It ends with disappointment.  Or maybe it begins with it.

Sorry I left this blog hanging with zero warning, but I’ve gone away on my High Sierra Trail/John Muir Trail/Tahoe to Yosemite Trail thru-hike…and now I’m back.  Sooner than expected.

Though I didn’t complete the route I planned, the trip I had was better than I hoped.  I have tons of pictures and stories to share with you.  I feel like it could take forever to get through it all, but I’m gonna force myself to start posting within the next couple of days.  (I know myself.  If I don’t give myself a deadline this thing will sit on my shelf forever.)

Stay tuned.  Pure wildness to follow.


Route Planning: HST to JMT to TYT

There’s a huge difference between weekend backpacking and the kind of backpacking I’m about to do.  The hike I’ve planned can’t even be properly considered a thru-hike.  The conventional goal of a thru-hike is to get from Point A to Point B.  There may be exploration along the way but the priority is to follow the trail from the beginning to the end.  Most of the route-planning has been done for you.  Even the food resupply strategy has been for the most part worked out by those who have thru-hiked your chosen trail before you.  It’s pretty easy to find someone else’s itinerary online, someone who hikes at about your speed and whose daily mileage is similar to yours.

I started out planning a thru-hike of John Muir Trail, but when I missed out on the permit lottery, my plans had to change.  I’m really glad that happened, because it forced me to reconsider my motivation for doing this.   I would have to go south to north, which immediately suggested tacking on High Sierra Trail at the beginning and Tahoe-Yosemite Trail at the end.  And since I would be unemployed, I could spend as much time out there as willingness and funds allowed.  Getting from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney (or vice-versa, as it would turn out) would no longer be my priority.  I saw an extremely rare opportunity for me to explore the Sierra Nevada as I have always wanted.  I allowed myself an enormous amount of time and space to get back to some creative and athletic interests that I was neglecting, primarily photography and Tenkara.  (More about those later.)

Though the High Sierra Trail, John Muir Trail and Tahoe-Yosemite Trail form the backbone of my route, I’ll be diverging from those trails to explore some high Sierra basins and watersheds along the way.  Some of my planned layovers and detours are inspired primarily by what I hope to see and photograph there.  I’m a sucker for high alpine lakes and wildflowers.  I don’t have a ton of cross-country travel experience and I’m hoping to find some lower-risk scrambling and route-finding opportunities.  I’m consulting Roper’s High Sierra Route notes and Skurka’s High Basin Route for this purpose.

I’m also hoping to catch up on my Tenkara practice.  I’ll be looking for golden trout in the Upper Kern Basin for a couple of days, and I’ve scoured Steve Beck’s “Fishing the John Muir Trail” for lake and stream recommendations.  I plan to see the Bear Lakes Basin and the Dusy Basin.  Also plan to see Granite Dome in the Emigrant Wilderness and to do some wandering in Desolation Wilderness.  I’m excited to do some fishing every day, particularly stream fishing.

As an aspiring ultralight hiker, I’ve been spending the last few days looking at my gear list and getting rid of as much as possible.  I probably won’t post a gear list before I go but I think I will post a list of the camera gear and Tenkara gear that I’ll be taking along.  It’s going to be pretty minimal.

Still working on shipping my resupplies…there are 5 pickups total.  I’ll probably talk about that in my next post.

Hello, I’m leaving.

Here we go with the blog again.  After tomorrow I will be unemployed, so I’m going to start this up again in an attempt to keep my sanity.  I have a lot of plans for my free time…so many plans in fact that I need to start keeping track of all the things I want to do.  For example, I’m hiking the John Muir Trail starting Aug. 22nd (what? whoa!) so this will also serve as a place to keep track of that.

About the unemployment: I’ve been working for a movie studio here in Los Angeles since 2004.  It’s one of the big ones, not even sure why I’m not naming it, but secrecy never seems to matter until it does.  I’m grateful for the experience I’ve had there and for the people it brought into my life but it’s also kept me a bit too busy.  Whenever I’ve had to make a choice between personal development and THE JOB I’ve almost always chosen THE JOB.  It’s left me with a lot of unfinished business over 13 and a half years.

So it’s catch up time, starting with the 211-mile John Muir Trail.  I’ve been wanting to do a long distance thru-hike for many years.  I always thought it would be the John Muir Trail and I’ve watched enough JMT video diaries on YouTube that I feel like I’ve already done it…YouTube is such a spoiler, isn’t it?  To make things interesting, I have decided to start in Crescent Meadow and do the 72-mile High Sierra Trail as a warm-up.  That trail ends at Mt. Whitney, so it makes sense to link it with a northbound JMT trip.  (In fact, I’m surprised it’s not done that way more often.)

Doing the John Muir Trail northbound may seem anticlimactic to most people.  Starting with the highest peak in the continental U.S. and making your way over passes that get lower and lower in elevation as you make your way north is not a popular choice.  But Yosemite is my favorite spot in the world so for me it makes a great reward.  And anyway, my trip won’t end there.

Early in the planning stages, I started to consider finishing with the 180-mile Tahoe-Yosemite Trail.  This long trail was popularized by Thomas Winnett in 1970 in a guidebook that is now out of print.  (Used copies are worth the premium price, if you ask me.)  A backpacking YouTuber (Landmark) inspired me with a video series documenting her thru-hike of this trail from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite Valley.  The next year, she hiked from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney on the John Muir Trail.  It’s an impressive and elegant line from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney, equally elegant as a northbound trip.

So that’s my plan and before you say it, yes I’m sure I’m not the first to do this, the HST to JMT to TYT.  And the distance isn’t really that impressive when you compare it the the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.  But as a personal thru-hike, this is very special for me.  I love the Sierra Nevada and as Tim Gunn would say I’m excited beyond my ability to adequately express myself.

I’m a big fan of documentation, especially when it comes to hiking and backpacking.  I’ve learned a lot about the Sierra Nevada from YouTube and from backpacking forums and blogs.  I’m grateful that the online backpacking community hasn’t been stingy with valuable beta on routes and trip reports.  I hope the stuff I post will be helpful to someone else attempting to do this route.

That’s all for now.  I better get to bed, big day at work/last day at work tomorrow!

Spring-ish Skiing, March-April 2013.

Lake Dillon, frozen over.

Lake Dillon, CO.  Frozen over.

In March of 2013 I flew to Colorado to visit my family for Spring Break and do a little skiing. It was actually the first time I got to use my Epic pass that year. (Not a lot of snow in Tahoe that year anyway, but still.)

My brother has friends with a home in Frisco, CO and they very generously let us use it as a home base for ski trips.   On this trip we did a day in Vail and then a day in Keystone.  I was a little rusty as it was my first trip of the season, but by the end of the second day I was back in the saddle and before I was ready or willing I was already on a plane back to LA.

I looked at my sad EpicMix stats when I got home and decided that two days on an annual pass was not acceptable.  I planned a quick little solo trip to Tahoe to make up for an entire season of laziness.  It would be my first trip to Tahoe, so I decided to try and hit all three Vail mountains in the area: Northstar, Heavenly, and Kirkwood.  I rented skis at Big 5 and made the long drive to Tahoe on Friday night, April 5th.

Don’t know how I did it, but I got to Northstar on Saturday morning and did a whole day of skiing.  22.000 vertical feet.  I must have been really eager to ski because just thinking about skiing that much after a 7 hour drive makes me exhausted.

Trees at Northstar California.

Northstar California.

It was pretty cold and icy in the morning, warming up toward the end of the day and ending in pretty slushy conditions.   I skied all the way through last chair.  I drove down to South Lake Tahoe and checked into the Montbleu Casino and Hotel and passed out, presumably.  I don’t really remember the details.

Heavenly Mountain Resort.

Heavenly Mountain Resort.

The next day I checked out Heavenly.

It was another frosty morning, and lots of fun.  Heavenly really inspired me to improve enough to get into those beautiful trees.  At the end of the day we got some light snow showers.  I headed back to Montbleu for my last night

I had planned on skiing just half a day the next day, but I woke up to about 6 inches fresh powder.  Did a few runs at Heavenly to take advantage of it, then headed off to Kirkwood.  Conditions there were really fun, and I ended up skiing the whole day.  By the end of it, I was glowing.

Road trip carnage.

Road trip carnage.

Before I set out for home, I sat in my car with a cup of strong coffee and promised myself I’d use my pass a lot more often next ski season.



Time to catch up.

It’s been a while since I posted. I need to put up some trip reports. There’s a little knitting to talk about too.

Here’s a list of hiking/backpacking/skiing trips I’ve done since my last post:

Mt. Whitney Training Hikes (Spring/Summer 2013)
Mt. Whitney (failed attempt) (California, Summer 2013)
RMNP, Cow Creek Trail and Falls (Colorado, Fall 2013)
Tahoe Ski Trip (December 2013)
Colorado Ski Trip (February 2014)
Tahoe Ski Trip (March 2014)
Rae Lakes Loop (failed attempt) (May 2014)
Sequoia NP (June 2014)
Bass Lake (July 2014)

I’m going to do quick write-ups for all of these before Saturday. I’m hiking Mt. Baldy on Saturday.

Snow Days.

Wawona Tunnel View.

I spent Martin Luther King weekend in Yosemite National Park.  I’ve always wanted to see the park in the winter, and I decided to challenge myself by learning some cold-weather camping skills.  I’ve never camped in snow.

Camp 4.

I picked a spot in Camp 4.  It’s known as a rock climbers’ camp and is very crowded in the summer.  On this winter weekend, I wasn’t completely alone, but it wasn’t hard to find my own campsite.  Upper Pines Campground is also open in the winter, but I read somewhere online that the restrooms over there aren’t heated in winter and the ones in Camp 4 are.  (Not true, at least not anymore.  I met a couple of guys with a spot at Upper Pines and they confirmed there’s heat over there too.)

Yosemite Valley is at a high enough altitude to see occasional snow in the winter and freezing temperatures at night.  It’s also low enough for the midday heat to start melting any snow and ice that accumulated overnight.  So basically that means there’s ice.  Everywhere.

Lots of it.

I spent a few minutes chipping away at the picnic bench to remove about 6 inches of snow and ice so I’d have a place to sit down.  And the tent was pitched on a bed of icy snow.  The lowest nighttime temp I saw was 25 degrees.

I can confirm that your comfort level doing this kind of camping depends on a lot more than just the temperature rating of your bag.  I have the North Face Cat’s Meow, which is a 20 degree bag, but I couldn’t rely on it to keep me warm all by itself.  I had to pay a lot of attention to tent flaps and ventilation, clothing, eating well…I learned a lot in just four days and was able to feel pretty cozy by the end of the trip.  I have my eye on a warmer bag though.  One of these days.

On Sunday I joined a group snowshoe hike to Dewey Point from Badger Pass.  What a blast!  There’s tons to do at Badger Pass…downhill and nordic skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, tubing.  Very kid and family-friendly.  And the view from Dewey Point in winter is thrilling.  If I can get my snow camping and backpacking skills up, I’d like to continue from Dewey to Glacier Point.  (That trip requires you to camp at or near Dewey Point…brrr.)

I also got to skate at the rink at Curry Village.  Interesting piece of Yosemite trivia: a committee representing Yosemite put in a bid for the 1932 Winter Olympics, and the rink was built in anticipation of this.  (They were not picked by the Olympic Committee in the end.)  Sadly, I hear that the ice rink may not be around much longer, as they are planning to shut down some non-essential services in order to devote resources to protecting the Merced River, which may be given Wild and Scenic River status.  I’m all for protecting the few wild rivers remaining, but man will I be sad to see skating go.  Nowhere else can you skate in the great outdoors beneath magnificent rock walls like those in Yosemite Valley.

Sorry, I was having so much fun I didn’t stop to take my own photo.

After skating, I went to the Curry Village Lounge to for a bit of knitting.  Yosemite has, I think, the highest number of cozy knitting spots per capita than anywhere else in the Continental US.  (I haven’t been to Alaska yet.)  The Curry Village Lounge has a fireplace and a very comfy couch.  And this sign:

There’s even a portrait of Mary Curry hanging next to the fireplace, looking stern.  I like to think it was she who originally enforced the “no-drying of mittens and socks” policy, perhaps out of her distaste for the smell that wet wool gives off as it warms.  This warning was posted at every fireplace I saw in Yosemite.

They ended up closing the lounge early so I had to move on.

Knitting at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

Mos def no drying of mittens or socks at any of the fireplaces at the Ahwahnee Hotel either, but man…what a great spot to knit.  I thought I’d sit and knit for just an hour or so but completely lost track of time.  The Ahwahnee bar serves hot chocolate and spiced cider, and stronger drinks if that’s what you’re looking for.  They make something called El Capitan which I hear is very potent, but I don’t drink alcohol so I’ll take their word for it.

Something about it being so cold outside and so warm and relaxing next to the fire makes for great conversation.  I met a bunch of really good people while I sat and knitted away on a scarf for my sister, including a couple from New Zealand who are travelling the US by RV for a month.  There was Martha, the knitter, and her husband…they have a place in Carbondale, CO, and since I’m from Colorado too we traded stories from back home.  And Bobbi and her mom from wine country…Bobbi’s a skater too, and her mom was visiting Yosemite for the first time.  All good people, and I wished them all well.

Going home on Tuesday was a bummer…I always feel like I’m getting my heart ripped out as I leave the Valley.  Just before Northside Drive exits the valley, I got one last chance for a self-pic.

To console myself on the way home to LA, I stopped by Unraveled, a new yarn store in Oakhurst.  Oakhurst is about 11 miles south of Yosemite.  Unraveled has been open since the spring of 2012, and it’s a great little shop., definitely worth a stop if you are anywhere near Oakhurst.  Babette (the owner) is really nice and has big plans for the fiber scene in the Sierra area.

Babette told me there’s also a yarn mill in town (!) and that I should go see it, and so I did.  I met Kate, the owner of the mill, and she insisted I take a tour.  I’ve never seen yarn being made before.

I was completely geeky about it.

Kate of Mill Creek Fiber Works in Oakhurst, CA.

Mill Creek Fiber Works specializes in alpaca.  Kate has one of the few mills in the area that can process 100% alpaca fiber.  Despite being in the middle of processing an order, Kate gave me  a VIP tour of the mill, showing me every step of the process of creating yarn from an unprocessed fleece.

I of course bought yarn too.

I’m supposed to be knitting from stash in 2013 so let’s overlook this.

All in all it was another amazing weekend in the Sierras and my heart is full.  As I prepare to post this, I wonder if it seems somewhat lonely to other people, that I go on trips like this by myself.  I just don’t know many people who share my passions and interests when it comes to the outdoors, and the ones that do were busy or not into the snow thing.  (Understandable.)

In the end, I think it’s important to do the things you love, even if it means doing them alone.  You have to go where your heart feels at home, and when you get to that place, wherever it is, you might find you’re the only one there. Don’t sweat it.

Writing stuff down.

I’m going to start writing some stuff down. It may not all seem to be related, but it IS related in that it’s all coming from me. I suppose it may not seem related to you, then. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m only writing this stuff down for my benefit…I’d be writing this stuff in a journal if that was the case. But that’s not the case and anyway I haven’t caught the journaling bug, incredibly enough, as I seem to have caught the bug of every other activity that generates popular blogs.

Here’s the first thing: I’m a photographer by trade, for as long as I can remember, obsessed with images…moving images in fact, as evidenced by the little animations I created in the margins of books I had as a kid. But even before that, I was an obsessive maker. Paper and tape and scissors, crayons and paint, dirt and water and cloth and string…I have always loved to make and write and color. I think at first I did it for attention, because my family used to like the things I made. Eventually it became selfish. I’d spend hours avoiding distractions, focused on the distraction at hand…paperfolding, thaumatropes, colored pencil drawings, good soup, clay pots. I’m good with my hands, I guess, and with how my senses make sense of what the hands make and how they tell the hands how to continue…that’s the truest form of communication I have found. I have never been good with people, but I have always been good with my hands.

Thing number two: I’m working on an experimental documentary. It’s experimental in that I plan to finish it without ever working on it. It will communicate all that it wants to say without a single frame of film flashing upon the screen. Just kidding, I talk about it this way out of frustration with myself for avoiding the work of editing the countless pieces of footage and archival material. Countless. To think about how much I have collected makes me nauseous…I’m sure other documentarians have collected more, compared to Ken Burns for example I’m sure my collection is paltry. But this thing is mine, and I’ve never done anything this big before. So I distract myself and avoid it. Seems to be working so far. I haven’t gone through the footage in months yet I have so much more to SAY lately. Ha!

The third, and most embarassing thing…actually, not embarassing, I won’t judge what I’ve been doing instead of working on the film. Instead of working on the film I’ve been gardening, and cooking, and knitting, and working at my job. And going to my AA meetings, because I may as well. Just kidding again, frustration again. In my heart I know that the film is the most important work I’ve ever done, and that I got sober to do important work, and so what does it mean to avoid the important work? Ask my AA sponsor, I’m sure he has a lot to say about this subject.

Well, I think this is enough for now. Let’s see if I have anything more to say later on.


P.S. this is not to say that gardening and cooking and knitting are not important activities. They’re just not the most important work I could be doing right now.