Utah Canyoneering 2009 – Ultralight Backpacking and Canyoneering

Down to the Canyons of Utah – Another year of the spiritual spaces and beauty of the canyons and mesa.

Photographs (except as noted) taken by Alan with an Olympus E-30 digital SLR (info on cameras) and Zuiko 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 lens. More on lightweight photograpy…

Backpacking Photography Gear Lists

The Trip in Brief

Dawn on a ledge 600 feet above the Escalante. Our last campsite.

Cottonwoods glowing in early morning light.

A wash in late afternoon sun.

Finally working our way to the the mid-day shade of a deep Escalante canyon.


Trip Start – detailed report

Our trip began with the most exciting 4-wheeling either of us has ever done. Apparently, Kane County is not interested in grading roads to trail heads.

We arrived at trailhead at an earlybird 3:00pm (note low sun) and jumped in.

Starting off always requires a walk “into nowhere”. Somewhere in this vast expanse of slickrock we needed to drop into a deep canyon at a very specific place.

We’ve located the right spot and are preparing to downclimb into the canyon.

Into a sunlit wash that feeds into the Escalante River

We walked for about five hours before dropping our stuff at this arch campsite surrounded with fragrant sage.

As we approach the Escalante, the canyon walls get higher and shade increases

Al got to see her first real Indian ruins, a granary. How they got up there, is anybody’s guess.

Finally, walking down the canyon of the Escalante with its orange-red mid-day light

With river levels at record lows (snow pack 40% of normal) crossing the Escalante was not difficult. We crossed or waded it often to get better footing and faster hiking on the benches on either side of the river. Frequent crossings left our feet wet all day. The next morning, we again got to put on our wet shoes.

It seemed every bend was an opportunity for a new photograph.

We entered a side canyon and headed for the rim. As we climbed past the Kayenta, we passed
this detached pillar of Navajo sandstone.

In early evening, we climbed up a striated sandstone ramp past old Indian caves.

Our first view. The gorge of the Escalante is below (behind the green bushes, not seen in this photo) and the white Navajo domes of Circle Cliffs in the distance. Al is standing below the arrow in the next picture

A breathtaking perch

Nearly 1,000 feet above the Escalante, a superb view

Alan climbed a few dicey slabs to get a bit higher. A Navajo dome at the top of our world.

A close-up of the flowers in the lower right corner of the previous picture.

We climbed back down to a dream campsite at a spring-fed desert oasis. A waterfall sits right next to our sleeping bags. We slept to the frogs singing (croaking) to us all night… ALL NIGHT.

Sleeping-bag-view the next morning.

Moving down the Escalante again. This tower marks an abandoned meander where the Escalante used to run.

We did more bouldering up clogged streambeds and bushwhacking thru willows and tamarisk than we wanted.

Spring pools not shown on any map….a surprising find given the severe drought.

A jagged wingate tower above the pools.

On our last night, we climbed 600 feet above the Escalante River to camp on this ledge.

A Long-nosed Leopard Lizard kept us company on the ledge.

Sunset view from our camp.

A bit later in the evening — the other direction.

And a stunning dawn view from our campsite the next morning.

After taking photos. We left camp and walked along ledges on the canyon wall (described as “the finest ledge walk in the Escalante”). After we were over the canyon rim it was a very long march without stopping through sand and Navajo domes. Difficult overland navigation and blazing desert sun. We were though all 4 L of water each by the time we reached the car at 3:00 pm. Zero food and zero water after 7 days is excellent planning on our part.

Parting Shot

Trail head and our car which blessedly has a spare gallon of water in the back.


Packrafting Alaska 2013 – Talkeetna & Susitna Rivers

A 100 mile rafting and backpacking trip from the headwaters of the Talkeetna River to the town of Talkeetna via the Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers.

Route: Bush plane drop at the headwaters of the Talkeetna River. Float Talkeetna R to Prairie Creek. Heinous bushwack out of the Talkeetna River and cross the plateau to the Susitna River. Another challenging bushwack down to Gold Creek on the Susitna. Then float the Susitna to the Town of Talkeetna (with a short flag train ride into town—just for the novelty of it!).

A detailed gear list for Packrafting in Alaska. [PDF file]

The Trip in Brief

We started our trip by catching a Bear Mountain Air bush plane from Anchorage’s Lake Hood Airport. Bad wx made for a dicey plane ride in. Our 8:00 AM takeoff was delayed until almost noon. We had another delay mid-flight when we had to land on a river gravel bar in the Talkeetnas–had to wait for wx to clear to make it over the pass to the Upper Talkeetna River. Then had to fly high and dodge through cloud holes landing around 4:00pm. Whew! Thank you Joe of Bear Mountain Air for some excellent flying!

Safely landed on a gravel bar on the upper Talkeetna River. Our 1960s era Cessna 185. A wonderful plane! Skillfully piloted through low visibility conditions by Joe Houston of Bear Mountain Air.

Talkeetna R was high and fast but doable if you paid constant attention. Ripping along! Made 6-7 mph with current. No problems except that Alison could not hold her line at one point. Ended up going through a nasty class 3 wave train on a long, steep ladder chute. Fortunately, she kept her boat straight with a strong forward stoke and did not swim :-) We had intermittent rain both river days.

View of the Talkeetna River at the mouth of Prarie Creek and near the start of our bushwhack to the plateau between the Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers.

We had a stupendous hailstorm our second day on the river and Alan had to hack out a camp site using his 1 oz. pocket knife to make enough room for our tent. It was a real challenge to anchor the tent in the rubble and rocks of the gravel bar.

Our bushwhack out of Talkeetna R to tundra was as long and heinous as I remembered from my 2010 trip. Almost 5 miles of brush with significant elevation gain (and loss due to numerous steep gullies to be crossed). Even with an excellent and direct route and following some good game trails it took us all day to reach a nice lake in the tundra. Wind was howling and we were lucky to find a semi-sheltered, almost flat tent site in moderate tussocks. It started to rain in earnest around 6:00 PM.

Weather was a challenge along the plateau. Temperatures in the 30’s & 40’s. 100% rain without remission white-out conditions much of the time. Torrential rain at night had the tent leaking in numerous places (We really need to seal some ridgeline seams!). Constant headwinds. Hard to find anywhere to safely pitch the tent. Ground, tussocks and bogs super saturated with 40 degree water. Our feet were constantly squishing in and out of bogs, sponga and pools of near freezing water. Alan’s feet got so cold they hurt for days after the trip. Pretty much some of the worst hiking weather days either of us can recall. Wx on Alison’s birthday, 7/4, was one of the those days that will go down in history as wanting to forget!

Alison loses the weather lottery on her birthday. With constant rain, wind, white-out and temperatures in the 30s and 40s, it was no picnic.

The rest of the trip had milder wx with intermittent rain. Float down the Susitna was very fast & fun. The river was high and ripping along! We made around 7 mph. Just for the novelty, we flagged down the train rode it the last 7 miles into town–one of the last flag trains in the US. Great fun!

Town of Talkeetna super nice and fun. Great restaurants and amenities. We had a superb day of King Salmon Fishing! According to our guide, the best day all season. Alison and Alan caught 9 king salmon between us. They averaged near 30 pounds with the largest near 50 lb! Picures of our big fish!

Detailed Report and Photos

Our first morning and one of the few sunny moments (abeit partial) on the trip. Looking at the high, silt laden, and swiftly moving Talkeetna River.

Starting a fire to warm up and dry out. Always a challenge to make a fire with wet wood!

Packrafts safely secured near camp. (There is always a potetnial for rafts to be blown away or even float away if not secured.)

Ready to load the rafts for the final section of River before packing them up and hiking to the plateau to commence the foot portion of the trip.

A view from our bushwack (and not to the tundra yet—groan! We started bushwacking in the morning somewhere near the yellow arrow. Our bushwhack out of Talkeetna R to tundra was as long and heinous as Alan remembered from his 2010 trip. Almost 5 miles of brush with significant elevation gain (and loss due to numerous steep gullies to be crossed). Even with an excellent and direct route and following some good game trails it took us all day to reach a nice lake in the tundra.

Finally in the Tundra! And our beautiful campsite.

Wind was howling and we were lucky to find a semi-sheltered, almost flat tent site in moderate tussocks.
We had a blessed hour to dry everything out before the rain moved in.

It started to rain in earnest around 6:00 PM. But we had some wonderful views of light and stormclouds before the rain.

Alison’s birthday morning. Temperatures were in the 30s and white-out condtions starting to creep in.

A period of better weather on Alison’s birthday. Local white-out has lifted and we can actually see across the valley. Somewhere in the distance is the pass we came over earlier in the day.

Morning mist day 5

We constantly encountered small groups of caribou on the plateau.

As we began to descend from the high plateu to the Susitna River, the weather begain to improve. We are fairly sure that the high plateau created its own static and horrible weather amplfying lower elevation weather by 3x.

Bushwhacking through alder on the steep slope from the escarpement down to the Susitna River. Yes, we did have to climb on some lower alder branches to get through some areas!

Last night’s camp on the Susitna River. And a brief and welcome moment of sunshine at a stunning location.

Finally some nice weather a day after her birthday. Alison relaxes in some mild weather and late evening light.

By the next morning we were back to overcast, rain and mist. Alison sets off on our last leg down the Susitna to the town of Talkeetna, AK.

Alison’s raft is just a blip on the huge Susitna. It is the 15th largest river the the US!

We stopped at the ghost town of Curry, Alaska. Curry was a significant staging point for the constrution of the Alaska Railway. The major hotel burned down in 1957. It was not rebuilt and almost all traces of the once bustling town are gone.

One of the last flag stop trains in the US! The Hurricane approaches: this “train has delivered Alaska locals to their remote cabins since 1923. On this wilderness run, get off the train anywhere along the 55-mile stretch: hike, fish, or journey to a remote cabin. When you are ready to return to civilization, you can stop the train on its return with the wave of a flag.”

Using a MLD MoPacka (AKA “the thing) on the end of paddle, Alan flags down the Hurricane train. Alison, always the transit geek, was super excited to ride the last few miles into the town of Talkeetna.


We had a superb day of King Salmon Fishing! According to our guide, the best day all season. Alison and Alan caught 9 king salmon between us. They averaged near 30 pounds with the largest near 50 lb!

BIG FISH. Happy face.

After seven days in Alaska with now views, Alison finally sees Denali from the front porch of our cabin..

A double rainbow while we ate dinner at the local pizza joint.

A bus ride back to Anchorage. Transit geek suitably happy. We did not rent a car on this trip. Float plane, jet boat, packraft, foot and train but no car!

Parting Shot

Alison contemplates Alaska at a brief stop in the middle of the massive Susitna River.

1999 Sierra Trip – Discussion of Weight Savings


Colin and Emma with their killer huge packs on a high alpine route.

The Start Of My Interest In Lightweight Backpacking

Killer heavyweight equipment list. What not to take! A detailed Table of Weight Savings from 1999 and 2001.
Discussion of weight savings between 1999 (heavy) and 2001 (ultralight) trips
Discussion of weight savings of 2007 trip vs. previous trips (1999 & 2001)

Killer Packs

Good planning can make or break a backpacking trip, especially with kids and heavy packs. I found this out the hard way when I took my kids on their first extended trip to the high Sierra. Our experiences sparked my interest in ultralight backpacking, especially since our industry-standard equipment was much too heavy for anyone, but in particular the kids, to carry over long distances. Colin and I started out the trip with 55+ pound packs.

We saw a lot of great scenery and camped in beautiful places, but it’s harder to enjoy the astonishing beauty of the high Sierra when you ache all over. Nonetheless, Colin and Emma and I would do the same trip again—but not with the same ten tons of gear. We didn’t get into camp until just before sunset many days. And each day we spent more than double the hiking time I had anticipated. The additional hours on the trail meant that my whole body, feet included, had to support a 55 pound pack for much too long. Just standing up with that weight was exhausting; but what was hard for me was, at times, misery for my kids. Never again!

The Trip

Our loads were just too heavy. And I, the eternal optimist when it comes to getting my family and friends into the great out-of-doors, overestimated the kids strength to some degree and underestimated how long it would take them to hike the distance I had planned. We were out for eight days without re-supply and covered 45 to 50 miles. Over half of this was challenging cross-country, with only one layover day (not surprisingly, the kids favorite part of the trip). Colin and Emma would have enjoyed the trip a lot more if I had known then what I know now about ultralight gear and if I adjusted our schedule to their real hiking ability rather than my sanguine estimate of what they could do. Obviously, if you halve your pack weight, most everything about backpacking becomes easier. Next time it’s ultralight for us!

But we made it there and back. And the kids didn’t kill me, although they’ve promised to bludgeon me if I plan any more hikes with “4 to 5 mile easy days” of off trail hiking. They are old enough to figure out that “easy” in dad lingo means “you’ll survive.”

Colin and Emma (then sixteen and twelve) were model backpackers, getting up at first light each day to help cook breakfast and then break camp. Every night they helped to unpack and set up again. I didn’t need to ask them to help. Mostly, they figured out what needed to be done and just did it, without bickering or grumbling. Even on long and hard days, they never gave up and complained very little.

Day 7 (see photos) is a good example of a hard day. En route to Crown Lake, we’d already been over one steep pass and a difficult boulder field descent. We were all tired. Unfortunately, our planned campsite was already occupied by a tent city of yahoos, breaking every camping regulation you can think of. A shock from the off trail solitude of previous days. Laundry hung from lines. Tents pitched on the waters edge at every flat site. People everywhere. Short of hoping a posse of pack-ripping, tent-shredding, cooler-chomping black bears would descend upon them, there was nothing we could do. Discouraged, we opted to hike the extra distance to Peeler Lake, even though it was late in the day. The uphill climb to Peeler Lake was much steeper and took much longer than we had anticipated. Emma was worn out and moving slowly, although she still didn’t complain. Colin was nearly as exhausted, but better able to disguise it.

I made it to the lake first, dropped my pack, hiked back to Emma, and offered to carry her pack for the last thirty minutes of hiking to the lake. Nothing doing. She made it clear she intended to carry her own pack all the way to the end. Unfortunately, all the nearby campsites at Peeler Lake were taken and we had to hike another half-mile to the far side before finally dropping our packs. But the kids still didn’t complain.

A brief plunge off a cliff into the deep and very cold waters of the lake washed away the misery of the day. After scrumptious handfuls of dusty gorp—which by now had been compressed into bricklike nuggets—Colin and Emma once again helped set up camp, filter water, and cook dinner. We enjoyed the beauty of Crown Peak reflected in Peeler Lake, and checked out its second outlet (Peeler Lake is one of the few lakes that sends water down both the western and eastern slope of the Sierras). I got in some fishing and we watched the dusky, orangey-pink alpenglow suffuse the landscape. Night had fallen by the time we crawled into the tent for much-needed sleep.

In Conclusion — Ultralight Here We Come

This was a fantastic trip! Fabulous scenery, rugged routes, solitude, remote campsites, and great fishing. Please look at the photos of this trip as they say a lot more than anything I can put in words. But with the heavy packs and long days, I think I lost a little credibility with the kids. Our next trip, with ultralight backpacks and a bit less rigorous hiking schedule, will be a 100% winner and should change this. It’s my hope that Colin and Emma will continue to hike in the mountains for years to come. And hopefully their children will hike in the same mountains as well. I feel fortunate that I’m blessed with such wonderful children.

-Adventure Alan

1999 Sierra Trip – Photos & Narrative

The Start Of My Interest In Lightweight Backpacking

This was a fantastic trip! Fabulous scenery, rugged routes, solitude, remote campsites, and great fishing. Please look at the photos of this trip as they say a lot more than anything I can put in words.
Read text about the trip – Discussion of Weight Savings.  Or browse the photos below.
The brood about seven days in. Colin left, Emma center, AA on right. Yosemite Backcountry – Sawtooth Ridge and Matterhorn Peak in the background. Our heavy packs nearly killed us on this trip.
Why we go to the mountains. View from Camp morning of day 5. The middle three days of this trip were entirely off trail in some of the remotest areas of Yosemite. We saw no one and it seemed we had the whole Sierras to ourselves.
Day 6. Our final day of off trail. Colin and Emma hike up Slide Canyon in a seemingly endless valley meadow at 10,000 feet. Although they don’t show in the photo, the meadow was strewn with wildflowers.
Colin and Emma morning of day 2. We had cooler weather for the trip (50-60’s during the day and below freezing at night). We got a late start the evening before, and stopped hiking just before dark. Nowhere to pitch a tent so we bedded down in the shelter of some low pines and used our packs as a wind break. Heavy winds all night. We could hear the bigger gusts coming up the canyon long before they hit us. Emma was so cold that Colin and I had to sandwich her between us to keep her warm enough to sleep.
Cold morning – day 2. Colin and Emma just before we started our off trail ascent of the ridge in background. One of dad’s “4 to 5 mile easy days.”
Day 2 – half way up and preparing to ascend the steeper portions of the ridge.
Day 2 – finally at the top of the ridge! Emma eyes a very steep decent into Upper McCabe Lake. The kids have promised to bludgeon me if I plan any more trips with “4 to 5 mile easy days” of off trail hiking. They are old enough to figure out that “easy” in dad lingo means “you’ll survive.”
Colin being attacked by his monster Pack!
Day 4 – another “4 to 5 mile easy day” of steep off trail hiking. Colin and Emma
taking a rest before descending into Tulula Lake. We saw a pair of skinny dippers from this vantage point but they were gone by the time we arrived at the lake.
Emma enjoying some warm afternoon sun in our “kitchen,” a rock bluff overlooking the lake.
Day 5 – our only layover day. Colin resting on an excursion to a very remote high altitude lake. We had a wonderful swim although the water was very cold. The lake’s shore was lined with late season wildflowers in full bloom.
Day 5. The kids hiking back down to Tulula Lake.
Day 7 – Colin and Emma climbing up
towards our last pass of the trip.
Day 7. A brief plunge into the deep and very cold waters of Peeler lake washed away the misery of the day. This was the coldest lake of the trip. I’m guessing the water was not much above 50. We were the only people swimming.
Day 7. The kids enjoying the last alpenglow of the trip. The pink of Crown Peak reflects in Peeler Lake.

Text Summary of Weight Savings 1999 to 2001

All weights savings are per person

Food and food storage: 6.5 lbs (5.2 lbs food, 1.3 lbs bear cans)
The biggest weight savings of the trip and nobody went hungry.
See a special note on food and food storage.

Clothing:  5.5 pounds
Less clothes, no Polarfleece, no camp shoes, lighter rainwear

Packs: 5.2 pounds
Heavy frame packs vs. ultralight frameless packs

Shelter: 2.4 pounds
Freestanding dome tent and Space Blankets vs. tarps and lightweight ground cloths

Sleeping: 2.2 pounds
Polarguard bags and Thermarests vs. ultralight down bags and foam pads

Stove and Fuel: 1.8 pounds.
MSR stove, full MSR XGK cook set and two bottles of fuel vs. Snowpeak Giga, one titanium pot and one Primus fuel canister.

Misc. Odd and Ends: 2.3 pounds
Including but not limited to: Leaving a 1.9 lb first aid kit & 14 oz of sunscreen, Platypus reservoirs instead of rigid Nalgene bottles, Photon micro lights instead of incandescent headlamps, fewer and lighter maps, etc. (see detailed list)

The Rest of the stuff: ? pounds
Including but not limited to weight reductions in: Additional food carried for other party members, fishing equipment, water treatment, repair kits, straps, soap, bug juice, dental stuff, TP, compasses, emergency Space Blankets, notepaper and pencils, ditty bags, etc., etc.

Table of Weight Savings from 1999 and 2001

A savings of 30 pounds

  • in 1999 – His pack was 55 pounds
  • in 2001 – His pack was 25 pounds
Sierra trip comparison 1999 and 2001
(Note: this is not a complete list)Note: 1999 trip had 3 people. 2001 trip had 4 people
Food and food storage2001 1999
Food 1.6 lb per person x 6 days9.8Food 2.1 lb per person for 7 days15
(2) Bearikade weekenders 1.8, and (1) expedition 2.2 for 4 people [carbon fiber canisters]1.45(1) Garcia bear can 2.75 lb per person [plastic]2.75
Total per person11.25Total per person17.75
Savings per person6.5
Selected Clothing2001 1999
Marmot PreCip .8, Sirocco Smock .5, (2) nylon ponchos .75 (no rain pants)0.7GoreTex jkts 1.3 & 1.4, (1) SD wp/b jkt 1.2; Gtx pants 1.1, (2) wp rain pants .752.2
(3) Synthetic Puff vests .5, (1) down vest .80.6(3) Fleece jackets (1) Fleece vest2
No camp footwear0Camp footwear (running shoes)1.6
Extra socks (1 pr trail running)0.15Extra socks, (2) hiking, (2) lightweight0.8
Gloves, headwear, silnylon stuff0.3Gloves, headwear, nylon stuff0.6
Total per person1.75Total per person7.2
Savings per person5.5
Packs2001 1999
GoLite Breeze0.9Dana Terraplane & rain cover6.9
GoLite Gust1.2REI frame pack6.5
Wild Things AT (mod’ed)1.8Sierra Designs internal frame pack6.1
Total per person1.3Total per person6.5
Savings per person5.2
Shelter2001 1999
10×10 Silnylon tarp 1.25, 8×10 ID SilTarp .9, stakes .62.752 person REI trail dome for 3 people8
Campmor emergency. blanket .3, (2) ponchos 0.0 (incl in rainwear)0.32 reg. Space blankets for ground sheet1.5
Total per person0.76Total per person3.17
Savings per person2.4
Sleeping2001 1999
Marmot Hydrogen 1.4 and Arroyo 1.8, WM UltraLite 1.7, REI sub-kilo 2.1 [all down bags]1.75(2) 3.5 lb Polarguard bags, (1) 2.6 lb DryLoft down bag3.2
Silnylon stuff sack0.1Pillow stuff sack0.25
foam pad .3, foam pad .4, (2) ridge rest .60.53/4 UltraLite Thermarest with stuff sack1.1
Total per person2.35Total per person4.55
Savings per person2.2
Stove and cooking2001 1999
Snowpeak giga and windscreen0.3MSR stove and XPD cook set2.83
1.9 L titanium pot0.5Pump and 33 oz fuel canister2.2
450 g Primus fuel canister1.322 oz bottle w. fuel1.4
2 ti and 2 plastic cups0.53 large steel cups0.9
Total per person0.65Total per person2.44
Savings per person1.8
Some Misc. Odd and Ends2001 1999
Platypus reservoirs0.2(4) Rigid Nalgenes & MSR Dromedary0.5
Sunscreen 1 oz tube per person0.05Sunscreen 10 bottle & medium tube0.3
First aid kit 5 oz and 3 small 1 oz kits0.13First aid kit 1.9 lb and 3 small 1 oz kits0.7
Photon microlights & LED Lites0.05(3) 4-AA headlamps and (4) extra batt’s0.55
Pocket knife e.g. SA classic0.05(2) SA knives 3 oz; (1) multi tool 7 oz0.3
No pack towel0Pack Towel0.2
Maps 5 oz guidebook pages 1.5 oz0.1Maps/case 12 oz. guidebook pages 3 oz0.3
Total per person0.58Total per person2.85
Savings per person2.3
The Rest  
Additional food for other party members, fishing equipment, cameras, water treatment, repair kits, straps, soap, bug juice, dental stuff, TP, compasses, emergency. Space Blankets, notepaper and pencils, ditty bags, etc., etc.?

2001 Sierra Trip – Gear and Weight Savings


Pitching the tarps as the winds pickup and the cold front comes rolling through. Notice the windward pullouts in the middle of the 10×10 Oware tarp. Lee edge is raised to for ventilation. The tarps kept us dry and saved a ton of weight vs. conventional tent.


Two years ago (1999) I took a backpacking trip to the Northern Sierra with my son (16) and daughter (11). The Sierras were beautiful but our packs were heavy and our feet and backs sore. Hiking was long and tedious. Even with an early start, we seldom got into camp with much time to do anything at the end of the day. Needless to say, the kid’s favorite day was our layover day in the middle of the trip. This was the beginning of my interest in lightweight backpacking.

This year was the summer before my son, Colin, went off to college. As a sendoff we decided to retake our Sierra trip with my brother and my 10-year-old nephew a fathers and sons trip. The challenge for me was to see if I could get pack weights down to a minimum while trying to meet the diverse attitudes and interests of four people ranging in age from 10 to 40.

A Comparison of Heavy and Ultralight Backpacking

1999 Trip55 Pound PacksPhotos
2001 Trip25 Pound PacksPhotos
Savings30 Pounds

Link: Highlights of the major weight savings
Link: Detailed Table of Weight Savings from 1999 to 2001.

2001 Trip Report

In the end Colin and I managed to reduce our pack weights by 30 pounds each. This included cameras, fishing gear and carrying some extra food for my brother and 10-year-old nephew. Our base pack weight was below 10 pounds. My brother and nephew carried very light packs as well.

Just about everything on the trip worked as planned. We completed each days hiking with plenty of time to swim, fish and hang out. There were no blistered feet, sore shoulders or aching backs. The mood was generally cheerful. No problems with any piece of equipment.

Colin said he was more comfortable on this trip than the 1999 trip. Just as warm. Better food. Easier hiking without a heavy pack fighting him, especially going downhill and cross-country. He really liked the shorter hiking days. One thing he mentioned about going ultralight is that he had to be more aware of what he was doing with his clothing, sleeping system and shelter. That is, to achieve the same level of comfort with less equipment, he needed more knowledge both about his equipment and backpacking technique, but also a higher level of awareness of weather and trail conditions. He also noted that on very cold nights there was little clothing left to put in a stuff sack to make a pillow.


saved us one day of food and started the trip right.

We stayed locally the night before the trip. This put us at trailhead early the first day, feeling chipper and raring to go. This and lighter packs allowed us to easily travel in the fist day some difficult cross country that took us two days on the previous trip. We arrived in camp with plenty of time to fish the evening hatch. It saved us a day’s worth of food as well.

Every other trip I’’ve taken has started at 4 AM with a long drive to the Sierras, getting a permit and bear cans, frantic packing of the food etc. Tired and cranky we’’d be lucky to get to trail head with enough time to stagger down the trail a few miles before dusk. Starting like this puts a trip, quite literally, off on a the wrong foot. I don’t think I will do it again if I can help it. Nothing like starting fresh and positive with a big lodge breakfast in your belly!

My Favorite Moment

Mid-trip, we woke the morning after a cold front had come through. A hard frost covered everything. Don’t remember who, but someone had the silly idea to take a dip. Temperature was still below freezing but we all plunged into the lake. Kevin and I took 10 minutes to swim across and back. We walked back into camp in just our shoes and sunned dry while cooking breakfast. It took another hour
for the frost to melt off our tarps.

What Ultralight Didn’’t Solve…

the usual trail squabbles.

Going into this hike, I naively thought that ultralight would turn this trip into one long idyllic camaraderie fest. We did have a great time and enjoyed each other’s company. And I know the reduced stress of lighter packs and getting into camp early certainly helped to minimize conflicts. But…..

But in retrospect it was unrealistic to assume that everybody would get along all of the time. Given four personalities, four interests, and four ideas of how to hike, there probably isn’t a complete solution to this. Colin hates to suffer, Kevin loves to fish and holds to a loose concept of schedule, Silvio is only 10 and needs to visit every snowfield, and yours truly likes to hold to a schedule get into camp early. I think we did a great job getting along 97% of the time.

For Next Trip…

people first.

For next trip I’ll focus a more on people and personalities. I think I’ve got the equipment stuff well under control but people are never easy. I have a feeling that 20 years from now I’ll still be learning. For the next trip I’m going to slow down a bit and listen more. A good belt of scotch in the evening wouldn’’t have hurt either.



2001 Sierra Trip – Photos & Narrative

This trip marked the demise of my beloved Olympus XA rangefinder camera. Many of the pictures on this page are soft. I have since replaced the XA with a new camera, an Olympus 3.3 Megapixel C-3000 Zoom. Not as light or easy to use as the old rangefinder, but the digital camera makes loading up photos on to a web page a lot easier. With a 128 Mb of SmartMedia, I can take over 170 3.3 MP pictures. 2015 Note: my how things have changed in the digital world!
Kevin fishing the evening hatch at a remote back country lake.
Traveling ultralight on some smooooth granite: Kevin, Colin and Silvio.
Trekking poles make kicking steps a breeze on a late season snow field
The brothers at the summit. I always love a picture with a glacier in it.
On top of the world, or at least our part of it. From left to right, Kevin, Silvio, and Adventure Alan.
On our way down. Easy walking along a granite ridge
Camp mid-trip. The clouds are the very beginning of a huge cold front blowing through.Notice the neat two tarp pitch using two trekking poles and a stick (far left). We never got rain but had a very hard frost overnight. This was the morning that we went for the very early, very frosty swim.
Father and son enjoying a very cold water but what a bathtub!
Some of the weight savers on the trip. From L to R, Barricade Food Can, less food (inside the can), light plastic cup, SnowPeak Giga stove with homemade heat shield and windscreen, Primus 450 g fuel canister, titanium cup, 1.9 L ti pot, 2.5 L Platypus reservoir.
The hike out on the last day. Last big mountain lake <sigh>. Colin, AA, and Silvio in a communal hug. Next stop the ice cream stand at the Tourist Lake From Hell (TLFH). At the TLFH Kevin went on a 20 minute rant about power boats, SUV’s, summer homes, and mass consumer culture. Can’t blame him. It’s such a shock to the system after 7 days in the high country.
Colin strolling into camp. We got done hiking by 1 or 2 in the afternoon most days.
Enjoying the last bit of alpenglow glow and staying warm my a 8 oz Cirrus vest and 8 oz Montane Sirocco Smock. We saved over 5 lb. per person on clothing this trip. We were never cold.
Colin and Silvio heading back to lunch after filtering water.
Kevin running a streamer through a deep pool. As usual he’s hoping to entice a large trout.
Kevin leaning against his rod case and looking very philosophical. Not! I guarantee you that he is intently looking at the obvious drop off for large cruising trout. The aluminum rod case served double duty as Kevin’s walking staff for the trip.
Pitching the tarps as the winds pickup and the cold front comes rolling through. Notice the windward pullouts in the middle of the 10×10 Oware tarp. Lee edge is raised to for ventilation.
Adventure Alan enjoying a mid-trip layover day and fishing his heart out. This lake held some very, VERY nice fish. Put that streamer over the drop off and strip, strip, strip…. BANG!
Colin had a touch of trail sickness mid-trip. I got up, gave him two ibuprofen, and threw my bag over his. You can see he is warm and resting peacefully. Who wouldn’t the both a Marmot Hydrogen and Western Mountaineering Ultralight sleeping bag over you. Note the Photon light, Swiss Army Classic knife, and small whistle all on a lanyard by his head. The kid knows the drill!
Kevin making a long cast on a windy day. High altitude lakes are often difficult to fish in the middle of the day because of they are unprotected from strong afternoon winds.
In fine spirits and winding our way up to a rocky “pass.”
Kevin and Silvio skirting a small lake as we navigate our way cross country. Kevin was disappointed that this lake held no fish. Nice weed population though, and probably a good breeding habitat for the endangered Yosemite Toad.
Father and son getting ready for steep cross country descent.
It’s a delight traveling across large granite slabs.
Colin in a pensive moment at the end of the day.
A cheerful conversation over the morning’s tea.
A very windy afternoon. My hair is blowing straight back. I need the Montane shell to stay warm.
A refreshing swim after a hot 2,500 foot climb.
Silvio doing what the likes most, going to every snow field I had to walk him across a big moraine to get to this one.
Silvio and Colin hanging out after dinner. This was a deep canyon and quickly got dark. You can still see alpenglow on the peak at the end of the canyon.
Silvio having a sunny breakfast on a warm rock. The drying clothes are Kevin’s. He took an unexpected and fully clothed plunge into the nearby stream. As usual, concentrating a bit too much on the fish and not his feet!
Alpine meadow and stream meanders.
A drying lake. Lots of great tadpoles. And lots of fresh bear prints in the mud.
Too cute for words. Kevin and Silvio sharing a cup of tea.
The End!