John Muir Trail Thru-hike 2002

I completed a North to South thru-hike of the John Muir Trail in 2002. Here is a trip report of my hike.

John Muir Trail day 1 – 3 Continue reading John Muir Trail Thru-hike 2002

Arizona Highpoint-Humphreys Peak

Humphrey Peak Wikipedia

In August 2003, on the way to California to my brother’s wedding, I camped near Flagstaff, Arizona and climbed Humphreys Peak, the high point of the state.

Humphrey's Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey’s Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey's Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey’s Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey's Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey’s Peak hike AZ Highpoint

The hike starts off in the “Snow Bowl”, a ski area, then winds its way up through the forest until it gets to timberline. Then it hits a saddle; go left to get to the summit of Humphreys.

Humphrey's Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey’s Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey's Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey’s Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey's Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey’s Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey's Peak hike AZ Highpoint
Humphrey’s Peak hike AZ Highpoint



Indian Peaks 2008 Backpacking

I’ve hiked many times in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, just south of Rocky Mountains National Park. This time was a multi-day backpacking trip. Because of the nature of the trail system and the need for permits in advance, I planned a route with a sort of curly-cue path.

Continue reading Indian Peaks 2008 Backpacking

Big Bend Camping November 2014

I left austin a bit late Friday (November 7), right at 9. This put my ETA  at big bend at 17:30 and that’s exactly when i got into Panther Junction. Got a bag of ice in Marathon. Turns out they’d had 4 inches of rain the day before. Several roads were closed, so there were backcountry sites available but none throughout the period. The lady at the counter was very helpful; she gave me Chilicotal first night, then Paint Gap Hills #2 the next 4 nights with the understanding i could come in an change at  a later time. She said the wet conditions had driven a lot of campers to the closer in sites, but things should be drying out soon.

(Here’s a link to my Flickr album of this trip)
My truck at Chilicotal Camp Site, Big Bend National Park
Chilicotal Camp Site, Big Bend National Park

Chilitcotal was very nice. Near Rice Tank, new, on a ridge with fantastic views in all directions. (There used to be two campsites at Rice Tank; now only one. See why below.) Saw almost nobody; A motorcyclist coming in around sunset, and I think maybe a couple of folks going to/from the Pine Canyon sites, but didn’t come my way down Glenn Springs Rd.

Muddy Paint Gap Hills #2 campsite
Muddy Paint Gap Hills #2 campsite

Next night, Saturday, I broke camp and headed to Paint Gap Hills #2; a dissappointment. Someone had been camping there during the deluge and left huge 4-5 inch ruts in almost all of the available area. Although somewhat dry now, I was hard pressed to find a decent spot for my tent.

Tuesday morning (11/11) I happened upon a ranger at HQ. Said he’d been here 25 years. Said he’d picked the site for Chilicotal. I asked about the re-jiggering of the campsites; he said there were basically 3 reasons. 1) some were at traiheads, 2) double sites really didn’t work and 3) all the best sites were often Indian camp sites too and therefore archeological sites. Also overheard him talking about grasses here; said buffalo grass “invasive and we’re losing the battle.” Also said they’ve learned through trial and error how to reseed; said some sites you can see where they stack dead brush up to keep the soil cooler for seeds to germinate.

2014 Big Bend Gallery

A November camping trip to Big Bend National Park.


Using a tarp for car camping

Tarp in use at camp in Escalante National Monument, Utah
Tarp in use at camp in Escalante National Monument, Utah

It’s taken me a few years to figure this out. I’ve had a cheap old tarp in the past which I’ve almost never used; then, before my John Muir Trail hike I picked up a ultra-light Sil-Tarp (below) which was marginally effective but I still never really got the hang of pinning it down in the wind.

Campsite at Cuchara Campground
Campsite at Cuchara Campground
Camp at Escalante National Monument, May 2013. A rainy few days, and a cheap plastic tarp purchased at Hanksville when I realized I hadn't brought one.
Camp at Escalante National Monument, May 2013. A rainy few days, and a cheap plastic tarp purchased at Hanksville when I realized I hadn’t brought one.


And then here, below, is the cheap one I got in Hanksville, because it rained almost every day in the Escalante National Monument.  But these cheap tarps are also unwieldy in the wind and tend to collect rather than shield rain.


I purchased a Kelty tarp a couple of years ago; have had difficulty in anchoring it for a couple of years, but this last time in Utah I finally got it staked down well (the pic at the top of this post). In a big wind, I still had to anchor one peg with a stool and a large water bag on top of it to make sure it didn’t pull out.

Tarps can be crucial for enjoying your car camping experience; less so for backpacking I think, because when you’re backpacking, you’re going to be on the move the next day anyway. But car camping, you’re probably going to stay put for a few days; the tarp can keep you protected from intermittent showers with little discomfort; you can cook underneath them, hang out, snooze, whatever. Beats the heck out of spending sixteen hours in a tent because of rain.

Trip to New Mexico

IMG_2224I  had planned on camping in Dog Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, as usual; however the campground and entrance has been closed for months.

Me at Start of Shiprock Half-Marathon
Start of Shiprock Half-Marathon

JMT Epilogue

June 15, 2003

Lookng back almost a year after my trip I can think of several things I’d do differently, several things that worked perfectly, and maybe a few things I wished I’d known before I went on my trip.

As far as “things I’d do differently” I can think of a few. For one, I’d hike later into the day if I didn’t feel too tired. I was so paranoid about getting caught at dark in an area with no camping that I stopped too early a few times, especially early in the trip. As it turned out, there were few places where one couldn’t camp, especially if you had water.

I suggest you keep a list of passes, trailheads, trail junctions, potential campsites, with mileages and elevations handy. I should have made a spreadsheet up with all that information before hand. As it was, I ended up making a list out on the back of my maps at night. Wish I would have done it before the trip.

As far as food is concerned, I already knew I enjoyed a rather bland diet and I wouldn’t need too much variety. Well, it turned out I needed even less than I anticipated. I had freeze-dried scambled eggs with bacon pieces and hot chocolate nearly every morning, and I would have been happy to have that every morning. My vacuum-packed tortillas and bulk-purchased but home vacuum packed beef stroganoff was excellent. I looked forward to it every night. In fact, here’s my supper routine almost every night: As soon as I halted, and had my pack off and my bag/bivy spread out, I’d take my sweaty day clothes off and put on my heavy fleece long johns and pile jacket and hat. It was usually only mildly cool, but it helped retain a lot of energy which was needed as soon as the sun went down. I’d then start boiling water; usually only took about three minutes. Then I’d measure out about a half-cup of freeze-dried stroganoff (yum!) into my cup and add the hot water to it. Then I’d place the cup inside a loosely sealed large baggie for a few minutes to “reconstitute.” Meanwhile, I’d put 1/4 cup of instant potatoes, some bacon pieces, and a dollop of margarine in my other cup. Now I’d add hot water to it and I’d immediately have a hot, starchy side dish. After the potatoes, I’d eat the stroganoff, and use the potato cup for my luxury-a cold glass of milk. Well, actually a cold cup of Milkman—an instant milk powder “with the kiss of cream.” This stuff is much better than Carnation powdered milk.

I brought too many heavy-duty cold weather clothes. I wore my expedition weight polarfleece every night as soon as I got off the trail, like sweat pants, but I had litle need for the other long johns.

I really wish I’d had a better place to keep my water bottles in my backpack. That includes having a place to store the water bladder.

JMT Day 21

September 9, 2002 31º-51º @UTY

<- previous day epilogue ->

I was up early; and except for the water bottle in my bag still had to deal with some freezing. And since I had pretty much used up all the food, breakfast was a bit skimpy. But I anticipated the pizza slices at the store at Whitney Portal later that day. I found it a bit hard to believe that I could even consider returning to civilization that very day, with hot and cold water on demand, sit down toilets, all the food I could want, and hot, running showers.

We bugged out at around 7:45 or 8:00. We had originally thought we’d pack up and take our gear on up to the summit in order to keep the allegedly ferocious marmots out of our stuff, but we decided to take nothing up on the summit run. I drank as much water (at least thawed water I could find) as I could to prehydrate, because I wasn’t going to carry a bottle. We secured our gear, then proceded up the trail. The final approach to Mt. Whitney’s summit is a trail hewn right out of the side of the sharp knife-edge one sees from the road miles below. Sometimes you’re so close to the ridge you can see highway 395 through gaps in the boulders to your right. You pass Mt. Muir (14,105′), Keeler Needle, and then the trail begins to wind around what looks like a long, flattened hill. Until you reach the end of the trail, and see the famous stone hut: you’re at the summit(here. here, and here). (Me on the summit. And a bird) We were the first ones up that day. We looked at the “official” trailhead marker; this was, after all, the end (or beginning) of the John Muir Trail. Also was the offical USGS benchmarks for the summit of Mt. Whitney. Actually, it seemed there were a dozen or more of them. They must put a new one up every year. After a few minutes a couple of other folks arrived. One was a young man from Brazil who had slept in his car and started up the trail at 2:30 a.m. He took a couple of pictures of us on the summit. I took a couple of him. After not too much more tiem on the summit, we headed back down. For me at least, the summit was somewhat anticlimactic. It marked the end, of course, and it was a beautiful summit, but this hike hadn’t been about peak bagging.

We got back to Camp 20 at about 10:30, loaded up, and headed down the steep trail, infamous for its 119 switchbacks (the number varies according to whom you read). Todd hurries ahead; I would meet him later at Trail Camp. While trekking down the steep descent, I pass dozens of aspiring Whitney summiteers heading up. Some in remarkably good shape, some I fear won’t make it anywhere near the summit. Somewhere along this stretch, my bootheel slides on a slippery steep downhill section of trail and I fall. I bang a knee. I recover ok, but I am a little pissed and a little amused: I fell on the trail on the second day, and here I am three weeks later and I fall again. Oh well.

I meet up with Todd at Trail Camp, where we briefly discuss the increasing number of hikers and campers and the rather sloppy tendencies of the campers at Trail Camp. The descent along the trail down to Whitney Portal seems to go on forever. You’d think one would have learned patience after 220 miles, but the 6,000′ foot descent proves to be a test. I remark to Todd that you can tell we’re getting close to civilization by the number of families we’re running into. At one point, a young chap with a British accent asks me “how far is it to the lake?” Which one? I ask. “The one this trail goes to.” Well, I was going to explain to him how I’d just walked 220 miles, and passed about five hundred lakes on this trail, but just then his folks came up and I think I said something like, “Oh, about two miles.”

Down, down, down we went, through ever thickening forest, and ever warming temperatures. At one point I heard a car horn honk. And then at a spot on the trail overlooking the Whitney Portal area, I could see the parking lot and my truck. Finally, the last switchbacks passed and we walked out of the backcountry into a trailhead (“roadhead,” as Colin Fletcher more accurately calls them) at about 4:00. We go to my truck, and I see that it’s not been abused by bears. We strip off pack and boots, and replace with lighter gear.

We head back up to the store and I go to the cafe. I’m a bit troubled to not see “pizza” on the displayed menu, but I don’t worry because I’ve seen with my own eyes people eating pizza there. The proprietor asks my pleasure, and I mention I’m looking for pizza on the menu. “Oh,” he says, ” we don’t have pizza. I mean, we do sometimes, but that’s usually for employees. We don’t sell it by the slice.” Uh-oh. Three weeks of anticipation wiped out in a sentence. He senses my disappointment. “Well, uh, how many slices do you think you’d want?” I tell him I’d eat two, and Todd, obviously overhearing, allows that he’d also eat two. “Well, sure, O.K., I’ll put in a pizza. It’ll be a good twenty minutes or so.” We don’t care.

I’m telling you, that pepperoni pizza was the greatest pizza in the history of the world. While we’re eating our pizza outside, we see who else but Fisherson and Fisherdad, reunited. Turns out Fisherdad had had to spend an uncomfortable night without his gear, but obviously all ended well. We chatted a while, and it seems they were wondering how easy it was to hitch from the Portal there into Lone Pine. I told them if they hadn’t had a ride by the time we left, I’d give them a lift, but I figured the hitching potential is pretty good along that stretch.

One thing I still kick myself for is the fact that I took no pictures at the end. No snaps at the cafe, with pizza slices, or showing off my new, trim waistline. Oh well. The store proprietor was extremely nice and helpful. We chatted a bit and he told me about his previous place on old Route 66; I asked him for suggestions for cheap motels for the night, and he said you won’t find them in Lone Pine. He suggested driving a bit farther, and staying in a place like Ridgecrest. This turned out to be an excellent suggestion. Motels in Lone Pine and Bishop and similar “resort” areas tended to be of the $60-80 variety; Ridgecrest, possibly because it was a heavily military area, was a more reasonable $30-40 type place.

We got a couple of rooms, then went to the grocery store to load up on junk food. I favored Pringles and Onion Dip, with some chocolate milk and Diet 7-Up and cheap canadian whiskey. (Not all at once, mind you.) Next, I took a shower. A long shower. Possibly the longest shower I’d taken in ten years. After recovering from the ecstacy of a new bar of soap and a fresh washcloth, I realized that my calves were caked with a semi-permanent potion of glacial Sierra dust, which seemed to not come off. After much scrubbing, I finally got the cement-like concoction off of my legs. I spent the next two hours watching ESPN. I was stunned (and pleased) to see that the new Houston Texans had beaten Dallas. I noted that OU had beaten Alabama. I watched some Dodger baseball.

And then I realized it was all over.


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