Through the magic of Twitter and the Interwebz, I have found myself with the opportunity to attend the Gore-Tex Blogger Summit at the end of October. I’ll be there representing the awesome female outdoor blogger Sara over at rockclimbergirl.com (who will be off on a Nepalese adventure at that time – wanna switch?), as well as my readers over here at calipidder.com.
I’m really excited to meet other outdoor bloggers, as well as satisfy the gear nerd inside of me with a behind-the-scenes peek into Gore-Tex.
I have been asked to come prepared with questions from my readers. Do you have anything you want to know about Gore-Tex? I’ll kick things off with the main question on my mind: What differentiates Gore-Tex from the other waterproof breathable fabrics on the market?
Please comment if you have a question and I’ll bring it along with me at the end of October. I’ll post the answers as soon as I get ‘em!
Happy fall! Up until Saturday, I was still functioning in 100% summer mode – summer can’t quite possibly be over, right? Although I wasn’t really ready for it, on Friday we hopped in the truck and headed out to 395 to check out the colors. It was absolutely glorious and I insist that you all check it out NOW! I say NOW not because I think you don’t have anything else to do, but because the cold system that is coming in right now is bringing high winds along for the ride, and I’m afraid it may ruin the lovely show that the aspens are putting on.
So without further ado, here is a rundown of the places I got to check out. I have tons of raw photo data to process so it may be a while before most photos are posted, but these should give you an idea what you can see right now.
June Lake (update 9/26 and 9/28)
After driving out Friday night and crashing at Glass Creek campground, we started off on Saturday morning along the June Lake Loop. The aspens were still pretty much green, with occasional bursts of yellow. It was nothing too exciting, so after a few half-hearted photos in a greenish-yellow grove, we decided to fish Rush Creek instead. Today (Monday), when driving north along 395, I looked over towards the Loop and saw a blanket of orange on the hillside above Silver Lake. I don’t know if it was there on Saturday – might not be visible from the loop itself. Unfortunately, the time of day was horrible for light, so we didn’t stop to photograph the distant mountainside.
Rock Creek (update 9/26)
After the complete bust at June Lake (both colors and fish), we headed up Rock Creek. Here, the colors were much better. Still green in the lower groves, the colors started to pop as we worked our way up to Mosquito Flat. Bright yellows, oranges, and occasional blots of red lined the road and mountainsides. We parked at the trailhead and hiked through Little Lakes Valley all the way to Morgan Pass, but unfortunately the colors through here were brown and bland – if you want a pretty hike it’s great, but if you want fall colors, stick to the upper half of Rock Creek Road, between the middle campgrounds and the trailhead at Mosquito Flat.
Lake Sabrina and North Lake (Bishop Creek) (update 9/27)
They are both peaking right now. They will be done by next weekend, especially with the weather system that is currently coming through. Below the lakes (Aspendell), the trees are still fairly green, but I don’t know if they’ll have a chance to turn before being frozen/windblown. Go NOW! We spent about 6 hours Sunday morning at Sabrina – first when the colors were shaded and contrasty, and later as the sunlight made everything glow. The colors around the lakeshore and on the surrounding mountainsides made for some fantastic big-mountain photography, and also for some closer in, more intimate reflection shots. North Lake probably has the most variety – greens near the lake fade to deep reds above, making for some interesting reflection shots in the lake. It’s perfect – in case I didn’t mention it, go NOW!
(Note: I spent so much of the day up at Sabrina and North Lake, I didn’t get a chance to check out South Lake. Oh no!)
McGee Creek (update 9/28)
Although the area around Bishop Creek is absolutely beautiful in its peak right now, my favorite stop of the weekend was McGee Creek. After spying a streak of orange on the flanks of Mount Baldwin from 395, we headed up to the trailhead, grabbed our cameras, and threw on the daypacks. McGee Creek is a lovely and easy trail and as we strolled along the colors and views just got better. The aspens are in every phase up there – from bright green to deep orangey-red – and with the contrast of the unique bands of rock on Baldwin, there are breathtaking views to be had and photos to be taken. This is the canyon for the ‘big mountain’ photos – I made good use of my 18mm wide angle up here. Make sure to hit this one late morning – too early and you’ll have some annoying shadows to deal with, but too late and you’ll lose the contrast of the mountain’s colors.
It’s a great year for colors – I hope they hold on through this weather system. Go now and have a great time!
We continued with the ‘easy’ portion of our trip on the morning of Day 5 by turning off the John Muir Trail and heading up Piute Canyon to Humpreys Basin. About 10 miles long and with about 3000 feet of gain, it’s not terribly difficult by Sierra standards, but it was enough to keep us busy most of the day.
I had forgotten how much I enjoy the climb through Piute Canyon. It starts off steep and rocky, but the climb is bearable due to the wonderful Piute Creek running through the steep canyon. After a short distance of climbing the canyon opens and you climb up above the Creek with a view down into its gorge-like path. There is a wonderful spot to stop and rest where the creek passes by in small waterfalls, cascades, and pools. A short while after that the rocky trail begins to morph into a forest dirt path and the climb becomes more gradual – in fact, barely noticeable.
After passing through the unremarkable Hutchinson Meadow, there are only a short few miles remaining until Humpreys Basin. The trail steepens a bit as you climb close to the treeline. The first time I came through here I was a bit confused due to the disagreement between my map and my GPS. The map showed trails where none existed, as far as I could tell, and my GPS showed me off from where I expected the trail to be. Fortunately, Humpreys Basin is pretty wide open so it’s easy to get your bearing.
After sighting Lower Golden Trout Lake we cross-countried to the Upper Lake. There is no camping within 500 ft of Lower Golden Trout, but there are nice legal campsites at Upper GT if you know where to look. Note that the campsites on the small piece of land between the two lakes is not legal camping, even though there are lots of campsites there. We found a really nice site that overlooked the lake, gave us easy water access, but also was high enough to give us great sunset views as well.
After setting up camp around 3 pm, David and I took off with our fishing poles to circle the lake. The fishing was pretty good. I pulled out a couple of golden trout and tons of brookies. The teeny tiny fish really wanted to bite at this lake – I kept pulling out fish not much bigger than the lure. But we did both get some nice ones in between the eager little guys.
More than anything, I was looking forward to sunset from our camp. On a solo trip I camped at Upper Golden Trout in 2007 and at the time, smoke from the Zaca Fire in Santa Barbara had blown towards the Basin. It made for one of, if not the most, memorable sunset in my backpacking career.
While we (luckily) did not have smoke in the Basin to influence the sunset colors, it did not disappoint. We watched the light on Mount Humphreys change from white to orange to pink, and then we watched the horizon go through the most amazing transformation of colors. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I was really excited to see that my pictures pretty much came out, capturing how the sky was changing minute by minute.
After sunset we hit our tents with the plan to get up early the next morning. The hike from Upper Golden Trout to Piute Pass is pretty easy, with only a few hundred feet of gradual gain. From the Pass it’s a mere 5 miles back to the North Lake trailhead where we started from.
The morning was lovely – warmer than expected, and we got to watch sunrise on the distant peaks we could see from our campsite. We took off an were on our way out in no time, fresh food and showers on our mind. It was a nice and uneventful hike back to the trailhead, and upon arriving back at the car, we put the finishing touches on yet another successful Sierra outing.
Pictures from the hike up Piute Canyon and Upper Golden Trout Lake are here.
Pictures from the hike out over Piute Pass are here.
Finally, an easy day! Today was the day when our plans diverted from the original itinerary. Our original plan was to go offtrail from Sapphire Lake and head over McGee Pass and into McGee Lakes. Solitude and fishing in a beautiful location was the goal, but the weather and effort to get over Lamarck had worn us down a bit, and the snow/ice that had fallen in the higher terrain the previous day had us a bit concerned about any boulder-hopping and cross-country travel.
Instead, we decided to stick to trail and take it easy for the rest of the trip. We followed the John Muir Trail through Evolution Valley, down to the valley containing the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. Following the river gorge for a few miles, we found a nice campsite along the river (and before the crowds near the bridge where it joins Piute Canyon).
This entirely uneventful day only resulted in one real story. During our time in Evolution Basin we had encountered two different groups of JMT hikers who had complained about the same experience in Evolution Valley. The Valley is popular with packers, and both of these backpackers had experienced wandering, untied stock horses coming through their camps in the middle of the night. While at first that may not sound too bad, these horses had cow bells clanging noisily at 3 am, they tripped over tents, and crapped right in front of one guy’s tent. Not cool. So as we wandered through the Valley what did we hear? The clanging of cowbells. Sure enough, we came across a herd of stock horses wandering loose. To be fair, the horses looked far happier than they do when I encounter them with riders and hauling gear, but packers aren’t earning any bonus points with backpackers when causing that kind of trouble.
On Day 3 we awoke to cloudy skies, but fortunately it made for a wonderful sunrise over Darwin Bench and The Hermit. Our day included a lot of mileage, but less than two miles with a full pack on our back. After sunrise, breakfast, and packing up, we picked our way down the John Muir Trail, a mere few hundred feet and short scramble/use trail trek below our campsite. Upon connecting with the JMT Freeway we turned south towards Evolution Lake.
At Evolution Lake, we made our way to my favorite campsite area and set up under clearing blue skies. It was warm and sunny and the campsite was perfect, overlooking Evolution Valley. I’ve stayed here before and knew what we had ahead of us come sunset. After setting up an enjoying a break we reorganized ourselves for a long dayhike and took off for Muir Pass.
Muir Pass is at the head of Evolution Basin, about six miles from our campsite. It’s a nice and gentle hike through the Basin, and I was looking forward to going through in this direction having come through in the opposite direction in 2006. Above us, clouds and sun battled for dominance, but nothing looked especially threatening as we climbed – most of the clouds were too thin to turn into any kind of storms in a short period of time. My Sierra experience told me we had plenty of time to make the pass and get back towards camp before anything really happened. Yeah, I should have listened to that one little voice in the back of my head that said, “hey, it’s the Sierra, stupid. Anything can happen.”
The big day! I’ve been wanting to get over Lamarck Col for a long time. Typically used as a quick approach into the Evolution area of the Sierra, it’s not as trivial as going over an easy pass like Piute or Bishop but it does save quite a lot of mileage. There is an easy trail to follow that takes you right below the Col, but the last few hundred feet (and entire west slope) require some additional skills.
After the previous night’s rain, we woke to clear skies and dried out during breakfast. We followed the clear trail up past 11,000 feet, then 12,000 feet. I’m glad this was the last trip of the season – luckily my previous trips had me relatively acclimated, but I still found myself dragging once I hit my 11,000 ft wall. I’m sure it would have been much worse if it was my first trip of the season.
As we crested the trail into the last bowl, the Col appeared in front of us. There was much less snow than I expected, and it looked like our approach would pretty much avoid the white stuff. We were able to stick to easy gravel-covered cross country until a couple of hundred feet below the pass, then we were faced with some boulder hopping. Between the boulders, ice from the receding glacier snow made things a bit treacherous. We climbed through the boulders to the edge of the snow field, then had a short and safe snow crossing. On the other side of the snow, it was a steep gravelly chute – I would almost prefer soft snow. Just below the pass a trail reappeared and we were greeted at the Col by an imposing view into the Darwin Range and Canyon on the other side.
On the West side of the Col, things started off nice with an easy to follow trail. But after a couple of switchbacks it deteriorated and we were faced with picking our own way down the 1000 foot wall into Darwin Canyon. I learned that sticking to the gravel was the safest bet, but I still found myself hopping over quite a few boulders. It took us a long time to get down to the lakes in the Canyon, but it was an incredible experience with views I kept stopping to enjoy.
Once we made it down to the lakes we stopped to refill our water and take a break. Although we’d only gone about four miles, we were already pretty tired. We only had a mile and a half or so to go for the day, but it was a mile and a half of more boulder hopping. After a rest and some snacks we started picking our way along the shores of the Darwin Lakes. It was beautiful but we didn’t take a lot of time to stop and enjoy it since we noticed the storm clouds beginning to form again.
After passing through the bouldery lakeshores of Darwin Canyon, we found ourselves on Darwin Bench, one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in the Sierra. It started to sprinkle but the light rain didn’t detract from the scenery. We reached an unnamed lake on the bench and found a campsite with a perfect sunset and sunrise view. It felt so good to drop the pack – that was the longest six miles I’d hiked!
We still had plenty of daylight left so I grabbed my fishing pole. Once again, I had a bite on my first cast. This lake had the best fishing – almost every cast I pulled out a golden trout. The fish were beautiful! They were all pretty tiny but a couple were worth keeping, leading to a golden trout appetizer before dinner. I wandered the shores taking in the views and enjoying the solitude – we had the place to ourselves – until just before sunset. Eventually we set up camp and settled in for a wonderful sunset from our perfectly positioned kitchen perch.
When planning this trip I kept three things in mind for the first day: it’s a long drive to the trailhead from the Bay Area, I had to pick up my permit, and we’d be high for this trip. High in the altitude sense, of course. I’ve spent a lot of time above 10,000 feet this summer (including a summit of Mt Whitney), but you never want to push it on the first day.
The original plan for this trip would take us on a lollipop loop from North Lake (outside of Bishop), over Lamarck Col, into Darwin Canyon and Evolution Basin, then loop through McGee Canyon before heading back out via Lamarck Col. This is still a great itinerary, just not what we ended up doing. But I’ll save the details for the upcoming entries. The first day’s plan, due to the above three reasons, was a short 3-mile jaunt from the trailhead to Upper Lamarck Lake. And that’s the plan we stuck to. So far, so good.
Things didn’t start off smoothly due to the Big Meadow fire in Yosemite. 120 was closed so we weren’t able to make it to 395 that way. Instead we took 108. I actually prefer 108 in many ways, but it does add some time. Once we made it to the East side of the Sierra, had lunch, picked up our permits, bought my new pack, made it to the trailhead, and repacked all of my gear into the new pack, it was about 3:30. Oh, did I just say I bought a new pack? I committed a backpacking sin – I bought untested, brand new gear right before hitting the trail for a six day trip. Worse, it was the pack itself – a very important part of the kit! I know, you’re all shaking your heads and saying, “I thought she knew what she was doing…”
So this was a purchase I’ve been mulling over for some time, and the opportunity presented itself at Wilson’s East Side Sports in Bishop. They had the Osprey Exos 58 in my size, and after trying it on and confirming that it fit exactly like my other Osprey pack, I decided to pull the trigger. It’s bigger than my old Osprey Ariel, has a suspension system that fits and carries just as comfortably, and weighs under two pounds for the size small (half the weight of my Ariel). Best of all, my Bearikade actually fits in it with room to spare. Finding a lightweight pack that can carry a full bear canister comfortably is a difficult task – sure, they’ll fit in many packs, but they won’t feel good. I’ll gush more about this pack in a future blog entry, but to spare the suspense, it was a truly wonderful pack on the trail and I was very, very pleased with it.
Anyways, back to the trail. (I had to fill up this entry with something since we only hiked three miles this day). We started off under forming storms, but it was difficult to distinguish the difference between the smoke from the Yosemite and Southern California fires and the clouds. Climbing out of North lake was a pleasant and easy hike, and I decided I really liked this trail when it gave us early peeks into the high country. We also spotted some yellow in the aspens – fall will be here very soon. It wasn’t too long before we were at the Lower Lamarck Lake. Here we caught up with another hiker who was looking for a campsite. We crossed the outlet and continued to the Upper Lamarck Lake.
Apparently somewhere in here there is an equestrian trail that splits off to avoid the gnarly terrain, but we never found it and ended up hopping the boulders along the drainage in between the two lakes. It wasn’t a big deal, and before too long we found ourselves at Upper Lamarck Lake. I had some bad information about campsite locations, so we wandered aimlessly before coming back to the outlet creek to camp. After finding a delightful campsite we set up and fished the creek and lake for a while. On my first cast I pulled out a beautiful brook trout.
Back at camp, it started sprinkling just in time for dinner. We endured a small squall, and eventually retired to our tents, exausted from the long day of driving, purchasing gear, and hiking. We knew we had a big day in front of us the next day, but I tried not to think about it as I dozed off to the sound of rain on the tent.