US Sierra

Our first visit to the United States in 1996 was to the stunning Sierra Nevada mountains of California- home to the iconic Yosemite valley and John Muir Trail where we did some rock climbing, backpacking and touring around. After this taster, we came back in 1998 as part of our longer Pacific Crest Trail hike between Mexico and Canada. Since then we brought the climbing gear back in 2006 and then in 2019 explored the mountains by hiking some cross country.

Listed below are our outdoor trips- with links to blog posts.

2019 AUgust-september

We visited California in 2019 and this time went out backpacking, exploring some of the Sierra mountains away from the popular John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails. Our aim was max out on the scenery with some off trail and scrambling over mountain passes and ridges. We used Steve Roper’s excellent ‘Sierra High Route‘ book as a reference along with some very useful websites and blog posts. See an overview map of our 2019 hikes.

McGee Trailhead to Mammoth Lakes

Reds Meadow to Tuolumne big loop

Twin Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows

Piute Pass, Lake Italy, PCT and Lamarck Col loop

Break in southern Utah

Cottonwood Lakes, Crabtree Pass, Guitar Lake, Mount Whitney

2006 September

A month long trip to California with a mix of rock climbing and hiking. Some photos here.

Tuolumne Meadows- Lembert Dome

Tuolumne Meadows- Tanaya Peak

Tuolumne Meadows- Dozier Dome

Mount Ritter plus Iceberg Lake, Mineret Lake traverse

White Mountain

Owens River Gorge rock climbs

Crystal Crag climb, Mammoth Lakes

Yosemite Valley loop hike

Mt Connes west ridge attempt

Cathedral Peak south face climb

Tuolumne Meadows – Mount Dana

1998 PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

A 2600 mile hike for about 5 months on the PCT between Mexico and Canada through the states of California, Oregon and Washington. Sierra PCT blog here.

1996 SEPTEMBER

Backpack – Lamark Col, Evolution Valley, Muir Pass, Bishop Pass

Owens River Gorge rock climbs

Side trip to Death Valley

Mount Whitney via Iceberg Lake and the ‘Mountaineers Route’

Tuolumne – Mathes Crest rock climb

Tuolumne – Cathedral Peak south face climb

Tuolumne – Fairview Dome north face climb

Yosemite – Snake Dike climb

Yosemite – Nutcracker climb

Yosemite – Various single pitch climbs

Mono Lake and Bodie Ghost Town

Cottonwood Lakes, Crabtree Pass, Guitar Lake, Mount Whitney

Tuesday 24th September 2019 The final hike of our holiday and we chose a southern part of the Sierra mountains near and over Mt Whitney. We picked up a permit easily again and left the car near the town of Lone Pine, relying on hitching a lift to the start at Cottonwood Lakes.

Up at Cottonwood Lakes at just under 10,000 feet it was clear, cool and windy and a forest of Foxtail and Lodgepole Pines poking out of the dry soil. We hiked up for quite a few miles on good trail towards New Army Pass. The scenery was stark with dazzling white granite boulders and rock, blue sky and the odd snow patch. The pass was windy so we nestled down behind some rock ledges then headed down an easy zig-zag trail on the west side to Rock Creek.

We turned off the main trail at Rock Creek, heading up Miter Basin, initially a wide valley with steep granite walls, gradually narrowing and becoming more rugged as we reached Sky Blue Lake in the evening. The sun dipped here and it was rather a cold wind that swept the lake surface so we decided to call it a day and camp at the north end in a wild alpine scene.

Foxtails at Cottonwood Lakes
Arid and windy!
Sky Blue Lake

After a very windy night we were glad to move on and upwards leaving signs of trail behind as we worked our way up over slabs and a few scrambly sections to a lake at 3697m. Here we sheltered facing the sun for a stop to take in the glorious views. A further easy climb from there and we arrived at Crabtree Pass. The descent down the other side was easier than it looked, on the east side of the gullys on broken slabs. Down at Crabtree Lake we sat watching a pika gathering grass for winter before hiking a wonderful cross country route down the valley past various Crabtree Lakes. Meadows, granite slabs, some scrambling but nothing too hard- this was great! At the final lake we spotted some golden trout as we meandered down through Foxtail Pine again on faint trails.

We picked up a more heavily used trail going back up east to Crabtree Meadows Ranger Station and saw a few people camping around here. This was us back on the JMT with big trails and people! We hiked past Crabtree on the path up to Mt Whitney with views back west gradually improving until we headed off trail to find a lovely granite slab to camp on below Guitar Lake.

In the morning
First of the Crabtree Lakes
Heading down between Crabtree Lakes
Camp below Guitar Lake

This was our last day hiking on the holiday but we aimed for a cool day by climbing over Mt Whitney and down the eastern side back to the Whitney Portal Trailhead and to hitch a lift back to our car lower down the valley.

We were flying by now, climbing steadily up the trail to Whitney Trail Crest with more than 4 weeks hiking fitness behind us. Some fantastic views higher up across the fluted mountains and lakes and we passed a few hikers coming up from the other side of the mountain. Saw some marmots and pikas on the way. After we had bagged the highest point of Whitney we then started the long, long descent east to the road- 6,500 feet roughly. The top half was particularly grand seeing into Whitney’s rocky east face and dotted lakes below.

Our final task was to get a lift which we managed quickly and were soon munching bagels in Lone Pine after another fantastic little backpack. Now back to Scotland!

Meadows low down on the east side of Whitney

More photos here

Bobway and Stevens Arch

Thursday 19th September 2019  The lower part of the Escalante River above Stevens Canyon is an area we haven’t visited before, so we put together this approx. 4 day loop hike taking in the river plus a few interesting other new places for us.

We drove for an hour down the dry and sandy Hole in the Rock road to make it to the Hurricane Wash trailhead- last seen when we hitch hiked out of here after a long, fantastic stretch of the Hayduke Trail in 2014. It was a hot, dusty and windy spot and we quickly set off from the car down Hurricane Wash at about 13:30.

Our route to the lower Escalante River

The sun and wind were at our backs keeping the temperatures down a bit and we could admire the vibrant, technicolour sandstone landscape. Soon the canyon began to close in and we were hiking on good trail down the lush lower part of Hurricane Wash with water, cottonwoods and some willow.

At the Coyote Gulch confluence we headed upstream into new territory and the steep red walls and vivid greens didn’t disappoint. We saw some pictographs high up on an alcove and soon after reached the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ canyon confluence. Not sure if we found the right route up Sleepy Hollow as we had some thrashing through vegetation before it opened out a bit. We were looking for an exit out onto the slickrock plateau above and soon found it- a steep step up assisted by standing on a pile of stones then some slabby moves before it eased off. Brian went up to have a look around for camping spots but it was windy out of the canyon and with little water around we decided to head back to the confluence with Upper Coyote Gulch. On the way back down we found an easier, less brushy route and soon settled into a fantastic camp under a huge alcove.

Friday 20th September 2019  Cool night sky with the milky way framed by the roof of the alcove. Camping is great out here! This morning we aimed to cross the plateau above the canyons before dropping into the Escalante River via a route called ‘The Bobway’. From the start the hiking was beautiful over undulating slickrock with the early morning light casting long shadows. We aimed northward for a small saddle at the top of the Sleepy Hollow drainage before trending south east for a landmark hill called ‘Rock’ on the map. We had a look for water on the way and found one pothole with water deep down- another sign that this season is a dry one as I had heard reports of more water than that in this area.

Eventually we arrived at the top of a huge sandy bay leading down to a small canyon which hopefully would take us to the Escalante River- the Bobway. The Bobway is a short but lovely canyon with a mostly slickrock floor and a little scrambling. Nothing too hard though and there are faint signs of a trail in places. Soon we were at the Escalante and, as it had got a bit hotter, we sheltered under a boulder for some lunch.

We started down the Escalante with deep wading and bushwacking but the going gradually eased as the afternoon progressed and it cooled down too. We did one shortcut over a col to cut out a huge hairpin bend. The scenery improved downriver to top notch Escalante red walls, reflected light and alcoves. We passed the confluence with Stevens Canyon and headed on to find a camp spot right under the huge Stevens Arch- another wonderful camp. We haven’t seen anyone since shortly after leaving the car.

Hiking the slickrock heading away from Upper Coyote Gulch
Descending towards The Bobway
The Escalante River
Approaching Stevens Arch on the Escalante River

Saturday 21st September 2019  In the morning we waded further down the Escalante then climbed up on a faint trail to visit Stevens Arch itself. The arch was amazing- quite hard to describe, but this is one of the most fantastic sights we have seen in canyon country. Some ravens drifted around checking us out as we spent a while scrambling around and exploring. Reluctantly we left and were soon down at the Coyote Gulch- Escalante confluence. We were heading into a more popular area here and soon met a hiker group. There are a cool succession of waterfalls in Coyote and one fairly easy scrambling section on rather sandy slabs.

We continued upstream enjoying the iconic sights including Coyote Natural Arch and Jacob Hamlin Arch and the easy hiking on trails. On reaching the Hurricane/Coyote confluence, we continued up Coyote again for a while to camp in a quiet spot under cottonwoods. Another great day!

Hiking towards Stevens Arch
Lower Coyote Gulch slabs
Coyote Gulch

Sunday 22nd September 2019  A chilled out hike back up Hurricane Wash to the car in the cool morning air. We had a huge lunch at Escalante Outfitters before deciding to start the drive back to California so that we could get another final hike in the mountains before returning to Scotland. It’s been a short trip to Utah for our ‘fix’ of canyon country hiking but its it’s been fun!

The Gulch and Boulder Creek

Saturday 14th September 2019 We had an incredible drive heading east from California to Utah across the middle of arid and barren Nevada. We had been driving into the night, and started looking for places we might camp by the side of the road, when we saw some lights on the horizon which turned out to be the tiny settlement of Rachel. At the edge of Area 51, and famed for its UFO conspiracy theories, the ‘LittleAleInn’ is an oasis and we happily spent the night here instead of camping. Delighted to see photos on the wall of the bar of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost taken here whilst they were looking at sets for the superb movie ‘Paul’ .

Rachel, Nevada

Sunday 15th September 2019 Anyway, we eventually arrived in Escalante, southern Utah in the late afternoon the next day. Our rough plan was to hike into The Gulch and Boulder Creek, two tributary canyons north of the Escalante River that we hadn’t visited before. For ideas we used our bible (but aging) guide book –  Steve Allen’s Loop Hikes in Escalante – plus our own knowledge of the area and many other references including Jamal Green’s superb website.

Our hike from US Highway 12 in the Escalante area of southern Utah

With a late start, we had a short evening hike from the point that Highway 12 crosses the Escalante River. We hiked trails along the river, then crossed into the dry Phipps canyon and walked up valley for a while to camp.

Monday 16th September 2019 Lovely moonlit night and we enjoyed nice cool temperatures for breakfast in the leafy but dry lower part of Phipps Canyon. Setting off back down the Escalante River, the river level was low with some faint trails, river crossings and a little bushwhacking to keep us alert! The Escalante is lined with vertical sandstone cliffs and escape points are mostly via confluence canyons. After passing Boulder Creek confluence at about 11am we arrived at a different type of exit point that makes use of a slabby break in the cliffs on the north side. A short steep hike up above the river took us to a ‘line shack’ wooden hut – this route has been used by cattlemen in the past.

From here we hiked on undulating slick rock slabs and sandy washes heading north then south east paralleling above the Escalante River. Our idea was that this would give us easier hiking to reach the canyon of The Gulch than following the meandering Escalante River itself. It was pretty hot though and involved a fair bit of up and down but with the plus of extensive views across the plateau.

Eventually we found a cool rock rib descending steeply down into the green canyon of The Gulch – another route used in the past by cattlemen. Unfortunately for us the ‘perennial stream’ at the bottom of the canyon was dry, so we decided to drop our backpacks and head down The Gulch for about 20 minutes to pick up the Escalante River again and fill up our water bags there. Heading back up canyon with heavier backpacks, The Gulch has a fair bit of vegetation so the hiking was slow but with some interesting overhanging alcove walls. It was hot and sweaty and we were glad to find a camp in the evening by scrambling out of the canyon floor onto a grand slick rock perch.

Hiking out of the Escalante to the ‘line shack’
North of the Escalante
The temps cooled a bit with some welcome cloud
The descent into The Gulch
Alcove in The Gulch

Tuesday 17th September 2019 Another lovely morning with the moon dappling the canyon walls and we set off up canyon to reach an exit scramble avoiding some dryfalls further on. Still no water in the canyon at all so were glad of diverting to the Escalante yesterday. After clambering up some rock ledges on the west side we picked up a faint trail paralleling the canyon with some great views back into The Gulch. We dropped again hoping to descend back into the canyon and reached a cairned point at the top of a slab/wall. We looked at this drop for a while and decided to give it a miss as it appeared too risky for us! Maybe would be easier in ascent…..

Instead of heading further up The Gulch as we had hoped, our new aim was to cross country over to Boulder Creek and head up that canyon. This again was nice viewful hiking in pleasant temperatures winding our way over to the ‘Bingham Tea Bench’ and actually crossing our tracks from a hike in October 2017. We reached a col and then descended very gradually in a superb slickrock valley south west towards Boulder Creek. This is gorgeous country out here and needless to say we hadn’t seen anyone else yet (nor would we til we hit the road- Highway 12- tomorrow afternoon).

We passed a few deep potholes and gratefully took some water. It appears that we are in a dry period as this year there doesn’t seem to have been the usual wet spell in late summer to replenish the water sources.

At the point where the pothole drainage drops into Boulder Creek it looks impossible to scramble into the creek. However about 300m to the north we found ‘The Crease’, a 30 foot slabby corner that provides a doable way down- maybe about Class 4 in descent? We were happy to lower the backpacks first to make the slightly slippy scrabble a bit easier.

We were now just above the Boulder Creek Narrows, a tremendous narrow canyon with the river running through a subway style rocky cleft. Leaving the backpacks behind we waded downstream for a bit. I guess it would be a lot harder if the water levels were higher, but as it was, we turned round at a pool which would have required a swim to cross.

Boulder Creek narrows

Back at the packs, we now headed up Boulder Creek. The canyon walls were not too high, but narrow, and the river itself was pretty chocked up with vegetation. At times we hiked up above on slabs, at times we hacked through the willowy brush, but often the easiest way was up the bouldery river (as per the name!). At one point Brian was suspended above the creek pinned to willow branches, with lots thrashing he managed to disentangle from the shrubbery with some scrapes and tears to show for it.

After we passed the confluence with Deer Creek the water volume went right down, but even then there were some waist deep pools to wade through. It felt tough going upstream and we were again thankful for the low water levels. An interesting sight was that the river was packed full of fish – rainbow and brown trout- plus the odd snake.

We found another great campsite above the creek bed on a superb wide slickrock bench. A great if slightly tough day.

Camp above Boulder Creek

Wednesday 18th September 2019 In the morning we had an explore of the slabs around camp before heading back into the creek again. Good to see some hummingbirds and we now came across a fair bit of beaver activity- with chopped trees and a few dams.

In late morning we made it to the middle exit point described in the Steve Allen guide and picked up a way out of the canyon and climbed fairly easily out on slabs all the way up to Highway 12. We had about 3 miles to hike south down the road to the car at the Escalante bridge and this was surprisingly pleasant with cool winds and little traffic.

All in all another great little backpack!

Boulder Creek

Sierra California- North Lake Loop

Monday 9th September 2019 Our aim was to do a loop hike starting at the North Lake trailhead, west of the town of Bishop, hiking north on a chunk of the Sierra High Route, returning via the John Muir Trail and then finishing with a cross country meander past Darwin Lakes and Lamarck Col.

Our route starting at North Lake Trailhead, west of Bishop

We started with a trip to Basin Bakery for some great bagels then the Bishop Visitor Centre and again managed to get a same day permit for the hike with no trouble. It’s a lovely drive climbing steeply out of the Bishop valley with some final dirt road to North Lake trailhead.

From the trailhead we had an easy gradual on-trail ascent past multiple lakes to Piute Pass at 11,423 feet. There were a few other hikers around and we met a nice guy with a donkey! The west side of the pass is gentle going over a plateau like area but we soon split from the trail to head north cross country to Puppet Pass. The area is flattish, dotted with boulders and lakes with mountains on the horizon all around. The descent from Puppet Pass was to the north of the lowest point – bouldery and slow going but the Puppet Lakes below were beautiful. We made it northwards to Elba Lake to camp in a lovely spot with sun and some shelter in amongst krummholz whitebark pine.

Mesa Lake looking back south to the Glacier Divide
Puppet Pass and Lakes

Pretty cold overnight with our water bottles freezing- I guess we are quite high at about 11,000 feet. Our start was a relaxed cross country descent down to French Canyon to boulder hop across the frost fringed river. We were both glad no wading was required as it was still frigidly cold! After a relaxed 1 mile hike west on trail we split again with some faint trails and xc up to Merriam Lake sitting in stark alpine surroundings. Easy going from there up a remote feeling valley across meadows and slabs to La Salle lake before a steep granite boulder and slab push to Feather Pass at about 12,300 feet. We met 2 guys here (first since Piute Pass yesterday) who are out for 10 days.

The descent was on better rock this time with some fun scrambling on grippy granite then onto a snow slope to easier ground. We then wound round various lakes with bear related names and all in a grand wild setting before reaching White Bear Pass with its beautiful lake near the top. The descent from this one though was a bit of a pain with endless willow scrub, gravel and loose rock! We were both glad to make it to flatter terrain and past two more lakes to reach the Hilgard valley where we would split west from the Sierra High Route.

A trail was marked in the valley but we found some rough going initially before a rugged trail gradually became a bit clearer. Cool valley though with granite slabs and green meadows. We made it to about 1/2 mile short of the John Muir Trail and pitched the tent fairly tired after a long rough but excellent day.

Leaving camp at Elba Lake
Above La Salle Lake
Hilgard Valley

Boy was it cold in the morning- our shoes had frozen as well as our water. We soon hit the JMT and headed south on a long gradual ascent to Seldon Pass – drying the tent out in the sun on some granite slabs. The lakes below Seldon were scenic and on the other side the trail was easy as it descended 3,000 feet down to Muir Ranch. This is a place where JMT hikers are able to resupply and stay the night. There is lots of spare food here, left behind by JMT hikers and we were able to stock up on bonus nuts and raisins and a few bars – superb!

Suitably replenished, we headed on south following the steep sided San Joaquin River on a grand trail camping just below Evolution Meadow after a fine day of JMT trail walking.

Nearing Seldon Pass
At Muir Ranch
Above the San Joaquin River

We started the next day with more chilled out JMT trail walking through Evolution Valley before striking steeply uphill off trail to Darwin Bench. Actually there was a pretty good ‘use trail’ much of the way but with some boulder hopping round the fine turquoise Darwin Lakes. After Lake 4 we stopped at its small beach before hitting the 1,000 foot climb up to Lamarck Col. The views opened out as we followed various sandy trails with the odd scramble to pop out at the col in late afternoon at 12,800 feet. A grand spot.

The descent involved crossing a snow slope which was in the shade and had hardened so we got out the micro spikes and ice axes to cross to the boulders below. From there it was easier arid slopes with a trail forming lower down. We stopped at a trickling water source then looked around a bit for a good viewful camping spot, eventually finding a wonderful place on the ridge above. What a view east over to Owens Valley and the White Mountain range. Even better was a full moon popping out over the jagged ridge to the south and no wind to rattle the tent even on this exposed spot.

After taking a few pictures over breakfast in the morning, we headed down steadily on trail in the morning back to the North Lakes trailhead. Another great loop !

Darwin Lakes
Lamarck Col
Snowfield descent from Lamarck Col
Camp below Lamarck Col

Twin Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows

5th September 2019 This three day backpacking trip had us roughly following the northern section of the ‘Sierra High Route‘ in the Sierra mountains of California with another mix of cross country hiking, scrambling and trails. We drove north from Mammoth Lakes to the town of Bridgeport on the east side of the Sierra mountains and arranged a hiking permit for the trip at the ranger station. Like the rest of of our hikes on this holiday, we were able to get a permit for the same day which was a pleasant surprise. A short drive west took us to the Twin Lakes RV resort (via Buckeye Hot Springs to drop off a hitchhiker!) where we paid a small fee to leave the car for a few days.

Our 3 day backpack from Twin lakes in the north down to Tuolumne Meadows

Scott the friendly campground host gave us good directions on how to navigate through the myriad of local trails to reach Horse creek and the wilderness area to the south. The weather looked a bit dodgy with foreboding cloud build up and on and off rain but the views ahead southwards to Matterhorn Peak were encouraging. The trail was pretty clear but one section by the creek through thick willow bush soaked us from the waist down. Gradually the terrain got wilder and more barren with scree sided metamorphic peaks and faint trail leading to a wonderful little snow bowl just before the pass.

We had decided to deviate from the Sierra High Route by following Spiller Canyon on the other side of the pass all the way down to meet the Pacific Crest Trail and then climb back over McCabe Pass back to the SHR itself. Spiller Canyon is a broad open glaciated canyon surrounded now by sweeping granite peaks. There was no trail but the hiking was easy down grassy meadows and lower down weaving through a thin forest cover. In the evening, rain built up and it got rather unpleasantly wet and we searched around a bit to find a flat spot to camp near the river.

Looking up Horse Creek
Nearing the pass

We heard the crashing of branches in the night and assumed a bear may have wandered past heading up or down canyon. Anyway if it was a bear it didn’t bother us thankfully. The rain was still coming down in the morning as we packed the tent up but there were patches of blue sky poking through giving us some optimism. Continuing down the broad U-shaped canyon, the forest thickened a little but there was always a clear way to hike through with a few river crossings to find the easiest ground. We scrabbled over old avalanche paths with lines of felled trees from the higher hillside down into the river. By mid morning we met the obvious Pacific Crest Trail and found some granite slabs to lay out the wet gear in the sun that had managed to break through. Spiller Canyon had provided an excellent hike with no trails or people.

Following the PCT southbound for a few miles was a chance to chill out and enjoy the sunshine. We left the PCT to head east climbing up on the smaller McCabe Lakes trail, firstly through woodland before we split to head cross country again to pick up McCabe Creek. After crossing some meadows and lodgepole pine the climb got a bit steeper and we had to pick a line between willow scrub and steeper slabs before we popped out near to Upper McCabe Lake. We stopped for a rest to take in the more mountainous scene and look at the route up to the pass.

The final push to the pass was about 700ft but on a gravelly trail with some grippy granite scrambling. The views at the top of McCabe Pass were cool particularly to the east and south where we were heading to lakes, snow and rocky peaks. We headed south for a bit along the ridge before zig zagging down ledges between slabs to get reach Secret Lake and then followed easier meadows and a trail down to the beautiful Cascade Lake to camp. Great day and great alpine feeling camp!

Spiller Canyon
Drying out on the PCT
Near Upper McCabe Lake
Looking south from McCabe Pass
Cascade Lake camp evening

A cold night but the sun soon hit the tent in the morning and we warmed up over breakfast. We started with an excellent walk south round the east ridge of North Peak to Connes Lakes where we chatted to some hikers heading up one of the peaks. We then scrambled up lovely granite slabs onto the east ridge of Mt Connes in grand terrain with extensive views. More meadows, streams, slabs, pools and waterfalls as we rounded some more ridges before the push up to Mine Shaft Pass where we had a look around at the namesake old mine workings and could now see south to the Tuolumne meadows area.

We hit trail for the first time today as we descended gradually down past Gaylor Lakes and meadows dotted with white granite boulders. Surprisingly a whole bunch of tiny frogs hopped across the path through the meadow at one point – we found out later that these were tree frogs – cool!

Later on we saw some other hikers before we finally hit the Tuolumne Meadows park road and ended a fantastic final day to the hike. The only thing remaining for us after some calories at the Tuolumne Meadows grill was to hitch all the way round to the car at Twin Lakes. This worked out incredibly well- a lift down to the road junction before Lee Vining – a walk into Lee Vining- a kind person then gave us a lift all the way up to Bridgeport where he was staying then out of his way all the way west to the car at the end of the road Twin Lakes. Another great trip.

Cascade Lake camp in the morning
Up Mt Conness east ridge
Near Mine Shaft Pass

More photos here

Reds Meadow to Tuolumne loop

On this 6 day hike we took the bus from Mammoth Lakes ski area to Reds Meadows then followed the ‘Sierra High Route’ for 4 days to the road at Tuolumne Meadows. This was a mix of cross country and trail over some beautiful mountainous terrain past Ritter and Banner Peaks. We returned back south for 2 days via Koip Peak Pass on quiet trails, way east of the busier John Muir Trail and lovely in a more sparse arid way with wide expansive views.

This was a section of the Sierra High Route we had wanted to do since climbing Ritter in 2006 and returning to the trailhead past the stunning Iceberg, Cecile and Minaret Lakes on the SHR. With the opportunity to hike into Tuolumne Meadows via remote cross country territory, camp and then return to the start on lesser used trails it had all the makings of a great trip for us.

Thursday 29th August 2019 After a bus trip from Mammoth Lakes ski area to near Reds Meadow resort we hiked off on good trails past some of the basalt columns of Devils Postpile National Monument, over the creek and briefly joined the John Muir Trail.

We turned west and uphill following Minaret Creek in mellow woods with views slowly opening up to the Minarets range and all their spikey magnificence ahead. It gradually got better and better as we climbed past a tumbling waterfall over rockslabs. Minaret Lake has one of the greatest views of any and we skirted round before an easy scramble up to the next Lake – Cecile (banner pic). The Minarets tower above with Clyde Minaret dominating- it has a very classic rock climb up the face via a set of clean corners. The rock is not granite like much of the Sierra range but a slightly more brittle looking metamorphic. One for another day!

The air felt clear and alpine as we scrabbled round the lake over boulders and a few snow patches (microspikes came in handy). At the far north end we had a wee look around before Martina spotted the exit descent starting right at the lakes outlet stream. This was a bit loose and gravelly but quickly took us down to the next wonderful lake – Iceberg – well named!

From there we cross countried over grassy meadows round ridges to find a camp above Ediza Lake.

Minaret Creek
Minaret Lake
Cecile Lake
Hiking down to Iceberg Lake
First camp above Ediza Lake

Continuing the next day cross country on the Sierra High Route involved fairly easily, but still beautiful, travel over some small ridges past Nydiver, Garnet and Thousand Island Lakes. The drop down to Garnet from Whitebark Col was a bit loose and gnarly and we were glad to get to the bottom and onto easier meadows. We turned direction from northwards to south west to follow the drainage up to North Glacier Pass- a splendid, windy and wild feeling place covered in boulders and with the snowy col between Ritter and Banner lending an alpine atmosphere.

The next section of hiking was not particularly hard but felt quite ‘out there’ without any trails through complex terrain – well described by the Steve Roper guidebook though. We found a welcome patch of trees just below an old mine working to stop for a rest before descending steeply past vibrant colourful flower gardens. After lots of winding between outcrops we arrived at the northern of Twin Island Lakes and found a way round the eastern shore on grippy, slabby granite. The outlet from the lake can provide a very deep wade but today it was about mid thigh and fairly gentle so turned out to be a pleasant, refreshing dip. Easy granite slabs gave a good route up to the southern Twin Island Lake and round the east side and we called it a day in the meadows to the south. A brilliant backpacking day! (Brian nipped up the hill to the south east after dinner but the views were limited in the dimming light).

Nydiver Lake
To the Ritter Banner col from the north

Turning westward we contoured round some hillsides and down into the idyllic Bench Canyon with flat white granite slabs, meadows and water rivulets. More mellow hiking up to Blue Lakes where we went for a swim – jumping off some granite boulders into the still, frigid water. Our climb up to Blue Lake Pass was a bit eventful as we took a ‘sporting’ granite corner line (probably to the right of the easiest route) and ended up hauling the backpacks up with our cord to get over a tricky 30 foot section. From there it was easy scrambling to the pass and new vistas out west towards the domes around Yosemite valley.

The 400 foot descent looked steep, bouldery and unattractive so we traversed hard right along boulders to reach a prominent pure white quartz outcrop looking like a giant ‘Kendal Mint Cake‘ bar. From there the descent was easy down grass and slabby slopes before traversing benches north west and descending into the forest.

This was the point where we should have picked up a good trail to zig zag steeply down to the Lyell Fork creek. However we couldn’t find it despite us separating and sweep searching across the small forested valley. Brian even switched on the gps for help. We decided to keep descending in the general line of the trail in the hope that we would find it again and eventually after about 20 minutes Martina did! Looks like the top of the trail is positioned a bit to the west compared to our gps and as drawn on the map. Funny that after a couple of days of mostly cross country hiking, we lose our way when we were supposed to be on trail!

Set up the tent as it got dark in a well used large wooded camping area near to the creek- a nice spot all the same.

Bench Canyon
We used our cord to haul backpacks above Blue Lakes

Today was a day of trail hiking northwards to the campsite and store of Tuolumne Meadows – a place we know and love being in the centre of some beautiful climbing and hiking areas. We enjoyed the relaxing hiking through open forest with the standout being the first Sierra Juniper trees we had noticed this holiday- incredible looking trees. Here is a quote from John Muir himself…

The Sierra juniper is one of the hardiest of all mountaineers. Growing mostly on ridges and rocks, these brave highlanders live for over twenty centuries on sunshine and snow. Thick and sturdy, junipers easily survive mountain storms. A truly wonderful fellow, he seems to last about as long as the granite he stands on. Surely he is the most enduring of all tree mountaineers—never seeming to die a natural death. If protected from accidents, he would perhaps be immortal. I wish I could live like these junipers, on sunshine and snow, and stand beside them for a thousand years. How much I should see, and how delightful it would be!

The river of Lewis Fork had a pleasant slabby trail up beside granite slabs and the gushing stream. We continued climbing easily to Vogelsang Pass and saw a few hikers again at Vogelsang Lake. From here to Tuolumne was another 7 or 8 miles of fairly hot and dusty hiking and we sped up in the hope that we would be able to get a camping spot at the Tuolumne Meadows campsite – and before the grill closed!

Made it into the backpackers campsite (I think there was no need to worry here as we could just squeeze into any flat spot remaining) and just in time before the grill closed at 6pm to gorge on veggie burgers and chips! Finished the day off with a fascinating campfire talk on woodpeckers -didn’t realise they have such long tongues.

Martina first in the queue for breakfast pancakes

Chatted to other hikers in the morning then hitched a lift for the 5 or 6 miles of road to the start of our 2 day return hike at the Mono Pass trailhead back to Reds Meadows- we didn’t see the point of walking along the busy road!

Chilled out hiking on trail up to the huge saddle of Parker Pass at 11,100 feet- it reminded us of hiking in the San Juan Rockies on the Continental Divide Trail in southern Colorado- we liked the wide open spaces and big sky views. From there we zig zagged forever upwards on a steady gradient to Koip Peak Pass at 12,270 feet. Great views east to Mono Lake and otherwise drier countryside down below in the valley. The terrain here is volcanic, red and scree covered and quite a contrast to the granite mountains to the west. A shower came through and we hunkered down at the summit cairn then dropped down quickly through some further showers to Alger Lakes. Gem Lake was our intended camp spot but it looked a bit overused by horse packers so we climbed south and pitched on a great little outcrop before Agnew Pass and looking back down to Gem Lake.

Our final day was another mellow one following the Pacific Crest Trail as it traversed south east along a valley side with splendid views back over to Ritter and Banner. We were soon at the horse stables of Agnew Meadows and picked up a bus ride back to Mammoth Lakes. This truly was a great 6 days out there in the Sierra…

Zig zagging up to Koip Peak Pass
Mono Lake in the distance
Camp above Gem Lake
Final day on the PCT

More photos here

McGee Trailhead to Mammoth Lakes

Sunday 25th August 2019 We flew into LA from Scotland yesterday and drove up the east side of the Sierra mountains, stopping to pick up our hiking permit and bear canister on the way to the McGee Creek trailhead. It was a blistering 30C here as we packed our gear in the shade and emptying spare food into the trailhead bear box to hopefully prevent bears taking an interest in the rental car.

For this our first backpack of the holiday we aimed to warm up for 4 days following mostly trails, some cross country and to reach a high point on McGee Pass at about 11,800 feet for acclimatization.

Once we started hiking up McGee Creek through sage and past some aspen, the air cooled down a little and it was a very pleasant gradual ascent up to Big McGee Lake at 10,500 feet. We saw a few other campers here but found a cool spot above and away from the lake. A few mozzies around on the way up but tolerable at the campsite – phew!

After a beautiful sunrise over the lake with some snow patched mountains behind, we set off uphill on trail on a grand hike past lakes and some frozen snow patches. We had brought mini crampons- ‘micro spikes’ to fit over our trail shoes and these worked perfectly for moving quickly up the snow. The pass was fairly gentle and scree covered but had good views out west to the jagged ridge of the Silver Divide and the green meadows of Tully Hole below- our descent line.

This was an idyllic valley with lush green meadows and wildflowers, marmots, pika, chipmunks. We eventually connected lower down with the John Muir Trail at a river crossing at Tully Hole – mozzy central!- and followed the JMT northward for a wee while. It was obvious this was a heavy used trail, as well as seeing lots of people, the trail was wide and dusty from many foot and hoof marks. Still it was pleasant hiking and soon we reached Lake Virginia where we cut off cross country northwards up a shallow drainage over a small pass to the the Rams Lake area to camp. Man this was nice up here above the treeline, amongst the small lakes and rough hills around!

Crossing McGee Creek
Columbine
Morning above Big McGee Lake
Back down to Upper McGee Lake
Heading down to Tully Hole
Tent just visible at far side of the Lake (Rams Lake area)

We set off on a rather beautiful cross country rambling descent down through meadows, past dotted lakes and streams. We soon picked up a trail below Rams lakes that took us down to Purple Lake. Saw a white owl in the trees and an osprey catch fish on the lake. Back on the wide PCT we headed northwards and turned off soon again to climb up on another trail to the large Duck Lake. Someone kindly offered us some DEET mozzy repellent which Brian gratefully accepted! From Duck Pass we headed north west following notes for the Sierra High route on the broad ridge of the Mammoth Crest. We decided to haul water to camp on the plateau like ridge with panoramic views all round. Particularly north to Banner and Ritter mountains and south to south impressive swelling thunderclouds which we were thankfully able to watch from a distance.

Next morning we had an easy saunter down to Lake Mary on the outskirts of Mammoth Lakes town to end a rather scenic and wonderful ‘warm up’ backpack. We only had the small problem of getting back to our rental car at McGee Lake trailhead. Though yo!- we lucked out and we hitched a lift from a very kind gentleman who took us back to the car in one go along three different roads including the final few miles on gravel dirt road. Thanks!

Mammoth Crest camp

More photos here

Cornwall 2019 -South West Coast Path

In April 2019 we hiked for a week along part of the 630 mile long South West Coast Path in England. The path itself takes a huge loop round the south west tip of England from Minehead to Bournemouth through Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. We walked a section from Bude to St Ives on the west coast of Cornwall.

We have visited Cornwall a number of times on rock climbing trips. Sea cliffs like Bosigran and Chair Ladder near Lands End have provided us with some of the best climbing anywhere on golden granite with Atlantic rollers crashing into the shore for atmosphere. In between the climbing days we have also walked along the coast path and thoroughly enjoyed these too.

I was also encouraged to see that the incredibly well travelled hikers, Amy and James from California, had included the coastal path in their top 10.

Summary We had a great hike. The trail follows the coast closely, mostly along the top of steep cliffs at the margins of farmlands. The quality of the trail is excellent and the scenery is tremendous with huge waves, cliffs, wide beaches, and grassy rolling fields. The coastal towns and villages are a standout too and hiking through was a pleasure adding variety to the wilder cliff top scenery. It was the Easter holidays and there was a lot of people out hiking near to the towns and surf beaches, but away from these it was quiet, particularly in the mornings and evenings.

We hope to return for more of the south west coast path!

Camping with a sea view! – that’s the tent, right centre

Resources We had a Cicerone guidebook. This was another reliable and recommended Cicerone guide which comes in printed and ebook formats providing trail descriptions, background info and strip maps. I also had OS maps for Cornwall on my android phone using the trusted Viewranger app. The trail is well marked and pretty clear most of the way, so there was a lot less need to consult the maps for navigation than we are normally used to.

We camped along the way. Although wild camping is technically not allowed, we were able to camp stealthily out of sight from the trail away from the villages. There are some fantastic wild cliff spots to be had if willing to search away from the trail, but there could be times when tent spots are limited, so a little planning ahead each day paid dividends. We didn’t see too many attractive commercial campsites on our hike (other than the recommended Hellesveor at St Ives) as most were holiday village style fixed caravans which don’t appeal to us (example here).

As the trail passed through towns every day, we took all our water from taps without any need for treatment which was nice. There are also lots of streams but it was simpler and safer to collect clean water from the towns. The towns also meant that we didn’t have to carry much food with us at all. The trail also passes an abundance of great cafes on the way with tempting cakes and Cornish Pasties!

Photo gallery here

Day 1 Bude to Dizzard We made it to Bude on the west coast of Cornwall by about 3.30pm after taking buses and trains from Bristol Airport. We picked up water and some veggie pasties and headed south on the trail away from the bustling town, busy with the start of the easter holidays.

We soon settled into hiking on a good cliff top trail looking down to the sea with fins of rock projected out from the shore into the water. There was a fair bit of up and down before we arrived at the lovely National Trust oak woodland of Dizzard. Just beyond we found a place to camp off trail and sheltered from the strong easterly breeze that we were to experience for most of the week.

Day 1- South of Bude

Day 2 Dizzard to South of Tintagel The trail dips down to sea level often to cross bays and harbours and we are getting used to the steep dirt steps that take a direct line up and down the slopes.
Our first harbour is Crackington Haven and we dive inside a cafe here to escape the cold easterly wind and devour some cakes.

More roller coaster cliff top meandering to Boscastle for late lunch (another harbour town and one which flooded in 2004). There are quite a few tourists here at this picturesque cove and with attractions including the Museum of Witchcraft.

We continue south with some great wild coastal scenery to Tintagel, with its popular castle, where we stop for a drink, to take on water for overnight and to buy some more pasties for dinner. Take an old (possibly mining) path down from the cliff top to find a superb tiny spot to pitch the tent overlooking the broiling sea.

Herringbone dry stone wall
Boscastle

Day 3 South of Tintagel to Padstow The sun came out today lifting the temperature from the previous hazy days. Saw plenty of birdlife including fulmars, guillemots, ravens and peregrine falcon feeding a chick. Passed through pretty Port Isaac which was mobbed with tourists- seemingly a TV series Doc Martin was filmed here which explains the tourist numbers!

We crossed sandflats at the mouth of a huge estuary to get to a ferry crossing to the larger town of Padstow where we chickened out and went for the comfort of a B&B for the night!

Padstow ferry

Day 4 Padstow to Porthcothan Moist but warm morning as we hike out on the south shore of the estuary over flat trails and beaches. We traversed out to two peninsulas today- Stepper Point and Trevose Head. Along the way we passed a few cool huge vertical holes in the cliffs with the sea breaking down below. There were also a number of pleasant beaches between the rocks; Butterhole, Trevone and Harlyn- where we stopped to eat our now nearly obligatory Cornish Pastie! This one a rare ‘Mediterranean veggie’ flavour carried out from Padstow.

The next beach at Polventon had remarkably clean sands backed by green blue water. At the far end there is a RNLI lifeboat station with a massive ramp system for the boats to slide into the water.

Polventon

After Trevose lighthouse the skies darkened and we were pounded with rain for the rest of the afternoon before taking refuge in the lovely cafe/shop in Porthcothan.

Day 5 Porthcothan to Newquay to Ligger point The rain thankfully stopped in the morning as we returned to the cliff top walking along to Bedruthan. We descended steps here to the sea with the waves broiling in against the cliffs. As we neared the large town of Newquay it got busier and we passed many surfers braving the cold air and even colder sea temperature!

Bedruthan

Bustling Newquay provided all facilities so we did some quick shopping and sat on the grass in a park eating our pasties in the sun. On the way out of town we hiked right through the dry sandy harbour at low tide. We pushed on to The Gannel south of town, this is a large estuary best crossed by a causeway exposed at low tide. Onwards a good trail took us out of suburban Newquay and past a series of rocky beaches to look for a campsite. Unfortunately into the evening we found ourselves passing a large MOD area near Ligger Point and we hiked on quickly to find a tiny site on a grassy ridge leading from the clifftop down to the sea.

Newquay Harbour

Day 6 Ligger Point to south of Portreath Sun today and more lovely surf beaches, cliff tops and the odd town. We stopped for early morning warming coffee in Perranporth. We passed Cligga Head with its granite quarry- a bit of a landmark for us being the first granite we had seen on the hike and reminding us of the great climbing further south on granite cliffs.

Not far on we were distracted by the irresistible cozy cafe in Trevaunance and sat outside in the garden with cakes and tea. Mining was the theme of the day culminating with the stark outline of the chimney at Wheal Coates. This is a popular spot and there were more people out on the trails than previously.

Wheal Coates

At Portreath we had great pizza for dinner outside the Portreath Arms and collected overnight water before hiking on into the evening to camp.

Day 7 To St Ives A gentle start today along good flatish trails out to the lighthouse at prominent Godrevy Point. Near here we looked straight down onto a crowd of grey seals basking on a lovely sandy beach. From the point we could see St Ives ahead at the far end of a huge wide cove of sandy beaches. The hiking there was deceptively long though as we had to circumnavigate the estuary at the town of Hayle. Hiking through town did give us the advantage of picking up a Subway sub for lunch- superb! Today was scenic, but away from the wilds as the trail mostly passed through populated areas.

Seals at Godrevy Point

St Ives is a touristy but loveable town and we all but finished our hike through the harbour at low tide and onto the high street shopping areas.

Some recommended related reading

Jamaica Inn Daphne du Maurier– classic fiction set in Cornwall

The Salt Path Raynor Winn– trail walking account with a difference

US South West

We have visited an area in the south west of the United States called the ‘Colorado Plateau‘ a number of times now. The plateau covers the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and southern Utah. It is characterised by high desert, deep canyons, steep rock cliffs, forests and vivid colours. For us the attraction is in the vast wild countryside that provides endless adventures for backpacking, exploring, hiking, scrambling as well as paddling and rock climbing. There are many signs of prehistoric cultures too: Ancestral Puebloan, including the ‘Anasazi,’ Sinagua, Fremont, and Cohonina. And thankfully much of the area is public lands such as National Parks, National Monuments and Wilderness Areas (although under some threat from the current Trump administration).

Listed below are our outdoor adventures- many with links to blog posts.

Autumn 2019

We visited California in Autumn 2019 and took a 10 day break to hike in southern Utah again from September 14th. We stayed in the Escalante catchment for another two excellent 4 day hikes covering some new territory for us.

Escalante – Bobsway and Stevens Arch

Escalante- The Gulch and Boulder Creek

Autumn 2018

We returned to southern Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona in October 2018 for more backpacking in this wonderful area.

Buckskin Gulch slickrock

Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks

Escalante – Bighorn Canyon, Harris Wash and the ‘Cosmic Navel’

Capital Reef NP – Lower Muley Twist and Halls Creek

Zion – Canaan Mountain traverse

Escalante – Scorpion Gulch

Grand Canyon North Rim Loop (Indian Hollow-Colorado River-Kanab-Jumpup Canyons)

Video summary of our 2018 hikes ( 9 minutes)

Autumn 2017

Back again to the canyons and high desert of the US south west in October 2017! We flew from Scotland to Las Vegas and rented a car with 3 and a half weeks to get out and backpack further into some new areas.

Canaan Mountain and White Domes loop north of Hildale

Escalante – Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow-Escalante-Brigham Tea Bench-Boulder

Capital Reef NP – Upper Muley Twist and the rim route

Grand Gulch area – East Slickhorn-San Juan-Slickhorn canyon loop

Dark and Youngs Canyons

Hackberry Canyon-Yellow Rock-Paria canyon

Video summary of our 2017 hikes (10 minutes)

Autumn 2016

Back to the desert and canyons of southern Utah and northern Arizona in September/ October 2016. Two years ago we hiked and kayaked our own version of the Hayduke Trail. Having enjoyed it so much we returned this year with a rental car to hike to some other canyons and interesting places. Whilst we wouldn’t get the full immersion of a multi month hike such as the Hayduke, we were aiming to target some of the most spectacular places in the region with some trips ranging from  1 to 5 days.

Paria river backpack I

Paria river backpack II

Escalante – Death Hollow, Bowington and Boulder Mail trails

Escalante – Silver Falls, Harris, Escalante, Neon and Choprock canyons I

Escalante – Silver Falls, Harris, Escalante, Neon and Choprock canyons II

Escalante – Peekaboo, Spooky and Brimstone slot canyons day trip

Canyonlands National Park- Horseshoe canyon

Canyonlands National Park- Salt Creek backpack

Escalante – Farewell- Wolverine and Little Death Hollow canyons

Video summary from our 2016 hikes (6 minutes)

Spring 2014

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The Hayduke Trail is a 800 mile hike and scramble through the canyons of the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah and northern Arizona USA. Read about our trip on this wonderful route here…Hayduke hike

2009

We had 6 months in the USA in 2009 to mainly hike the wonderful Continental Divide Trail. We also managed a few short trips to the desert south west before after the CDT though…

Grand Junction CO – Colorado National Monument

Montrose CO – Dominguez canyon

Mesa Verda National Park CO

Montrose CO – Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

Montrose CO – Dolores Canyon

New Mexico – Chaco Canyon

Arizona – Monument Valley

Canyonlands NP – Needles hikes

Moab UT – Slickrock trails mountain bike

Canyonlands NP – Islands in the Sky

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Chaco Canyon

2004

Our first visit to southern Utah and it was a bit of a revelation to us contrasting with the green and wet Scottish scenery. We did a number of hikes, scrambles and rock climbs…

Grand junction CO – Colorado National Monument

Moab- Kane Valley rock climbs

Moab – Negro Bill canyon

Arches NP – Off Balance Rock rock climb

Arches NP – Owl Rock rock climb

San Rafeal Reef

Goblin SP – Wildhorse Canyon – Crack Canyon

Capital Reef NP – Fern’s Nipple

Capital Reef NP – Sulphur Creek, Cassiday Arch

Capital Reef NP -Burro canyon, Rim Overlook trail

Escalante – Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls

Escalante – Coyote Gulch and Stevens Canyon

Escalante – Spooky and Peekaboo Gulches

Grand Gulch loop hike

Canyonlands NP – South Six Shooter rock climb

Canyonlands NP -Needles

Moab – Slickrock mountain bike

Moab – Fisher Towers, Ancient Art rock climb

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Ancient Art Fisher Towers

Moab – Castleton Tower rock climb

Grand Junction – Independance Monument rock climb

Telluride – Lizard Head peak