Category Archives: Wilderness
It is common to be asked why do I backpack. And there are many times on the trail, typically early in a season, when I ask myself the same question. My family doesn’t get it, most of my friends just think I am nuts, but many do appreciate that I let them share in the adventures. I think we all have dreamed of what we would like to be doing if we had a choice.
For me those dreams were born when I was a young man Backpacking Colorado. I remember my last evening in Steamboat Springs before I was to move to the SF Bay Area to start my career with Hewlett-Packard. See Post AM San Francisco. I sat on a hill with my dog, Rusty, overlooking the town and ski area and said goodbye to a great life, but I think in my heart I also knew that I would return to that life. That was my Second Quarter, I was confirming my passion as I prepared to pay my dues.
Yes, wilderness backpacking is not for most, but it is for me. When I am in these fantastically beautiful places I think about all the billions of people who are not, who can’t even dream of such beauty. That is when I confirm my passion. We only have so much time on this amazing planet and I want to maximize every minute that is left. You know it isn’t just about the adventure, it is also about the health. It feels good to be in decent shape. I’m 65 and the body does tell me that it is getting old. But to feel healthy is also a beautiful thing.
I am about to kickoff another epic backpacking season, and I am so excited. What gets you excited? Next week I do my annual trek around Mt Hood with a couple of good friends. But then I am off to Norway’s Lofoten Islands and then the Colorado Trail. This is my dream come true. The Adventure Continues
I have passed by Ramona Falls many times since it is on the PCT and it is an easy day hike from the Ramona Falls Trailhead. But this trip was from the Top Spur Trailhead which offers a great loop option with Trail #600 the high route and the PCT #2000 low route. My motivation for this trip was primarily to checkout the Muddy Fork and Sandy river crossings in preparation for an upcoming Timberline Trail Trek. From this snippet of reconnaissance I do feel that the Timberline Trail should be fine. I also was OK with probably being able to enjoy Ramona Falls all by myself which did happen. Unfortunately I took a chance on the weather for this Thursday-Friday trek which called for scattered showers and possibility of snow on Friday. Well the showers started out scattered but ended up continuous, and yes on the hike out it did snow. Not fun but it is all part of the deal for a backpacker.
The hike over to Ramona Falls was rather nice even though Mt Hood was mostly hidden in a cloud.
The view from Bald Mountain was unique as usual and crossing the Muddy Fork was a bit of a challenge. I found a safe rock jump about 30 yards up from the normal trail crossing.
And of course Ramona Falls was bursting with flow and beauty.
I camped over by the abandoned ranger cabin which provides a nice view of the Sandy Canyon.
I did hike over to the Sandy and determined that it is crossable, however, it may entail wading across by a couple of logs that will help to stabilize you.
Overall this portion of the Sandy looked fairly normal and ready for Timberline Trail crossings. The trip was going great until the showers started to show up. So I basically was forced to stay in the tent after about 7:00 pm. And it rained most of the night and turned into a steady rain by morning. Bummer for Brook who does not like to sleep in the tent, so she got soaked and did not complain a bit even though she must have been freezing. But in her strange Aussie way she probably cherished the opportunity to protect her master. If I was her, I would have slept near one of the large trees that were offering cover, but she slept next to the tent.
Breaking camp in the rain is messy, but it is what it is. You pack everything up which is mostly wet making your pack a lot heavier than it should be. Then hiking out is just as messy, you are wet and cold but in a weird way I kind of like it. I reflect back on my Lost Coast Trek and realize how much worse it could be. The snow falling on the hike out was a bit ridiculous.
What would be considered a “bucket list” item for me has been the desire to backpack the Lofoten Islands Norway. I saw a photo such as this which caused me to find out where this place was. Somewhere in Norway, OK, referred to as an archipelago, interesting. Then it must have been a video such as this that gave me the full perspective of the Lofoten Islands.
I became a member of the Rando-Lofoten website. Then in late 2018 I received an invitation to join a guided group of up to 20 people for “The Great Crossing of the Lofoten Islands” from north to south. It did not take me long to determine that I could do this. This opportunity dealt with my concern about logistics associated with such a backpacking trek in a land I did not know. There were some administrative details relating to backpacking acumen and liability waivers taken care of in early January. Everything looked good, however, in late January the leader had to back out due to health concerns and the trip fell apart.
The disappointing news was beyond changing my commitment to backpack the Lofoten Islands. The trip organizer allowed all interested participants to communicate with each other to explore possibilities for further collaboration. It turned out that my dream matched up well with a backpacker of similar age from Switzerland. So we plan to meet on July 1st in Svolvaer and will head up to the start of the first segment at the hamlet of Delp. Needless to say I am really looking forward to stepping out of my Western US comfort zone to backpack in one of the most beautiful places on earth. This is above the arctic circle which will mean 24 hours of sunlight. Travel will include 4 flights and a ferry ride each way. But I have given myself up to 16 days in the islands with a few days reserved for Oslo. The Adventure Continues
Checkout these 360 panoramic photos from throughout the Islands.
I have been putting together an annual multi-day backpacking loop trek for my friends for the last 8 years. The goal was to find a 4 or 5 day trek of moderate difficulty based on a loop to simplify travel logistics. The first trek was through the Sisters Wilderness in 2011 and during each trek we would ask other backpackers what they thought was another great loop option. This advice truly led us to discover and confirm the finest multi-day backpacking loop treks in the Pacific Northwest. Since I have answered this question for other backpackers through the years I decided to create post to highlight these loop treks. The order presented is based on the order in which I discovered these treks. Please feel free to share your similar favorite loops.
There is a 50 mile loop that encircles the 3 Sister Peaks, however, I selected an approximate 35 mile route that starts from the Lava Lake Trailhead and cuts through between the Middle and South Sister peaks. This was my first multi-day trek for which I named the post “No Pain No Gain“, reflective of efforts and rewards of backpacking. The route adhered to the 4 to 5 day goal while adding the challenge of being up close to the Sisters. I would recommend the clockwise route with attention paid to water availability on the first day. Camp Lake through to the Chambers Lakes typically presents the challenge of climbing through snow but you need to experience the view from up there. You have to time this trek to allow for the snow crossing while also taking in a maximum floral display without too many bugs. The east section which is the PCT takes you through lush forests into lava fields. Passing through the restricted Obsidian area is not a problem, however, you want to time your climb over Opie Dilldock pass during the cool part of the day. The Mattieu Lakes near the start and finish offer good rest options. You could also consider doing this loop from the Pole Creek Trailhead.
The Eagle Cap Wilderness was enticing, however, piecing together a loop was not as obvious. I settled on using the Two Pan Trailhead to enter via the Minam Lake Trail and returning via the East Fork Lostine Trail while taking in all of the options provided by the Lakes Basin area. This loop requires crossing the 8548′ Carper pass to settle around Mirror or Moccasin Lakes. Here you have the option of expanding the loop up and over Glacier pass through Horseshoe Lake to Douglas Lake. Or you could just base from the basin area and do a few day hikes to fill your trek. Either way you must experience Glacier Lake. The lakes here are deep and can provide some good fishing. You come out completing the loop via the East Fork Lostine Trail with a shrinking awesome view of Eagle Cap.
Goat Rocks should end up on everyones list, however, with that popularity come the weekend crowds. The loop option is fairly defined with a starting point at the Berry Patch or Snowgrass Flats Trailheads. It could be treated as a 2 day loop, which is why you include spur hikes north & south on the PCT. Whether you go up Snowgrass or Goat Ridge Trails you will be doing the bulk of the climb and you typically will deal with the worst of the mosquitos and black flies. I like the Snowgrass Trail to the Bypass Trail over to the PCT. Once on the PCT portion of Goat Rocks you have access to Cispus Pass south or Old Snowy north which is worthy of a few nights. Then head over to the Lilly Basin Trail which takes you to the Goat Lake area. The lake is generally iced over, however, the campsite options around there provide an awesome view of the valley and Mt Adams. You may want to hike up to Hawkeye Point and you should be treated to herds of mountain goats above Goat Lake. Your hike out via the Goat Ridge Trail is essentially downhill.
The Glacier Peak Wilderness provides a classic 36 mile backpacking loop that takes you up a glacier to Spider Gap past the Lyman Lakes then over Cloudy and Suiattle Pass by Fortress Mountain and over to Buck Creek Pass and Liberty Cap. This trek is probably the most true loop and it may be the most challenging especially getting up to Spider Gap. You start at the Phelps Creek Trailhead and head up the Phelps Creek Trail as far as you can in preparation for the climb up the Spider Gap Glacier. Camping near the Lyman Lakes sets you up for the next climb to Cloudy Pass and then around to Suiattle Pass where you get your first glimpse of Glacier Peak. If time and energy allow you should consider including a visit to Image Lake along Miners Ridge. As you work your way around to Buck Creek Pass, Glacier Peak is positioned prominently to the west. Find a campsite with a view of Glacier and take a hike over to Liberty Cap. The final hike out is relatively easy from there.
This is a great loop trail around Mt. Hood with views many other mountains. I have decided to do this loop every year because it is so perfect and it provides me with a gauge for my overall health. The TT is approximately 40 miles with a number of potentially challenging stream crossings. The elevation low point is near Ramona Falls at about 3300′ with a high point on the east side at 7350′. There are many choices for a starting point with the most common being at Timberline Lodge. Clockwise is the more common route from the lodge on the PCT which takes you by the Zig Zag Canyon where you should consider detouring up to Paradise Park for an evening. Crossing the Sandy river may be the most challenging before you take in Ramona Falls. The PCT offers you a couple of options, I like the one up toward Yocum Ridge over to Bald Mountain before you head up the Timberline Trail toward McNeil Point. On the north side you cross through some old burns but the beauty is everywhere. Once past the Cloud Cap TH you climb to above tree-line typically crossing many snow fields. Copper Spur is a side trip option and then you work your way down to Gnarl Ridge. All of this area is arid and treeless. Cross Newton creek, pass some waterfalls and head through Mt Hood Meadows Ski Area. The final push is to cross the White River and then climb back up to Timberline Lodge. This final climb can be challenging due to the sandy trail and exposure.
I hope these backpacking loops help you find that perfect trek.
A recent loop that I have just completed does deserve mention, however, it is more difficult than my top 5. It is the Devils Dome Loop in the North Cascades of Washington.
I will also throw in another option which is partially a loop, The Wild Rouge Loop diverges from the primary Rouge River Trail up to Hanging Rock.
My Grand Canyon Trek turned into the GC Boucher Trail Trek. Instead of 4 nights from Boucher to Bright Angel it ended up as 3 nights on the Boucher Trail. I had planned the trip based on my ability, however, I took on a backpacking partner who had difficulty and by the second day it was obvious we were not going to be able to keep our permit destinations. Hence, a GC Ranger modified our permit which basically turned us around. However, we did get 3 glorious nights on the Boucher Trail just above the Tonto Shelf.
The pre-trek plans went well. We got to the rim around noon, checked in at the Backcountry Information Center, took the Red Shuttle to Hermits Creek Trailhead and hit the trail around 2:30.
Of course the first day started to dictate that we were not making the time we would need but I still had hope. The first night we ended up about a mile before Yuma Point with an excellent campsite and view of the Grand Canyon.
I was able to get water out of the potholes in the rocks. Weather was good but during the night the winds roared and based on the positioning of my tent I had an active night trying to keep my main tent pole from snapping. This is all part of backpacking, loss of sleep is only a minor problem. I did learn that cacti quills could penetrate hiking pants but I did enjoy the desert flora. The second day would now be tough if we were going to make it to Hermits Creek. The known challenges were the 2 black diamond descents that we would have to navigate. The tougher of the 2 descents at the Turpentine Canyon was truly a challenge, but I kind of liked it. Sure it was steep but it was no real problem unless you were not prepared.
My partner had a bad shoulder and some equipment problems which impacted his ability to make good time. It became obvious after this first descent that we were not going to make Hermits Creek. I opted to spend the night at White Butte to take advantage of the spectacular view.
Not only did we get the view but it was one of the most awesome star gazing nights I have ever experienced.
The next morning we met a GC Ranger who I worked with to salvage the trip, However, Hermits Creek was booked so we had to turn around. Thankfully the ranger allowed us another night before hiking out via the upper Hermits Creek Trail.
We spent our last night at the Yuma Point overlook taking in some nice sunset and sunrise views interspersed with rain and more wind during the night.
The hike out started out fine with the rain stopping around 8:00 am, however, the winds really picked up as we climbed out via Hermits Creek Trail.
Near the top the winds were so strong we could hardly walk. The Hermits Creek to Boucher Trail is actually quite nice, however, it does have some scrambling.
The real value of this area is that nobody is there.
All in all it was a good trek with good immersion into the canyon, however, I will probably return someday to do my original plan.
It is so timely during the Grand Canyon National Park’s Centennial Anniversary that the documentary, “Into The Canyon”, produced by the The Redford Center is now being shown on the National Geographic Channel.
In 2016 filmmaker/photographer Pete McBride and writer Kevin Fedarko set out on a 750-mile journey on foot through the entire length of the Grand Canyon. INTO THE CANYON is a story of extreme physical hardship that stretches the bonds of friendship and a meditation on the timeless beauty of this sacred place. It is an urgent warning about the environmental dangers that are placing one of America’s greatest monuments in peril and a cautionary tale for our complex relationship with the natural world.
Timely as well because next week I will be backpacking on the South side of the Grand Canyon for 5 days to go from the Boucher Trail to Phantom Ranch and then out or up to the rim. But this documentary is more than just a trip log for the 750 mile trek through the Canyon from East to West. It is a great story about two friends who continue to take on adventures like this even if it means stretching their skills to the limit. Pete McBride is my kind of guy, no adventure is to large, while Kevin Fedarko provides the reality check and they end up complimenting each other for the good of the adventure. For backpackers the documentary is very realistic about the trouble you can get into. Thankfully for this team they have plenty of logistical support, but it is still realistic enough to be able to relate to their trials.
I am a Northwest backpacker where I primarily backpack up mountains. The Grand Canyon is about descending to the river. I first visited the Grand Canyon as a typical rim tourist last year. Even then I was not overly interested in taking it on as a backpacking trek. But as usual I watched a few videos and my interest was peaked. I started researching trails and connecting with forums to acquire the base information needed to commit to a trek which basically means I had to figure out where I would hike and camp daily so that I could submit a request for a permit. This was a bit challenging until a NP Ranger responded with some advice to allow me to select a trek route that a couple of old guys could accomplish.
The documentary takes on the Canyon from the extreme Northeast through to the end in the Southwest. My route reflects many of the challenges for which they encounter, however, I will be in a popular and somewhat supported section. It was great to see areas to the NE and SW of this main area for which I may very well need to return for future adventures. I like how they refer to the western section as the GodScape, however, as they progress west they also expose the over saturation of the helicopter tour business. The documentary also exposes the environmental concerns that have arisen from Uranium mining operations near the rim. I will have to deal with this by having to avoid acquiring water from certain uranium contaminated creeks.
Overall I highly recommend this documentary even if you are not a backpacker. The scenery is breathtaking and the message is important. And again I thoroughly enjoyed watching these guys make mistakes, because backpackers can relate.
Another gem of a trail on the Oregon coast is Saddle Mountain. Located east of Seaside off Hwy 26, this is a must do hike if you are in shape for a 5 mile hike with about 1650′ of climb. It is a great trail, but it will kick your butt. I offered encouragement to many as I descended. Saddle Mountain is the highest point in this area of the Coast Range with sweeping 360-degree view from a 3,283-foot summit highlighting the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia River, and inland toward the Cascade Range. On this day I could even see the Olympic Peaks.
The trailhead is located at the camping area which appears to offer some really nice campsites. The trail’s first tenth of mile is paved but the climb is constant until you get to the false summit. You start getting views to the south and then west. And the beauty increases as you climb. The trail is well maintained with extensive effort to prevent the natural erosion problems. Much of the trail is covered with link fencing.
Near the bottom and toward the top there are house sized boulders that offer unique appearances from sculpture or vegetation covering.
You eventually leave the protection of the forest and if wind is happening you do get hit with it. Brook seemed to like it.
You come to the first peak or false summit which offers a imposing view of the final climb. Brook says let’s go.
The final climb is no more difficult than much of the lower section, but your anticipation and exhaustion get your heart really pumping. I did appreciate the occasional hand rails especially at the top.
Looking southwest from the saddle you see the timber harvest and the basalt walls that weave around the mountain.
Once on the top Brook agreed to pose for a photo but she enjoyed her own exploration much more.
In the above photo notice the Columbia River to the north. As you can see it was a beautiful day and the wind was not that bad with the 50 degree temperature, in January. In the distance behind Brook to the east you can see from right to left Mt Adams, St Helens, Goat Rocks and Rainier. Of course Mt Hood was out there as well.
We hung out for a while enjoying the fabulous view. On the descent we came to the early turnoff to Humbug Point about a quarter mile from the trailhead. Today the trail up to Humbug Point was the most vegetated with ferns and moss. The final climb is very steep but rock steps and a cable rail help.
The real value of Humbug Point is the view back to Saddle Mountain.
The Adventure Continues
I have lived near the coast of Oregon for 14 years and have never visited the Neahkahnie Mountain which is a part of the Oswald West State Park. I took the hike from the North with the trailhead starting at a parking lot pullout on Highway 101 just North of Manzanita. The trail begins on the east side of the highway and is pretty much an uphill trail. The first section of open meadow of switchbacks offers great views of the coastal cliffs at Cape Falcon. Overall the trail is of moderate difficulty, however, you are constantly navigating slippery roots.
Once you leave the initial meadow you enter into the a beautiful coastal forest.
Once into the forest you enjoy a magical rainforest.
Once you approach the Neahkahnie View area it can be confusing about which path actually leads to the top. The easiest route actually wraps around the back side where you still need to climb a fairly steep rock face. Once at the top the view South is fabulous.
How does an old retired guy end up becoming a backpacker, and why? This passion is not a common pursuit for any age. The older I get the more lonely I find myself in the pursuit of my favorite activity. Lonely is not a bad thing, solitude is actually a huge part of my backpacking pursuit. I just find myself wanting to share my passion with others of similar age and experience. I do love seeing so many young people exploring the backcountry even if it does make the pursuit of solitude that much more difficult. I think it would be great to still have those backpacking friends from my youth, but life intervenes.
I learned how to survive in the wilderness as a young man while living in Colorado. Then, backpacking was more about conquering the wilderness, proving that I could go to these remote beautiful places. And I am so thankful that I did, but life intervenes. Yes, family, job and many other hurdles replace that freedom for a period of time. When freedom returned, backpacking again emerged as a passion, but now with wisdom and some restraint. So the Why? Can be answered by the passion, but How does this happen?
Backpacking is physically demanding and can definitely be uncomfortable which is why most all of my friends do not share this passion with me. Sure, everyone wants to be on those mountaintops but reality does not allow that for most. I believe that getting in shape in order to pursue serious backpacking would be extremely difficult at my age, which is why I am so thankful that I have stayed in shape. This was not really an option. I have inherited a bad back and I have paid the price for not maintaining strength to protect against throwing my back out. So I have pursued exercise throughout my life primarily seeking out games to fulfill the goal. Basketball was my mainstay, however, a lifetime playing roundball rewarded me with both my hips needing to be replaced and that was the end of basketball. Because of the hips I could not participate in any exercise that created lateral stress, however, hiking only creates forward stress. Luckily I have found that backpacking physically agrees with my chrome cobalt hips.
Without fitness getting in the way, the question becomes, “why would you want to place yourself in such uncomfortable situations”. And this is the real challenge. Committing to a backpacking trip when the comforts of home are so appealing is the greatest hurdle. The pressure to stay in shape especially in old age is a significant motivator, however, it is the reward of the adventure that drives you to the trail. Of course the process gets easier and your experience tends to help you overcome most unnecessary hardships. But it is the defiance of old age that may be the ultimate driver. Experiencing the beauty of true wilderness for as long as possible is the ultimate motivator.
The reality for everyone is not knowing when your body will finally give out. For me I have to always be concerned about my hips, but that unknown is a motivator as well. Do it while you still can. That is why I am placing the more difficult adventures at the head of the bucket list. The Adventure Continues.