This 78 mile light-weight backpacking trip through the Central Wind River Range of Wyoming starts and ends at Scab Creek trailhead, following both designated trails and the Wind River High Route. The clockwise loop included Bobs Lake, Timico Lake, Dennis Lake, Hay Pass, Europe Peak, Halls Lake, Middle Fork Lake, Raid Pass, East Fork Valley, the Fremont Trail and South Fork Lake.
Half of this loop used designated trails while the other half followed a variation of the Wind River High Route, mostly off-trail. Most designated trails were in good condition and easy to follow with a few exceptions, as detailed below.
There are still dozens of downed trees from a storm in the Fall of 2020 over Halls Butte on the Fremont trail, but most are easily walked around.
The Valley Trail Cutoff trail between Valley Lake the Victor Lake was rough and lightly used and the last few hundred feet above Victor Lake were hard to follow, boggy and overgrown.
Most of the Eastern portion of the Timico Lake trail, connecting Hay Pass trail with Timico Lake, was lightly used but fairly easy to follow, with the exception of the beginning. The first half mile or so of this trail, after leaving the Hay Pass trail, was completely non-existent with no hint of a trail as far as I could find. The only indication of a trail was a rock cairn off to the left of the Hay Pass trail near the coordinates where the trail junction was supposed to be. But not evidence of a trail was found until reaching a meadow at 10120 feet, where the trail abruptly became very obvious as it climbed out of the meadow (12T 0620957E 4758948N, WGS84). From this point on the trail was easy to follow for the most part.
An old, faint and intermittent trail exists over Fall Creek Pass, connecting Timico Lake with Lake 11125 East of Angel Pass. Faint intermittent trail continues to the top of the drop-off to Dennis Lake, where the trail becomes more obvious as it follows a ramp down and Northeasterly toward the Northwest shore of Dennis Lake. After a short bushwhack East of the Dennis Lake outlet through Krummholz, the Hay Pass trail was easy to follow and well used to Hay Pass.
The next portion of the trip followed the Wind River High Route. From Hay Pass to the summit of Europe Peak, travel was generally easy, very scenic and mostly a mix of grassy slopes with easy rock hopping here and there. The descent of the East Ridge of Europe Peak started on an exposed knife-edge ridge with easy moves on solid rock. After descending the crux slab on good rock with plenty of holds, the remainder of the descent was a mix of lower angle scree and talus ledges and slopes on the North side of the ridge.
From Halls Lake to South Fork Valley I followed the popular Wind River High Route, which is well documented on many websites and trip reports. The shortcut from Middle Bonneville Lake (10828) to Raid Pass worked well, with only a few steep and exposed moves with good hand holds. The crux is on the left as you approach the cliff band above Lake 10828, at the top of a grassy fan shaped slope. It first follows a ramp up and slightly left, then moves right up and off the ramp, then slightly down and right to a few exposed moves to get to the easy talus above.
From the small Pass just West of Pyramid Lake, the trail becomes obvious and well used the whole way back to South Fork Lake (Pyramid Lake trail, Hailey Pass Trail, Fremont Trail and Cross Lake Trail). The trail does peter out in a few places near Cross Lake, but is easily found again if you keep moving in the right direction.
Water and People
Water was fairly abundant for most of the trip, even on the Divide from Hay Pass most of the way to Europe Peak. There was also water in the small hanging valley along the “Highpass” route above Europe Canyon, down the grassy slopes a hundred feet or so from the lip of the valley.
Most people were along the Scab Creek and Fremont trails, and especially between Pyramid Lake and the Fremont Trail. But I saw multiple groups every day, even along the high route.
Gear and Equipment
To make this trip as easy and enjoyable as possible while still being safe, the principles of ultralight backpacking and lightweight backpacking were employed. The base weight for this trip, including all gear minus food and worn/carried items, was 13 pounds, which included nearly 4 pounds of camera gear. The total pack weight on day one, including all food for the trip minus worn items, was 21 pounds.
Much of the gear used on this trip is MYOG (Make Your Own Gear), including the backpack, front packs, hiking pants, bug bivy, gaiters and rain jacket/pack cover combo. For more information on the custom ultralight backpack called the Talaria, please see the link below:
For camera and video gear, the goal was the achieve very good video quality with the lightest gear possible. For video, a Fuji X-T4 mirrorless camera with 18-55mm lens was used. I also carried a MYOG tripod adapter to turn three trekking poles into a tripod. Also included with four camera batteries, a polarizing filter and a Rode VideoMicro hotshoe microphone for the camera.
The inspiration for this trip, hiked from July 23 – 30, 2021, was to hike a high route through the Wind River Range. The most popular high routes through the Winds are one-way routes, starting from one end of the range and ending at the other end, combining trails and off-trail travel while staying close to the crest of the range. If you do a quick search online you’ll find many trip reports, photos and books covering various Wind River High Routes, and there are links to some of them below.
Rather than hiking a one-way high route through the entire range, two separate loops were planned: a Northern high route loop and a Southern high route loop. This trip was the Southern loop. There are several advantages to a loop over a one-way route. Being a loop, no pre-arranged shuttles or hitchhiking between distant trailheads was required. A loop also takes you through twice as much country as a one-way route through the same area. And because the Scab Creek trailhead is roughly half-way along this Southern loop, there were several ways to shorten the trip easily and conveniently, due to weather or for some other reason.
Maps and Route Planning
Planning for this trip included internet research, viewing of multiple maps and extensive use of Google Earth, especially for the off-trail portions of the trip. Most maps of the Winds have inaccuracies and many off-trail routes are not shown on maps. Many of the trails and junctions on maps are either hard to find, misplaced, or nonexistent.
To make printed maps as accurately as possible, trails and route segments were first created using Caltopo.com, then they were exported to Google Earth. Google Earth was then used to adjust and edit the trail and route segments to match actual satellite imagery. Unlike a map, Google Earth lets you see actual trails, talus, scree, cliffs, willows, grassy areas, tundra, game trails and unmapped trail segments, so you can adjust your routes accordingly. Finally, all the routes, trail junctions and numbers and camp locations that were edited in Google Earth were uploaded back to CalTopo.com and printed at a scale of 1:35,000 with a 1 km UTM grid using WGS84 datum.
My Delorme InReach satellite messager was also set to use UTM coordinates and UGS84 datum to allow exact positioning on the printed maps using the Location function of the InReach. There’s a link to the pre-trip CalTopo routes in the descriptions below this video. While I deviated slightly from the planned CalTopo routes in a few places, deviations were short and fairly obvious:
Most of the off-trail parts of this trip are well documented online with two exceptions: 1) the ramp connecting Little Sandy trail with Coon Lake near Wind River Peak, and 2) the pass and high bench connecting the Halls Lake drainage to Europe Pass. There are details below on both of these useful cross country routes under Day 3 and Day 7.
DAY 1: Scab Creek trailhead to South Fork Lake
The Scab Creek trail is well maintained, mostly in forest, heavily used and easy to follow the whole way to the trail junction to South Fork Lakes and Cross Lake. This is where the heavy timber ends and the big meadows begin, providing your first wide open views of the high peaks. The junction to South Fork Lake and Cross Lake (trail 110) to the left (strait is called the Dream Lake trail 167) is well marked and obvious and the Cross Lake trail is fairly easy to follow the whole way to Cross Lake area. You’ll pass a few faint trail junctions and a couple of dilapidated cabins on the left before you reach South Fork Lake, were there are a couple of nice camp spots on the treed knob on the South side of the lake.
DAY 2: South Fork Lake to South Side of Texas Pass
The country between South Fork Lake and Cross Lake could be summed up in one word: YUM! It’s not in a grand mountain cirque or bounded by towering rock walls. The beauty of this country lies in its many lakes, its expansive meadows with wide open views and in the cozy, easy travel in nearly any direction you choose to explore. And all the while the jagged spine of the central Wind River Range sweeps along the entire Eastern horizon.
The trail from South Fork Lake to Cross Lake area is fairly easy to follow, though it peters out here and there for short distances in some meadows. Some of the trail junctions marked on some maps are not obvious. From the trail on the South side of Cross Lake looking Eastward, just after the sign and trail junction leading to Upper Silver Lake, the trail disappears for a hundred yards or more in a meadow to the left. The only immediately visible trail at this junction is the one going right (it looks like it’s going strait) to Upper Silver Lake (trail 094), but that’s not the correct trail. If you look in the far distance to the East, you’ll see the correct trail leading up a slope toward higher ground 3/4 mile in the distance (trail 093, Crossover Trail). If you just keep heading due East, the Crossover trail becomes more obvious trail in 10 minutes or so.
As you get closer to the Fremont Trail junction near pass 10342 in the USGS map, the Crossover Trail peters out and disappears, But if you keep looking off to the left, you’ll see the Fremont Trail on the East edge of the meadows you’re hiking through, and it will keep getting closer and closer until you reach the obvious sign and junction at point 10342.
Once you’re on the Fremont Trail (Continental Divide Trail or CDT), the trail is fairly obvious and well used the whole way to the crossing of East Fork River (near where Washakie Creek joins it) at UTM coordinates 12T 0638098E 4739536N (WGS84 datum). However, shortly thereafter there’s a junction where you leave the CDT and take a left and descend to Washakie creek, but this junction was not marked by a sign and no trail junction was visible. This unmarked and unseen junction is at 0638861E 4739470N. After descending to the Washakie creek, the trail becomes obvious again. In a few minutes or so, you’ll come to the creek for a third time and there’s a short dogleg to the right and up a small hill to pick up the Shadow Lake trail, which is well signed and obvious (left across the creek goes to Washakie Pass).
Once you’re on the Shadow Lake Trail, the trail is very obvious and much more well used. Near Shadow Lake there are many interconnected trails and campsites on the North end of the lake. But if you keep going upward and stay to the left when in doubt, you’ll eventually hit the main trail up to Texas Pass.
The trail over Texas Pass was fairly obvious the whole way and well-used. The scenery keeps getting more and more spectacular as you climb up this alpine valley. There is a trail and switchbacks the whole way up the North side of Texas Pass, but it’s steep and loose, but nothing technical. The South side of Texas Pass begins with a short snowfield crossing, which was low angle and easy, followed by rocky slabs for a few hundred yards, then a good trail begins once you reach the grassy meadow areas. There are several small areas in this open grassy section of the trail where one could camp, off to the right, with plenty of nearby water (between 10700′ and 11000′ in elevation) thus avoiding a camp at Shadow Lake.
DAY 3: South Side of Texas Pass to Coon Lake
The remainder of the trail descending from Texas Pass to Lonesome Lake takes you down to the Northwest side of the Lake and is steepest and most rocky the last quarter mile just above the lake. The picture-perfect view from the lake’s outlet looking back up at Pingora and the other towering peaks of Cirque of the Towers was one of the scenic highlights of the trip.
Jackass Pass’s North side is very obvious, well used and moderately graded. However, on the South side of Jackass pass, there are two trail options that join in a mile or so. I followed the Eastern trail above Arrowhead Lake (trail 099) to avoid the large talus boulder on the lower trail that traverses around the West side of the lake. The trail is rocky, convoluted and slow going with lots of little ups, downs and curves around the many obstacles in the valley passing Arrowhead Lake and North Lake. After you cross North Creek at 10080′, the trail become much smoother and easier the rest of the way down to Big Sandy Lake.
At the East end of Big Sandy Lake, immediately after crossing the outlet stream from Clear Lake, be sure to stay low and to the right at the junction with the trail to Black Joe Lake. This junction is signed and the correct trail to Clear and Deep Lakes is down below and to the right of the sign. From here, the trail is obvious and well used up past the inlet to Clear Lake.
As the trail curves toward the creek above Clear Lake, it disappears after crossing the creek. However, there are large, smooth and easy to travel rocky slabs on the West side of the creek that take you the whole way up to Deep Lake. Once at Deep Lake, the trail is fairly obvious around the West side of the lake and up to the small pass between Deep and Temple Lakes.
After you pass the narrow middle part of spectacular Temple Lake, the most obvious trail takes a sharp right turn and descends steeply to the lake. This is the trail marked on the USGS 7.5′ maps. However, on Google Earth, there is an obvious optional trail which stays high above the East side of temple lake, loosing less elevation than the marked trail. However, I could not find the beginning of this trail from its North end, and so I ended up descending the the SE side of the lake and following the trail on the USGS map. Only after ascending half way to “Temple Pass” did I look back and see an obvious rock cairn making the Southern terminus of this higher trail option.
The trail up “Temple Pass” (the unnamed pass between Temple and East Temple peaks) was very steep and disappeared here and there in meadows, but with a little looking around, it was easy enough to find and follow the whole way to the broad pass above. At the Pass, there’s little sign of any trail and few visible rock cairns to follow. However, if you stay to the left (East) as you begin to descend the East side of the pass, you’ll soon see a well-used trail and several well-constructed switchbacks the whole way down the East side of the Pass. This well-constructed trail quickly disappears as you approach the last grassy slopes just above lake 10839 at the bottom of the pass. But the trail position on the USGS 7.5′ maps is fairly accurate, and if you head downstream first on the North side and then crossing the stream at 10600′, you’ll find a fairly obvious trail that follows the South side of the Little Sandy Creek down the valley.
The upper valley of Little Sandy Creek is very pretty, with a classic U-shaped floor filled with flowers, meadows and stands of stunted subalpine trees. The trail down Little Sandy does peter out here and there in meadow areas, but is easy to follow. And as you continue down valley, the cross-country ramp leading up toward Coon lake is fairly obvious in the distance.
Below are details on the cross-country ramp route leading from Little Sandy Creek to Coon Lake:
Little Sandy trail to Coon Lake
The ramp from Little Sandy trail to Coon Lake is obvious as you hike East on the Little Sandy trail from Temple Pass. As you approach the base of the ramp, the valley flattens and widens into meadows and there’s also a rock cairn near the stream draining lake 10786 to the West. Leave the trail and cross Little Sandy Creek just above the confluence with the stream draining lake 10786 – UTM coordinates 12T 0652719E 4726414N (WGS84 datum). As you climb the hill up and right on intermittent game trails, you’ll soon encounter a fan of talus breaking through the cliff band with a large boulder/chockstone at the narrow top of the fan. The crux is getting around this boulder/chockstone on the right, climbing over steep, heavily vegetated talus.
The crux chockstone was not technical and only took a few moves to get around, but it was heavily vegetated with willows, slippery and steep Class III terrain. After the chockstone, the route becomes more and more obvious as you climb the obvious ramp up and right, with intermittent trail segments becoming visible as you get closer to the top. Near the high point of the route, stay left of the largest rocky dome and continue down to the Southwest corner of Coon Lake, then pick up a way trail lining the South side of the lake. The image below has more details:
DAY 4: Coon Lake to Bear Lakes via Wind River Peak
Around 400 – 500 feet West of the outlet of Coon Lake, there’s an open meadow area that heads ENE. Follow this meadow with intermittent faint trail segments leading to the ENE and stays just right (East) of the rocky ridge on the left. You’ll come to a modest pass (12T 0654801E 4726352N, WGS84 datum) with a view down to an open valley and Tayo Creek. Descend ENE and stay right in the bottom of the valley, crossing Tayo Creek, and then continue ENE to find the Tayo Lake trail in short order.
From scenic Tayo Lake, you’ll find intermediate faint trail segments on the gentle ridge just East of the lake heading up toward Wind River Peak – just follow the path of least resistance and it’s hard to get lost the whole way to the summit. If the weather is good and you’re in this area, the views from the summit are not be be missed. On the descent from Wind River Peak to Deep Creek Lakes, stay to the right after passing Chimney Rock to find the most gentle slopes leading down to Deep Creek Lakes.
From the outlet of lake 10840+ (UTM 12T 0656162E 4732387N, WGS84 datum), follow a faint intermittent trail to the NNE and descend a small valley toward lake 10480+ and pick up the trail just above the lake near UTM 12T 0656259E 4732819N. After crossing the outlet stream of lake 10480+, you’ll see an obvious trail and sign post for the Ice Lakes trail, heading up a small pass then down to the North past Echo and Baer Lakes to the Pinto Park trail.
The next few hours of hiking were perhaps the least scenic of the trip, with heavy timber blocking most of the views of the surrounding peaks, but the trail is good and well traveled. A left at the junction with Pinto Park trail and a mile later another left on the North Fork Trail will take you to the Lizard Head meadows in 5 miles.
At Lizard Head Meadows, there’s an obvious sign and trail heading up the Lizard Head trail to Bear Lakes and Lizard Head plateau beyond. At 10600′ there’s a trail junction with the way trail heading over to the smallest of the two Bear Lakes with multiple campsites at the first pretty lake.
DAY 5: Bear Lakes to Mays Lake via Lizard Head and Hailey Pass trails
Going back to the 10600′ junction, take the uphill path that leads up and onto Lizard Head Plateau. This trail is singular and obvious until you reach a flatter area 11700′ in elevation, where the trail diverges and re-converges again multiple times. As you hike further North along the plateau, the trail becomes less obvious and discontinuous, but it’s pretty easy to follow if you look around a little. As you begin climbing the pass left (West) of Cathedral Peak, the trail becomes more obvious and singular again. Being a fan of high open places, the plateau was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
The Junction with Bears Ears trail where you turn left is obvious at the North end of the large flat pass area to the NE of Cathedral Peak. From there, the trails and trail junctions down past Valentine Lake, down the South Fork Little Wind River and up past Grave Lake were obvious, well marked and well used. Grave Lake has a big sandy beach and cove not far North of the bridge crossing of the outlet stream – this would be a fun place to camp and swim on a future trip.
Further on, the trail junction with Baptiste Lake was signed and obvious, just before the crossing of Baptiste Creek. This area is a real scenic gem – a return trip to see Baptiste Lake and Mount Hooker closer up is in order. Hailey Pass was steep on the North side, but it has good switchbacks and easier, better footing than Texas Pass’s North side. From there’s it’s a pretty obvious trail down to the outlet meadows of Mays Lake (Maes Lake on some maps).
DAY 6: Mays Lake to Halls Lake via Raid and Bonneville Passes
The trail up to Pyramid Lake beginning along the West shore of Mays Lake is obvious and well used. The pretty little valley West of Pyramid Lake and North of Midsummer Dome had a faint and intermittent way trail up to the gentle divide above East Park Lakes. From the gentle divide, it’s a mix of grassy slopes and intermittent easy rocky areas if you contour NNW between 10700 – 10800′ in elevation to the outlet of lake 10800-. The East Fork valley was one of the scenic highlights of the trip, with very pretty lakes, pastoral meadows and towering shear granite walls.
From lake 10800-, there’s an obvious way trail ascending the ridge due North just left (West) of the lake. Above 11200 feet, the way trail peters out – but just crest the ridge and the route to Raid Peak Pass due West from this point should be fairly obvious. There’s a bit of large talus in the small basin just below the pass, but the route is very obvious.
Descending the East side of Raid Peak Pass starts with talus but gets easier as you near the small pond at 11400-. I choose the longer and easier route around lake 10521 to descend into Bonneville Basin rather than descending steeply and directly to Lake 10828. The key to the easiest descent to Bonneville Basin is to continue descending in the small drainage Eastward making sure to pass the point where the stream turns right and drops abruptly into Bonneville Basin. If you keep descending East, leaving the stream, you’ll come of a small, flat, obvious grassy shoulder meadow (UTM 12T 0633909E 4746727N, WGS84 datum) – this is where you turn right to descend to Lake 10521 most easily.
From the outlet of Lake 10521, there’s a faint intermittent way trail up the valley that stays North or West of the creek. At 10600, the route crosses to the East side of the creek and immediately goes up a steep and obvious way trail up to the outlet of lake 10828. The route stays on the West side of Lake 10828 from here. Above the inlet of lake 10828, there are interconnected rocky ramps that lead up to Bonneville Pass (aka Sentry Pass), with 10 feet of steep and solid Class III scrambling in one spot below the pass.
The highly scenic Middle Fork valley lies below you to the North from Bonneville/Sentry Pass. On the descent I stayed right on the descent in order to intersect with grassy slopes West of Nylon Peak as soon as possible. I then stayed high above Lee Lake as long as possible to shorten the amount of time having to travel through willows. Near the outlet of Lee lake on its East shore a use trail become obvious. At the ponds and marshy area between Lee and Middle Fork Lakes, I veered right and upward to find more open grassy slopes East of the inlet of Middle Fork Lake and to avoid the willows lower in the valley. In the open grassy slopes above the East side of Middle Fork Lake a way trail begins to appear and becomes more obvious and consistent as you approach Bewmark Creek. From the creek, there’s an obvious trail along the pretty North shore of Middle Fork Lake all the way to its outlet.
At the outlet of Middle Fork Lake, there’s an obvious gentle and open grassy slope leading up and North. After rounding the first few small ponds on the left, begin heading to the West through pleasant rolling, mostly open country upward toward a 10720+ foot pass just South of point 11506 (12T 0629914E 4753000N). From this little pass (which is more of a shoulder than a pass), descend gently to the NNW passing the lake South of Halls Lake on the West side until you reach the South end of Halls Lake. Yet another grand lake resting in a beautiful alpine valley. There are a few campsites further along the West shore of Halls and several camp sites a little further North near the outlet of Halls Lake.
DAY 7: Halls Lake to Crescent Lake via Europe Canyon “Highpass”, and the Europe Canyon, Fremont and Scab Creek trails
The “Highpass” route from Halls Lake to Europe Pass is detailed below:
Halls Lake to Europe Pass “Highpass” route
The pass and bench connecting the Halls Lake drainage to Europe Pass is fairly obvious on Google Earth and it provides an efficient high bypass or “highpass” of Europe Canyon. From Halls Lake outlet head North along the East side of pretty Shoestring Lake (Lake 10664) to a valley that leads around to the right and then up to the gentle grassy slops that lead up toward the pass just East of point 11871. From the pass, look to the right for the beginning of a narrow ramp or bench that will take you North to a hanging valley below points 11630 and 11778. Head north along the ramp/bench to the hanging valley, then climb the grassy slopes just right of point 11630 for a few hundred vertical feet to the Continental Divide. Once on the Divide, walk a short distance WNW to Europe Pass.
Overall, the route from Halls Lake to Europe Pass was very scenic, fairly obvious and less steep and slightly easier than the routes over Raid Pass and Bonneville Pass the previous day. The image below has more details:
From Europe Pass, there’s an obvious trail that descends into Europe Canyon for a while, though the trail peters out as you pass the upper lake (lake 11023). The trail is visible intermittently as you pass the West side of the middle lake (lake 10813), cross the creek near its outlet, then pass the South side of the lower lake (Lake 10741). As you approach beautiful lake 10542, the USGS 7.5′ maps shows the trail leaving Lake 10542 and descending a valley to the right, just below point 11245. However, on Google Earth, the only obvious trail in the area stays close to the North and West shore of lake 10542 all the way to its outlet, and then continues down the lake’s outlet stream. Despite looking for it, I could not find the trail to the right shown on the USGS map.
Fortunately, the trail along the North and West shores of lake 10542 was obvious, well used and easy to follow. About a mile below the lake, the Europe Canyon trail peters out a bit here and there, but it soon intersects the well-used and obvious Fremont Trail/CDT near the NE shore of Valley Lake. Where I joined the CDT there was no sign or obvious trail junction to Europe Canyon, and the trail I had just descended was not obvious from this junction. I’ve seen photos of a signed junction with Europe Pass trail, which may be a little further East along the CDT.
Travel along the Fremont trail from Europe Canyon trail to Scab Creek trail is obvious, well used and generally well signed at trail junctions. This stretch of the Fremont Trail has a really nice mix of lakes, meadows, bits of forest and ever-changing mountain views to the East. Turning off the CDT, the Scab Creek trail (aka Dream Lake Trail 167) peters out and disappears intermittently on the NW side of Dream Lake, but it becomes more obvious again as it passes the Western bay of Dream Lake. There’s a short side trail to Crescent Lake, with lots of campsites between the main trail and the lake. Big meadows studded with pretty lakes with wide open views of the high peaks – yum!
DAY 8: Crescent Lake to Scab Creek trailhead
From Crescent Lake area, the Scab Creek Trail 110 is obvious and well used all the way back to the Scab Creek trailhead. Day 8 was a short 4 hour hike out through mostly forested country.
Overall Route Observations
There was some uncertainty before the trip about the route, especially the off-trail portions of it and how easy it would be to find the best paths. As always, the weather was a concern, given the high and exposed nature of a high route. But in the end nearly all of the routes and paths followed on the trip were fairly easy to find and navigate. And the weather for the first five days of the trip was completely dry all day long, which was a true blessing.
If you’re accustomed to boulder hopping and/or off-trail peak bagging in the Rockies, then this route should feel moderate and very doable to you IMHO, even with a 25 pound pack. The two most technically challenging parts of the trip were Class III and very short lived and were the only two places where I stowed my trekking poles to the backpack so I could use both hands. The first was at the top of the talus fan toward the beginning of the ramp leading from Little Sandy trail to Coon late (see details above). The second was just below (or just South of) pass 11360+ between Bonneville Lakes and Lee lake, involving a few steep Class III moves on solid rock, connecting rocky ramps.
With few exceptions, there was frequent water available each day, even at higher elevations and in places unexpected. Given the abundance of water, there was no part of the trip that required me to carry more than a liter of water at a time. Some key observations about water availability include:
There was water just below the summit of Wind River Peak, below the snowfield on the South ridge, and at 12000′ on the ENE ridge as well. If you’re at Tayo Lake and can see a snowfield just below the summit on the South side of the peak, then there should be plenty of water just under the snowfield.
Water was found at pass 11480+ near the junction of Lizard Head plateau trail and Bears Ears trail. There as a snowfield here with plenty of running water.
There was little water along the Lizard Head plateau trail after passing the small streams near 11600 in elevation above Bear Lakes, Northbound.
In the East Fork Valley, the highest easily accessible water was from the outlet stream of the small lake at 10800. There’s a well-defined way trail for a while going up the ridge just left of this lake.
In the small valley just NE of Shoestring Lake at 10800-11000 there was a small stream with plenty of water. There was a little water just below the pass just East of point 11871 from a small snowfield under the pass. There was also water flowing in the small hanging valley at the northern end of the Europe Canyon “highpass” bench/ramp as described above.
This was an amazing trip through one of the most beautiful and unique mountain ranges in the U.S. The scenery and country was consistently gorgeous, but there are some places I’d visit again and others I probably won’t. While the Texas Pass, Jackass Pass, Shadow Lake and especially Cirque of the Towers were spectacular and very scenic, these areas are not high on my list of places to revisit, mostly due to the crowds. Probably 80% of the people I saw on the entire trip were seen between Shadow Lake trail and Big Sandy Lake.
My favorite areas were the South Fork valley, Middle Fork Lake area and especially the area around Halls Lake and Europe Pass. The mountains here are a little less dramatic, but the valleys are flatter and more open, cross country travel is easier and the peaks are still quite majestic and pretty, if not as dramatic as the Cirque of the Towers. The Lizard Head plateau, Grave Lake and Baptiste Creek were also very pretty on my list for a revisit in the future.
Although this trip was in July, it was a low snow year and all the routes followed were essentially snow-free. Being late July, wildflowers were in their peak, as were the mosquitos. The sun hat, woven nylon shirt and pants and a tightly woven wind shirt with hood in camp did a good job of keeping mosquitos from biting for the most part, though either a bug net or repellent would have been welcome at a few of the campsites.
Overall, there was very little game encountered on this trip, apart from a few moose above Lonesome Lake, a few elk above Middle Fork Lake and the occasional deer here or there in a meadow. Bear scat was only observed a few times on this trip – a lot less bear sign than my old stomping grounds in Olympic National Park 🙂
Gear and Equipment
To make this trip as easy and enjoyable as possible while still being safe, the principles of ultralight and light weight backpacking were employed. The base weight for this trip, including all gear minus food and worn/carried items, was just over 11.8 pounds. The total pack weight on day one, including all food for the trip minus worn items, was 24 pounds. While I could have saved 2 to 4 pounds easily and safely, a little extra weight was allotted since this was a longer trip: a very comfortable sleeping pad, sandals to wear around camp and extra video gear. There’s a LighterPack.com link to all the gear used for this trip in the description below.
Much of the gear used on this trip is MYOG (Make Your Own Gear), including the backpack, front packs, bug bivi, hiking pants, gaiters and rain jacket/pack cover combo. For more information on the custom ultralight backpack called the Talaria, please see the link below:
For camera and video gear, the goal was to take the lightest and most affordable setup possible that provided reasonable video quality and good image stabilization without a tripod. For video, I used a GoPro 8 set to Cinematic mode, 4K and full stabilization. For stills an iPhone SE was used because it’s small, light and captures RAW images. I also carried a small Joby tripod and an Anker 10000 mAh power pack for recharging. The stills were processed using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Audio was made using Adobe Audition. The video was made using Adobe Premiere Pro and Bridge as well as Google Earth.
As 2019 draws to a close we are thankful for the blessings we enjoyed this year and for the new opportunities that lay ahead for 2020. While it was a trying year in one way, 2019 was also a year of successes in our personal lives, our health and in our business.
After more than 20 years of living a full, happy life our cat Patches passed on the evening of October 8th – the eve of Yom Kippur. She did not suffer and things went very quickly and smoothly at the end, which was a real blessing for Patches and for us. Her being with us the last year or so was an unexpected blessing, thanks in part to the daily fluids, special home-cooked diet and finely tuned supplementation and medication regimen we provided for her. She was a sweet little trooper, always pulling through the rough spells quickly and in good spirits.
The big bright side of Patches’ passing is the opportunity to travel again, especially trips with the two of us together. Most of 2019 we were pretty much home bound caring for Patches, but we have already begun to make plans for some longer trips. We look forward to seeing more of our family and friends again!
In mid October we visited Ocean Shores WA together for a night – it was our farewell trip for Patches and the beginning of a bright new stage in our lives. We watched the sun set into the Pacific and Les enjoyed the best pancakes he’s ever had at Ocean Beach Roasters & Bistro. In late October we enjoyed a two-night trip to see the Columbia River and North Cascades highway, staying in Wenatchee WA. The North Cascades treated us to bighorn sheep, towering glacier clad peaks and Michelle got to see larch trees for the first time, with their needles in full Fall golden glory.
Michelle continues to be blessed with positive results in her health journey, through a combination of metabolic nutritional typing, customized diet changes and a successful supplement and detoxification regimen. She is looking better, feeling better and has more energy and stamina than she’s had since the mid 90’s.
Les enjoyed some fun day hiking and a few one-night backpack trips in 2019. He’s looking forward to more trips into the hills in 2020, especially a few longer trips. His part time custom backpack business www.OlympicUL.com did well this Spring and Summer. He’s made 18 backpacks so far with plans for more this winter season.
Business has been doing better this year with the help of some new strategies and products. Our health and wellness websites took a big hit in 2018, losing over 90% of our traffic after Google started censoring holistic and natural health information. Despite this setback, our new e-courses, books and supplement products have been doing well and should continue to expand through next year.
Basically, Google is now financially partnered to big Pharma. Any health information outside of mainstream medicine and drugs has been demoted or completely removed from Google search results. Very popular, authoritative and science-based holistic doctors and their websites can no longer be found using Google search, unless you already know their name and search directly for them. Google also censors news, scientific, political, social and other information that they deem is best for you not to know. The days of believing that Google is unbiased are over. Google used to show you information based on popularity and helpfulness, but now you only see what Google feels is best for you to know. If you want unbiased health or other information on the internet, be sure to use other search engines like Duckduckgo.com or StartPage.com.
Below are a few photos and videos from 2019 – we hope you enjoy them!
Tyler Peak (6364′), Baldy (6831′), Gray Wolf – North (7218′) and Gray Wolf – South (7076′) sit at the northern end of the Olympic Mountains and form a high ridge line of conspicuous summits visible above the town of Sequim WA. The steep trails accessing Baldy and Tyler offer quick access to some of the prettiest high mountain terrain in the Olympics, with commanding views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the North and the high peaks of Royal Basin to the South.
The summit of Baldy is broad and gentle with a convenient tent platform ringed with stones to block the wind. It’s a memorable and scenic place to spend the night, provided that the weather cooperates.
The ridge line connecting these four peaks is high, mostly gentle and relatively easy to hike. Baldy and Tyler are by far the most popular of the four, with trails leading to both summits. Gray Wolf North sees some traffic, with a faint and intermittent foot path. Gray Wolf South is rarely traveled, with very few signs of a path.
This is a one-night trip in the Buckhorn Wilderness, in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. Being in the rain shadow, this area sees less snow and the winter snow pack melts out earlier than other mountain areas. This allows easy high mountain access in June without extensive snow travel. And June is one of the best times of year in the Olympics: wildflowers blooming, warmer nights, moderate bugs and really long days.
This loop hike is 28 miles long and has a lot of variety, including forested valleys with 200 foot trees, scenic mountain passes, multiple non-technical peaks and a mix of on-trail and moderate off-trail travel. It includes three passes, including Marmot Pass, “Hawk Peak” pass, and the Mt. Townsend-Welsh Peaks pass. Here’s the map: https://caltopo.com/m/TA7D
Getting to the Tubal Cain trailhead around 3:30PM on Friday, I was blessed to find a ride back down the road 4 miles to the Upper Dungeness trailhead. Camp was just beyond Marmot Pass on the PNT, not far from the summit of Buckhorn. The following day had all the vertical: up and down Buckhorn, down to Tubal Cain, up Tull Canyon to Hawk Peak, down to Silver Lakes, up to Mt Townsend, and down the steep Dirty Face Ridge trail to my waiting truck.
2018 was a year of growth and change. Michelle, our cat Patches and I all experienced some big health events this year, mostly for the better. We made a major shift in our home-based business in the way we market our products. Michelle and I also got away on several short trips this year and we got to see some old friends visiting from Colorado. You can see our 5 photo albums from 2018 below the text.
Michelle has made some major strides with her health over the last several months. She started a metabolic nutritional typing program that has helped her to resolve several health challenges she has had for years. The program is a combination of diet and lifestyle evaluation, testing, very specific and individualized foods and supplementation, genetic testing and ongoing consultations with a specialist in nutritional typing. In part, she was eating way too many vegetables for her metabolic type and that was making her health worse. Michelle is feeling and looking better than she has in years and is back to her mid-1990’s weight. It’s a program I’ll likely do myself after Michelle has a chance to go through it some more – she’s the designated guinea pig 🙂
My health has been doing well with the exception of Bakers Cysts behind both knees, which started in September of 2017 after a long backpack. It’s not an uncommon issue for runners, but for me it was a combination of factors that was the likely cause (improper shoes, gate issues and some diet factors). This spring I learned how to manage the condition well enough to hike and run, thanks to a combination of PT work and visiting a naturopathic sports medicine doctor in Seattle. After fine-tuning my diet and supplements, the cysts are hardly noticeable anymore, unless I start eating a lot of sugar and dairy.
Patches has been doing remarkably well, considering that two years ago we didn’t envision her living more than a few more months. Her health and stamina have been holding pretty well over the last year, which is great considering that she’s almost 20 years old – that’s like 96 years to you and me. This summer we started giving her subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids every other day, which has helped her feel better. It’s a two-person job giving her the fluids. In fact, it’s a real part-time job taking care of her. If Michelle and I had regular jobs, I doubt Patches would be here today, so we’re blessed to be able to work at home and care for her.
On the business front, we’ve been switching gears away from Google and search marketing toward Amazon and non-search marketing. Google’s constant search algorithm changes keep making it more difficult to find good alternative and natural health information online, including websites like ours. While Google says they are trying to protect people from dubious medical advice, they are actually squelching many well-established, science-based voices in the natural health arena. So, we’ve been changing our strategies and techniques to compensate. Our latest project has been converting our existing printed books to Kindle e-books.
Due to Patches’ health, we stayed close to home this year. So that one of us could be home to care for her, most of our trips any longer than half a day were solo. Michelle went to see the lavender season peak in Sequim and made a few trips to Olympic National Park, including Lake Crescent. She also visited Seattle a few times to hear some of her favorite speakers. My trips have been mostly one-night backpacking excursions close to home, but I did get to the Cascades for a few two-night trips and even a three-night trip this Fall. Last winter I took up sewing and made several pieces of outdoor gear. My main projects were a pair of wind pants, a synthetic quilt, an inner net tent for my tarp and six different backpacks. Making the backpacks was really enjoyable – I actually sold three of them through our www.olympicUL.com website. Right now making backpacks is just a winter part-time hobby, but we’ll see what happens in the future.
In June we had the pleasure of visiting with our Colorado friends Steve and Lisa and her daughter Ellie. Boy, it’s been too long since we were back in CO to see everyone. Seeing Lisa and Steve makes us remember how much we miss our friends and family. CO is the first place we plan to visit as soon as we have more flexibility to travel, maybe as part of a longer drive through Arkansas, Pennsylvania and New York too.
On a sadder note, Michelle’s grandfather passed in June at the grand old age of 102! He was doing pretty well overall until early in the year, when a stubborn infection and his weakening strength finally were too much for him to recover from. He was a war hero who flew 30 missions over Europe in WWII as a B-17 bombardier in the Air Force. After the war he invented aircraft countermeasures that protected pilots from enemy missiles. He later retired from IBM after a long and successful career in Boulder, Colorado.
Below are 5 groups of photos from 2018 – we hope you enjoy! Keep scrolling down to see all 5 photo albums. You can flip through the photos by clicking the arrows – but they should advance on their own. Michelle and I wish you a very happy Christmas and New Year – wish we could be there to celebrate with you!
Album 1: Below are photos from Steve, Lisa and Ellie’s visit:
Album 2: Below are photos of early season backpacks in the Olympics:
Album 3: Below are images of peak summer hikes in the Olympics:
Album 4: Below are images from Fall hikes in the Cascade Range:
Album 5: Below are Michelle’s photos she took on some of her trips:
This year’s backpacking season was one of short trips, being flexible, and changing plans. In March I was awarded a permit to backpack on the Big SEKI Loop in California in August. This 180 mile 10 day loop through Sequoia and Kings Canyon (SEKI) National Parks traverses the Great Western Divide and a section of the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails, plus a side trip to the summit of Mount Whitney. Unfortunately, this trip was canceled because of our cat Patches’ health challenges this summer. Shorter trips closer to home were needed through the summer, to be flexible so I could make it home quickly or cancel plans if Patches’ health went downhill.
So instead of training for a big trip, backpacking this summer was about exploring unknown areas close to home on short trips. Taking shorter trips also meant carrying less weight. The heaviest base weight I carried this summer (all carried gear minus food and fuel) was 10 pounds, with most trips in the 8 pound range. On my longest trip of 3 nights in length, that meant a total pack weight of 15 pounds or less, which included bear canister and ice axe.
2017 was a high snow year for the Cascades and the Olympics. Widespread snowfields lingered well into July in the high mountains, even as a record-long 56 day dry streak was well underway for Western Washington. The high runoff combined with plenty of sun made for a bountiful alpine flower season. All that dry, sunny weather also meant a long and active fire season all along the Pacific crest, from California to Oregon and Washington and far into British Columbia.
May and June – In the Rainshadow of the Olympics
The first few backpacks of the season started in May with short one-nighters into the mountains above Sequim – the center of the rain (and snow) shadow of Western Washington. The area around Blue Mountain and Deer Park campground above Sequim (before the road opens) provide relatively easy (and dry) tree line access next to a deep, forested valley (the upper Gray Wolf River valley). Marmot Pass and Mount Townsend are two other destinations near the Olympic rain shadow that usually open up to hiking in June that allow short, scenic one-night trips. Another enjoyable backpack takes the 14 mile Long Ridge Trail to the recently restored historic fire lookout at the summit.
July – The Olympic Interior
July was time to tread deeper into the Olympics as the snowfields continued to melt, making way for a burst of alpine flowers. It was also time to hike on some new ground I had been wanting to visit since moving to WA. One of the most scenic (and roughest) loop trails in the Northern Olympics starts from the highest trailhead in the Olympics (Obstruction Point) and visits the picturesque alpine basins of Grand Creek and Upper Cameron Creek. From there a primitive trail goes up and over Cameron Pass to the lonely flower gardens of Lost Pass. The trail then descends into the upper Dosewallips River valley for a while before climbing back up and over Gray Wolf Pass. After hiking down the long and poorly maintained Gray Wolf Pass trail, a trail climbs up to Deer Park and Blue Mountain. From there, the high and scenic Grand Ridge trail (the highest maintained trail in the Olympics) takes you back to Obstruction Point.
Perhaps the most popular backpack or long day hike in the Olympics is the Seven Lakes Basin and High Divide loop. This 19 mile loop starts at the iconic Sol Duc Falls and makes a high loop past Seven Lakes Basin and Bogachiel Peak (aka “bagel chip peak” per Ken G.). This loop can be extended another 6 miles by adding on the Cat Basin Primitive Trail, which passes through very scenic and relatively wild alpine country, past pretty Swimming Bear Lake and on the way to the Appleton Pass trail.
August to October – Exploring the PCT in the Cascades
By August it was time to take a rest from the Olympics and spend some time in the grand alpine playground of the Cascades. One of best hiking features of the Cascades is the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The PCT passes through over 500 miles of some of the best mountain scenery in Washington, most of it on well-maintained trail which is a joy to backpack on. This year wildfires closed at least one section of the WA PCT for a while and made much of the hiking season a smoky one.
One of the most spectacular sections of the WA PCT is Section J, which includes the Kendall Katwalk and the high alpine ridge that the PCT follows for over a dozen miles North of Interstate 90. Combining a 1.5 day hike of Section J with a 1.5 day hike on the Middle Fork Snoqualmie trail made for a scenic but smoky 65 mile, 3 day loop. One of the best parts of this trip was spending the last night at Goldmyer Hot Springs. This backcountry hot spring is maintained with a nice campground, bathrooms, filtered drinking water and a surprising “hot cave” that you can swim into – well worth the $20 to experience.
Another section of the WA PCT that’s hard to beat for its grand scenery, gently graded trail and abundance of golden larch trees in autumn is Section L, just North of Rainy Pass off of the North Cascades Highway 20. Due to nearby wildfires, Section L was at risk of being closed this September. But luckily, this section was kept open through the fires, allowing many through hikers to complete their 2650 mile PCT journey from the borders of Mexico to Canada. After hiking 44 miles North on Section L, you can pick up the Devils Pass and Jackita Ridge trails passing through the Pasayten Wilderness – all new country for me. This 70 mile, 3 day semi-loop trip included my longest day of backpacking so far – 30 miles in 11.5 hours from Rainy Pass to Harts Pass. This semi-loop required a 17 mile hitchhike along Hwy 20 to get back to the truck at Rainy Pass. The very next day, the first snows of the Fall season came to the mountains of Washington.
The third and last PCT section hike of the year was on the Northern part of Section H. This trip took advantage of the last two clear days before a strong Fall storm moved across the Cascades. This trip followed the Clear Lost and Coyote Trails (new ground) to the PCT at Elk Pass, then North along the PCT to White Pass. The second day of this trip brought freight train winds, cold temperatures, and descending clouds on the high peaks. Rather than spend a second night out in chilly, windy rain and snow, I hiked the whole way out to the trailhead (over an hour of night hiking by headlamp) so I could sleep under the insulated topper of my truck.
Late October – The Stark Beauty of Mt. Saint Helens
Most of the high Cascades and Olympics had up to 30 inches of snow from the last two Fall storms. The forecast showed a good weather window at the very end of October, with both clear skies and unusually warm temperatures. And fortunately, recent trip reports indicated that one particular alpine area of Washington had very little snow on the trials. So for the last backpack trip of the year, I visited the unique area of Mount Saint Helens.
The Woolit trail that circumnavigates Mount Saint Helens was an eye opening surprise – it quickly became one of my favorite trails the WA. Unlike most trails in WA of its length (34 mile by the shortest approach), the Woolit Tail spends most of its time near or above treeline, with long stretches of open, treeless alpine country. From the blast zone in the North to the lava fields in the South and to the crumbling, eroded valley crossings on the East and West, the trail provides beauty, challenge and close up views of recent volcanism on a grand scale.
Nearly the entire northern half of the Woolit Trail passes through the blast zone of the May 18, 1980 eruption. The unimaginable power of the eruption is on intimate display around every turn of the trail. All trees 10 miles to the North and nearly 20 miles East to West were felled by the initial 7 megaton blast of the eruption. The landslide that triggered the initial blast was the largest in recorded history. During the day’s eruptions, 0.7 cubic miles of material and 24 megatons of total energy was released from the mountain through lahars, pyroclastic flows, ash clouds and blasted debris, drastically changing the landscape on all sides of the peak.
The John Muir Trail (JMT) travels 210 miles through some of the most spectacular mountain country in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Construction of the trail was begun in 1915, just one year after the famous naturalist John Muir’s death. But it took another 46 years to completely finish the trail over the high and remote Forester Pass (13,153 ft).
Today the trail draws backpackers and hikers from all over the world to the Happy Isles trailhead in spectacular Yosemite Valley, the official start of the JMT. As of 2016, over 3500 people per year are granted Wilderness Permits for the traditional 210 mile JMT trek. Due to such high demand for permits and the need to preserve and maintain the wilderness for future generations, last year Yosemite National Park instituted a quota system for permits. The new quotas allow only 45 hikers per day to exit the Park over Donohue Pass on the JMT. Most people attempt the JMT in the short summer hiking season of mid-June through mid-September. That means that for a typical summer starting date, hundreds of people submit permit applications nearly 6 months in advance, but only 45 actual permit reservations are granted for each day.
Experiencing the JMT
Having never backpacked in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the JMT seemed like the perfect way for my friend Barney Bernhard and I to experience this amazing mountain range. Because of the challenges getting southbound permits for the traditional JMT, we decided to apply for permits using alternative trails to exit the National Park, and then reconnect with the JMT just South of the Park boundary. We also planned to exit the JMT at an alternative location further South, further extending our trip and making the permit even easier to secure. Our route would add an estimated 3 or 4 days to the trip compared to doing the traditional JMT and would require two separate wilderness permits. Our route also went through arguably more scenic country than the traditional JMT through Yosemite, including the highest pass we would hike over on the entire trip.
Preparation for the trip began nearly a year before the start. It took several months to research, acquire and break in all of the light weight backpacking gear we wanted to use. Planning our food needs, resupply points and making our home-dehydrated meals also took quite a bit of time. Submitting permit applications, ongoing physical training, gear testing and refinement and arranging to be away from home for nearly a month rounded out the nearly expedition-scaled preparations.
So after all the planning, training and preparation, Barney and I drove 16 hours South from Bremerton WA to Tuolumne Meadows to begin our hike on August 23. As with any big trip, an entire story could be told about the drive down and back, or about each and every eventful day along the trail. What follows is a gallery of photos from our trip, a compilation of video clips and stills along the hike, and a summary of each day of the hike, along with a closer look at several key aspects of the trip. A big thanks to Barney for sharing several of the photos and videos below and for being a great hiking partner on the trip. For a detailed trip report, continue reading below the photos and video below.
Aug 23, 10 miles, +3600x ft, -1200x ft
After a pleasant night’s sleep near Mammoth Lakes, CA, we drove to Tuolumne meadows, picked up our wilderness permit for Leg 1 of the hike and caught the bus for the two hour drive down to Yosemite Valley. After a 1 mile hike up the road to Pohono Tunnel View, we officially started our hike at 2:30 PM. It was a hot, sunny trail with over 3000 ft of climbing and a 4.5 hour hike to camp at Bridalveil Creek. Lots of grand overlooks of Yosemite Valley along the hike, with stunning views of El Capitan and the other monolithic rock formations of Yosemite Valley. The air was a little hazy from all the forest fires burning further West in California, but good views nonetheless. We also saw many surprisingly big trees, including the tallest Ponderosa pines I’ve ever seen. Getting into camp at 7:00PM, it was a little late so we ate a cold dinner, washed up a bit in the creek and hit the sack by 8: pm.
Fires are an increasingly troublesome factor affecting people who hike the JMT and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). During fire season large sections of both trails may be closed to hiking. In the past, hikers generally considered late summer and early Fall to be the perfect time of year to hike the JMT. But with the risk of fires closing down large sections of the trail, more people are opting to hike earlier in the summer, despite the heavier snow pack, wetter weather and abundance of mosquitoes.
Aug 24, 16 miles, +3500 ft, -3600 ft
It was a cool but comfortable 37F last night. We were up and on the trail hiking by 6:30 am on another sunny day. We enjoyed the cool morning air and great overlooks of the Valley below. After a quick water stop at the tourist facilities at Glacier Point, we descended all the way to Little Yosemite Valley (LYV), with gorgeous views of Nevada Falls and Half Dome most of the way. At Nevada Falls we encountered dozens of day hikers from Yosemite Valley, along with backpackers just starting their JMT hike. We intersected the official John Muir Trail for the first time, which we would only follow for less than a mile today on our route.
The mostly level hike up LYV was hot, dusty and very beautiful, with graceful granite domes and walls flanking both sides of the valley. The cool waters of Merced Creek danced their way down over granite slabs on the way to the larger Yosemite Valley below. We found a good campsite by 4:30 pm and enjoyed a long dip in the best swimming hole of the entire trip, on Merced Creek. The water temps were fairly comfortable and there was a large low angle granite slab running all the way into a huge neck-deep pool in the creek, right at the base of a pretty cascade. At one point I could feel fish swimming past my leg.
The engineering, effort and resources that were put into making the trails in this part of Yosemite National Park are amazing. They just don’t build trails like this anymore. This trail and many others across the National Park system were built in the 1930’s as part of the large public works projects of that era. Along many stretches of trail are obvious signs of dynamiting at almost every step. Steeper sections of trail have huge stepping stones placed strategically for hikers and horses. And the sections of cobblestone trail are truly a work of art. These trails, enjoyed by thousands of hikers each year, are a lasting memorial to the hard work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and other public works projects of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal nearly a century ago.
Aug 25, 13 miles, +5000 ft, -1400 ft
It was warm and cozy last night, only got down to 51F on the thermometer. We were up at 6:00 and on the trail by 7:00 am, once again enjoying the pretty canyon and the cool morning air. Merced Lake was very nice and larger than we expected, with a large well-developed horse camp and big campsite full of canvas tents near the shores.
Today had a big climb out of LYV all the way to Vogelsang Camp at 10,100 feet, another horse camp with adjacent backpacker’s camping area. Thankfully the sunny climb was not too hot, with a nice breeze and plenty of water to cool our heads and wet our shirts and hats from time to time. At camp near treeline by 3:00 pm, there was a cool breeze blowing, but we took another dip in the lake anyway (Fletcher Lake), which was much colder than yesterday’s swim. I slept out under the stars without setting up the tarp to enjoy the perfectly clear sky.
It’s strange to see people so deep in the wilderness wearing nice clothes, smelling of perfume and looking like they just had a hair styling and manicure. Horse camps like this one allow folks who would normally never see this kind of country to experience it in comfort and style. Horses kick up a lot of dust and put a lot of wear and tear on the trails, and many hikers would rather not encounter them. But these trails were built by horses and mules for use by horses and mules, and equestrians have as much right as we do to use the trails.
Aug 26, 8 miles, +200 ft, -1900 ft
A short day today, hiking down to Tuolumne Meadows to resupply, relax and rest up a bit before leg two of the trip. There was frost on the ground and the thermometer read 33 F at 6:00 am when we got up. I slept so-so last night with lots of tossing and turning and strange dreams, probably due to the altitude, which we’re still acclimatizing to. Sleeping out under the stars was nice but I got dew all over the sleeping bag (easy to dry later in the day).
Getting to Tuolumne by late morning, we first picked up our second and last wilderness permit for the trip. Next we cleaned up with a swim in the creek and picked up our first resupply box at the post office with food and other consumable items for the next leg of the trip. Later in the day we took an afternoon nap, enjoyed a double burger with bacon at the grill (yum!) and camped in the Backpackers Campground along with dozens and dozens of other JMT hikers. Many hikers start their JMT hike here in Tuolumne to avoid the crowds of Yosemite Valley and because it’s an easier wilderness permit to obtain. There were some clouds today and the wind shifted from West to North, bringing clearer skies with less smoke in the air. We’ll see if the sunny weather we’ve been enjoying for the last several days holds.
The new permit system and quotas in Yosemite National Park have been a big challenge for hikers trying to do the JMT. If you want to hike the traditional JMT, starting at the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley, your chances of getting a permit for a particular starting date are very very slim. Many people submit permit applications day after day for a month or more before finally lucking out and getting a permit. But that requires a lot of flexibility as to when your start date will be. Some people show up the day before the hike and try to get one of the limited walk-up permits, sometimes waiting in line multiple days to get one. A growing number of people are now doing the JMT in reverse, starting at Mount Whitney and hiking northbound to end in Yosemite, because it’s easier to get a permit. Still other hikers (such as us) use alternative entry trailheads, and/or exit the Park via alternative trails rather than using the JMT.
Aug 27, 17 miles, +3600 ft, -4200 ft
A perfect day. We left the Tuolumne campground by 6:30 am and walked to the main road so we could hitchhike 5 miles to the trailhead for Mono/Parker Pass. Within 10 seconds of hitchhiking, we were picked up by two female rock climbers headed to an alpine climb North of Tioga Pass. They were great to chat with and recommended some enjoyable moderate climbs for us for a future trip to Yosemite.
It was well below freezing on the first hour of the hike up a cool, shady and pretty sub-alpine valley in the morning. When we came into the sun near Mono Pass it felt like the temperature climbed instantly by 20 degrees – a typical experience in the high, dry dessert mountains of the Eastern Sierras. An easy 2 miles of hiking brought us to Parker Pass with its huge gentle expanses of tundra and gravel in all directions, with big peaks sweeping above. We ran into a few groups of trail runners this morning: one group running up to the top of Koip Pass and back and another doing a 25 mile trail run the whole way to Mammoth Lakes.
From Parker Pass the trail traversed under Kuna Peak (13,002 ft), giving us our first view of the 23 switchbacks zigzagging up the flanks of Parker Peak toward the Koip Pass. The climb up the switchbacks looked like a real grunt, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable, with a nice smooth trail bed cut into the mountain at a moderate angle with exceptional views – perfect mountain hiking. As we got higher, views of the huge 45,000 acre Mono Lake opened up far below us, a highly alkaline lake with pillars of salt surrounding its shores.
As we crested Koip Pass at 12,250 ft, an endless sea of Sierra mountains extended to the South revealing some of the country we would be hiking through over the coming weeks. After descending past beautiful Alger Lakes, we continued hiking down the mountain to Gem Lake, getting into camp at 5:30 pm, tired but happy after a 17+ mile day. A quick swim, dinner and then off to sleep after a long, high altitude day.
The JMT is a long, rugged and demanding trail. Our preparation for the rigors of the hike focused on two main things: 1) hike and backpack as much as possible before the trip for physical conditioning and, 2) carry as little weight on our backs as reasonably possible. The hiking part was pretty easy – there are lots of good day hikes and short backpacks in the Olympic Mountains and in the Cascades. As for acclimatization, our chosen route began at just 4000 feet and spent 5 days gradually increasing in altitude before hitting our first high pass.
To reduce weight, we adopted the principles of light weight backpacking, seeking out the lightest possible equipment that would safely and effectively meet our needs, plus leaving unnecessary gear at home. The difference between traditional backpacking and light weight backpacking is like night and day. On some days of our hike, the weight we carried was little more than most people’s day packs. Going light makes it a joy to backpack in the mountains, even over rough terrain. All the time and money we spent acquiring and testing new light weight equipment really paid off.
Aug 28, 15 miles, +4000 ft, -3900x ft
After a restful night we were up by 6:00 am and hiking by 6:30 am. Today we intercepted the John Muir Trail at beautiful Thousand Island Lake, and this time we would remain on the JMT. As soon as we hit the JMT we began seeing many more backpackers than the days before. The trails we hiked on the first leg of our trip were popular enough, seeing hiking groups every 2 or 3 hours. But on his section of the JMT we passed by backpackers, day hikers and trail runners every 5 to 10 minutes, sometimes in large groups. One JMT hiker we met had been doing some calculations and estimated that 1000 people were spread along the entire 210 miles of the JMT at that time.
Paralleling the jagged Minaret range, today’s stretch of the JMT rolls up and down crossing several valleys as it heads South, each valley holding a beautiful lake. After hearing several good reports about the beauty of Ediza Lake from hikers along the trail, we decided to venture off the JMT over 2 miles to camp at the Lake tonight. The side trail to Ediza Lake was a pretty hike with a beautiful stream. Ediza Lake is considered by many people to be the most scenic lake in this region of the Sierras, and it did not fail to impress us. Into camp by 2:30 pm after a fast 15 mile day, we had plenty of time to swim and relax before dinner. We were off to bed early for a 5:15 wake-up time for sunrise photography of the lake.
The increasing popularity of hiking and backpacking in the U.S. is putting a strain on the JMT. Even with quotas for permits there are a lot of people out there on the trail during the summer months. While most of the JMT is through Wilderness, it’s easy to forget it’s wilderness because of all the people you see. While we expected crowds and did not mind it much, some folks seemed surprised and disappointed by the number of other people they encountered along the trail. It’s good to see more people who care about wilderness and have a vested interest in helping to preserve it. But too many people can also lead to resource damage and overuse of some areas, especially delicate alpine meadows. As with many things in life, it’s all about balance. In this case, it’s a matter of balance between preservation and recreation, both of which are important. At least the wear and tear caused by so much traffic is confined to a narrow strip along the JMT corridor. As one long-time Sierra hiker told us during the hike “I volunteer for JMT trail maintenance so that everyone keeps using the JMT, while I use all the other trails in the area where nobody else goes”.
Aug 29, 13 miles, +1900 ft, -2100 ft
Up at 5:15 am to pack up camp and be at the East side of Ediza Lake for sunrise photography. Excellent alpenglow light and perfect reflections – it doesn’t get any better than this for mountain photography. After a cool walk 2.3 miles down valley we hit the JMT again. Today’s hike went past three more pretty lakes and then a long descent to Red’s Meadow Resort near Devils Postpile National Monument, where we had our second resupply package waiting.
Got in to Red’s at 12:30 (early) and snagged a campsite in the backpackers area of the campground. Next we walked to Red’s Meadow resort and took a long warm shower (excellent), washed a load of clothes, cleaned our glasses, ate a well-prepared meal at the resort’s diner (yummy), and picked up our resupply box. In the campground we spent a bit of time talking with Rob and his daughter from Bainbridge Island WA, just a few miles from where Barney lives. They were just ending a 5 day section hike and planning some sightseeing around Mammoth and the National Monument.
One of the coolest things about the JMT is all the great people you meet. Hikers, and especially backpackers, tend to be great people. Who else would sacrifice convenience and comfort for the sake of peace, beauty and communion with nature? It’s fun how you keep running across the same people from time to time on the trail – sometimes they pass you, other times you pass them. We’re all on the same journey, which gives us all something in common, despite our different cultures, nationalities and the roles we may play back in the so-called “real world”. Most long-time backpackers would probably agree that the “real world” is actually out here on the trail, not in the frenetic hustle and bustle of civilization.
Aug 30, 16 miles, +4100 ft, -1100 ft
It has been a week now since starting our hike. We’re feeling strong, acclimatized to the altitude and ready to tackle the next section of the JMT. We left Red’s Meadow reluctantly as the diner was opening for breakfast – really hard to pass up, let me tell you. But both Barney and I like to get going early in the mornings. The first several miles out of Red’s climbed gradually along a mountain side through dry but pretty forests to Deer Creek – last water for 5 miles, until reaching Duck Creek. After Duck Creek we passed pretty Purple Lake. We finally made it to camp on the far side of Lake Virginia at 4:00 pm after a 16 mile day. We camped at over 10,500 ft, our highest campsite yet.
Barney was pretty tired at the end of the day and he ended up cutting his toe open while stepping over a rock barefoot near the shore of the lake. He stopped the bleeding and we bandaged up his toe as well as we could. Fortunately, Barney has excellent first aid training, having taken a week-long Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course. He was upset at the possibility of a trip-ending injury, and I was thinking of the fastest escape from the wilderness if need be. We’ll see tomorrow how his foot feels and how it handles hiking.
According to the extensive JMT hiker survey, 27% of people have to shorten their trip for some reason, often due to injury. Wildfires are another common reason people have to change or delay their plans. For the much longer Pacific Crest Trail (2600+ miles), it is estimated that only 10% of people who start the hike finish the whole thing. Having to cut the trip short is something that every long distance hiker wants to avoid but has to plan for, just in case.
Aug 31, 13 miles, +1800 ft, -4300 ft
It was quite warm last night (48 F by 6:30 am) and we both slept well. Thankfully Barney’s toe did OK overnight with no new bleeding and we were on the trail by 7:00 am. He could hike OK, just a little slower than usual. Ascending to Silver Pass was very pretty, with intimate little meadows, babbling streams and several lakes of all sizes, all surrounded by shapely mountains on all sides. The South side of the pass was also very pretty but dry and windy. As we got near North Mono Creek, the trail dropped steeply, with a rocky uneven trail bed and big rock steps to negotiate on the hot, sunny descent. I would not want to be hiking up this bit of trail in the heat of mid-day, but plenty of people were. Tonight’s camp was just past the footbridge over Mono Creek and at the base of the notorious Bear Ridge – our big climb for tomorrow.
Nearly every day we planned our campsites so that we could hike up the next big uphill section of the trail early in the morning, while it was still cool and shady. This strategy worked really well for us, sparing us a lot of sweat, energy and time. Plenty of people enjoy the JMT by camping wherever strikes their fancy. While I like the idea of flexibility and going with the flow, it’s also good to give a little thought to campsite selection if it can save energy, make things more comfortable, or potentially be safer.
Sep 1, 13 miles, +3700 ft, -1000 ft
The first of September with a cool hint of Fall in the morning air. On the trail before 7:00 am, nice and cool and shady. The switchbacks up Bear Ridge were well constructed and easy to hike. There was water near the top and on the way down the other side. The notoriously grueling and dry climb up and over Bear Ridge ended up being pleasurable and easy. Barney’s toe did very well today and seems to have healed up nicely. Upper Bear Creek was quite scenic: a large open valley with scattered trees, granite slabs and domes and a cool stream. Lake Marie was a pretty place to camp and provided some nice sunset reflection photos.
Photography has always been a passion of mine and I usually carry a lot of heavy photo gear on backpacking trips. For this trip we decided to save weight and take Barney’s high quality point-and-shoot camera rather than my DSLR. We also opted for a 3 ounce homemade trekking pole – tripod adapter rather than a traditional (heavy) tripod. In the end the camera performed above expectations and the tripod system worked well enough for most of our needs. Carrying such limited photo gear does limit your photo options occasionally, but it’s a trade off I’d make again in a heartbeat on a long hike like the JMT.
Sep 2, 14 miles, +1100 ft, -3100 ft
Up at 5:30 am and on the trail by 6:30 am – Seldon Pass went by quickly. The descent down the South side of the pass was very picturesque. Sally Keys Lakes were perhaps my favorite lakes of the trip. If I had to build a cabin and live someplace along the trail we’ve hiked on this trip, Sally Keys Lakes would be the spot. As we descended further we got good views of the San Juaquin valley and the area around Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), where we would pick up our third and largest resupply package (a 5 gallon bucket) of the trip.
The MTR resupply went fairly smoothly, but MTR is not a place I’d want to linger longer, as least not as a backpacker. The place was dusty, hot and smelled of horse (not that there’s anything wrong with horses). MTR caters to their clients who pay $200 per night to ride a horse to the ranch, sleep in a comfy cabin with a shower, lounge in the client-only hot springs, and get fed a gourmet meal by a chef. For backpackers, the services provided are: 1) resupply bucket storage and pickup, 2) a running potable water spigot , 3) a tiny store with maybe 5 items for sale, and 4) a way-to-small power strip for 20 odd backpackers to recharge all their electrical devices. No bathroom for hikers – unbelievable. They would rather hikers take a dump behind a tree on the edge of their property, I guess.
One nice thing about MTR was all of the hiker barrels. Hikers with extra or unneeded food, gear and other items leave them behind in the bins. You never know what you’ll find and most people find at least something they find useful. I found 2 of my favorite flavored trail bars and some extra hand sanitizer.
We left MTR by 12:30 pm and hiked another 7 miles up the hot but scenic San Juaquin valley. We found a great campsite near the creek and had plenty of time to wash up and relax in the afternoon. Tomorrow we go into the Muir Pass area – southern JMT high-country at its best.
Planning and preparing resupply packages is one of the main logistical considerations for any long distance hike. For the JMT, some fast hikers only resupply once at MTR, carrying a week’s worth of food before and after MTR for a two week trip. Since our route was actually longer than the traditional JMT by four days, we opted to resupply more often. Frequent resupply means that you can carry less weight on your back. However, it takes time to resupply, especially if you have to hike a significant distance off of the JMT into a town. It also takes time to plan, prepare and ship each resupply package, plus the costs of shipping and storage fees that some resupply points charge (it’s $70 plus shipping for MTR to horse-pack your resupply barrel up to the ranch).
Sep 3, 12 miles, +3000 ft, -100 ft
After a good night’s sleep we were on the trail by 6:15 am for the hike up to Evolution Valley, a hanging valley high above the main San Juaquin valley. As we were hiking up the rocky switchbacks into Evolution Valley, Barney twisted his ankle on one of the rock steps, doubling up on the ground in pain. After a rest he was able to hike again reasonably well with the help of his trekking poles. Fording the cold waters of Evolution Creek at Evolution Meadow helped reduce the swelling in his ankle and he continued hiking relatively well the rest of the day.
Evolution Valley was a special place, with pastoral meadows and stately trees against a majestic backdrop of rugged mountain peaks. Further up-valley in Evolution Basin, Evolution and Sapphire Lakes were breathtakingly beautiful, as were the wispy clouds in the crisp blue sky. As we entered the upper part of Evolution Basin, we met a group of three backpackers (two sisters and their brother) from the Southeast U.S. hiking the JMT Northbound. They were fun to talk with and had a lot of experience hiking. They have been hiking a different section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) each year and have backpacked much of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), including most of the PCT in Washington State.
We camped high above 11,000 ft – our highest and likely coldest campsite of the trip so far. Sunset from the ponds near camp was amazing, with moody clouds of red and orange and picture-perfect reflections of peaks bathed in alpenglow. Despite the ominous clouds this afternoon, the InReach satellite forecast called for at least 3 more days of sunny weather coming up (sounds good to me). We have not had a single drop of rain yet for 12 days.
Most people who do a long through hike have to deal with at least one recurring challenge throughout their trip. For many hikers that challenge is blisters on their feet. So many through hikers are constantly having to tend their feet, applying special tapes and solutions to ease the pain of blisters or prevent more from forming. It’s also common for long distance hikers to have recurring foot problems unrelated to blisters. For other people, chaffing of their skin becomes a issue, as it did for me. I had never had problems with chaffing before, even on week-long backpack trips. But on a longer trip, any number of unforeseen challenges can crop up. For Barney, his recurring challenge was his ankles, for which he had a history of past strains or sprains.
Sep 4, 11 miles, +700 ft, -3300 ft
It got into the high 20’s last night. There was a fair amount of ice in the water bottles and my breath froze a little on my growing beard and mustache. This morning was an enjoyable and chilly hike past huge Wanda Lake then up to Muir Pass. The historic Muir Pass hut was bigger than I imagined and it’s well constructed rock walls and ceiling look like they’ll last another 80 years, no problem.
The South side of the pass was a long, steep and rocky descent into the dramatic Middle Fork of Kings Canyon. Barney had been hiking well all morning and yesterday afternoon. But on the long descent from the pass, his pace slowed down and his ankle flared up in pain. We cut the day short and camped near the intersection with Bishop Pass trail – the closest and easiest way to exit the wilderness tomorrow if needed.
We discussed the prospects for his ankle and the potential exit points further South along the JMT. We concluded that the ankle would not be able to heal well as long as he kept hiking. While the ankle did well in the mornings and while hiking uphill or level, descending seemed to aggravate it. Also, Bishop Pass is the last convenient exit from the JMT for a few days heading South. And some of the roughest terrain on the JMT still lay in front of us, including one of the biggest downhill stretches on the entire trail. Therefore, we reluctantly decided to cut the trip short by exiting over Bishop Pass to South Lake trailhead.
Sep 5, 11 miles, +3700 ft, -2600 ft
We hiked up the better part of 4000 vertical feet over Bishop Pass, with excellent views of the 14,000 ft peaks of the Palisades, home to some of the largest remaining glaciers in the Sierras. From the pass it was a dry but scenic hike down to South Lake trailhead, were we were fortunate to get a ride down to Bishop CA from two long-time residents of the town who were day hiking near the lake.
We spent the night in a hostel in Bishop and enjoyed some really good food and locally brewed beer at a local pub. After looking at the timing constraints, logistics and transportation options to get back to WA by myself, I came to the conclusion that continuing the hike by myself would not work well logistically. So the decision was made for us to start the trip back home to WA tomorrow morning.
After an early morning bus ride and a short hitchhike back to Tuolumne Meadows, we picked up Barney’s car and began the long drive home well before noon. We had an unexpected layover for the night just 30 minutes to the North in Bridgeport CA. After losing power on the road and getting a lift into town, we found out that Barney’s car needed a new alternator, which was thankfully installed early the following morning. Despite the car trouble, we were blessed by excellent timing and the generous assistance of the folks in Bridgeport.
All things considered, we had an excellent backpacking trip with a full two weeks and over 180 miles on the trail in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains. In total, we hiked nearly 87% of the mileage found on a traditional JMT hike. For us, hiking the traditional JMT was secondary to enjoying ourselves, experiencing the beautiful Sierras, and immersing ourselves in the joy of living life simply and efficiently on the trail. For John Muir, spending time in the wilderness was about deeply experiencing each passing moment, renewal of body and mind, and developing a deeper connection with something much greater than himself. By John Muir’s standards I’d say we had a very successful trip.
Many hikers who complete the 2660 mile long Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) running from the border of Mexico to Canada say their favorite part was the Goat Rocks Wilderness of Washington State. The combination of glaciers, majestic peaks, abundant wildlife, sweeping waterfall-filled valleys and wildflower gardens makes the Goat Rocks a uniquely beautiful wilderness. Fortunately for hikers, the well-maintained PCT runs right through the crest of the range, providing a scenic yet challenging way to experience the area.
As part of a training regimen and gear shakedown for an upcoming hike of the 260 mile John Muir Trail (JMT) in California, my friend Barney and I did a four day 58 mile backpack along a section of the PCT in Washington state, including most of the Goat Rocks. Starting just East of Mount Rainier at Chinook Pass, we hiked the PCT Southbound across White Pass and Hwy 24, through the Goat Rocks Wilderness and exited at Walupt Lake on the Southwest corner of the Goat Rocks. Below is a filmstrip image gallery for the trip, and under that are some notes and experiences from the trip.
Day 1: Wednesday July 27, Chinook Pass to Bumping River
15 miles, +3300 ft, -1900 ft
After setting up a car shuttle at Walupt Lake, we got started with our hike from Chinook Pass at noon. It was a sunny, warm day with great views from the ridge line trail, much of which is near treeline. Being so scenic with easy access from Chinook Pass, the first 3 or 4 miles are very popular with day hikers.
We were surprised to meet through-hikers doing the entire PCT, most heading North, but a few heading South. Most “PCT thrus” start in mid-April on the Mexico border and hike Northbound (NOBO) to end in September on the Canadian border – a 5 month+ hike. So NOBO thrus usually hike WA state in late August at the earliest. 10% of PCT thrus are Southbound hikers (SOBO), usually starting on the Canada border in early June, finishing WA state by the end of June. We met our first NOBO thru this afternoon – he started in mid-May and was on pace to end the second week of August – that’s a 3 month pace, or 30 miles per day on average! The two SOBO thrus we met were trying for a similar pace – they were putting tons of Leukotape onto their feet for blisters when we met them, but soon blasted on by us moving fast.
We got a little overheated in the middle of the afternoon, but had enough water to hike well. We pushed a few extra miles to camp, getting into camp at 8:20 pm. Got a pretty good night’s sleep for the first night out (I usually sleep poorly the first night).
Day 2: Thursday July 28, Bumping River to White Pass
13 miles, +1700 ft, -1400 ft
We got up a little late at 6:30 am, on the trail hiking by 8:00 am. Nice and cool for a while hiking in the morning, lots of pretty forest, small meadows and ponds. Later in the day the sun got higher and hotter, but we had lots of shade for the most part. We also had lots of mosquitos because of the ponds and small lakes (mosquito factories).
We met more PCT thrus today, and some PCT section hikers doing just the WA portion of the PCT from the Columbia River Gorge to the Canada border. Also chatted with some backpackers doing local in-and-out or short loop trips. Most of today’s hike was fairly remote, so we didn’t see any day hikers until we got near White Pass.
We got to White Pass at 3:15 pm, pretty early in the day, and decided to just camp at the campground. We enjoyed a nice long swim in the warm waters of Leech Lake (no leeches, we checked) – good to cool off the tired feet. We slept pretty well in the campground – I put the sleeping bag right out on the picnic table for a warm starry night.
Day 3: Friday July 29, White Pass to Elk Pass
17 miles, +4200 ft, -2100 ft
Got a good early start to beat the heat, on the trail by 6:00 am. The first 3 miles had the most mosquitos we saw so far. I broke down and put a little DEET around the edges of my sun hat and on the backs of my hands – I prefer physical (clothing) barriers if possible. After hiking past White Pass ski area it became more alpine and the bugs were suddenly gone (for the most part). We met a mix of day hikers, local backpackers and PCT thrus today. The PCT thrus are generally easy to recognize – they are mostly young, slim and fit, wearing shorts and colorful running gaiters, and carrying a small, light backpack.
It was a long, dry and hot yet scenic ridge walk today to reach the Goat Rocks, where we took the last protected campsite before climbing the alpine ridge to Elk Pass. I feel pretty good for having done 17 hot miles and the feet are a little less tired than yesterday. We have awesome views of Mt. Rainier to the North and many other peaks and ridges of the Cascades around us. I think we can even see Mt. Stuart in the distance at 20 degrees magnetic – Barney and I climbed that big granite mountain last August with our friend Isaac. A beautiful sunset and a nice cool breeze to start off the nights sleep.
Day 4: Saturday July 30, Elk Pass to Walupt Lake
14 miles, +2700 ft, -5300 ft
I got up to pee around 2:00 am and saw Barney’s tent billowing around in the wind with a lot of slack in the guylines. So I retightened the lines and put slip knots on the ends to keep them from slipping any more. I envy Barney’s ability to sleep so soundly! By morning the tent was limp and billowing again. Turns out the lines were fine, but the two trekking poles (breaking in a brand new pair) holding the tent up had loosened and shortened overnight. Mystery solved.
Anyway, we slept in till 6:30 am and got up to a surprise in the valleys all around us – all filled with fog up to about a thousand feet below us. The fog was slowly pushing further up the valleys and getting higher, thicker and pouring over low passes. We packed up quick thinking the weather would take a turn later in the day. The first two hours was a cool and windy hike along the Goat Rock’s Knife Edge: a well-constructed trail right on the crest of a steep alpine ridge with amazing views in all directions. As the morning wore one, the sun burned off the valley fog to give us another sunny day – a little cooler and windier than the last three days.
Next we did a side trip up Old Snowy (7900 ft), the largest peak in the Northern Goat Rocks. Then we hiked down and across the Snowgrass Flat area, an alpine flower garden with picture-perfect views and lots-and-lots of people. Big groups, small groups, kids, scouts, dogs, families, foreign travelers, local fishermen, photographers – feels more like a National Park than a Wilderness area. It’s a popular destination for day hikers and weekend backpackers with easy access trails from the West.
On arrival at Nanny Ridge, which was our planned campsite for a fifth night, we encountered a dozen or so kids swimming and frolicking in the small pond (the only nearby water source) and tents and more people spread around the area. So we decided to hike the last 4 or 5 miles down to the car and end our trip a little early. After a hot descent on the Nanny Ridge trail followed by a cool swim in Walupt Lake, we drove Barney’s car back to Chinook Pass to my vehicle and began the long drive home.
With the snow pack melting fast in the Olympic rain shadow, some of the higher trails are opening up for easy hiking. After a two hour hike up Mount Townsend (6260 ft) early yesterday evening, I slept on the summit, setting up the bivy sack right on the summit ridge. By early morning the West wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped in to the high 30’s, so I moved my bivy sack to a more sheltered location nearby, onto the East side of the ridge. Both sunset and sunrise were very pretty and colorful.