Sunday, September 12, 2010

FAQ: How do you find hikes to hike?

Before I started hiking, one of the reasons I didn't hike was because I couldn't figure out how to find the hikes themselves. I always wondered how people knew about these hikes and how they knew where the trailheads were.

Here's the 'secret': we use hiking books (and now we use the web).

My favorite trail series by far is the Top Trails series; I have the Top Trails for Sacramento:

and the Top Trails for Tahoe.

Both the books offer specific accurate info on mileage, difficulty, trailhead location, elevation, and trail conditions, and both books offer a wide variety of hikes to suit all hiking experiences. I really enjoy reading them and planning my next hikes. When I do go hiking, I copy off the relevant pages (so I don't have to bring the entire book), and then use it (along with maps) to confirm any questions I have on the trail.

Now, how do you find people with whom to hike? If you're like me, you know plenty of people who love hiking but whose schedules hardly ever jibe with your own. The problem, therefore, is not necessarily a lack of hiking companions but rather schedule coordination with those folks. One easy answer to finding company on the trails is, assuming that you enjoy hiking with others, to join a hiking group.

I've found Meetup groups to be a great source of friendly hikers who accommodate a wide variety of fitnesses and experiences. Yahoo groups and Sierra Club groups also work, along with other hiking groups that are specific to a region. Most groups are very active, with hikes at least weekly, and they're mostly flexible. Joining a group doesn't require that you attend any specific number of hikes or lead any hikes. It just means that you can choose to have company on the hikes.

If you're traveling, and you'd like to hike there, you can join up with a hiking group for that area, and tag along with those friendly folks while exploring the local area. The groups tend to go to the classic hikes in the area (because they want to find wonderful scenery t00), and it's well worth planning to join them on the trail. To find groups, just type in 'hiking group" and your region; Google will offer you some options for groups to join. I highly recommend that route.

Even if you don't join the group, it's worth reviewing their hiking calendars to see where they go (and when). Hiking in the 'correct' season can make the difference between enjoying a pleasant hike and slogging through the mud or snow.

So, just FYI. That's how I do it anyway. :)

Carr Lake to Grouse Ridge, Sept 2010

Above: Carr-Feeley Trailhead reachable only via a two to three mile four wheel drive dusty bumpy road. It's worth it, but I would only drive it with a four wheel vehicle with decent clearance. Once you get to the trailhead, parking is tight along the side of the this four wheel road.

For this hike, we explored an area I hadn't been to before (although I'd heard some great things about it from others). I went with the hiking group, who are such welcoming people and fun hikers, and we set off from Carr Lake at the Carr Feeley Trailhead. It was a beautiful day, and I was thankful to have the opportunity to hike with friends in such a stunning area.

The trailhead pops you out on a spit of land between Carr Lake and Feeley Lake, and as I started out on the hike, I realized that it's not for naught that people call this area the "land o' the lakes o' the west." It's possible to pass by seven lakes and see fifteen lakes, all beautiful, all alpine, and all within a ten mile hike along this trail.

Since I'm a sucker for a beautiful alpine lake, I was very impressed with the whole area's access to these wonderful waters. :)

Below: Island Lake. The third lake after only a few miles on the trail. People camp along its shores (and on the island itself), and it's a stunning lake. Worth a visit.

Below: Me on the shores of one of the many lakes along the trail. See I'm wearing my trusty REI Stoke 19 and using my Leki poles? I use them ALL the time; they're great. Couldn't hike without them. (Well, I could, but it wouldn't be so easy and efficient.)

Below: Feeley Lake--the second lake on the trail. We landed at Carr Lake, which was itself beautiful, and then very quickly, the trail takes you past this little stunner of an alpine water-hole. Very nice.

Below: Mapping the route, of course. It's always good to have a decent map with you. I used the National Geographic series for this area. Trails are typically easily found and followed, but there were a few spurs that could throw you off track if you're not careful. Even withe well signed trails, however, it's still helpful, I think, to have a decent trail map and compass (and map and compass skills) with which to supplement GPS and signs.

Below: the famous Grouse Ridge outhouse outlook. You can sit here in here for pictures. :)

The outhouse is at the very top of Grouse Ridge, which is reachable two ways--either via a tallus field, which is tricky but fun, or up the Forest Service dirt road, which is easy, but not so interesting. You can reach either routes from the top of Grouse Ridge, which itself is accessible via trail (from Carr Lake) or by car from 20.

Below: Next to the outhouse are remarkable views of the area around, including on a clear day, Lassen and the Sierra Buttes.This pic is taken looking away from the monitoring station an and behind us is a view that goes on forever.

The outhouse is situated on the ridge next to the Forest Service monitoring station (monitoring the weather? fire outbreaks?) The monitoring station has a wrap-around porch, which is nice to sit on for lunch. The wind was pretty significant on the ridge, and the station offered some shelter and some shade for lunchers, along with a pretty magnificent view.

Trail Stats:

  • Access: 80 to 20 to Bowman Lake Road to Carr Lake Trailhead. About two hours from home.
  • Trail: mostly packed dirt--easier trail to hike on. Not too much elevation although the hike up to the Ridge is the steepest part (+1000 feet), but the steep part isn't too long and it's not that steep. A relatively easy hike overall.
  • Weather: stunning--blue sky, sun, some breezes. Mid 80s overall. Windy on the ridge, but not cool enough for a jacket.
  • Distance: 8.3 miles, including some wrong ways and accidental explores down some spurs (to Milk Lake, for example).
  • Elevation: Carr Lake: 6703 ft; Grouse Ridge: 7550 ft. Total elevation gain (modest): <1000>

Further notes:

  • Take your camera; I forgot mine, and while it was liberating in some ways not to be tied to a camera, I'd rather have one with me to record the hike. These pics are from a colleague in the group.
  • Take your map and compass. It's best to be prepared.
  • No permits necessary.
  • You can also park at the top of Grouse Ridge and do the hike in reverse, which would be equally beautiful and possibly easier (road-wise) on your car.
  • It's a popular trail, so be prepared to meet others on your hike. A good hike to do solo, however, since others would be around to witness any demise. :) Not a hike, however, for people who want to feel isolated (unless you go possibly on a weekday?)
  • As always, take water with you; there are pit bathrooms, but I didn't see/notice any faucets.
  • The lakes belong to PG&E which cares for and maintains the lakes. You make camping reservations, I think, however, via the Tahoe National Forest.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Echo Lakes to Tamarack Lake August 2010

Above: a view of the snow-melt river at the side of Hwy 50 on the way to Tahoe. I had been meaning to take a picture of this river for many months, and I finally managed to do so. Since it was a clear day, I managed to capture the reflections, which is kind of cool.

On the trail: My Mum was in town for another visit, and since she's a big hiker, I took her to one of our classic Sierra Nevada hikes--Echo Lakes to Tamarack It was yet another stunning Tahoe day as we close out our summer here in Norcal: mid-70s, cloudless sky, pretty windy, however, so we held onto our hats. The wind also created significant movement on the lake surface, so no mirror lake pics this time around.

We arrived at Echo Lakes at about 10, and although it was a Friday, the parking lot was already packed. I think we found one of the last spots. The trails were steadily busy, but there was still plenty of room for everyone, with a good mix of backpackers, day-hikers, and tourists.

Before our hike, I finally had the chance to visit the Echo Lakes store, and inside, I found a good selection of groceries plus the largest selection of Echo Lakes shirts and paraphernalia I've ever seen. Pretty impressive marketing there, Echo Lakes!

We set off on our hike along Lower Echo to Upper Echo, and we both hiked steadily, enjoying the view and the sound of the wind in the trees (which preceded the cooling effects of said wind on some hot hikers).

Below: We had lunch on picnic benches, which I didn't know were there, at the top of Upper Echo Lake, to the right of the water-taxi pier (which was making a killing the day we were there). :)

Below: We finally found Tamarack, which actually isn't that hard to find if you can find the boot-beaten trail. The trail is a little elusive because it blends in with the surrounding granite boulders and flats, but the cairns are pretty accurately placed, and the lake is worth looking for.

Tamarack is really only about 400 yards from the main PCT trail, and it's a sweet quiet little alpine lake--a nice break from the 'hub-bub' of the main trail. :) It seems like a great place to swim if you're so inclined.


  • Temp: mid-70s, cloudless
  • Distance: Echo Lakes (Upper to Lower to Tamarack)
  • Drive-Time: About 90 mins from home, off 50.
  • Trail: a good mix of dirt, jagged granite rock gardens, and loose shale, much in the shadow of granite walls on one side and stunning lake views on the other.

This hike was my third hike to Echo; look here for my first (to Aloha) and second.

I typically try to explore new places with each hike, but Echo keeps drawing me back. I think next time, I'll take the water-taxi, and then use the additional miles savings to explore further in the back country--Jabu, for example, comes to mind along with more of Aloha.

Maui: Napale Blowhole

We went to Maui for about a week this summer, and we spent most of our time snorkeling and playing on the beach, but we did manage to fit in a tiny hike to a 'blowhole'--a hole in the coast where the sea surges in and then explodes through said hole. Pretty cool, and a great trip overall.