Miter Basin and Mt. Langley ~ October 2014

Falls colors in Miter Basin
There is something special about fall in the High Sierra. The days are shorter and the weather is much colder but the crowds are long gone and the colors are beautiful. Over a long weekend and over 30 miles in the backcountry I saw only four other hikers.  

After spending the night at the trailhead the night before I got an early start on the Cottonwood Lakes trail. I slept in a homemade sleeping bag, but it was only rated to 40 degrees. It was below 40 that night! 

Fortunately I brought warmer gear for the hike in. 

Mt. Brewer Loop ~ Sept. 2014

Kings Canyon

Earlier this summer I planned on traversing the Great Western Divide during a ten day solo trip through the Sierra, but when bad weather approached I had to cut it short. This time I rejoined the Great Western Divide near Lake Reflection for a four day trip over three cross country passes, three remote basins and an attempt at climbing Mt. Brewer.

The plan was to finish the north end of the Great Western Divide during a 40 mile loop out of Roads End in Kings Canyon. Although the total mileage didn't pose a problem the daily climbs were a challenge. The daily elevation change on trail ranged from the 5,000 foot ascent on the first day to the 6,980 foot descent on the hike out. Ouch.

Great Western Divide ~ July 2014

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Sunrise on the Kaweah Peaks
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Great Western Divide ~ July 2014

Kaweah Basin - Milestone Basin - Thunder Basin

~ Overview Map ~

(Click for full size map)

Thru-Hiking the Trans Catalina Trail

The Trans Catalina Trail.
With a total elevation change of over 32,000 feet and a complete lack of switchbacks the Trans Catalina Trail delivers some challenging terrain. The official trail travels 37.2 miles from one end of the island to other and is made up of a collection of old fire roads and use trails. With excursions to Silver Peak, Ben Weston Beach and Lands End my route covered 62 miles in 4 days.

I decided to start the hike at Twin Harbors. My plan was to take the ferry from San Pedro to Twin Harbors, hike to the official end of the TCT at Starlight Beach then follow the trail all the way to Avalon Harbor and catch a ferry back to Dana Point. 

Summer Sierra Gear List 2014

For this years summer gear in the Sierra I used the lightest and most functional options, except for my sleeping pad. After being uncomfortable using the Therm-a-rest ProLite and other thin inflatable pads I finally decided to use an extra large Therm-a-rest Xlite. It is 2.5 inches thick which provides plenty of padding on hard granite surfaces and the 25 inch width leaves room for my shoulders and elbows. Plus, by only partially inflating it the pad follows the contours of my shoulders and hips which means a seriously luxurious sleep every night!! It weighs about a pound but the extra weight is well worth a good nights sleep. 

Even with the addition of the heavy sleeping pad my base weight was only 7 pounds. Since it would not be possible to resupply in the remote areas I would be exploring this summer, I had to carry everything I would need for the whole trip. With food for 10 days and 1 liter average water carried my pack weighed in at 23 pounds on day one. See below for details:

Seven Day Sierra Snow Gear List ~ 2014

This UL gear list has everything I need to stay warm, dry and well fed for a week long trek into the Sierra backcountry. I have used this setup in temperatures in the low teens this winter and slept like a baby. 

The standout piece of gear is the Mountain Laurel Designs cuben Solomid. I custom ordered the Solomid with the lighter 0.51 oz/sqyd cuben material to save some weight. Understandably Ron Bell would not provide the normal warranty with this lighter material as he prefers the slightly heavier 0.70 oz/sqyd cuben. Fortunately the lighter material has held up well even in an all night wind storm at 11,000 feet earlier this year.

If you have any comments, criticisms, recommendations or questions please feel free to send me an email at bluewater9@cox.net

Tablelands Snowshoe Trek in Sequoia National Park ~ April 2014

Winter Sunset from the Tablelands.
A few weeks before this trip my wife and I went to the first BPL Southern California GGG. The good people at BPL (Backpackinglight.com) have been holding an annual GGG (Gathering of the Gear Geeks) in Northern California for many years, but this was the first 'gathering' in Southern California. We weren't exactly sure what to expect. 

Fortunately it turned out to be a fun experience. We met many other hikers including Marian, an experienced backpacker from Romania. By the end of the GGG we had agreed to do a snowshoeing trip before the season was over. 

A few weeks later it was time to hit the trail. I planned on staying out for a week while Marian would head back after a few days to meet his wife in Sequoia. I had an entire week to explore some of the remote areas of the Tablelands and beyond in the unique beauty of the winter. 


We started out with some pleasant forest hiking with just a few patches of snow. 

High Sierra Snowshoe Trip ~ March 2014

Snowshoeing over frozen Emerald Lake.

Last summer I had the opportunity to join a group of ultralight backpackers from BPL on a trip in Emigrant Wilderness. I was fortunate to meet Andrew and Chris on the trip and like most people in the group they were well versed in the latest UL gear, food, techniques and cuben fiber bling. 

During that summer trip we all shared stories about our latest journeys over the UL campfire. After hearing about a winter trip I took last year Andrew mentioned possibly doing a group snowshoeing trip in the winter. He was finishing up a personal challenge to do a Sierra backpacking trip every a month for a year and a snowshoeing trip was a good fit that winter. 

We agreed to get something scheduled for that winter but the busy holiday season came and went and before long it was January 2014. By early 2014 we decided to head out in March, weather permitting. Although it was a dry winter a few late season storms hit the Sierra and there was plenty of snow! 

With about four days available for the trip we decided to try the classic Evolution Loop on snowshoes. The loop is about fifty miles and this seemed like a reasonable distance for a four day trip. I would go in a day early to check the conditions then we would decide which way to start when they arrived the following day. 

Due to the large amount of fresh snow at high altitude our plan turned out to be overly ambitious. The recent storms left two to three feet of fresh powder on the north facing slopes. I spent the first day breaking trail through deep powder and by the time I got above timberline at 10,400 feet it was time to make camp. It had taken six hours to go five miles. Echo Col was six miles away over difficult cross country terrain on unconsolidated snow. At this rate it would take four days just to get to Muir Pass.

By the time Andrew and Chris arrived the next day we decided to follow my tracks back up to Sabrina Basin and see how far we could go. . . 

The road to Sabrina Basin was gated outside of Aspendell so we walked the first 1.8 miles to the trailhead. 

Winter Sierra Gear List ~ 2014

For 2014 I updated my winter gear to include a few new items while still staying lightweight, safe, comfortable and well fed.

To stay warmer at night and even as part of my sleep system I added a puffy jacket that has a lot more down insulation. The Montbell Mirage puffy jacket has 5.3 ozs of 900 f/p down, which means over 40% of the total weight is in down! It allowed me to stay out after sunset and take night photos while still warm and cozy in the 10 to 20 degree temps.


SUL Trans Catalina Trail Gear List

The Trans Catalina Trail

'SUL' or Super Ultra Light is a category used in the lightweight backpacking community which simply means that the backpackers baseweight is five pounds or less. During the winter months it is usually not reasonable (and at times bordering on unsafe) to go SUL, but in the summer it can be a fun way to increase the enjoyment of longer multi-day backpacking trips.

While planning for the Trans Catalina Trail I decided to try the lightest setup possible. Part of the reason for this is that I like taking a break from civilization and living in a minimalist fashion. This seems to provide a perspective on what is really important that is sometimes difficult to find with the distractions in civilization.

Also, I wanted to finish the TCT and a few side trips in three or four days. Although the actual TCT is a relatively short trail the rolling hillside topography means the total altitude change is an incredible 10,000 feet in just 37 miles. To give some perspective the John Muir Trail has about 40,000 feet of elevation change in over 222 miles!