Mt. Diablo State Park: N. Calif. Gem for Ultralight Backpacking and Camping

Ultralight backpackers from all over the world boast of prominent land features near their homes that define their backpacking. In the U.S., that might be the Rockies, the Sierra, the Great Smokies, or White Mountains.

My “local” favorite (10 hours from home) is the Sierra; my favorite spot Thousand Island Lake at 10,000 feet at the crossroads of the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails.

In the Eastern U.S., the White Mountains, which cover about a quarter of the state of New Hampshire and a small portion of western Maine, are most prominent. The highest mountain in the Northeast is Mount Washington at 6,200 feet — a rather dinky peak compared with the “fourteeners” (14,000 foot peaks) in Colorado. Astonishingly, there are 53 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado.

I’m sure each mountain range and peak offers its own special beauty with “tall” having nothing to do with it. Often times, however, it’s the smaller mountains that get overlooked. Among them is Mt. Diablo, located in the middle of the San Francisco East Bay and surrounded by a population of 600,000. Yet, if you are camping or backpacking there you could be a million miles from civilization. At 3,800, it dominates the landscape of Contra Costa County, California.

From the top you can see over the hills to downtown San Francisco, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, San Francisco Bay and on a clear day, Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, more than 200 miles away.

This weekend I car camped on Mt. Diablo, braving a driving rain one night, spending 12 hours in the tent. The next day, however, was beautiful bright sunshine and wispy white clouds with a blazing campfire to top off the day.

I’ve also completed the 28-mile backpack trail on the mountain twice — a wonderous trip you can enjoy all year around the San Francisco Bay Area’s temperate climate. In early spring (February/March) between rains when grass is green but short and trails not too muddy, the vistas are stunning.

Because it is close to local communities (Walnut Creek most prominently), there are always activities in the works built around hiking. But the backpacking trail offers a wide variety of vistas and is little used. Both trips, my friends and I were the only ones on the trail.

If you don’t have time for a backpack, try out the hiking trails, some of which are very demanding.

Check it out. And remember: Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Ultralight Backpacking Headlamp Built into Cap

LED CapI love gadgets. The latest, from a newspaper clipping my wife dropped on my desk, is a cap with four LED lights built in (sample at left has only two, but the Amazon.com version below has four). One of the reasons I became a ultralight backpacker, besides the weight reduction, was the elimination of stuff from my backpack. It would take many paragraphs to describe all the items I carried when I first started backpacking in 1998. Let me assure you, you can put huge amounts in a 5,800 cubic inch, 7.5 pound Dana Design Terraplane: 60 pounds or more, in fact. As they say, less is more.  Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Hiking the Great Wall in China

b-at-great-wall.jpgYou may have noticed that I’ve been absent for about two weeks from my blog. My wife, Gerry and I were on vacation in China. We visited Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou. An amazing trip. Gerry climbed several sections of the Great Wall and I decided to go to the top of one large stretch.

As a backpacker, when I see a mountain peak, I want to keep going until I reach the top. I climbed from tower to tower, rising about 1,500 feet in about 1.5 hours. The towers are located the distance two bowman can shoot their arrows to defend a section). There must have been 10 sections. At the top were more mountains and an endless stretch of Wall.

The Great Wall, an estimated 4,000 miles long, was built between the 5th Century BC and the 16th Century to protect the northern border of the Chinese Empire. It eventually failed miserably against the Mongols.

About twice the distance of the Appalachian Trail, imagine backpacking the entire wall. If nothing else, you would have plenty of shelters along the way.

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