Marc's Public Blog - Hiking / Backpacking

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This is a collection of my blog entries about hiking
You can find all the pictures I've taken here, and read below for the more recent trips that I have recorded in blog entries

Table of Content for hiking:

More pages: April 1999 June 2000 August 2003 March 2006 May 2006 July 2006 November 2006 May 2007 July 2007 August 2007 July 2008 May 2009 July 2009 June 2010 November 2010 July 2011 September 2012 June 2013 October 2014 January 2015 February 2015

1999/04/03 Muir Woods
π 1999-04-03 00:00 by Merlin in Hiking
Not many exciting pictures, only a couple of hours or so, but that was my first hike :)

You can look at the rest of the pictures of Muir Woods
2000/06/17 First Visit of Yosemite
π 2000-06-17 00:00 by Merlin in Hiking
Ok, this doesn't really count as a hike since I drove around with my mom, but eh, it's Yosemite, so that's an excuse for putting this here anyway :)

You can look at the rest of the pictures of Yosemite
2003/08/20 Day Hike of Big Basin Redwoods
π 2003-08-20 00:00 by Merlin in Hiking
My friend Bob offered to take me on a hike, which I hadn't really done before, so I accepted.
Bob took me to the Big Basin Redwoods, and from HQ, we did the Sunset loop to the 3 falls, and when we were heading back, I noticed a sign that said "Skyline to the Sea Trail, 6 miles".
I asked Bob if he were ok with walking to the Ocean, since we had done the loop somewhat quickly, and we proceeded. It was a nice walk with a nice target of getting to the Ocean.

On the way back, for some reason we got posessed with taking the McCrary Ridge Trail (not sure why anymore), and he 1700 foot elevation climb at the end of the day got Bob a bit tired. We were also running a bit low on sugar and water, so tby the time we made it to the top, the sun was about to set.
We got a few nice pictures of the sunset there, but that's obviously bad news since we were still a good hour away from HQ where the car was parked. Luckily, I was able to call the rangers on my cell phone out of one flaky bar, and they came to pick us up.
Yeah, it's a bit lame to finish the day like that, but we planned this a bit badly, and Bob ran low on sugar, so we had to alter our plans a bit. In the end, we still turned a 3-4H loop hike into a 9H and 21 mile hike.

You can look at the rest of the pictures of Big Basin Redwoods
2006/03/08 Bought 2 GPSes
π 2006-03-08 22:28 by Merlin in Exercising, Hiking

While I was sick, I used some of the time to learn to use the two GPS I had just bought.
The first one was a hand held GPS, primarily designed for hiking, but which can also be used for biking and other outdoor activities (moving color maps, with altimeter and electronic compass as a backup for GPS data).
The nice thing is that it also supports auto routing, provided you can buy the expensive maps, or get them somehow. It kind of bothered me to pay for those things again since I had already paid for a set for my car.
In the end, I was able to get some older maps to test the functionality, and see if I would really want it on a day to day basis with up to date maps. So far, it looks like even if it wouldn't be your best bet for a car GPS, compared to what's on the market, but it could act as one if you had nothing else (so it's kind of nice as a multi-purpose tool).
While it's nice on the road, or to mark a jump spot in the middle of a snowed in forest so that you can head back to it next time down, it's also nice to graph your course after the fact on a big map on your computer (or even import to Google Earth for some even nicer output)

The other is a Garmin Forerunner 301. It's basically a running/sports GPS with built in heart rate monitor. It's nice for a few reasons:

  • you can graph whatever course you ran after the fact (nice when you're off track)
  • no more do you need to ask "how far did I run/bike anyway"?
  • what was my running pace over point X, and overall?
  • how am I doing on this lap compared to last one?
  • how are my running pace and heart rate affected by my running up or down this path (although GPS derived altitude can be off by 10-50 feet easily)

While it does look like an ugly wart, and its GPS reception isn't stellar, nor is its pairing with its heart rate monitor, it's still quite nice. I am however planning on getting the nicer forerunner 305 when it comes out

I however need to state that Mapsource and in general Garmin windows software is totally pathetic. If you do anything it doesn't like, it will crash and never restart until you remove all the software and all the maps, and reinstall them all, which could take about an hour.
Also, it will install some maps on disk, some it will refuse to do so and keep asking for the CD (you need to hack that, but if you mess up, you reinstall everything), and if it gets any read error, it removes the map tile from what's available forever, and there again you need to reinstall everything.
Way to go Garmin!
This gave me a good opportunity to setup vmware (making all that windows crap work under linux) and snapshots so that I can make copies of all of windows and garmin software while it works, and revert to a working snapshot when it blows up instead of reinstalling everything.

Anyway, when all this crap works, you get nice stuff like this graph from my running at the google 5K today, showing heart rate and speed over time

or this for kirkwood:

2006/05/20 Hiking Mission Peak
π 2006-05-20 22:07 by Merlin in Hiking

Since Jen and I are going hiking next weekend, we went on a practise hike Saturday to test the equipment and my hiking shoes.
It was a 2200foot climb over 3 miles (Mission Peak in Fremont), and it took 1H20 on the way up and 1H on the way down. I did ok going up with 40lbs on my body, it was almost harder going down as the road was a bit slippery with the extra weight.
As the day was reasonably windy, there were a few people handgliding, it was fun to watch. It was also weird to see the whole bay as I usually see it from a plane when I'm coming back over Sunol pass.
(credit goes to Jen for some of the pictures)

2006/05/29 2006/05/27-29: Skyline to the Sea Hike
π 2006-05-29 22:50 by Merlin in Hiking

After the practise Mission Peak Hike, Jen and I used the memorial day 3 day weekend to do the Skyline to the Sea hike.
Basically, it goes from close the intersection of Skyline and Hwy 9 , to Waddell Creek Beach on Hwy 1

After having done a "small" hike around Big Basin Redwoods to the sea without any weight, I remember that we had done about 21 miles in 9 hours, and while I was sore the next day, it wasn't too bad.
I figured doing a 3 day 30+ mile trip wouldn't be too bad, except for the 40lbs+ of weight with gear. This yielded an average hiking speed of about 4kph (2.5mph), with a bit more than 10 miles/day.

In order to supplement the map we had (which wasn't stellar), and add a little fun and recording factor, I took my two garmin GPSes. The Etrex Vista Cx, which is supposedly the hiking one unfortunately had fairly mediocre trail maps, but at least gave some indication of where we were, and was nice for computing time and distance to destination estimates. Incidently, the Etrex ended up having pretty bad reception in the forest, which would be understandable if it were not for my wrist forerunner 305 GPS recording the entire days without problems (except for the 3rd day where its internal batteries died, hence the whole on the map below since I had to rely on the Etrex and it lost reception for 45mn!!!)

Anyway, due to a late start (my getting up late, bad traffic on hwy 17 as it was a beach day, and time to shuttle the cars), we only started the hike around 15:00, but by keeping good pace, we made it from the Castle Rock start at Skyline to the Waterman Gap Camp around 19:45, with 45mn of daylight/twilight remaining.

A few pictures from the first day are below (and here is a link to the rest of the hiking pictures from the 3 day hike of Skyline to the Sea through Big Basin Redwoods )

Sunday, we started the second day a bit earlier, 10:30-ish, and had plenty of time to almost reach the Sunset Trail Camp (if we really had to, we could have, but it was full anyway, so no reason for rushing). Instead, we found a nice non-charted camp site (well, now I have a GPS waypoint :) )

Living in the rough :)
With a tent, inflatable pads, sleeping bags, dry food, gas heater, all you need is water. Since carrying water is heavy, the best solution is a water filter with water pump and purifier to get more water. Dinners that way can actually be quite tasty :)

On the 3rd day, we were already a good way down sunset trail, and went to Golden Falls, Silver Falls and Berry Creek Falls.

Then, I recognized a familiar sign pointing to McCrary Ridge Trail, which is where Bob and I did a fairly strainuous finish for our hike. But considering it was going the wrong way, and that it sucked without an extra 40lbs on our backs, we stayed on course for the Ocean :)

Almost here, I can taste it :)

Yeah, success! :)
It was a nice, albeit very windy day at the beach. We just weren't exactly wearing the right clothes for it :)

After that, was a reasonably fun drive back to Castle Rock to pick up the other car (Bonni Doon, Hwy 9, Skyline), and some rest at home our respective tired legs.

Again, here's a link to the rest of the hiking pictures from the 3 day hike of Skyline to the Sea through Big Basin Redwoods )
2006/07/03 Sequoia / Kings Canyon Hike on High Sierra Trail
π 2006-07-03 23:25 by Merlin in Hiking

If you just wanted the Pictures of the Hike in Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park , you can follow the link.

Before the Hike

July 4th weekend was time for a new hike, but this time at much higher elevation, taking High Sierra Trail starting around 7800 feet in Sequoia Park, and going to Kings Canyon.
Unfortunately, I got sick with a cold right before the hike, and I hadn't quite recovered by the time we headed out. I was doing well enough by friday to do the flight from Palo Alto to Visalia (I figured it was easier and faster to fly there on a friday night than be stuck in traffic with everyone else, but turns out traffic was reasonably light, and picking up a rental car in Visalia after 18:00 was not a piece of cake).
Anyway, we got to three rivers on friday evening without problems, but on the next morning, only arrived at Lodgepole to pick up our wilderness passes around 11:30 (long ride up, and late start). By then, the sole ranger giving out wilderness permits was gone for lunch (great!), we had to wait in a long slow line despite having a reservation, and only started at the trail head in Crescent Meadow at 13:00 (we were kind of pissed about losing about 45mn just to pick up a permit, 45mn that we could have really used at the end of the day)


Before leaving, I also asked some rangers what frequencies they were on, and what frequency was appropriate for use if we needed to call them for help. Very disappointingly so, they answered that they don't give out the frequencies, and that it's illegal for us to use them (I corrected him that it was not illegal when calling for help, which he eventually acknowledged). I tried 3 different rangers, but eventually I had one tell me that he would rather that I call an overhead plane, which would call a control tower, which would call the national park over the phone, which would relay to dispatch, which would call a ranger over a radio, rather than me talking to the ranger on the radio directly. That's very stupid if you ask me...
Anyway, along the way, I put my ham radio on scan, and picked up enough frequencies that I was confident I could call someone for help, or relay such a call, if needed. Between that, and an FRS radio which could be used as a quick way to scan just those channels, or to communicate between Jen and I (FRS to Ham) if/when we had to split up.
Now, is it worth the weight? Well, while the trail was well travelled, we only ever saw one ranger during the 3 days, so if you had to wait 5-6H for someone to walk back to the main camp, call for help, and then wait for the ranger to come back, it could be dark before you saw any. Luckily, we didn't have to call anyone, but I think it was a good additional safety to bring.

GPS / Garmin MapSource / National Geographic Topo

I took my two GPSes, the Etrex Vista CX, which is good for displaying a moving map, distance and time to next waypoint, as well as average speed, altitude gain/loss, etc. Unfortunately, it's otherwise total crap for recording, or trends over the day, as its reception is just way too bad even in light forests, which is inexcusable for a $350 hiking GPS (not counting map prices).
Now, the kicker is that I also have a wrist Garmin Forerunner 305, and while it's only supposed to be a running GPS, it has much better reception, and no stupid firmware that creates 300-400 tracks over a few days because it makes a brand new track each time it loses reception for a few seconds (Garmin, that was very stupid of you to do that, please fix it already).
Thanks to that forerunner, I have a nice and complete track of the whole hike, as well as reliable stats like distance, average speed, time spent (I didn't stop the clock during breaks), and heart rate stats, as well as a calories burned number, which I'm not sure I can trust that much (or if I do, that was 30,000 calories over 3 days). Now, the small problem is that the Forerunner runs out of intternal batteries after about a day and a half, and is hard to recharge, so I bought a USB charger that runs out of AAA batteries, and generates USB power than I can connect to the Forerunner at night (unfortunately, Garmin made a stupid big a heavy docking station for the otherwise small and light watch).
Garmin's Topo maps were pretty bad for Big Bassin Redwoods, missing most trails, but they were better for Sequoia Park. I however looked at National Geographic Topo Maps to see how they were better than Garmin's. While it took a little while to get the software working (I had to update to the latest unreleased version to talk to my GPS, because for some reason the software was incapable of exporting waypoints and routes in Garmin Mapsource format, forcing me to upload the data to my GPS, and then re-download it to Mapsource).
I guess the Topo software really isn't meant for GPS users that have Mapsource or something similar with their own topo maps, but I found a couple of uses for it anyway. First, its topo maps are clearly better than what Garmin provides, but also they contain full elevation info, so you can select a bunch of waypoints on the map, and upload waypoints with elevation in your GPS (know how high the hill you're climbing is, before you get there). Then, you basically take a crayon and draw a route over the topo map. The topo software is then able to create a route with elevation for each point, and can output a nice elevation profile.
To see what I mean, have a look at the map I was able to prepare beforehand:

Is that too much tech? Does it potentially remove from the pleasure of hiking? Well, to each his own, but when I'm tired or the sun is setting, I like to know how high I still have to climb or go. On the first day, we only pushed as far as we did because I had precise data on where we were going and how long it'd take us to get that at fast pace. I also value being able to put a waypoint on the last water source, as you'll never know when it'll come handy (that first night, I was quite happy to be able to come back to it, as you'll read below)

The Hike

Why don't I start with the end? Here's what we actually did

This also shows you how the pre-printed maps make it much clearer how much effort you have left (check Kaweah Gap on the second day, and how it looks close, but really wasn't).

Mt Whitney? Mmmh, no, I'll pass, thanks :)

Day 1

As mentioned above, we unfortunately got a late start during the first day, both Jen and I were suffering from cold symptoms still, which isn't good for peak performance, and of course, the air at 7000 feet and above is thinner. All in all, not a good combination. Her pack was about 25lbs and mine, along with my belt pouch, was around 43lbs due to the extra weight from the bear container (and that was without any bears in the container itself :) ).
By looking at my GPS watch, I was quickly able to tell that our pace was pretty slow (less than 1.5mph, compared to a usual 2.5mph), and that we'd have to worry about reaching our destination by nightfall, so we tried to hasten the pace. We did ok, until a horrendous 600ft steep climb to reach Bearpaw Meadow when we were both exhausted, and in my case starting to feel sick again. I really really struggled through it, and was thankful for a pouch of carbohydrate paste that perked me a up a little bit (I was likely low on sugar too because I couldn't really eat much of anything).
Unfortunately, our slow pace up BearPaw really changed my original ETA, and I was now wondering whether we'd be able to make it back down to our revised checkpoint of LonePine Creek. It was really close, but after reviewing map and GPS data, we decided to make a got for it (not super-wise, but we managed in the end). We made it to BearPaw at a revised 20:00, which was less than 1H from total darkness, and 17mn from sunset. Unfortunately, due to a trail missing between the map and reality, and my GPS not doing a good job telling us which trail we were on before walking for a certain distance, we lost further time (10-15mn) before heading down the hill to LonePine Creek.
Long story short, it was a photo finish: we almost ran down the hill, and finished with flashlights, crossed the bridge and then realized we were screwed for two reasons: the water which we thought would be there, was totally unreachable (very deep, and unhikeable), and we had no idea where the campsite was, with light pretty much being gone. We started hiking back up on the other side of the bridge, and luckily, when I was about to drop my pack, and go for emergency measures, Jen found the actual campsite at 21:00, a few minutes from total darkness with little moonlight.

At that point, we were left with the small problem of water. I first continued ahead in hope for a small creek that wouldn't be on the map, but no such luck, so I eventually backtracked towards bearpaw, where I remembered crossing some small creek while running down. 45mn later, around 21:45, I had water (it took a long time because the water pump seal was failing and it was pumping very little), and Jen had started a fire. The water pump problem kind of worried me though, because that was our only source of pure water, we had no backup for it, and it looked like it was pumping worse throughout the day (hard to tell for sure as I mostly pumped in the dark so as not to be eaten by insects attracted by the light and the water).
The other worrisome part was that I realized that I was still sick when after all that effort (and apparently 10,000 calories burned according to my watch), I was barely able to force myself to eat half a burger. To make matters worse, I was not able to fall asleep, didn't have any sleeping pills (bad, bad me), and slept probably less than 2H combined that night

Day 2: Up

While I was up bright an early that day, having not slept much anyway, Jen wasn't as she was thankfully able to sleep a bit more than me.
However, in return, we only left camp around 09:30 (without tearing it down), and left with a day pack towards Hamilton Lake. While the climb wasn't very harduous, and we were much more lightly loaded, maybe the added altitude (now above 8000 feet), and my guess is especially the lack of sleep and shared sickness made us quite slow. My forerunner GPS showed that we averaged less than 1mph on the way up for 2.5 miles.
By the time we got to Hamilton Lakes, we had crossed a one stream with our stream crossing shoes (our hiking boots were nicely totally water proof, but only allowed us to cross water up to hankle level, for knee level, we had to put open shoes, dry up, and switch to hiking boots again). Unfortunately, going with open feet when we had just put new bandaids and moleskin on our feet (well, mostline for my blisters). This wasn't ideal, so when we finally got to Hamilton Lakes and saw the next river crossing that I hadn't planned for due to mis-reading the map, we looked around and decided it was pretty enough, and that the further target goal of Kaweah Gap was still way high, and likely out of reach for the day if we didn't want to be racing for it, with little energy and a good chance if coming back in the dark, which just wasn't a good idea at all.
This is also where the pre-printed map with elevation gain came in very handy for making a decision: we had barely done one third of the way up, and it was already 13:00. The Garmin map just isn't as useful there, and the NG Topo! map with route and elevation profile came in much handy there

not that useful


The good news is that instead of suffering uphill for several more hours, we got to rest in front of the beautiful lake with 6 waterfalls, and we at least got to fulfill our goal of touching snow :) (although come to think of it we should have built a snowman, a fitting thing to do in July :)
Yes, it's sad that we didn't get to the top and got to see on the other side of the Great Western divide, and I know we could have done it on a normal day, but I was just getting sicker and was happy to get back to camp and crash that night

Day2 Back/Day 3

After a nice break at Hamilton Lakes, we headed back and moved the camp back from LonePine back up to BearPaw Meadow since we had extra time on our hands. LonePine just wasn't that good, as it had no local water, and we were too low on water when Jen got pretty severely dehydrated since she wasn't drinking as regularly as I was.
We had a nice and uneventful night at BearPaw, where I was able to get some well needed sleep.

The 3rd day was uneventful, we just hiked back from BearPaw to Crescent Meadow at a pace that seemed good enough for us, but was really slow (we were actually slower on the way down with 1.4mph average, than the way up on the first day with 1.6mph average, and got passed by someone with a broken ankle, hopping on ski poles :) ).
By then, despite the low energy and fairly slow speed, I started feeling better since at least I was eating at least a third or half of the calories I was burning, instead of close to nothing :) (I lost 3-4 pounds during that trip, which is always good :) )

Trip Home

Jen nicely offered me a man on deathrow's last meal in Visalia since I was not going to be able to eat much food after my surgery two days later, and that was yummy :)
Then, just to make things more fun, when we got back to the airport and after dropping off the rental keys in the lockbox, the plane I rented failed preflight and we got stranded in the airport. More on that here .


Here's what my Forerunner recorded. All the numbers look ok, and the calorie burned numbers might be a bit high, but from some reading I've done ( this page is interesting ), it sounds like I could actually burn more than 500 calories an hour with my weight and load, so the numbers might not be that far off.

Day Avg Speed Distance Total Time Avg Heart Rate Max HR Calories Burnt
Day 1 1.6mph 12.34mi 7H56 123bpm 170bpm 10632 cals
Day 2 Up 0.8mph 2.57mi 3H22 117bpm 147bpm 3214 cals
Day 2 Back 1.2mph 3.92mi 3H17 121bpm 151bpm 4396 cals
Day 3 1.4mph 10.94mi 7H36 112bpm 143bpm 9151 cals

What I learned

  • You don't hike as far at altitude and when you are sick, or on the 3rd day (duh!) :)
  • Relying on a single water pump/purifier is a bad idea
  • Backups come in handy, especially for fire
  • Extra food is better than not enough
  • Know where you are, how far you think you can go, and how far you have to go (a GPS with waypoints and ETA calculation comes in very handy there)
  • Communication (radios) can be very handy, especially if you have to split up
  • Do you have everything you think you need in your medkit? (sleeping pills too?)
  • I confirmed that the Etrex Vista Cx would be a great GPS if it only had a couple of firmware fixes (don't make 400 5 dot tracks for christ's sake), and a GPS receiver that's at least as good as the one in the much smaller Forerunner 305. The fact that I need to bother with the forerunner to record the tracks and accurate waypoints is sad.
  • Last, but not least, you have to be ready to turn back if you're not going to make it.
  • The hat with net over my face against moskitoes was a lifesaver :)

All the Pictures

I combined Jen's pictures with mine, and mixed'em up chronologically thanks to EXIF time (and prior time synchronization between the cameras) with jhead -n * (that's where unix comes in handy)
Anyway, here are the Pictures of the Hike in Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park

More pages: April 1999 June 2000 August 2003 March 2006 May 2006 July 2006 November 2006 May 2007 July 2007 August 2007 July 2008 May 2009 July 2009 June 2010 November 2010 July 2011 September 2012 June 2013 October 2014 January 2015 February 2015