My favorite cure for the ailments of modernity, including car alarms, pollution, senseless noise, artificial deadlines, false materialism, and crowds, is backpacking in wild places. They don't have to be too wild: just undeveloped and unoccupied by people. It also helps if the scenery is limitlessly beautiful.

I have had some very enjoyable trips. I trekked for several weeks in the Solu and Khombu valleys near Everest in Nepal. [Of course I had to drop that one first: it makes me sound adventurous and rugged. 'Me mountain woman.'] I went on a pleasant 50 mile trip up the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite; hiked 80 miles in the southwest portion of Yellowstone; returned to Yosemite's high country for a 35 or so mile trip that was cut slightly short by a wildfire; and did a loop of Lassen Volcanic National Park that allowed us to see just about everything the park had to offer. I planned three of the last 4 trips (S planned the last), and find that each one makes me want to backpack more.

My Nepal travelogue was part of my senior thesis and was rather long. I'll restrict this page to past and planned trips here in the United States.

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, Yosemite, July 2000

OVERVIEW: The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir portion of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River is my favorite place on earth. In the summer of 2000 I made it the starting point of a 55 mile backpacking trip uphill toward Tuolumne Meadows. I planned the trip to be uphill because of a recurring knee problem I have, which I have since tamed, but at the time I knew that any steep downhill would cause me nothing but constant knee-agony. I took along my boyfriend, the first boyfriend durable and insane enough to take along on a backpacking trip like this. I'm glad I did: he got so used to spending time with me, that he invited me to live with him the very next week, and we are still living and backpacking with each other.

PHOTOS of this trip are available here.

BASICS: This is a 54+ mile hike with 9,920 feet of climbing and a net gain of about 5,000 feet. The advantage of going up hill is that you see all the waterfalls facing you; you get the gradual climb of Rancheria Mountain instead of the brutal, high-stepping climb from Pleasant Valley; your untamed 'runner's knee' problem is controlled; and you get to gradually acclimate to the elevation. The obvious disadvantage is that it's all uphill. A more popular route starts at Tuolumne Meadows and ends a White Wolf, though that means you have a 3,000 foot climb on your last day. There may actually be private bus service between White Wolf and Tuolumne Meadows once a day, however, so that route may be best for a one-car trip. (Check with the folks who run the Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne backpacker's bus for details.)

There is no public transportation or shuttle service available to get to Hetch Hetchy. We asked my father, who lives in the Sierra foothills, to follow us to our car drop at Tuolumne Meadows, wait while we got our wildnerness permit and rental bear can, and then drive us to the Hetch Hetchy Backpacker's camp to start. His primary reward was several memory cards full of digital images he took of granite domes he'd never previously seen.

NIGHT 1: After car drop, stay at Hetch Hetchy Backpacker's camp. (There is some small fee associated with this camp, and you need to register at the sign at the entrance to the camping area.) Chat with ranger about "a problem bear we call, 'Fluffy.'" Witness spectacular sunset.

TRAIL, DAY 1: Hetch Hetchy Dam to Rancheria Backpacker's Camp. RBC was the only designated camp we had to stay in during the trip: everywhere else in the wildnerness, we could pick our own camp on the leave-no-trace method. Tiltil Creek has a gorgeous, rocky pool just above the trail. It's frigid, but in a good way. (Admittedly, my idea of taking a full body plunge evaporated quickly once I realized that it hurt to keep even my feet in it for very long.) The Rancheria Falls area is beautiful, though while resting on a ledge, Fluffy the bear approached us. I was sure when he saw us that he'd head the other way: instead, some fool had fed him, so he rushed us. When we hollered, he pretended to lick some bushes and slowed down, but was still edging toward us. It wasn't until we realized that we looked tiny, since the rocks between us and the bear obscured most of our bodies. S leaped up on a rock and tossed some stones in the bear's general direction, a show of aggression sufficient to make Fluffy flee in a hurry. I wasn't entirely comforted: when I went to make a restroom for myself in the RBC area, every promising spot was covered with bear poop.

TRAIL, DAY 2: Rancheria Backpacker's Camp to Pleasant Valley. This is a long, long, long climb. Don't even look up: it will only demoralize you. On the bright side, it's very gradual. And the sad side, there was a big fire that had come through semi-recently, and the burned out areas provided no cooling shade for most of the ascent. Rancheria is famous for its false summits: countless times, S said 'I can see the top,' and countless times he was wrong. (Even when he said, 'this time, even _I_ believe myself!') The descent to lush and cool Pleasant Valley is very steep. The California Conservation Corp was performing trail work in the area, and had a big, yellow dining tent in Pleasant Valley. We saw CCC youths hard at work for the next few days, carrying heavy tools and working in the hot sun to improve miles of gorgeous trails. They rock! There are some lovely bathing spots in the creek that passes through the valley. Only some of them have bear scratches on the logs beside them. Mosquito repellant is a must in this area.

TRAIL, DAY 3: Pleasant Valley to Pate Valley. We were confused when leaving Pleasant Valley, because an additional lake had come into existence recently, and it removed our frame of reference for our trail, which was supposed to pass south of the lake just south of Table Lake. It wound up passing between that lake and the new one, and once we found it, we set into the 1800' climb out of the valley, and the steep descent toward Pate Valley. Pate Valley, which looked pleasantly lush and shady from the dry, partly burned hillside, wasn't just lush -- it was FLOODED. The trail at the base of the valley was filled with ponds containing small, swimming serpents, and flooded meadows whose only landmarks were flattened grass from earlier travelers. We wound up camping at dry land half an hour or so east of the valley. All the views of the Tuolumne River were gorgeous: sparklingly clear and turqoise.

TRAIL, DAY 4: Pate Valley to near Glen Aulin. We didn't intend to have a 17 mile day, but we made such good time, it just sort of happened. The trail climbs with the river, and there are many gorgeous falls (Waterwheel, Le Conte, California, and many unnamed). There are fewer campsite options where the trail sits on narrow shelves, but there are some good sites near large boulders on the river-side of the trail. On this day, I lost the ability to walk for a short time, and lost my appetite. My boyfriend fed me anyway, and became completely giddy, threatening to carry all my gear (that time I had most of the heavy stuff) in addition to his own.

TRAIL, DAY 5: Near Glen Aulin to Tuolumne Meadows. This is more or less "cake," as there are only about 800 feet of climbing left to do, and the river is gorgeous and full of falls and quiet, wide spots. Glen Aulin hosts one of those high country luxury camps, so you'll start to see people who look and smell clean and are carrying simple day packs. By about lunch time, we'd reached the Tuolumne Camp store, where we drank excessively sweet beverages that made me queasy and were appalled to hear inane and petty conversations after a workweek of birdsong and waterfalls. We then drove back to the SF Bay Area, where we ordered a pizza that was so rich (after a week of nearly vegan backpacking food) that we had to dedicate the rest of the evening to moaning and trying to force digestion to occur.

Recommended Map: Yosemite High Country Trail Map from Tom Harrison Maps. It doesn't include the Hetch Hetchy starting point, but I already had the 200' contour general Yosemite Recreation Map, so it all worked out.

General links about Yosemite are available on my outside world page.

Yellowstone: Bechler Valley area, July 2001

Coming soon.

Tuolumne Meadows to the Yosemite Valley via Rafferty Creek, July 2002

My photos from this 2002 trip are available here. I used the Tom Harrison Maps "Yosemite High Country Trail Map" for this trip. You can also use the Park Service's PDF of their official map, in which case look for our starting point, Tuolumne Meadows, in section 8F.

BASICS: This hike is about 33 miles. Unlike some of my trips, this one is mostly downhill! It's also short, and relatively easy. Our route involved 2700 feet of climbing, but you can clip off a lot of that by taking the low trail through the Little Yosemite Valley, and two hundred more by not switching from the low trail to the higher trail while descending from Nevada Falls.

START: We left our car in the Yosemite Valley (ask where to park when you get your permit). We got our wildnerness permit in the Valley to reserve our route (it's limited, to prevent crowding), then took the once daily backpacker's bus up to Tuolumne Meadows ($16?), which takes a few hours and drops you off just before lunch. We then checked into the Tuolumne Meadows backpacker's camp, which is a quiet, car-free space uphill from the camp theater area. You can rent a bear can at the wildnerness permit desk in Tuolumne Meadows if you didn't get one in the Valley: it's further east in a parking lot. The main Tuolumne campgrounds are filled with vehicles and noisy people, but there's a general store if you forgot anything, a snack stand, and a mailbox.

TRAIL: Follow the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trail along the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. Make a right at the Rafferty Creek Trail, which takes you in the direction of the Tuolumne Pass and Vogelsang. There's a fork at the Tuolumne Pass. We took the right fork, to head toward Boothe Lake, possibly the most beautiful lake I've seen in my life. We spent the night near the lake, invisible to the trail thanks to a big tree and a very large rock. From there we continued toward Merced Lake down a steep descent, pitying people heading in the opposite direction. We passed the Merced Lake High Sierra Camp, passed through Echo Valley, which was burned out and offered little shade, and took the high trail above the Little Yosemite Valley. We camped high above the valley as smoke from a nearby fire filled the air, taking comfort in the fact that the granite that surrounded us on three sides isn't flammable. Our intent was to hike to the top of Half Dome, having timed our visit around trail construction going on at the time, but a fire persuaded the nice rangers to close the trail for our safety. We hiked down into the Little Yosemite Valley near the ranger station (bathrooms!), as the trail became increasingly crowded with day hikers, took the right hand trail down past the falls, and then had to climb up the steep trail above Vernal Fall to avoid taking the Mist Trail down with my bad knee. We took the crowded main trail back down to Happy Isles, and took the Valley shuttle bus back to our car.

General links about Yosemite are available on my outside world page.

A loop through eastern Lassen National Park, August 2003

It's handy to have the Park Service's map open to review our route. The Park Service maintains a trail conditions report page, but we found it to be inaccurate. (Trails reported closed were open, etc.)

PHOTOGRAPHS: are available here.

BASICS: This is just over 40 miles - cake!

START: We came in through the entrance from Mineral, in the southwest corner of the map, and drove to Summit Lake North campground, where we camped for a night to get accustomed to the altitude. The ranger at the entry gate said we could leave our car there, in the public area. There is also a Summit Lake Ranger Station with a parking lot and trailhead: that's probably a better spot.

TRAIL, DAY 1: From Summit Lake North, take the boardwalk around the lake's edge toward the ampitheater until you reach the wilderness sign and/or trail sign. Head east to Echo Lake, Twin Lakes, Rainbow Lake, and Cinder Cone. The trail is firm and the landscape is lush at first, but after Rainbow Lake it becomes increasingly ashy/sandy, and by the time you approach Cinder Cone you're in a veritable moonscape. If you feel like climbing a 500' sandy trail for spectacular views, follow the trail to Cinder Cone's top. You'll be tired! (S described it as two steps up, half a step back, all the way.) Continue northeast to Butte Lake. (Restroom stop!) Only the southern end of Butte Lake is considered legal wilderness for camping, so you either need to pay to camp in the car camp area (but where's the fun in that?) or proceed around Butte Lake. There's a 150' climb to get past some scree and back onto a lake-level horse trail. It's better to deal with heading east than west (the eastbound ascend is more gradual and firm). Cross the stream (no bridge, just driftwood), and head south until you come to the next trail junction, which gets you away from the densest mosquito areas. [In reality, this was too much for us for the first day. We should have camped near Rainbow Lake. I recommend that to you instead of our plan.]

TRAIL, DAY 2: Take the trail to Snag Lake. I can't really recommend this: while the trail rises only gradually and we wanted to see Snag Lake, the trail goes through a burned out area in full sun and the route is heavily covered with downed trees. Bypasses are often visible, and have been tidied up by folks with small hand saws, but it seems like you spend more time off trail, trying to get back on than you do on trail. Consider the Widow Lake/Jakey Lake trail instead (though I can't vouch for it). At the southern end of Snag Lake we took the first junction toward Cameron Meadow, and crossed the ridge to descend to beautiful, sparkling Juniper Lake. Juniper Lake is very inviting. After a bathroom break at the picnic area, we headed west on the "private road" dotted with vacation homes (likely on claims predating the park), and the end of which the trail begins again. Camp at the west end of the lake.

TRAIL, DAY 3: At the western end of Juniper Lake, we took the trail junction to Horshoe Lake. Be prepared for mosquitos. The Horshoe Lake Ranger Station had no rangers (just a young couple who were displeased when we visited), but did have an outhouse (bring your own TP). We countinued north around the lake, then made a left at the next junction and followed the Pacific Crest Trail down the swampy, wildflower-filled Grassy Swale to the alleged Corral Meadow, which was completely invisible. We took the trail along King's Creek toward Kelly Camp, but it was almost immediately impassable due to downed trees, so we just set up camp. King's Creek is LOVELY and VERY VERY VERY COLD.

TRAIL, DAY 4: This was our easiest day. We took the Pacific Crest Trail from alleged Corral "Meadow" down to Warner Valley, a lower elevation valley that featuring a few thermal features and the turn of the last century resort, Drakesbad Guest Ranch. Warner Valley isn't wilderness, so we paid to stay on the western edge of the car campground, which is small and relatively quiet, with charming and cool Hot Springs Creek drowning out other noises. Our Campground Host advised us that Drakesbad had a fabulous dinner, so we went there first and made dinner reservations, and spent the rest of the afternoon fixated on having a hot, non-dehydrated, gourmet meal. We then visited Devil's Kitchen, a collection of thermal features at the western end of the valley down a very long-feeling 1.6 (or 1.8, depending on which sign you believe) mile horse trail. On the return trip, having already sucked down all of our water, I started to feel ill from the heat.

Warner Valley can get very hot: it was in the high 90s in our tent, and my stick deodorant melted into a clear liquid while being stored in the campground bear locker. Be warned. Also note that Hot Spring Creek is actually rather cold, though not as bone-chillingly cold as King's Creek, despite several hot springs which trickle into it. A long soak in the creek after a walk back along the horse trail on the southern side of the valley fixed just about everything, at least until I heated up again. While I was writing, S explored Boiling Springs Lake, one of several 'boiling' lakes in the park.

Dinner at Drakesbad was heavenly. A crisp spinach salad with cucumbers and bell peppers; fettuccini with sundried tomato sauce; tender stringed potatoes; zucchini and perhaps another squash stringed and sauteed in garlic; fresh lemonade; wine; a berry sorbet with fresh berries... Real food always tastes great when you're backpacking, but this was such luxury, I can't even describe it. Drakesbad serves wealthy families, and there was a lot of parental herding going on, plus the only inane cell phone conversation we'd been subjected to all week (@#$%^&*!), but the place was otherwise very charming.

TRAIL, DAY 5: Cloud clover blessed us with coolness as we climbed back out of the valley on the PCT, passed back through Corral "Meadow," and returned to our car at Summit Lake. It took us just a few (2+) hours, giving us plenty of time to relocate to Manzanita Lake and drive to the hike to Bumpass Hell in the afternoon.

BOOKS: On this trip we used the brilliant and charming Pacific Coast Tree Finder: a Manual for Identifying Pacific Coast Trees by Tom Watts, published by the Nature Study Guild as a tiny Paperback (June 1973) and available at the Loomis Museum in Manzanita Lake.

Dream trips I hope to take

If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would be figuring out how to devote much of the year to exploring the beautiful outside world.

Places on my short list at the moment:

What to pack while backpacking

I've used the same basic packing list for each of my trips: the same exact one, which is now stained and marked with so many checkmarks, I've had to make a fresh copy. Here it is:


Things I've learned about equipment: knuckle bandages can repair broken tent poles; medical tape is good for just about everything; good boots can suddenly chafe you after you've had them for years; you can never have too much film, but if you worry you will, limit yourself to two rolls a day; sunscreen and insect repellant sometimes cancel each other out, so try to either mix them together (poison paste!) and apply at once or experiment to find a workable arrangement; the Platypus makes a great hot water bottle on cold nights, if you have plenty of fuel just boil water and take it to bed with you; for really cold weather camping, bring along a mummy-style fleece sleeping bag liner, which will improve the insulation of your bag enormously; blue jeans never dry; large zip lock bags are good for everything from keeping TP dry to packing out used TP in those parks that require it.

Random tip: the National Park Service accepts checks, so if you plan to hike in to developed, fee campsites, take your checkbook so you won't have to struggle to make correct change for the rather random fees.

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last updated september 3, 2003 (HTML rev. 01/04/05)

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