CA – Trinity Alps Wilderness, Bear Lakes Trailhead

My goal was to find Wee Bear and Little Bear Lakes on this my third trip on the Bear Creek Trail. These are both off-trail lakes requiring navigation and bouldering skills.

With nearby wildfires, smoke had been problematic. I’d saved a few shorter distance trails for times when I could exit quickly if conditions changed. After a week of horrific air quality, we had a couple days with improvement and indications wind would be in my favor. Checking Purple Air and Air Now sites have become a morning routine during fire season.

Big Bear Lake

In this summer of 2020, the Trinity Alps saw unprecedented visitation levels. I was concerned and had several alternative plans if I found a full trailhead. Thankfully on this day, luck was on my side. No cars and I only met two day hikers on my first day of this three day trip.

This has become my summer of swimming. I had plenty of time to indulge after this 4.5 mile 2,800′ elevation gain hike especially since I had the lake to myself for the afternoon and evening. Lucky me! Little Bear Lake can be accessed via the gap shown in the below photo, but it’s not the recommended way. I wandered part way around the lake and quickly found myself blocked by brush that I wasn’t willing to fight my way through.

There are plenty of places to wander around and above the lake. In fact the granite benches host the majority of campsites, including views of Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy. It was a great place to watch sunset and sunrise. Catching alpenglow is one of my favorite reasons to camp.

Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy visible from the benches above Big Bear Lake. The granite mountain to the right is the scramble to Wee and Little Bear Lakes.

Wee and Little Bear Lakes

The trail shown in the below photo is from Big Bear Lake and provides one starting point to the off-trail lakes. There is also a cairn on the main trail below Big Bear Lake. Basically you want to angle your way up this rock face. You’ll find cairns marking a variety of routes. There is no right way, as I say, “pick your poison.” One of my resource guidebooks says “the goal is to bisect the top of the ridge at approximately the midpoint near some dead trees.”

There are a few campsites near the junction with water available from the Big Bear Lake outflow creek. The books indicate this is an EASY scramble. For some it might be, I found it fairly challenging.

This is the mountain you’re traversing. I’ll take granite boulders and slabs over scree any day. While you’ll find cairns dropping you down lower you want to avoid the brush. I stayed high on my way to the lakes and a little lower on my exit. I found the high route much more forgiving as the lower you go the steeper the slabs.

This photo shows the notch you want to reach and why you want to find the mid sweet point so you don’t waste energy going too high or too low.

This is an example of the steep slabs best to avoid, which can be easily done if you stay higher.

On the way back I followed cairns which dropped me lower. I found myself working a lot harder on this mid route.

Wee Bear Lake is more a pond than a lake but it’s very photogenic.

Little Bear Lake is a much superior swimming lake to Big Bear with slabs for diving platforms and debris free exit.

It took me about an hour to reach Little Bear Lake from Big Bear. After a few hours of swimming and relaxing I was inspired to see if I could ascend the ridge separating the lakes.

Although there is a trail traversing the lake, once again I quickly got stopped by thick brush so I backtracked and found another way which included this view of Wee Bear Lake, Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy.

These ramps made for a gentle ascent.

Success! There’s 28-acre Big Bear Lake, depth 73 feet.

Looking down at Little Bear Lake.

The lower ridge in this photo is the unnamed peak you traverse around between Big and Little Bear Lakes.

First kiss of sun on the peaks surrounding Little Bear Lake.

Morning reflections on Little Bear Lake.

The jagged spires surrounding the Bear Lakes are a recognizable sight in much of the Trinity Alps and Castle Crags Wilderness areas. It was so nice to see blue sky after a couple weeks of smoky skies.

Bear Creek signals the return to the main hiking trail.

I enjoyed a few late blooms along the trail like this fire weed.

Possibly Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris).

Red Columbine

There was indication summer was ending and soon fall would take center stage.

Adventure Date(s):

  • August 31 – September 2, 2020

Hike Details:


  • This can be a busy trail. If the trailhead is full you might want to consider other options especially if you want to camp.
  • In late August, nights were pretty warm. I was glad I’d brought my new summer quilt (link).
  • Always pack first-aid supplies. This was a bleeder. It wasn’t very deep but it bled for 3-4 days.
  • Do your part and pack out what others may have left behind. I walked past this hat several times before I noticed it. I also carried out a bag of used toilet paper, two fishing rod tips, a GSI cooking pot lid, and one sandal plus some micro trash. It’s the right thing to do!
  • I was glad to have my headnet as there were face flies at lower elevation. I met some hikers on their way in as I was exiting and they were very jealous.



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CA – Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Cabin Creek Trailhead (aka Squaw Valley Creek)

What has become known as the fifth season on the west coast is in full swing. Fire and smoke season is one I’d sooner skip and have successfully run from and avoided for several years. With 2020 being the year of COVID-19, I made the choice to stay local. My new normal was checking the Air Quality Index every morning. On this day, I saw some green to the north and decided I best take advantage of this rare window.

The skies were white with smoke. The visibility was limited and I considered turning around several times. I needed out of the house so onward I went. I’d chosen this trail as it would be more of a meander than a strenuous hike, one where I could lollygag along a creek and just enjoy being outside. I of course was worried about crowds since that’s become a norm this summer. Thankfully upon arrival there was only one car at the trailhead. For this smoke sensitive asthmatic, the air quality seemed acceptable.

When I first started hiking about ten years ago, this was the Squaw Valley Creek Trail, but due to political correctness, the offensive word has been removed from most named places. However this hike is still along thus named Squaw Valley Creek. Cabin Creek is a secondary stream further downstream so it doesn’t really make sense to change the name but whatever it is it is.

I was introduced to umbrella plant aka Indian Rhubarb along this trail. It’s probably my favorite water plant. Seeing signs of changing seasons reminded me fire season won’t last forever.

It was a hot day so I was grateful for easy creek side access where I could stay wet and refreshed.

This waterfall provided a perfect lunch break backdrop. Interestingly, Squaw Valley Creek (still named as such) originates on Mt Shasta at South Gate Meadows the destination of my previous hike (link).

There was evidence of recent trail maintenance which is always much appreciated.

If there was any negative to my day it was face flies but thankfully I came prepared with my headnet.

Soon enough bug season will be gone, just like fire season and summer.

Until then I’ll be grateful for this day when I escaped the smoke and enjoyed creek lullabies, a soft trail, bird song, the smell of pine needles and freshly sawed timber. I may have only walked about 1/4 mile on the PCT this day but it brought back the most wonderful memories of when I walked from Burney Falls to the Oregon border.

Adventure Date(s):

  • August 28, 2020

Hike Details:


  • I hiked this as an out and back, but there is a loop option. I tried the loop several years ago and found it choked with poison oak. I didn’t go that far this time so don’t know condition but something to consider. I’ve been warned of rattlesnakes in that meadow as well.
  • There are a couple of eroded sections of trail and at at least one place where some rock scampering is required.
  • For additional hiking from the trailhead, consider the PCT north or south. The nature trail near Ah-Di-Na Campground is worth a visit although a bit of a drive or a 10+ mile jaunt.



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2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Water, Water, Water

Lessons Learned:

  1. Water is heavy
  2. Invest in your formula
  3. Don’t carry what you’re not going to drink
  4. Cow slobber/sh*t water needs flavoring
  5. Trial and error is required to find your vessel and treatment solutions

How Much to Carry?

At 2.2 pounds per liter, water is one of the heaviest items in your pack. So rather than arbitrarily starting a trip with 3-4 liters, I’ve learned it’s better to research available water sources. I’d much rather stop every few miles and replenish my water supply than carry the extra weight.

Figuring out how much to carry is based on a formula adjusted for conditions.  It takes time to build your own formula.

I drink more when I’m:

  • hot
  • ascending
  • at altitude
  • snowshoeing

When I started backpacking, I would track how much water I was carrying and how much I had left when I got to a water source. Then I could calculate how much I was drinking per mile and per hour based on conditions. The goal was to get to a reliable water source with none or very little in my pack.

This gets trickier in unreliable water areas and since I worry about dehydration I tend to carry extra as insurance.

Unless you camp near water, you also need to calculate how much water is needed for dinner, breakfast as well as hiking to camp and to the next water source. In general 3 liters is my magic number.

How to Carry?

I’ve found through trial and error that I like soft water bottles like Evernew. I have one marked for dirty water. The 1500ml size is my preference. I sometimes also carry a 600ml plastic bottle for when I want to add flavorings to my water. I’ll be testing CNOC 2L Vecto bags over the upcoming months.

I started with a bladder in my pack but discontinued because I didn’t like

  • worrying a about a leak
  • not knowing when I needed to refill
  • taking apart my pack to refill

I’ve tried a variety of bottles and while they work for some people they never found a permanent place in my pack.

Capacity is a consideration. I prefer smaller 1.5 liter storage containers to 3 liter because they fit my hands better and I feel like I have more flexibility when it comes to how many to fill. However, I switch to 3 liter in the desert where I have to carry larger quantities between sources.

Remember water is heavy, so figuring out where to carry that weight in your pack is an important consideration.

How to Treat?

Like most other things in backpacking I’ve tried several different systems. I currently use the Sawyer Squeeze filter although I prefer using the water treatment tablets such as Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets. I will be testing the Katadyn BeFree filter over the upcoming months.



  • I squeeze from my “dirty” Evernew bottle into a clean bottle (I use a black hair tie around top to flag as dirty).
  • It’s time consuming.
  • I’d prefer using inline so I can scoop and go but the current Squeeze version doesn’t work.
  • I really hate protecting the Sawyer Squeeze from freezing and have had to replace a couple times when I’ve forgotten (sadly the BeFree has the same issue).


  • Carrying water for 20-40 minutes without being able to drink is not very weight efficient
  • I like drinking at a water source (cameling up) so I can be hydrated without carrying extra weight but with chemical treatment it’s not an option.
  • I’m lazy and sometimes compromise especially in cooler temperatures.
  • I prefer Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets over Aquamira liquid drops.

Flavoring and Additives:

  • Although I prefer unflavored water, I’ve had to in nasty situations especially in cattle country.
  • There are a lot of options but my favorites remains cold coffee or Orange/Grape Crush.
  • Electrolytes are important when sweating and drinking a lot. There are plenty of options but I’ve found I prefer to eat pink Himalayan salt rather than having flavored water.

How to Drink?

I prefer drinking from a hydration hose as I’m hiking. I can’t reach bottles easily and don’t like to stop to drink. I got the Blue Desert SmarTube Hydration System to use with my Evernew bottles (ebay is best reseller). Many attach their Sawyer directly to a bottle and squeeze as they go. This can be an efficient system.

How to Clean?

When I get to town, it’s time to refresh my water systems. My preference is to use a little bleach in my water bottles, drinking hose, etc. If I’m on a long-distance hike without access to bleach I use denture tablets. Backflushing the Sawyer Squeeze takes a bit more effort than simply using the provided syringe or another system. I’ve had the most success following Sawyer’s advice of soaking it in a very vinegar hot water solution before banging the sides and flushing. I’m hoping for easier maintenance with the BeFree system. I know it won’t last as long at an estimated 250 gallons versus 100,000 gallons with the Squeeze. I average 1-1.5 gallons a day when backpacking and usually backpack at least 60 days per year so that means around 100 gallons per year. At less than $20, I consider it reasonable to replace my filter every year or two.

When and How to Cross?

Water crossings are an accident waiting to happen. I’ve had several minor injuries trying to keep my feet dry. Logs and rocks can be tippy and slippery. Vertigo is common when looking at rushing water. If I have a choice I’ll typically walk through (ford) rather than worry about injury. In swift water, I carefully evaluate crossing options. I honor the saying, “turnaround don’t drown” when I can’t find a safe crossing. Camping and waiting until morning is an option during snowmelt.


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CA – Mt Shasta Wilderness, South Gate Meadows Trailhead

I hadn’t hiked in a month. Between the heat, fires and smoke, I was on hiking hiatus. It was making me really grumpy so I decided to see if I could find an escape. I checked Purple Air, web cams and the smoke maps. I was hopeful. The skies looked clear but my lungs said otherwise as I drove through the canyon. I took a double dose of my inhaler and donned my hiking uniform. The temperature at 7,800 feet was a pleasant 70F degrees as compared to home where the overnight low had been 75F.

Looking to the west, the brown smoky skies hide Castle Crags and the Trinity Alps.

I was welcomed with this splash of color.

Soon enough I reached the wilderness boundary.

There are plenty of rocky features to explore like this unnamed 8,300′ peak. Meanwhile the plant life is sparse.

Green Butte at 9,193′ is a geologic beauty.

Hummingbird Spring is a one of many reliable springs on the mountain. It was a little past peak wildflower season but a few blooms remained. I didn’t take photos so I must not have been very impressed.

The butterflies enjoyed this oasis.

After hiking through a forested section, you turn the corner and find yourself at South Gate Meadows.

I’ve only hiked this trail one time previously and it was 8 years ago. This photo I took then shows better perspective.

The meadow marks the end of the maintained trail. However there are unmaintained trails inviting further exploration which is of course what I did. It’s important to be mindful of this fragile environment by staying on the well-used trails or rocky surfaces.

You can see the damage throughout the meadow. This is looking east toward Mt Lassen, again hidden by the smoke from nearby wildfires.

When you look at the mountain, your first impression is lots and lots of gray rock. These spring fed creeks create welcome relief.

Shastarama Point draws me upward.

Turning the corner I found colorful delight and more Dr. Seuss flowers, which had been dominant along many earlier sections of the trail.

There were tons of monkey flowers.

After reaching the spring, and then the ridge, I couldn’t help but see if I could find better views by wandering this escarpment.

I was thrilled to find views new to me, most notably Shastarama Point.

A close up of Shastarama.

Rather than retracing my steps, I decided to take an off-trail route through the rocks to create a bit of a lollipop loop. You can now also see a better angle on the side views of this lower part of the mountain. Shastarama Point is at 11,000+ feet whereas Mt Shasta Peak is at 14,000+ feet. Looks are deceptive!

Back on the main trail, this is a different side of Shastarama.

And the view more often seen by peak baggers summiting via the Bunny Flat or Old Ski Bowl route.

For those interested here’s a better perspective.

All too soon it was time to drop back into the smoke. Even at elevation my chest burned from the smoke. I was grateful for the blue skies and a break from the heat. There was a welcome breeze, and of course the streams to keep my temperature comfortable.

Adventure Date(s):

  • August 14, 2020

Hike Details:


  • There are quite a few permit requirements and backcountry rules in the area. You’ll want to review the USFS information if you want to backpack or disperse camp (link).

  • Check weather forecasts. It can be quite windy and the mountain makes it’s own weather.



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2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Electronics and Technology

Lessons Learned:

  1. A good power bank (battery) is essential.
  2. Invest in learning how to use devices and apps.
  3. Apps have improved my experiences.
  4. Electronics are a tool but dead weight if not utilized.
  5. Photography is a huge part of every adventure.
  6. Accident insurance is worth every penny.

Although hefty, electronics have become a weight penalty I’m willing to accept as I find great value and enjoyment from technology. I still prefer carrying a camera to using the one on my phone as I don’t find the quality comparable. Additionally my phone uses far more battery than my camera. I also prefer map apps on my phone to a GPS device. I find phone apps to be more user friendly with more flexibility. Having a satellite communication devise is non negotiable. It holds me accountable and keeps me more responsible while also offering a safety and security.


Rarely do I have cell signal while hiking and backpacking. I keep my phone on airplane mode and primarily use it for the following functions:

  • Map Apps – I currently use Gaia as my primary digital mapping and tracking app. I pay for premium membership which includes helpful layers such as National Geographic, National Parks, USFS, snow levels, fire history, geology, etc. You can find great tutorials on YouTube and the Gaia blog. I also use Avenza and wrote this blog post with helpful tips, Hiking with Geospatial PDF Maps (Avenza).
  • Trail Specific Apps – There are general apps such as All Trails and REI’s Hiking Project which help you find nearby trails and provide user comments as to current conditions.
  • Park Specific Apps – I’ve gotten in the habit of checking the app store before going to a State for National Park as often they have their own apps which are helpful in planning and gaining insights.
  • Identification Apps – This is one of my favorite features of smart phones. I have several wildflower apps. It’s worth checking to see if there are ones specific to a particular area you’re visiting. Another favorite app is Peak Finder where I can take a photo of mountains and it adds names and elevations. It helps me later when I’m looking at my photos. Other fun apps I use are related to geology, astronomy and scat and tracks. I also have helpful apps such as ones focused on first aid, knots, and slope angles. One in particular helps me level my car when using it as a sleeping vehicle.
  • E-Books – I spend a lot of my down time reading so having books available on my phone is a necessity.
  • Screen Shots – I use this in conjunction with my maps to note location on map showing feature I may have photographed with camera. I also use it to note time I was at certain places and the associated stats from my tracker.
  • Camera/Video – I tend to use my phone for selfies and videos.

Battery life is an important feature for me since I’m fairly dependent on my phone, especially as a navigational aid. It’s at the top or near the top of the list when I’m looking for a new phone. Tip: investigate best ways to extend battery life on your particular phone.

Satellite Communicator:

My inReach is my security blanket, plus it keeps me accountable and responsible. I’m diligent about using it consistently so if my pings disappear hopefully someone will notice and begin the process of finding out if I need help or if I had a technology failure.

The key function is SOS which utilizes a satellite network. After carrying this device for several years, I had to push the SOS button in 2018. It worked as expected. Be sure to set up your emergency contacts online in advance. Here’s the link to the details of my experience: Life Interrupted . . . Forever Grateful for the SOS Button

One of the reasons I chose inReach over other units was the two-way texting option. Competitor products may have this as a feature now as well. Not only do I use this for check-ins but also for urgent issues. Examples:

  • While hiking the PCT in Washington, my power bank (external battery) was failing. I was able to contact a friend who had a replacement shipped to my next resupply town.
  • It had been raining for multiple days and I wanted/needed a hotel room. I texted a friend and she made a reservation and texted back with confirmation.
  • My mom fell and broke her hip. My niece messaged me and I was able to stay in touch while she underwent emergency surgery.

Most of these devices require a subscription service. Garmin has several plans including a flexible option which allows for putting the unit on vacation mode. Since I’m on a budget I have the safety plan which includes unlimited preset messages. This allows me to have tracking without paying the tracking fee. I send a message at the beginning and end of my trip indicating the location of my car, every evening and morning from my campsite, and each time I change trail or find myself crossing sketchy terrain including uncomfortable water crossings. I can also text any major change of plans.

I’ve been using this unit for many years without incident. I consider it an essential item and wouldn’t hike without a satellite communicator.


While phone cameras have significantly improved over the past decade, I still prefer my camera for a few reasons.

  • Battery Life – I can usually get about 500 photos per battery on my camera, which can then be recharged from my external battery; however, I usually carry an extra in case of battery failure. I’ve also had memory card failures so I keep one in my emergency kit. Yes there is a small weight penalty for these non-essential items but because photography adds to my experience it’s worth it to me. Taking photos on my phone drains the battery quickly.
  • Photo Quality – I’ve never had a phone that takes the same quality images.  When I compare side-by-side photos taken at the same time, there is no contest. If I were just taking photos for instagram or facebook, my phone would be fine.
  • Photo Processing – I takes tons of photos. It’s rare I come back from an outing with less than 500-1000 images. I download the memory card to my computer where I can review, edit, organize, back up and share.

External Battery (Power Bank):

  • Size – There are lots of options from which to match your needs. I carry an Anker with 10,000 mAh. It usually keeps my phone charged for up to a week, even while running my Gaia tracker, plus if needed I can use for camera, inReach and headlamp. Anker has been a reliable brand for long distance backpackers for many years. You’ll want to do plenty of research to determine price, weight, fast charge, input/output options, etc. This Anker power bank (Amazon link) is a good starting point.
  • Cords – I found short cords to provide more efficient charge than longer ones (Amazon link). Research indicates it’s most efficient to recharge your phone when it’s no less than 30% and to stop at 80%.
  • Wall Charger – If you plan to recharge along your journey, you’ll want a light, small and fast charger. Once again I recommend Anker but don’t have one to recommend as I haven’t done the research recently.
  • Solar Charger – There are very few instances I’d carry a solar charger. Those include when I plan to be out for more than a week and/or I’m primarily dependent on my phone for navigation. Even then I’d be more likely to bring two power banks. The reasons are:
    • Weight of solar charges are usually more or similar to a power bank.
    • You still need to carry a power bank as few devices accept the trickle charge provided by a solar charger.
    • You need to be disciplined about placing the solar charger in direct sun during your breaks (while keeping the power bank in the shade)
    • Solar charges aren’t very efficient when they aren’t in the direct sun for long periods of time. While you can mount on your pack, the panels are rarely in alignment with the sun.


I have a history of having accidents with my electronics while hiking.

  • Camera #1 – dropped in a creek, but rescued and saved with the rice/freezer method, only to break the screen a few months later when I sat on it on a concrete bench.
  • Camera #2 – chipped the lens

Then I discovered Squaretrade Accident Insurance.

  • Camera #3 – dropped in the sand, outside my insurance period. I think I might have bought 2 years, now I buy 4 years.
  • Camera #4 – dropped in the sand. Sent in for repair under accident insurance.
  • Camera #4 – dropped on rock, shattered screen. Sent in for repair under accident insurance.

When I purchased my inReach and my phone, I added the insurance. It’s worth the peace of mind knowing something might happen on that first outing. The cost is very reasonable and is related to the price you paid for the item.

Loss Prevention:

  • Add your name and phone number to your items to help it find it’s way back to you
  • Add some duck tape or other easily identifiable tape to make it easy to differentiate your items from another hiker especially in areas where you might be sharing recharge plugs.

Related Posts:


2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Campsite Selection

Lessons Learned:

  1. Weather conditions should be a primary consideration.
  2. Views with a flat sleeping surface are my highest priorities.
  3. Being near water isn’t necessary.
  4. Condensation sucks.
  5. Campfires are overrated.

I rarely plan my campsites in advance preferring to hike until I’m tired or until I find an amazing view or setting. As the afternoon grows long I’ll start looking at my maps. This is where learning to read topography lines helps, although they only tell part of the story. Reality may mean rocky or wet terrain, or you might find a bunch of down trees or widowmakers from recent fires. There might be a lake but it might be surrounded by willows making access nearly impossible. Of course there is always the possibility you might find fresh bear scat or a bunch of other humans. Since I rarely use campgrounds or stay in areas requiring permits, my tips are primarily for dispersed or wild camping.

Severe Weather:

  1. Wind
    • Hide in the trees to minimize direct gusts (avoid widowmakers)
    • Position your shelter with narrow end into wind
    • Avoid sandy areas or you might get sandblasted
    • Secure tent with stakes prior to erecting
    • Reinforce stakes with rock weights
    • Use extra guylines
    • Pack earplugs if you’re a light sleeper
  2. Rain
    • Avoid low spots where rain might puddle under your tent
    • Consider semi-open areas or you might hear drip drip drip from the trees all night
    • Usually rain is accompanied by wind
    • Pack earplugs if you’re a light sleeper
    • For multiple days of rain while backpacking
      • Add a polycro sheet to line inside of tent as many tents will wet through even with ground cloth
      • Add a plastic garbage bag to keep wet stuff separated from dry stuff
      • Add kitchen gloves to wear over your regular gloves
      • Consider a rain poncho
  3. Cold
    • Avoid damp areas near creeks and meadows as they tend to be chillier
    • Pay attention when hiking toward end of day as you may feel temperature drop zones
    • Sheltered campsites are better to minimize wind chill
  4. Lightning
    • Avoid areas where you are the tallest object or where you are near the tallest object.
    • Avoid being on surfaces such as granite where lightning radiates rather than absorbs.
    • Most likely you’ll experience rain and wind with the lightning.
    • Try to find a dry surface to camp on as water conducts electricity.


You can minimize condensation by

  • selecting a campsite that isn’t damp or near wet meadows
  • encouraging ventilation by finding a little breeze and leaving doors open

I prefer sleeping without my rainfly so I prioritize finding locations that are less likely to generate condensation.

Ground Surface:

An air mattress can temper ground imperfections, but slope can interrupt sleep.

  • Lie on your tent or ground sheet prior prior to erecting your tent to determine if ground is sufficiently flat (I need my head higher than my legs).
  • If the door needs to face a particular direction consider sleeping on the opposite end if that’s how the ground slants.
  • If your mattress is sliding around inside your tent consider adding a few drops of tent sealer to the bottom of the air mattress or a few stripes on the floor. Sleeping at an angle helps at times.

Dry Camping:

The group I started backpacking with were destination campers. Usually the goal was to camp near a lake or creek which makes for easy water collection and camp cleanup. Having water nearby also makes it easier to follow campfire rules.

When I started long distance hiking, I found the joy of hiking until I was tired and then finding a place to set up camp. It was great not having to reach a particular destination. I just needed to be aware of water sources and collect adequate water for the night and morning.

Spending time in areas with limited water made it evident animals would be nocturnal visitors to those sources, making these areas less safe and noisier. Another benefit of camping away from water is fewer bugs.

I’ve also learned over time I prefer quiet campsites, free of loud water sounds like those made by crashing waves or raging waterfalls. Trickling streams or soft creeks add white noise, but for the more gregarious I need my earplugs.


  • I give up views frequently when I’m long distance hiking as I can’t plan for premier campsites.
  • Group camping dictates use of previous campsites to ensure LNT whereas when solo camping provides a lot more options.
  • Companions may have different preferences. For example if you’re hiking with a hammock user or someone with a large tent footprint, your priorities may become secondary.
  • When solo, I might spend an hour looking for the perfect campsite whereas I’d never subject a companion to such craziness.

Leave No Trace Principles (link):

“Selecting an appropriate campsite is perhaps the most important aspect of low-impact backcountry use. It requires the greatest degree of judgment and information, and often involves making trade-offs between minimizing ecological and social impacts. A decision about where to camp should be based on information about the level and type of use in the area, the fragility of vegetation and soil, the likelihood of wildlife disturbance, an assessment of previous impacts, and your party’s potential to cause or avoid impact.”


DIY – Phone/Camera Case . . . made from Frogg Toggs Pouch

If you buy the ultralight suit or poncho from Frogg Toggs, I bet you find it difficult to toss the storage pouch. A few years ago I started using one to store maps in my car. A friend said she uses one for her microspikes. Previously I used a dry bag to make a phone/camera case (blog link) but it didn’t last as long as I would have liked. With it worn out it was time for replacement so as I dug through my supplies I found these pouches and decided to give it a try.

The poncho pouch is larger and has more usable fabric. The ultralight suit pouch has a snap on the back which you need to work around.


  • 2 Frogg Toggs pouches (or other fabric)
  • 2-4 Pieces of thin plastic (size of phone)
  • Magnetic closure (or velcro) (Amazon Link)
  • Double fold bias tape or something similar (Amazon Link)

Step 1 – Construct Top of Phone Compartment

My phone is 6.25″ x 3″, so I made a double layer piece 8.5″ x 4″ with 2 thin pieces of plastic sandwiched between. Stitch together.

Step 2 – Construct Top of Camera Compartment

My camera is 4 x 2.5″ x 2″. I cut the fabric 6.5″ x 3.5″. I didn’t double layer this section instead I rolled over the top and stitched at about 1/4″. I ran a gathering stitch along the bottom so I could factor in the 2″ depth of my camera.

Step 3 – Create Closure

I had some double fold bias tape so decided to use it for the closure (Amazon Link). I reused the magnetic closure (Amazon Link) from my previous case. Each piece is 4″ in length. Tip: it’s much easier to enclose the magnet in fabric than it is trying to sew it on to the fabric. I tested placement of the magnetic with my camera in the pouch then stitched the magnet in between the tape then stitched it to the front of the camera pouch. Be sure the bump of the magnetic is facing outward.

Step 4 – Finish Camera Pouch

Mount the camera pouch on the top piece of the phone pouch. You’ll want to adjust margins to allow for the depth of your camera leaving a little wiggle room so you can retrieve and replace camera without too much effort. You can see how the magnetic is sewn on as well as the gathered bottom. This fabric doesn’t unravel so I didn’t need to finish seams.

Step 5 – Create Attachments

Once again I used the double sided bias tape as well as velcro. I wanted a loop so I also added a piece of cord. For each pack attachment, I used a 7″ piece of bias tape with 1.5″ of velcro.

Step 6 – Create Back of Pouch

This piece started as double thickness 6″ x 8.5″. I sandwiched the magnet tab between the two pieces, as well as a couple pieces of the thin plastic. I then cut the flap at an angle.

Step 7 – Connect Attachment Straps and Loop

Stitch the velcro straps slightly smaller than the width of your backpack straps. For mine that was about 2.5″.

Step 8 – Complete Pouch

Attach the front and back pieces. Trim edges and round corners for best fit.

Step 9 – TEST!

This new design needs more trail time. I’ll report back after I’ve used it for a while.

Link to more of Jan’s DIY/MYOG projects

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DIY – Sleeping Bag to Quilt Conversion

What do you do when your sleeping bag is no longer meeting your expectations?

Obviously the easiest answer is to buy a replacement. But for someone like me who is both frugal and likes custom products, this wasn’t my first choice. In 2013 I purchased a Zpacks 10-degree down bag for $440. That was a huge investment for someone not yet a dedicated backpacker. I loved the weight but always felt cramped and as time went on less warm than I’d like. I initially added to the length of my bag by using a down throw I picked up at Costco for $20 (blog link) .

The additional length was an improvement so the next year I was inspired to customize further so I removed the zipper and added 6 more ounces of down (sourced from Ripstock by the Roll). After shaking all the down to one end you can see why I was having trouble staying warm. The down just wasn’t lofting sufficiently after about 6 years of use.

After doing some research I decided to use the bathtub method. I got in the tub with my bag and the down. Closed the door and shower curtain and got busy stuffing the channels. I used binder clips to close each section after stuffing. This worked quite well to contain the down and minimize loss (and mess).

The dimensions I determined optimal were based on the following calculations.

Length – Add 10″ to your height to determine length

Top Width – Add 10″ to your shoulder girth measurement to determine top width

Footbox Width – Reduce 10″ from the top width.

They ended up being perfect! I used a down throw to extend the size (Amazon link).

You’ll want to review quilt designs to determine which hardware system you think might work best for you. I started with the idea of attaching my quilt to the pad but found I didn’t need or like it (as shown in below photo). A few systems to review include Enlightened Equipment, Zpacks, and Katabatic Gear. My preference is four flat buckles attached to the long edges with webbing. My placement is one at the top, another about 14″ below. Then one about 14″ up from the bottom and another 10″ higher. Most often I sleep with the lowest and highest buckled and only use the others on colder or breezy nights. I also tried several types of footbox closures. I found I preferred a sewn footbox to a snapped or tied version (early version shown in this photo).

I finished these first alterations in 2018. Since then I removed the elastic and just use the clips and created a sewn footbox. Having slept under this quilt for 150-200 nights in 2019, I think I’ve given it a fair evaluation and thus give it a resounding A.


  • Flat Buckles (sourced from Enlightened Equipment, Zpacks, Ripstock by the Roll, or Katabatic Gear)
  • Webbing or elastic to use with buckles

According to Zpacks, their current 10-degree quilt with similar dimensions weighs 25 ounces, nearly 9 ounces less than mine. I could easily drop some weight by remaking it with the same dimensions and amount of down.

It’s a really great 3-4 season bag and it’s rare I regret carrying it. The only time I wish I had a lighter bag is in really warm summer temperatures (> 50F) which I try to avoid as I don’t like hiking in the heat. However, to solve this problem I recently made a summer quilt from one of these down throws (blog link).

Link to More DIY Projects

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DIY – Summer Quilt . . . how to convert a down throw

Many have heard of the down throws sold by Costco and other vendors (Amazon link). I used one to convert my zpacks down sleeping back into a quilt and another to make a skirt, slipper, leggings and mittens (blog link). Finding my three-season quilt too warm for the hottest summer months, I decided to use another to make a summer-weight quilt. I’ve heard these are comfortable to 45-50F. I’m a warm sleeper so I’ll amend with my experience after some use.

Materials Needed

  • Down Throws (60″x70″), most will need to use two. You can also use a down sleeping bag or blanket, etc.
  • Flat Buckles (sourced from Enlightened Equipment, Zpacks, Ripstock by the Roll, or Katabatic Gear)
  • Webbing or elastic to use with buckles

Step 1 – Calculate Dimensions

Length – Add 10″ to your height to determine length

The quilt is 70″ long. I’m 64″ tall and found 72″ finished product length to be just right for me when I made my 3-season quilt. Mine is long enough I can throw over my face occasionally. For this project I decided to leave it 2″ short initially. I can add extra later if I find I want to option in the summer.

Top Width – Add 10″ to your shoulder girth measurement to determine top width

The quilt is 60″ wide. I’m have a loose shoulder girth measurement of about 45″. Adding 10″ makes my final top width 55″.

Footbox Width – Reduce 10″ from the top width.

For me that made it a 45″ width footbox.

Step 2 – Add Length and/or Width

Use the second quilt to add length or width to the base quilt. I included tips on a previous post when I added length to my zpacks bag before I converted it to a quilt (blog link). I still need to write my sleeping bag conversion post; maybe this will motivate me.

Step 3 – Measure Twice (at least), Cut Once

  1. Use a straight edge to create width angle. A sturdy tape measure worked for me. Mark the line. I use chalk.
  2. Sew on both sides of the chalk line leaving about 1/2″ in between.
  3. Cut between the sewn lines (this helps contain the down).
  4. Repeat for opposite edge using the initial cut as a template.
  5. Finish the edge. I zigzag and then roll and straight stitch to make a clean edge.

Step 4 – Create Footbox (optional)

I tried several methods when I created my 3-season quilt. I found I preferred a sewn footbox to a snapped or tied version.

  1. Verify you are working on the narrow end.
  2. Connect the sides by zigzagging together the lower 4-6″.
  3. Match the bottom edge, right sides together, placing your connected seam in the middle.
  4. Sew together the bottom edge. To eliminate air entry you want to have a good seal. I used a tight zigzag stitch, repeating a second time. I put the seam on the inside of my footbox.

Step 5 – Add Hardware

You’ll want to review quilt designs to determine which system you think might work best for you. I started with the idea of attaching my quilt to the pad but found I didn’t need or like it. A few systems to review include Enlightened Equipment, Zpacks, and Katabatic Gear. My preference is four flat buckles attached to the long edges with webbing. My placement is one at the top, another about 14″ below. Then one about 14″ up from the bottom and another 10″ higher. Most often I sleep with the lowest and highest buckled and only use the others on colder or breezy nights.

Final Weight: 14 ounces.

Ready to test! It should be good for temperatures around 45-50F. I’ll update post once I have more experience using it.

Link to More DIY Projects

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CA – Russian/Marble Mountain Wildernesses, PCT Eye Candy

This is the reason many fall in love with the PCT. The trail meanders, winds, rises and falls. It’s of dirt, grass, sticks and stones. Most of all it’s about dreaming and stories. Who built these trails? Who wandered here before me? What did it look like decades ago? Who will I meet, what will I see? Where will I lie my head each night?

I’ll let the photos tell the story of my jaunt between Carter Summit and Man Eaten Lake, about a 35-mile section. I shared stories about the lakes I visited in a previous post (blog link).  The wildflowers deserved their own post as well (blog link).

Adventure Date(s):

  • July 8-14, 2020

Hike Details:

This is my one-way track from Carter Summit to Man Eaten Lake. It includes the lakes I visited as I hiked north but not the ones from the southbound trip. I’d say it’d be fair it was around 85 miles with 13,000 feet of elevation gain and loss.


  • Order your map in advance or call the ranger station to see if they have available.
  • Obtain your California campfire permit online in advance (it’s required for your backpacking stove).
  • Mileage in Art’s book were quite different than those I obtained from my Gaia track and noted above.
  • Guthook/Atlas app is great for viewing current water conditions.



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