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.
After years of using Potable Aqua iodine tablets (see how my Platypus is stained yellow?) and the citric acid neutralizers, I’ve recently made the switch to filtration using a Sawyer 3-way filter inline on my Platypus hydration system. I’ve never been a fan of water filters, what with the annoying pumping and the heavy weight for pump style or the long wait times for gravity filters and just the fussiness and all. But last year I became intrigued by the filters that Sawyer was putting out. They were exceptionally lightweight and filtered quickly. They got rid of more nasties than my iodine and didn’t alter the taste of the water to boot. I impulse-bought a Sawyer Squeeze and promptly left it in my gear storage area, unopened. It languished there because I read reviews of bags bursting and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to share many annoyances of previous generations of filters: fussiness, tedium, clean/dirty things to keep separate, etc.
When I upgraded my old CamelBak to a new Platypus Big Zip LP reservoir this year, I stopped for a moment to contemplate my hydration system. The hot new thing this year is the Sawyer MINI, essentially a smaller, lighter, and weaker version of the old Sawyer Squeeze. I looked into it, read blog posts about using it inline, and generally hemmed and hawed. I liked the price, the weight, and the ease of using it inline with a hydration pack, but I didn’t like the weakness of the filter (lasts 1/10th as long as the Squeeze) and I worried about the fit of the push connections.
I decided to give filtration a go, however, and settled on using the Sawyer 3-way inline with my Platypus reservoir. I chose the more expensive 3-way mostly because of the quick-connect links and lifespan. It is rated to 1 million gallons (as opposed to the 100,000 gallons of the MINI) and comes with the quicklink hose attachments factory installed on the filter. I liked the idea of being able to disassemble my entire system to really clean and back flush well at the end of any trip, as well as the adaptability of being able to easily convert my system into a gravity filter without fussing with the mouthpiece on my hose. Another advantage of this system is the ability to leave the filter behind when carrying water on a dayhike: simply remove the filter and click together the quicklink connections left behind!
Item: Granite Gear Leopard A.C. 58 Ki Pack
Intended Use: Backpacking Pack
Volume: 58 liters
Claimed Weight: 3 lbs 1 oz
Load capacity: 35 lbs
Totally Subjective Overall Grade: A-
The combination of lightweight yet exceptionally durable fabrics, a balance of minimalist design with choice features that allow for excellent adaptability, and an amazing suspension make this pack a favorite for my typical style of backpacking.