8 days in a backpacking paradise! (My first Sierra trip)

7:50 p.m. on August 9, 2013 (EDT)
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Trailspace member Lambertiana posted open invitations to join him for a Sierra trip for the last two years. I took him up on it this year. And oh man am I glad I did! 

!!Warning!!: This report will be somewhat more narrative (and possibly embarrassingly reflective) than illustrative. 

If you want to see the really good pictures take a look at Johns report here.



There is certainly an inherent element of adventure in traveling 2300 miles to go backpacking for eight days with someone you have never met in person. 

However, I first read Johns trip reports back in 2010 and exchanged a few posts with him over the last couple of years. But I was most intrigued by his first open invitation from March 2012. After reading his post, I found myself responding to his passion for backpacking in the backcountry (because I share it) and clearly identifying with the mental health aspect. I enjoyed the forthright style with which he challenged any potential respondents; my imagination and curiosity were piqued in what turned out to be a most enduring way. 

I didn't have the vacation days to use that year and really never seriously considered it a possibility until one day my wife sat down next to me to ask what I was reading on the computer. After I explained the invitation she saw the spark in my eye and in her most simple and loving way said "well, you should go!". 

I was stunned at my sudden possibility. 

I shouldn't have been surprised; we've been together for 25 years now and she continuously humbles me with both Phileo (friendship love) and Agape (unconditional love). 

I often require her blessing to go on my solo trips and having that now bestowed...... 


My primary concern was how I would handle trekking at such altitude. I'm a bit of a fitness nut with all the running, working out, and frequent 20 mile backpacking days here in the Southern Appalachians. To my dismay, the research revealed that fitness has nothing to do with it. So not much to do in that regard, although I did train with a heavier pack as most of my trips are 2 or 3 days excursions with lighter pack weights. 

My secondary concern was using a bear canister for the first time (which John loaned me from his spare collection). In my normal haunts a well hung food cache has proved sufficient for these past many years. And my normal trips are so short I bring whatever whole or fresh foods I want. This trip, I invested in some freeze dried and dehydrated stuff. (with varying results) 

John and I lobbed an increasing bevy of e-mails at each other as the time drew near. He graciously offered to let me stay at his house both the night of the flight in and the night before the flight home which greatly helped defray expenses for me. He also drove his vehicle to and from Mineral King; a car rental for that many days would have cost me nearly as much as the plane ticket. 

After a tiring day of airport travel, we spoke for the first time via phone to confirm airport pickup in Fresno. Even though I was very tired there was little sleep that night as I bunked out in a vacated bedroom (after trying to cram all the food I could into that Bearvault). I eventually gave up and left about 2.5 pounds of food there. For some reason I lost my mind and chose to not pack the jar of Nutella. What am I, a rookie? (shaking head). I would have been much more satisfied to leave those foil packs of tuna and enjoyed that hazelnut and chocolate smoothness instead. :)


The Trip


Despite the rain that morning my head was spinning from looking all around me as we wound up the Mineral King Road to our trailhead. I'm sure John was sick of hearing me say "wow" but it is so very different out there. 

They make you get permits live and in person and people usually have to stand still for a "leave no trace" talk and kind of a shake down by the Rangers. Our ranger recognized John and fast tracked us out of there. Nice.




This was my first experience with the deceptive distances out there. This is the Cliff Creek drainage and I'm standing at the base of those falls in the picture (I'm a speck). From the trail I thought I would just "hop on over" for a quick picture. It took me 8 minutes to get there.






Here is John working his photographic skills on a side stream as we ascended to Pinto Lake.






The next day I continued to marvel at all the new sights. Just look at that cinnamon colored bark!






Here is John chugging up the impossibly long switch backs to Black Rock Pass.






When I reached the pass I couldn't resist a scramble up the peak to the immediate north. I did have to remind myself to be careful and slow down. Funny down-shot as I was wedged in a chute for gravity defiance.






This was just before the freakish hail storm that alerted to me to the severe sunburn on my neck with stinging strikes.






Here was camp at upper Big Five Lakes. That was such a wonderful place and we were the only people there just as we had been at Pinto. Amazing. I explored the unmaintained trail around the lake that evening and was surprised by missing the faint trail on the way back and having to line up with landmarks to find a route.








I'm used to the scenic spots being intermittent and connected by long green trail tunnels. It was somewhat surreal to have fantastic views all along the way!








On this trip I became smitten with the foxtail pine. It's my new favorite tree.






Here was John finding the route in the Big Arroyo; every time the trail came to open meadow it disappeared and we had to hunt around a bit to get back on it.






And here was camp blow-down; far enough behind a morass of blow-downs, rocks, and alluvial drainages with no discernable trail, that a lack of neighbors was assured. lol






These lizards were pretty common and this one was completely unafraid of us.






Here was a selfie at the Claire Lake outlet.






Just for fun..........






This was a feeder stream on the south eastern end of Forrester.






I could not believe the size of this juniper. Unreal.






I picked the coldest and windiest night of the trip for a cowboy camp of course. But it was some of the best star gazing I've ever had.






So after watching John drink the water with no filtration for five days, I finally gave in and drank freely. It was good. (10 days later and I'm still fine btw).






This shot was far above our camp at Lakes Lambertiana 1 and 2. The whole experience of finding those lakes off trail with all that boulder hopping and scrambling was one of the most fun endeavors I've ever had on a backpacking trip. That was an all around magical day for me.






These foxtails....






I think this was the tree where a Clarks Nutcracker perched and chatted us up for several minutes. It was absolutely hilarious; I do believe it was mad at us for being there. 

The next morning was melancholy as I knew we had only one night and two days left. 

John impressed me greatly with his bloodhound route finding skills. He has incredible instincts for picking a good line; on the way back from L1 /L2 he managed to guide us unerringly to a landmark we were aiming for to set our decent back to the canyon. I also learned quite a bit about using a topographical map to real advantage. Very cool.






I scrambled up some unnamed peak above Columbine and took a down shot of Cyclamen and Spring below us.






Here is a nice shot of John watching the sun go down on our last night (and one of my favorite pictures from the trip)






The last shot I'll show is taken from the plane as I departed Fresno. 


This was an amazing trip for an easterner like me, and I feel most fortunate to have had the experience. I'm still enamored with the Sierra and certainly hope to return for more.

Those eight days went by in a flash of blue skies, alpine lakes, smell of sage, and pine sap. 

John turned out to be a great match for me as a hiking partner. We are both slightly anti-social, often seeking the remote areas. 

I found out he holds a PhD, so now I must think of him as Dr.Lambertiana (;). I asked him on the trail if he was one of those that insists on being called Doctor in all social situations (he isn't but I like the joke). He may be the only man alive that can spot the difference between granite and granodiorite with the naked eye. :) I learned a great deal about geology and dendrology on this trip. I unfortunately will not get much practice in my species identification as most of the trees I was studying are not found back east. 

Luckily, I had no serious reaction to the altitude. I had a headache the first night (which may or may not have been a reaction) and had a definite dizzy moment on the way to L1 and L2 which was solved by an aspirin. Otherwise no issues. 

The overall dry climate was a dream to hike in for me. John insisted it was humid but to me it was bone dry and luxuriously low humidity. It is so much wetter here...... 

I was constantly amazed at the size of the landscape and the vividness of the views; I love my Southern Apps but am perhaps a little spoiled now.

The pictures and words really don't capture the experience; it must be seen and felt and smelled in the first person. What a trip.

If you read all this way, well, I hope you enjoyed it!


Happy Trails Friends!



10:41 p.m. on August 9, 2013 (EDT)
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You capture the feeling well....I'm often too terse.

You were also kind in the fact that you did not mention that you ran circles around me....

If I could truly tell the difference between granite and granodiorite by simple visual inspection I would be a rock star in the geologic world (pun intended).  I had simply studied the geologic quadrangle maps ahead of time so I knew which plutons we were on.

Regarding the PhD, my son is quick to point out that I may be a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.  Leave it to your kids to humble you.

I really enjoyed having you as a trail companion.  Anyone who is looking for someone who can handle a tough hike and be easy to get along with, just give Patman a call.

Now, to plan next year's trip.  It will be a good one!

10:45 p.m. on August 9, 2013 (EDT)
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I should add that I share your love of the foxtail pine.  Those trees have a lot of character, and they are found in special places.

I should also mention that when you climbed that small peak at Black Rock Pass, when you knocked that big rock loose in the chute, I was worried that you had taken a fall.  It took you a long time to reappear, so I had a lot of time to wonder what I would do if that had actually happened.

11:02 p.m. on August 9, 2013 (EDT)
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Great photos!  The trip looks amazing!  Did you guys have to take any precautionary measures for your parked car and the marmots?

1:37 a.m. on August 10, 2013 (EDT)
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those marmots love to munch on brake hoses...

2:08 a.m. on August 10, 2013 (EDT)
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By this time of the year, especially a dry year, the marmots are not much trouble at the trailheads.  The real problem is when there is still a lot of snow above the trailhead.  I was at Mineral King in late May once, and when I got back to my car, there was a marmot under my hood munching on the insulation on the firewall.  This in spite of the fact that I had erected a chickenwire fence around my car with solid rock anchors holding the base down so they couldn't go under it.  The marmots were smarter and just climbed the chickenwire until their weight pulled the top away from my car, and they were home free.

6:29 a.m. on August 10, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks for telling the tale of the trip from your perspective Pat.  You have some nice pics in there too.  As usual when looking at trip reports from out West I'm left with good memories of my time out there and a sense of loss from having moved East. Glad you got the chance to experience it.

On that note, time for breakfast because I'm taking the girls on a day hike in the wet woods today.  Have to celebrate what I've got rather than cry about what I don't!

10:27 a.m. on August 10, 2013 (EDT)
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Patman said:

I shouldn't have been surprised; we've been together for 25 years now and she continuously humbles me with both Phileo (friendship love) and Agape (unconditional love). 

 I liked your entire trip report, but this was my favorite part. I've got a bride of 22 years, and most every day I'm reminded of what a gift she is.

When's the next Sierra trip? ;)

11:44 a.m. on August 10, 2013 (EDT)
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Welcome to the West. Now you are in a special club of people that have been out there and come back to tell about it. The East is fine. The West is big, and open by comparison. Come back soon.

12:41 p.m. on August 10, 2013 (EDT)
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Isn't elevation nice? Looks like a wonderful trip to start your experiences in the mountains.

7:47 p.m. on August 10, 2013 (EDT)
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What an awesome experience;thanks for sharing it. Great pictures. Do you mind if I ask what camera you use?

8:35 p.m. on August 10, 2013 (EDT)
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Hey thanks guys;I appreciate the comments.

I did the Grand Canyon rim to rim a couple yeas ago so I've been out west once before but it wasn't like this....


MPaint, sure thing: I used a Nikon Coolpix AW110, the water proof and shock proof model (because I tend to be clumsy with a camera and on my normal trips, I ford a lot of creeks and get a lot of rain.)

1:40 p.m. on August 11, 2013 (EDT)
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My family is from WA state, but I grew up in Maryland. After a series of trips during college summers, I made plans to move West. That was over 40 years ago and I have never looked back.

2:33 a.m. on August 12, 2013 (EDT)
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Nice photos! It's great to hear about the same trip from two different perspectives, in word and pictures. Your enthusiasm brings back memories of my first western adventure -- Zion when I was 17 -- and first in-depth encounter in the Sierra, when I went all-in and did the JMT. There's really nothing else quite like it.

I don't suppose you got a chance to snap a shot of John next to a sugar pine? He needs an avatar!

9:52 a.m. on August 12, 2013 (EDT)
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Great report, Patrick! It looks like y'all had an AWESOME time! This looks like an amazing trip that you will never forget.

Don't you love the Sierra? :) It is like a different world than it is back here in the East. I love all of both of your pictures. They are really great! I especially like that one of you on the fin of Sawtooth and the one of you and John above that lake just before the hail storm. 

7:32 p.m. on August 13, 2013 (EDT)
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I enjoyed both the photos and narrative. I, too, exclaim WOW!

8:32 a.m. on August 14, 2013 (EDT)
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I can't believe you'd rather have this . . . . .


When you could have this!

9:17 a.m. on August 14, 2013 (EDT)
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The Sierras are a special place. Glad you had a great time and a good guide.

All of the pics were outstanding from the both of you

1:28 p.m. on August 26, 2013 (EDT)
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Awesome! Missed your return and the stories that you always shared and LOVED the Foxtail Pine. Glad you enjoyed your trip and hope to see you on the trail someday!

10:16 a.m. on August 28, 2013 (EDT)
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Gah! I'm so jealous! 

I've been unforgivingly busy of late, so I haven't had time to really absorb your whole report, but MAN! What an amazing trip, Patrick.


6:23 p.m. on August 29, 2013 (EDT)
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Thats a big change.  Very cool.

7:53 a.m. on August 30, 2013 (EDT)
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Very nice!  Welcome to the West.

8:12 a.m. on August 30, 2013 (EDT)
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Hey thanks everyone for the kind comments.

I shared this with Rob this morning so I thought I would also post it here:

This does remind of the wisdom passed down from Mom to me as a young teenager when she said “Son, you’ll never miss something you’ve never had.”

 Although I think she was talking about sex at the time it has held true.

Now I’m going to be scheming to get back out there to those big mountains.

10:21 a.m. on August 30, 2013 (EDT)
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Patman said:

Now I’m going to be scheming to get back out there to those big mountains.


Oh, man, do I relate! It's been two years since I made it out to NW Wyoming. I find as autumn nears, my skin is crawling with the urge to get out there. 

Next year or the year after I hope to meet up again with the landscape painting group I've met up with before. We should look at getting you out there to do a trek in the Tetons or Wind River Range before or after my painting event. You know you want to, and our wives would be much more keen on our not being solo ;)

10:51 a.m. on August 30, 2013 (EDT)
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It's on now brother!


Let me know the target date as soon as you can.....:)

2:17 p.m. on August 30, 2013 (EDT)
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Gonz and Pat, if either of you are in WA I'll hook you up.

12:35 a.m. on September 1, 2013 (EDT)
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...makes me homesick for the wilderness area's of America. Especially the :
Teton Wilderness

Gila Wilderness

And the wilderness between my ears...

I love your foto's man!  I spent a few hours driving thru Zion a few days ago. Check out my trip report and pictures .

You are a great photographer, what DSLR do you use? I shoot a Canon T3 which I barely know how to use, bought it this summer.

10:12 a.m. on September 1, 2013 (EDT)
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Patman.....WOW!! What a wonderful report!! I can hear all of your excitement and feel your childlike innicence as you discover all of the bew things the Left Coast has to offer. It was a great read...thanks for sharing!!

2:30 p.m. on September 3, 2013 (EDT)
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What an awesome trip! Grats to you, looks like you had a great experience!! It inspires me to get out of TN/NC sometime soon. Thanks so much for your report.

3:26 p.m. on September 3, 2013 (EDT)
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They make you get permits live and in person and people usually have to stand still for a "leave no trace" talk and kind of a shake down by the Rangers

and people bitch about the simple new reservation system in the smokies......

June 19, 2018
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