Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Guide Books

I have spent many hours reading and rereading many guide books for the John Muir Trail. Of all the books I have read two stand out the most to me, "The John Muir Trail: Through the Californian Sierra Nevada" a Cicerone Guide and "John Muir trail: The Essential Guide to Hiking America's Most Famous Trail" from the Wilderness Press. These two guide books are written in very different ways and when used together give all the information I need for the hike.

The Cicerone guide was the first book I ever bought and read about the JMT. It is written by Alan Castle who has written many other guides as well. He is English and most of the Cicerone books are for trips in Europe so the book reads as if you are from overseas. It has tons of information that is great if you are traveling overseas to hike the JMT like insurance, public transit, money, and some "translations" from English to English. The first half of the book has a lot of good information about planing your trip. Everything from permit applications, regulations, food drops, and conditioning is covered. The second half is mainly a trail guide, broken into a twenty-one day, southbound itinerary. Each day has a very basic map, an elevation/milage chart (not graph), an overview of the day, and a more detailed description of the day. There is an elevation graph broken into 3 parts scattered along the guide as well. The itinerary I am planning on is loosely based on Mr. Castle's book. The book itself is bound in vinyl and is relatively small, so bringing it along is not too much of a hassle.

The Wilderness Press is an American publisher who makes some of the best backpacking and hiking guides I have read. Many of my training trips have been planned from their "Backpacking California" and "Backpacking Arizona" books. "The John Muir Trail" is written by Elizabeth Wenk. This book has the planning and preparation section at the front much like the Cicerone Guide, but it is less focused on prepping a foreigner for the US and concentrates more on the specifics of the JMT. The guide section is written for both a Northbound and a Southbound hike which was helpful for me in deciding what way to go. It breaks the hike down into 13 segments, usually ending on a major pass, drainage, or border. The author describes many of the plants and animals along the trail as well as gives some interesting history and geology lessons. Rather than lay out an itinerary, she just mentions where campsites are and which ones are really nice. There are some great charts in the Appendices, including one that describes the location of many established camp sites.

I really think that these two books complement each other very well and I would highly recommend that anyone who wants to start planning a JMT through hike read through both of these great books.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

La Jolla Valley to Sandstone Peak Area

After the last trip to Sespe, I was able to return my old backpack and sleeping pad to REI. This is a real testament to the customer service of REI. I'd had the old equipment for six years but had only used it on five or six trips during that time. I ended up getting an Osprey Kestrel 68 and a Thermarest Z-lite sleeping pad. I was very happy with the way the pack felt initially and there was very little adjusting needed along the entire hike. I filmed a review of my new pack which you can watch here:

I started on the trail around eleven in the morning and headed up La Jolla Canyon. The weather was very nice and sunny - very different from my last trip in September. I arrived at the campsite around 12:30 or so and got everything set up. The trail camps are just a table and a flat area for a tent; there's no fire ring. I chose a nice site towards the back under a small grove of oak trees (#8).

Home for the night

After eating some lunch I walked around the area and took some pictures.

Oak Leaf

Oak Branch

Another Oak Leaf

New Life

La Jolla Valley

La Jolla Valley

My two friends, Chris and Brian, arrived soon after I got back to camp. Brian had just acquired a new Osprey Atmos pack, and some other gear as well. I had fun drooling over his new toys, as well as playing with my new stuff as well. I was impressed by Brian's Jetboil system.  It boiled water very quickly. I brought some homemade beef stew I had made a few weeks ago and dehydrated. It was amazing! I was very impressed with how little space it took up and with how close it tasted to the fresh batch.  We all shared some of what we had each brought for dinner and ate very well that night.

We took a nice walk that night and gazed at the starry sky, we discussed which planets we could see (Venus, Jupiter, and Mars), and just hung out at camp. No fires are allowed here, so we were a bit cold as the evening wore on. When we went to bed, I had a chance to try out the new Thermarest pad and I loved it. It was warm and comfortable enough to sleep on. I got some sleep that night, but not too much as it was the typical "first night camping" syndrome. For me, it always takes a few nights to get used to sleeping on the ground, so these one nighters are usually semi-sleepless.

The next morning we ate breakfast and packed up our gear. I was very disappointed to find the buckle for my sleeping pad strap had broken at some point. We hit the trail a little later than I tend to like, but as this was kind of a relaxed trip, I wasn't that bothered. The morning was a tad chilly, but very clear and sunny. We made our way down to Sycamore Canyon and headed north along the main road until we met up with Old Boney Trail.


Two Wild and Crazy Guys

Playing with my camera

Quite a distance to cover

The Route

From the point you hit the Old Boney Trail, you are pretty much ascending for the rest of the day, with very few exceptions until you head down from the peaks to the road . We made our way up the mountain, where the trail gets very steep at points so we took our time. I was very happy with the way the new pack felt, despite the broken buckle. As we got closer to the peaks, the weather changed. It got very foggy and rather cold. I found it ironic that the last time I took this hike It was foggy all day and got sunny at the top, but this time was exactly the opposite.


A Long Way up

The Peaks Are Close

Misty Mountains

We stopped near Inspiration Point and had some lunch and I sent the signal from my GPS to get picked up. I changed into my Vibram Five Fingers to test how they would work on the hike. I was not ultra excited about how they felt, but that was mostly due to lots of down hill hiking from there.

3 Tired Guys

Edge of the World

The View


Lake Sherwood

Beautiful Sky!

The Mountains

We got down to the trailhead and Caryn was already there to pick us up. We were treated to an amazing sunset as we packed up our gear and took off. I was very happy with the way my gear performed on this trip. I feel that the Kestrel is going to be a great pack for the JMT, I already had a buckle sent to me from Osprey at no charge.

The whole trip is around 14 miles, with about twelve of those miles on the second day.  We also gained nearly 3000 feet of altitude the second day, which is good practice for the average day on JMT. The only thing this trail lacks is high altitude practice. Here is a 3D image of this hike as well as a link to my SPOT Adventures page.

3D view of our trek

La Jolla Canyon to Sandstone 2

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Solo Through Sespe to Hines Peak

Planning and Packing

I wanted to make sure that I was able to get a trip in this winter, so I looked into some local places and decided on Sespe Wilderness, about which I’ve always heard good things. Since I was unable to find a partner for this trip, I went solo. I don't mind going solo, (although I would rather have a hiking buddy) but the final destination of the JMT is going to happen – with company or not.

I received a dehydrator for Christmas and was able to make my own jerky as well as one night’s dinner myself. The ultimate goal would be to make all of my own food for the trail. As some of the pre-made meals are very high in salt and other preservatives, it would be nice to avoid all that and go all natural and organic. I portioned out what I thought I would eat every day and made sure that it fit in my bear canister, leaving the first day's food out for easy access. I ended up way over-estimating and brought at least twice the amount of food I really needed. I plan on writing a new blog entry soon specifically on food.

I did not organize my stuff as well as I would have liked before it came time to pack. I was also packing from memory and did not have a list (another mistake). I also had to leave the house in a hurry, which is where my trail journal takes over....

Trail Journal

Day 1- Saturday January 7, 2012
Sespe Wilderness - Junction of Sespe Creek Trail and Red Reef Trail

The journey begins

The planned itinerary for this trip is two nights, three days.  The first night (tonight) is at an existing, unnamed trail camp at the junction of the Sespe Creek Trail and the Red Reef Trail.  The plan for tomorrow is to summit Hines Peak and then get to another unnamed trail camp at the junction of the Red Reef and Lion Canyon Trails.

First view of the valley

My brother gave me a ride to the Piedra Blanca Trailhead, a little outside of Ojai, CA.  I was upset to discover that I forgot my sunglasses, probably on the roof of his car.  We stopped and got another pair, but I was still pissed off about losing my prescription sunglasses. At least my prescription isn't too bad.
We got to the trailhead around 9:30 a.m. or so.  There were a lot more cars in the lot than I had expected. Three guys were getting ready to start a trip and they said they had seen a big group of boy scouts start off on a trip about an hour before as well.  Everyone seemed to be heading for Willet Hot Springs, which I was thinking about visiting if time permitted, but I changed that plan knowing there would be a bunch of people around. The weather was beautiful and it was the weekend, so I guess it makes sense that there were a bunch of people out.  My brother took off, but not before I grabbed the camera out of the car.  (I had almost let him drive off with it!)

Entering the Wilderness

I started down the trail and almost immediately crossed the river; there were actually four or five crossings within the first mile or so.  The trail follows the Sespe River eastbound downstream, although there are many places where you are (out of sight of?) far from the river as well.  I leap-frogged with the guys I met in the lot, as well as two other guys who were going to Oak Flat Campground.

Bear Creek Camp

About four miles in, I stopped at Bear Creek Camp and took off my pack for a while.  I ate some lunch and spoke with the Oak Flat guys for a bit.  I took off about ten minutes after they left and crossed the river a few more times.

The Sespe

The landscape is chaparral with a few stands of conifer forest higher up in the mountains.  I could tell that a fire must have come through here years ago, there is still evidence of it everywhere.  The Topatopa Ridge is visible in many places, but I never saw Hines Peak show itself. After the trail made a number of sharp turns to follow the river, I reached my camp for the night.  I relaxed for a bit, put on my Vibram shoes, and scouted out the best place to camp. The forecast had said it was going to be windy at night and through part of Sunday, so I found a place where I could tie the tent to a few trees.  As I was setting up, I realized that I had not packed my stakes or guy wires!  I did have some camp rope, and was able to secure the tent with my poles, the rope (now ropes), and some sticks in place of the steaks.
When I get home, I am going to make a list of things not to forget next time, and never rush while packing for any reason. Lessons like this are exactly why I am taking multiple trips before the JMT.

The Topatopas

My dinner consisted of some homemade pasta with buffalo meat sauce that I dehydrated myself. It was my first attempt at a homemade backcountry meal and I was very happy with the results. (I probably would have been satisfied with half as much, but that already seemed like a theme for all the food that I brought. I didn't even eat half of the food I had planned on the trail for the day, even though I took a nice lunch break and ate at least three times during short, "pack on" breaks.)

My junction

After cleaning up my dinner, I decided to hang out in the tent to write in my journal, which brings us to right now!

Day 2 Sunday, January 8, 2012
Sespe Wilderness (Ridge West of Hines Peak)

Last night got a bit windy, but not too bad.  I could hear the wind elsewhere, though my site didn't get much. What it did get was cold.  Condensation was not an issue because it all froze to the walls of the tent!  I woke up around 2:00 a.m. and had to put on an extra layer on both my torso and legs.  After that, I slept like a baby.

Red Reef Trail

I woke up easily to my alarm at 5:00 a.m. and got all bundled up.  It was still freezing cold so I started getting some water boiling for coffee and oatmeal; a warm breakfast seemed like a must. I had everything cleaned and packed and was on the trail by 7:00 a.m.  Two hours getting started isn't bad; I could have been less lazy and got moving by 6:00 a.m. though.  I had a little trouble finding where to cross the Sespe River and head up the Red Reef Trail, but that didn't take too long.

First view of Hines Peak

The trail heads up the canyon quite steeply and continues in that fashion for many miles.  While the trail was close to the river, in many places I found myself dodging poison oak. It wasn't too long before I started to see a few conifers here and there tucked away in small stands.  I took a break near Timber Creek and ate some still frozen trail mix.  Even my water bottles still had slushy ice in them!  Once the trail took me into the sun, it instantly got hot, so I stripped off my extra layers and kept on going.

First view of Hines Peak

I was stopping for breath more often than I would have liked, but the trail was fairly steep and fully exposed to the sun for long stretches. I made sure, occasionally, to stop, turn around, and take in the views of where I had been. I made it to Ladybug Camp at noon and had lunch.  I filled up all my bottles in preparation for what I knew would be a dry camp that night, making a total of 5.5 L of water and 1L of Gatorade.  I would like to come by and stay here for a night or two sometime; it's a great area in one of the stands of conifers.

A well deserved break at Ladybug camp

I left Ladybug Camp around 1:00 p.m. and started the painfully steep climb to the saddle under Hines Peak. The fact that I was now carrying the heaviest pack of the trip didn't help. After a few long switchbacks I made it to the saddle. I arrived later than I had hoped and I started looking for possible campsites right by the mountain. There were no good areas with places to tie the tent, so I stashed my pack and grabbed my camera, water, and GPS and set out for the peak. I knew I'd have to hurry back and continue on to find a site.

At the base of Hines Peak

I went out to climb Hines Peak, and climb I did.  The knife-edge col is a bit heart pounding, as a misstep in either direction would ruin your day.  I took my time, used my hands when necessary, and followed the age old advice of "don't look down”.  After the knife-edge, the climb gets steeper, but less stressful, as a mistake would be far less costly.  I knew there would be a false summit, and so I was not let down when I reached it and saw that there was further to go.  The rest of the way was really just an easy walk.


Northern View from Hines Peak

View toward L.A. from Hines Peak

Anacapa Island from Hines Peak

Eastern view from Hines Peak

Looking down the knife edge col of Hines Peak

The view was spectacular today!  It was very clear. I could see downtown L.A., The Channel Islands, the Simi, Conejo, and San Fernando Valleys, Camarillo, Ojai, all the mountains to the north – basically a good chunk of southern California.  There was a small campsite at the summit, but camping there would mean carrying a fully loaded pack over the scary knife-edge!  No thanks!  After resting and eating I started my slide/climb down.  The ground was very loose and tended to give way under my feet. That is part of what made the 200 foot knife-edge seem like a mile.  Happy to be back with my pack and on more solid ground, I headed on. The sun was getting low and I knew I would not make my planned camp by nightfall, so I kept my eyes open as I hiked along and found a great place with a fire ring and cleared off spot for my tent.

Sunset as I found a camp site

I got my tent pitched just as it got dark and decided that a fire would be nice tonight. I gathered up just a little wood and got a small fire going. I made dinner and some hot cocoa, I had one of those Mountain House Meals tonight so cleanup would be easier. I sat there and reflected on the trip so far and let the fire die down to almost nothing. I put out the remainder of the coals and went to bed.

Camp, night 2

Monday, January 9, 2012
Sespe Wilderness (Middle Lion Campground)

Last night got pretty windy, but not too cold, and my tent held up well again despite not having any steaks.  I woke up around 3:00 in the morning to discover my sleeping pad was deflated.  I re-inflated it and it went flat again by 4:15.  (I think a non-inflatable is going to be the way to go, as this is the second trip in a row that the air mattress has failed.)  I started packing and had a quick breakfast of a Cliff bar and some fruit.  I was on the trail before sunrise and was delighted to see a beautiful full moon set as the sun rose.  I made it to the campsite I intended for last night by 8:00 a.m. and had a cup of coffee and a bowl of granola. The views from this camp were amazing! You could see all of the Channel Islands and it was another wonderfully clear day.

Moon Set

As I was packing up, the zipper broke on my backpack’s small section.  That, along with the top section being very touchy and one water pocket ripping on one side made me wonder if “repair” or “replace” was going to be the answer.  I got it closed, but not very well.

A sign

The hike was an easy down hill the whole way and I found myself stopping very little.  There was one section that was a bit scary, where the trail was on a steep, loose rock area, and the trail was practically non-existent at some points, dwindling down to little more than a mountain bike track.  There were beautiful views of the valley as I descended to the floor.

On the way down Lion Canyon Trail

Before I knew it, I was just over a mile away from the end of the trail and it was only 10:30 in the morning!  I couldn't believe how well I was doing. By this time (the third day of the trip), my muscles had really gotten used to the pack, which seems to be the case on any such trip.  I took a quick break and sent an OK message with my SPOT GPS in hopes it would alert my ride that I would be done early.  I continued on along a creek, dodging what I am pretty sure was poison oak once again.  I crossed over a nice little pool and the trail ended abruptly in a campsite.  The guys occupying the site were friendly and offered me some water.  I rested, put on my Vibrams (which I love for camp and to use as water shoes), and went down to the creek for some foot-in-the-water time.  I met an interesting gentleman there who was bird watching.  We spoke for a bit about all sorts of things. He was a very interesting man. He said he worked as a consultant for the National Forrest Service. After a while he continued on his way.

The end of the road

I killed time with the young men I met at the campsite where the trail ended.  They were from Indiana and seemed to be having fun camping out there. The already malfunctioning zipper broke entirely as I was getting my journal out of the back pocket so I had to tie it shut with some of my handy rope.  
It's now 2:30 p.m.  I believe my messages were not understood (which is my fault for not saying what an OK meant today) and I am thinking of some more foot-in-the-water time.
All in all, this was a very good trip.  I found two beautiful sites, didn't see another person for about forty-two hours, saw some beautiful country that I had no idea was right in my back yard, and I learned a lot for the John Muir Trail.

A nice place to soak the feet

Post Trip Thoughts

The things I learned on this trip were things I really already knew, academically, whereas now I know it through experience, and experiential knowledge is always stronger. I am going to be making a list of all the stuff that needs to come with me and lay all that stuff out and check it off – twice – before packing. Also, NO RUSHING!!!  Either in packing or departing because that's when mistakes get made. I learned some valuable improvisation in the backcountry. I was very happy with putting the tent up with sticks and rope.  Which reminds me, having a length of camp rope as part of my equipment proved to be invaluable.  I plan on always bringing some.

As far as equipment is concerned, my sleeping pad is going to have to be replaced.  I just don't want to deal with an inflatable one anymore. I am going to need insoles for my boots because the balls of my feet are sore today.  No blisters, just sore. I knew I would probably need insoles, I was just using this trip as the definitive test. And then there is the issue of my backpack. I am going to have to get it fixed, if not replaced.  It's just a matter of figuring out which option is the best way to go.

I had a great time this weekend, and I plan on going back to a few of the places here again. The trailhead is only an hour from my house so it's practically in my back yard.

You can see the GPS tracks and more pics here:

Sespe Wilderness to Hines Peak

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