Category Archives: Backpacking

Lost Maples 5/13/17

 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

 

Lost Maples State Natural Area

warm, sunny, mid 80s

Ian solo

5.1 miles

 

 

This was actually going to be an overnight, but I finished the hike much faster than anticipated and didn’t want to sit in the woods by myself for 7 hours until the sun set, so I bailed and drove home.  The hike was still very pretty and well worth the 6 hour round trip drive.

I had a full pack, including the Marmot Limelight 3 person tent and Enlightened Equipment double quilt, despite being a solo trip.  I had no choice, as I haven’t bought my solo shelter or quilt yet.  All that said, my pack weight, including food and water was just under 25 pounds, so not too shabby.

 

I intended to hike the remainder of the trail that we hadn’t finished on our first overnight back in 2015.  This meant doing a counter-clockwise loop on the west side of the park.  There was a steep climb that got me to some good views.  Unfortunately, they don’t believe in switchbacks in this park, so it’s basically just a straight up climb for a quarter mile on scree.  I was winded, but the breeze up top was nice and I took a short break.

Views

Some flowers still hanging on before the summer heat

 

After a short walk through Mystic Canyon (which I will say is neither mystic, nor a real canyon), I got to the junction where I was to do another steep climb.  There were three hikers at the junction who had just come from where I was headed.  They told me horror stories of not only steep trail, but spiders everywhere as big as your hand.  I was already thinking of skipping this section and their warnings made it an easy decision. Instead I headed to my intended campsite and passed some nice springs on the way.

 

When I arrived at Camping Area C it was just barely 2pm.  There were several groups camped already and I wasn’t sure if they were still waiting to pack up from the night before or if they had gotten out earlier than me and set up.  Either way, I didn’t feel like hanging around by myself all afternoon, especially when I was just about a mile from the trail head.  So I continued on and headed back to the car.

Pond at Camping Area C

 

However on the way I found a nice waterfall that I had to scramble down a small cliff to really see, but it was well worth it.

 

 

Wuksachi Lodge Trail/Twin Lakes Trail Overnight – Sequoia NP – California 9/3/16 – 9/4/16

 

Saturday and Sunday, September 3-4, 2016

 

Wuksachi Lodge Trail/Twin Lakes Trail Overnight – Sequoia NP – California

~18 miles

 

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This was the big hike for this trip.  I sent in my wilderness permit application on the first day I was able, back in March, to make sure we got one.  This was probably overkill, but I didn’t want to take any chances, and as Court will tell you, I love to plan.

We had arrived in the park the day before the hike and picked up our wilderness permit at the Lodgepole Visitor Center.  The line was long and I found out that a lot of people were trying to get walk-up permits.  In my opinion, there should be two lines: one for walk-ups and one for people who have had reserved permits for FIVE MONTHS.  Anyway, after about an hour, we got our permit.  I was prepared to rent a bear canister, but the ranger told us the bear boxes at the campsite at Twin Lakes would work fine.

We woke up early and had breakfast in the lodge and then hit the Wuksachi Trailhead nearby, which met up with the Twin Lakes Trail after about 1.5 miles.

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Court and the Wuksachi Bear

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Court with the grunge look

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Bridge over Silliman Creek

 

The morning was chilly, but nice, probably in the low 50s to start.  Watching the sun come up through the trees as we hiked along was great and it was nice to have a dirt trail with relatively few rocks, unlike most of the Texas trails we are used to.  You can actually look around instead of down at your feet!

At the junction with the Twin Lakes Trail we turned north and started to climb.  We crossed Silliman Creek several times, which provides Lodgepole with all of its water.  It was too late in the year for a raging river, so we were able to rock hop across easily.

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starting to climb

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impressive skies all day

 

We would pass Cahoon Meadow and later have a great view of it from above.

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Looking down on Cahoon Meadow

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Late summer wildflowers

 

We stopped for lunch and to filter water at a creek just after Cahoon Gap.  We packed in a chicken pita that we got from Lodgepole the day before and it was great.

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After filling up we hiked on and quickly heard a strange sound that turned out to be a young deer sneezing!  He was apparently not happy with our intrusion, as he actually charged me for a second when I tried to take a picture.  His brother was there too, but didn’t seem to mind us as much.  We continued and the trail began to switchback up for the steepest part of the hike up to Twin Lakes.

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We came to a granite outcropping that looked like it would have a good view slightly off trail and as we approached the edge two marmots were there to greet us.  One scampered off, but the other looked at us, contemplated for a moment, and then lay down to take a nap.  This was one of my favorite wildlife sightings of the trip.

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Marmot!

Continuing to climb up the steep switchbacks, the altitude started to make breathing a bit more difficult and we slowed our pace.  We came to a granite “staircase” that would have been an amazing cascade of water if we were here earlier in the year, but it was still beautiful, even if dry.

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Imagine the water flowing down in spring

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Finally we reached the top, after passing a couple of hikers who were taking an extended break to rest before attempting the rest of the climb up.  They did eventually make it I think.  There were two bear boxes to choose from and an open air pit toilet that we decided not to investigate.  The lakes were gorgeous and surrounded by towering granite walls.

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After exploring for a bit we chose a campsite near Big Lake and settled in and washed our feet in the water.  Even with long pants and gaiters, the dirt still found a way in and our toes were filthy.  I filtered water while Court put the finishing touches on the tent and then we went up to the bear box to cook dinner on the new Jetboil Minimo.  Beef Pho was the freeze-dried choice of the night (Backpacker’s Pantry) and it wasn’t my favorite, but it did the job.

After a slight tent mesh mishap by Courtney (now I need to order some Tenacious Tape), we got snug under our quilt and read until we fell asleep.  We didn’t even make it til 9pm.  It got COLD overnight, but for the most part we were comfy.  We woke up at 6:30am to a pretty sunrise and decided to hit the trail and eat bars for breakfast on the way back down the trail.

We descended down 2500 feet to the trailhead in about 3.5 hours, as opposed to the 5 hours it took to come up.  Court had a blister on one of her toes, but other than being dirty, we were in good shape.

We ventured back down to Lodgepole in the car to get some food and drinks for dinner in the room, but the chaos and crowds in the prime of Labor Day Weekend were insane.  After over an hour of parking and standing in line for groceries with screaming kids and their bedraggled parents, we gratefully retired to our room, showered, and watched Texas beat Notre Dame for our football season opener.  It was a beautiful hike and an amazing experience for our first Sierra backpacking adventure.

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End of trail

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Gaia GPS map

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Google Earth map

Colorado Bend State Park Overnight 4/9 – 4/10/16

 

Saturday and Sunday, April 9th and 10th, 2016

Colorado Bend State Park – near San Saba, TX

About 14 miles total

 

We made the 2 hour drive out through Lampasas and west over to Colorado Bend State Park this past Saturday morning amidst some early rainy weather.  The bluebonnets lined the roads all the way and the rain finally subsided just as we got to the park.

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Biff doing pre-trip equipment check

Biff doing pre-trip equipment check.  My pack came in at just over 20 lbs, Court’s just under 20 lbs.

We stopped at the ranger station to check in and I went over my proposed route.  We were advised to wait to do Gorman Falls until the next day, as the rocky trail leading down to the falls was at a 45 degree angle and like glass when it was wet.  Therefore we ended up taking a more southerly route down Lemons Ridge Pass to the Spicewood Springs Trail.  This turned out to be very beautiful and the overcast skies eventually gave way to clear and sunny, with the temperatures hanging in the mid-70s.  Perfect hiking weather.

Excited to get to the park

Excited to get to the park

Hitting the trail

Hitting the trail

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The trail went down into Spicewood Canyon and meandered back and forth across the creek several times, past multiple waterfalls and plenty of beautiful scenery.  Court used the new trekking poles to ford the crossings, which was quite helpful.  Biff of course needed no such help as he bounded into the water and made his way across without trouble.

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There weren’t many hikers on the trails the first day, but at the swimming hole at the end of the trail there were quite a few more people, as this is much closer to the general campgrounds and day use areas.  Once we reached the spot where the creek empties into the Colorado River, we road walked through the car camping area (which had some great views of the cliffs across the river), where we filled up with water so we didn’t have to filter for dinner, and then another mile and a half to the backpacking primitive sites.  This is the strange thing about this park.  The backpacking walk in sites are only a mile away from the car camping sites, so backpacking really isn’t even necessary.  Next time we may just car camp and day hike.

Clothes on the bench by swimming hole

Clothes on the bench by swimming hole

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Cliffs across the river

Cliffs across the river

We reached the backpacking sites around 6pm and unfortunately most of the best sites were taken.  We settled for the first site in, which was at least under a large tree and near the river, but the dirt was so hard packed we couldn’t even stake the tent down.  Luckily it wasn’t necessary, as the winds were calm all night.  We set up camp and then made dinner: our first experience with Mountain House freeze dried meals and I have to say, I was kinda impressed.  I had Chili Mac and Beef and Court had Teriyaki Chicken and Rice.  It wasn’t phenomenal, but far exceeded my expectations and the lack of dishes to clean was a very welcome side effect.

Camp with Court studying the trail map in the background

Camp with Court studying the trail map in the background

Mountain House meals and stove

Mountain House meals and stove

River view from camp

River view from camp

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Wet socks drying on top of the tent

Wet socks drying on top of the tent

In fact, we had brushed our teeth and were in the tent well before the sun went down.  We read until dark and got to sleep early.  I had a particularly restless night though.  I don’t know if it’s a sleeping pad issue or what, but I woke up pretty much on the hour every hour, having to change position to stop the aching joint of whatever side I was on.  The stars did make their way out after some early clouds and I wish we could have left the rain fly off, but there was still a slight chance of rain, so I didn’t want to test it.

Tucked in and ready for bed

Tucked in and ready for bed

Sleepy Biff

Sleepy Biff

We woke up with the sun and the initial plan was to hike back to the car, eat breakfast, and then drive to the Gorman Falls trail head and make the hike without full packs, but we decided just to skip breakfast and hike on with full packs to the Falls.  We took the River Trail for a mile or so, which had some nice scenery of its own, scaling along the side of a small cliff for a section.  There was actually a cable bolted into the rock to assist the exposed cliff, but it wasn’t too hard.  There was also an OLD sign from before the park was officially a park I guess.  Pretty cool.

Huge drainage pipe under the trail

Huge drainage pipe under the trail

Look carefully to see the cable along the cliff face

Look carefully to see the cable along the cliff face

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There was a ridiculous hill at the end just before getting to the Gorman Falls trail that really took it out of us.  We needed some energy so we stopped and set up the stove for some coffee and trail snacks.  I learned the hard way to not hold the coffee cup while Court pours boiling water into it.  Luckily it wasn’t a full boil so my hand was ok.  Again, Jiva Cubes are awesome for coffee.

Top of the big hill

Top of the big hill

Trail side breakfast stop

Trail side breakfast stop

 

We got to Gorman Falls half a mile later down the very steep and slick rocks (the ranger wasn’t lying) and it was well worth it.  70 feet tall and absolutely gorgeous.  There were several different parts of the multi-tiered falls and it looked like something straight out of a tropical rain forest.

Trail down to the falls

Trail down to the falls

First view of the falls

First view of the falls

Main falls

Main falls

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After the falls we headed back up the steep trail, carrying Biff for most of it, and decided we had neither the stamina nor the time to take the newer and most challenging Tinaja Trail back to the car.  I was a bit bummed about that, as Tinaja was one of the things I really wanted to do on this trip, but it wasn’t to be.  We will have to come back another time and finish that off.

We got back to the car after another couple of miles and were all wiped, but happy.  Biff went straight to sleep and we made the drive back home.  A great trip overall.  No map this time, as the app couldn’t find the satellite for a while and didn’t keep an accurate log.  Our feet and equipment held up great.   I think we are getting better at this backpacking thing.

Edit: Hey, I found the maps

Map Day 1

Map Day 1 – red dot is campsite

Map Day 2

Map Day 2 – red dot is campsite

 

Lost Maples State Natural Area 10/16/15-10/17/15

 

Friday and Saturday, October 16 and 17, 2015

 

Hike: Lost Maples State Natural Area overnight, near Vanderpool, TX

Weather: Highs in the 90s, lows in the 50s, clear

Hikers: Ian, Court, Biff

Length: about 12 miles total

 

Our first official backpacking overnight was a success.  After two years of gathering gear and learning, we finally got to put it into practice.  The leaves haven’t started to turn yet, as it has been a very warm fall so far, but it was still beautiful.

We made the 3 hour drive through the Texas Hill Country out to Lost Maples State Natural Area and stopped at a great little cafe in Medina for lunch.

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Just outside the Vanderpool area we passed by the Siesta Valley Ranch, which is a working dude ranch at the base of a huge cliff with longhorns and bison and a beautiful lake.  Court was in love.

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longhorns

longhorns

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We reached the park just after 1pm, not sure of what kind of crowd to expect.  The parking lot was actually pretty empty.  I asked the rangers if there had been a lot of hikers in so far and they said no, but they expected it to get packed later on.  We paid our entry fees and drove to the trail head.  It was a good feeling to head off on a trail knowing that we would get to the end and set up camp, instead of having to just turn around and come back to the car.

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We started off on the Maple Trail, which takes you through the main stand of the “Lost Maples”: Bigtooth Maples, which are a holdover from the last Ice Age.  The trails are very rocky and sometimes simply follow the dry creek beds.

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Not long after, we came to Monkey Rock.  It’s a huge natural rock formation that, well, looks like a monkey.  The scale is hard to tell, but it’s probably 30 feet tall.

Monkey Rock

Monkey Rock

After Monkey Rock came the Grotto, which was very beautiful and is probably even better when the water is higher and dripping from the rocks.

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We then came to the biggest climb of the hike, up to the top of a plateau overlooking the whole area.  It was straight up and I was carrying Biff most of the way, since he is barred from climbing steps due to back surgery a few years back.  We got to the top and took a break and enjoyed the breeze and the views.

climbing up

climbing up

We walked along the plateau to a lookout point, but the sun was starting to beat down again and it was very exposed, so we continued on and took the difficult trail down, which was more of a vertical scree field than a trail.  Finally at the bottom, we took another break at the primitive campsite next to the pond and filled up our bottles.  The water was cold and felt great on our feet.

on top of the plateau

on top of the plateau

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trail down on the right

trail down on the right

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We continued on down the trail and basically followed the creek bed for most of the way to camp.  On the way we passed a small pond with some great reflections.

tendrils below the surface

tendrils below the surface

Court's favorite reflection

Court’s favorite reflection

carrying Biff

carrying Biff

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We got to camp and set up, but used most of our water to cook and clean dishes, so we had to backtrack about a mile back to a spring to filter water so we had enough for breakfast the next morning.  Having to really gauge our water use was a new experience.

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spring that we filled up at

spring that we filled up at

We woke up the next day with the sun.  The temperature got down to the low 50s, but it felt quite a bit colder for some reason.  We packed up pretty efficiently and headed back down the path we came.  We had originally planned on doing the outer loop of the West Trail, but didn’t feel like another steep climb so early in the morning so we came back and took the flatter trail through the middle of the park.  The sun hitting the valleys and trees created some great scenery on our way back to the car.

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morning sun

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We did very well with full packs and really enjoyed the adventure.  The crowds were not nearly what we were expecting.  In fact, we only had a couple of neighbors in camp and ran into less than 10 hikers overall.  Biff did well, but was definitely wiped out by the end and slept the whole way home.  It wasn’t a super long trail, but was very good for our first official time out and gave us time to really get used to the gear and enjoy the experience.  This will be the first of many I’m sure.

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trail head at the red dot

trail head at the red dot