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  1. 2 points
    It's an early December afternoon in Yosemite National Park, and I'm watching a bobcat padding down the trail in front of me. In his mouth is a lifeless gray squirrel, so large that he drops it several times. He turns and surveys me with the lazy arrogance of a house cat who's proud of his kill. I'm unsure if I should be following this wild creature down the trail. I think of how animals are protective of their food. Still, the large cat and I are headed the same way, so I continue at a distance. Eventually he turns off the trail, and I draw closer and look up the embankment where he stands. The bobcat and I both freeze as a large, shaggy brown bear appears from around a rocky outcrop behind him. The moment slows, the sight too surreal. Then the bear spooks and disappears as suddenly as he appeared. I look around in search of other witnesses, but there are none. As a woman, so many different people in my life told me that I shouldn't be in this wild place alone. My mother. My friends. Various family members, and various strangers. From the man that rented me the car to the lady that shuttled me from the airport. These encounters filled me with wonder. Wonder and gratitude at the kindness and compassion of strangers, but also wonder and frustration at the fear that blooms around a woman walking alone into the woods. Eventually I just stopped discussing my trip with strangers. Back in Yosemite Valley the morning after the bear, I walk along Sentinel Meadow. Three coyotes lope through the mist that rises from the snowy grass. Beyond the winter-worn trees ahead, the granite walls of the North Rim loom over the valley, broken by the ribbon of Yosemite Falls. Today I will ascend to the top of these falls, the tallest in North America. The trail to Upper Yosemite Falls is one of the oldest and most iconic in the park, but on this chilled morning it appears abandoned. The bottom half of the trail is crisp but clear, the views expanding around every rocky switchback. Half way up the cold settles in, covering the granite in slick hard-packed snow. My progress slows as my feet slip continuously, too unwilling and fingers too cold to dig my microspikes out of my pack. By the time the trail levels out at the top, I've entered a pristine winterscape. I follow the footprints left by the intrepid before me, wishing to keep the snow out of my shoes and the trail under my feet. The sound of falling water grows, and the hill crest ahead reveals nothing beyond but fog. I've made it to the falls, but I must travel down two snowy switchbacks to the cliff's edge to see it. The first switchback bellies right up to the top of the falls, the pooled water disappearing ominously over a 2,425-foot cliff. As the trail turns, I'm faced with a snow-slickened rock ledge, hardly wide enough for one. Beside it, a single metal rail of unknown age and integrity protrudes from the cliff wall. Here I wait as a couple passes single file, the three of us clinging to the rail like a lifeline. It is my turn, and I descend carefully like a cat on a window ledge. I step down to the empty viewpoint and the expansive sight of Yosemite Valley from the top of the falls. Exhilaration washing over me like a wave, I can hardly believe I have this moment entirely to myself. I savor the experience for as long as I can, but standing still eventually lets the cold creep in. I wrestle my traction onto each shoe with stiff, clumsy fingers, then shove my gloves back on. Continuing to Yosemite Point is literally walking through clouds. Up this high, with the ground cloaked in snow and the mists swirling around me, the entire world is winter white. The silence is both peaceful and eerie, broken only by snow falling from branches and the occasional ice break down Yosemite Falls behind. I cross Yosemite Creek on a wooden bridge, snow covered and adorned with shimmering icicles. The trail is now a suggestion, a slight flattening out of the drifts. I know for certain I'm alone out here; the only tracks those of deer and birds. I think back to earlier this morning in the valley below, snapping photos of El Capitan and the Three Brothers near the Merced River. I came across bear prints so fresh, I checked over my shoulder for the animal that left them. Picturing the harsh gashes left by its claws, I shudder and hope not to see those here, or worse, cougar prints. The many warnings bestowed upon me creep back in, and my complete solitude suddenly feels heavy. But I've come this far and worked this hard, all these miles of climbing, feet slipping, thighs and lungs burning. These doubts are not even mine; I've only borrowed them from others. I dismiss them and forge ahead. Finally, the trees fall away, and then the world falls away as I approach the ancient metal railing of Yosemite Point. There are many more famous, more photographed, more sought-after views in this great valley. But this is my view, my precipice that no other dared adventure to in this untouched snow. Down below is the park in miniature, the silver road looping through, and out beyond are the looming walls and frosted peaks of the south rim. These are memories I know I'll carry forever, standing here grinning and heart pounding, just a woman alone in the woods. Information: No permit is required for day hikers, though all visitors to Yosemite National Park are charged an entrance fee. Wilderness permits for Yosemite Wilderness are required for overnight stays. Best Time to Go: Views of the waterfall are most impressive during the spring and early summer, when the falls are at their peak from winter runoff. The trail to Upper Yosemite Falls is open year-round. Traction and hiking poles are recommended during the winter months, however, when parts of the trail are covered in snow and ice. While most of the trail is not exposed, falling rocks and ice are a potential hazard. Climbing down to the lookout at the top of the falls is exposed and requires extreme caution when the path is frozen. Getting There: From the park entrance, follow Highway 140 for 6.5 miles until the road splits. Keep right and follow Southside Drive, turn left onto Sentinel Drive, and left again onto Northside Drive, following signs for Yosemite Lodge. Park anywhere around Yosemite Village or Yosemite Lodge. The trailhead is located behind the lodge at the Camp 4 area. The hike to Upper Yosemite Falls is 7.2 miles roundtrip. To continue to Yosemite Point, follow signs east towards North Dome. This adds another 1.6 miles to your hike. Those looking for an even greater challenge can head west from the upper falls to Eagle Peak, the highest point on the north rim, adding another 5.8 miles roundtrip. Maps and Books: The National Park Service’s Yosemite Valley Hiking Map details the hike to the upper falls as well as Yosemite Point and Eagle Peak. National Geographic also offers their Trails Illustrated Topographic Map of Yosemite. For further reading, Hiking Yosemite National Park: A Guide to 61 of the Park’s Greatest Hiking Adventures offers a thorough guide to this hike and many others in the Yosemite Valley, while providing information about safety precautions, logistics, and other trip planning information.
  2. 2 points
    Take a deep breath and smile. Then ask them if they're OK. Then continue hiking. Not sure why you let this get to you... And stop hiking in those torn clothes, with a limp, and with a grimace on your face...:-)
  3. 1 point
    Like most backpackers, my cook kit usually consists of a stove, pot, spork, and mug. Sometimes I even forego the mug in a quest for simplicity and weight savings and just drink my tea and coffee out of the pot. And, inadvertently, I’ve left my spork behind once or twice and enjoyed extremely minimal and inconvenient weight savings. However, under certain conditions, I’ve been known to expand my cook kit to include a non-stick skillet and cook up meals normally reserved for car camping or the kitchen at home. Scrambled eggs, veggie quesadillas, ground beef for tacos, and chocolate chip pancakes have all been cooked up at one time or another on backpacking trips – meals that would’ve been virtually impossible to make without a skillet. The MSR Quick Skillet has been my skillet of choice for nearly ten years of backpacking and if you’re looking to expand your cooking options beyond dehydrated or freeze-dried options or simple one-pot meals, this skillet is an excellent choice. Weighing in at 5.9 ounces, this additional piece of cookware isn’t horribly noticeable when added to a backpack for an overnight or short multi-day trip. The handle is removable, which makes it easy to pack up. I use this skillet in conjunction with the MSR Alpine Spatula (given the non-stick coating, only plastic utensils are advisable), which folds up conveniently and weighs less than an ounce. Although this a review of the skillet, it is worth noting that the tip of the spatula is prone to melting when placed in contact with the heated pan for more than a few seconds, so use appropriate diligence to avoid unpleasant consequences. Aside from that, I have found this pairing of utensils to be all that is needed to cook delicious and creative meals in the backcountry. Cleaning this skillet is a breeze and only needs a minimum of water (be sure wash this and other cookware in compliance with Leave No Trace principles and pack out food scraps). For the most part, after removing any food particles, a quick wipe with a damp paper towel and some water to rinse is all I’ve found is required. The non-stick coating has remained largely intact, although the rim is starting to lose some of its coating – likely from being packed with other cookware items that rub against it. I’ve used this skillet on MSR Whisperlite and Primus Micron stoves, and on a woodstove in a fire lookout. Although the skillet is made from aluminum, one notable limitation of this skillet is that it tends to hotspot in the middle and not evenly distribute heat throughout the pan. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with cooking in the backcountry, but it is something to be aware of when using this skillet. I’ve been able to get around this by simply moving the skillet around in a circular motion when cooking and making sure it doesn’t sit directly on the burner for too long. This “babysitting” is a bit tedious, but I’ve found the results are worth the extra attention you have to pay when cooking with it. One of my favorite meals to cook in this skillet is veggie quesadillas. Two 10-inch tortillas (folded in half) fit in this skillet with a little squeezing (its 7.75 inches wide) so you can cook two at once. Mexican rice, your choice of backpacking spices, and jerky tossed in the skillet is a great entrée that I've found makes for a great group meal as well. When staying at lookouts or backcountry cabins, another easy and tasty meal is tacos. I cook the ground beef or turkey at home and simply re-heat it on the skillet. With none of the other ingredients typically requiring cooking, this meal cooks up quickly and with little clean up or other preparation. Pancakes with chocolate chips, fresh huckleberries, or banana slices tossed in are a great morning dish to make using this skillet. I use a fair amount of butter to prevent sticking and make sure the pan is moved in a slow circle over the stove so the pancake doesn’t end up burned in the middle and uncooked on the outer edges. Scrambled eggs are also easy to make using the same strategy and, if you have extra cheese and tortillas handy, can result in a tasty burrito for breakfast. Overall, I’d recommend this skillet to anyone looking to add some flexibility to their backpacking (or car camping) cooking options. At a reasonable price and modest weight, it isn’t a major investment after you’ve acquired your initial backpacking kit (and likely gotten tired of freeze-dried meals, or oatmeal breakfasts). Eating tasty, fresh food in beautiful locations can be a memorable experience and this skillet is a great tool to help you experience that. The MSR Quick Skillet retails for $30 – find in here at REI and on
  4. 1 point
    While backpacking during an all-day rain presents its own challenges when it comes to staying dry – or as dry as possible – protecting your gear and the items in your pack that must stay dry comes with its own set of considerations. Having a dry jacket, clothes, and a dry sleep system at the end of a long rainy day is not only backpacking luxury, it’s also critical to our safety on the trail. And whether rain is in the forecast or not, in most backpacking locations we still need a strategy to keep our gear dry in the case of an unexpected dunk during a creek crossing, or even in the event of a leaky hydration reservoir inside our pack. Pack Covers Most backpacks themselves are only water resistant – many packs are made with a PU coated fabric that is waterproof to start but becomes more water resistant over time, and even when new, with backpacks that are made from waterproof materials the seams and zippers (if so equipped), not to mention the huge opening at the top of a top-loading pack, are still waterproofing weak points. In reality, true waterproof backpacks are quite the exception and are often targeted more towards those who prefer to paddle instead of walk. A traditional solution is an optional or aftermarket waterproof pack cover that one can deploy over the outside of the pack. This is a decent solution for a rainy day, but won’t have coverage on the backpanel of the pack, and isn’t the best solution for an unexpected dip. Perhaps the biggest downside of the pack cover is that it must be deployed and undeployed – making it one more task to deal with on a rainy day compared to a set and forget system. Dry Bags / Pack Liners In contrast, a pack liner goes inside the pack and is always used – so if a sudden rain shower pops up during the day you likely only have to worry about donning your rain gear and not protecting the contents of your pack. Pack liners can be anything from a dedicated solution (most are like giant dry bags), to a trash compactor bag (twist the top closed and tuck to secure) that is a budget replaceable option. Due to lack of durability, normal trash bags are not recommended. Either way this option protects from rain water intrusion quite well and even from a brief underwater dunk as well. Smaller, separate roll top dry bag stuff sacks can be used in place of, or in conjunction with a rain cover / pack liner approach. This technique offers redundancy and also allows for some more refined compression of your gear. In recent years one other option has become popular with the rise of the ultralight inflatable sleeping pads – the combination dry bag / inflation stuff sack. As long as it is a completely waterproof, roll top option, this makes for a great dual use item and this is how I personally store my “must stay dry” items during the day – sleeping bag, sleeping pad, jacket, and any other spare clothes. Whether you go with a pack liner, cover, or dry bags I like a “pick any 2” approach to waterproofing and especially as all my insulating gear – sleeping bag and jacket are both typically down. For example a trash compactor bag or pack cover combined with ultralight dry sacks for those items of greatest concern is great insurance, or a pack liner on its own if you have a particularly waterproof pack (roll top design utilizing hybrid waterproof Dyneema Composite Fabric for example). Some other techniques that can be helpful is a (often overlooked) large enough shelter or double walled tent solution – a shelter large enough gives you room on high condensation nights so your bag isn’t making contact with tent walls covered in condensation. Your sleeping bag DWR will help for the occasional brush against a wet tent wall, but will eventually wet out. Carrying a small bandanna or camp towel is also helpful here. On humid trips that feature multi-day precipitation events this is quite important since your gear will have very limited opportunities to dry in these conditions. If you gear does absorb some moisture and is packed away first thing in the morning (into a waterproof system that will now not allow anything to dry), make sure you take an opportunity over lunch to get things out in the sun if possible and / or get everything out to dry immediately upon arriving at camp. Odds and Ends For any other odds and ends that might not be stored in the main compartment of your pack, I stick with the same pick 2 approach for waterproofing and luckily, these items will likely be few such as your map and any electronics you might carry. Quart to Gallon Ziploc bags were almost tailor made for waterproofing maps – even waterproof maps will have ink run or stick together after getting wet – and any electronics from cameras to smartphones. For an upgrade, one could also utilize smaller roll top dry bags – either the waterproof nylon or Dyneema varieties. I also like to store these items in something like a water resistant bag such as the ZPacks Multi-Pack for that additional layer of waterproofing. A couple other safety related items should always stay dry as well – like your fire starting solution and nobody likes a soaked first aid kit or toiletry type items. These however, are stored in the main compartment of my pack in their own dry bag. Rain ahead: A dialed-in system offers peace of mind when your drive to the trailhead looks like this. Different approaches (and price ranges) exist, but whether you go with trash compactor bags and Ziplocs, opt for top of the line Dyneema roll top dry bags, or some combination in the middle, once dialed in that system will ensure that our critical gear stays dry and offers peace of mind no matter the forecast. And from the occasional water crossing incident to trips that feature consecutive days of precipitation, there’s not much that can compare to crawling into a dry and warm sleep system at night on those types of days while keeping the rest of the gear you need to stay dry, dry along the way. For more on overall strategy on backpacking in the rain, take a look at this article in Issue 38.
  5. 1 point
    Very new to this forum and website. Very much a veteran of back country travel and have been backpacking since 1968. All of my trips nowadays are centered around obscure, weird little streams that are potentially full of fish. Almost all of my trips are solo. While I don't consider myself an ultra-light type, I do try hard to keep my pack weight down, especially the older I get. I joined this site because, while I go solo (most of the time), I enjoy other trail people and I am always interested in sharing, or stealing, good ideas. My photos are from the Sierra and is Brooke (4 legs) and myself (2 legs) on one of my great fish finds. There were trout almost every cast. The second photo is me on the way to the upper Kern River and Junction Meadows (by way of New Army Pass). I hope to read and acquaint myself with other members here that are as passionate as I am.
  6. 1 point
    I fish some lakes. Mostly the inlets and outflow. When I first started flinging feathers my delivery was awful. I found that my casting (or lack of) skill worked better on streams. Over the years my casting has become very good. However, I developed stream and small river techniques early and stuck with them. A typical trip is to find a campsite and set up for 2 nights. On the layover day I will fish upstream for a half day, have lunch and then fish downstream all afternoon. Plus...Brooke (on right in photo) has learned to find fish (on left of photo) in streams. Harder to do in lakes.
  7. 1 point
    Great pictures and writing. I've always enjoyed winter trips to popular areas since you can often experience popular landscapes with fewer crowds and in the beauty of snow and ice.
  8. 1 point
    Glad the fear mongering females are weak naysayers didn't sway your abilities and adventurous spirit.
  9. 1 point
    Refreshingly informative. Only hiking in OK known was mainly the Ouachita Tr.
  10. 1 point
    We had been warned that the Three Fingers Lookout wasn’t for the faint of heart. But that didn’t take away from the shock of first seeing it. The hut was just a speck in the distance, perched precariously on a jagged spire of rock rising up above a crevasse-riddled glacier and a low sea of clouds. From our vantage, it seemed impossible that the wooden hut could balance there for another night, let alone that there would be a passable trail to reach it. My partner, Emily, and I had gotten hooked on the idea of visiting this 89-year-old lookout, in Washington’s Boulder River Wilderness, after a friend made the journey. She described needing to keep the windows closed for fear of falling out of bed and over a 2,000-foot cliff, and then showed us a photo of the panorama of the North Cascades. We were sold on the trip. Reaching the lookout doesn’t require technical climbing, but it wasn’t going to be straightforward, either. To start, the road to the trailhead was washed out, leaving a 10-mile mountain bike ride just to reach the trail. Neither me nor Emily are mountain bikers, so we borrowed bikes from friends – hers too large, mine too small. What better way to learn how to mountain bike than on frames that don’t fit, loaded down with overnight packs, in a classic Northwest drizzle? The road was just uphill enough that my legs and back started burning after just a few minutes of pedaling. With a loaded pack, though, I couldn’t stop for fear of never being able to get the bike moving again. I was pretty excited when we arrived at a brushy opening into the forest, much sooner after leaving the car than I had expected. If it seemed too good to be true; that’s because it was. After a few miles on the trail, we were still in the forest. I was beginning to feel suspicious – the route was supposed to be 7.5 miles to the lookout, yet we were still a long way even from the basin that it sits above. My GPS clearly showed a trail snaking its way from our position to the lookout, but we had hardly made a dent in the route after hiking for more than an hour. My questions were answered when we ran into another pair of hikers, who told us that in fact there are two different trailheads that lead to Three Fingers. The one we had been planning to start at was located several miles further up the road. The one we found started 15 miles from the lookout. After that revelation, the next few hours were a fast-packing blur. It was early afternoon and we had more than 10 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation to cover on foot – more than we had originally planned for, even after the time we had already spent hiking. The blur came to an abrupt halt three hours later when we reached the Tin Can Gap and got our first view of the Three Fingers Lookout. After how far we had come, it still seemed impossibly far away. Plus, we knew that this would be where the straightforward trail ended and the rock and snow scrambling began. Almost immediately, we transitioned into a steep snow-filled gully, cresting the ridge before reconnecting with the faint trail. From there, the scrambling involved was thankfully more mellow than I expected. Earlier in the season, the crux of the route involves stepping out onto the icy headwall of the Queest-Alb glacier. But we found that the snow had pulled away from the rock, leaving a small space that could be easily navigated without crampons. We reached the base of the lookout about an hour before sunset. Entering the hut requires climbing a series of three wooden ladders held into the rock with pitons, rope, and metal wire. At the top of the third ladder, I stepped out onto a slab that, at its edge, falls into the abyss of the glacier 500 feet below. A worn rope led up to the lookout’s front door. Even after Emily and I got inside the hut, it was hard to feel comfortable about where we were standing. The lookout extends past the rock platform on which it was built on two sides, and there’s only a small spit of rock outside the back door before the mountain tumbles several thousand feet into the valley below. But the exposure also allows for a view that is, simply put, unbeatable. The fog had begun to clear as we approached the lookout, and just before sunset it cleared away entirely. Out of the front door of the lookout, we watched the sun set over the Olympic Mountains and San Juan Islands as the lights of Seattle and the I-5 corridor grew in intensity. The North Cascades remained cloudy that evening, but we were treated to the sight of the sun rising over the shoulder of Glacier Peak out of the back door early the next morning. It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around how the Three Fingers Lookout has existed in this spot for nearly 90 years without being blown off the mountaintop. But for those willing to believe that the hut can survive another day, let alone another 90 years, the commanding views make it well worth the effort required to spend the night. Information: There are no permits required to spend the night at the lookout. However, it is first-come first-serve and the hut does fill up on weekends in August and September. For more on backpacking to lookouts see this TrailGroove article. Best Time to Go: The upper sections of the trail typically melt out in July, and the passage across the top of the Queest-Alb glacier opens in August. If you go earlier in the season, be prepared with ice axes, crampons, and potentially a rope to cross the glacial headwall. The lookout can also be accessed on skis throughout the winter. Getting There: Follow the Mountain Loop Highway to Forest Road 41, and continue until the road closure at mile 8. You can hike or bike the gravel road from there. The Mountain Meadow Trailhead (15 miles to the lookout) is 2.1 miles up the road. The Three Fingers Trailhead (7.5 miles to the lookout) is 10 miles up the road. Maps and Books: The Green Trails Map for the Mountain Loop Highway covers most of the Boulder River Wilderness, including the Three Fingers Lookout. National Geographic also offers a Trails Illustrated Map that details nearby North Cascades National Park, offering more exploration opportunities in the area.