Ultralight Thru Hiking Gear List

Note: This post is a work in progress

Gear used on the 220 mile John Muir Trail, 165 mile Tahoe Rim Trail, and 93 mile Wonderland Trail. It turns out I don’t photograph my gear on the trail, so I don’t have photos for lots of items. This is also a fairly extensive list for a single post, but for now it’s pretty lightweight without photos. I’ll continue to update this post as I use more gear (such as the terrific 49g Olicamp Ultra Titanium Stove I brought along on Tahoe Rim Trail).

The Gear List »

A Guide To Ten Days On The Tahoe Rim Trail

Tahoe Rim Trail Hiked: June 24th – July 3rd, 2016

Note: From the early season into July the mosquitos are ferocious on the SW & W portion of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Bring DEET bug spray and a tent with netting rather than a tarp. There are also long stretches without water: the longest on our trip, at 17 miles, was from Watson Lake to the spring at the old Western States Trail junction just East of Mud Lake.

The Tahoe Rim Trail, like the Wonderland Trail, is a circumnavigation around a popular point of interest. At 165 miles in length and a little under 62,000 ft of cumulative elevation change it’s a bit less rigorous than the John Muir Trail or Wonderland Trail, but still an excellent challenge with incredible views.1

When first hearing about and visualizing the TRT I was near the shore of Lake Tahoe and simply looked around, imagining a trail atop all the ridges in sight. While a common assumption, this is not the case. Instead the trail meanders around the lake to and fro, reasonably far at times in the south and north, with at least one full day in Desolation Wilderness without a view of Lake Tahoe. Of course those who have been to Desolation know that this is an incredibly beautiful section and that some of the best views end up being of lakes and vistas other than Lake Tahoe, such as Lake Aloha featured in the header image. The larger diameter of the Tahoe Rim Trail was likely chosen, at least in part, to keep a reasonable distance from the well developed shores and towns surrounding the lake. While there are certainly times when homes are near the trail, given what’s nearby, very little is visible, which helps suspend the disbelief of a trip into the “wilderness”.

The trail is maintained by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association and traverses various state parks in both California and Nevada, as well as three wilderness areas: Desolation Wilderness, Granite Chief Wilderness, and Mount Rose Wilderness.

The footing varies from powdery dust to rooty forest, swampy mud, packed scree, fire roads, to, if it’s early to mid-season, snow. The scenery surrounding these trails is also constantly in a state of flux, ranging from sparse grand forests, to scrubby brush, to meadow, to large exposed hillsides covered in the flowers of alpine shooting stars and woolly mules ears. Notable fauna include: a six-point buck, a black bear, many marmots and chipmunks, black-billed magpies, western tanagers, robins, and many other birds names unknown. Surprisingly we saw very few birds of prey, which may have been due to the unusually calm days and the Trailhead Forest Fire that began halfway through our trip and at times significantly impacted visibility in the basin.

Many portions of the trail are open to mountain biking and horseback riding, so be alert in popular areas such as near Mr. Toads Wild Ride in the southern section and near Painted Rock and Mt. Baldy in the north. Our favorite section of the trail was the north eastern area around Mt Baldy and Relay Peak, which has some of the best views of Lake Tahoe with hardly any mosquitos.

Summary: Call 530.543.2694 for your Desolation Wilderness TRT Permit & print your passing of this Campfire Permit Quiz. Buy this map and download this app (iOS & Android). Have enough capacity to carry 3-4 liters of water (depending on your size) and use the app to determine when this will be necessary. Drop off your resupply at the Tahoe City Post Office and then park at the Kingsbury Grade North Trailhead, check the ten day forecast at South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City and hike clockwise.

Photos & Trip Logistics »

Four Days On The Wonderland Trail

“My feet feel as though I’ve jumped off a three story building”
— My hiking partner four days after completing the Wonderland Trail

While hiking off Mt. Rainier in 2009, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the forest had been on the approach and descent. As I gushed about the incredible glacier to meadow to forest vegetative zones, a guide informed me of the existence of the Wonderland Trail. I immediately knew that one day I would have to return and hike around the magnificent mountain we had just summited. Fast forward to August 2015, shortly after completing the John Muir Trail (JMT), I was once again itching for another medium length trail to thruhike. The top two choices were the 165 mile Tahoe Rim Trail, for it’s proximity to my home of Oakland, and the 93 mile Wonderland Trail, for the aforementioned reason compounded by my friends’s recent move to Portland, OR. The window was closing on the Rainier permitting season, but targeting the last possible weekend, I was able to get a plane ticket and he was able to take a couple days off work, so we committed to the Wonderland Trail. Only three hours from Portland, we headed north on Thursday night, camping near Longmire for an easy, early morning visit to the Ranger Station.

Trip tips & more photos »

Ten Days on the John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail’s 220 miles are the prize of the Sierra Nevada and many say of the whole PCT. It’s not surprising given that there isn’t a wasted moment from when the trail rises above the calamity of Yosemite Valley till topping out on Mt. Whitney and descending down the 99 switchbacks to Whitney Portal. The trail winds it’s way through an all-star roster of parks and wilderness areas including: Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra National Forest, Devils Postpile National Monument, John Muir Wilderness, Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon Wilderness. The mountainous landscape lends itself to panoramas, but there are also plenty of critters in the mountains. On my trip the most notable sightings were a white-tailed jackrabbit, an american pika, many mule deer and yellow-bellied marmots, a few grouse, and plenty of birds and trout. There were also a good number of fellow hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail hiking north who were always willing to trade details on the conditions at their last pass.

Trip Logistics and Training »

Siuslaw National Forest | Sweet Creek Falls Trail

Last week my friend moved to Portland, OR and asked if I’d join him on the drive north. Having never been outside of Portland, while in Oregon, it didn’t take much arm twisting. We set off after the Bay Area rush hour had subsided and aimed towards Eugene, OR (originally the target was crater lake, but snow was forecast which, given our mode of transit, was a deal breaker). The sun had set by the time we reached Eugene, so we made a quick stop for dinner, grabbing massive plates from Tasty Thai Campus and I hopped on my phone to search for a day hike for the following morning before we lost cell service. We were looking for a short hike that would give us a feel for the Siuslaw Forest without being too much of a detour on our journey. Unfortunately the Siuslaw National Forest’s website doesn’t facilitate hike discovery as the hikes are presented as a long list of arbirary organization, rather than a map or popular hikes. Thankfully we soon came across the Statesman Journal that had something a bit more useful: Top 5 Hikes in Oregon’s Central Coast Range.
After a dry and restful sleep beneath the pitter patter of rain falling on the Budget Truck’s sheet metal roof we set off down the Sweet Creek Falls Trail. The Siuslaw is a lush, beautiful forest thick with ferns, western hemlocks, Douglas firs, and aspens. The lichen is also incredible, draped and dripping over skeletons of trees both dead and alive, creating a haunted aura. And of course the Sweet Creek Falls Trail has a multitude of beautiful waterfalls ranging from full-width, straight-edge, slab drop offs, to tall 40+ foot chutes to smaller rambling rapids.
Learn more about Siuslaw National Forest at fs.usda.gov where there are downloadable maps and a long list of hikes.

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Sequoia National Park | Pear Lake & The Watchtower

[column-group][column]Sequoia National Park is the perfect halfway point between LA and SF for those looking to rendezvous in the Sierras. There are numerous excellent hiking trails and on this trip we chose to day hike to Pear Lake along the Lakes Trail, backtracking along the same trail, with the incorporation of the the Watchtower Trail as an alternate midsection.
The weather was cold and rainy at camp, but turned into our first snow of the season at higher elevations. The clouds provided a low ceiling and moved rapidly up the valleys, dramatically revealing the beautiful landscape through soft windows.
We rested for lunch at Pear Lake, the midpoint in our hike, where the stillness of [/column][column]the surface created a serene, almost magical atmosphere. Not surprisingly we weren’t the only ones with this plan and towards the end of lunch we exchanged cameras with another friendly party comprised of SF & LA folks for group portraits.
On our return along the Watchtower Trail our jaws dropped as we came around the bend and saw the thousand foot cliff stretching down to the valley floor. With no reason to resist we took a detour and clambered along the ridge to the point of The Watchtower, only to find ourselves in a relentless cloud—thankfully we’d already seen the cliff as it had been clear when we arrived.
Learn more about Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP at nps.gov/seki

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Pinnacles National Park | High Peaks Trail

[column-group][column]Rising out of the miles of artichoke and strawberry fields tiling California’s Central Valley, Pinnacles National Park is an escape to golden grasses, live oaks, rolling hills, and beautiful rock formations. The west entrance is only open during daylight hours and doesn’t allow camping, which might not be good for the park’s attendance, but those who take the time are well rewarded with tranquil trails and expansive vistas.
This trip coincided with the Supermoon, an event in which the moon is full while at the closest point to earth in its elliptical orbit. NASA notes that “nearby perigee moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of the Moon’s orbit.” This makes for amazing moon-lit night hiking on trails exposed to the sky. It feels more like hiking beneath a weak[/column][column] desaturated sun casting a silver light with incredibly deep shadows than a moon. So much so that there is the unconscious avoidance of looking directly into the glowing disk to protect one’s eyes, although unlike looking at the sun, it is possible to adjust to the intensity of the light and view the moon’s beautiful surface texture of craters and contours. Hiking the bare ridge lines of Pinnacles National Park on the High Peaks Trail is the perfect way to observe a Supermoon’s brilliance during a cool summers night.
The peaks are home to a variety of birds, including many turkey vultures near the peaks and a few cliff swallows whose nests attach to imperfections in the rock face.
More information can be found at nps.gov.[/column][/column-group]

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Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is aptly named, but beyond the depth and breadth of the span, there is a stillness and quiet found on the trails that can’t be captured in photos. Edward Abbey introduced me to the notion in Desert Solitaire in which he reflects on a summer in Arches National Park. Southwest heat brings time to a crawl. When the sun is high the critters sleep with no movement save for the occasional crow or vulture half dozing on rising thermals. The feeling is exacerbated when stumbling across a rusty steel wheelbarrow brought to the canyon for copper mining in 1893, but long since abandoned to the dust. Such a reticent world is so foreign and rare it feels almost uncanny, and thus such a respite to level the keel is all the more welcome.
And for photographers there is a depth like no where else. As the sun begins to set the harsh light transitions into a warm glow revealing a gradient of discrete, jagged layers of earth created by the repeating buttes and mesas formed by the wandering Colorado. The palette stretches from depths already black in shadow, swatch by swatch, to the raw intensity of the sun before repeating, softly mirrored in the clouds.

Photos were taken from the Desert View Outlook, Grandview Trail, and Page Spring Spur off Redwall Trail. It’s recommended to begin at first light to avoid the worst of the midday heat. Learn more at nps.gov

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Mapped: Hike Breakneck Ridge Trail + Visit Dia:Beacon

Breakneck Ridge to Dia:Beacon route on Google Maps.

In the penultimate train car, at 10am on a Saturday, I rose to my feet eager for the next stop. As we approached it became clear that I was not the only New Yorker trading the city for the woods on this weekend in September. The leaves had yet to begin to turn, but the sweet smell of fall was already lingering on the morning’s perfect, cool, crisp air. As the train slowed to a stop, a queue of roughly 75 hikers formed between the last two train cars. Two by two we hopped down onto the wooden Breakneck Ridge platform and reflexively took a deep breath while looking up from forest to partly cloudy sky.

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