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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

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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

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