CA – PCT, a Walker Pass Jaunt

Leaving Sequoia and Kings National Parks (link to related post), I continued south. I’d always wanted to explore the Kern River Canyon, so I drove Highway 178. I’d selected a couple potential campsites with knowledge I was starting my drive around 4pm, much later than I’d like. I hadn’t gotten far when I came to stopped traffic. 

I don’t like to drive at night, and I would never choose to drive a road like this in the dark, but circumstances seemed to favor otherwise. This was not where I planned to watch sunset. 

Finally a couple hours later, the semi accident was cleared. 

I drove through the canyon . . . in the dark . . . missing all views while feeling extreme anxiety and stress. I found a place to camp, saw the full moon rising for a few minutes before it was obscured by clouds. Rain came during the night. I continued my drive toward Lake Isabella in the morning, hopeful that maybe this glimpse of sun would win. 

By the time I got to Walker Pass, the skies had cleared. I’d call that a WIN! 

Blue sky one direction, rainbow another. That’s a great way to start a hike! 

Who doesn’t like rainbows? Are these sycamore trees? They are a bit Dr. Seuss-ish.

When there are rainbows, you might as well expect rain. 

Look at how pretty. 

When it was time to turnaround, I was greeted with another rainbow. 

I was surprised and delighted by the variety of vegetation. 

These dried orange flowers really pop in the winter landscape. 

My first Joshua trees. 

I hiked south a few miles starting from the Walker Pass Campground (Mile #651 per Halfmile). 

Adventure Dates:

  • March 1-2, 2018



CA – Sequoia and Kings National Parks, Winter Perspective

It’s the end of February which seems to signal time for an early spring jaunt. Last year I departed home the exact same date. As I constructed my loose itinerary, I elected a western route along the Sierra unlike previous years when the eastern side got all my attention. I’d never been to Sequoia and Kings (SEKI) National Parks so now seemed opportune. I had no idea there was also a Giant Sequoia National Monument. I drove through it on my way to the northern end of the Park, aka Sequoia National Park (now merged with the southern end Kings National Park).

I was happy to find signs of spring. 

But I was reminded it was winter. I had one day for sightseeing. 

I camped near the entrance so I could make the most of the day. I awoke to fresh snow. 

Winter means . . . road closures and limited access. 

But look at that pretty canvas. 

I hiked the Grant Tree Trail to view the General Grant Tree, the third largest tree in the world. 

The ranger suggested I drive to Hume Lake. Along the way I got some WOW views. 

Hume Lake is outside the Park on Forest Service land. It was disappointing to see their lack of maintenance, I’m sure due to funding versus caring. But this really sends the wrong message. 

Much of the signage indicates the separation of the parks.

With the road closures and winter driving conditions, it took me nearly 3 hours to drive between the General Grant and General Sherman trees. 

I was ever so grateful to be driving a 4×4 with mud and snow tires, otherwise chains were required. On this date 75% of the pavement was clear of snow and ice. 

And finally it was time to see the largest tree in the world. General Sherman! 

Oh to be average. 

I really like this pictorial for gaining perspective. I didn’t know about the item second to the left until a few days later when I visited the world’s largest thermometer.

With low level snow in the forecast, I decided to stay at the Park’s Potwisha Campground and watched the mackerel clouds, wondering whether predictions would come true. 

The Marble Falls Trail begins from Potwisha Campground. The next morning I awoke to dry skies and decided to see if I could beat the rains with a quick hike to see the waterfall.

I found one early blooming Monkey flower. 

Those must be the falls? They look so tiny from a distance especially on this misty day. 

A zoomed view. 

It started raining about two thirds of the way. I was grateful as always from my hiking umbrella and rain jacket. I was proud of myself for not turning around. But as I climbed higher, the rain turned to sleet, turned to snow. You know I wanted to reach the ridge. 

I found some social trails to the falls, but this was not a day to go wandering so I settled for this distant view. 

I was delighted to find green along the trail, but not so happy to find two ticks. 

As I returned to the trailhead I meandered up the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River.

Adventure Dates:

  • February 28 through March 1, 2018



Long-Distance Hiking and Backpacking Skills, Summary Post

As hikers get ready for another season on trail, I thought it might be helpful to provide links to a few of my popular articles.

Safety first:


Long Distance:


2017 PCT Hiker Survey Results:

PCTA Words of Wisdom:

Let me know if you have questions or would like me to cover additional topics in the future. Have a fantastic hiking season!

Backpacking Gear – Air Mattress and Pillow Replacements

When you use your gear as much as I do, inevitably it’s going to need to be replaced sooner or later. Sometimes that’s great because you can go lighter or gain improvements. Most times you already know your desired product. Other times, you know it’s gonna suck, as was the case with this replacement.

My beloved air mattress is no longer manufactured. I should have purchased a second one before they were discontinued. I’m still kicking myself for that decision. I’d spent plenty of time over the past few years following reviews, recommendations, and popular choices. This was going to have to be another compromise decision while I wait for one that meets my needs.

My preferences for an air mattress:

  • Light and compact (around 10 ounces)
  • Uninsulated  (I carry a foam mattress as part of my pack frame for insulation)
  • Side sleeper friendly
  • Minimal air requirements (I have asthma)
  • Quiet! (I’m a restless sleeper)

After much consternation, I decided on the Klymit Static V UL Pad manufactured in partnership with Massdrop.

Driven to make ultralight backpacking more accessible for everyone, we (Massdrop) teamed up with Klymit to create a full-size sleeping pad with a great weight-to-performance ratio at an incredible value. The result is the Static V UL pad, designed for camping in warmer weather. Inflatable in 8 to 12 breaths, it’s made from 20d nylon fabric with a V-chamber design and 2.5-inch thickness that maximizes comfort for back and side sleepers alike. This uninsulated pad weighs 11.9 ounces and packs down to the size of a water bottle.

This pad has the packability and ease of use that Klymit is known for, along with a few improvements. It’s the industry-standard 20 inches wide and slightly tapered below the knees to save weight. The fabric is more durable and much quieter as you move around at night than comparable alternatives. Plus, it’s dark enough to dry quickly when it gets wet. Finally, the inflation valve has been moved to the side to minimize the risk of damage and provide more comfort for the sleeper.


  • Fabric: 20d nylon
  • Color: Dark charcoal (top and bottom)
  • R-value: 1.3
  • Inflation: 8–12 breaths
  • Dimensions, inflated: 72 x 20 x 2.5 in (182 x 51 x 6 cm)
  • Dimensions, packed: 7.5 x 3.25 in (19 x 8 cm)
  • Weight, pad: 11.9 oz (337 g)

My experience:

  • The Air Beam pad is 25″ at the shoulder. I expected the Klymit at 20″ to be too narrow; however, during my test night in the back country, I didn’t have any issues and was pleasantly surprised.
  • Inflation seemed like an issue in the field but upon home testing I found that not to be the case. My Air Beam takes about 12 breaths while the Klymit took 14 breaths. The size contributes to the extra air needed. My Air Beam is 56″ x 26″ at shoulder x 20″ at foot. The Klymit is 72″ long, much longer than I need.
  • An upgrade Massdrop failed to mention is that they’ve added non-slip beads to the bottom of the pad. My pad stayed in place during the night which I’m sure greatly improved my sleep.
  • As a side sleeper I didn’t find any negative differences between the Air Beam and the Klymit.
  • The Klymit didn’t make any noise as I tossed and turned, a HUGE bonus over many of the popular pads.
  • Through Massdrop, the pad is being sold at $49, which is a remarkable deal in my opinion.
  • On my scale the weight is 12.3 ounces vs the 11.9 marketed, a couple ounces more than I would have preferred.
  • Massdrop was also offering the Klymit pillow for $15. As my ExPed pillow popped a baffle at the end of last season and I needed a replacement I decided to give it a try. I’m thrilled to say the Klymit pillow is much more comfortable than my ExPed. Weight is .5 ounces more.
  • I dislike increasing weight, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. My weight went up 2.4 ounces for my new air mattress and pillow. I’m hopeful I’ll find a better substitute in the future.

Anyone out there good at finding micro leaks? I tried soaking in the bathtub to find air bubbles as well as using the soap bubbles method.


DIY – Turning Socks into Mittens

There’s no getting around it. If you hike lots of miles, your socks are going to wear out. There are a few companies who offer lifetime replacement like Darn Tough, but really how many days, how many miles are reasonable life? I tend to get a couple years of wear out of most of my socks. Even at $15-$20 per pair, that’s a minimal replacement cost as compared to shoes. Inevitably I find myself with a pile of socks that for some reason I can’t bear to toss. Side note: “Bare means naked, but to bear is to carry something. A bear is also a brown furry animal.” The english language is very strange indeed!

I’d been searching for some soft wool mittens. I just couldn’t pull the trigger on the price. One day I took a pair of socks and made an X cut at the heel to stick my thumb through. I wore them like this for a couple of years always meaning to add a thumb. Finally this year, I completed the task. LOVE my reuse, repurpose, recycle project! 

While my toe socks wear out in the toes, my regular socks wear thin in the heals which make the rest intact to keep my hands warm. 

I used the top cuff of another pair of socks to make the thumbs.

Are they perfect? No

Are they functional? YES

Do I love them? YES


DIY – Custom Phone/Camera Case

Finding the right size pouch to attach to my backpack shoulder strap proved impossible. I wasted so much time and money searching for and trialing a variety of products. Finally I gave up and decided to make my own. 

Version #1:

I made this version a few years ago combining two pockets off an old backpack waistbelt. It worked well until the end of last year when one of the zippers starting failing. When I got a new larger phone, it was time to make a new case.

Version #2:

I used an old stuff sack to beta test a new version. It worked okay but a few revisions were needed. 

Version #3:

I started with a dry sack. 

To maintain the integrity of the dry sack, I used tape instead of pins to test fit and prepare for sewing. 

At the bottom of the sack, I ran an elastic cord to provide a little stretch but security for the camera section. 

I found on my previous beta version the divider between the camera and phone sections needed some stiffness. I had a sheet of plastic on hand so I cut it and sandwiched it between two pieces of silnylon. 

I cut the dry bag and covered the raw edges with bias tape prior to adding the orange stabilizer piece. The phone would go in the slit with the orange piece on top. The right end with the elastic cord would fold up and become the camera slot.

I attached two pieces of cross-grain ribbon to the back as attachment points to my backpack shoulder strap. I also added a loop on the top for an s-hook, another pack attachment point.

I attached velcro to the ribbon. I found the sew-on variety works best.

I overlapped the edges to create the phone pocket.

I attached sew-on magnets for the closure and completed the camera pocket. 

Initial finished product. 

After testing it, I quickly found the flap was too large. I removed the black strip and logo, reshaped the closure end of the bag and now have a product that is working quite well. It’s not 100% waterproof, but it’s better than most. I have quick and easy access with the magnetic closure. The elastic camera section is secure and allows me to leave the flap open without the camera tumbling out. The phone is also secure but can be removed quite easily. Note: magnetic closures can cause reverse polarization with your compass so be sure to maintain adequate distance.


DIY – Increasing the Length of my Sleeping Bag

My sleeping bag is sized to go to the neck. My preference is the option to sleep with it over the head (yes, I know about the condensation issues). As suggested by the manufacturer I ordered up a size to accommodate that preference. Well since there was only a few inch difference and I was at top of height, it was insufficient (duh, why didn’t I measure?). I’ve always struggled with this issue. My friends recommended buying a new bag as I’ve certainly paid for this one many times over with the number of nights I’ve slept in my bag. Well, that’s just not my style. When an item is still in perfectly good condition, I don’t see any reason to upgrade. 

I was excited when I finally came up with the perfect solution!

After using the down skirt I’d made from a CostCo down throw (related post link), I found it much too long. 

So I removed the bottom two rows and added them to my bag. WOW, what a difference those 9 inches make! I sleep so much better, and I don’t feel stuffed into the foot box. Yes there’s a slight weight penalty but do I care? Nope! As a side note, I removed some of the bulk from the skirt which offset some of that weight gain.

I’ve also semi converted my bag into a quilt by adding a snap closure at the neck. It’s been a good way to see if my next bag will be a quilt. The answer is a resounding YES! 

Sometimes little accidents happen. What do you do? Replace the bag or repair? 

I applied this tenacious tape patch a couple years ago. It’s still holding strong even after a few times through the wash.