With winter quickly approaching, I was glad to be able to get in one last backpacking trip before the snow flies in Lake Tahoe. Temperatures are already pretty chilly in the Sierra, so we headed to Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Reyes is a beautiful stretch of protected land approximately 1 hour north of San Francisco. The beaches are pristine, the bluffs impressive, and the views extensive. It is definitely a beautiful place to visit whether you are backpacking or just exploring for a day. We were also blessed to experience beautiful weather for mid-November.
I originally made these reservations six months ago through recreation.gov. I highly suggest that you try and make your reservation six months in advance when the reservation window opens–it opens on a six month rolling basis.
We had a reservation at Coast Camp, which is one of the more desirable locations due to it’s easy access and proximity to the ocean. The other backpacking campgrounds are Wildcat Camp, Sky Camp, and Glen Camp, each with their own unique qualities. However, Coast Camp and Wildcat Camp are the only two campgrounds with a short walk to the ocean. A few things that are in common for these campgrounds and unlike what you usually experience in the backcountry are: 1) There is a picnic table, charcoal grill, and food storage locker for each site, 2) There are vault toilets, water, and trash receptacles at each campground, and 3) You have to stay in your designated site that you have reserved; there is no dispersed camping.
For starters, you’ll need to pick up your backcountry permit at Bear Valley Visitor Center. If you are planning on having a fire on the beach, you will also need to inquire about a beach fire permit here.
There are a few different trailheads you can start your hike from, and we chose the Coast Trail, which is located directly across from the Point Reyes Hostel off of Limantour Road. This trail is fairly flat and a short 2.8 mile hike to camp on well maintained service road. We saw numerous people biking this trail and next time we go, we might even bring a pull cart in with supplies like wood, charcoal, extra water, etc. To be honest, it felt a little like cheating, because it was a pretty basic hike to get to camp.
In just over an hour, we arrived at camp and had a little trouble locating our site, #14, because it was tucked back behind some bushes. It turned out, it was one of the only sites that was private, and we were totally okay with that!
There are two sections of campsites at Coast Camp. Sites #1-7 are located in a little valley and have ocean views. Sites #8-14 are in a meadow and mostly exposed to other campers. Our site, #14, was set back behind some brush and was the most private in the #8-14 loop. We were next to a large group site though, which had a bunch of boy scouts the second night that we could hear first thing in the morning. Those boys were early risers with a lot of energy!
The beach is wide-open, sandy, and surrounded by some beautiful bluffs. It’s a quick stroll from camp down to the beach and easily accessible. Walking south down the beach will eventually bring you to some awesome tide pools that are full of sea anemones, snails, and baby fish. Continuing further south will take you to Sculptured Beach, where the beach gets a little more narrow. Make sure to know when high tide is, so you don’t get stuck in a bad spot when the tide rolls in.
We walked down the beach, crabbing along the way, to Sculptured Beach. From there, we took a set of stairs back up to the Coast Trail and north to camp for a change in scenery.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Water – There are a couple of water faucets at Coast Camp, but be sure to check that they are working and potable before you go. I received an email the day before we left that water was out at our camp and we needed to bring all our water with us. To our surprise, the ranger at Bear Valley Visitor Center told us that water had been restored when we checked in. There are not a lot of options to filter water close by if the water is out at camp. Despite being told the water was potable, we still used chlorine drops to be safe.
- Vault Toilets – The vault toilets are fine for what they are and there was plenty of toilet paper. We also saw maintenance servicing the toilets each morning we were there.
- Trash Receptacles – There are a couple of large dumpsters at camp so you don’t have to pack anything out. Just don’t be surprised if you see a rat or chipmunk in the trash when you open the lid.
- Charcoal Grills – Each campsite has a charcoal grill, but you are only permitted to burn charcoal in these. No wood fires at camp. Period.
- Food Storage Lockers – Each campsite also includes a food storage locker; however, these are not rodent proof and the mice have figured out how to crawl up the handle and into the locker. Ours had a bunch of steel wool stuffed into the handle and other holes in the locker. We didn’t have any issues with rodents in our food.
- Wildlife – There is a lot of evidence of deer and coyotes in the area, but we didn’t see any. However, we had a very bold and brazen raccoon visit us on the second night. First, he tried to drag my brother’s backpack out of his vestibule (and tore it in the process). After my brother yelled at him and scared him off, he ran right over to our tent and tried to do the same thing! We didn’t have any food or scented items in our packs, so we were able to scare him away. Our neighbors weren’t so lucky and I heard them talking the next morning about how he stole their ketchup. Little trash pandas!
- Beach Fires – As long as there are no fire restrictions in the area and you get a permit at the Visitor Center, you can have a fire on the beach. The driftwood in the area has been pretty picked over, so you might want to bring your own wood. It’s also important to note that you’ll need a vessel to drown your fire with ocean water when you are done. Do NOT bury your fire with sand, as it can remain really hot and burn animals or humans if they walk over it.
- Tides – Depending on how far south you walk down the beach, you may eventually reach Sculptured Beach. While beautiful, there are some areas here that can be tricky to pass at high tide. I’d recommend that you check the tide charts before you go to make sure you are not in the wrong place at the wrong time when the tide rolls in.
- Cell Phone Service – There is no cell phone reception in the area, so plan accordingly.
Overall, we had a really amazing experience and enjoyed our adventure on the coast. I’d recommend Coast Camp for novice and experienced backpackers looking for a fun getaway, as well as families that want to introduce backpacking to the younger generation. It is a beautiful area and one of the easiest backcountry camps I’ve accessed. Have you backpacked in Point Reyes before? Leave a comment below!
Video includes footage from one night stay at Lawson’s Landing following our backpacking trip.
Guess what?! On August 17, 2019, Brian and I did a thing! We got married! After getting engaged on Mt. Whitney last summer and a year of planning, we had the most amazing wedding in Crystal Cove, CA. I’ll write another post on that after I have wedding pictures, but in the meantime, I have to share how amazing our honeymoon was in Fiji!
To be honest, we originally wanted to go to Bora Bora and Mo’orea, Tahiti, but after finding out that would cost us at least twice as much, our second choice was Fiji. I hate saying that, because in hindsight, it should have been our first to begin with. Fiji is an absolutely beautiful country inside and out. Every single person you encounter welcomes you with the “Bula” spirit (Hello!) and a huge smile on their face. It’s also still a hidden gem and not infested with hoards of tourists, at least where we were in Savusavu, which is also known as the “hidden paradise” of Fiji.
We booked our travel through Costco Travel and it was a really great experience. We had a general sense of where we wanted to go in Fiji (there are over 330 islands!), and the Costco travel agent helped us pick an all inclusive resort that was a perfect blend of luxury, seclusion, and adventure—Namale Resort and Spa. Costco also took care of all of our flights, ground transfer, and access to Fiji Airways premier lounge for our four hour layover on the way home.
From LAX, we took a Fiji Airways flight to the International airport in Nadi, which was just over 11 hours. We left at 11:00 pm on Sunday and landed a little after 5:00 am on Tuesday morning. You cross the International date line, so we lost a day, but you also gain a day on the way back. From Nadi, at 7:40 am we boarded a small island hopper operated by Fiji Link for the 1 hour and 10 minute fight to Savusavu. Arriving at the airstrip (I can hardly call it an airport), we were greeted by Babu, the driver for Namale, who would take us five minutes down the road to where we would call home for the next week.
As we pulled up to Namale and drove through the lush gardens to the reception area, we exited the shuttle to be welcomed by 10+ staff singing a bula song for us and playing the guitar. It was a very special and impressionable welcome. I knew we were going to have an awesome time! After sipping on some fresh squeezed juice—all of which is grown in their farm—we had a tour of the resort.
The all-inclusive resort consists of 22 bures (or huts, named for their palm thatched roofs), two restaurants, two swimming pools, two hot tubs, numerous private decks for dinner/drinks, an activity center with a two lane bowling alley and indoor golf simulator, a dive shop and private boat, driving range, golf course, and waterfall, all sprawling over 500 acres. It really feels like you are in your own private paradise, and while the resort was close to being full with 44 guests at max capacity, the only time we really saw anyone was for meals. We could go down to the beach or hot tub overlooking the ocean and feel like we had the whole place to ourselves.
Our bure was called Siga (or Sunshine in English) and when we arrived there was a carved wooden sign with our names on the front door and little welcome messages made out of flower petals throughout the bure. The bure was incredibly spacious with an entry area, walk-in closet, huge bathroom, four post bed, sunken seating area, and private deck, all with the most amazing ocean view. There was also a bottle of champagne waiting for us. Considering our type of getaway usually involves days on end hiking on dirt trails without any shower in sight, we truly felt spoiled.
Although the resort accommodations were incredibly impressive, the thing that made it so special were the people that worked there. They all had our names remembered by the end of the first day and would greet us wherever we went with our first name and the most genuine smile. Books have been written about Ritz, Disney, and other famous corporations’ customer service, but the service we had a Namale by far exceeded anything I have ever experienced in the United States. In my opinion, Ritz and Disney should take a page out of Namale’s book.
ADVENTURES ON THE ISLAND
One thing is for sure, there was never a shortage of things to do, even on the couple of days where weather was just kind of, meh. There were a few things the resort offered that we didn’t do like horseback riding, paddleboarding, volleyball, spa services, oyster farm tour, and a sunset cruise, but we did close to just about everything else. In no particular order, following is a recap of each:
Our first day in Fiji, we got the wonderful opportunity to visit a local village. We later learned that many of the staff that work at Namale live in this small village, Naidi. As is customary, upon entering the village, we presented the elder with a kava root as a sign of graciousness for allowing us to visit their village. He accepted, and we took a small stroll around the village. The village center was lined with small homes, two churches, a community gathering center, and lots of room for all the children who had just gotten out of school to play. Life in these villages is simple, but the people could not have been more hospitable and welcoming.
The town tour of Savusavu was much different than the visit to the village. The town was very busy, as it was a Saturday, and you could feel the hustle and bustle of people shopping and selling goods at the local market. Our guide shared with us that people from all over the island will take a bus to Savusavu on Saturday to do their shopping for the week. The bus trip can take up to six hours for some people coming from the far reaches of the island!
The town of Savusavu is less than a mile from one end to the other and is lined with small shops that sell an assortment of goods. One of the most interesting parts of town for us was their local farmer’s market. They sold everything from handmade goods, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and of course, kava root.
Salt River Drift
One of the things we were told we had to do was the salt river drift to the salt lake. The river changes direction with the tides and when it is floating inland, you can drift peacefully all the way to the salt lake. We floated through lush mangroves, past a few pigs and a beached sailboat, and ended at a barge in the middle of the lake for some refreshments. It was definitely a must-do activity and despite what we were told about it being a shark nursing ground, we did not see any sharks.
My favorite thing to do in the whole entire world is snorkel. I know this is a bold statement, but it is absolutely true. I’ve been lucky enough to snorkel from the Galapagos to all over Hawaii and the Caribbean, and I absolutely love the diversity of reefs, fish, and all other sea critters. Fiji did not disappoint! It is the soft coral capital of the world and I have never seen such beautiful formations.
On our first snorkel of the trip, we took the Namale Pearl boat to a reef about 10 minutes away. The seas were a little rough, but I was determined to get in the water. Within just a few minutes, we saw a hawksbill sea turtle, white tip reef shark, and the biggest moray eel that I’ve ever seen! It was amazing!
Oh, boy. I am in trouble. After this trip, I have a bad case of the scuba bug. The last (and only other) time I went scuba diving was 20 years ago in Hawaii. I remember it being such an amazing experience, but doing it again in Fiji really reiterated for me just how much I love breathing under water.
I took the intro to scuba course at the resort with a great instructor and then immediately went out on the boat for a 40 foot dive on a beautiful reef. The sun came out at just the right time for us and the colors were nothing short of out of this world. We saw two more reef sharks, so many beautiful fish, and the most amazing coral. The divemaster had a pad he was writing on under water to tell us the names of all the beautiful corals. He also showed us a sea anemone that was the size of a coffee table and motioned to put my hand in it. I’ll never forget how sticky it was—such a weird sensation under water! Unfortunately, my GoPro buttons got “stuck” under water due to the pressure and I couldn’t use it, but I’ll always remember the beautiful reef. I’ll also get a dive housing for when I get scuba certified. This is happening in the very near future.
Fiji is a tropical island, and like all islands, can get some unpredictable weather. Kava Bowl is Namale’s indoor game center that has two bowling lanes, an indoor golf simulator, ping pong, air hockey, and all sorts of board games. We spent a couple of rainy afternoons/evenings bowling and golfing and had the whole place to ourselves. It was definitely a good place to hang out, listen to some music, and feed my competitive spirit. P.S. I am a way better bowler than Brian.
Boy, does this driving range have a view! The hitting area sits up on a platform overlooking the ocean and range, and there was even a resident mongoose that likes to steal golf balls! We purchased two “buckets” of balls pictured below, brought some drinks, and made a great afternoon out of it.
This golf course was definitely not for the country club snobs. It was pure island-style golf, with pushcarts to tote your questionable set of borrowed clubs over the nine holes. The course itself was in a beautiful setting, but definitely not kept up to PGA standards. There was one hole that we are pretty sure they forgot about because we had to bushwhack from the green on hole 3 to the non-existent tee box on hole 4. We had planned on golfing a lot more, but after the first round, decided we would leave it at that.
Waterfall Hike and Private Lunch
Ever hike to a waterfall in the middle of the jungle only to be served with a gourmet lunch and champagne? Yeah, I hadn’t either and it was an amazing experience! Brian and I hiked the one mile in to the waterfall where we were met shortly thereafter by servers and our lunch that we had ordered earlier in the day. They left to come back in an hour, and we had a wonderful private lunch in the most beautiful setting.
We were planning on swimming in the waterfall after lunch, until we saw the resident three foot eel. Our plans to go swimming turned into a game of throwing our leftovers in the water to see if we could get the eel or any of the numerous fish (Parana maybe?) to start a frenzy. The best part was how excited the workers were when they came back to pick up our plates. I am pretty sure they were just thinking about how they would return later and make that eel their supper.
Lover’s Deck and Blowhole Deck
There are numerous private decks throughout Namale to enjoy a wonderful view, drinks, and a meal. The two most notable are Lover’s Deck and the deck overlooking the blowhole. Each can be reserved (or you can just enjoy it if no one is there) and order refreshments and food.
We spent two afternoons at Lover’s Deck that included its own super cheesy heart-shaped hot tub, but how can you not enjoy it with views like that!? From here, you could also walk down the stairs right onto the reef for some tide pool exploring.
The blowhole observation deck was also incredible. It was covered, so had a little more protection from the sun and wind. When the tide is just right, there is a pretty spectacular blowhole that you have a great view of from the deck.
Hammock Hangs on the Beach
Seriously, where was everyone else? I spent hours hanging in the hammocks on the beach while Brian explored the tide pools and we never saw anyone. It was our own slice of paradise and I could have stayed there forever.
Kava Ceremony and Traditional Dancing/Choir
If you don’t try the kava then you didn’t really visit Fiji. At Namale, they like to bring this traditional ceremony to guests almost every other night of the week. Everyone sits around the giant kava bowl of mud colored drink and you are served a coconut shell full of this drink that tastes sweet to some and like dirty dishwater to others. I’d say it’s more like the latter. After everyone has a drink—either low tide, high tide, or sunami sized—they play guitar, sing, and sometimes dance. The drink itself is not alcoholic, but a narcotic and makes your face and tongue go numb. We probably had about 10 bowls, but the locals shared with us that they can easily drink over 100 in a single sitting—laughing, singing, and enjoying other’s company until the wee hours of the morning. The ceremony is beautiful and even if you don’t care for kava, you have to try it at least once.
Namale also brought in some great cultural experiences with several nights of traditional dancing and a choir group. All the performers live in the local villages and were so welcoming and hospitable. It was definitely a wonderful opportunity to connect with them.
Sandbar Picnic and Snorkel
This was my favorite excursion of the trip and we were starting to lose hope that we were going to be able to do it. We had scheduled it twice and got skunked both times due to high wind. On the day we were flying home in the afternoon, we received word that the picnic was on! We boarded the Namale Pearl in Savusavu and headed out to a sandbar about 30 minutes away in the middle of the ocean. The water was stunning and the reef beautiful. We spent the morning snorkeling, beach combing, and enjoying a picnic lunch and a few refreshments.
We were back in time to pack up our room and enjoy one last cocktail that the bartenders made in our honor. They escorted us to the airport shuttle and sang a goodbye song as we left. I had tears in my eyes that I was leaving this beautiful place and people, but it was the perfect end to the trip! We can’t wait to go back and see some of the friends that we made during our week long stay.
TIPS FOR TRAVELING TO FIJI
- The winter in Fiji is summer in United States (May-Oct). This is the best time to visit as temps are more mild, it’s generally drier and less humid, and you are out of danger of being hit by a cyclone.
- In most cases, you will need to remove your shoes before entering buildings/homes. It’s best to wear sandals so you can slip them on and off easily.
- If you are going to be traveling to a more rural area, ladies should dress conservatively and cover their shoulders and legs.
- Exchange currency at the Nadi International airport. There is nothing at the smaller airports and options to exchange currency elsewhere will only be in the main towns.
- Try the kava. Just do it.
- Take a moment to learn a few common words listed below. They loved when we would try a new word that we learned.
- Bula – Hello, general greeting
- Vinaka – Thank you
- Vinaka vaka levu – Thank you very much
- Totoka – Beautiful
- Siga – Sunshine
- Io – Yes
- Sega – No
- Kerekere – Please
- Kaila – Cheers, shout
- Wananavu – Awesome
- Yadra – Good morning
- Sota tale – See you soon
- Au domoni iko – I love you
The Sierra Nevada mountains have always had piece of my heart… and now, more than ever. Since I was a child, I’ve called these majestic mountains home. I grew up in Lake Tahoe, nestled in the northern part of the Sierra Nevada range. I’ve covered countless trails, explored many peaks, and camped under the stars. However, it wasn’t until I hiked the High Sierra Trail (HST) that I truly had an appreciation for everything that makes these mountains so magical. Not to mention, I promised the love of my life my hand in marriage from the top of the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney, at the end of our trip!
The HST begins in Sequoia National Park, traverses from west to east, up and over the entire width of the Sierra Range, and ends on the summit of Mount Whitney. There are countless ascents and descents, stream crossings, mountain lakes, wildflowers, and surprises around every bend of the trail.
When I first stepped foot on the trail, I didn’t realize how much it was going to change me. I knew that I would come out the other end, 72.2. miles later, dirty and tired, but I had no idea how much it would open my eyes to wild and raw beauty and love. Not only that, but I didn’t know (okay, okay, I was kind of hoping ;)) that I would start with a boyfriend and end with a fiance! On this trail, we laughed, loved, lifted each other up when needed, and shared in the endless awe of the earth we were exploring. It’s moments like these that make you feel alive.
PREPARING FOR YOUR ADVENTURE
Securing Your Wilderness Permit
As with most backpacking trails, preparation begins with securing your wilderness permit. This has to be done well in advance and it’s a good idea to check when applications will start to be accepted to make sure you get yours in as soon as they open. For the year we went, it was March 1st. I set my alarm for midnight, emailed my scanned application, and secured my first choice for July 15-22, 2018. I got four permits and quickly invited my brother, John, and his girlfriend, Asia, to join the adventure.
Packing Your Gear
If you’ve ever backpacked before, you know the basics don’t change much from two nights to seven nights. Below is a list of the basics and brands I love, and some other items that I can’t live without:
- Osprey Aura AG 65L Backpack
- Marmot Tungsten 2P UL Tent
- Marmot sleeping bag
- Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad
- Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking poles
- Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp
- Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter
- Camelback reservoir (2 L)
- BearVault BV 500
- JetBoil Flash Cooking System and fuel
- Rain gear
- Down jacket
- Three pairs of socks
- Pants, shorts, tank top, short sleeve shirt, long sleeve shirt
- Medical kit
- Toilet paper/wipes
- Basic toiletries
- And I may have brought a chair, but totally worth it. All the ultralighters are judging me right now.
Planning Your Meals
As for food, this was probably the area where we spent the most time planning. It is challenging to make sure you have enough, but not too much food, for an eight-day trip.
A couple of years ago, I purchased a dehydrator to make my own backpacking meals. I was sick of eating prepackaged meals that cost a fortune and contained who-knows-what. It took weeks of planning, cooking, and dehydrating to make enough dinners for the seven nights on the HST. I made chili, shepherd’s pie, chicken stir fry with rice, pesto pasta primavera, green chili turkey mac and cheese, and tacos, yes, tacos. Stay tuned for recipes!
For breakfast and lunches, we had prepackaged food, tortillas, almond butter, trail mix, Stinger honey chews, bars, beef sticks, and squeeze cheese. Food that was easy to eat on the go and required minimal prep and clean-up was ideal for early in the day.
We had close to the perfect amount of food, if not a little more than needed. However, one thing that I would change is the trail mix. It was way too sweet and after hiking miles and miles, all I wanted was something salty. Cue the Wheat Thins, Pringles, and peanut butter, please!
Getting There and Back
The last thing to do was figure out logistics. As with most thru-hikes, this was by far the trickiest. We had to get down to Visalia, stay in a hotel, take a shuttle to get our permits the next morning, take another shuttle to the trailhead, hike, get a shuttle from Whitney Portal to Lone Pine, stay in a hotel, get a shuttle back to Carson City, and find a way from Carson to Tahoe. Following is how we did it.
- Getting to Visalia: We took a rental car one way from Tahoe to Visalia. Note, rental car return places in Visalia have weird weekend hours, so be sure to check drop-off times in advance.
- Staying in Visalia: We stayed at the Wyndham Visalia, which had a shuttle pick-up for Sequoia National Park at 6:00 am the next morning. The hotel was nice, but nothing fancy.
- Getting from Visalia to the Lodgepole Visitor Center: The shuttle from the hotels in Visalia cost $10/person, and you can book yours here. The drive is a little less than three hours from the hotel to the Giant Forest Museum. From here, you’ll likely have to transfer to the in-park shuttle to go to the Lodgepole Visitor’s Center, which is where you will have to physically pick-up your permits. Our shuttle driver was cool though and took us all the way to the Lodgepole Visitor Center.
- Getting from the Lodgepole Visitor Center to the Trailhead at Crescent Meadow: After you get your permit, you are going to have to take the in-park shuttle back down the road to to the Crescent Meadow trailhead.
- Exiting at Whitney Portal and Getting From There to Lone Pine: At the end of the trail, you are going to have to arrange for a ride or hitch a ride from Whitney Portal into Lone Pine. It’s 10+ miles on pavement and you will definitely want a ride. There aren’t many options, but we went with East Side Sierra Shuttle. It wasn’t cheap ($155 for four of us) and he was over an hour late. We asked the employees at the Whitney Portal Store if we should worry, and they said that was pretty common for the East Side Sierra Shuttle. Luckily the Whitney Portal Store has pretty good burgers, fries, ice cream, and beer to enjoy while we waited.
- Staying in Lone Pine: We stayed at the Dow Villa Motel, which was reasonably priced and centrally located in Lone Pine. Just make sure that you select one of the newer rooms. The older ones don’t have A/C which can be miserable in the summer.
- Getting from Lone Pine to Home: The drive from Lone Pine to Carson City is about 4.5 hours one way and the thought of friends/family picking us up was highly unlikely. The Eastern Sierra Transit Authority was great and picked us up from the McDonald’s in Lone Pine at 6:15 am sharp and dropped us off at the Carson City Walmart at 12:30 pm. It was $176 for the four of us and a generally nice ride, although took longer than usual with all the bus stops and some construction. From Carson City, we took a good ol’ Uber to Lake Tahoe.
The total length of the trail from Crescent Meadows to Whitney Portal is 72.2 miles. You can do it faster or slower than what we did, but in my opinion eight days was just enough time to cover good ground without feeling like you were rushing or missing anything.
Day-by-Day Mileage and Elevation Gain (big descents are called-out, too)
- Day 1 – Crescent Meadows to 9-Mile Creek (8.8 miles, 1,410′ ascent)
- Day 2 – 9-Mile Creek to Hamilton Lake (6.9 miles, 1,760′ ascent)
- Day 3 – Hamilton Lake to Big Arroyo Junction (7.9 miles, 2,570′ ascent)
- Day 4 – Big Arroyo Junction to Kern Hot Springs (13.9 miles, 1,250′ ascent, 3,900′ descent)
- Day 5 – Kern Hot Springs to Wallace Creek (12.4 miles, 3,600′ ascent)
- Day 6 – Wallace Creek to Guitar Lake (6.8 miles, 1,530′ ascent)
- Day 7 – Guitar Lake to Outpost Camp (11.8 miles, 3,100′ ascent, 4,200′ descent)
- Day 8 – Outpost Camp to Whitney Portal (3.6 miles, 2,150′ descent)
Thanks to my brother at jmpeltier.com for keeping track of everything with his GPS, even if he did get sick of me constantly asking, “how many more miles do we have?”
TRAIL NOTES AND PHOTOS BY DAY
Day 1: Crescent Meadows to 9-Mile Creek (8.8 miles, 1,410′ ascent)
We started early enough that it was still cool as we set out, although the temps quickly rose. Good news, there was plenty of water. Bad news, there were some really exposed sections on this part of the trail.
After about 6 hours, we made it to camp at 9-Mile Creek. There were several campsites dispersed down the creek and even a bear locker to store any food overflowing from your bear canister. You try and fit 8 days of food in a bear canister! Luckily, we also found that there were bear lockers at most sites throughout the trip.
The creek here was beautiful with some nice swimming holes to jump in to, just what you needed after a hard day’s work.
Note: A camper here told us that the deer will eat your clothes if you leave them hanging in the trees. This is also true for all other campsites on the trail. Silly deer like the salty sweat on your clothes and hiking poles, too!
Day 2 – 9-Mile Creek to Hamilton Lake (6.9 miles, 1,760′ ascent)
We started the morning with some excitement as a bear cub rolled into the side of our tent. After springing up from our sleeping bags and sticking our heads out of the tent, we saw two cubs staring back at us from behind a log and a mama who was anxious to get them on their way. It was a special moment that I’ll never forget and words would never do justice.
After that excitement, making breakfast, and breaking camp, we headed out. The forest was lush and beautiful and we eventually reached an exposed descent down to Buck Creek after about 1.5 miles. This would be another great option for camping the first night if 9-mile creek is too busy, and it also has a bear locker.
We ascended from Buck Creek to Bearpaw Meadow through a beautiful forest that was cool and damp. At Bearpaw, we took a quick snack break and stared at the view we would soon be ascending. There are several yurts at Bearpaw for people to hike into and stay at with a reservation.
After Bearpaw, the trail was mostly downhill until we reached a large gorge with a bridge spanning across. Don’t look down unless you want to see the former bridge that didn’t survive…
The next section of the trail was pretty much all uphill and exposed, crossing over the top of one of the most amazing waterfalls I have ever seen.
Then more up, up, and up with Valhalla dominating the skyline above us.
We eventually reached Hamilton Lake with Valhalla behind us and the Kaweah Gap (Great Western Divide) in front of us.
We got to camp a little after 1:00, swam in the beautiful lake, ate, and looked up at the trail we would tackle the next day.
Day 3 – Hamilton Lake to Big Arroyo Junction (7.9 miles, 2,570′ ascent)
After a long night of not sleeping because marmots were scurrying around and chirping all night, we woke up at 5:30 am to break camp and head out of the basin before the sun was blasting down. It is highly advised that you get an early start here to avoid the heat.
We immediately began our uphill climb and followed a deer up some switchbacks for little bit and then she pranced off into the cliffside. Before we knew it, we were over 1,000′ from where we slept the night before and the trail turned into pure magic. Don’t get me wrong, it was still all uphill, but it was cool and crisp, full of wildflowers, birds, marmots, and chinchillas, crazy rock engineering (including a cliffside tunnel), and many waterfall crossings.
After a 2,000′ vertical foot climb and about 3 miles, we reached the gem of the Kaweah Gap, Precipice Lake. There is a small glacier toward the back of the lake, icebergs bobbing around, birds catching bugs, water trickling down the green covered cliffs, and one of the most serene scenes I have ever witnessed.
After lunch at Precipice, we had about another 400′ climb and a little over a mile to cross the famous Keweah Gap. I was so relieved to finally reach the Gap and look down into the valley we would finally descend. The sun was overhead and beginning to take its toll.
A nice trail down to the valley soon lead to a beautiful meadow and stream. After a few more miles and some stream crossings (boots and all!), we made it to Big Arroyo.
Tip here: Pass the first campsite you come to at Big Arroyo and continue for about 10 more minutes until you reach a trail spur down to the creak and pass an old log cabin. There are some great sites here and since we were the first group, we scored a great site by the river.
The afternoon consisted of dunking in the creek, playing backgammon, swatting mosquitoes, and drying our boots by our fire. Yes, you can have fires here in established pits and there is also a bear locker if you still have more food than your Bearvault can handle.
Day 4 – Big Arroyo Junction to Kern Hot Springs (13.9 miles, 1,250′ ascent, 3,900′ descent)
We knew this was going to be one of our biggest days, and we we woke up at 6:00 am to hit the trail. The first part was a climb from the river up to the top of a ridge and then a long haul down through the forest and NEVER-ENDING switchbacks to the Kern River Valley.
After you reach the valley floor, you have about 2 miles to the hot springs.
We found a sweet little spot with a fire pit, bear locker, and pit toilet at the hot springs.
After we set-up camp, we made our way to the riverside and “hot springs.” It was a concrete tub for one and a half people, and really, really hot. Some people loved it, but my jam was soaking my feet in the cold river instead.
Day 5 – Kern Hot Springs to Wallace Creek (12.4 miles, 3,600′ ascent)
We started the day around 7:00 am to tackle the 12-something miles ahead of us. The first part of the hike was absolutely stunning. It was mellow and followed along the Kern River, which was a treat in itself. It was cool, lush, and beautiful.
There were several creek crossings, a couple of which ended up with some in the group having soggy boots. The first and worst was Whitney Creek, where both Brian and Asia ended up knee-high. It was an adventure to say the least.
About a mile after that, we came to Junction Meadow and had a nice long lunch while boots dried out. From here, it was several more miles and about 2,500′ vertical feet to our destination — Wallace Creek. This is where the JMT, HST, and PCT all collide, which naturally makes it a little busier.
We arrived at 3:30 and found a nice little spot by the river. We spent most of the afternoon in the tent avoiding the rain and playing backgammon. We were lucky enough for the storm to break long enough to make dinner.
There is also a bear locker here and plenty of campsites by the river.
Day 6 – Wallace Creek to Guitar Lake (6.8 miles, 1,530′ ascent)
From Wallace Creek, we immediately started ascending to Guitar Lake. This part of the trail goes up at first, meanders through a mix of forest and meadow, passes by a (mostly vacant) ranger station at Crabtree, and then climbs to Guitar Lake.
This may have been one of the most challenging days, in that, when we were making the final ascent to Guitar, the sky opened up and started growling in one of the most ominous ways I have ever heard.
We made it to Guitar right before the hard hail and lightening came striking down. For the first 15 minutes, we sat behind a rock and could do absolutely nothing but take the pain of the little balls of ice hitting our skin. There was a quick break in weather, just long enough for us to get the tent out, before another burst came upon us and all we could do was throw the tent over us.
It was like that through most of the afternoon, with short bursts of peacefulness followed by evil raining down from the sky. There were moments where we would lay in the tent and breathe a huge sigh of relief every time we saw a lightening flash and knew we were still alive. The storm broke before sunset and campers started to emerge from their tents to share stories of how that was one of the craziest things anyone had experienced.
When the stars came out, the clouds parted and gave a glimpse into the universe. We could see a shadow of the mountain looming above us that we would take on starting at 2:00 am the next day.
Day 7 – Guitar Lake to Outpost Camp (11.8 miles, 3,100′ ascent, 4,200′ descent)
Today was the coup de grace. We woke up at 2:00 am to break camp under the starry sky. After forcing some food down and packing everything up in the chill of the night, we began our final ascent of the trip, to conquer something I had been dreaming of for a long time, reaching the summit of Mt. Whitney. It was cool, but every step made my legs burn with tire. You would look up at the mountainside above you, and see the minuscule headlamp lights of those that left before you. There were so many times when I questioned what I was doing, but there were two things that kept me going: 1) the most magical meteor that I have ever seen paint the night sky and 2) my rock and the love of my life by my side.
Switchback after switchback, we made it to Trail Crest just after light broke and dropped our bags. At 13,645′, Trail Crest is the highest mountain pass in United States. With only 2 miles left to the summit, we brought the bare essentials (water AND an engagement ring to my surprise!) and made our way.
When we got to the summit, Brian took my hand and led me to the tippy top. I have a thing for making sure that I stand on the actual highest point of each peak I climb. After some fumbling through pockets, Brian got down on one knee, and I honestly can’t remember exactly what he said. Oxygen was thin and I was so focused on making sure I didn’t accidentally drop the ring between some rocks. The only thing I know is that I left that summit with an overflowing heart and a sense of excitement I never knew possible.
Heading back to Trail Crest and telling everyone we passed along the way that we were newly engaged, we soon began our descent down the infamous “99 switchbacks.” Now, I didn’t actually count the switchbacks, but it sure as hell felt like at least 99. I have so much respect for those that hike up and back down the 99 switchbacks in a single day.
We decided to stay at Outpost Camp that day, which is 3.6 miles from the trail terminus. We were glad we did though, as the same pattern of afternoon thunderstorms soon rolled in, and we were able to get our tent up and briefly dry out some clothes before the skies opened up again. We were a prisoner to our tent for the rest of the afternoon, but at least this time, we were below tree line and a little less concerned about being rattled in our tent by lightening.
Day 8 – Outpost Camp to Whitney Portal (3.6 miles, 2,150′ descent)
The easiest mileage day of the trip, ironically seemed like on the hardest. It was all down hill from Outpost Camp to the Portal, but not without some amazing views.
After what seemed like forever, we finally made it to the Portal. For being a small general store, I have to say that the burgers, fries, and beers were some of the best I’ve ever had. Either that, or I was just excited to eat “real” food after 8 days eating snacks and re-hydrated meals.
We made it to the end, have memories that will last a lifetime, and all have a sense of accomplishment for standing on top of the highest peak in the contiguous United States… and for me and Brian, the real adventure is just about to begin.
Have you done the High Sierra Trail before? What is your favorite memory? Leave a response below!
Last weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to explore Yosemite with Brian and a few of our friends. I had driven through Yosemite before, but had never hiked here, which was something truly humbling. We hiked the Half Dome trail, which was about 15 miles with 4,000 feet of vertical gain. The trail climbs past Vernal and Nevada Falls, meanders past the beautiful Merced river, and then makes the final ascent toward Half Dome. It was definitely one of the most demanding hikes I have ever done.
I’m still on a high from my backpacking trip on the Lost Coast Trail this past week. You can read about that adventure here. One of the things that I didn’t include in my original post is what I ate, but it is definitely not something to be overlooked. Finding delicious ways to stay fueled on the trail can be tricky, but with a simple dehydrator, you can make some awesome recipes, like the one below.
The Lost Coast Trail stretches a rugged section of the Northern California coastline where the redwoods meet the sea. It begins at the mouth of the Mattole River and travels south to Usal Beach. There are two sections of the trail. The north section is 25 miles and follows the beach from the Mattole trailhead to Black Sands Beach. The south section begins at Hidden Valley and travels 29 miles south atop the ocean cliffs and redwood forests. This past week, I had the opportunity to backpack the northern section with one of my closest girlfriends. What follows is a video of our trip and a written summary with some tips and learnings from our journey.
For the longest time I have dreamed of exploring the Oregon coast and Redwood National Park in Northern California. This past weekend, we made a quick trip, but were sure to get in every ounce of adventure we could in the short amount of time we had. We were also able to get in a precious visit with one of my longest and closest friends who just had a baby. Below are some of the highlights from our trip. I can’t wait to go back!
There’s no better compliment from Brian than, “this is blog worthy,” when I am experimenting with a new recipe. The inspiration for this recipe originally came from a Cooking Light email that landed in my inbox, but there was one thing wrong. It called for an InstaPot. I haven’t quite jumped on the InstaPot bandwagon yet, but this recipe still sounded like I needed to give it a try. It was a cold winter night and I needed a fiesta in my mouth!
Have you ever stuck your hand out with a few seeds on it, only to have a cute little chickadee land on your fingers and pluck that morsel off of your palm? No? If this sounds fun and you want to channel your inner Snow White, Chickadee Ridge is your place to go for an experience like no other.
Whenever I try to follow a paleo lifestyle, or at least reduce the amount of inflammatory grains in my diet from things like bread, pasta, and rice, I always turn to sweet potatoes. They are so satisfying, provide a wonderful source of carbs, and are full of nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, copper, potassium, and much, much more. Here’s a few of my favorite sweet potato recipes I’ve made over the years:
It’s that time of year again. The time of year where it seems like every person who has a blog or social media presence is posting about one of two things: 1) a review of the previous year, or 2) what their goals are for the coming year. While cliche, I do think that reflection and goal-setting are an important part of personal development. I also believe that there is something to be said about making those things public. If you’ve announced the ways you plan to grow and develop to the entire world, you’re that much more likely to do it, right? It’s worth a try.
I can’t believe it. My little girl turned 11 today. Over the past 11 years, she has taught me patience and responsibility, but most importantly, unconditional love. Roxanne has been by my side through ups and downs, and always, always, loves me no matter what. There really is something to be said about the loyalty and comfort that dogs can provide.
Over the past year, we’ve really started experimenting with new recipes in our cast iron dutch oven every time we go camping. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into at first, but I have come to absolutely love it. It’s probably because I just put the stuff in the dutch oven and then Brian does all the hard work—moving it around, putting coals on top, making sure it is the right temperature—but between the two of us, I think we have a pretty good thing going.
I can’t believe it’s taken me two months to write about my awesome trip to Kauai, but better late than never? This was my fourth (or fifth??) time visiting this amazing island and it did not disappoint.
If you’ve ever heard the term “island time,” you know it refers to a slower than average pace. Like a really slow pace. I only wish that vacation went by in “island time” speed. Instead, it seems more like time is on steroids and goes by way too fast. There is just never enough of it. We definitely made the best of our time though and I’ve put together all the highlights of each day.
If there is one place I can never get enough of in the Lake Tahoe area, it is Desolation Wilderness. The 63,000 acre area with endless trail systems and lakes has a solid permit system that keeps it from being overcrowded. Although this sometimes works to your disadvantage if you can’t secure a permit, it is worth the solitude. Every time I go, it is a different experience with memories to cherish for a lifetime. This past weekend with Brian and our fur babies was no different.
I have been toying with the idea of dehydrating my own backpacking food for quite some time . Sure, I love Mountain House, Ramen, and oatmeal, but I really wanted to find a way to make delicious backpacking meals that didn’t make you question what you were really eating. The only problem was, I wasn’t sure where to start. I love cooking, but dehydrating can be a little intimidating in that it requires special knowledge and equipment.
Don’t fret! I’ve put lots of hours into researching and experimenting for you, and have to say that my first finished product turned out better than any prepackaged meal I’ve had. A couple of things before I get to that recipe. To start, you’ll need a few things:
I am so excited that I got my first girls’ backpacking trip in this summer! Several summers ago my friends, Lisa and Jenn, became my wilderness soul sisters. We backpacked together four times that summer (Desolation Wilderness, Grouse Ridge, Bear Lake, and Star Lake) and haven’t done it since. We made a point to get out the other weekend to somewhere new and beautiful, Loch Leven Lakes.
Summertime in the Sierras is in full-swing and I was so happy to get a camping trip in this past weekend. Because of other commitments on the weekends and a snowpack that is still monstrous at high elevations, this was our first camping trip in the mountains this year. Either way, it felt good to get back in the woods for a few nights, cook over an open fire, and swim in a cold mountain lake.
Our choice this past weekend was Gold Lake, located off of Gold Lake Highway in Plumas National Forest. The lake is one of dozens of lakes in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. A couple of summers ago when we hiked the nearby Sierra Buttes, you could see all the lakes in the area from the peak. It is definitely a beautiful sight.
The first five days of my June 100 Mile Challenge have come to a close. I’ve gotten a pretty good start on my mileage and put in 13.15 miles in the first 5 days – only 80 some-odd miles to go in 25 days! Below is a recap of what the first few days looked like:
- Thursday (6/1) – 5.58 miles on the elliptical
- Friday (6/2) – 3.09 mile run by the Lake
- Saturday (6/3) – 1.42 mile hike in Galena Forest
- Sunday (6/4) – no miles; just gardening and lots of house chores
- Monday (6/5) – 3.06 mile run by the Lake
- TOTAL MILES @ 6/5 – 13.15
It has been so nice to be outside in Tahoe lately. Spring (summer?) is finally here and the weather has been perfect the past few days. If you’re anything like me, when the weather gets warm, one of my go-to things to eat for lunch on a weekday is a big salad with whatever leftover protein I have in the fridge from the night before.
When I graduated with my MBA this time last year, I told myself that I was going to get back to one simple thing that helps make me feel whole–running. Well, a year has passed and I haven’t run more than a few days in each week…and there have been lots of weeks when I didn’t run at all. We can all relate to the excuses of work, life, weather, etc., but the fact is, if you really want it, just do it.