Climate change has given California incredibly wet winters in two out of the last three years, resulting in outrageous superblooms in our grasslands and deserts. For spring break this year, I hopped in my new trailer and drove a giant circle around the Sierra Nevada, stopping for flowers, the Alabama Hills, and hot springs. There were plenty of mis-adventures mostly related to me not knowing what I was doing with the trailer, especilaly in the first 24 hours, but all in all it was an amazing trip.
Who: Just me!
Where: Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
Mileage: 35 miles
Elevation gain/loss: +5,200ft/-4,900ft
More photos: here
I kicked off 2018 with my first ever backpacking trip in another country! I used airline miles to snag a flight to New Zealand, which is an absolutely spectacular, unreal place to visit if you like to be outside. Fiordland National Park on the South Island is quite possibly the most stunning area in the country. There are a handful of “tracks” (trails) that New Zealand has fully developed in its Great Walks program. These have perfectly maintained trails, outhouses here and there, and even huts you can book to sleep in. Quite a change from my usual Sierra program, but it was incredible.
In 2018 I vowed to introduce as many friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends as possible to backpacking, with the hope of spreading the gospel of Leave No Trace and helping it propagate. This trip was the second trip of the summer with relative newbies who I’d met through DSA, and we took a classic route in Yosemite from Tuolomne to the Valley via Cathedral Lakes and Clouds Rest. We also visited my favorite campsite on Echo Creek, where we saw a pair of bears! I am still learning how to gauge how much people who aren’t used to backpacking can do comfortably, and this trip was a learning experience for me in that vein.
A few days after a solo trip to the Trinity Alps five years ago, when I first began to go backpacking solo a lot, I came home to a package from REI on my stoop. I was confused—had I drunkenly gear-shopped? I couldn’t remember placing an order. I opened the package to find an ACR ResQLink personal locator beacon, along with a note from my parents that read “We hope you never have to use this, but just in case. For when you are the most alone.” Aww, so sweet. They had done their research and decided to go with the ACR since it was the most reliable, connected to government satellites, and didn’t require a subscription to be maintained. I’ve dutifully renewed its registration every two years, tested it every season, changed its batteries, and carried it on countless trips since then.
The technology has come a long way since then, though, and I’ve been eyeing the Garmin Inreach Mini. The ability to two-way text with both first responders and loved ones plus its tiny size have me intrigued. With REI member coupon and dividend season around the corner, I decided to run some numbers to see if it might be reasonable to upgrade. I earn my dollars teaching mathematics at a local college, so I decided to merge my talents (?) and go about this in a bit more of a structured way. The plan pricing for the Garmin products has eight different options just for the personal plans, all with different features, so a little analysis is in order. After doing this, I thought, why not share? So here we are. If you’re too lazy to Read Words Wow Gross, just skip to the end where I’ve included a handy flowchart to help you decide between the four most likely options.
Who: Me, Jason, and Jessica
Where: Inyo NF / John Muir Wilderness / Kings Canyon NP
Mileage: 36 miles (30 on trail plus 6 XC)
Elevation gain/loss: +8,700ft/-8,300ft
More photos: here
I’d been wanting to climb over Lamarck Col down Darwin Canyon to Darwin Bench for coming on a baker’s dozen years now, but wasn’t quite up to going it alone and didn’t have the right comrades until this past summer. I invited Jason, who I knew would be up for it after being a stalwart companion crossing Harrison Pass on the Circle of Solitude, and his wife Jessica. We hiked this classic trip from North Lake to South Lake amidst some wild mid-July weather, with thunderstorms every day and some of the craziest hail I’ve ever experienced, which resulted in landslides and a trapped car thwarting our car shuttle. Read on to see how we managed *not* to die!
Who: Just me!
Where: Inyo NF / Sequoia / Kings Canyon NP
Mileage: 52.5 miles (40.5 on trail plus 12 XC)
Elevation gain/loss: +14,800ft/-14,800ft
More photos: here
Just before the semester began, I headed out to the eastern Sierra on a 5 night trip near the JMT along Forester Pass. My goal was to see Junction Pass, which is the route the John Muir Trail took to cross the imposing east-west ridgeline that now marks the boundary between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. I wanted to hike the remnants of the old JMT, explore Center Basin, and cross over Shepherd’s and Forester Passes, two that I had seen from afar on previous trips but not been over. I accomplished all this and more on this trip, which included 2 cross-country plus 4 high trail passes in 6 days, as well as hours upon hours of solitude on the cross-country bits, plus a decent but not off-putting amount of socialization on the JMT/PCT.
My sister’s family, my parents, and I headed to the Tetons for the Great American Eclipse of 2017. The whole trip was incredible (my god, being in totality is… it’s just… wow.. maybe more on that in another post) and one of the highlights was hiking a piece of the Teton Crest Trail with my brother in law. The trail follows alongside the Teton crest just to the west, and gives hikers a seldom-seen view of the Tetons, which are much more commonly viewed from the east. We witnessed the most incredible, unbelievable wildflower blooms I’ve ever seen. Two-thousand seventeen was a banner year for wildflowers, with superblooms propagating from desert floors in the spring to mountain meadows in the summer, and I was lucky to find myself thigh deep in fields of flowers on more than one occasion, including this trip.