OK with hauling in all the water you’ll need. Without a reliable water source though, longer trips aren’t really possible here. It doesn’t look like this place gets much use. The access probably keeps many people away, as well as the day use restriction in what might otherwise be the best camping spot.

 

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.


10 Day Sierra Loop Hike – Kings Canyon NP & John Muir Wilderness – Aug 2016

bear basin panorama from dancing bear pass

Kings Canyon National Park & John Muir Wilderness 10 Day Loop Hike Starting From Florence Lake

All Photos From This hikeWatch the HD video of my Sierra hike on Youtube

 

Kings Canyon/John Muir Wilderness Loop Hike Maps & GPS Files

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Pre-Hike Travel Logistics

To access the Sierras, one typically enters on the east of west side. People have mentioned using the town of Bishop as access from the east, but I chose to fly into Fresno, rent a car, and drive in from the west.

There are few direct flights to Fresno, so from Detroit I had to stop in Dallas. The problem was, bad weather in the Dallas area when it was time to leave, lots of red on the radar. We sat on the tarmac in Detroit for an hour before taking off, then we got diverted to a small airport in rural Arkansas to wait on the tarmac there for another 2 hours. Apparently, the entire DFW airport had closed down for a while due to the storm. By the time I landed in Dallas, pretty much all the flights had been cancelled. Great, gotta call the car rental company and change my reservation, as well as try to cancel tonight’s hotel in Fresno.

Now the real “fun” began… dealing with American Airline’s customer service. Calling them is a 2+ hour wait, and they suggest to leave your name and number and be called back later. Meanwhile, I waited in an hour long line to talk to an AA agent at one of the gates. I was given another flight to Fresno tomorrow morning at 10:37am, the earliest they had. I’m still optimistic at this point, thinking I could still get to Fresno, rent the car, get last minute supplies, drive to Florence Lake and hike a few miles in without wasting a whole day.

dfw airport yoga area

This is where I slept in DFW

Now I’m left with the task of finding somewhere to sleep. Since the cancellation is due to weather, American Airlines doesn’t offer any kind of compensation for the delays and you’re basically shit out of luck. All the hotels inside the airport are booked. Sleeping in the chairs was not working for me, and the armrests prevented you from laying down on them as well. They did bring out cots, but at a 1 to 20 person ratio. I didn’t get one. In fact, I spent 4 hours walking all the terminals looking for a decent place to sleep, and eventually found a yoga area that had a few yoga mats. I stacked a few of these up and at least had some cushion for the cement ground. All night people were coming into this little yoga area and I could hear them murmur “ah shit”, as they realized it was taken, just as I did for 4 hours prior.

In the morning, the plane was 5 minutes from boarding and all of the sudden there was a 20 minute delay. Every time I checked back, there was another small delay added. By this time, people were getting upset as there had been no announcement as to the reason. In order to get information, I had to wait in another 1 hour line to speak with someone. The American Airlines agents kept giving me different information and the delays kept getting longer. Finally after a 3.5 hour delay, the plane boarded and I was on my way to Fresno. On the plane, my seat didn’t lean back and the charging plug underneath the seat didn’t work. The flight attendant said “old plane”. American Airlines, you gotta step up your game! Why do I even fly with you?

In Fresno, I got my rental car and headed to my hotel. I did the “name your price” thing with priceline, and got a room nearby. The room ended up being a smoking room, and there were no other rooms available. I had no idea that smoking rooms were on the table when I bid on a room. I had to sit in this ashtray of a room all night before the hike. Disgusting.

 

Day 1 – Sunday August 21st, 2016

Miles Hiked – 12.49
Elevation Gain – 1976′
Route – Florence Lake to Evolution Valley/Goddard Canyon Junction

Coming from Fresno this morning, I drove to the ranger station in Pranther to pick up my permit. I had called them yesterday morning to let them know that my flight was cancelled and that I could not make my intended start date, and to try and push that date back by one day. The rangers they have working there at that station are great. They accommodated my request and were very nice to deal with all round.

I took hwy 168 to Huntington Lake, where I took Kaiser Pass Rd the remainder of the way to Florence Lake. The road is fine all the way up to Kaiser Pass Rd. From Huntington Lake, it’s about 23 miles to Florence Lake along a one lane road. This road happens to a cliff on one side much of the way, along with blind curves and blind hills every couple hundred yards. Some sections where really rough and had lots of loose gravel. There were few areas to pull off and let opposing traffic through as the non-cliff side of the road was often also a rockface itself. This was a white knuckle drive to say the least. It will take at least 1 hour to drive from Huntington Lake to Florence Lake. But, it’s totally feasible for any small car. My Chevy Sonic rental made it just fine.

view of the florence lake trailhead parking lot

Florence Lake Trailhead parking lot

The trailhead parking at Florence Lake was much busier than I expected. I was lucky to find what appeared to be the last parking space. I had about 20 minutes before the 10:30am ferry leaves to take me from the northwest side of the lake to the southeast side. This saves about 4 miles of hiking from what I am told. I bought my ticket for one way across the lake, unsure of what I’ll be doing on the way back and what time I’ll be making it to the ferry. As of 2016, the ticket prices are $25 round trip and $13 one way. When picking up my backpack to walk over to the ferry, one of the straps holding the top compartment down broke off. Great, not how I want to start a hike.

florence lake

View of Florence Lake from the north side

The ferry across the lake was on a little boat that fit 8 people, 4 across two rows of benches. The captain of the boat was a skinny kid who looked about 25. He was wearing what looked like a 10 year old girl’s shirt with some home made hearts on it. Interesting thing for a guy to be wearing, but who am I to judge. There were two forest rangers on the boat with us, and they checked our permits during the ride. The boat ride across the lake took no more than 15 minutes or so. The boat lands at slab of rock with a floating dock. It’s a short uphill climb to get a lay of the land in front of you from here. I stopped to readjust my shoes and pack, and realized that I had forgotten my phone in the car. Bummer, no music this hike, but I’ll be fine without it.

old truck on south shore of florence lake

South side of Florence Lake looking north. Not sure why this truck is here, but it was gone when I returned 10 days later.

a meadow near florence lake

I began hiking around 11:15am today. As always, the first mile is pretty tough. My pack is at it’s heaviest, 56 pounds including 4 liters of water, and I’m not yet acclimated to the elevation. There were a lot of small ups and downs in the beginning as well. Regardless, I was making good time and eager to get out of the rather unimpressive lowlands. There were likely some better views from the meadows, where Muir Ranch and Blaney Hot Springs are for example, but on the trail the views were minimal.

Within the first 2 hours or so, I developed a blister on my heel. Before the hike, I was looking to replace my Inov8 Roclite 315 trail runners, but was disappointed to learn that model was discontinued. I settled for the next closest thing, the Roclite 295. My 315s required no break in, and so besides trying the 295s on to confirm the fit, I did not really test these shoes out. Big mistake! Although I don’t think this was the problem causing the blisters, I also noticed the shoe had a coarser mesh allowing much more debris into the shoe. This trail was pretty sandy so far, and I was getting tons of it in my shoes. These are just not the kind of problems I want to be dealing with, let alone on day one.

The skies had clouded over now, with rain looking very possible later. I’ve been seeing a lot of people on the trail so far, but all going the opposite direction. The trail gets a little more scenic after passing Blaney Hot Springs and Muir Trail Ranch. There’s a steep trail heading up to Seldon Pass just east of Muir Trail Ranch, which I took on my return on day 10. About 1.3 miles east of here is the official JMT/PCT route up to Seldon Pass. These two routes merge together about 600ft up, so either way, you’re going to reach the same place.

The landscape opened up a bit and the super fine dirt and sand on the trail seemed to subside. This was more akin to my style of hiking. Sometime around 2pm, it started to rain. I put on my rain jacket and covered my pack, but it was pretty light and so I left the rain pants off. The rain was very light and intermittent for a couple of hours, and was not too big a deal.

san joquin river near piute creek

Small waterfall along the San Jaquin River

Small waterfall along the San Jaquin River

I crossed the bridge over the Piute River and entered Kings Canyon National Park. From here, the canyon narrows and is a nice change of pace. There were few tress in this canyon and the trail was mostly rock now, much better!

kings canyon national park san jaquin river

When I made it to the point on the map labeled “Aspen Meadows”, I didn’t see any meadows. I did see a campsite, but it didn’t offer much of a view and I decided to keep moving. About a mile and a half further, there was another campsite. While there were multiple sites here, several were taken and I would be camping a little too close to others. I kept moving once again.

The next potential campsite location was at the junction of Evolution Valley and Goddard Canyon, just south of the point where Evolution Creek and the South Fork San Joaquin River intersect. I figured there’d be some people here, and sure enough, I was right. I crossed the bridge over the South Fork San Joaquin River and scouted the east side of the river. More people. I eventually found a spot, but it offered no view and no immediate access to water. This is it, even if I have to walk a little ways to get my water. I saw 2 deer near camp while searching for it.

campsite along the john muir trail along the san jaquin river

I set up my tent and got started on water. For this trip I have a new water filtration system, a Platypus GravityWorks setup. The jist of it is, you scoop up your dirty water into this 4L bag, then carry it back to your campsite where you can hang it from a tree or set it on a rock. The bottom of the dirty water bag has a quick connect fitting, where you connect the a hose leading into the filter, which empties out another hose as a clean water via gravity. I can remove the bite valve on my 3L Platypus bladder in my backpack and with a connector fitting, connect the GravityWorks hose to the bladder. No need to remove the bladder anymore from my backpack when filling it, and never have to open it during a hike. Just keep the dirty water bag above the container used to store your clean water and let gravity work for you while you do other stuff. This thing filters fast too. I didn’t time it, but it was about 1L per minute.  After filling the bladder, I can then fill my water bottle (32oz gatorade bottle). I keep extra water in the dirty bag by clamping the little shut-off valve closed on the hose below the filter.

After water, it was on to fixing the broken strap on my backpack’s top compartment. The strap is attached by being inserted into a hole in the corner of the top compartment, and then sewed in place. Since I had no needle and thread, I used super glue. I put some glue on both side of the strap, inserted it into the hole it came out of, and used my fingers to clamp it together for a while. Yes, I got super glue all over my fingers. It took a couple of days to wear it all off. The repair seemed to be working well after a few minutes, but I let it sit overnight.

Even though I could have had a fire tonight since I was still below 10,000ft, I didn’t. Instead, I went to bed shortly after sundown. My heels were pretty sore and I was really wondering how I’m going to make it another 9 days without doing too much more damage. Oh well, no choice!

Day 2 – Monday August 22nd, 2016

Miles Hiked – 10.46
Elevation Gain – 2649′
Route – Evolution Valley/Goddard Canyon Junction to McGee Lake

It rained a little bit last night around 3am, so my tent was wet this morning. I was going to be slow at packing up my stuff this morning anyways as it certainly takes a few days to get my routine polished. I put some moleskin over my blisters and covered them with Ace sports tape. I was on the trail by 8:30 this morning.

The skies were pretty clear at this morning and I had high hopes of good weather. The trail starts climbing up some switchbacks immediately after leaving camp, literally within 20ft or so of camp. Nothing like an 800ft climb to get the blood pumping in the morning!

Lower Evolution Creek

Lower Evolution Creek

waterfall along evolution creek

Waterfall along Evolution Creek

Once near the top, the trail hugs the banks of Evolution Creek on and off as it tumbles over a few waterfalls. There are more people now, and there’s a sense of wonder among them. Hikers are moving slower and taking their time. And, many of them are older. I didn’t see so many people here under 40 it as I somewhat expected and planned, with school starting around this time.

There was a ford of Evolution Creek that required getting wet. Fortunately, the creek was very mellow here and barely knee deep at the max. I stopped on the other side for a snack and talked to a few nice people. Many of the hikers seem to be local Californians, and well familiar with the area. At least, the popular areas. I mentioned my plans to visit Ionian Basin, but many had not heard of it. That tells me I’m going to the right place!

view southwest from evolution meadow in kings canyon national park

Evolution Meadow

After the water crossing, the trail passes through a mix of forest and meadows. The meadows were pretty nice, and would make a great place to camp. There’s a ranger station in McClure Meadow, right off the trail. I didn’t stop in to see if it was manned, but it looked like it could have been in operation still. I saw some pack llamas on the trail in this section as well.

view of The Hermit from the John Muir Trail in Evolution Valley

The Hermit

Eventually, The Hermit came into view. This marks the entrance to McGee Canyon. When I reached the Evolution Creek and McGee Creek, I did not see any time of trail leading into the canyon. I was pretty surprised as this is supposed to be a very popular area (Evolution, not McGee). I just assumed the nearby canyons would all have some sort of use trail at the very least.

I headed off-trail for the first time this trip towards McGee Canyon. After hiking through a small field I was at Evolution Creek at what appeared to be the perfect crossing, despite the lack of trails or tracks here. A tree spanned the width of the creek allowing for a quick and easy crossing. On the south side of Evolution Creek now, the land starts heading uphill into McGee Canyon. I headed towards McGee Creek so I’d have something to follow and started the climb up.

Waiting out the rain

Waiting out the rain

Shortly after my ascent into McGee Canyon, around 12:15pm, it started to rain. A sprinkle at first, then it started picking up. I stopped to don my rain gear, and thought I might wait a few minutes under a couple of pine trees to see if it cleared up. It didn’t. Instead, the storm intensified with a display of hail, thunder and lightning. I decided to abandon my pine trees and head for more solid cover. I found a large boulder with an overhang that allowed me to stand underneath without getting wet. I ended up waiting around until around 2pm until the rain let up. I was getting pretty cold just sitting around, and was glad to get moving.

I continued uphill with grey, dreary skies above. There was no trail still, at least on the east side of McGee Creek. I crossed it for the first time around 10,250ft, but didn’t see a trail here either. The climb up to this was only 450+ feet, but felt like much more. My feet were soaked at this point.

mcgee canyon view of mountain peaks and creek

Mt. McGee & Peter Peak from McGee Canyon

Out of the forest and into the meadows now, the views were more to my liking. I followed the creek upstream through a soggy meadow, with increasingly impressive mountains revealing themselves as I drew closer. Patches of snow remain on Mt. McGee. It was  very nice to look at, but the going was a little slow through this area as the best path through here seemed to cross the creek often.

mcgee canyon below the lakes

Climbing up to McGee Lakes

At the south end of the meadow where it starts to climb uphill, I stayed west of the creek(s). There is still no trail visible though here that I’ve seen. After another 450+ft climb, I reached the first lake in the chain. Great views, more scenic than I was anticipating for this area.

lower mcgee lake

mcgee lake shoreline

McGee Lake 10,816

After leaving the first lake behind, I noticed a faint trail around the lake, which I followed. I’m fairly close to camp now and done with the hardest part of the day, so it was time to slow down a bit and take some pictures around these lakes. I just wish the sun was out, the grey skies weren’t helping my cause.

mcgee lake campsite

mountains reflecting in the water of mcgee alke

McGee Lake reflection

I eventually found a place to camp on the little peninsula between upper and lower McGee Lakes. After doing all my camp shores I headed down to the lake to do some fishing. I had seen some small brook trout in here on my way to camp. The sun was out now too, and I was feeling pretty good. I had a couple of bites on my mepps #2. but unfortunately I didn’t catch anything. Oh well, I wasn’t expecting much out of this lake fishing wise. The better-than-expected views and lack of people her more than make up for it. I haven’t seen anyone since leaving Evolution Valley.

The blisters on my heels didn’t get any worse today, and were much less of a problem with the moleskin and sports tape. Without the tape, the moleskin always falls off after a couple of hours as my feet sweat and the moleskin gets rubbed out of place. This is the first time I’ve used it in conjunction with that sports tape and so far, it’s working.

Not much of an appetite yet, even though I was hungry earlier. I ate what I could and headed to bed at sunset.

 

Day 3 – Tuesday August 23rd, 2016

Miles Hiked – 4.32
Elevation Gain – 1323′
Route – McGee Lake to Lake 11,196

mcgee lake panorama view mountains reflecting in lake

McGee Lake

It was an amazingly calm night last night with zero wind. I expected it to be windy out here on this peninsula. But the lack of wind came with a cost… lots of condensation in my tent this morning. It was a nice clear morning, and I took some extra time to let my tent dry out a little.

Today I plan to hike to Ionian Basin. The Davis Lakes side of Pass 11,720 didn’t look like a sane option, so I planned to work my way up towards Davis Lakes Pass from McGee Lakes. It looks a lot easier than Pass 11,720 itself. Then I will hike around Davis Lakes, through Goddard Basin, down to Martha Lake, over Goddard Col and over to Scylla. At least, that’s the plan.

 

After leaving camp there were some excellent views, with the mountains reflecting in the blue water. Ah, I love the high country! I took my time around the last bit of Upper McGee lake.

Going up my first pass. One of the many false summits above

One of the many false summits above

When it was time to confront the first uphill battle of the day, it didn’t look so bad at all. A grassy hill with some occasional boulders. Of course, the higher I climbed the less grass there was, and eventually it was almost all boulders.

unnamed lake in upper mcgee canyon with clouds reflecting in blue water

Unnamed lake below Pass 11,720

It was about 400ft up to the next small lake, and another 100ft to yet another lake. The higher lake, at 11,276ft, had a spectacular reflection on it that showcased the puffy while clouds above in contrast to the turquoise blue water. Really beautiful, and basically a “nothing” on the map.

clouds reflecting in alpine lake

The next section of my route takes me up to the small lake just north of point 12,262. It’s a climb of almost 500ft over boulders and large sections of granite slabs. More excellent views along the way up. I reached the top of the pass, just northeast of point 12,262, at 10:45am. From here, my view was mainly to the east/southeast towards Wanda Lake.

Davis Lakes

Davis Lakes

After a 30 minute break I moved on. From here, I had to work my way around some boulders that form a ridgeline running south/southeast from point 12,262. The pass I’m on now isn’t named, but the ridgeline I took drops me down to Davis Lake Pass. This looked like the best way over to Davis Lake from McGee Lake. On the HST map, viewing the cross country passes in the Sierras, there is a pass that more directly connects McGee Lake and Davis Lake directly called Pass 11,720. It’s labeled a class 2 route, but from the looks of the counter lines, I was extremely skeptical.

off trail hiking through boulder field

My terrible choice of route down Davis Pass

Along the ridgeline is a series of ups and downs. I didn’t follow the ridgeline far enough south to the low point at Davis Lake Pass, where the route down to Lake 11,1196 is the most gentle. Instead I started heading down sooner, eager to get out of this boulder field. The route I chose down was steep and time consuming. There were many loose boulders and treacherous chutes to traverse. I should have just continued south on the ridge a little farther! The sky was also clouding up fast, I’ll have to keep an eye on that.

trash balloon found in the sierra mountains

Along the way down, I found a balloon that had the following written on it; “Go Dodgers”, “RIP Eddie” and “Miss you bud”, along with a date of 9-23-1993. Wow, these balloons sure do last a long time. So, friend of Eddie, next time you release a balloon into the sky, remember that it might end up somewhere like this.

The route down was long and tiring. To be honest, I felt “off” today. The scenery was great, but I was just having a hard time moving. Sure I was tired, but it was more of a mental thing. I guess I just didn’t feel like kicking my own ass today on this tough terrain. I still had a long way to go to my planned campsite, and it was already going on 1pm. It was around this time when it began to sprinkle. Now I really wanted to get a move on, but of course, there’s no shelter up here.

Now it was time to make some decisions. Strong storms look imminent now, so I’ll be very exposed with little or no shelter all day if I continue. I’ve heard Ionian Basin gets a lot of lightning and is a frightening place to be during a storm. If I do continue, it’s probably going to be pretty slow going, and I might not make it to Scylla tonight. I decided my best bet is to set up my tent for now and see if the storm passes quickly.

campsite near davis lake

storm clouds over lake 11196 in kings canyon national park

Storm looms over Lake 11,196

I hurried around Lake 11,196 looking for a place to set up my tent, and found a spot on the southwest side. There were a couple of other people camping on the southeast side of the lake as well. After getting my tent up, it rained on and off all afternoon. During this time I tried to do some repairs to my gear. One of the straps broke on my water shoes, so I repaired it with 550 cord. I added some carabiners to the bottom of my backpack on the outside so I had some way to keep my rain fly in place and taught.

Later in the afternoon I took shelter inside the tent for about an hour as heavy rain/hail, thunder and lightning pounded the area. Hail was piling up around the tent after it slid off, and it was starting to accumulate. I had a feeling it was going to storm heavily (as the weather indicated a few days ago), and I think I made the right call by staying put.

glacier on the goddard divide

Goddard Divide

At this point I knew I was done hiking for the day. My new plan is to skip Ionian Basin. Instead, tomorrow I’ll go over the same pass I went over today, Davis Lkaes Pass, but will be taking a better route this time. Once at the top, instead of following that ridgeline, I’ll just go right over and drop down to Wanda Lake where I’ll pick up the PCT/JMT. I’ll follow that through Evolution Basin and over to Darwin Bench, where I planned to camp on night 5 anyways. I’ll be there a day early, which gives me wiggle room with the rest of my hike. I’m liking this plan, as I typically create a route and almost never deviate from it. I was disappointed in myself for not completing the route I set out to do, but at the same time, happy that I have some extra time to play with.

davis lake sunset sierras

stormy looking clouds at sunset in the sierras

After the rain let up, the sky still didn’t clear. Storms loomed in the distance and the weather was still looking rather questionable. It stayed this way until I went to bed. The sunset was nice, with some reds illuminating the storm clouds.  I hope this weather moves out by tomorrow.

 

Day 4- Wednesday August 24th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 7.7
Elevation Gain – 1372′
Route – Lake 11,196 to Darwin Bench

Reflection over lake 11,196

Reflection on lake 11,196

The storm seemed to vanish shortly after bed last night. It was very clam again, and there was a lot of condensation inside my tent again this morning. The sky was clear this morning, and I had a good feeling about today.

After breaking camp I headed around Lake 11,196 towards Davis Lakes Pass. I passed by the other group of hikers at camp who were set up on the southeast side of the lake. The terrain immediately before the route goes uphill is basically a flood plain, with various streams running through it. Combined with the rain yesterday, everything through here was drenched. Gotta love wet feet first thing in the morning.

Hiking up Davis Lakes Pass, looking back towards Lake 11,196 and Davis Lake

Hiking up Davis Lakes Pass, looking back towards Lake 11,196 and Davis Lake

The route up was much easier here than it was going down yesterday. Not only is the terrain less steep, but the route is a little shorter and doesn’t climb as high. There were still a lot of large boulders to contend with and some hard work, but I made great time going up nonetheless. There was another guy at the top when I arrived, although he was a little farther the ridgeline I traversed yesterday.

Wanda Lake from Davis Lakes Pass

Wanda Lake

wanda lake along the john muir trail

Wanda Lake

 

I stopped to eat some snacks real quick and kept moving. The path down to Wanda Lake was much easier than the Davis Lake side. The PCT/JMT runs along the east side of Wanda Lake, so I made my way towards the northern end of the lake and picked up the trail near the outlet.

hiking into evolution basin

Evolution Basin

Next, I headed north through Evolution Basin. I started to see a lot of people now. Almost every person I saw today was hiking south. Good views and easy trail to follow. Mostly downhill all the way to Evolution Lake too. I stopped several times to eat along the trail this morning, as I was in no rush today.

view of sapphire lake in kings canyon national park

Sapphire Lake

I passed by Sapphire Lake which was nice. The trail runs high above the lake though, at least until the northern end of the lake. Here, it drops down to lake level as it rounds the final bend before reaching Evolution Lake.

evolution lake looking north

South end of Evolution Lake looking north

The first views of Evolution Lake from the south end are nice. I stopped here for a snack. I was actually eating today, at least in small doses. The jagged peaks of Mt. Mendel and Mt. Darwin to the east were impressive.

Middle of Evolution Lake looking south

Middle of Evolution Lake looking south

The middle section of Evolution Lake nice too, but less impressive than the southern side. There weren’t many established campsites in this area. I passed by a couple of rangers, I believe, on horseback with a team of horses in tow, carrying gear. Looked like they were going to do some trail maintenance. Well, my feet could use some maintenance. The blister on my right heel seemed to be getting worse. I’ll deal with that later when I get to camp.

evolution lake panorama

North end of Evolution Lake looking south

Evolution Lake

Evolution Lake

The northern end of Evolution Lake is where it’s at. There were more people here hanging out around the lake as this appeared to be the best view of all. I’m glad I got to see the lake since I didn’t get to see Ionian Basin. This would definitely be the spot to camp, if you can stand camping near a ton of other people. Me, I’m headed up to Darwin Bench today.

evolution valley overlook

Overlooking Evolution Valley

Hiking up to Darwin Bench

Hiking up to Darwin Bench

view from darwin bench

View from lower Darwin Bench

After passing the lake, I knew I’d have to start climbing uphill soon. I wasn’t sure what to expect for an existing trail leading up to Darwin Bench, but I figured there had to be something. I was right. At the last moment before the trail starts heading down some switchbacks, there’s a very obvious trail junction with a path leading up to Darwin Bench. It quickly peters out though, and you’re left with a very faint, but super manageable path uphill. There’s probably a couple of different paths up at this point, and it really doesn’t matter which way you take as long as you follow the creek uphill. There’s an occasional cairn marking the way through this section.

Lower Darwin Bench looking north

Lower Darwin Bench looking north

darwin bench campsite

Beautiful scenery near the top of the hike up Darwin Bench and all throughout this area. I didn’t see anyone up here once I reached the lower lake, so I decided to set up camp on the east side. There’s a nice spot with some decent cover and good views. It was only about 1:15pm now, so I still had a lot of time left to enjoy the day.

When I went down to the lake to get water, I noticed the bottom had a lot of algae. The lake was shallow around the shoreline here on east side of the lake. I was careful to not stir any up as I filled my bag. On the way back to my campsite, I noticed a backpack hanging over the edge of a rockface by a trekking pole. Huh, I wonder how long that’s been there.

After getting water and doing some other camp chores, I headed off to explore the lake a little. First things first, though. I need a bath! I passed a couple of small waterfall pools along the way up the creek that looked enticing, and that’s where I headed.

My view while I washed up in the creek

My view while I washed up in the creek

At the waterfall pool, a scared away a bunch of small trout as I entered the water. It was cold, but nice to clean off. Definitely one of the most scenic places I’ve ever bathed. No soap in these creeks, of course, just rinsing off. It’s amazing how much better that makes me feel out here. The cold water really gets your blood pumping, even long after getting out of the water.

After cleaning up, I headed up to the lake outlet where I saw some small trout earlier. These guys are really alert though, and they know you’re coming from a mile away. I had a bite, but didn’t catch anything. They mostly ignored everything I threw at them, which was just Mepps spinners and rooster tails. Oh, and a Crickhopper, which normally slays bass here in Michigan. But they ignored that too.

Defeated, I headed off to get some pictures of this beautiful area. There were a couple of small hills and high points near the southerly edge of the bench that I gravitated towards.

After exhausting my stay down by the lake I retreated to my campsite for the evening. Today was a really good day all around. I sat around camp all evening in awe of where I was. When the sun set, I followed suit.

 

Day 5 – Thursday August 25th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 7
Elevation Gain – 1650′
Route – Darwin Bench to Muriel Lake

I slept pretty poorly for the first few hours last night, but much better the second half. Once again, more condensation in my tent this morning and a very calm night. At least the weather is predictable here.

Today my plan is to go over Alpine Col and over to Tomahawk Lake, if I make it that far. While packing up my gear, I noticed 2 guys climbing up a steep rock chute right above my camp. They were just dots at this point, but I could see them up there and hear the rocks tumble down as they made their way up. I wonder if they were climbing Mt. Mendel?

Darwin Bench, around 11,250'

Darwin Bench, around 11,250′

 

After leaving camp, the trail follows the lake briefly. There is a trail here around the lower lake on Darwin Bench, but north of the lake there’s a ton of streams that converge here and in this chaos, the trail is lost. I’d bet there’s one leading off into Darwin Canyon and up over Lamarck Col, but I did not see a trail for the rest of the day after this point along my route up and over Alpine Col.

Route up to Lake 11,540

picture of lake 11540 in the sierra mountains

Lake 11,540

Looking down upon Darwin Bench from Lake 11,540

Looking down on Darwin Bench from Lake 11,540

After passing the area where all the streams converge, it was time to find a line up to lake 11,540. It’s a climb of about 250′ up some rocks slabs, choked with a little vegetation. I ended up following the creek flowing out of lake 11,540 up the hill. Near the top though, the path along the creek becomes narrow and was no longer the easiest route up. I skirted the hillside to the east and climbed over some rocks to reach the top and gain my first view of lake 11,540.

Lake 11,540 reflection

Lake 11,540 reflection

This is the section that forced me uphill

This is the section that forced me uphill

While I did not check out the north/west side of lake 11,540, the south/east side appeared to be the best path. However, along the northeast side of the lake I ran into a bit of a snag. The path along the shoreline abruptly stops due to a cliff butting up to the lake itself, with no way around it other than backtracking a bit and climbing up and over it. Without any other option, I reluctantly headed up the steep mountainside looking for a route around the cliff.

Lowering my pack while down climbing the slopes along lake 11,540

Lowering my pack while down climbing the slopes along lake 11,540

The climb around the cliff was not as easy as I’d hoped. It was steep and there was no obvious line around it. I was working my way along a narrow path along a cliff when that dropped down to a lower section, requiring me to remove my pack and lower it down. Then, without my bulky pack on, I was able to maneuver around this obstacle and keep going. Much of the talus was loose here due to the grade of the slope. At one point, I stepped on a rock that moved, causing my foot to slip and my leg then became wedged in between two rocks. I lost my balance and fell over, with my leg pinned between the rocks. This caused a large scrape on my leg, but it could have snapped my leg had I fallen the other way. Whew.

Eventually I made it around the cliff and back down to the lake. Looking back the way I came along the shoreline, it was only a couple hundred feet of cliff along the shore that I had to work my way around, but it took much, much longer than I thought it would. The depth of the lake next to this cliff only appeared to be a couple of feet deep at the max, but there was no avoiding getting in the water. Because of this I chose to go up and around the cliff. Looking back though, I would seriously consider just getting in the damn lake and walking along the cliff. Keep this in mind when moving through this area.

In between Lake 11,540 and Lake 11,546 looking northeast

In between Lake 11,540 and Lake 11,546 looking east

My route now passes in between lake 11,540 and lake 11,546. Good views through this stretch. It may have been possible to setup a one man tent here, but of course, I had more distance to cover today. Just a thought for someone passing through here.

The route up to Lake 11,910

The route up to Lake 11,910

Looking back at Lake 11,546 & 11,540

Looking back at Lake 11,546 & 11,540

Past the section in between the two lakes, my route then climbs about 400′ up to lake 11,910. This section featured some really large slabs of granite. Higher up, pools of melt water lay in the shadows with small pockets of snow alongside them.

lake 11910 viewed from the south looking north

Lake 11,910

Amazing that this sandy beach exists here among an otherwise boulder-filled shoreline

Amazing that this sandy beach exists here among an otherwise boulder-filled shoreline

About halfway through the eastern side of lake 11,910 there was a small sandy beach. The water was crystal clear and had a tropical look to it. Stunning, actually. But no time to stop and enjoy this, or those no-see-ums will have chewed my arms and legs down to the bone.

It only gets worse from here

It only gets worse from here

Almost the entire hike from the midway point around lake 11,910 on to lower Goethe Lake consisted of boulder hopping. These boulders were manageable along the lake, but as I’d find out later going over Alpine Col, this was nothing in comparison to the large boulders on the Goethe Lakes side. There were tons of no-see-ums in this stretch too, and they were relentless.

My route up

My route up

Lake 11,910

Lake 11,910

view of lake 11910 while hiking up alpine col

Looking down on Lake 11,910

Now on the northern side of lake 11,910, it was finally time to start heading up Alpine Col. I had read some notes about going over this pass before heading out here. Those notes basically said to angle up above some small sections of grass before you’re directly underneath the pass. From there, you’ll see 3 rock faces with sections of talus in between them. Choose the one on the right. From there, the path to the top is relatively straightforward. Those notes seemed to be spot on for me.

hiker on top of alpine col in the sierras

At the top of Alpine Col

Looking down on upper Goethe Lake from Alpine Col

Looking down on upper Goethe Lake from Alpine Col

On the top of Alpine Col, I rested for a while and took this opportunity to refuel. Awesome views from the top in both directions. From Alpine Col, you can’t help but feel isolated and alone. There were no use trails here and  almost no signs of human intervention.

goethe lakes side of alpine col, near the top

Looking back up at Alpine Col

huge boulders on goethe lakes side of alpine col

Now it’s time to descend Alpine Col to Goethe Lakes. The path down was a nightmare. Giant boulders everywhere, and steep in several sections. These boulders ranged in size from a beach ball to a large SUV. Imagine the space in between a couple of SUV sized boulders piled up together. Negotiating these boulders required a lot of patience and care with every step. I normally have my camera hanging from my neck when I hike, but I had to put it away going down Alpine Col. I didn’t want it bouncing around and getting in the way, or falling and breaking it. As a result I got few pictures through here. Most of the ones I’m posting through this section are snapshots from my GoPro footage.

Steep drop off around 12,000'

Steep drop off around 12,000′

The top section was very steep and required some time to find a feasible line down. The best route appears to be one that angles left on the way down, as the right has even larger boulders. Dark clouds were building above the pass and it looked like it could potentially rain. The next section was not as steep as the route I just descended, but the boulders provided no relief in the difficulty of the route. Around the 12,000′ mark, there’s a steeper drop off of about 200′. If you go right, it looks even steeper and the boulders look larger. So naturally, I went left.

Coming down a rock chute

Coming down a rock chute

steep rock chute on goethe lakes side of alpine col

Looking back up the rock chute I came down

Now working my way west along the 12,000′ mark, I began to realize that this route is not very good either. It was more of the same, large boulders and steep slopes. At one point, the only way I could see to continue was to traverse this section of slick rock which happened to be sitting above a rather large drop off. Water was running down a section of rock a couple of feet wide, with algae on it making it very slippery. I didn’t dare walk across it standing up, but I did need to cross this area to keep going. By crab crawling on all fours I was able to cross this slick rock. That worked, but lead me to a steep rock chute shortly after. This was the only way down from where I was, and so I had no choice but to traverse it. Each step knocked rocks down the chute and caused me to slide down hill.

I continued west along my line around the 12,000′ mark for quite a while looking for a feasible route down. I started angling downhill and west, and ended up hiking over the first moraine shown on the map west of Alpine Col, farther than I wanted to go. After that I came to a another steep chute that was very loose. This one was even looser than the last one, and as a result the remaining rocks in the chute were smaller. This allowed me to turn sideways, dig in my heels and just do a controlled slide down. I got a lot of debris in my shoes from this, but it was the only way down. It appeared I was done with the worst of the descent from Alpine Col now, but definitely not done with boulder hopping just yet. I still had a ways to go to the lake, and a sea of boulders was strewn across my route as far as the eye could see.

goethe lake

The only patch of grass for miles

view of alpine col from goethe lake

East side of Goethe Lake looking back at Alpine Col on the left

Finally, I made it to upper Goethe Lake. I let out a loud victory cry, unable to hold back my enthusiasm for being off the pass. Even though I reached a small section of grass, the terrain moving forward appeared to be more of the same large boulders piled around the lake.  I stopped and dropped my pack on one of the boulders near the lake and took a break. More of a mental break than a physical one, although I was dog tired too. Think about the mental strain that comes with needing to make sure every step is right for hours on end. That’s one thing you really can’t prepare for. It was really nice to be able to relax my mind for a couple of minutes here. Having just gone through the roughest section of my entire hike, I didn’t seem to mind the no-see-ums as much on this side of the lake as I did by lake 11,910.

East side of upper Goethe Lake

East side of upper Goethe Lake

Traversing Goethe Lake. That's Mt. Humphreys beyond lower Goethe Lake in the distance

Traversing Goethe Lake. That’s Mt. Humphreys beyond lower Goethe Lake in the distance

goethe lake shoreline

I was glad to be done with the worst of it, but looking at the terrain ahead of me, it was clear that I was not out of the woods yet. The general consensus online was to take the west side of Goethe Lakes, as the east side has huge boulders. The east side was still a pain in the ass.

I guess there is no good way down Alpine Col on the Goethe Lakes side, from what I can tell. I think that many who have done Alpine Col and wrote about it online have done it in times when there was more snow, quite possibly making this route easier. Make no mistake, this route is NOT for the faint of heart. I’m not saying this route should be avoided altogether as it’s totally feasible with the right experience and mind set, but do not even think about doing this route if you have any qualms about boulder hopping for several hours on end without any breaks in the terrain. It sucks, but damn is it beautiful.

In between upper and lower Goethe Lakes

Lower Goethe Lake with Mt. Humphreys in the distance

Lower Goethe Lake with Mt. Humphreys in the distance

cirque behind goethe lake

Looking back at Goethe Lake

The boulders didn’t let up until I reached the lower Goethe Lake. Finally, I was walking on dirt and grass. From memory, I want to say I spent a solid 5 hours working my way through that nightmare of a boulder field that people call Alpine Col. However, looking back at upper Goethe Lake and the cirque behind it was breathtaking.

Muriel Lake & Mt. Humphreys

Muriel Lake & Mt. Humphreys

Mt. Humphreys dominates the skyline

Mt. Humphreys dominates the skyline

After passing lower Goethe Lake, the landscape really opened up and flatted out before reaching a rock outcrop above Muriel Lake. From here, there was a great view of Humphreys Basin and Muriel Lake to the north, and Goethe Lakes and the cirque with Goethe Glacier to the south. Scenery wise, this would have been an excellent place to camp. However, the dark clouds to the south still threatened rain. Being as exposed as it was, it was windy too. It was quite a walk back to the lower Goethe Lake from here as well, so it wasn’t ideal in terms of proximity to a water source. I kept moving downhill to Muriel Lake, bummed about not being able to stay at this otherwise beautiful place to camp.

On my way down to Muriel Lake, I saw 2 guys crest a ridge coming from Wahoo Lakes. They were headed towards Alpine Col, and so I asked the first guy if that was his plan. He said, “No, the guy I’m with is 84 years old, he’s not going over that. But he did 30 years ago!” I When I passed the 84 year old guy, I was shocked to see how good he looked. If I had to guess I would have said he was 60 years old. He barely had any wrinkles and had no physical impairments. I was tired and worn out from my hike today, but after seeing this guy out here I told myself to shut up and quit whining. I wanted to say to him, “You’re like the Jack LaLanne of hiking!” I’m sure he would have gotten the reference. Oh, and they both made comments about me going over Alpine Col in trail runners, basically saying I’m crazy doing so without the ankle support of boots.

Muriel Lake

Muriel Lake

Camp above Muriel Lake

Camp above Muriel Lake

The hike down to Muriel Lake was easy, with a solid trail to follow now. When I arrived at the lake I was a little surprised to see nobody camped here. That’s great news for me though, as I had the entire place to myself. I found a small flat area among some small trees and a few large boulders to set up my tent. From here, I had a pretty good view of Muriel Lake and Mt. Humphreys.

I didn’t eat much today. Not because I wasn’t hungry, but I was so involved in the route over Alpine Col. I mean, who wants to stop in the middle of terrain like that and eat? I just wanted to keep moving and get out of the boulder field before it started raining. But tonight, I was ready for dinner. I had a tortilla with pre-cooked bacon and cheddar cheese, as I did most nights. Simple and delicious, and last forever in my pack even in fairly mild temperatures.

Mt. Humphreys

Mt. Humphreys

Muriel Lake

Muriel Lake

After eating, getting water and doing all my camp chores, it was finally time to relax. There was some small brook trout in the lake but I didn’t bother to throw in my line. Instead, I hung out near camp enjoying the expansive view of Humphreys Basin. At this time of day the light wasn’t great over the basin, but Mt. Humphreys was perfectly illuminated. The view of Mt. Humphreys from Muriel Lake was pretty impressive. While walking around near camp, I spotted another backpack stashed in a little opening below a few boulders. It was an older model pack, and looked like it was full of gear. Why are so many people leaving their backpacks behind out here?

 

Day 6 – Friday August 26th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 9.31
Elevation Gain – 1226′
Route – Muriel Lake to Elba Lake

This was the first morning that I had no condensation in my tent. Finally, I could put it away dry. I heard some coyotes howling last night in the distance. My legs were a little sore for the first time this trip as well. Not surprising after what I went through yesterday.

The views into Humphreys Basin were not great as it appeared to be filled with a thick haze or smoke. It looked like forest fire smoke to be honest. Huh, hope this doesn’t get worse, and hope there isn’t a fire nearby. Either way, this doesn’t bode well for photography.

muriel lake early morning reflection

There were a couple of trails here in the Muriel Lake area, and I followed one towards Piute Pass. I could have just dropped downhill, cut across the valley west of Summit Lake and head uphill where I could intersect the trail, but I chose to stay on trail. While the terrain was open and grassy in the valley below, it also looked like much of it was wet and marshy. I figured I’d just stay on trail here even if it meant adding a little extra distance.

Trail to Piute Pass

Trail to Piute Pass from Muriel Lake

View of Humphreys Basin from Piute Pass

View of Humphreys Basin from Piute Pass

The trail to Piute Pass was well worn and easy. However, with the haze in the basin, I didn’t take many pictures.

From Piute Pass, I headed northwest into Humphreys Basin. The trail remains solid through this section. Humphreys Basin, which was a massive open area, was mostly grass and dirt with less rocks and boulders than my last few days, a welcome change. I made good time through this area. I started to see more people here too. I ran into a group of people along the trail and it was at this point that I realized I had gone a bit farther than I intended to. I was planning on leaving the trail somewhere south of Lower Desolation Lake, and head towards Tomahawk Lake. I had to backtrack a couple of minutes to avoid going up a steeper slope covered with thick vegetation.

Mt. Humphreys

Mt. Humphreys

Now back on track, my off trail journey for the day began. Fortunately, this was some of the easier off trail hiking I did on this trip. Huge open fields with little in the way of obstacles. Not necessarily the most spectacular views of the trip, but being alone in the middle of such a vast open area and surrounded by distant peaks like Mt. Humphreys certainly set a different mood. I was enjoying today’s hike, and just felt really good overall!

view of tomahawk lake

Tomahawk Lake

When I reached Tomahawk Lake, I had a pretty good view of it from the hill around 11,200′ to the south. I had planned on dropping down to the lake and walking along it’s western shore, but instead I chose to stay high above the lake and work my way around the slopes to the east. This saved me some ups and downs. Staying west of the long ridge southwest of Desolation lake near the 11,400′ mark, I made my way towards Mesa Lake.

Glacier Divide from Mesa Lake's south shore

Glacier Divide from Mesa Lake’s south shore

Mesa Lake with Mt. Humphreys in the distance

Mesa Lake with Mt. Humphreys in the distance

sandy beach on alpine lake in the sierras

West shore of Mesa Lake

I took the western shore around Mesa Lake. There was a nice section of sandy beach here along the shore, and the deep blue waters sparkled in the sunlight. Just the kind of place that looks perfect for swimming, until you remember just how cold the water is. I also saw some crap here along the shoreline that looked like it came from a coyote, only bigger. Mountain Lion? There was a lot of hair in it.

Looking back at Mesa Lake and the Glacier Divide

Looking back at Mesa Lake and the Glacier Divide

Looking down on the lower of two shelves below Carol Col. Mt. Humphreys in the distance

Looking down on the lower of two shelves below Carol Col. Mt. Humphreys in the distance

Past Mesa Lake, there was a decent trail to follow, at least for a little while. The trail faded as I made my way up the slopes leading to Carol Col, also called Puppet Pass. This section was not too difficult, and it was only a couple hundred feet up to the pass from here.

view of carol col from the south

On the upper shelf below Carol Col. The pass is the low point on the horizon, dead center.

Up on the last shelf below Carol Col, the landscape consisted of smaller talus strewn about a somewhat soggy field. Carol Col, while not very distinct, can clearly be seen from here. The final approach was super easy.

View west from Carol Col

View west from Carol Col

View east from Carol Col

View east from Carol Col

view of puppet lake from carol col

Looking north/northwest from Carol Col

The view from Carol Col is awesome. Clearly though, going down the Puppet Lake side is going to be much harder. For now, I stopped to eat and take pictures. My favorite views are typically from mountain peaks and passes, although peaks reflecting in a lake of turquoise blue water is right up there too. Enjoy this moment while I can!

When it was time to descend the pass towards Puppet Lake, I ended up taking the wrong path down twice. I didn’t make it too far before realizing this was probably not the right way. The path looked steep, too steep. I backtracked and kept looking. I found the best path down starts from the extreme northeast side of the pass, south of point 12,225′.

Coming down the pass was hardest near the top. The best route follows an obvious rockface down hill, but the rockface isn’t reached until you’ve descended 200′ or so. Also, when taking the path I took from the top, you must angle west a little in order to reach that rockface. Until then, there were some large boulders to negotiate along with some tricky sections, but nothing as bad as Alpine Col.

Follow this rockface

Follow this rockface

Once you’ve reached the rockface, it looks like you can take a high or low route. The high route hs you pretty much walking on top of the rockface, and this left me with some uncertainty about getting down from said rockface later on. Therefore I chose the low route, which basically follows the base of the rockface. This is what I recommend. This keeps you out of the worst of the boulders and gives you good landmark to work with.

After working my way past the rockface, the going became a littler easier. From here, it was more boulders to hop downhill. A couple of guys were heading up the pass now, and I stopped to chat with them. They had been fishing too and we exchanged info on our experiences so far. They had camped at Elba Lake, directly north of Puppet Lake, and said the fishing was good near the outlet. They also said there were some good campsites near the outlet. They had a dog with them, and I wasn’t sure how that dog would be able to make it up to the top of the pass considering some of the sections I had to go through.

Puppet Lake

Puppet Lake

Instead of just walking down to Puppet Lake directly from here, for some reason I worked my way around the slope east of the lake. This was a mistake as the entire hillside was more big boulders. I would not recommend this. I started dropping down towards the lake as soon as I could, but by this time I had already traversed the worst of it.

Puppet Lake

Puppet Lake

East side of Puppet Lake

East side of Puppet Lake

Once I got down to the shores of Puppet Lake, I started looking for potential campsites. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to camp exactly, but was considering here or Elba Lake, going on the recommendation of the guys I passed earlier. With no great campsites in sight near Puppet Lake, I kept moving. I’m sure there are plenty of campsites here but I just didn’t see anything that caught my eye. I was kinda bummed about passing by Puppet Lake since I heard the fishing was good here.

Elba Lake

Elba Lake

Past Puppet Lake, I found a clear trail heading downhill towards Elba Lake. Thankfully the trail was here, as this section was a lot steeper than I was expecting. It started to sprinkle a bit on my way down, but quickly tapered off.

At 10,900′, Elba Lake had more trees around it now than Puppet Lake did. I also found lots more people camped here. There were none at Puppet Lake, actually. I worked my way from the southern shore of Elba Lake east, and then around to the northern side of the lake. There were people camping in the areas the guys I had passed earlier mentioned, so I had to keep moving. There was a clear trail around both sides of the lake which made it easy to hike, but I wasn’t seeing a lot of good campsites near the water. There were a lot of places I could camp, but not a lot of places I wanted to camp. Finally, I just took a spot well off the trail and away from the lake. It was windy and still looking like rain, so I figured the trees here might provide the cover I need.

View from Elba Lake's north shore looking east

View from Elba Lake’s north shore looking east

After setting up camp, I headed down to the lake to do some fishing. Again, no luck. For some reason these trout want nothing to do with my mepps spinners. In my past experiences fishing in alpine lakes, fish bite anything shiny. Hell, they’ll bite a damn hook by itself! Not this trip though. Good thing I didn’t bring all my stuff to clean and cook fish: stove, fuel, frying pan, spatula, scrubbing pad, zatarains fish fry breading, cooking oil, etc. I hike without a stove most of the time actually.

Camp 200 hundred yards from Lake Elba

Camp 200 hundred yards from Lake Elba

View northeast from camp

View northeast from camp

I didn’t really care for this campsite much compared to my others so far. There were much more scenic campsites along the lake, but the best ones had already been taken and I guess I just settled for this one. I didn’t have a great view of anything, there were a lot of people around, I wasn’t close to the water and the fishing was not good here, at least for me. If I could do it again, I would have looked harder for a good spot to camp by Puppet Lake. The skies had been threatening rain for much of the afternoon and evening as well, so tonight I pretty much just waited for darkness so I could go to bed. I looked like some serious rain was moving in, but it avoided my exact locale and I never got wet.

Day 7 – Saturday August 27th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 6.8
Elevation Gain – 1634′
Route – Elba Lake to Granite Park

I awoke to clear blue skies again this morning. The haze and smoke that were plaguing my long distance views yesterday didn’t seem to be a factor today. It ended up being a calm night with no rain, and no condensation this morning. Today, I planned to camp at one of the Royce Lakes, making a somewhat short day and giving myself time to explore and fish.

The trail form Elba Lake to Pine Creek pass was rather uninteresting. From Elba Lake’s outlet, the trail drops  down roughly 280′ into the valley below. You’re below tree line now, although it’s still pretty open. Still, you can’t see much.

On the shelf below Pine Creek Pass, looking south towards Elba Lake

On the shelf below Pine Creek Pass, looking south towards Elba Lake

At around the 10,640′ mark, the trail starts climbing up again. The trail reaches a flat shelf around 11,000′, where the views start to improve.

View north from Pine Creek Pass

View north from Pine Creek Pass

After another 100′ or so, I was at the top of Pine Creek Pass. I stopped here to take some pictures, and then eat some food. Two other hikers came up Pine Creek Pass and they stopped to chat with me for a while. Martin & Maria were their names, and they had a base camp at French Lake. Nice people, great to talk to. Martin was a former mountain guide with experience all over the world. It turns out they were heading up to Royce Lakes too, and possibly beyond. They planned to return to their base camp later tonight. Martin had a map of the area that was maybe 1:100,000, so I showed him my map of the area that was 1:24,000, and let him take some pictures of it.

Looking north at point 12,245... the mountain with the zigzagging veins running through it

Looking north at point 12,245… the mountain with the zigzagging veins running through it

Hiking up to Royce Lakes from Pine Creek Pass

Hiking up to Royce Lakes from Pine Creek Pass

My route up to Royce Lakes was off trail from here. Fortunately, this part was pretty easy. There were few large rocks and boulders to deal with, as the terrain was generally just dirt and small rocks. Some sections of granite slabs too.

Miriam & Royce Peaks reflection

Miriam & Royce Peaks reflection

royce peak & miriam peak

I hiked up the hillside until I reached a shelf with a small pond. The reflection of Royce and Miriam Peaks in the water was stunning. Such beauty for such a lackluster spot on the map. This is a perfect example of why I like to explore off trail!

royce lakes panorama

Miriam Peak on the left, Royce Peak in the center. Royce Lake #3 center, #4 to the right.

Royce Lake #3

Royce Lake #3

After passing the unnamed lake, I could see Martin and Maria in the distance. Instead of going down to Royce Lake #2 (I believe the lowest lake is #1 and the highest is #5), I stayed high above the lake and just hiked towards Royce Lake #3. Somewhere near Royce Lake #3 I finally caught up to Martin. We stopped to chat again briefly before parting ways again.

Royce Lake #3

Royce Lake #3

I then hiked down to lake level when I got a chance. When I reached the lake, I found myself on the extreme north side. Great views of Miriam Peak from here.

Campsite at Royce Lake #4 south shore

Campsite at Royce Lake #4 south shore

Between Royce Lakes 3 & 4 would be a good place to camp. In fact, there’s a great spot closer to Royce Lake #4. It’s a flat, sandy area free of rocks and perfect for a tent, maybe two. However, it was early in the day and I couldn’t see myself spending the whole day right here, even though it was beautiful. The shoreline wasn’t great for fishing. It was really rocky in general, and didn’t seem to have good access to fish-able waters. To get to the deep water, you’d have to hike over some huge boulders.

view of royce peak's north face

Royce Lake #4

Boulders along the shore of Royce Lake #4. Peak 12,470 in the center

Boulders along the shore of Royce Lake #4. Peak 12,470 in the center

I kept moving around Royce Lake #4. The first half of the lake was fairly easy to traverse, with small rocks along a flat shoreline. After the midway point or so, the boulders became larger and they were stacked more steeply. Not the kind of stuff I want to be dealing with all day if I was camping nearby.

Royce Lake #4 from Royce Pass. Feather Peak on the right, Royce Peak center, Miriam Peak left

Royce Lake #4 from Royce Pass. Feather Peak on the right, Royce Peak center, Miriam Peak left

At the northeast end of Royce Lake #4 lies Royce Pass. Here, I saw Martin & Maria again eating lunch in the only shade in the area. They mentioned trying for Italy Pass today. I had seen another possible campsite nearby, but this one looked less appealing than the last one I saw in terms of access to the lake. I was also considering checking out Royce Lake #5. With all the large boulders in the area now, I was thinking that I should probably just abandon that idea. I was now thinking of camping in Granite Park tonight instead of Royce Lakes, and considering my route options from here. I didn’t know about Royce Pass before I left as I didn’t have it marked on my map. Instead, I was considering an off trail route from Royce Lake #5 down into Granite Park. This looked roughly equal in terms of steepness on the map, this route would not lose as much elevation. It was tempting, but I decided to head downhill from what I now know to be Royce Pass, which sits between Treasure Peak and point 12,470′. This is also the way Martin chose moments earlier.

zigzagging veins in granite mountainside

Peak 12,245

Before heading down the pass, I took some pictures. One peak stands out from the rest in the interesting geological area. Marked 12,245′ on the map, this peak is made up of a predominantly dark colored rock, but with veins of lighter colored rock zigzagging through it. Pretty unique looking. Actually, when I look back at the picture I took of this same peak from the Pine Creek Pass area, I can see that the light colored veins are a feature of the entire ridge line all the way up to Bear Creek Spire. I don’t ever remember seeing another mountain quire like this one.

View northeast from Royce Pass

Owens Valley in the distance

Owens Valley in the distance

Another interesting thing about Royce Pass is that it offered my first solid view of the eastern Sierras. I could see down into Owens Valley, somewhere around 4,000′ at the floor, from my position here at 11,750′. Mt. Whitney borders Owens Valley too, making it “one of the deepest in the US” according to Wikipedia. Then, what’s deeper?

Looking back up at Royce Pass. Treasure Peak on the left

Looking back up at Royce Pass. Treasure Peak on the left

Descending Royce Pass was easy. There was nothing technical about it, and no large boulders to traverse. I made good time going down.

Treasure Peak reflection

Treasure Peak reflection

Following the ridge line down from point 12,470′, there was a tiny pond around the 11,150′ mark. This looked like a viable route over the ridge line, and would save me from dropping down to about the 10,600′ mark. There were even some use trails now leading the way as I approached the pond. It turned out to be another off trail gem, and another one of my favorite photos from the trip. But then again, I have so many favorites!

Hiking up to Granite Park

Hiking up to Granite Park

Past the little pond, I dropped downhill a very short distance and met up with the main trail running through Granite Park. Everything about this area was beautiful. The farther I hiked, the more spectacular it became. I was really enjoying my hike today and definitely glad I made the decision to visit Granite Park instead of camping at Royce Lakes. Around this time, I saw Martin & Maria heading back towards their base camp. They didn’t make it to Italy Pass, but they seemed more than happy about just being in Granite Park.

granite park campsite

I camped on the sandy spot below

Granite Park campsite

Granite Park campsite

I took my time hiking through this area, stopping anywhere I could to take pictures. I only hiked about 3/4 mile from the tiny pond earlier before finding a campsite I couldn’t pass up. From the trail, I could see a large flat sandy spot below, perched above a chain of small lakes. I headed down to check it out, and decided to make it home for the night. This was my favorite campsite of the trip.

hiker by a small lake in granite park

After getting water and snacking, I headed down to the lake to wash up. It had been a few days now since I’ve got in the water completely, and so it was time to take the plunge once again. Damn it’s cold, but it makes you feel sooo good when you’re done. Not only do I feel cleaner, but it really gets your adrenaline flowing being in that icy water. I sat by the lake afterwards soaking up the sun and drying out. Just another surreal way to spend an afternoon.

I did try fishing the small lakes by camp, but once again, no luck. The fish looked especially small here anyway. While exploring the other side of the lake I was camped alongside, I noticed another couple and their dog near their tent. They were actually very close to my camp, but completely out of sight. I wonder if they saw me change out of my underwear earlier by the lake when I was washing? I really thought I was alone up here. Later, I noticed that another person had set up camp near the outlet of the lowest lake in the chain on this shelf as well.

Back at camp, it was time for dinner. Another tortilla filled with pre-cooked bacon and cheddar cheese. This was probably the best tasting one all week for some reason. I think my appetite was improving, which is always a problem for me on these long hikes. And as luck would have it, I realized that I had an extra bacon/chz wrap, so I ate two of them tonight. Bonus meal!

campsite view at granite park

Today was one of the best days of my hike. Greta scenery, great weather, and a bad ass campsite. What more could I ask for? I went to bed happy tonight, and felt like I was startling to settle in to being out here. It definitely takes a couple of days to adjust physically and mentally.

 

Day 8 – Sunday August 28th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 7.69
Elevation Gain – 1782′
Route – Granite Park to Vee Lake

View from camp in granite park

The Milky Way was very bright last night once again. I could see it often throughout this hike, something I never see at home due to light pollution. This morning was clear and calm again, with deep blue skies. Another great day to be in the mountains! Today, I’ll hike over Italy Pass, skirt the mountainside to Dancing Bear Pass and drop down into Bear Basin, where I’ll camp at Vee Lake.

Granite Park

Granite Park

Reflection on a lake in Granite Park

Reflection on a lake in Granite Park

Trail through Granite Park

Trail through Granite Park

beautiful reflection of jagged peaks on a lake in granite park

I rejoined the trail after packing up camp and headed uphill towards Italy Pass. The trail ascends a series of shelves which contain several small lakes. The landscape continued to impress today, with spectacular reflections of the mountains in almost every pool of water. Jagged peaks dot the horizon in all directions. The hike was not difficult at all through this area either. The trail was well worn and easy to follow, and nothing was too steep.

jagged peaks in granite park

Italy Pass is the obvious low point

Italy Pass is the obvious low point

East side of Italy Pass

Hiking up Italy Pass

Above the 11,600′ mark, the trail winds away from the lakes for the last time. I saw a couple of other solo hikers come down Italy Pass and pass by me. Below the final approach to the pass, there was a tiny little creek bed, with just a trickle of water coming down. It was grassy and had fewer rocks alongside it, and led the way to the top. Italy Pass was both beautiful and easy, a rare combination.

Looking north to Mount Julius Caesar from Italy Pass

Looking north to Mount Julius Caesar from Italy Pass

View from Italy Pass

View from Italy Pass

On top of Italy Pass, I took a short break. I love cresting the top of a pass and seeing a whole new world open up beneath me. I always found the top of mountain passes interesting. Often times, different rocks can be found up here than at lower elevations. Looking in one direction, the mountain looked as if humans had paved it with some large stones and then weathered over time. Looking towards Mount Julius Ceaser, you can see all of the rocks are aligned in the same direction, pointing towards the sky. Then I picked up a few pieces of trash some thoughtful hikers left behind up here. Come on, people.

Skirting the mountainside towards Dancing Bear Pass, above the long patch of snow on the left. Jumble Lake below

Skirting the mountainside towards Dancing Bear Pass, above the long patch of snow on the left. Jumble Lake below

Heading down from Italy Pass wasn’t too bad. I originally planned on dropping down much farther towards Jumble Lake than I actually had to. I was surprised at how easy the route looked going from Italy Pass to Dancing Bear Pass. It looked much easier in person than it did on the map. Usually, the opposite is true.

hiking from italy pass to dancing bear pass

This section didn’t have much in the way of giant boulders, which was nice. The rocks were smaller in size and there were a few patches of snow here and there. Great views as well. I even passed a campsite up here, a flat spot with no rocks just large enough for a one man tent. It also seemed like there was a use trail here, but it faded away often. It was not really needed though as the terrain was open enough and easy enough to not be a problem regardless.

Below Dancing Bear Pass there was a large patch of snow that remained. I stayed north of the snow, where the route looked easiest. The climb up the pass was short and simple.

hiking over dancing bear pass with seven gables in the distance

Dancing Bear Pass

Dancing Bear Pass is an interesting one. It’s a long, flat area in between two peaks. Most passes have a bunch of rocks piled up and generally are just more rugged. Towards the middle of the pass, it’s actually very sandy. Since the pass is so long on the top, you can’t really see much from the middle.

White Bear Lake from Dancing Bear Pass

White Bear Lake from Dancing Bear Pass

Bear Basin panorama

Bear Basin panorama

lakes in bear basin

Exiting Dancing Bear Pass, I had my first view of Bear Basin. Seven Gables can been seen clearly in the distance. I stopped here to take a food break. While doing so, I heard some yelling in the distance. I scanned the horizon and saw a couple of guys above White Bear Lake. One of them was waving his arms. I waved back, and I think that was the purpose of the yelling… to say hello. Well, hello back, and glad you aren’t injured or something, because that’s what I was thinking at first. I watched them drop down towards White Bear Pass, and eventually they headed down the pass towards Lake Italy.

bear basin lakes and peaks

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

It was a short hike down Dancing Bear Pass to the knob above White Bear Lake, near the area the guys where yelling from earlier. I hugged the eastern side of the knob as I made my way downhill towards Big Bear Lake. Light use trails exist, but nothing you can count on to take you from one place to another. Most of my hike through the area would be considered off trail.

Big Bear Lake & Seven Gables

Big Bear Lake & Seven Gables

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

stream runs through boulders in bear basin

In between Big Bear and Little Bear lakes

The hike through Bear Basin was awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire route through the basin. My only regret is not having more time to spend here and explore. I got the impression that few people visit the area, exactly what I was looking for. The terrain wasn’t as tough as other places, with large area of grass and flatlands, along with some occasional boulder fields of course. At least, it was fairly easy along my chosen route. There were only a few sections where I was forced to work my way through large boulders.

seven gables behind little bear lake

Little Bear Lake

sandy beach on little bear lake in the john muir wilderness

Little Bear Lake

Little Bear Lake

Little Bear Lake

Little Bear Lake was particularly appealing to me. Coming from Big Bear Lake, the outlet drains into a narrow little canyon where the stream runs underneath some boulders. After hiking through this short section, Little Bear Lake comes into view with Seven Gables in the distance beyond the west end of the lake. This area looked appealing to camp at, but I had my mind made up already for Vee Lake.

bear basin landscape photography

bear basin

In between Little Bear Lake and Vee Lake lie more tiny, unnamed lakes that offered spectacular views as well. For anyone interested in photography, I would try to fit more time in here as I could not walk very far without finding something to shoot. I also saw a marmot bumbling around in this section, one of a handful I’ve seen this trip.

vee lake in the john muir wilderness

Vee Lake

Vee Lake panorama

Vee Lake panorama

When I got my first glimpse of Vee Lake, I realized how large it actually was. I dropped down almost 200′ to get to the lake, and quickly realized that there weren’t many good campsites. Not that the view wasn’t good, but there was nowhere to camp that offered any “amenities”, such as places to sit or protection from the wind. And right now, it was really windy.

Vee Lake

Vee Lake

On the eastern end of the northern spoke of the “V”, there was a large grassy field that I was thinking could be a potential campsite. When I got there though, it was really soft and soggy, not a place you’d want to camp. I kept walking around the lake, towards the inside of the “V”. Again, I saw no previously used campsites, although I did not make it all the way to the inside of the “V”. It was just too windy here to consider it. After having my tent blown over by wind in the middle of the night twice before, I have a strong distaste for windy campsites. I turned around and went back to the northern shore, near where I originally came down to the lake.

Vee Lake campsite

Vee Lake campsite

I found a flat spot to place my tent here on the northern shore of Vee Lake. It was windy here too, but probably less windy than the little peninsula in the inside of the “V”. I figure the wind will just die down when the sun sets as it has done every day since I’ve been here. After getting my tent set up, I walked the shoreline for a bit taking some pictures. I then noticed another guy camping on the peninsula in the center of the “V”, just past where I was checking earlier. I wonder if he was there when I was over there and I just didn’t see him, or if he moved in right after I left the area. Either way, he can have that constant wind that was coming directly across the lake from the direction of Seven Gables. Plus, less distance for me to cover in the morning tomorrow when leaving from this spot.

golden trout caught out of vee lake

Golden Trout

Now it was time to try my hand at fishing once again. I headed down to the lake and found a bit of a peninsula that jets out into the water, with deep water alongside it. First cast, bam! Landed a 10″ Golden Trout, my first Golden ever. Caught it on a mepps #2 spinner with a gold blade. Awesome, the fishing is going to pick up, I thought. I got my GoPro out and attached it to my headband, hoping to get some fishing action on tape. After that though, no bites all night. I moved around several times and switched lures, but that was the only fish of the night. Since my 10 day non-resident fishing license cost me a staggering $47, I dubbed this fish the $47 trout.

I try to do the right thing by buying these non resident fishing licences, but I know many people don’t buy them out here and I can understand why. $47 is way too much for a 10 day licence. I firmly believe that states need to lower these prices to encourage more people to buy the licences. Chances are, you’ll never get caught out here, especially in places like this well off the beaten path. But if you expect people to do the right thing, then give them some incentive to do so! Don’t rape us with those insanely overpriced fishing licences, and then wonder why people don’t buy them.

Done with fishing, I headed back to camp to wait for the sun to set. With no fire, I found myself going to be shortly after sunset each day this trip. Thankfully it was summer (the best season!) and there was actually some day light to work with. When I do my annual desert hike in January, the sun sets at 5 something. With no fires, that’s a looong night to spend in the tent. At least this was more manageable.

Day 9 – Monday August 29th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 8.96
Elevation Gain – 1274′
Route – Vee Lake to Marie Lake

campsite at vee lake with seven gables in the distance

Morning day 9

Just as I thought it would, the wind died down last night right after the sun set. It was a calm and very cold night, the coldest yet. It was 31°F in my tent when I checked around 4am. Amazingly though, within 15 minutes of the sun rising, I was perfectly comfortable in shorts and a t shirt!

Seven Gables reflection on Vee Lake

Seven Gables reflection on Vee Lake

seven gables reflection on vee lake

 

Today my plan is to hike down the outlet of Vee Lake to the Seven Gables Lakes area, then follow that downhill to East Fork Bear Creek. Follow that down to the PCT/JMT junction and then head to Marie Lake for my final night in the Sierras.

vee lake beach reflecting seven gbales

Seven Gables near the outlet of Vee Lake

Seven Gables near the outlet of Vee Lake

After packing up camp and heading out, I took my time hiking around Vee Lake. The water was calm and provided an excellent reflection of Seven Gables.

Looking south towards Seven Gables Lakes

Looking south towards Seven Gables Lakes

I hiked towards the outlet of Vee Lake. There was a spotty trail along the shoreline which quickly faded away where outlet starts draining downhill. I saw no trail or cairns to help me navigate down. It wasn’t super hard, but it was slow going. There was a myriad of tiny streams crisscrossing the hillside, with some thicker shrubs along some of these streams too.

Once down into the Seven Gables Lakes area, I was expecting to find a trail. I didn’t. There were some very occasional cairns, but nothing solid to follow the entire way through the valley. At least not that I saw. I stayed west of the creeks and lakes. Not saying that’s the best route, it’s just what I happened to choose based on what I saw.

seven gables area

It was actually a little chaotic down here in the valley. There were tons of little streams flowing from every which way. There were also many small hills and rock outcrops to navigate around, and it made it tough to just look at the terrain and choose the best way through it. It’s obvious which direction I need to go, but which is the best path through the obstacles in front of me? It wasn’t tough terrain, but slightly time consuming from a route finding perspective.

upper east fork bear creek

I ended up hiking west of the lowest Seven Gables lake, but later I saw what appeared to be a trail to the east of the creek flowing out of the lake. Later, where the canyon narrows near point 10,851′, I found myself up on a small set of cliffs where I had to backtrack in order to get down. Great view from the cliffs though. It looks lake a lake from above, but the map shows a river.

Down by the water I saw from above, I saw some prints in the muddy shoreline that could have been mountain lion. They were too big to be a coyote and didn’t appear to have claws. Not bear prints either. Despite the fact that these prints were here, it would have been my choice for a campsite if I were to stay in the area overnight. I found this area to be the most scenic of part of this morning’s hike.

The canyon narrows...

The canyon narrows…

I still wasn’t sure if I was on the right or wrong side of the creek when I reached the point where the canyon narrows. There was no easy way across it, so I just kept moving downstream. I took an awkward path over a rocky ridge at the narrowest point of the canyon, and found myself about 40′ above the creek below. The narrow section was only a few hundred yards long, and then the landscape widens again.

Upper East Fork Bear Creek

Upper East Fork Bear Creek

Looking west from East Fork Bear Creek

Looking west from East Fork Bear Creek

From here on out, the trail was extremely spotting for a while. I know I need to follow the creek downhill,but there wasn’t much in the way of cairns or markers to let you know you’re on the right path. The best route appeared to alternate between the two sides of the creek, requiring semi-frequent crossings. Nothing that you can’t hop rocks across, but without cairns or trail markers, it’s easy to continue on well past an area where you should have crossed. This meant hiking through thick bushes, boulder fields and all sorts of other obstacles when I  missed the “right way”. Needless to say, the next couple hours weren’t necessarily fun.

East Fork Bear Creek

East Fork Bear Creek

The top section of East Fork Bear Creek was the worst. The middle section got a littler better. I passed a European guy in this section going uphill, and man, I did not envy him at the moment. The long slog uphill alone is enough, but he’s carrying a 65 pound pack. He was headed to Vee Lake, and like Martin 2 days ago, was only carrying a 1:100,000 map. I let him take some pictures of my 1:24,000 map of the route from here to Vee Lake and gave him some info on my hike through the area before we parted ways.

The smell of pine trees was refreshing!

The smell of pine trees was refreshing!

There was a short section where the trail headed uphill again, working it’s way around a hillside. After this section, which is roughly halfway between the PCT/JMT and the point where the canyon narrows at the top, the trail started to become more solid. Finally, something to follow and I can start to cover some miles. The pine trees were getting larger now, and the smell was a refreshing reminder of life below the treeline.

Back on the PCT

Back on the PCT

I made great time through the bottom half of East Fork Beak Creek and eventually hit the PCT/JMT. There was an easy water crossing here, with rocks strewn across the creek. The trail seemed massive to me now since I haven’t seen anything this well maintained in several days. Almost like a 4 wheeler path.

pacific crest trail in john muir wilderness

Nearing Marie Lake

Nearing Marie Lake

I made great time moving along the PCT/JMT. For the first mile or two, there wasn’t much to see. Then, the trail winds through some nice meadows as it nears Marie Lake. I didn’t see a single person the entire way to Marie Lake, which was maybe 3 miles.

Trail around Marie Lake

Trail around Marie Lake

pacific crest trail winds along the shores of marie lake

Marie lake

Camp above Marie Lake

Camp above Marie Lake

I saw a few people at Marie Lake when I got there. They were all basically congregated near the large peninsula in the center of the lake. I kept moving towards Seldon Pass, thinking I could grab a campsite near the pass so I’d have less distance to cover tomorrow morning heading back to Florence Lake. I didn’t see much, but then I found a great spot perched above the extreme southern end of the lake, near the inlet. This was also directly below Seldon Pass, so it was perfect for me. The only downside was that my campsite required a bit of a walk down to the water.

After setting up camp, I set up my GoPro on the tripod to do a time lapse of the clouds moving over Marie Lake. I had tons of GoPro batteries left since my solar charging panel was working so well, and didn’t mind setting it up and just running it til the battery dies.

Channel near Lake Marie's inlet

Channel near Lake Marie’s inlet

I already scared away many of this fish by the time I got close enough to take this picture

I already scared away many of this fish by the time I got close enough to take this picture

While the GoPro was doing it’s thing, I went down to the lake to fish. The shoreline was pretty poor for fishing on this side of the lake. The shoreline was soggy and wet, and the water was shallow in many areas. I could see a clear, distinct channel running through the lake coming from the inlet, so I had a closer look at this. The shoreline here was soft and soggy too, but I could see tons of fish sitting in the channel. Following that channel to the inlet itself, there was a pool filled with hundreds of trout! They got spooked as I approached, but hey, they’re here!

brook trout caught in marie lake

Brook Trout

I went back to the channel, away from the pool by the inlet and proceeded to cast. Before long, I had caught a couple of 12″ brookies. I’m glad I caught these fish, because I didn’t really want to call that golden I caught last night the $47 fish. I had fun chasing these fish around for a few hours, and I think I ended up with 4 on the night. I caught them all on the same mepps #2 spinner with the gold blade.

Back at camp, it was time to reflect on my hike as sun set on my final night. I was feeling great for being out here for 9 days. I wasn’t overly tired, sore, sunburnt, hungry, anything. I just felt good. Of course, I was really looking forward to a hot meal and a shower.

Sunset over Marie Lake

Sunset over Marie Lake

Firey funnel cloud thing

Firey funnel cloud thing

I was treated to an incredible sunset tonight filled with lots of red and orange, reflecting over Lake Marie. There was also this weird looking “funnel cloud” very nearby that ended up turning red as well. That was interesting. All in all, a great way to end my last night out here.

 

Day 10 – Tuesday August 30th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 12
Elevation Gain – 780′
Route – Marie Lake to Florence Lake

I woke up at 6am today, much earlier then the the rest of the days on the hike. I want to make it to Florence Lake by 11am so I can catch the Ferry. Otherwise, I’ll have to wait until 1pm for the next one. I was on the trail by 6:55 this morning.

View south from Seldon Pass

View south from Seldon Pass

The climb up Seldon Pass wasn’t too tough, but as I’ve said before, there’s nothing like a mountain pass in the morning to get the blood pumping. The view from Seldon Pass was better in the direction of Marie Lake then Sallie Keyes, but at this time of the morning, the lighting wasn’t up to par yet to take many pictures. Besides, I was on a mission to get back to Florence Lake, and since I wasn’t sure exactly how long it was going to take, I had to get moving.

Heart Lake

Heart Lake

Sallie Keyes Lake

Sallie Keyes Lake

Sallie Keyes Lake

Sallie Keyes Lake

I stopped only briefly along Heart Lake and Sallie Keyes Lakes to take a few pictures, and moved on as quickly as possible.

First rays of sunlight hit Sallie Keyes Lake

First rays of sunlight hit Sallie Keyes Lake

There were a few people camping neat lower Sallie Keyes lakes, but nowhere else along this morning’s hike. Sallie Keyes Lakes looked so different then the lakes I’ve grown accustomed to in the high country. These lakes were surrounded by tall, thick pines and I thought I could have been at 5,000ft if I didn’t know any better.

Long stretches of unimpressive scenery

Long stretches of unimpressive scenery

After Sallie Keyes Lakes, I really hauled ass. I was already fast walking all morning, and I stepped it up a notch from here on out. I was guessing this hike would be about 12 miles, and I was hoping to do it in 4 hours flat. Fortunately there was a very good trail today all the way from Marie Lake on, and it was all basically downhill. I was keeping a close eye on the time, and it was going to be close.

One of the only meadows in an otherwise uninteresting stretch on the trail

One of the only meadows in an otherwise uninteresting stretch on the trail

There was not much to see after passing Sallie Keyes Lakes. There were few meadows, and few distant views. You’re basically in the forest the entire way with nothing super interesting to see. That’s fine with me, since I don’t have time to stop and enjoy the scenery anyways. I’m really glad I didn’t choose to hike up this way in the beginning though. I didn’t even consider it, to be honest. 4,000’+ of elevation gain with a full pack on day one, when you’re not acclimated yet… not my first choice in routes. Still, I saw several people making this slog uphill. I’m just glad I’m going down!

Entire mountainside full of manzanitas

Entire mountainside full of manzanitas

After crossing Senger Creek, the trail heads downhill steeply. Here, there’s a series of switchbacks that wind through an entire mountainside of manzanitas. All I could think about was my hike in the Sierras Ancha Wilderness, AZ in May, and some of the nightmare off trail sections there where I was hiking through thick patches of manzanitas. I have a big scar on my shin from one of them now, and have a new respect for that plant.

I continued to fast walk down the switchbacks until they ended, and it was just s teep trail through the forest again. Coming down, there’s a trail that leads off to the left and the right. The one that heads left is the official PCT/JMT, but heads southeast and away from Florence Lake. The other trail, heading right, is a “shortcut” trail that just runs directly south and joins up with the main trail running through the Blaney Meadows area. I went right as this was the obvious route for someone heading back to Florence Lake.

Now done with the worst of the downhill and on generally flat ground, I started to run a little. I had about an hour left to get back to the lake and it still looked a long ways away. Running with a backpack on is not fun, with the extra weight and having it flop around. Straps tend to come lose on your pack making it even more awkward. To make matters worse, I was running on about 500 calories for the day. I literally had no time to stop and eat, as I was realizing every minute counts.

Running to Florence Lake

Running to Florence Lake

I alternated between running and fast walking for much of the last hour. It was going to come down to the wire, and so I was running the last section. You can’t see the ferry until the you crest the final hill, and when I did, the boat was halfway across the lake already. I looked down at my watch and saw it turn form 10:59 to 11. So, he must have left at least 5 minutes early. I waved my armed and yelled at the top of my lungs before I realized he either can’t see/hear me, or he doesn’t care. Great, I just busted my ass for 4 hours to get here on time, just so the ferry could leave without me. Now i have to wait another 2 hours for the next one.

I had the same view of Florence Lake as I waited almost 3 hours for the ferry

I had the same view of Florence Lake as I waited almost 3 hours for the ferry

I took refuge in the only shade in the area and took a nap. I was too pissed off to do anything else. I had plans to get back to Fresno early and actually have time to do something today, but now that’s not going to happen.

Eventually, other hikers started pouring into the area. We all moved towards the dock before 1pm, waiting for the boat to come. When 1pm rolls around, we still don’t see him coming. 1:30 hits, and still no boat. One of the other guys said there was some sort of phone at the top of the hill that can be used to call them, so he went up there to ask what’s going on. He came back and told us that there was a lot of wind on the other side of the lake and that their dock blew away. They said they would try to send out the boat again later this afternoon, but could not give us a time as to when they would be here to pick us up. Oh man, really? So now, I’m thinking I should just hike around the lake back to the car. It’s another 4 miles or so, but would require a little backtracking form here. Plus, I know as soon as I leave to do that, the boat will come. I considered it but stuck with my instinct to stay and wait for the boat. I pulled out my fishing pole to kill some time, and sure enough, just as I did that, we could see the boat on it’s way.

When the boat arrived, the captain was complaining that someone called and complained that he hadn’t shown up. He said something like, “Alright, who’s the one who called and complained that I wasn’t coming? I’m pissed now, you put me in a bad mood. I was busy chasing our dock that got blown away”. I turned and said to one of the other hikers “Ha, he’s pissed? I was here at 11am and he had already left. I’ve been waiting here for almost 3 hours”. Later on the boat, he admitted to leaving 5 minutes early. He said I was supposed to use the phone to call them before I had crested the hill above the boat docks so they know I’m close. Well, that was never explained to me. If it’s that important, it should be something you mention while everyone is on the boat, not after we’ve docked and people have already walked away. Apparently, that’s when he does the explanation of the phone bit. I mentioned what I went through this morning, doing 13 miles in 4 hours and running with my pack to get here on time, and the captain says “Oh, you must be a really good hiker”. Really? You smug little bastard. Kind of a crappy way to end a great trip.

 

Final Thoughts

I would not start my hike from Florence Lake again. I’d rather just not deal with the ferry ride, or the long scary drive on Kaiser Pass Rd. I’d rather start somewhere like North Lake where I can start at 9,000’+ instead of 7,000 at Florence. Logistically though, it’s more difficult, but that would be my ideal approach to the area.

Many of my past hikes were ones where I created a route and never wavered from it. It feels good to create a plan and stick to it, but this hike taught me some valuable lessons in flexibility. My 3rd day here forced me to re-evaluate my route when the weather turned bad. I ended up chopping off the Ionian Basin section as well as the Sabrina Basin section. I had a feeling that my exit plan from the Sabrina Basin area was going to be tough, and was unsure of the danger level. I chose a safer route and worked in an extra day to either take as a zero day or to spread out between the remaining days. This layer of flexibility was something I am not used to, but I enjoyed. I supposed I forced myself to do shorter days this hike and focus on enjoying the area instead of just covering ground.

How my feet looked everyday. The Inov8 Roclite 295s do a piss poor job of keeping the fine debris out.

How my feet looked everyday. The Inov8 Roclite 295s do a piss poor job of keeping the fine debris out.

Ace sports tape over a bandaid seemed to keep my blisters at bay

Ace sports tape over a band-aid seemed to keep my blisters at bay

My Inov8 Roclite 295 shoes were a major let down. They let way too much fine debris into the shoe to be viable for most types of terrain. Damn you Inov8, bring back the Roclite 315s! These shoes allowed me the “opportunity” to perfect my blister care methods though. Putting a band aid over the blister and then putting Ace sports tape over the band aid seemed to work wonders for me in terms of preventing the blisters from getting worse and minimizing the pain.

 

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.

 


Chapel/Mosquito Loop Hike – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI July 2016

pictured rocks national lakeshore, michigan

Pictured Rocks, MI – Chapel/Mosquito Loop Hike

View All Chapel/Mosquito Loop Photos | Video

  • Location – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI
  • Park Administration – National Park
  • Trailhead – Chapel Trailhead
  • Length Of Time Hiked – Day Hike
  • Miles Hiked – 15
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Trail Difficulty – 2.5/10
  • Fires Allowed – Yes, in designated campsites, in metal rings only
  • Scenic Beauty – 8 (10 for Michigan, this is one of the crown jewels of the state!)
  • Solitude – 2 during peak season

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Pictured Rocks Maps

chapel beach mosquito beach map

Map of the Chapel and Mosquito areas

 

Pre Hike Details

If you are trying to plan a last minute overnight backpacking trip here during peak season, good luck! I wasn’t able to. Instead, due to ease of planning, I chose to do this as a day hike and camp in a campground nearby. I considered Little Beaver Lake campground due to it’s close proximity to the Chapel trailhead,  but it’s not possible to make reservations. It’s first come, first served and there are only 8 campsites. Twelve Mile Beach campground is the same, first come, first served. I believe it’s the same for all of the other Pictured Rocks campgrounds, but I didn’t check them all out. Instead, I started looking at nearby state forest campgrounds, and there were several in the area to choose from. No reservations here either, but I figured this would be my best bet at snagging a campsite.

I drove up Thursday evening and the Little Beaver Lake campground was full, as I expected. I proceeded to North Gemeni Lake campground which was about 10 minutes away, and found it less than half full. I was lucky to get a campsite on the lake, which had a pretty good view.

Chapel trailhead is only about 15 minutes away from the North Gemeni Lake campground, so it will be a short drive in the morning This is just as good as leaving from Little Beaver Lake campground, so camping here really worked out for me.

 

Chapel/Mosquito Loop Hike Route Description & Trip Report

Friday July 15th, 2016

early morning at chapel trailhead

Chapel Trailhead

We arrived at the Chapel trailhead around 8:30am. There were 4 other cars in the parking lot. The weather had been extremely hot lately (in the 90s downstate), but today was only forecast to be 60! A pleasant change, and very welcomed considering the number of miles we’d be covering today.

chapel falls from viewing area at pictured rocks

Chapel Falls

section 34 creek just upstream of chapel falls

Section 34 Creek

view from above chapel falls

Above Chapel Falls

The trail starts off as a very wide pathway, an obvious indicator of the heavy traffic this area receives. The trail runs through a fairly open forest alongside a gorge, which is out of sight from here. After about 1.2 miles, the trail swings closer to the edge of the gorge and we get our first glimpse of Chapel Falls. There’s a wooden platform built alongside the trail that gives a pretty good view of the falls, which are about 80 feet high. The falls are formed by Section 34 Creek flowing over the edge of the gorge. I guess “Section 34 Falls” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Chapel Falls.

hiker above chapel falls

Don’t try this at home

The trail then crosses Section 34 Creek and continues along the gorge. The trail goes by the top of the waterfall too which is a cool vantage point, but be careful here. At this point we started to see a few more people on the trail.  There wasn’t much of interest through the next 1.8 miles or so.

chapel rock at pictured rocks national lakeshore, mi

Chapel Rock

lake superior behind chapel rock

Chapel Rock

When the trail reaches the shore of Lake Superior, it basically dumps you out right at Chapel Rock. This is one of the major landmarks of Pictured Rocks. The rock here has been eroded away leaving this unique geological feature. What makes it really unique is that there’s a large tree growing out of the top, and it’s roots, which are quite large, are spanning a gap that’s maybe 12 feet. While you can get pretty close to Chapel Rock, it’s fenced off. The best pictures I’ve seen of Chapel Rock are from the water though. The lighting is better and the angle is more optimal. Chapel Beach has some good views of it as well.

chapel river flowing into lake superior

Chapel River meets Lake Superior

After leaving Chapel Rock we headed west a very short ways until we crossed a footbridge over Chapel Creek. Alongside the creek is a little footpath that leads down to the beach, or you could just walk further west along the trail to access the beach in numerous other areas. We chose this one though, and followed it a couple yards until it dumped out into Lake Superior. This was a pretty cool sight, seeing the water of the creek flow right into such a huge lake.

Kayaks at Chapel Beach

chapel beach at pictured rocks national lakeshore, mi

Chapel Beach

West end of Chapel Beach

We took a short break here on Chapel Beach to eat some food and just enjoy the scenery. There were a few more hikers passing through the area but still fairly light in terms of traffic. Back on the trail and heading west towards Mosquito Beach, we saw a bunch of Kayaks on the shores of Chapel Beach. The waves looked a little rough today as it was fairly windy, but then again, I imagine Lake Superior is often much rougher. It was last time I was here in June 2011.

Looking east along the shore of Lake Superior just north/west of Chapel Beach

After leaving Chapel Beach behind, the trail heads uphill a short ways and stays close to the edges of the cliffs. To the east, I could see Spray Falls dumping out into Lake Superior. Beyond that, Twelve Mile Beach. The trail along Lake Superior through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is part of the North Country Trail, which, when completed, will be the longest hiking trail in the US at 4600 miles. The section that runs through Pictured Rocks is called the Lakeshore trail and runs about 42 miles from Munising to the Grand Sable Visitor Center. I completed the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore Trail in June 2011, although the weather was terrible. I’m glad to have long distance views like this and finally be able to see the real Pictured Rocks!

pictured rocks trail

Between Chapel Beach and Grand Portal point

trail along lake superior at pictured rocks, between chapel beach and grand portal point

As we continued on the trail, we encountered many interesting rock formations and coves. The color of the water is an awesome blue color, almost tropical looking. Don’t be fooled, that water is cold! The contrast of the blue color and the rocks makes for some pretty appealing photos. It took quite a while to work our way along the trail now as the views were just amazing, and we found ourselves stopping at every new vantage point we came across. There was an increasing number of hikers along the trail now.

pictured rocks distant view of grand portal point

Grand Portal Point in the distance

close up of grand portal point's east side

East side of Grand Portal Point

close up of seagul

When we reached the point that’s roughly halfway between Grand Portal Point and Chapel Beach, we took another break. At this point there are several ledges that provide an excellent view of an arch in the rock below Grand Portal Point in the distance. We found this area particularly appealing and decided it was worth an extended stay. These were the best views yet for me.

After leaving our break spot, we encountered more stunning views of the same area from different angles. The cliffs on the western side of this cove were pretty cool looking, consisting of different color bands in the rock including a vibrant pink. It’s easy to see where this area got the name Pictured Rocks.

grand portal point at pictured rocks

Grand Portal Point

When we arrived at Grand Portal Point, there wasn’t anyone else around, for the moment anyways. Even though this whole area was obscured in fog during my only other visit here previously, this was one of my favorite spots along the entire Lakeshore Trail. With the clear blue skies today, the same proved to be true.

Tons of people here at Grand Portal Point

Grand Portal Point

Before I had a chance to take any pictures, the area was swarmed by hoards of hikers passing by in both directions, and you can bet they stopped here. We waited for about 20 minutes as about 30 people made their way through the are before I had a clear shot. It was definitely worth the wait, this area is pretty stunning!

After leaving Grand Portal Point, views back to the east continue to please the eye. The trail continues to skirt the edges of the cliffs, but views are mostly obstructed by greenery. However, breaks in the often dense vegetation are numerous.

About a half mile hike west of Grand Portal Point we rounded another point. We stopped for a break here as well to soak in the incredible scenery. There were less people passing through this area and it was nice to have this little area to ourselves for a bit.

 

Now past the last major point along today’s hike, the trail drops in elevation a little bit and brings us a little closer to the water. For a brief time, we enjoyed a few more breaks in the trees allowing for more extended views of the shoreline. Eventually though, the vegetation breaks subsided and we found ourselves just covering ground in lieu of the grand views we had been so spoiled by earlier. This persisted much of the way to Mosquito Beach.

rocky shoreline of mosquito beach at pictured rocks national lakeshore, mi

Mosquito Beach

We made it to Mosquito Beach mid afternoon. We crossed the bridge over Mosquito River and headed down to the beach. The mouth of the river was wider than that of Chapel River, but still shallow enough to walk across if one was so inclined. Here at Mosquito Beach, there were large, round rocks scattered along the shoreline, unlike Chapel Beach.

Mosquito Beach Shoreline

We walked down the shoreline of Mosquito Beach for a while, but eventually route became impassible the ground behind us became steeper and started running into the water. We turned around and headed back to the mouth of Mosquito River.

mosquito river meets lake superior

Mouth of the Mosquito River

Back at the Mouth, we decided to head back to the car as we had basically seen everything we set out to see for the day. However, we did have one last place to visit, and that’s Mosquito Falls.

The hike to Mosquito Falls wasn’t particularly amazing after hiking the Lakeshore Trail, but hey, it can’t be incredible all the time right? We realized that if we had taken another trail from Mosquito Beach, we could have avoided a point-a-d back scenario to the falls, but that’s exactly what we did. The falls were another .9 miles each way from the junction of the trail we were on, so we went for it. Had we come in on the other trail, slightly west of the one we took, we could have walked right past the falls on the way back to the car. Oh well!

mosquito falls at pictured rocks national lakeshore, mi

Mosquito Falls

Mosquito Falls were only about 6-8 feet tall, but fairly wide in comparison to Chapel Falls. We didn’t stick around long as the thought of our post-hike meal was starting to rule our actions. Back at the junction of the Mosquito Falls trail and the trail we had taken from Mosquito Beach, it was only another half mile or so back to the trailhead.

When we arrived at the trailhead, it was much more full than this morning. By the way the cars were parked alongside the road leading into the trailhead, it’s obvious it was much more full earlier today and that it had actually cleared out. We headed over to the Bear Trap restaurant (H-58 & H-15) for some food afterwards. It’s the only restaurant in the vicinity that I saw. Decent food, but it sure hit the spot after today hike of nearly 16 miles.


Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – West Fork Foss Lakes Trail Hike June 2016

Hiking The West Fork Foss Lakes Trail In Washington’s Alpine Lake Wilderness

big heart lake panorama from point 5359 in alpine lakes wilderness, wa

View All PhotosWest Fork Foss Lakes Youtube Video

  • Location – Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA
  • Park Administration – Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
  • Trail Name – West Fork Foss Lakes Trail # 1064
  • Fees & Permits – Northwest Forest pass required, or can pay $5/day for a day pass. You can get either pass at the US Ranger Station located here: 74920 Stevens Pass Hwy Skykomish, WA 98288. It’s on the north side of HWY 2 right about a half mile west of Foss River Rd, which takes you to the trailhead.
  • Travel Logistics – Flew into Seattle, rented a Chevy Cruze
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 4 Days, 3 Nights
  • Miles Hiked – 20
  • Trail Type – Out and back
  • Trailhead – West For Foss River Trailhead
  • Trail Difficulty – 6.5/10 (not including off-trail segments)
  • Fires Allowed – No, not above 4000ft or at any of he lakes I passed
  • Solitude – 6.5
  • Scenic Beauty – 8

West Fork Foss Lakes Trail Maps

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Pre-Hike

My work sent me out to Seattle for a conference, and I had the option to stay the weekend. This was my first trip to Washington state, and naturally I’m going to use that time to squeeze in a hike. A former co-worker had recently moved back to Seattle, and we planned to do this hike together. However, as with several of my past attempts to hike with a buddy, conflicting schedules and priorities meant I’d once again be hiking solo. While I totally understand and respect his decision to stay behind due to more important issues at hand, the fact remains; another hike with nobody to share the memories with.

Similar to my last hike in Arizona’s Sierra Ancha Wilderness, I’ve done much less research and planning on the are then I normally would. The big difference here is that I felt much more out of my element before the hike. While I have a fair amount of alpine hiking experience in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, I’ve never been anywhere that had glaciers at 6000 feet. There are no snotel stations nearby at the 5000 foot mark, around the highest elevation this hike will see without any additional off-trail climbs I may decide to take on. Plus, all of my alpine hikes have been in late July or August, not late June. I set off on this adventure without any concrete knowledge of how much snow to expect at what elevation, although I felt pretty confident based on the little research I did that I’d be alright up to around 5000 feet. Still, the unknown awaits me.

Preliminary research showed that there was an avalanche that had blocked the road to the West Fork Foss River trailhead in February, which persisted into early June. A recent trip report on wta.org showed that the road had been cleared, but unfortunately the person who left the report had not actually hiked the trail to report on the snow pack conditions. Only 2 days before my hike, I learned that the avalanche debris had been cleared. Also, I discovered that the road would easily allow passage of a small car, even a Prius, despite the information on the forest service’s website about this road being for high clearance vehicles only.

 

Day 1 – Friday June 24th, 2106

Miles Hiked – 4.67
Elevation Gain – 2694′
Route – West Fork Foss River Trailhead to Copper Lake

I left the Seattle area in the early afternoon today and headed to the mountains. Once on Hwy 2 and east of Monroe, the drive was pretty scenic. I stopped into the US Ranger station on Hwy 2 in Skykomish to pick up a couple of day passes for parking at the trailhead. $5 bucks a day for anyone who doesn’t have a Northwest Forest Pass, which was $30.

parking lot of the west fork foss river and lakes trailhead

West Fork Foss River trailhead

The road to the West Fork Foss Lakes trailhead was cleared and smooth as any dirt road is going to get. It looked like they just left a bunch of the avalanche debris and turned it into a little hill to drive over. There were only a couple of small potholes, not large enough to cause any damage if one were to drive right over them at any speed. At the trailhead, there were about 12 cars. I was expecting there to be fewer cars here, considering the fact that it was raining and the trailhead had only been open a few weeks at most.

fog rising from pine trees

West Fork Foss River trail

I hit the trail at 5pm. The plan for today is to hike to Trout Lake, the first lake and last landmark before the trail begins it’s ascent towards Copper Lake. The trail starts out in a lush looking pine forest with lots of moss growing on the trees. It looked similar to what I envisioned the Olympic Peninsula to look like, but I’m sure it’s quite different.

view of west fork foss river from a bridge

West Fork Foss River

giant tree in alpine lakes wilderness

Huge old-growth tree

After a short while I reached the bridge crossing the West Fork Foss River. The water was flowing with some force and was quite loud. Some ways past the bridge I passed a huge pine tree, much larger than the others. This old-growth giant was obviously spared the ax when this area was logged in the past. Really impressive to see a tree of this size.

view of trout lake

Trout Lake

Next up along the trail was Trout Lake. I went down to the shore line to snap a picture, but with all the clouds, it wasn’t that great. When I turned around I saw a tent in the woods just off the trail. I continued along the trail and saw many more tents, I estimate at least 10-12. So much for camping here tonight. Doesn’t looks like there was an open spot, even if I wanted to camp here. These people seemed not to care that they were camping just 50 feet from each other. It’s one thing if you’re part of a large group, but otherwise, why would you come all the way out here to camp within sight of another person? That’s not my idea of camping.

It was around 6pm now as I pushed on past Trout Lake and headed up towards Copper Lake. While I didn’t really want to make the hike up to Copper Lake tonight, I figure I’d have more time in the high country tomorrow and should be able to snag a good campsite tonight. Not long after leaving Trout Lake behind and starting the climb up the switchbacks, the brush along the trail started to choke the path. It was now impossible to avoid the wet brush lining the path, and before long what little of me was dry became soaking wet. Water was sloshing out of my shoes now. This was pretty crappy and not what I was wanting to get into just 1.5 hours from the car.

copper lake waterfall

Waterfall below Copper Lake

There weren’t many views from the trail as it winded up to Malachite and Copper Lake. However, the sound of a waterfall was present much of the way and there were a couple of good views of it towards the top. This waterfall was coming from the Copper Lake outlet. There was a decent campsite that probably would have worked for my hammock too around 3500ft, but why stop here? Just a few hundred feet from the top now, I pushed on.

When I reached Copper Lake, I saw a sign for Toilet and a path leading off into the woods. Didn’t realize they had toilets up here. I’ve only seen them in a handful of places, typically where human impact is large. That must be the case here as well.

I passed two young girls cooking hot dogs in their tent vestibule as I searched the are for a campsite. It was now around 7:45 and I wanted to find a spot to hang before it gets too dark. It took a while to find the right pair of trees. I’m learning that finding good hammock sites can be tougher then tent spots. Let’s face it, all pre-existing campsites are generally flat and will accommodate a tent, but not all pre-existing sites have trees, let alone trees spaced the right distance apart and of the right size. Some of these trees were so large, I couldn’t even fit the hammock webbing around it!

Finally got my hammock and tarp set up just before dark. It’s been a while since I’ve set up the tarp over the hammock and that took me a good while. Just in time though as it did start raining a little bit right after I went to bed. It was a good hang and super comfy, so I had no trouble falling asleep tonight.

 

Day 2 – Saturday June 25th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 4.81
Elevation Gain – 1788′
Route – Copper Lake to Big Heart Lake

It rained a bit throughout the night but not very hard. Either way, nothing of mine dried out. The trees were drip-drying this morning and I didn’t feel motivated to leave the tent until 9am. Nothing like putting on soaking wet shoes and socks when it’s 45 degrees out! It took a while to break down everything this morning with all my gear being wet, and I didn’t get on the trail this morning til around 10:15.

Unfortunately the weather was still looking crappy this morning. The forecast all week had been calling for rain Friday with it clearing overnight, leaving the rest of the weekend to be rather nice and sunny. So far, just clouds, and looks like it might rain at some point.

mist near copper lake

copper lake reflection with grey skies

Copper Lake

I worked my way around Copper Lake, which looked like it would have been much more picturesque under blue skies. I didn’t see many good, obvious campsites the rest of the way around the lake. I was looking because I may decide to camp here again on the way back. After all, I didn’t really get to experience this lake at all since I’ve been here.

logjam at the outlet of little heart lake

Little Heart Lake

The trail winds away from the lake towards the north end, and off into the woods. It was a short hike over to Little Heart Lake from here. The stream outlet was jammed with logs like the others, and provided one of the better views of the lake in the immediate area of the trail.

view of mountains in between little and big heart alke

Moving on past Little Heart Lake, I started to encounter more downed trees. One was particularly large and kinda difficult to get past. After that, the trail continued to climb up over a small ridge. The thick cloud cover prevented any real views from breaks in the trees up here. In this area, I saw the first snow along the trail around the 4400ft mark. The trail along this ridgeline tops out around 4925ft before descending down towards Big Heart Lake. After a few switchbacks, the trail levels out and enters a little meadow littered with fallen rocks from the cliffs above. I ended up camping along a hill above this meadow later tonight, but at this moment I hiked right past it.

view of big heart lake from the trail

First views of Big Heart Lake

After roughly 2 miles from Little Heart Lake, I reached Big Heart Lake. There was a nice campsite sitting just above the lake’s outlet on the north side. At the moment though, it was occupied. I kept moving and made my way down to Big Heart Lake’s outlet. There was a huge logjam here that required crossing in order to continue along the lake. These were huge logs and pretty sturdy, which made for a simple crossing.

view from the top of a waterfall at big heart lake

Waterfall pouring off Big Heart Lake

Now on the other side, I had a better look at the waterfall that is the result of Big Heart Lake basically pouring off a cliff. After a quick look and a few pictures, I moved on. I figured I’ll be back through here later, and might as well wait until the skies clear up for better pictures.

view of big heart lake from above

Big Heart Lake

hiking trail near above big heart lake

I continued up the trail along Big Heart Lake and found a couple of spots with sweeping views of the lake. Best views yet during this hike. Tons of mosquitoes up here though, but they’ve been pretty much everywhere.

Further up the trail I started hitting more snow. It wasn’t super deep, but my feet were occasionally punching through hollow spots in the snow. It was tough to keep sight of the trail at this point as well. I intended to try for Chetwoot Lake, but I decided to turn around and head back to Big Heart Lake and just try to dry out and enjoy the day, maybe do some fishing.

I headed back to the outlet area, and noticed that the prime campsite that was occupied earlier was now open. I dropped my pack here and laid claim to it, only to find out shortly after that my hammock would not fit between any of the trees here. Bummer. I spent the next hour at least trying to find another spot to camp. It’s insane to me to come all the way out to a place like this and take a campsite with no view of anything, but that’s what I ended up doing. The trees here make it very hard to hang a hammock since they’re so large. The spot I found was on a little hill at 4675ft overlooking that little meadow I mentioned earlier, on the extreme north end of Big Heart Lake.

hammock hung near big heart lake

Campsite near Big Heart Lake’s northern end

big heart lake northern end cove

Followed this down to the lake from my campsite

My campsite was on a slope, which kind of sucks for a campsite, but it works when you have a hammock. After getting camp squared away, I headed down to the lake to do some fishing. From my campsite, there was a boulder field leading downhill towards a protected cove on the very northern tip of the lake. I worked my way around the west side of the cove and found a couple of nice boulders to sit on and fish from.

big heart lake fishing in june

Fishing on Big Heart Lake

crystal clear water on big heart lake

I didn’t see any fish in this corner of the lake. I’m sure there would be more by the logjam at the outlet, but it also looked pretty snaggy. The color of the water was that deep, vibrant blue which happened to be clear as glass at the moment. Visibility in the water was high, and there was a nice reflection of the mountains on other portions of the water.

Big Heart lake near the outlet, view from the “prime campsite”

After heading back up to camp, I grabbed my camera gear and headed back down towards the waterfall. There now was a couple camped at the prime spot. The downside of this campsite is that the trail runs right through it. Not my problem now I guess.

big heart lake waterfall blurred

Waterfall below Big Heart Lake

Delta Lake below

Now down at Big Heart Lake, I crossed the outlet and worked my way down the waterfall some more. It was pretty steep here, but I ended up descending more ground than I thought I could. This provided some cool views of the waterfall, although the grey sky was still washing out my photos.

warbonnet ridgerunner hammock in the cascasdes

I climbed back up to the lake outlet and continued up hill to some good vantage points I encountered earlier. However, all of these spots were now occupied with other campers, so I just headed back to camp for the night. I was getting tired of having soaking wet feet anyways.

For dinner I had a 100% whole wheat tortilla with cheddar cheese and pepperoni. I scarfed that, and was glad to have an appetite this time unlike some of my other hikes.

The sky started clearing up a little just as the sun set, through the trees and out of my direct sight. The sky was red and pink, it looked like an awesome sunset for someone else. For me, with no campfires allowed up here to keep the mosquitoes away or dry my wet shoes and clothes, I just headed to bed.
Day 3 – Saturday June 26th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 6.59
Elevation Gain – 2158′
Route – Big Heart Lake to Malachite Lake

I woke up at 2am to pee, and the stars were out and shining bright. When I got out of my hammock at 7, the sky was completely blue without a cloud in the sky. Finally! I was excited to have a day with some good weather to finally take full advantage of this beautiful area.

After packing up camp, I decided to head back up the ridgeline above Big Heart Lake towards Chetwoot Lake. I didn’t really intend to hike all the way to Chetwoot at this point, but I did want to get high enough to get a proper view. Up on this ridgeline, overlooking Angeline and Big Heart Lakes, should provide some of the best views of the hike.

Delta and Trout Lakes

On my way up the ridgeline towards Chetwoot, I passed a group of guys I talked to yesterday. They said they went up the ridge and descended halfway down to Angeline Lake. Well, I’m gonna check it out. Point 5359 seemed like a good destination, where I should find ample views.

I continued up the trail until it hit some snow patches and petered out. There were sets of footprints to follow though, so that helped. There was a faint footpath to follow much of the way from here on out, but it’d be real easy to lose it in some spots. It’s obviously not a maintained trail anymore.

Angeline Lake

The path I followed had me working my way over a smaller ridge at around 5000′. On the other side, the path became very faint and I wasn’t sure if I was following an old game trail at one point, but as I made my way down a steep section the path reappeared. The path descends downhill a bit in the direction of Delta Lake, going as low as 4840′ or so before swinging back uphill. There were some cairns here and there to follow, but not everywhere they were needed. The path lead me to a cliff overlooking Angeline Lake, my first glimpse. Nice!

Angeline Lake

snow above 5000ft in late june - alpine lakes wilderness

Snowy slopes below point 5359

The final push up to point 5359 had more snow. Even up here, the mosquitoes were relentless. I battled them up to the top, where I stopped at a small saddle before the actual summit. Great view, but still some trees in the way.

View of Big Heart Lake from point 5259

Looking north from point 5359 at Big Heart Lake

The climb up to the top of point 5359 was short and easy from here. This is a better vantage point, with less trees obstructing my view. I would have taken more pictures and stayed up here a while, but damn, those mosquitoes! I had to take multiple pictures of the same scene since they kept getting in front of my shot and showing up as a blurry spec. Alright, time to head down.

I was satisfied with making it this far. I could keep going towards Chetwoot, but it’s just going to be further out of the way of my destination tonight, which is Malachite Lake. Hopefully, there’ll be nobody up there.

Going down the patches of snow was harder than going up. Not bad, but slippery at times in my trail runners. I was able to dig in a heel as needed, the snow was pretty soft. Going back down through this area was a lot quicker than getting up here, it seemed. I was getting really warm now, and the mosquitoes were getting old. I was hiking with my headnet on now, which I don’t normally do unless absolutely necessary. And it was one of those times.

Big Heart Lake reflection

Nobody camping at Big Heart Lake now. I took a break at the prime campsite and ate a bit, but not much. I snapped a couple of nice pictures here at the lake now that the sun is up and the skies are blue. My goal now is to push on to Malachite Lake without any breaks (not dropping my pack).

Delta Lake below, Otter Lake up top. Waterfall below Angeline Lake barely viable on the right

The trail heads up some switchbacks now in between Big and Little Heart lakes. At the top of the ridge, there’s an overlook area just off the trail that I walked past yesterday, since there was no view of anything. Today though, I went to check it out. Here, there was a good view of Delta and Angeline Lakes, as well as the waterfall below Big Heart Lake’s outlet. The only problem is that I could not fit them all in the picture without falling off the cliff, as I was already leaning towards it to get the ones I did manage.

Little Heart Lake

I kept on towards Little Heart Lake. The fallen trees I encountered yesterday seemed a bit easier to manager today, moving downhill. I moved on past Little Heart Lake and towards Copper Lake, where I saw a guy fishing with his dog. He said he hadn’t had any luck, and that the fish weren’t rising at all. I thought about camping along Copper Lake too if the right campsite presented itself, but it didn’t. I did see a few more groups of people along the lake and figured it would be best to just keep moving and shoot for Malachite Lake. After all, it’s only about a half mile away now from the outlet of Copper Lake.

Copper Lake reflection

Copper Lake again

After crossing Copper Lake’s outlet, I started looking for a way to get up to Malachite Lake. I wasn’t sure what kind of trail there would be leading to the lake, but I was pretty certain there would be some type of blazed path somewhere. So far, the terrain looked pretty steep and didn’t see any signs of anything. Just when I was about to think that there was no trail, I saw a sign on a tree pointing towards the path to Malachite Lake. I didn’t see this on my way up.

The trail up to the lake was actually the steepest trail of the whole trip. Even though it was short, I was whopped by the time I got to the top. With that said, I was also very hot, hungry and thirsty which certainly were factors at play. The trail lead to the lake’s outlet, where I scouted the area for potential campsites. I followed the shoreline south and eventually found a pretty sweet spot to hang my hammock. And the best news is, I had this lake all to myself! Not another person in sight.

Malachite Lake campsite

Since it wasn’t going to rain (at least I hope not) tonight, I just set up the hammock without the tarp. It was tough finding a spot to hang, and the spot I chose just barely worked. I had less than 6 inches of play left on my hammock straps. The view from the hammock was really good though, just what I was hoping for.

malachite lake - alpine wilderness, wa

Malachite Lake

After getting it all set up I went down to the lake to filter some water. I chugged a liter and filtered another. It was still fairly early in the afternoon, and so I decided to take a quick nap to recharge.

After waking up, I went and found the toilet that was near the lake’s outlet. There was a toilet at every lake up here, even Malachite. So, these toilets… it’s a wood box with no toilet seat. No way I’m sitting on that nasty wood. Hovering over this thing is not easy easy due to it’s shape. Fun stuff.

malachite lake view from south shore

Now, on to the REAL fun stuff… fishing! Along the shoreline below my camp, the water was pretty shallow and had some downed logs, but fishable. I did see a couple of 6 or 7  inchers in there, but there wasn’t much action. This fish were hitting bugs on top of the water, but I didn’t have a fly rod with me. The few fish I did see were cruising the shallows. I didn’t have any luck farther out near the drop off.

I had only one bite this whole trip, and it was here at Malachite Lake on a Rebel Crickhopper, a grasshopper lure. I have used the brown color and the brown and fire tiger colors, and prefer the brown. Sounds goofy, but I’ve had lots of success with this lure in the past with bass, sunfish and trout and it’s one of only 5 or so lures I bring with me hiking. I ended up snagging my crickhopper on a log later and lost it. Gotta get another one!

beautiful waters of malachite lake

After fishing I filtered more water and headed back to camp to seek shade. I had a pretty good view of the lake from camp, in the shade which was nice. I relaxed the rest of the day, alternating between the shoreline and my camp. I’m really grateful for the clear weather today as it really made this trip worth while.

I was running pretty low on food now, but fortunately had one more tortilla with cheese and pepperoni waiting for me in my bag. I went to bed just after the sunset, since I plan to get up early and get back to my car in the morning.

 

Day 4 – Saturday June 27th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 4.13
Elevation Gain – 320′
Route – Malachite Lake to West Fork Foss River Trailhead

I woke up at 5:30 this morning to a great view of Malachite Lake from my hammock. The night was clear and calm, and I slept well. This was a really nice way to end my hike here in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness! Without the tarp to put away, no need to filter water and no wet gear to contend with, leaving camp was quick this morning.

early morning reflection on malachite lake

Reflection on Malachite Lake

The reflection on the lake was incredible, I just had to stop at the outlet to admire it a little longer. Sadly, I’ll be on a plane in a few hours heading back home.

I made quick time down the Malachite Lake trail down to the West Fork Foss Lakes trail and didn’t stop there. I stopped a couple of times near the top where views of the waterfall presented itself, but the lighting wasn’t great yet at this hour of the day. I just kept moving down as soon as possible, ready to get back to the car at this point.

Much of the brush along the trail was wet still from the morning dew, and I was pretty drenched by the time I made it down to Trout Lake. There was nobody camping here this time. I continued on towards the trailhead, with clean clothes, food and water my motivation.

view of trout lake

Trout Lake

After leaving Trout Lake, I made great time getting back to the trailhead, arriving just after 8am. For reference, it took me about 1 hour 50 minutes to get down to West Fork Foss River trailhead from Malachite Lake. There were about 5 cars in the parking lot now.

 

Final Thoughts

The drive in to this area along Hwy 2 was beautiful. Looks like an awesome area to spend more time and explore, but it does seem to be very popular. I wasn’t expecting as many people, even though it wasn’t too insane.

I wish I brought mosquitoes repellent. Definitely bring a mosquito head net!

Think twice about bringing your hammock out here. It was a pain in the ass finding a place to hang from here due to the large tree sizes. Consider bringing longer straps if you insist on sleeping in a hammock. I don’t blame you, that’s my preference too.

The fishing was slow here. Maybe it’s the time of year? First time to Washington state, I have no idea. Either way, these lakes are hard to fish because lots of the shoreline is inaccessible. Cliffs and steep slopes butt up against deep water in many parts of these lakes. Oh and the cost of that damn fishing license was $28 bucks for 2 days for an out-of-stater like me. That’s why a lot of people choose not to buy them and take their chances. I try to do the right thing but damn, that’s the cost of an annual fishing license in Michigan, for 2 days of lousy fishing!

I’d like to come back here again, but probably in July or August. Maybe the mosquitoes aren’t so bad then. Plus, it would make traversing some of this terrain easier with less snow and mud.


Sierra Ancha Wilderness, AZ – 30 Mile Loop Hike May 2016

a view from the cliffs above pueblo canyon in the sierra ancha wilderness, arizona

Overview

View All PhotosSierra Ancha Wilderness Video on Youtube

  • Location – Sierra Ancha Wilderness, AZ
  • Park Administration – Tonto National Forest
  • Fees & Permits – None
  • Travel Logistics – Flew into Phoenix, rented a Toyoa Yaris
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 3 Days, 2 Nights
  • Miles Hiked – 30
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Trailhead – Parker Creek
  • Trail Difficulty – 6.5/10 (not including off-trail segments)
  • Fires Allowed – Yes
  • Solitude – 7.5
  • Scenic Beauty – 8

Notes

This trip was a bit different for me. I had about a week to plan it, and hadn’t had a chance to do any training. I’ve only been lifting weights since my return from Big Bend in January, and hadn’t even had the time to do that during the previous month. The week leading up to the hike, I got in about 4 hikes of around 6 miles with a 45 pound pack and did stair climbs one day with a 45 pound pack.

The route I planned out winds in and out of the Sierra Ancha Wilderness, within the Tonto National Forest. It was somewhat difficult planning loop hike through. The geology of the area and way the trails are laid out make it better suited for day hikes or point to point hikes instead of loops, unless you don’t mind either hiking large parts of the same trail twice, road walks, or huge elevation gains/losses. I identified a lot of areas I wanted to see here but in the end, it was impossible to make a loop out of them.

Sierra Ancha Wilderness 30 Mile Loop Hike – Map & GPX Files

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Getting There

I flew out to Phoenix after work on Friday. The plane left Detroit around 4:15 EST and I landed around 5:50 PST. After picking up my backpack from baggage claim and the rental car, I headed out. The car was a little Toyota Yaris, only $57 out the door for Friday-Monday. I stopped at a gas station and picked up a couple gallons of water, and stopped at a Culvers to grab my last hot meal for a couple of days.

Now, I headed east on 60 towards Globe. This is my second trip to Phoenix since hiking a big 92 mile route in the Supes in 2014, and I can really appreciate the view of the Superstition Mountains after hiking the entire ridgeline on my last day of that hike. Driving along 60 provides great views of the Superstition Mountains and has access to the Peralta trailhead, which I still have yet to visit. I hear it’s one of the busiest trailheads in Arizona.

The drive along 60, 188 and 288 is very scenic. Unfortunately it was getting dark quick and by the time I hit 188, I couldn’t see anything. I turned onto 288, crossed the Salt River and started heading uphill again. Even though it says the pavement ends, the surface is just as good as the pavement elsewhere on the road, and it wasn’t rough anywhere. I made it to the Parker Creek trailhead, right off hwy 288, around 8:45pm.

I decided to sleep in the car tonight. Big mistake. The Toyota Yaris drivers seat is almost impossible to sleep in. The stupid headrest is tilted forward at a ridiculous angle, preventing you from leaning your head back at all. It was a long night, and always, part of the adventure. That’s what I tell myself, anyways.

Day 1 – Saturday May 21st, 2016

Miles Hiked – 11.49
Route – Parker Creek Trailhead to Edward Spring

a view of parker creek trailhead in the sierra ancha wilderness/tonto national forest

Parker Creek Trailhead

I couldn’t sleep and just woke up at 5am when the sun rose. I filled my water bladder, water bottles, ate breakfast, etc and finally got on the trail around 6:30am. The sun would barely have risen yet back home.

south fork parker creek water pools

Water above the dam on the South Fork Parker Creek

The Parker Creek trail starts climbing immediately after leaving the parking lot. The trail skirts the highway for a little while before the road turns west and the trail turns east up South Fork Park Creek. The trail here is a steady incline and runs alongside the creek, which appeared to be dry. Then, I came across a small dam which was channeling water somewhere. Above the little dam, there were small pools of water. Little did I know, this would be the most water I’d come across the rest of this hike.

hiking the parker creek trail in the sierra ancha wilderness

Parker Creek trail starting to climb

hiking across a scree slope in the sierra ancha wilderness along trail 160, parker creek

Scree slope along the Parker Creek trail

View from the Parker Creek trail below Carr Ridge in the sierra ancha wilderness

View from the Parker Creek trail below Carr Ridge

Past the dam is where the trail really starts to climb. But with the climb comes my first elevated views of the surrounding mountains. The trail crosses a scree slope for a few hundred feet, which provided some good views as well. In the distance, I could see the Four Peaks and Theodore Roosevelt Lake.

what the view from carr ridge looks like

At the saddle on Carr Ridge just north of point 6896. Not much of a view.

A view of coon creek canyon from trail 160

Coon Creek Canyon

There’s a couple of good views up along the Parker Creek trail, but once up on top of the saddle, there really isn’t much to see except trees. There’s a couple of campsites up here, but nothing special. I kept moving and dipped down into the next valley. Lots of green here, unlike my other Arizona hikes which have been at lower elevations. Very cool.

From here, I’m headed up Aztec Peak. The trail loses a bit of elevation as it makes it’s way past Mud Spring, which appeared to be dry. The trail splits off to Carr Trailhead or the Rim Trail. I’m headed towards Carr TH. The trail gains 400ft elevation and emerges into an even greener environment, full of lush grasses and trees.

hiking the trial up aztec peak tin the tonto national forest

a view of aztec peak from a green meadow

Aztec Peak in the distance

It’s a short road walk along a FR 487, a 4×4 road, before passing the Peterson trailhead. Eventually the trail heads back into the forest. It wasn’t long before the trail passes through a large open meadow that looked like it could have been Michigan, with grass that green. I was not expecting this in Arizona.

Hiking to aztec mountain

Next the trail passes through an area ravaged by fire and downed trees. There were a lot of large trees that requires maneuvering to get over. It looks like it’s been a while since this trail has seen any maintenance. But I could say the same thing about several stretches of trail in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness.

view form the trial up aztec peak

As the trail nears the top of Aztec Peak, the lack of trees make for some pretty good views. The last couple hundred feet up Aztec Peak were really nice.

aztec peak fire towe

The fire tower on top of Aztec Peak

view of the sierra ancha wilderness from the fire tower on top of aztec peak

View from the fire tower. The op level is blocked off

view of the four peaks and theodore roosevelet lake from the fire tower on aztec peak

Looking southwest towards the Four Peaks from the fire tower

On top of Aztec Peak, it was pretty windy and much cooler. I went up the fire tower only to find that the top level was inaccessible due to the hatch being locked. It was extremely windy up here, maybe 50-60 mph, so I only took a couple of pictures and headed down.

red rock cliff view from aztec peak

View from Aztec Peak

relaxing on aztec peak in the sierra ancha wilderness

aztec peak views

lone tree grows from the red rock cliffs of aztec peak in the sierra ancha wilderness

After that I went to check out the red rock cliff edges along the southeast side. This area was really cool. Long, distant views from a variety of comfortable seats on the rocks provided a great place to stop and eat lunch. At 7748′, this is the tallest point along my hike. I had 4G service up here too. If it weren’t so damn windy, it’d be a great place to camp too if it weren’t for the road that runs up here. FR 487 runs up to the top here and it looks like Aztec Peak gets a fair amount of use. There were two different vehicles that came and went while I was up here, along with a pack of ATV riders.

After finishing my food I headed down Aztec Peak along FR 487 for a short ways before jetting off onto the ridge that heads towards Murphy Peak. While hiking along FR 487, I was an object in the road. It was an iphone, 65% charged, with a cracked screen and very dusty. I bet it fell out of the pocket of one of those ATV riders that just passed through here only 10 minutes ago. I set the phone alongside the road, propped up against a rock, so it could be seen more easily if they come back to look for it.

looking south towards aztec peak

Looking back towards Aztec Peak

FR 487 takes s sharp, hairpin turn right where the ridge to Murphy Peak looked the most accessible. Judging by the beaten path out onto this ridge, I’m going the right way. I left the road behind and started my off trail adventure. The trail quickly faded away, but the terrain was pretty open and not to difficult to traverse besides some downed trees.

overlooking murphy ranch

Murphy Ranch below

a view of the sierra ancha wilderness from point 7662

View east from point 7662

view of the sierra ancha wilderness from point 7662

View northeast from point 7662

Next my route has me going up point 7662′. The approach from south/southeast is cliffs, so I worked my way around the more gentle southwest slope. Once on top, I had a pretty good view of Murphy Ranch from some interesting rocks. Some rocks were pitted, others looks like they had warts. Another section had light colored veins running through it. Really great views to the east from these cliffs.

thousands of white flowers on the ground below tall pine trees

Near Murphy Peak

The ridge I descended down Murphy Peak

I continue my hike north to Murphy Peak, the second tallest point on the hike at 7732′. It was pretty easy going up to the top, but trees obstructed the view. From here I headed down a ridgeline that will intersect trail 150. This section was steep but pretty manageable, then levels out. Before long I found trail 150 and was on my way down hill along the north side of Murphy Ranch.

I followed trail 150 a ways before leaving the trail and continuing in a straight line towards my destination, Edward Spring. This next off-trail section was among the two toughest challenges on this hike. The vegetation was thick and often thorny most of the way down, with steep slopes near the top.

hiking through thick vegetation in the sierra ancha wilderness

Just a taste what is was like off-trail between Murphy Ranch and Edward Spring

Just as the trail was getting steep, the vegetation was becoming impenetrable. I had to backtrack a little and find a way around the thick patches of trees, shrubs and bushes. I found a game trail that got me past one of the thickest spots, but quickly lost it. I found the best strategy to be to follow the faint little game trails where you can and just do your best in between the game trails, through the thick stuff. While dipping down into a small drainage along the way, I scared up an what I believe to be a bull elk, judging by the overall size of the animal and the size of it’s antlers. It wasn’t that far away, maybe 150 ft, but he bolted before I got a good look at him.

Off-trail between Murphy Ranch and Edward Spring

hiking off trail in the sierra ancha wilderness

Still off trail-between Murphy Ranch and Edward Spring

There were a lot of Manzanitas through some stretches, and along with the other plants they did some damage on me. My arms fared alright since I had a longsleeve shirt on, but my shins took the brunt of the damage despite having pants on. I wouldn’t recommend anyone following this route, unless you’re slightly crazy like me. It took me about 1.5 hours to go 1.6 miles off-trail.

upper pueblo canyon

Looking west into the upper Pueblo Canyon area

pueblo canyon overlook in the sierra ancha wilderness

Looking east into Pueblo Canyon

I was hot, hungry, thirsty and tired by the time I made it to trail 141, just a short distance from Edward Spring and some amazing overlooks above Pueblo Canyon. I first went to check out the views from the cliffs, and see where I could camp in close proximity to said views. I couldn’t find the proper pair of trees to hang my hammock from near the cliff’s edge, but only a short 2 minute walk back to my campsite closer to trail 141 will suffice. I found Edward Spring to be completely dry.

hammock hanging in the sierra ancha wilderness near edward spring

Camp near Edward Spring

After getting my hammock set up around 2:15pm, I took, a 45 min nap. Today was only supposed to be 8.9 miles or so, but ended up being 11.5 miles and 4000 feet of elevation gain. The route I draw out on the map, no matter how detailed I think it is, always seems to fall way short of the actual distance hiked that day.

view of pueblo canyon

Pueblo Canyon

After my nap I headed over to the cliff’s edge with some food and my camera. I explored along the edges for a while, looking for that perfect shot of Pueblo Canyon. I spent most of the afternoon just lounging around on the cliffs, enjoying the beautiful scenery and silence. It was cool to have such an amazing place all to myself, during what seemed like prime hiking weather. From what I can tell, this place doesn’t get a ton of backpackers.

Sunset at Pueblo Canyon

sierra ancha wilderness moon

After watching the sunset to complete an enjoyable evening I headed back to camp. I didn’t set up my tarp above the hammock since there’s no rain in the forecast for the foreseeable future, so tonight’s full moon lit up the sky throughout the night. I went to bed at 8pm, right after it got dark.

Day 2 – Sunday May 22nd, 2016

Miles Hiked – 13.19
Route – Edward Spring to Asbestos Point

a view of the sunrise over pueblo canyon

Sunrise over Pueblo Canyon

pueblo canyon sunrsie

I woke up at 5am today, and just barely caught the sunrise. I headed over to the cliffs overlooking Pueblo Canyon just as the sun peaked over the horizon. Really nice sunrise from this spot.

After getting my fill of pictures, I headed back to camp to finish packing. I snacked on a few items this morning, but didn’t want to eat a full breakfast until I know for sure I’ll have water from Cold Spring. I’m running low on water, having drank more than I expected yesterday.

Hiking in between Edward Spring and Cold Spring

Trail 141 was a little overgrown in spots but overall pretty easy to negotiate. The hike to Cold Spring was about 1.2 miles of easy walking.

Bones only a few feet from Cold Spring

a picture of cold spring in the sierra ancha wilderness

Cold Spring

Looking northeast down into Cold Spring Canyon from Cold Spring

When I reached the spring, I saw a pile of bones from a large animal a few feet from the water. As for the spring, I was pretty disappointed. It was a pool maybe 18″ in diameter and about 2 inches deep. I really should have brought my MSR Miniworks water filter so I could have filtered out the mud and debris a littler better. I brought my SteriPen Opti and Gatorade bottles instead. I ended up digging the pool out a little deeper to get my bottle mostly submerged, but of course, had to let the water settle first. It took a long time to filter this water. I chugging a liter now and filtered 5 more to finish out the hike, unless I come across more.

Hiking the Rim Trail

I left Cold Spring Canyon after getting my fill of water and continued on towards trail 139, the Rim Trail. My maps show the trail climbing out of Cold Spring Canyon more abruptly, but the trail I followed skirted the contour lines a little more. This stretch had been burnt in the past so maybe the trail was re-routed. It eventually intersects the Rim Trail which I continued south on.

There were occasional vistas along the Rim Trail but usually only where the trail traverses around the edges of canyons like Cold Spring Canyon, Devil’s Chasm, and some unnamed canyons. Of course, if you have the time and are willing it looked like there’d be some killer views from some of the ridges above these canyons but that would be all off-trail. Since I know I’ll be doing some serious bushwhacking this afternoon to get to Zimmerman Peak, I had to pass.

Sometimes the trail was well beaten and others it was practically non-existent. There were a couple spots along the Rim Trail where it got so faint that I lost it. I saw a couple of piles of bear crap through this area, and some were pretty large.

Finally, good views from the Rim Trail

The landscape changes a bit when the trail turns the corner into Coon Creek Canyon as it’s a south facing slope. Here, there’s more cacti and shrubs vs pine trees. At least the trail now skirts the edge of the cliffs more and there is more to see. The last couple of miles were a little dull to be honest.

rattlesnake on the hiking trail

Almost stepped on this rattlesnake before he moved under that shrub

With the new environment come new dangers. I came within 3 feet of stepping on a rattlesnake. It was in the sunlight in the middle of the trail, but just beyond a small patch of shrubs obstructing my view of the ground. 2 minutes ago, I was just thinking about how I had somehow never seen a rattlesnake yet on any of my hikes, no joke! And now here I am looking at one. There was cliffs on one side and dense shrubs and thorn bushes on the other wise, so it was hard to get around him. I quickly moved past when he had his head turned the other way, as he tried to move aside as well. I made it past him, but coming so close prompted the tell-tall rattle sound.  Cool, but now I need to really watch out for those guys.

Coon Creek Canyon

Eventually I hit the Parker Creek Trail (160) where i had passed through yesterday, but went up to Carr TH from here. This next .65 mile section to the top of Carr Ridge is the only part of trail I’ll be repeating along this figure 8 style loop. It was almost noon now and I was getting warm in the sun.

Soon enough I was at the top and took a break in the shade. I ate a little food too but not much. Like I often complain about, I wasn’t hungry when I really should have been.

hiking off trail on carr ridge

Carr Ridge

After lunch, from here on out it’s all off-trail. I heading in a southerly general direction down the Carr Ridgeline to Zimmerman Peak. I’ve been told there’s some wicked patches of Manzanitas near Zimmerman, but so far the terrain is pretty open with only large, well spaced pines to worry about. As I go farther south, the pines thin out a little and there’s other types of vegetation to contend with, but it’s still easy going. The first 1.5 miles or so was not an issue at all. There’s remnants of a barbed wire fence that runs along the very top of this ridgeline, which just so happens to follow almost the exact path of the route I drew at home based on the topography. How convenient, this made a great marker to follow when needed. Between this and the game trails that weave around the pockets of vegetation, it’s not too hard to make your way through here.

carr ridge views to the south

Looking south

The closer I get to Zimmerman, the more difficult it becomes. There’s beginning to be some really great views as well. I didn’t take as many pictures as I’d like’d to have through here.

off trial hiking through manzanitas bushes in arizona

Wading through manzanitas

Near point 6936 is where the going got really tough. The manzanitas were so thick it was crazy. Instead of going up the ridgeline and over the summit of point 6936 I found it easier to skirt the western hillside. However, once I emerged south of point 6936 the manzanitas became even worse. There was a sea of them all down this ridgeline as far as I could see, and no game trails running through them. Also, they were swarming with bees on the little flowers, so I had to wade through bees as well. This was one of the most difficult sections of the hike. My legs and shins were taking a a real beating.

panoramic photo of the sierra ancha wilderness from zimmerman peak

Looking northeast

After much effort and lots of cuts and scrapes I made it down the ridgeline below point 6936. It was a little easier going up this next hill, the last one before Zimmerman Peak. Closer to the top of this hill, I saw another rattlesnake. I spotted this one a little farther away, but it was essentially head level since I was going uphill. Not a good place to be. I gave this one some room and went around it.

view from zimmerman peak of asbestos point, four peaks and theodore roosevelt lake

View southwest from Zimmerman

view from zimmerman peak

When I reached Zimmerman Peak I was rewarded with some really awesome views. I stopped for a while to rest, take pictures and look for a spot to camp, if that was even going to be possible.

After a little searching I determined that it was probably not possible to hang my hammock up here. Bummer I guess, but I didn’t really want to have to do any more off-trail hiking tomorrow morning if I can get it out of the way today. So, down to Asbestos Point.

asbetsos point ridgeiline

View of the ridgeline that leads to Asbestos Point. It looks much easier from this angle

looking at asbestos point

Asbestos Point

The first bit of trail down Zimmerman Peak was the steepest. This part leads down to Zimmerman Point, then down the final ridge to Asbestos Point. That same barbed wire fence is still running down the center of this ridgeline and continues to be a good marker to follow. Eventually I hit FR-489, the 4×4 road that runs up here to Asbestos Point. After what I just hiked through it’s hard to believe there’s a road near here. I followed it a few hundred yards up to the top of the ridgeline leading up to Asbestos Point.

asbestos point hammock hang campsite

Campsite near Asbestos Point

Now I could look for a place to camp. There’s more pine trees here to hang from, but I’m not seeing the right trees that will give me a view from my hammock. That’s alright though, because it’s still pretty windy and I’d rather have some cover. I found a spot that fit my needs not too far away, and just a short walk from some great views to the south. It was about 4pm now.

old bulldozer at abandoned asbestos mine

After getting camp setup, I hopped in the hammock to relax for 20 minutes. Afterwards I headed over to the area where they used to mine for asbestos along the cliff’s edge. There were a lot of mosquitoes out though and I had to put on my headnet. There was an old bulldozer sitting at the end of the road near the edge of the cliff, as well as numerous other mining artifacts laying around.

entrance to an asbestos mine in the tonto national forest

Asbestos mine entrance

photos of an asbestos mine

Inside the asbestos mine

an old bed inside an asbestos mine

exploring inside an old asbestos mine

The sides of the cliffs had several mine entrances exposed and uncovered. They probably figured that the fact that it’s an asbestos mine will keep people out. Wrong! I went in a couple of them a short ways, just to get a peek. I was careful not to kick up any dust, took a few pictures and headed out. Check that one of the bucket list.

After making my way around the mountain and it’s mines, I headed back to camp to finally eat some dinner. It would have been really nice to have a fire and heat up my bacon cheese pita sandwich thing, but I didn’t want to go through the trouble just for this sandwich, when it’s windy and dry out and I don’t even need the warmth. I ate almost two of those but didn’t have a great deal of water left. Now it’s ration mode until I get back to the car in about 15 hours. I think I had about a half liter left by the time I went to bed later tonight.

tonto national forest sunset

asbestos point sunset arizona

sunset from asbestos point

After dinner I headed back towards the cliffs edge for the sunset. It would have been much better up on Zimmerman, but that wasn’t in the cards. I took some pictures and enjoyed the sunset as my final night here comes to an end. Dead tired, I headed back to camp to get some rest.

 

Day 3 – Monday May 23rd, 2016

Miles Hiked – 4.51
Route – Asbestos Point to Parker Creek Trailhead

asbestos point sunrise

Sunrise from Asbestos Point

The wind died down last night and it ended up being pretty calm. I slept pretty good. Once again, I was up at 5am to catch the sunrise.

After packing up camp and barely eating anything for breakfast I headed out. Today should be an easy hike, mostly downhill along FR-489 and then a short road walk back to my car at Parker Creek Trailhead.

fr-489 4x4 road up to asbestos point

Not even close to the worst of what this road was like

At first, the road looks alright. Eventually though, this thing had ruts like 3 feet deep. I mean, no problem for me, I can just walk around them. But driving up this road seems insane. I wonder how much use this road gets. I know people make it up to Asbestos Point and camp, there’s plenty of toilet paper up there to prove it unfortunately.

Going down this road was uneventful and fast. Fine with me a I have a plane to catch this afternoon. I passed Pocket Spring on the way down which I could hear running water from, but I didn’t go to check it out. Farther down, Parker Creek was flowing closer to hwy 288.

Where FR-489 dumps out into hwy 288

When I did finally reach hwy 288, I had a 1.33 mile road walk north to my car. The first thing I did when I got into my car was chug water from the extra 1.5 gallons I had sitting in there. After changing clothes I was on my way back to Phoenix to catch my plane.

 

Final Thoughts

It was great to get out and do this hike, I really needed to get away. I’m hoping this will be just the start of a busy summer, my favorite time of year. It was awesome to visit Arizona when things are in bloom and a little greener. This was my 4th trip to Arizona but my first outside of January and March when things are a little more brown.

I was pretty tired from this hike but on the other hand, I only had 1 week to prepare for it. Considering that, I think I did pretty good physically. The first day had 4000 feet of elevation gain, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I did lose 7 pounds on this hike in just 4 days, but I’m kinda getting used to that. I am going to look into appetite stimulants and see if that’s something that can help me get more food in my body during these hikes.

The Sierra Ancha Wilderness, and surrounding Tonto National Forest, has some awesome views. In my situation, being solo, only a loop hike would work for me. I could have put together a much better route if a point-to-point was an option.

The off-trail sections of this hike were pretty tough at times. Sometimes I wonder why I choose to do this stuff, when I’m poked, cut, bruised and battered from bushwhacking through all that madness. Somehow, the harder a hike is for me the more rewarding it feels I guess. And that’s one of the things that can be hard about hiking solo sometimes. Nobody else will ever truly know what you went through, what you saw and how you felt, despite your best efforts to describe it with words or pictures. It can be a powerfully motivating experience though, revitalizing the mind and soul. I’m ready for my big summer hike… I just need to figure out where!

cuts and bruises on legs from off trail hiking

Damage done from off-trail hiking

 

 

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.

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Big Bend National Park 7 Day Hike – Jan 2016

big bend national park south rim sunset from se2

View All Big Bend National Park Photos |  Big Bend Hike HD Video on Youtube

  • Location – Big Bend National Park, Texas
  • Fees and Permits: $12 for backcountry permits. $25 to enter the park. $14/night in the developed campgrounds.
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 7 days, 6 nights (plus 2 days in the park before the hike)
  • Miles Hiked – 85
  • Trail Type – Point-to-point
  • Starting Trailhead – Sotol Overlook (parking near Homer Wilson Ranch Overlook)
  • Ending Trailhead – Chisos Mountain Lodge
  • Route Difficulty – 7.5/10
  • Fires Allowed – No
  • Solitude – 9.5 everywhere but near the Chisos Mountains, where solitude is a 2
  • Scenic Beauty – 8.5

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Maps For Big Bend National Park

My main navigation tool is my Garmin Oregon 450 GPS. I am using the Garmin 24k National Parks Central map set. I also carried a printed 24k topo map for each individual day of hiking from my maps on caltopo.com, which are shown below. From those caltopo maps, if you follow the link to the full map in the upper right corner, you can print out the maps for yourself.

official map of big bend national park in texas

Map of Big Bend National Park with hiking trails, roads, campgrounds, etc

Below is a caltopo map showing my completed hike with my waypoints(click the link in the upper right corner to go to the full map):

Below is a caltopo map I created to plan this hike(click the link in the upper right corner to go to the full map):

About Big bend National Park

Big Bend National Park covers over 800,000 acres, making it the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the US. It contains more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. The park, particularly the Chisos Mountains region, is home to a small but very active population of mountain lions and black bears. It is estimated that there are only around two dozen mountain lions and 25-30 black bears in the park, but sightings are somewhat common.

Before 1535, there was evidence of several Indian groups inhabiting the region. The Chisos Indians and the Jumana Indians were two of the prominent tribes in the area, and records indicate they may have been enemies. Early in the 18th century, the Mescalero Apaches had overtaken the area and displaced the Chisos. One of the last Native American tribes to use the region was the Comanches, as part of their periodic raids into the interior of Mexico until the mid 19th century.

In 1933, the Texas Legislature passed legislation to establish Texas Canyons State Park. Later that year, the park was redesignated Big Bend State Park. In 1935, the United States Congress passed legislation that would enable the acquisition of the land for a national park. The State of Texas deeded the land that it had acquired to the federal government, and on June 12, 1944, Big Bend National Park became a reality. The park opened to visitors on July 1, 1944.

The geology of Big Bend National Park is really interesting. Here, you have mountains next to desert, next to a river. Much of the landscape as we know it today was formed only recently in geological terms due to volcanic activity, erosion and a variety of fault lines. However, at one point the entire region was the bottom of an ancient sea. The NPS site says it best… “The abundance, diversity and complexity of visible rock outcrops is staggering, especially to first-time observers”. How true. It seems around almost any corner you turn in Big Bend, things look completely different.

Travel Day/Pre Hike Day 1 – Saturday January 9th, 2016

My buddy Ryan and I flew into Midland/Odessa airport on Saturday January 9th. From there, we rented a car and hit up a local grocery store for food and supplies for the next day and a half before we start the hike, as well as some last minute food items for the hike itself. We then stopped at a sporting goods store to get fuel for Ran’s stove, and then we were off towards Big Bend National Park, roughly a 3 hour drive to the park’s entrance.

As we left Midland, we saw a sign for a Meteor Crater impact site. Wow, that’ sounds cool, we thought. I remember seeing the sign now from the last time I went to Big Bend, but we didn’t have time to stop. Well, this time we went for it. And it was only a 5 minute drive off the main highway! But our excitement quickly faded when we arrived. There was a small building that acted like a museum for the meteor beside the impact area, which was rather small and unimpressive. Neither Ryan or myself took a picture. We walked into the little building and immediately the guy behind the counter literally shouted “Please sign in!”, then went back to whatever he was doing. The actual meteor was sitting there in a case, which was sort of neat. I believe it was something like 195 pounds, and the size of maybe 2 basketballs. We got out of there pretty quick and made some jokes about how we should just skip the Big Bend trip and stay here at the meteor crater site the whole time.

We made the drive through Ft Stockton and then continued down hwy 385 to Marathon. Last gas station til we hit the park. A few miles south of the city of Marathon is the border patrol checkpoint. But they only stop you going north, so we just drove right through. We had our first javalina sighting after passing the checkpoint but before reaching the park as it ran across the road.

Once you hit the park entrance, it’s still a really long drive to get anywhere in Big Bend. Your GPS might tell you it’s a 3+ hour drive, and with the 75 and 80 mph speed limits most of the way, that’s really feasible. But After entering the park, it’s 26 miles just to Panther Junction. From Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village, where we’ll be staying for the night, it’s another 20 miles. At the posted speed limit of 45 throughout the park, that would take quite a while. However, most people seem to drive a bit faster which just makes sense given the open land here.

We arrived in Rio Grande Village with just enough time to set up our tents before the sun started setting. We walked around the campground for a bit before finding the Nature Trail. We followed this out to a bend in the river with a good sized hill in the middle for a view of the surrounding area. During sunset, the Sierra del Carmen mountains behind the town of Boquillas, Mexico are illuminated quite nicely.

Sunset illuminating the Sierra Del Carmen mountains just behind the village of Boquillas, Mexico as seen from an overlook in Rio Grande Village, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Sunset illuminating the Sierra Del Carmen mountains

View of the Rio Grande River from and overlook in Rio Grande Village

The Rio Grande

We came back to camp and settled in for a cold night. Lows were in the 20s this evening. We did cook a couple of steaks over the charcoal grill though, so there was at least some warmth there.

Pre-hike Day 2 – Sunday January 10th, 2016

 

It was a cold night, and we both had some frost to contend with inside our tents this morning. As soon as I awoke I hurried over to the spot we watched the sunset from last night to catch the sunrise. There was a low mist over the Rio Grande which made for some nice photos. There were a few javalinas rooting around near the banks of the river as well.

mist over the rio grande river during sunrise with the chisos mountains in the background

Chisos Mountains in the distance

the rio grande river in big bend national park with the village of boquillas mexico in the backgorund

Boquillas, Mexico in the distance on the other side of the Rio

looking into mexico from an overlook in rio grande village

The view of Mexico looks desolate and beautiful

crane in the rio grande village area

After we packed up our camp and had some breakfast, we headed down to the border crossing at Boquillas. The town of Boquillas lies on the other side of the Rio Grande across from the Rio Grande Village area. The crossing was closed after 9/11 and just now reopen a few years ago. Here, you can cross the Rio by row boat into Mexico for $5, or you can literally walk across. When we visited though, the water was chest high and 40°F so the row boat sounded like the more sane option. Under the right conditions it would have been cool to just walk across back into the US. To secure the row boat ride, you just flag down one of the guys on the other wide of the river and they’ll row across and pick you up. Once in Mexico, you can rent a donkey or get a truck ride into town, hire a guide, or just go it alone on foot as we did. It’s only about a 10 minute walk to town.

waiting for the ferry at the boquillas border crossing

boquillas border crossing ferry ride is a row boat

This is the official “ferry ride” across the Rio Grande at the Boquillas border crossing

view of a donkey next to a row boat upon entering boquillas, mexico

Welcome to Mexico.

Once in town, we stopped at the immigration office (a white trailer) to get our passports stamped and fill out a form. When leaving to go back to the US, we must remember to come back here and return the stub that came with the form we just filled out. After leaving the immigration office we saw a couple of soldiers (who just looked like young kids) walking down the street with automatic weapons in camouflage. They were talking with the towns people and seemed friendly, but we didn’t get too clsoe. We popped into Falcon’s restaurant for a bit and inquired about getting to Boquillas Canyon, and returning for lunch later. The lady there spoke good english and gave us good information on how best to get to the canyon and what we can do with a half day here.

In the town of Boquillas, Mexico

In the town of Boquillas, Mexico

falcons restaurant overlook in boquillas mexico

At the overlook at Falcon’s Restaurant

After leaving Boquillas and headed towards the canyon, we saw a couple of dogs eating a mule(?) carcass along side the road. Mmm, that’s all you buddy.

hiking towards boquillas canyon in mexico

Walking the road out of town towards Boquillas Canyon

dog defending it's mule carcass outside of boquillas, mexico

This dog did not want to share it’s meal with us

We pretty much just followed the river there. The walk was nice but a bit longer than we were expecting. Once we got to Boquillas Canyon, there were a couple of older guys sitting around by the bank, probably waiting for tourists like us. He asked if we wanted to see the crystal cave, which the lady at Falcon’s told us about. We said sure and let him take us to it. It’s a good thing too because we probably wouldn’t have found it on our own. It was cool to see but we were both expecting something a bit larger, like something you can walk inside. This was more like a big crystal pocket exposed on the outside of a huge boulder.

rio grande river bend

Large bend in the Rio

walking along the rio grande river in mexico towards boquillas canyon

Walk along the Rio towards Boquillas Canyon

the mouth of Boquillas Canyon in mexico

Entering Boquillas Canyon

boquillas canyon crystal cave

This is the crystal cave located near the mouth of Boquillas Canyon

standing along the rio grande river in boquillas canyon, mexico

Me in Boquillas Canyon

We got a few pictures down by the river in the canyon before heading back to town. We were told there is a road to follow that is quicker than taking the river back and we did locate that road. After a while though, the road started veering off and looking like it was going out of the way. At this point we just needed to cross some open desert and a sand dunes area to get back to the main road out of town, which we did.

hiking back to boquillas across open desert terrain

Crossing open desert back to Boquillas

Back in town, we stopped at Falcon’s for lunch. After that we headed down to the immigration office to return our stubs and then back down to the Rio. We got our row boat ride back onto American soil and then it’s back through the US border crossing facility. The process for reentry was basically this: go to this booth, scan your passport, pick up the phone (there is a camera on you recording), talk to the immigration officer on the phone and answer questions. For me, they asked “Are you an American citizen”? Yes. “Are you declaring anything”? No. “Have a good day sir.” And we were on our way.

road back into boquillas

Back to Boquillas

crossing the rio grande river legally in a row boat

Crossing back into the US

Now mid afternoon, we headed to Panther Junction visitor center to get our backcountry permits for the hike. After some printing errors we were issued a permit and now had a couple of hours to kill before sundown. Tonight we’ll be camping in the Chisos Basin, but for now we decided to hit the road and drive around the park a bit. From Panther Junction, we headed towards Study Butte. We drove about 13 miles before turning onto the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Lots to see through here and a great way to spend some time.

road to the chisos mountains in big bend national park

The Chisos Mountains

views from the scenic drive in big bend national park

views along the ross maxwell scenic drive in big bend

Views along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

walking along a ridge of volcanic ash in big bend national park

Once the sun started to dip we headed back to the Chisos Basin. By the time we got to camp it was dark, and we still had to set up our tents and get some gear together for the hike tomorrow. After getting the tents up we decided to just get dinner at the Chisos Mountain Lodge restaurant. Neither one of us wanted to sit around forever cooking food in the dark over the charcoal like we did last night, and this was probably the best decision we made today. After coming back from dinner we started topping off our camera batteries before heading too bed. Tomorrow, we hike!

Day 1 – Monday January 11th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 9.37
Route – Sotol Overlook to Smoky Spring

I always have great intentions for the first day but somehow it always seems impossible to stay on schedule. We got up around 7am and proceeded to cook breakfast while getting a jump on the rest of our food preparation and gear packing. I still had to make my dinners and lunches for the hike; since I’ll be eating salami and pepperoni wraps for dinners, I figured I’d wait until this morning to make them.

The plan for today is to drop down into the Blue Creek wash from our starting point and hike off trail through a canyon east of Goat Mountain towards Mule Ears, over to Mule Ears Spring and then over to Smoky Spring to camp for the evening.

We finally got to our starting point at Sotol Overlook and started hiking at 10:30am. We had planned on starting from the Homer Wilson ranch, but it just has parking along side the road here. Only a few hundred yards down the road (south) of Homer Wilson is the Sotol Overlook which has a better parking area and a bathroom. We chose to park here and just head down the hillside here to get into the wash below. After all, today’s hike will all be off trail for the most part anyways, might as well just start now instead of walking down to Homer Wilson.

view of the road near sotol overlook in big bend national park

Looking back towards the Sotol Overlook where we parked

view of blue creek wash and homer wildso ranch

The Homer Wilson ranch down in Blue Creek Canyon

After descending the first hill from the road, we found ourselves in a wash. We followed this wash to another hill, over that and down into another wash. Already it was a bit difficult to tell which hill we needed to be on which side of as we searched for the right drainage to follow. And to make matters worse, there were a lot of thorn bushes to contend with here. I slipped and fell fairly early on into the hike and cut a small cut on the knee. Ryan also had a fall early on but without any major damage done.

big bend naiton park off trail hiking near homer wilson ranch

It wasn’t long before we were certain we had found the right wash to follow. Eventually our route led us to a point at which our path narrows and we enter a canyon. Our route today has us walking through the wash running between Goat Mountain and point 4358, which seems to  have no official name or trails on any of the maps. Then we hit our first pour off, and had to drop our packs for an 8ft down climb.

hiking through a canyon with red rocks in big bend

In the right canyon now

putting the backpack on again after climbing down a pour off in a canyon in big bend

Putting my pack on after climbing down a small pouroff

Sometimes the wash we be really easy to follow, with nice fine pebbles to walk on, and other times we found ourselves fighting with thick thorn bushes and climbing down small pouroffs. For now, the going was not bad overall. The geology of this area is really interesting and gave us much to look at as we passed through this canyon. The one thing we noticed pretty quickly is that there is a lot more signs of animals here than human. There were piles of bear crap every 50ft or so along much of this wash.

We took a break around noon. That’s one thing I know I don’t do enough of is stop, take my pack off, and have some food and re-hydrate. For me, I am always wanting to get to the destination as soon as possible for some reason. So, it’s nice to have someone with me to make me stop more. I know it’ll be best for me at the end of the day.

The walls of the canyon were becoming more varied now. Sometimes they were red, white or a dark blue/purple color with a quartz veins running through them. Really cool Stuff.

quartz veins running through rock in big bend national park

interesting rocks in big bend

There was another pouroff not too much farther up but this one we were able to find a walking route down without dropping our packs. Soon after we hit our first spring. Honestly, I don’t know the name of it, but there was some water here. There was even an old pipe running from the spring downstream, although the pipe was broken in half several feet away. I didn’t see any large pools for filtering though, and since we were pretty well stocked on water at the moment I didn’t look very hard either. This spring is located directly west of point 4358 and just southeast of Goat Mountain. There was an old dam here at one point.

red rock canyon pouroff in big bend

Ryan working his way down another pouroff

pouroff in a wash in big bend

Look back at another pouroff

a desert spring in big bend east of goat mountain

First spring, unknown name

Not much farther downstream from the spring we hit our first major obstacle, a huge pouroff of about 100+ ft. There was no way to down climb this one. Instead, we worked our way around the top of the high ground to our west. From here it looked like our route down was going down a ridge, but as we got closer it appeared a bit too steep and crumbly. Next we thought we’d follow the gully alongside this ridge down. This too was steep and treacherous. Eventually we stopped about midway down while Ryan dropped his pack to recon the lower portions of this gully. Near the bottom, he encountered another drop off of about 30ft making this way a no-go. Meanwhile, I started climbing up the crumbly ridge. Even though it was only a short ways up, it was precarious and gave up on the notion of using the ridge for a route down. Ryan then worked his way up the hillside from below. He spots a route out from the top, and he comes down to pick up his pack.

first major obstacle, a large pouroff

Standing at the top of a large pouroff, looking towards Mule Ears

looking back at a large pouroff ina canyon in big bend

Looks easy to work around this drop but it was not easy by any means

view of mule ears with soem badlands in the foreground

Mule Ears in the distance

looking for a safe route down a precarious gully in big bend

Ryan descending the gully, looking for a safe route down

After what seemed like a good amount of time, we finally found our way down off this high ground and back into the more manageable wash below. Now, it’s like we’re in the Badlands. Big Bend actually has a lot of Badlands areas scattered throughout the park, but I hadn’t really planned on encountering them here. I find these areas really interesting and very good for photography. Too bad the sun was straight ahead much of the afternoon, washing out many of my photos.

large pouroff in a canyon near mule ears in big bend

Looking back at what we had to work our way around

near goat mountain in big bend

Working our way down to the wash below

multi colored rock formation in big bend national park near mule ears

This was cool looking

We passed one interesting rock formation we dubbed “Camel Rock”. Pretty clearly a Camel, and to me as distinct if not more so than Boot Rock.

a view of camel rock in big bend national park, texas

We called this Camel Rock

By mid/late afternoon, Ryan’s pace had slowed considerably. He had tore his planters tendon last year and the rough, rocky terrain of today’s off trail hike was beginning to aggravate his foot. As we made our way through this badlands area, we had a hard time telling which way to go to reach Mule Ears Spring. We didn’t see any real trails running through here, although I did see my one and only footprint for the day (the next 3 days actually) in this area. Since we were good on water at the moment and had Dominguez Spring coming up tomorrow, we decided not to go to Mule Ears Spring and just head straight to our campsite near Smoky Spring.

hiking in big bend national aprk nbear mule ears and smoky creek trail

hiking near mule ears in big bend through a rocky canyon

Getting closer to the Mule Ears area

interesting rocks line a canyon in big bend

There was a network of washes running through the flatlands here as we had made it to the general Mule Ears area. However, the two trails on the map running through these washes don’t really help us now in terms of reaching our campsite near Smoky Spring, so we must walk a direct line across the open desert here towards Smoky. In the distance was a rock formation we thought looked like a marmot, and we headed for that as it was pretty much in the direction we needed to travel. Soon we were approaching the trail on the map running towards Smoky Spring. When we reached the area where the trail should be, it was so faint it might as well not even be considered a trail at all.

cool purple colored rocks in a wash in big bend national park

Look at those rocks!

hiking through a wash between mule ears and smoky spring

Hiking through a wash between Mule Ears and Smoky Spring. This may have been the Smoky Creek “trail”, which we were only on for a short ways. You’d never even know you were on a trail at all, as there were no cairns or signs. I did see ONE footprint somewhere near here.

hiking towards smokey spring in big bend national park

Approaching Smoky Spring

hiking near smoky spring

Getting closer to Smoky Spring

We set up camp in the general vicinity of Smoky Spring. We could see some water down in the gully containing the spring, but there was no easy way down from where we were, and since we were in no need of water tonight, neither of us made it down there for a closer look. There were some ruins nearby as well, above Smoky Spring and nearing the point where the canyon really starts narrowing.

prickly pear cacti surround old ruins near smoky spring in big bend

Ruins near Smoky Spring, surrounded by prickly pear cactus

view of our campsite in big bend national park near smoky spring

Our campsite near Smoky Spring

Sun set quickly after we reached camp and soon the stars were out and shining brightly. We were only a couple days into a new moon now so the sky was extremely dark after the moon dipped below the horizon. We saw a couple of shooting stars as we sat outside chatting. Around 7:30pm, we heard a raspy growl a few hundred yards away near the base of the mountains. I’ve never heard anything like that before. We both agreed it was a cat of some sort… bobcat or mountain lion. Great! We tossed a few rocks in that direction and continued to have our conversation, a bit more loudly now.

We discussed the state of Ryan’s feet, and ultimately he decided that tomorrow morning he’ll hike back to the road near the Mule Ears Overlook and hitch back to our car. Our first day was really rough on his feet and he decided that he did not want to find himself many miles from a road if anything really bad were to happen, such as tearing the planters tendon again. At this point we estimated that it would be about a 5 mile hike back to the Mule Ears Overlook tomorrow, if he could find the trail that we missed earlier today. We then made some plans for the remainder of our trip. I would be continuing on solo, and Ryan is going to try to meet me up on the South Rim for our last night. The thinking is that he’ll be rested by then and we would be closer to help if need be as well as have a more well maintained(less rocky) trail up into the Chisos.

Well that’s a bummer that I will have to hike the rest of this alone, but I am prepared to do so. Still, I can’t help but think of the overwhelming feeling of deja vu… my Wind River Range hike in 2014 where my buddy backed out on the morning of day 2 and said he’d join me on our last night. Hopefully this works out and he is able to join as planned, that would be a great way to finish out this hike.

After going to bed around 9:30 we heard that raspy growl again. Later that night, I heard something moving around in camp and I started making some noise. Ryan heard it too, in fact he said he heard something brush up against his tent as he awoke from my shouting. More than likely it was that mountain lion coming into our camp to check us out. We talked and made some noise for a while before finally falling back to sleep.

 

Day 2 – Tuesday January 12th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 13.39
Route – Smoky Spring to badlands north of Y Spring

After we heard the animal in camp last night, the remainder of the night was calm. It was a clear day when the sun rose over Mule Ears this morning. We packed up camp and by 9:15am we had said our goodbyes and parted ways. This, of course, is a very odd feeling given all the planning and preparation that we had put into this trip, but being flexible is the key to salvaging a hike like this. Ryan will have plenty to do around the park with the car, and should have no problem entertaining himself.

view of the sunrise over mule ears peaks in big bend

Sunrise over Mule Ears peaks

The plan for today is to go up Jack’s Pass, down to Dominguez Spring, and follow the Dominguez Spring Trail out into the open desert. At some point I will leave the trail and head southeast into the open desert towards a patch of badlands to camp for the evening.

After I left camp behind, the trail descended from the high ground into the wash below as the canyon narrowed further. At first, there were some patches of thorn bushes to work through, then the going was clear for a while. It started out sandy and not too rocky.

view of smoky spring in big bend national park

That’s Smoky Spring down there in the shadows

view looking east from smoky spring

Looking east from the high ground above Smoky Spring, where I’m headed

hiking the wash near smoky spring up jacks pass

The wash is easy going at first. This quickly changes

As I made my way through this new canyon I began to see more signs of bear once again, with more crap littering the trail. And when I say trail, really I just mean the wash. There is no clear trail through here, nor was there anywhere yesterday.

a pile of bear crap near smoky spring in big bend national park

Bear crap

view from the trail up jacks pass in big bend national park, tx

Looking back at the way I came, from Smoky Spring

the trail up to jacks pass in big bend np

The hike through here wasn’t terribly hard, but the ground was no longer small rocks and pebbles. Instead, I found larger rocks and thicker, thorny plants choking the walkway. It wasn’t a bad hike through here but at the same time it wasn’t as scenic as I was expecting. There were no cairns through this area, and so a couple of times I took the wrong wash before realizing my mistake and backtracking to the main wash.

sun illuminating one side of a canyon in big bend hiking up to jacks pass

Another view from the Jack’s Pass trail

prickly pear cactus in foreground with mountain peaks in background

Once I found myself at the base of the final push up Jack’s Pass, I could see an old fence line running up the mountainside. This fence line appeared to follow the best line up to the pass, and so I naturally followed said fence line. While not very technical, the climb up to Jack Pass from here was a little steep. Combined with all the cacti and thorn bushes, it was not a necessarily fun climb.

jack's pass trail base prickly pear cactus

Looking back the way I came from the base of the final push up to Jack’s Pass

looking up the final section of jacks pass trail

Final push up Jack’s Pass. Follow this fence line

I reached the top of Jack’s Pass around noon. First thing I did was stop and have a break. After getting my fill of food and water, I had to think about climbing up point 5168 or not. From the pass, everything but the first section is hidden from view. All I can see is a really steep path up the next hill.

view from jack's pass in big bend national park looking to the west

Looking west from Jack’s Pass

looking east/southeast from jack's pass in big bend national park

Looking east/southeast from Jack’s Pass. Dominguez Mountain on the left

After some debate I headed up to the top of that first steep hill to check things out. I decided not to go any further for a few reasons. Mainly, I wasn’t sure how much time I was going to have to get to camp later before sunset if I do this. I had to get water from Dominguez Spring below which was going to take some time, as well as just finding the spring. That, and the climb down Jack’s Pass looked really steep. I got some pictures from this point while I was here and decided to skip the summit of point 5168.

jacks pass high point looking west

Looking west, from the high point above Jack’s Pass

view of mule ears peaks with santa elena canyon in the disatnce

Mule Ears peaks, and Santa Elena Canyon in the distance

dominguez mountain viewed from jacks pass area

Looking east towards Dominguez Mountain

After returning to Jack’s Pass and retrieving my backpack, I headed down towards Dominguez Spring. This is one of those passes where you really can’t see the route down yet from the top because it’s just so damn steep. As I approach the edge, the landscape below slowly comes into view. Although there is a path to follow near the top, it quickly fades away leaving me to climb down any which way I see fit. This took quite a while getting down due to the steepness of the terrain and the cacti everywhere.

hiking down jacks pass

Coming down from Jack’s Pass

descending jacks pass to dominguez

That’s Jack’s Pass up there, where I came from

Once I was finally down off Jack’s Pass, I found myself in another wash. This is much easier to manage and heading in the direction of the spring. Although I was expecting to have to search a little harder for it, after a bit of walking I reached Dominguez Spring. Here there were several areas of water running over rocks and a couple of pools here and there. Lots and lots of bees buzzing around too.

dominguez fence line

near dominguez spring in big bend

Down in a wash now and looking for Dominguez Spring

a picture of water flowing over rocks from dominguez spring in big bend national park

Dominguez Spring

water flowing from dominguez spring in big bend

Water at Dominguez Spring

I have no idea about the flow rate of the spring, but I was able to filter 5L from here without any impact in the size of the pool. I left the spring around 3:15 or 3:30 after getting what I need. My map shows that the Dominguez Spring trail starts here (if you’re heading south like me), and it basically follows the wash out of the Dominguez Spring area and into the open desert. There were several washes flowing through here so it was hard to stay in the main one where the trail actually is, but they all run in the same basic direction.

hiking the dominguez spring trail

On the Dominguez Spring trail

looking south on the dominguez spring trail

Looking south from the Dominguez Spring trail

I was making great time now through these washes as I head south into the flatlands. I could see more bear crap again and even saw a nice distinct bear print.

bear prints near dominguez spring in big bend national park

Bear track

dried up washes in big bend national park

Still hiking the washes

big bend national park view along the dominguez spring trail

view from the dominguez spring trail

The sun was going to set soon and I needed to cover some miles while the moving is easy. There were less cacti here and the plant life was spread apart much more, making cross country travel a lot easier. As I walked through desert, I scared up several jack rabbits. Most of the time they take off long before you get near, other times you practically step on them before they decide it’s time to flee.

looking back at the Dominguez area big bend np

Looking back at the Dominguez area

open desert in big bend national aprk

Crossing open desert towards tonight’s camp

I had picked a spot on the map before heading out here to camp for the night, and now I could see that spot in the distance. Although it looked like a fine spot to camp, another area sparked my interest just south of that. It was another patch of Badlands, and it appeared to be a good spot to camp on the edge of. So, that’s where I’m heading. I reached that spot at around 5:30, just enough time to settle in before sundown.

looking for a campsite in big bend national park

Nearing camp for the night

I really like the area I chose to camp. While there’s not much time to explore now, tomorrow morning is shaping up to be quite interesting as I make my way through this unique and colorful area. The ground here was pretty flat and mostly free of large rocks. I did notice some rodent holes in the area but less animal tracks overall. With no wind, it was also ridiculously quiet here.

big bend badlands camp

Entering the badlands. Camping close to that thing tonight

campsite in big bend national park desert

camping in big bend national park desert

See the tent on the left? The coyote was in the wash on the right later this evening…

Right before I was going to get into my tent and go to sleep, I scanned the nearby area with my headlamp. At about 100yds, down in the nearest wash, I saw 2 eyes staring at me. I chucked a rock in that direction and the animal moved a little bit. I figure it was a coyote by the way it walked. Whatever it is, I didn’t want it hanging around camp tonight. I yelled at it and threw a few more rocks, and eventually chased it away from sight. With all the rodent holes in the area though, this is probably prime hunting ground for them.

Looking back at the day, and the hike as a whole for that matter, I wish I had chosen to hike through Fisk Canyon instead of going up over Jack’s Pass. I had debated about this for a while while planning this hike, and chose Jack’s Pass in favor of the high ground. Oh well, Fisk Canyon will have to be on another adventure.

Day 3 – Wednesday January 13th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 13.42
Route – Badlands north of Y Spring to Mariscal Canyon overlook

I did hear some coyotes howling last night but they were pretty far off in the distance. Otherwise I slept alright. It was 39° in my tent this morning, but each night has been getting a few degrees warmer since I’ve been here.

The plan for today is to head for the Rio Grande to the southeast, refill my water there, then head up the Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail to the Mariscal Canyon Overlook where I’ll camp for the night.

I broke camp around 8:15 this morning, heading off into the badlands. As the sun rose, the beautiful colors here began to show themselves. What an awesome and amazing place to find myself, and alone at that. This area is truly desolate looking and yet so intriguing. How could people not want to hike through here?

hiking through some badlands in big bend np

desert scenery in big bend national park

I quickly became keen to the idea of walking the spine of one of these ridges, and so I climbed up one. I walked along the ridge for a while, taking my time as I played with my camera and GoPro. I wish I had more time to spend here, but I also wanted to make sure I reach the Mariscal Canyon Overlook early enough so that there’s enough sunlight for some decent pictures there. And so, the need to move compels me to get a move on. I worked my way down the side of the ridge and down into the lowlands below.

colorful badlands in big bend national park

Hiking up a ridge

Big bend badlands

hiking along the badlands ridge in big bend

view of badlands inside big bend national park

badlands in big bend

More interesting landscapes in the lowlands below the ridge I was just walking along for a while. Eventually though, these formations end and the land transitions into open desert. Some of this is sandy, and other times it’s small rocks. Either way, very easy to move through compared to the mountains and canyons of the first day and a half.

badlands in big bend

big bend badlands photos

leaving the badlands behind in big bend national aprk

Looking back at the badlands, moving on…

looking back at the mountains

Now that mandatory contact with cacti and thorn bushes is a thing of the past, for now, I decided to zip my pants off into shorts. This felt great as it was getting rather warm today. Soon I was overlooking Y Spring, and as I was expecting there was no water in sight. There was a lot more green vegetation here though.

y spring in big bend national aprk

Overlooking Y Spring, which appeared to be dry

Later in the morning, I was walking along some ground which suddenly dropped away, leaving me standing at the top of a small plateau overlooking the wash in the lowlands below. Down in this wash I saw a coyote, right out in the open. He clearly saw and heard me. As quickly as I could, I swapped on my zoom lens. unfortunately, by the time I got it on and looked up, he was gone. I took a quick food break while I had my pack off and continued on my southeasterly path.

Big Bend Desert

i saw a coyote in this wash

Near where I saw the coyote

Not much of interest between the coyote and the Rio Grande along my route. I saw a bunch of horse tracks through this stretch, and a bunch more jack rabbits. After a couple miles of that I reached the dirt road that runs down to the Rio Grande at Talley around noon. I followed that road the rest of the way there and reached the Rio by around 1pm.

big bend chihuahuan desertview

Desert Terrain in Big bend

road to talley at the rio grande

The Road I was following to Talley for the last 3 miles to the Rio

There was nobody in sight at the Rio Grande. I kinda thought I’d see someone here. The banks are pretty high up above the river, and at Talley there is really only one spot where you can step down the bank and get to the water’s edge. I filtered 8L of water, and I had a liter already so I have 9L to get me though today, tomorrow, and late morning day 5. After filtering the water, I rinsed off in the river. I know it’s January, but for some reason I expected the water to be a little warmer. It was cold! But, it felt great to get clean. No chance of doing this again for the rest of the hike so I better take advantage of this now.

at talley in big bend national park, looking at the rio grande

View of the Rio Grande from Talley

filtering water from the rio grande

Just finished filtering some water

By 2:30 I was leaving the Rio and heading back up the dirt road 1/3 mile to the trailhead for the Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail. The trail starts off refreshingly well marked and very easy to follow. Something I hadn’t seen so far this trip.

sign at the mariscal canyon rim trail head

mariscal canyon rim trail beginning

The beginning of the Mariscal Canyon Rim trail

The landscape was very interesting through here, but unfortunately the sun washed out many of the good photo ops. The trail was relatively easy much of the way up, not too steep, until the last 700ft.

big bend mariscal canyon rim trail lowlands

mariscal canon trail

The trail up to the Mariscal Canyon overlook

view from the mariscal canyon rim trail going up

View From The Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail

Closer to the final push up the last 700ft, looking back the way I came

Closer to the final push up the last 700ft, looking back the way I came

The last push was the hardest, but then I found myself on the “top” of the canyon over looking the Rio. Wows, this was truly incredible! I was looking forward to this campsite tonight and the views did not disappoint.

First view of Mariscal Canyon

First view of Mariscal Canyon

Near Mariscal Canyon Rim

mariscal canyon overlook in big bend national park

View from the Mariscal Canyon overlook

After setting up my tent, I gathered my camera gear and headed off to the edges of the canyon to soak in the hard earned views. As soon as I reached the edge I noticed some Aoudads, or also known as Barbary sheep. These guys were introduced to the US(parts of Texas, New Mexico, California) sometime after WWII from Africa. And I’m actually looking at several of them now, moving along the steep cliff side below. This time, I was able to get my zoom lens on in time to snap a couple of photos before they scampered off out of sight.

aoudad sighting in big bend

Aoudad on the steep cliff side below the Mariscal Canyon overlook

aoudad, aka barbary sheep, sighting in big bend national park in mariscal cannyon

Cropped shot of one of the Aoudads

After the Aoudads left, I put the wide angle lens back on and tried my luck at photography here. Really though, this is one of those areas that’s just hard to accurately depict with a camera. You see what’s there, you can tell it’s pretty impressive, but you just can’t grasp the immensity of the landscape without being there. Plus, lighting is really tough here at this time of day.

view of the rio grande from the mariscal canyon overlook

You can see the Rio Grande below

I watched the sun set over Mexico and illuminate the Rio Grande. The entire landscape looks golden just as the sun sets. The rest of the evening was uneventful. It was very calm up here with no wind, thankfully, as it’s very exposed.

sun setting in mexico, view from the mariscal canyon rim

Watching the sunset behind the Rio Grande out into Mexico

mariscal canyon overlook campsite big bend national park

My campsite near the Mariscal Canyon overlook

orange sky behind tent mariscal canyon overlook big bend

Day 4- Thursday January 14th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 17.07
Route – Mariscal Canyon Overlook to campsite southeast of Elephant Tusk

I woke up at 7 this morning. I got some pretty crappy sleep last night for some reason, even though it wasn’t too cold or windy or anything. I just didn’t sleep well.

The plan for today is to hike the Mariscal Canyon Rim trail to the point where it meets the Cross Canyon trail. From here, I’ll continue north along the spine of the Mariscal Mountain range to the Mariscal Mine, and then head northwest towards the Elephant Tusk trail. I will follow the Elephant Tusk trail about 1.5 miles and make camp for the night.

I left camp around 8:15 this morning. As I continued along the Mariscal Canyon Rim trail I quickly realized there were no more views of the canyon. Before the trail leaves any hint of a view behind, I jumped off trail and over to the canyon’s edge for one last view. I’m glad I did because this picture might be my favorite from this area.

mariscal canyon rim best view

Much better view! I only wish I had more time to enjoy this beautiful vista

Back on the trail now, it was easy to follow and well marked with cairns. The trail continues to climb in elevation steadily for a while. Finally, I get to the top of the ridge and the rest of the ridgeline is coming into view.

mariscal canyon rim trail example

Easy going through here

mariscal mountain spine trail

Up on the ridgeline now, before the trail drops down via the Cross Canyon trail

After a couple of ups and downs I’m at the point where the Cross Canyon Trail wants to take me down off the Mariscal Mountains. From here, I’m on my own picking a route up this steep hillside to continue the walk along the spine of this range.

view of cross canyon trail from amriscal canyon rim trail in big bend

You can see the Cross Canyon trail running down the mountain side on the right. That’s where I’ll climb up that mountain to continue my route along the spine

After the initial climb up from the Cross Canyon trail, I was more or less on the spine now. The first section, before reaching the high point of Mariscal Mountain (3932′), was probably the most technical, but also probably the coolest part of the hike today. There’s a few areas that involved a little bit of scrambling, but nothing difficult at all and nothing that risky besides one or two steps along a knife edge section. There were a lot of false summits though on the way up to Mariscal Mountain, since it’s barely higher than the other points along this area of the ridge line. There is a USGS marker up here marking the summit. Fun fact… Mariscal Mountain is the southernmost peak in the Rockies.

View from mariscal mountain range spine

looking north along mariscal mountains in big bend

Looking north along the Mariscal Mountains

view of the rio grande from mariscal mountains

The Rio Grande down there, winding through the Chihuahuan Desert

walking the spine of big bend's mariscal mountain rrange

The spine of the Mariscal Mountains

Up on the spine of the Mariscal Mountains, the rocks were often extremely sharp. I did not want to fall on these rocks for fear of getting sliced up. On the flipside, they were great for gripping with my shoes. There were also a lot of interesting rocks along the way up here. Often times the ground just sparkled like crazy, and there’s piles of white/clearish crystals. Some had a tint of blue or green. Ah if I could only remember more from Geology class, I could put a name on them.

looking back behind me on the amriscal mountains

Looking back the way I came

interesting way rocks have eroded on the mariscal mountains in big bend

North of the Mariscal Mountain “summit”, it’s fairly easy going for a while while the elevation remains fairly flat, yet sloping downhill now. Around this time I got my first and only cactus thorn in the foot during my entire weeklong hike. I was wearing my Merrill Moab Ventilators for footwear, and had even considered wearing my Inov8 Roclite 315s. In the end, I chose the Moab Ventilators due to the extra beefiness of the shoe and figured that would be preferable in this rocky and stabby terrain. So far they have been pretty good for this hike. I removed my shoe to pull out the thorn and kept going.

on the amriscal mountains, north end, looking west

Looking northwest or so

west of the amriscals

Probably about 2/3 of the way through the Mariscal Mountains. The trail drops off this high ridge and transitions into a series of rolling hills and drainages

Probably about 2/3 of the way through the Mariscal Mountains. The trail drops off this high ridge and transitions into a series of rolling hills and drainages

After a while the terrain started to become less of a knife ridge and there were more side canyons running down the sides of the mountain. This makes for slightly harder route finding. Occasionally I’d find myself following the wrong gully and needed to either backtrack or just head up the nearest hill in order to maintain my bearing. I was also getting a little tired now as the direct sunlight was taking it’s toll. Not getting sunburnt, just a little tiring. There was no more than a few patches of shade all day today.

Pouroff In The Mariscal Mountains

pools of water in the mariscal mountains

Right before reaching the first views of the Mariscal Mine, there was one good sized hill I needed to traverse. I ran out of water in my bladder around this time. I had another 2L left but this needed to last me this evening and tomorrow morning until I reached the spring near Elephant Tusk. So basically, no more water until I reach camp tonight, unless I really need it.

After getting to the top of this hill, I dropped my pack in the shade. Finally, shade! After a few minutes I was on my way again. However, right after I started moving I slipped and fell on the loose rock, and cut my finger. Not terribly bad but I dropped my pack again to clean and bandage the wound.

Now I made my way through the Mariscal Mine area. All of the mine shafts have been closed off with grates to prevent entry. There were several buildings still standing, but I was running short on time and so I only snapped a few quick pictures and kept moving. Looks like an interesting area to explore more thoroughly.

nearing mariscal mine in big bend

Getting close to Mariscal mine

mariscal mine shaft entrance

First view of a mine shaft as I enter the Mariscal mine area

mariscal mine ruins

Ruins at the Mariscal Mine site

sierra del cermen mountains behind the mariscal mine ruins

The old road up to the mine petered out as I walked my last few steps on the Mariscal Mountain Range. Now on the desert floor again, I followed a road (I believe it was the River Road) for a very short ways while it was heading west. Once it turned south, I jumped off and headed north through the Fresno Creek wash. Once I get through the gap in the mountains ahead, I can start heading northwest towards Elephant Tusk.

Big Bend Desert Panaorma

cactus and yellow followws in the desert with mountains in background in big bend

Between Mariscal mine and the Elephant Tusk trailhead

cacti line a dried river bed in big bend

This next section was a huge network of washes. At first the going was easy. The terrain was open and vegetation was fairly sparse. Eventually, moving anywhere outside of the washes became a chore due to the thorn bushes, and yet, the washes themselves where lined with thick shrubbery as well. At one point I had a thorn bush blocking my path. I used my trekking pole to break one of the branches, and continued to whack at a second branch based on my initial success. However, this proved to be a mistake as my trekking pole simply snapped in half. I’m using Gossamer Gear LT4 poles, which are super light but this is now the second time I have broken one. Clearly, I was using the poles for another purpose they weren’t meant for, but I wasn’t hitting those branches that hard. Ah well, I can buy another replacement section for this pole but really, I am beginning to question the ability to use these poles on longer hikes due to their frailty.

Eventually I made my way through the wash and I could see a white truck parked in the distance. That’s the trailhead for Elephant Tusk I was looking for alongside Black Gap Road. At first I didn’t see anyone alongside the truck and figured they were out in the desert camping somewhere. But as I got closer, 3 guys stood up from behind the truck, startled by my presence. By this time it was 5:15, and they were probably not expecting to see anyone out here. “Hi, don’t mind me, random guy popping out of the desert” I said. They laughed, and we chatted for a few minutes. One guy seemed pretty knowledgeable about the park as he recognized just about everything along my route, and had possibly hiked through the same canyon west of Goat Mountain as I had on my first day. Before leaving, I asked if they had a liter of water they could spare, which they gladly supplied. That really helped and lifted my spirits a bit.

After leaving the ET trailhead behind, it was time to cover some distance before dark. There was a a defined trail to follow here, although faint in many spots. The landscape was pretty flat with small rocks and scrub, so walking was the easiest it had been all day. I covered another 1.5 miles before calling it quits for the day. I had about 15 minutes of daylight left to work with, and quickly got my tent up and situated around camp.

black gap rd elephant tusk trail area

About 1 mile from Black Gap Rd now along Elephant Tusk trail.

big bend campsite along elephant tusk trail in the desert

Night 4 campsite

I was pretty whooped by the end of today. Not much to do out here without a fire or anyone to talk to, so I was off to bed around 8:30.

 

Day 5 – Friday January 15th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 14.99
Route – Campsite southeast of Elephant Tusk to Juniper Canyon

I slept pretty good last night, which was a relief after the subpar sleep the night before. I probably heard more coyotes throughout the night here than anywhere else on this hike. Some were pretty far and others were closer, but none really close. It was a little warmer last night, around 45° when I woke up this morning at 7.

Morning Day 5

elephant tusk and backbone ridge in big bend national park illuminated by the sunrise

Elephant Tusk and Backbone Ridge

Today’s plan is to hike to the spring just east of Elephant Tusk and get water, then continue north on Elephant Tusk trail towards the Dodson trail. I will take the canyon northwest of Tortuga Mountain to the Dodson trail from the Elephant Tusk trail to shave off a little distance, and check out Adler Spring. Take the Dodson trail east to Juniper Canyon trail and head north, where I’ll camp in Juniper Canyon for the night.

After leaving camp, I found the trail to the base of Elephant Tusk to be pretty good. Easy to walk on, easy to follow.

lookest along elephant tusk trail at sunrise

Elephant Tusk trail, looking east

big bend national aprk backbone ridge and elephant tusk

As I near Elephant Tusk, the trail stays high up above the wash below. The spring isn’t that far away now but the trail is still high, and left me wondering if/when it will ever dip down into the canyon to meet this spring. The trail goes up and over a hill or two before crossing a side canyon that pours into the main wash below. I thought this side canyon was the trail now, since I saw no cairns or obvious route on the other side. So, I followed it down to the wash.

hiking along the elpehant tusk trail near the base of elephant tusk

The trail stays high along the slope along left side of this picture

view of elephant tusk spring from trail above

Elephant Spring and pools of water downstream

Took this little drainage down to Elephant Tusk Spring

Took this little drainage down to Elephant Tusk Spring

There was some really dense shrubbery through here and of course, it was pretty thorny. Once down in the main wash I was pretty sure this was not the correct route, but at the same time there was some water here and I knew the spring was in this area so it must be right. I kept walking upstream and saw some Cottonwood trees growing in the middle of the wash and knew this was Elephant Tusk spring.

Despite all the flourishing trees and greenery here, there were very little pools to actually filter from. In fact, the one I used was the only one I saw that was barely deep enough to dip a bottle into. It had a rocky bottom and so you couldn’t trench it deeper either. Downstream there were some larger pools but they looked more stagnant, and so I opted to draw my water from a spot nearest to the source. I chugged a liter and filtered 6 more. As I filtered my water, a small plane flew overhead. It was pretty low and seemed to come closer when it saw me, but didn’t make a second pass. I wonder if they were searching for a lost hiker or if it was an aerial tour or something. I tried to filter my water as quickly as possible as it was really cold in the shade.

in big bend national park, filtering water from elephant tusk spring

Filtering water at Elephant Tusk spring

Once I was ready to go, I headed north in the wash and just past the spring I saw some cairns heading uphill. I figured that must be the way out of here, and followed this trail. It went up a short ways before heading back south again, where I came from. I thought, maybe it’s taking me around an obstacle, let’s just see where it goes. Well, it went back to that side canyon I took down to the main wash. I had simply missed the cairn in the side canyon that marked the trail through here, and around all that terrible vegetation below in the wash. It’s all making sense now.

Now I’m back on the Elephant Tusk trail again, which is in the wash now. The trail winds through several canyons as it makes it way north. Sometimes the trail has you down in the wash, and other times it’s going up over a small hill to avoid obstacles. There are some cairns through here, but they aren’t huge and obvious sometimes, and so you really need to keep an eye out for them. I missed them a few times and had to go through some thick vegetation or climb up/down something to keep going forward.

hiking north of elephant tusk spring

North of Elephant Tusk spring

The most interesting feature of the Elephant Tusk trail for me was the some of the red rock in the washes and canyons. While not huge or anything, they were really colorful and just plain cool looking.

elephant tusk trail water flowing through red rock wash

narrow red rock canyon along elephant tusk trail in big bend national park

colorful rocks along the elephant tusk trail in big bend

Father north along the ET trail, the route has you out of the wash now and going up and over some larger hills. Here, I saw a couple of deer, my first on the hike. When I got up to the top of this first hill it was hard to find the trail again. It was on and off for a while, and rather annoying. I was expecting this trail to be pretty good since it was so well marked on the maps.

In the hills now along the elephant tusk trail

Farther north along the Elephant Tusk trail

view of south rim in big bend nation park from the elephant tusk trail

Looking north at the South Rim from the Elephant Tusk trail

South of the dodson trail on the elephant tusk trail

When it was time to leave the Elephant Tusk “trail” for the canyon with Adler spring, I wasn’t sure this was going to save me any time. It looked like it too had a lot of thick, thorny plants and I wondered if this was the right choice. I made the decision to go for it, trying to stick to my original plan where possible.

On the way to adler spring in big bend national park

water flwoing near adler spring in big bend national park

Near Adler spring

At first, this wash was not hard to walk though. After a little ways I began to see water. Lots of water, more than any other location I saw in the desert on this hike. I followed the water for a ways before reaching the spring itself.

Upstream of the spring, the vegetation became really thick and once again, a nightmare to walk through. Fortunately for me I was pretty close to the Dodson now, and only had to go another half mile or so. I fought with the thorn bushes for a while before just going up over some small hills to get me out of the wash.

Finally, I reached the Dodson at a rather nondescript junction around 3:15. This basically means that the rest of my hike will be on a legitimate trail system and will make covering ground that much easier.

a view of the junction of the dodson trail and adler spring trail in big bend national park

Standing on the Dodson trail, looking south at the wash I just came up from Adler Spring

view of the south rim while standing on the dodson trail in big bend national park

Looking up at the South Rim from the Dodson trail

This section of the Dodson trail, heading east towards Juniper Canyon, goes up and down a bunch of hills and doesn’t offer much for a view at first. No matter, I need to get some miles in today and this highway of a trail I had here was working great. After making it past a couple of hills, the peaks of Hayes Ridge and Crown Mountain begin to show themselves, marking the entrance to Juniper Canyon. That’s still a ways off in the distance though. I continued to haul ass.

dodson view of the south rim big bend

Another view of the South Rim from the Dodson trail

hiking east along the dodson trail near juniper canyon

Hiking the Dodson trail east

juniper canyon entrance big bend national park

The Dodson heading into Juniper Canyon

When I reached the end of the Dodson trail, where the Juniper Canyon trail starts and Juniper Road ends, there was one guy there camping. He was facing the other way, sitting in a chair reading a book. I said a quick “Hi” and kept going. A few minutes later, I saw another lone hiker coming down Juniper Canyon and out towards the Dodson trail. We exchanged a few words and moved on. Like me, he was probably more concerned with getting to and setting up camp tonight. Oh, and there’s more bear crap on the ground now, and it’s in much bigger piles. Bigger bears in the Chisos area due to the increased food supply.

hiking the juniper canyon trail towards crown mountain in big bend national park, tx

I made it to camp tonight around 5:15. Although there were a few sites right along the trail, I chose to go up over a small embankment alongside the trail and back a ways. The vegetation was pretty thick here but I found a spot that someone else had clearly used in the past, as there were some grasses matted down just big enough for a tent. Nice view too!

view of crown mountain beind a campsite in juniper canyon of big bend national park, texas

Camping in Juniper Canyon below Crown Mountain

campsite in juniper canyon

While setting up my tent I saw a deer about 100yds away, and scared him off pretty quickly. The sunset was nice tonight with a lot of reds in the sky.

red sky behind crown mountain in big bend national park

The wind started picking up a little after dark but I didn’t think too much of it. After midnight though, it could no longer be ignored. The tent shook wildly with every gust. Not ridiculous speeds, but probably 30+ mph. The sound of the wind howling as it approached was really loud and intimidating. For a couple of hours, the winds were much heavier and consistent. After about 5am, they died down a little and I was able to get some rest.

 

Day 6 – Saturday January 16th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 8+
Route – Juniper Canyon to South Sim, campsite SE2

I was really glad to get out of the tent this morning after a long night. It was still really windy this morning and very cold. The wind added some difficulty to packing up the tent and gear this morning.

My plan for today is to continue the hike up Juniper Canyon, over the pass and down into Boot Canyon. Here I will find and filter water, and then continue on up to the South Rim via the Northeast Rim trail. From here I will make my way around the rim to my reserved campsite at SE2. Hopefully, Ryan will make it out here today as we agreed to do back on the morning of day 2. However, the one thing we didn’t discuss is what the plan is if he does not show up at SE2. Tomorrow, would I hike back into the Chisos Basin as we planned to do if we did meet up today, or do I finish the hike as planned at the Homer Wilson Ranch/Sotol Overlook? Hopefully, he shows up and we don’t even have to cross that bridge.

It was really nice to start moving this morning. Mainly because I wanted to get out of the wind, and that I was cold from said wind. There were a few more campsites, and some pretty nice ones, along the way up in Juniper Canyon. Here, the trail is well groomed and really nice compared to what I had to work with the last few days. Down in the wash to the west, there’s tons of green trees now, and the trail is lined with tall grasses. Along with cacti, those never go away. But the point is, the landscape was changing.

view from the juniper canyon trail in big bend national park

hiking through juniper canyon

Juniper Canyon

I made good time going up Juniper Canyon. I stopped for one break along he way up for some food and water, although I was running a little short now. Just over a liter left, but that’ll get me to the pools in Boot Canyon no problem. After passing Upper Juniper Spring, I entered the switchbacks. Not as hard as I was expecting today to be but still quite a climb. I made it to the top of the little “pass” down into Boot Canyon at around 11:15, and was disappointed with the lack of view. Oh well, many awesome views to be had from the South Rim later today and tomorrow.

Juniper Canyon From Juniper Canyon Trail

View From Juniper Canyon Trail

Heading down into Boot Canyon was an abrupt change from windy, exposed side of the mountains in Juniper Canyon. Here, the trees were heartier and the grasses flourished. And yes, tons of cacti. It certainly had a different feel to it, and it was nice.

trail in boot canyon in big bend national park

Heading down into Boot Canyon

It’s a half mile hike down to the bottom of Boot Canyon where the hunt for water can begin. At the bottom, there’s a pool of some green water with a bunch of leaves in it. I’ll pass for now. I looked downstream a bit and didn’t see much, so I headed upstream. Here I saw my first person of the day, and person number 6 for the entire hike. But, that number was about to increase dramatically as my stay on the South Rim gets underway.

There was some pools of so-so looking water lower in the canyon, and some better looking water farther up. The problem is, the best looking water was frozen. I keep searching upstream and found some pools that got a little more sunlight then the others, and was able to get my water. I filtered 6L to last the remainder of the hike. Oh, and there was this rock with some moss growing in the shape of a heart. I can’t imagine that grew naturally like that, but maybe?

several pools of water in boot canyon, many are frozen

Pools of water in Boot Canyon

moss growing in the shape of a heart on a rock in the wilderness

where i filtered my drinking water from boot canyon

I filtered my water from this small pool in the shade

At this point I had traversed far enough up Boot Canyon where I should just continue this way up to the South Rim versus heading back down Boot Canyon and catching the Northeast Rim trail. Once you near the top of Boot Canyon and the South Rim appears, it’s an awesome feeling. For me, being up here last time on my Outer Mountain Loop hike in 2012, was the highlight of the trip. I walked up to the edge of the rim, and slowly the landscape below comes into view. So amazing.

upper boot canyon below the south rim

The very upper portions of Boot Canyon, just below the South Rim

view from the south rim in big bend national park chisos mountains

View form the South Rim, where the Boot Canyon trail ends

the south rim trail skirts the edge of the south rim in big bend national park

As much as I want to mess around by the rim’s edge, I hurried to camp. SE2 was empty and Ryan was not here. It’s 1pm now, so he’s still got some time. He ended up arriving at 1:30 and so the timing was pretty good. Of course, we had a lot to discuss as we got caught up with the happenings of each other’s week.

On the day we split up, Ryan ended up making it back to the road near Mule Ears Overlook without any foot issues, although he said the “trail” up and over Mule Ears to the spring was basically non existent. He thought he saw a faint trail but it was not worn enough to actually help him. He did not have the luxury of a GPS as I did, but I gave him the National Geographic Big Bend topo map so he had something, as well as the 24k topo map I printed that shows the Mule Ears and spring area from our first day. Once back at the road he hitched a ride back to our car at the Sotol Overlook.

Ryan camped at Cottonwood for a night or two while he explored the west side of the park. He visited Santa Elena Canyon, Tuff Canyon, Study Butte, and other areas. After this he moved over to the Chisos Basin campground where he explored the popular spots like The Window and the Lost Mine Trail. His feet were feeling better and so he was also able to climb Emory Peak one day as well.

After catching up a bit, we gathered our photography equipment and headed down to the edge of the rim to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. Having the time to simply mosey around the rim’s edge, climbing and exploring while taking pictures, was a real treat. The short days in the winter mean almost no time for anything else other than hiking unless you are willing to keep your miles down, which I typically have a hard time doing. So the fact that I had a couple of hours to kill up here in full day light and with the best view in the park meant I couldn’t be happier.

DSC05091

bird of prey big bend national park

The downside to being up here on the rim is all the people. We passed a boy scout troop of 30+ people, all in one group. That’s crazy to me that the park allows that. Good for those kids for getting out here but they had several adults with them and so I feel like they should be in groups no larger than 8. I’ve been other places where in terms of camping, group sizes were limited to the 8-10 range. Passing a group of 30+ kids makes me feel like I’m part of a school field trip and not a hike in the “wilderness”. I hope you are reading this, NPS. Besides the boy scout troop, there were tons and tons of people up here, but they were in normal groups of 1-3.

Not far from our campsite at SE2, we found a nice ledge near the edge of the rim to sit on and relax. We continued to talk about our experiences of the last few days as we photographed the vast landscape below. The rim drops off 200oft at the minimum compared to the high points below, and 3000ft relative to the desert floor. There’s nothing obstructing your view here and so the effect is quite dramatic.