On Monday morning we awoke to fresh snow covering the peaks that surround Eureka Valley. Clouds still hung around the ridges but they were slowly clearing out. While the guys picked up camp I took the opportunity to climb around the Eureka Dunes a bit. The overnight precip made the surface the perfect resistance for climbing up sand – instead of sinking I walked on the damp crust along the ridges until I crested a high point and found an amazing view stretching out in front of me.
After our lovely morning in camp we decided to visit the ruins of Crater and Last Chance Mines.
After wandering the ruins we followed a 4WD track up the ridge to the south. Parking just below the summit, we scrambled up the rocky ridge to the high point, Lead Peak. From the top we watched fighter jets from the nearby military facilities run laps through Eureka and Saline Valleys.
We ended our day east of the park outside of Goldfield, NV where we explored more ruins and set up camp at an old cabin with a view of the Sierra.
The next day was a resupply day in Beatty and Pahrump, but I still managed to squeeze in a short sunset hike up Rhodes Hill in southern Death Valley.
Arches National Park Continued! (read Part 1 here)
For our afternoon at Arches National Park we had decided to sign up for the Ranger-led tour of the Fiery Furnace, a complex labyrinth of deep and narrow canyons, arches, pinnacles, and fins. Though small enough for dayhikes, people aren’t allowed to enter the Fiery Furnace unless on one of these guided hikes or by obtaining a permit from the park.
From above it looks relatively harmless, much like the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. However, unlike Bryce’s developed paths there are no formal trails through the formations. It is clearly easy to become disoriented and lost. Although not usually our style, since it was our first visit we decided to go along on one of the guided hikes. It sounded fun – three hours of interpretive hiking and scrambling with a small group of other people. We arrived at the trailhead about half an hour early where we had a picnic lunch and met our friendly and knowledgeable young ranger and fellow hikers.
When you sign up for the hike they warn of the uneven terrain and scrambling along the route. No young children are allowed and they show pictures of some of the moves required. I scoffed a bit at it but once in there I was suitably impressed – it was real scrambling and definitely a step beyond what a typical hiker might be comfortable with. The problem was that there were a couple of people on our hike who, from the beginning, were clearly going to have problems with it and the ranger did not require them to turn back when they had the chance. These people needed a lot of coaching and hand holding and while the ranger did an excellent job getting them through the obstacles, the rest of the group had to take on a lot of the effort as well which detracted from the experience for everyone.
Anyways, back to the tour. It was really interesting and fun to follow a guide and not have to think about our route. The ranger took us through the maze of formations with appropriate discussions about the geology, biology, and history. I really had fun and highly recommend it. Unfortunately, due to the slower folks the tour went on much longer than it should have and we had to rush to make our final and most exciting destination – Delicate Arch at sunset.
Ever since we had decided to visit Arches I wanted to make sure we got to Delicate Arch, the most well-known formation in the park, for sunset. Throughout the afternoon we had watched threatening looking clouds shroud the sky and I was doubtful that we’d get that famous orange-red glow, but that didn’t make me want to visit any less.
From the Fiery Furnace parking we made a beeline to the Delicate Arch trailhead. Sunset was at 6:30 and it is 1.5 miles with about 500 ft of elevation gain to the arch. We parked at 5:50. I grabbed my cameras, my pack, and a jacket and took off down the trail. Had I not been in such a hurry I would have taken my time to enjoy the walk but I had a goal. As I rounded the corner at the end of the trail I was greeted with the beautiful view of Delicate Arch as well as a large crowd of people waiting for the golden moment.
I found a spot and sat down. Only then did I look to the sky to see if we’d get the glow. There were heavy clouds to the west that were currently causing a rather dull light, but I was encouraged by a small gap of clear sky between the clouds and the horizon. Sure enough, in just a few minutes the sun started peeking through and the Arch took on a light glow. For the next ten minutes Delicate Arch went through the entire spectrum of oranges and reds, a stunning performance by Mother Nature.
Everyone was clicking away (as was I), but I kept putting my camera down to just bask in the moment. It really was a remarkable experience; it’s no wonder that people are drawn to this place.
Once the light faded we quickly packed up and quickly headed back to the car in the diminishing ambient light of dusk. From the trailhead it was a short drive to the park’s campground where we had booked a site. Gambling with the weather we slept in the back of the truck, and fortunately we stayed dry.
In the morning we packed up the truck and drove over to the Landscape Arch trailhead. The clouds were more imminently threatening this morning so I carried all my rain gear for the short, one mile hike to Landscape Arch. It is a good thing I did. Just as we reached the arch it began raining, and for a few moments rained pretty hard. I had to stash my camera away, but I’m glad we waited out the brief thundery squall because the sky on the return hike was glorious. Unfortunately we still moved pretty quickly because it was cold!
After Landscape Arch we headed into Moab for breakfast and gas. From there we’d head south to Canyonlands and lands beyond.
August is prime Sierra season so I’ve spent more time in the mountains than on my computer lately (yay!). And I’m turning around and heading back out to do a few peaks over Labor Day weekend. In other words, it’s gonna be a long wait for more trip reports and photos. BUT, I did take some fun videos on our recent outings and wanted to share them here. One is a video panorama of Columbine Lake (over Sawtooth Pass out of Mineral King), and the others are from the longer trip I just got back from where we bagged several peaks and visited Bear Lakes Basin. I have a panorama from the summit of Mt Julius Caesar and another from the summit of Seven Gables. Enjoy!
Snowcamping, Yosemite, and friends. What better way to start the new year?
We drove out to Wawona on New Year’s Eve to meet a bunch of friends at the group campground. After celebrating the new year with a warm campfire, cheap champagne, and lots of laughs, we got a good night of sleep before heading up to Badger Pass and donning our packs for an overnight snowshoe to Dewey Point.
Dewey Point is about a 3.5 mile trek from the Badger Pass parking area. The first mile is on groomed road (Glacier Point Road, closed in winter), then the track diverts to a nice marked cross-country route for the last 2.5 miles. We found a great campsite about 1/4 mile before the Point, about midway between Dewey and Crocker. It was close enough to the rim of Yosemite Valley that we were able to walk out for photos of the clearing afternoon snow storm and sunset. Beautiful, and one of my all-time favorite places to camp in the snow.
The following morning we took the short, mile round trip trek to Crocker Point for the views into the Valley, then back to camp to pack up and head out with about half of the group. The other half took a hike over towards the Taft Fissures and were going to stay for a second night.
If You Go
Permits are required and are available at the A-frame at Badger Pass. Parking is available at the Badger Pass ski area lot as well – overnight vehicles park in the permit lot. Food and restrooms are available at the Badger Pass ski resort.
Not ready to camp out in the snow? Dewey Point makes an excellent day trip on snow shoes or skis. There are even several shuttle options to get to Badger Pass if you feel uncomfortable driving up there (the road is often icy and under chain controls). The route is well marked, well traveled, and offers some of the greatest views in Yosemite. Go for it!
Snowcamping is not to be taken lightly – while it can be as enjoyable and easy as a simple overnight summer backpack, the consequences of forgotten gear, unexpected weather, or lack of skills can be far worse. Be careful out there!
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.
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.”
Today started with a 6 am wake up call. Technically it looked like we had a big day in front of us – 10+ miles with almost 4000 feet of gain – but having done most of it before I knew that a lot of it was a pretty gentle and shaded climb. I was looking forward to climbing the rest of the way out of the Canyon and getting back into the high country.
The climb out of the canyon along Wallace Creek was really nice and enjoyable with views of the Kaweahs and sunrise over the Kern Canyon. I was really glad to be doing it in the morning though – it was another stretch that would have been hot and miserable in the midday sun. After a few miles we joined the John Muir Trail. From here on out it’s the same trail I hiked back in 2007.
We continued our trek to Guitar Lake with a brief stop at Crabtree to pick up the required Wag Bags and refill our water. From here, it was only a couple of miles and about 1000 feet of gain until Guitar Lake but I ended up taking it quite slowly. 11k is kind of a wall for me. I can cruise along below 11k barely noticing the altitude, but above that and suddenly it hits me. Although I don’t usually get any AMS symptoms (headache, nausea), I tend to slow down and suck air a lot harder.
So I took my time between Crabtree and Guitar, and that’s just fine. It’s a great stretch to stop and take in the views in all directions – Kaweahs to the west, Whitney to the east, and meadows and lakes surrounding you. You quickly climb above treeline and get incredible views of the Whitney ridge and surrounding peaks. It is so amazing to approach Whitney in this direction. I still don’t know why anyone would choose to do the horrible climb from the Portal to bag the summit when this is so much nicer.
I got to Guitar Lake around 1 pm and had a long afternoon of nothing in front of me. Again. I’m not complaining – I loved our afternoons of nothing! The only problem with Guitar Lake is the exposure. There is nowhere to escape from the sun, and since it was a hot afternoon, bailing to the oven that was my tent was not possible. So I lathered up with sunscreen, grabbed my camera, and went on a casual walk around the lake. Every once in a while a cool breeze would pick up, giving me a break from the hot sun.
After the long afternoon of recharging the batteries and acclimating, we waited for sunset with dinner and Paige’s birthday surprise from Greg – Snickers bars for all! Dinner timing was perfect – as soon as we were done the temperature dropped and we started adding layers. Sunset was late (around 7:15 pm, I think), so by the time the colors really popped it was freezing and we were bundled up. Quite a change from a few hours ago!
Backpacker Magazine named Guitar Lake as the best place to watch a sunset (and used one of Paige’s pictures in the article, natch), and I don’t know if it’s the *best* place I’ve ever watched one, but it has to be close. The peaks surrounding the lake all turn orange and the color reflects in the lake. It’s just beautiful, and a fitting way to enjoy our last night on the trail. As soon as it was done, however, we bailed to the warmth of our sleeping bags with our alarms set for a 4 am wake up. Tomorrow will be a big day with Mt Whitney and our return to civilization!