Posts Tagged ‘California’

Tea Time in the Palisades

June 25, 2012

The sun was blazing, the snow was melted, and the trail was mostly missing on our six-day circumnavigation around the Palisades Range in the California Sierra Nevada.  Before leaving the city, we took a detour into Chinatown and bought special tea for our trip.  We made a video about the heady brew of mountaineering and tea:

Our route started at Big Pine (BP) Creek, west of Big Pine, California.  From the BP trailhead, we followed the south fork creek and camped at Elinore Lake.  On the second day, we crossed Scimitar Pass (which is not marked on all maps), took a tea break in Palisade Basin, and then crossed Cirque Pass and camped on a shelf below Palisade Lakes.  On the third day, we followed the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to Grouse Meadows in LeConte Canyon, where we enjoyed more tea took a zero day on the day 4.  On the fifth day, we climbed from Grouse Meadows into Dusy Basin and over Bishop Pass.  In the burning afternoon, we climbed Jigsaw Pass and camped near the outlet creek to the fifth Big Pine Lake on the north fork.  On the sixth day, we cruised downhill and visited the fourth, third, second, and first Big Pine Lakes, and then finally returned to the BP trailhead.

Scimitar Pass and Jigsaw Pass are both class 2-3 passes, and it was difficult to find comprehensive information about their conditions.  Some general information about cross-country Sierra passes has been collected here: http://sierrabackpacker.com/sierrapasses-new.htm

For Scimitar Pass, I wrote a detailed description on High Sierra Topix bulletin board: link here.

Most of my research about Scimitar came from Bob Burd’s website.  His reports and images were accurate: http://www.snwburd.com/bob/trip_reports/palisade_crest_1.html

Bob traced a blue line on the map linked below.  This blue line generally follows a use trail across and around Willow Lake.  Once crossing to the north side of the creek (past Willow Lake), the use trail disappears.  At this point, boulder-hop along the creek; you may see cairns.
 http://www.snwburd.com/bob/maps/palisade_crest_1.html

On the approach to Scimitar Pass, Bob’s route goes up the right-hand slot (shown below).  However, I climbed the scree to the center-left.  I avoided the slot because I couldn’t determine it’s difficulty. http://www.snwburd.com/bob/trip_photos/palisade_crest_1/DSC00013_w5.html

For Jigsaw Pass, I found good pictures at this Webshots collection: http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/186080531DwLfCi

. . .and I also found good data at Bob Burd’s website: http://www.snwburd.com/bob/trip_photos/picture_puzzle_1/index_t.html

In general, when I climbed Jigsaw west-to-east, I chose the right side chute (indicated in this photo).  The scree looks crazy from below, but I stuck to the cliff wall and found plenty of hand holds to pull myself up the scree slide.  When I reached the thick white mineral band descending from Aperature Peak, the scree ended and the route continued on solid class 2+ rock (like a steep staircase).  About halfway up the chute, there are remnants of a rock switchback (once upon a time, there was a trail over Jigsaw Pass).  Basically, the top half of Jigsaw’s west side climb is straightforward and safe, although it looks crazy from below.  After reaching the pass, the descent down the east side is not difficult, per se, but it does involve seemingly endless boulder-hopping.  The best route is to follow the creek — sometimes boulder-hopping above the creek — all the way to the fifth Big Pine Lake.  There are cairns along the way, but they’re not really necessary.

Notes on trekking from Squaw Dome to Iva Bell Hot Springs, June 2011

June 26, 2011

Balloon Dome

Summary: Here is a novel route to access Iva Bell Hot Springs in the John Muir Wilderness of the Sierra National Forest.  Most people reach Iva Bell from the north (via Red’s Meadow), or from the east (via the PCT).  However, in heavy snow years—such as this year, 2011—the north and east trailheads may be unaccessible early in the season. The route I describe here provides early-season access to the hot springs from the west, starting at the McCreary trailhead in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.  CAUTION: This route uses trails that are poorly maintained.  Navigation skills are required, especially to traverse the section from Heitz Meadow, around Pincushion Peak, and down the Silver Creek drainage.

Trip Statistics: Approximately 25 miles one way.  About 6000′ total gain one way.  McCreary trailhead is located at 6774′. Cassidy Bridge is the lowest point at 4400′.  The saddle north of Pincushion Peak is the highest point at 8622′.  Iva Bell hot springs are located at about 6450′.

Conditions in June 2011: Small snow patches lingered on the Minarets Road, but we were able to drive a sedan within one mile of McCreary trailhead.  We parked our car alongside the road, left a note in the window (and crossed our fingers).  The trail from McCreary to Cassidy Bridge was completely snow-free and easy to follow.  Further down, we encountered a dozen poison oak patches at the bottom of the San Joaquin river canyon.  The poison oak was difficult to avoid; pants and a long-sleeve shirt are highly recommended for this short section.  Past the poison oak, there are several excellent campsites on the canyon floor near Cassidy Bridge.

The switchbacks east of Cassidy Bridge were in great condition, and we easily found Rattlesnake Lake — which is mostly a marsh these days.  The ascent to Rattlesnake Lake offered several good places to pause and enjoy views of Balloon Dome.  Although Rattlesnake Lake lacks the majesty of high-elevation Sierra tarns, it nonetheless felt extremely wild and lost; it seemed like no human had visited this area in a very long time.  Beyond Rattlesnake Lake, we sometimes struggled to follow the trail to Heitz Meadow.  The cross-country walking was easy, fortunately, so we followed what clues we could find: sawed logs and occasional water bars.  We found Heitz Meadow with its collapsed cabin, destroyed outhouse, and broken horse corral.  It was apparent that no human has lived here in decades.

East of Heitz Meadow, the trail disappeared under fallen trees and forest litter.  Views were minimal, so we took a compass bearing and tried our best to stay on course.  The cross-country walking wasn’t bad, but there were endless downed trees to negotiate. We found hints of the trail several times, so that was reassuring.  We eventually lost sunlight, so we camped near a creek at snowline (~7500 feet).

The next day, we hiked on solid snow over the saddle north of Pincushion Peak, past String Meadows, and into the Silver Creek drainage.  We used the compass to hike directly to the saddle, but — if you get lost — you could just as well follow the counters around Pincushion Peak and find the saddle.  A map is 100% required for this section. We dropped to Silver Creek, and then checked our GPS; surprisingly, we were only 100 feet away from the trail.  This early in the season, Silver Creek was an unfordable white stallion, but we found a wide log spanning the creek nearby.  This log seems to be a permanent fixture, and it should be easy to find for anyone hiking through this area.  (Hint: the log sits in alder bushes on both shores).  From Silver Creek, the switchbacks down to Fox Meadow were easy to follow, but they were overgrown with manzanita and huckleberry oak; this is another section where long pants are recommended to protect your legs from sharp branches.  At Fox Meadow, we rejoined the well-maintained trail that connects Reds Meadow to Iva Bell, and we cruised to the hot springs in luxury.

Iva Bell hot springs are scattered across a grassy hillside; we found at least seven pools, but there may be others.  I strongly suspect we were the first people to soak in the springs this season.  The meadow pools were covered in algae, but we easily scooped away the mess and enjoyed soaking in clean hot water.  The pool in the open meadow by the boulder is probably the hottest and cleanest, but the pool under the trees by the campsite has seats and shirt hooks and other nice features.  The highest pools are perched on a shelf (about 200′) above the meadow, but unfortunately they were filled with hundreds of tiny leeches; I think these pools are unsoakable until the leech problem is solved.

We camped near the meadow pools for two nights; it was heavenly.  A duo of hikers briefly passed through — apparently they entered over Mammoth Pass — but they seemed rushed and quickly departed.  The shuttle to Red’s Meadow was not yet running during our trip, so I’m not surprised that Iva Bell was basically empty.  Over the next three days, we returned to McCreary trailhead using our original route.

A note about navigation: We carried topographic maps, a compass, and an iPhone with GPS.  We relied on the map and compass to navigate the cross-country northeast of Heitz Meadow, but we also used the iPhone a few times to validate our decisions.  The iPhone GPS, surprisingly, worked very well in the wilderness.

Map: view the route in Google Maps:

Video Postcards from the trip: 

Trekking in the Evolution Range

June 29, 2009

I just returned from a short trek through the Evolution Range in the California Sierra Nevada.  It’s a ruggedly beautiful landscape, and all the peaks are named for famous evolutionary biologists (Lamarck, Darwin, Mendel, Haeckel).  You can view my Flickr media here.

I think “evolution” is the theme of my 2009 summer, given my recent participation at the Evolution conference, my upcoming participation at Burning Man (the 2009 theme is “evolution”), and this recent wilderness trek in the Evolution Range.

Obscure notes for the future:

  • This year, patchy snow remained as low as 11,000 feet.  The switchbacks above Upper Lamarck Lake were snow-free, but the terraced plateau to Lamarck Col was mostly buried.
  • In the midday sun, the snow over Lamarck Col was slushy and we did not need an ice axe.  I suspect a morning climb (when the snow is icy) would be dangerous without axe and crampons.
  • The cross-country route through Darwin’s Canyon is straightforward, but the boulder-climbing can be exhausting.
  • There exist many excellent campsites below Darwin’s Bench before Colby Meadow.
  • This year, the mosquitos were active in Evolution Meadow, but they weren’t insufferable.  Given the cold temperatures and auspicious lack of wilderflower blooms, I suspect we experienced an early mosquito hatching and later weeks will have bigger swarms.
  • My favorite campsite in McClure Meadow is beside the trail, west of the ranger station, near the outflow of the meadow.
  • The best place to ford Evolution Creek is in Evolution Meadow, not at the official PCT crossing.
  • An awesome campsite exists in Piute Canyon, on a southern-facing cliff about 2 miles downhill from Hutchinson Meadow.
  • Although most climbers approach Pilot Knob from the eastern saddle, you can also climb from the southeast face (and avoid climbing the saddle).  I suspect the southast face offers more sand and smaller boulders than the eastern ridge.

a video postcard

June 27, 2009

Three recommendable S.F. establishments

August 31, 2008

1. Thinkers Cafe
. . . a small coffeeshop on the top of Potrero Hill. The menu is not-expensive (large coffee $1.50, bagel sandwich $2.79), and the WiFi is free. The short-order cook blasted Blonde Redhead on the house stereo; an Obama organizer posted fliers; the Barista shared an encyclopedic knowledge of analog synthesizers. This is a good place to get work done, or just shoot the breeze with neighbors. 1631 20th, St San Francisco, CA 94107

2. The Lone Palm
. . . a hole-in-the-wall bar in the Mission District. After watching sunset in Dolores Park, some neighborhood partygoers recommended this bar to us. The Lone Palm’s exterior screams, “come here if you like getting mugged!” Fortunately, the inside tells a different story. The crowd is classy; the music is loud and funky; the drinks are strong and not-expensive. 3394 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94110, (415) 648-0109


3. Cafe Video
. . . a 24-hour coffeeshop/diner/video-rental store. At midnight on Saturday, we were hungry in the Richmond District and our options were limited. Fortunately, K.D. took us to Cafe Video, where “Happy Hour is all day”, breakfast is served 24/7, and videos can be rented anytime. Although Cafe Video’s late-night business model is slightly schizophrenic, the menu is comprehensive and the cafe’s interior is a welcome relief for late-night souls. Inside the cafe, several huge LCD screens project random DVDs (Pirates of the Caribbean, in our case), but the volume is turned-down so it’s not obnoxious. Small groups of washed-up party kids clustered in booths, eating waffles and drinking coffee. My comrades ordered eggs and toast (about $6); I ordered chocolate cake a la mode (about $5). The world needs more places like this. 5700 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121, (415) 387-3999


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