Meteors in the Wilderness

Kennedy Meadows to Ridge Lake (October 20, 2012)

Kennedy Meadow

Kennedy Meadows

Emgrant Wilderness

Kennedy Meadows was a picturesque scene, a mountain stream running through the meadow with patches of colorful fall Aspen dotting the hill sides.

We started up the trail from Kennedy Meadows towards Granite Dome at 8:00 am. On the drive up we had joked that our bear encounters were increasing in significance; seeing more tracks more often, then driving up on a bear crossing the road during our last trip to Ansel Adams Wilderness. It could be this trip that we get our first in-person encounter. Sure enough, about a half mile up the trail I spotted a large animal lumbering through the trees about 30 yards ahead. It was a large brown bear!

Bright yellow Aspen dot the slopes around Relief Resevior

Bright yellow Aspen dot the slopes around Relief Reservoir

After stopping to watch the bear run off into the woods, we continued hiking. The trail climbed along the side of a deep ravine with water crashing below. Above the ravine we began traversing a ridge that took us past Relief Reservoir. Here, the slopes were dotted with more patches of bright yellow Aspen.

As we continued past Relief Reservoir towards Saucer Meadows we heard a loud rustle in the trees. We looked over to see a brown bear tumble out of a tree, run up the slope, then climb up another tree. A second bear! And again, not 30 yards away!

Aspen GroveContinuing on, we stopped for lunch a little after noon. We were a short distance from where we would be getting off the main trail to head towards Ridge Lake at the base of Granite Dome’s north face.

We left the main trail about halfway between the trail split after Relief Reservoir and Sheep Camp. After leaving the trail, we made our way up steep granite slab. This significantly reduced our pace.

Moving across the granite slab took some navigation skills as our landmarks kept disappearing behind the ridge lines as we moved. But we knew the general direction we needed to go, and kept moving.

First view of Granite Dome

First look at Granite Dome

As we approached the first pass, we spotted several cairns that led us up and over as the rock became steeper. From the top of the pass we got our first look at the summit of Granite Dome. It looked far away and our path was not a strait one. We first had to get to Ridge Lake before heading around the lake to access the dome’s eastern slope. It was now 2:00pm and we realized that we would probably not be making it to the summit today.

After cresting two more ridges, we finally spotted the lake. The shadow of Granite Dome had already shrouded half the lake in shade as the daylight began to fade. We decided to camp here and try for the summit in the morning.

View from camp of Granite Dome towering over Ridge Lake

View from camp of Granite Dome towering over Ridge Lake

With camp set and a mountain blocking out half the sky I pulled out my star gazing app to figure out if we would be able to see Orion tonight. Tonight would be the peak of the Orionids meteor shower and we had hoped to have an unobstructed view of the sky from the summit. Fortunately, Orion’s path would have it high in the sky for our viewing pleasure! In addition to Orion’s placement, we had an almost new moon keeping the sky dark. All that was left to hope for was a cloud free night…

3:00 AM

The night was windy, but the sky was clear and Orion was high above. We watched the sky for about an hour and were treated to quite the show! There were streaks of light crossing the sky every minute!

Shooting star over Granite Dome (photo credit: Paul)

Shooting star over Granite Dome (photo credit: Paul)

By 4am it was time to get back in the sleeping bag and warm up. In a few hours it would be time to hike again.

Granite Dome (October 21, 2012)

Morning came quickly. By 7am we were up making breakfast. We had decided to take day packs to the summit and grab the tent on the way out.

Heading east around the cliffs of Granite Dome’s north face. This path was more boulder scrambling that the previous day. Progress was slow. After cresting several ridges, we finally got a view of where we had to go to get around the cliffs. It was still a ways off, and with clouds starting to roll in, we decided to head back to the cars.

View from the approach to Granite Dome

View from the approach to Granite Dome

The return trip was fairly uneventful other than passing a pair of hikers heading into the wilderness. We were back at the car by 4:30pm.

Back in Oakland (October 22, 2012)

I took a look at the weather report for Emigrant. It had snowed several inches over night with 80mph winds and more snow in line for today and Sonora Pass was closed. I think it was a good thing we turned around when we did!

See more photos HERE!

Leaving Emigrant

Leavitt Meadows to Long Lakes, September 16-18, 2011

After far to much time nestled in the crowded metropolis of the Bay Area, it was time to escape to the warming embrace of the wilderness. This trip was put together by my good friend Paul. The initial destination was to be somewhere within Yosemite National Park. After studying the red tape that is the permit system, we decided to set our sites on the surrounding national forests. Leavitt Meadows was suggested to Paul by a friend from his days as a Corn Husker.

The Route:

Starting at the Leavitt Meadows trailhead on the east side of Sonora Pass on CA highway 108, the trail follows the West Walker River south to Tower Lake.

Friday, September 16th:

Having to first survive the day at the lab, Paul, Herman and I met up at my place in the late afternoon to do a quick pack shakedown and add my food supply to Paul’s bear canister. Then we took a short ride across town to pick up Ulrike, and we were on our way! After minimal traffic and a pit stop at In’n Out, we rolled into the trailhead campground at about 11pm. The air was brisk, and we called it a night after a few star gazing moments.

Saturday, September 17th:

Leavitt Meadows

The goal of this trip was to get out of civilization and have a relaxing trip to the woods. With this as the mindset, we got up shortly after sunrise with out the aid of the incessant scream of an alarm. The morning air was cool and refreshing, maybe about 40F, but warmed quickly as the sun peeked over the ridge line. After a quick breakfast and filling out the necessary wilderness permits at the trail head, we were on our way!

Brrrr, that water is cold!!! Not quite August in Nebraska...

As we continued our stroll, the trail slowly climbed along the base of a ridge line from the trail head at about 6,500ft and passed several beautiful mountain lakes and eventually bringing us to the bank of the West Walker River. After following the river for several miles, our stomachs began to beckon for something a little more substantial than Cliff bars and GORP. About that time we also happened across a side trail to Hidden Lake. That sounded like a great place to have lunch, but after a knee deep river crossing that almost got the best of Paul, we decided the river bank would be as nice a picnic area as any.


After lunch and another chilly river crossing, we continued on our way to Fremont Lake. The trail continued to follow the river which continually changed from narrow fast moving rapids to wide still pools. The trail was well worn, and was littered with evidence of heavy use by four-legged steeds (it was a horse trail after all), but as we walked we turned the corner into a pack animal of a different breed! As we stepped aside, one of the hikers that the llamas were leading down the trail (cause you know its only an illusion orchestrated by the animals that people are in control) asked us where we were heading. We said, “Oh, just heading up to Fremont Lake.” Without hesitation, the hiker responded with what sounded like a scoff, “Hm, Good luck…” After they passed we looked at each other a bit surprised… we were under the impression that we were only about a mile from the lake!

After double checking the map, we decided that they must not have meant that we would be lucky to get there. Sure enough, after a shot time longer we reached Fremont Lake.

Our first view of Fremont Lake

Hermann, Ulrika and Paul take in the sights

While the trail was pretty sparsely populated, we immediately noticed the sounds of people drifting across the lake. After lounging for a bit, we decided that it was still early, so we would continue on down the trail rather than setting up camp here. So we set off towards Long Lakes.

This stretch of trail brought us away from the river and climbed up the ridge towards Long Lakes. As the light began to fad, we came to Lower Long Lake (~8,600ft) and decided that it was time to call it a day and set up camp. There were several flat grassy areas nestled in the rocks around the lake, so we took our choice, set up camp and as the sun began to set and the temperature began to drop, we busted out the hot drinks!

Camp at Lower Long Lake

91 octane!

A little Irish coffee...

A little spiced cider...

Sunday, September 18th:

Paul takes in the morning sights

The morning brought frosty tents and crisp air. We decided over breakfast that we would continue along the trail to complete a loop around Upper and Lower Long Lakes. The previous day had brought us about half way around, so the loop wouldn’t add any milage, but would allow us to see a few miles of new trail rather than back tracking the whole day.

As we neared the trail intersection that would start us back to the car, we paused to shed some layers and much on some bars and saw two older hikers heading by. They had some space between them and the lead hiker passed through the trail intersection without hesitation. When the second came to the intersection moments later we heard him call out, “Hey! Do you have the map!” With a response of, “Yea!” they continued on down the trail without consulting the map…

Ulrike taking in the beauty of the American country side in person

We picked up the trail that would lead us back to the car and it descended down the valley meeting up with the river we had followed for much of the day before. It was much smaller now, as we were several miles closer to its beginning. As we followed the river through the valley it slowly began to grow. We followed it to a field where Ulrike noted that “this is the picturesque American landscape.” Or at least closely resembling the photos of the American frontier she knows from Germany. As we continued through the field we made our last river crossing. This time Paul, having

Paul and Hermann fording the river... No oxen were lost, though Paul nearly got pneumonia.

learned from his close encounter with a cold and unexpected bath, as well as the wisdom of Hermann, had acquired a walking stick to aid in his journey through the depths. This crossing went a lot smoother than the previous ones.

Shortly after we leaving the field we came across a man leaning against a downed tree fixing some gatorade. He had been out for 6 days, and said we were the first people he had seen in 5 days! That’s a long time to go without talking to someone, definitely longer than I’ve ever gone. Yet what my mind was more focused on than this man’s recent lack of human contact, was why had he not seen the older hiker pair who were not far ahead of us…


As we continued on, the trail briefly ventured away from the river to make a rocky descent further into the valley. While on our descent, we had to step aside to make room for a few noble steeds complete with cowboy. When they passed us again on their way out we attempted to thumb-a-ride, but alas, they were not going where we needed to go.

Further down the trail, we decided that the cool water of a lake would be a nice finishing touch to a great weekend adventure (not to mention clean us up a little before the long drive back). We paused for a while for a dip in Roosevelt lake. The water was cool and refreshing. As we sat on a rock,drying off before heading on, we noticed a bunch of crayfish wandering around the rocks in the lake. We figure our quick dip must have stirred up a good afternoon snack for the little guys.

Sad to see the trip coming to an end, we took in a few last sights before arriving back at the car. It was a perfect weekend for a quick break from reality!

The crew takes a final look before hiking out to the car

Paul showing of his packing skills. Great job planning this trip dude!

More photos can be found on Flickr

Technology on the Trail:

On this trip I did a little technological experiment. Rather than using my usual point-and-shoot camera, I took all my pictures using my iPhone in order to capture the GPS tags that locate the pics with the places feature. Here is the result…

Photo GPS tags in iPhoto