Driving through the Sierra on my way home after spending a few weeks at the Park City Mathematics Institute, I couldn’t not stop for a short trip. This solo three-nighter was a mix of glorious solitude and frustrating crowds, complete with my back country hot spring and 36 hours without seeing people before picking up the highway that is the JMT/PCT.
Who: Just me!
Where: Sequoia National Park
Mileage: 38 miles
Elevation gain/loss: +10,900ft/-10,900ft
More photos: here
This summer I’m doing quite a few trips with people who haven’t backpacked before in an attempt to do a bit of outdoorsy mentorship and in hopes of propagating an understanding of both Leave No Trace principles and general backpacking etiquette. I had permits for the classic Rae Lakes Loop for this week, but when one person misjudged dates and another wasn’t sure they were in shape enough, I decided to cancel that trip and take a chance to go off on a harder solo trip. I’d been wanting to explore the Tablelands ever since a trip to Moose Lake in 2014, and this seemed like just the time. I planned a relatively easy route with short off-trail days since this would be the first time I was trying to connect ends of a loop off-trail by myself. I got incredibly lucky with perfect weather, an incredible wildflower bloom, and not too many mosquitos yet. Unfortunately, I had Smash Mouth’s All Star in my head the entire time.
I visited Park City Mathematics Institute (Princeton’s temporary IAS outpost in Utah) for three weeks in 2016 and took advantage of the weekends of my visit as an opportunity to explore the local mountains. I took two short trips, a 20 hour overnighter to Silver Glance in the Wasatch and this two nighter to Amethyst Basin and Middle Basin in the High Uintas Wilderness. I thought about doing a section of the Highline Trail, but I couldn’t make the logistics work with my limited days and transportation. Amethyst and Middle Basins provided beautiful alpine lakes and sculpted mountains, but I was a bit disappointed by the beetle-decimated forest, plethora of people, and more ‘skeeters than I’d ever encountered. Still, the beauty of the region was sublime, and it was glorious to see cliffs and ridges carved of rock other than the granite I’m so used to in the Sierra.
With 2016 shaping up to be a superbloom year but my academic-life time off coming a few weeks off the peak for Death Valley, J and I decided to take a road trip to the Mojave desert. Did you know that Mojave National Preserve has taller sand dunes than Death Valley and more Joshua Trees than Joshua Tree? Yeah well you’re welcome.
I visited Park City Mathematics Institute (Princeton’s temporary IAS outpost in Utah) for three weeks in 2016 and took advantage of the weekends of my visit as an opportunity to explore the local mountains. I took two short trips, this 20 hour overnighter to Silver Glance in the Wasatch and a two nighter in the High Uinta Wilderness. The Wasatch Range lies between Salt Lake City and Park City and it’s home to the famous Sundance Resort (and the film festival of the same name). The proximity of the range to Salt Lake City means many of the trails are teeming with weekend peak-baggers and families on four wheelers. In an effort to avoid the nature’s Disneyland feel, I decided to forego the classic Mount Timpanogos and instead head to little lake without a maintained trail from which I could look at the peak, even if I wouldn’t be summiting it.
A big ol’ loop from the depths of the Kings River up to the Sierra crest and back round again. Jason and I completed a modified version of the classic hike dubbed the “Circle of Solitude” by Mike White in his book Kings Canyon National Park, cutting south to Lake Reflection and heading off-trail over the awful death trap that is Harrison Pass instead of taking the longer route over Forester Pass. I’d been eyeing this loop since reading CaliTrails report of it in 2013. Coming from LA, an east side entrance over Kearsarge Pass made sense for him, but the one of the things that made this loop appeal to me is the combination of a west side entrance with all the glory of lots of time spent in the high country. The trip was as gorgeous as I’d imagined and Harrison Pass pushed both Jason and me to (past?) our limits of comfort.
Since I was to spend three weeks in northern Utah at the Park City Mathematics Institute‘s 2016 program on The Mathematics of Data, I decided to drive from the bay area and bookend the trip with some nature. On the way in, I spent 48 hours in Captiol Reef National Park, a place I’d only spent an afternoon (and not hiked much) before. I camped two nights at the Fruita campground in the park and got in three short-to-medium day hikes.
We hiked all the way (!) across the Sierra Nevada on the High Sierra Trail, which was constructed by the National Park Service from 1928 to 1932 after Sequoia National Park was expanded east of the Great Western Divide. It is the only trail in the Sierra that was built solely for recreational use (as opposed to mining or grazing) and it is also the last major trail constructed in the southern Sierra.
Starting out at Crescent Meadow on the western edge of Sequoia National Park, the trail follows the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River past lakes made famous by Ansel Adams and then up and over the Great Western Divide at the Kaweah Gap. Then it heads down the glacially carved Big Arroyo canyon before climbing again to the Bighorn Plateau and then dropping thousands of feet to the Kern River (passing some hot springs!). Then it heads north up Kern Canyon before heading up Wallace Creek and over to Crabtree Meadow. A final climb up to the moonscape of Mt Whitney and a long descent brings the trail back to the relative civilization of Whitney Portal.
Who: Just me!
Where: Yosemite National Park
Mileage: 53 miles
Elevation gain/loss: +9,400ft/-12,700ft
More photos: here
This would be my longest solo trip so far. I was interested in trying to do a solo trip without using my car (so that I could leave it in Oakland for my partner to use), so I decided to head to Yosemite, where I could use a combination of Amtrak, YARTS, and private tour busses to get around. I had a few close calls and some delays, but all in all it worked. The trip proved to be absolutely gorgeous and I found peace and solitude in southern Yosemite. I did find myself racing intense thunderstorms on four of my days out, but the dramatic skies and beautiful granite landscapes made up for the soggy gear and afternoons spent hunkered down in my tent.
I hate smelling like pee. I mean, maybe that’s obvious, but I feel like as a woman in the backcountry there is this constant battle: Should I pack in lots of extra toilet paper and wipe after every pee, or should I just do a little booty shake for the marmots? How long do I need to squat here and air out to make sure that I won’t smell like pee on the second day of this trip? Or maybe I should just not drink so much water so I don’t have to pee as often. That last option is no good; hydration is super duper important when backpacking! So herein lies the dilemma: To pee or not to pee.
In search of a solution, I started a Facebook discussion a while back about those girl pee aids—you know, those pseudo-penises with a cute little pink (it’s for girls!) cup attached. The discussion was filled with comments lamenting the hazards of being a woman in the backcountry. At one point my friend Laurel, a former Outward Bound instructor, said she’d seen people use half a bandana as a pee rag and that it works great in dry climates so long as everyone knows what half a bandana means.
A pee rag. A PEE RAG! A rag with which to wipe your pee. SO good.
That was the most brilliant thing I had ever heard. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? A dedicated pee bandana. I immediately went out and picked up a bandana (yellow, of course) and cut it in half diagonally. Cutting it this way gives some good narrow strips to ease tying to the backpack and a big wide middle for wiping. Taking this simple little extra half bandana on trips has been the best gear upgrade I’ve done this year. I can actually hydrate myself without worrying that I’m going to be “wasting” so much toilet paper that I have to carry around. I can pee as much as I want and not smell like a port-a-potty by the second afternoon of my trip. Because the climate in the Sierra Nevada in summer is very dry, the pee bandana dries really quickly and doesn’t start to smell at all. If you don’t believe me, just ask Patrick. I made him smell mine at the end of a trip and he couldn’t detect any odor at all.
It’s the best, I’m telling you. THE BEST.