Chewing Gum Lake in Emigrant Wilderness A Dead Beauty

On my trip to the Emigrant Wilderness in Northern California (not far from Sonora), we hiked to Chewing Gum Lake, a gain of nearly 2,000 feet over 4.4 miles from the Crabtree Trailhead. You may note that I call it dead. That’s because two biologists surveying the lake’s wildlife said there were no fish. Hard to believe in such a pristine environment. If this photo tempts you to go on this trip, hold off for about six weeks until the mosquitos are gone. We got murdered. I only got 50 bites, my friend the Duke, a 100, just on his shoulders.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Chewing Gum Lake in the Emigrant Wilderness

Kennedy Meadows Camping: Trees, Trout and Cowboy Breakfasts

How to get there: near Sonora, California, on Highway 108 before crossing the Sonora Pass in the Western Sierra.

Campground: Baker (there are many surrounded by 100-foot red cedars right by the Stanislaus River).

Where to eat: the Kennedy Meadows Resort & Pack Station, opened in 1917, and called the “Gateway to the Emigrant Wilderness”.
Kennedy Meadows Resort
Nothing says you can’t ease into your backpack.

I live at sea level (literally — 50 feet on the cliffs above the ocean) and the drive to the mountains can be a shock to the system, especially if you drive in a few hours from sea level to 9,000 feet or more.

Although I have never had altitude sickness, some people do. A good way to avoid it is to give yourself a day or two to acclimate at altitude before strapping on your pack and heading into the wilderness.

Besides the solitude of the wilderness, what could be better than fishing for dinner during the day along a pristine river, then enjoying a dinner of raindow, brookes or brown trout, pasta pesto and a caesar salad with crisp glass of chardonnay around a blazing campfire with great friends?Trout Dinner

If you read my previous posts about our horrible experience with mosquitos in the Emigrant Wilderness, then you will see how I could feel this way. Although I’ve been on 40-50 backpacks over the past 11 summers, I never have found great joy in miles of butt-kicking uphills or bugs. Even a lightweight backpack doesn’t compensate. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a wilderness wimp in that way. Some conditions don’t bother me, like the night I was eating my pasta beneath my broad-brim hat two years ago as sheets of rainwater came down or the fact that I burned 114-pages of a novel I was reading to get wet wood started for a fire.

Anyway, Kennedy Meadows Lodge was our breakfast destination each day because of the great food, wonderful waitresses and history. The lodge was the location for one of the great old classic movies “For Whom The Bell Tolls” (1943) with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.
Sierra Design Light Year by the Stanislaus River
After fishing the first half of the first day, we hiked over the hill to Kennedy Meadows, which appeared to be a small Yosemite Valley with broad grassy meadow and granite canyon walls. Really beautiful.

If your schedule permits, think about car camping for 24 to 48 hours to get acclimated, then head out for your backpack.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Mosquito Preparedness – Is there Such a Thing?

People’s reaction to mosquitos is pretty odd. On our Emigrant Wilderness Trip in California’s Sierra, we saw:

-A happy couple with full face head nets. They seemed to be pleased that they had spent 99 cents to keep the little guys away from their face. Missing was the ear plugs or the iPod to block out the buzzing sound.
Wild Bill in Anti-Mosquito Gear
-A young woman in her 20’s who was wearing, honest to God, a kind of sun dress. Short ballerina looking kind of thing with completely bare arms and uncovered legs up to her underpants. She was showing cleavage and had nothing on her head or face. Her only comment to us was “I’m wearing strong chemicals.” We did see her the next day heading home with her boyfriend. Wearing the same dress. Couldn’t In tell if she had any bites.

-A guy who asked ever so lightly, are the “skeeters bad.”

My backpacking partner Wild Bill simply ignored them as he covered his head with a hat with ear flaps, thick gloves and a rain jacket. All this, while standing in the smoke of the camp fire at 3 p.m. on a warm day. The only thing sticking out was his nose and I’m sure it was covered with repellent. After our 11.5-mile hike up and down at 9,000 feet for 6 hours on Day 2, I just hid out in my tent from 7:30 p.m. until the next day.

I have Jungle Juice with 100% Deet ($6 at REI), but didn’t bring it. We had so little rain this year in California I thought the mosquitors would be pretty much absent. On our car camping trip the two days before, we had wonderful, mosquito-free conditions.

Anyone have any ideas for dealing with bugs, besides staying out of the mountains until late August or September?

Be light (could mosquitos carry you away?). Be safe. Be one with the pack.

I Survived The Wildernesss — Again

I just returned from a backpack that reminded me why they call it wilderness.

You always seem to remember the things that go wrong; the things you can’t control that are part of being outdoors. You look back and say, yeah, that was a great trip. Remember …

What I’ll always remember on this trip is the mosquitos. Wave after wave and swarm after unending swarm.

If there is anything that will ruin a trip quicker, it’s the endless buzzing of these blood thirsty critters around you face.

Did we have spray? Yes. Did it help? Somewhat. Did we invest 99 cents in a one-ounce anti-mosquito head net? No. Did we wish we had? You bet.

Since I’m catching up with lots after being gone a week, consider this the first of a series on my trip to the Emigrant Wilderness in the Western Sierra. In future posts, I plan to cover:

-More on mosquito preparedness
-The Emigrant Wilderness
-Being in shape for all those uphills
-The magic of the TOPO map and anticipating ups and downs
-Watch Your Step Not the Scenery
-Sign Post Ducks and Other Guideposts

In the meantime … Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

On the Trail the Next Week: Testing My Own Ultralight Backpacking Tips

I am heading out in the morning for a week-long trip.

It will combine car camping with backpacking. Backpacking pals Wild Bill and Duke and I leave tomorrow at 7:30 and head to the Dardenelles, a 10-hour trip. We’ll overnight in the campground, fish and get acclimated the next day, then leave early Wednesday morning for three nights and four days on the trail. We plan a 30-mile loop, camping at great fishing lakes along the way.

When I return, I will provide a trip report.

In the meantime, be light, be safe, be one with the pack.

40 Degree Sleeping Bag – 20 Degree Nights

I’ve written about how you can stay warm in a thin, light sleeping bag, even when the temperature is 20 degrees below the bag rating. I have to admit that when I checked the weather report for our upcoming trip to the Dardenelles near Sonora Pass in California, I got the chills:

-Some patches of snow still at 7,000 feet.
-Might rain this weekend, but probably clear next week.
-Nights 25 degrees or lower.
-More rain and cool nights possible.

So, it might be warm – or not. It may rain — or not. Night may be as warm as 25 degrees — or lower. Then add the probability of mosquitoes.

Makes packing “ultralight” a bit of a challenge.

My one pound sleeping down bag will be just fine, but I will probably need to wear socks, long johns, jacket, gloves and knit cap to stay warm.

To be continued …

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

It’s Summer: Time to Talk Is Over; the Time to Go is Now

This week I’m preparing for my first backpack of the season. I’m kind of sad it has taken so long to get out on the trail. Last year, I was out by March. This year, with the mountains clearing of snow early in California and 50% less rainfall — and snow, I presume — I could be working toward my third trip. I do like to take 6 trips a year from March – November. Something called “work” and “family commitments” have gotten in the way.

So, like I say in the headline, I’ve been talking about going light all winter, now I’ve got to drag my gear out and get ready.

What’s the big deal, says my wife, Gerry. “You do it every year. Just pull out your list.” Well, there’s that. And the three huge tubs of gear I own. So, I’ll pick through it and try to decide what I liked best last year and what didn’t work as well.

If you’re asking yourself where to start, here’s my advice:

-Going light or ultralight is a philosophy not a test of weights and measures. You have to know lightness on your back means lightness of step, lightness of being in the wilderness.

-Keep you base light (tent, backpack, sleeping bag and pad): 10 pounds or less.

-Make everything in your pack do double, triple or quadruple
duty, i.e. your bandana can be a sling, a sweat band, a filter to keep leaves and dirt out of your water bottle, a napkin and a wash cloth.

-Think through about day, each meal, each planned activity and figure out exactly what you need.

The bottom line: no matter how well you plan you will forget something or take something you didn’t need. That’s okay. Fine tune your pack after every trip.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Backcountry Kitchen: Irish Cream and Hot Chocolate

My backpacking pal Wild Bill always brings big bars of dark chocolate and shares them at lunch and dinner. He claims it is good you. Full of anti-oxidants. I’m not sure about that, but I am sure it tastes great. Sound good? Well I’ve got something better.

Mix Hershey’s Good Night Kisses Hot Chocolate (99.9% decaf) with Bailey’s Irish Cream liquer and you’ll be in wilderness heaven. As I recall you get five individual packages in a box.

The secret: mix the exact amount of water suggested on the package and then liberally add the Baileys.

You’ll sleep like a baby.

Eat well. Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

In The Kitchen: Smoked Tuna Pasta

At the end of the day on the trail just about anything tastes good. But I love pasta. The spicier the better. One of my favorites is capellini with smoked tuna. Hickory Tuna.jpgThis is really simple:

-Get a plastic bottle. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil, some red pepper flakes and garlic (you can chop it or get some in a jar).

-Buy a 5 oz package of StarKist “Tuna Creations” (hickory smoked) in a foil package. (contains 100mg of Omega3 fatty acids).

-Cook a half pound of pasta (add a handful of salt to the water).

-Dump in the olive oil mixture and then the tuna.

-Mix and eat.

This is just bursting with flavor. Feeds three.

Tip: angel hair or capellini cooks up faster than thicker pasta. The olive oil gets infused with the garlic flavor which really perks up the taste.

Eat well. Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.