My Walk in the Woods...

There was a time when I hiked the Sierra's many times over the course of a summer. It seems like just yesterday. But gathering my gear for this trip it was obvious that life has taken me elsewhere for the last several years.

A few weeks ago, I finally returned. Considering the wave of comfort that coddled me during my trip, I wonder why I stayed away for so long.

Returning to the dusty trail, the peppered granite and snowy peaks was like a trip home to visit Mom. One should do it more often to get caught up.

Entering John Muir Wilderness

Our trek took us to the John Muir Wilderness, Big Pine Lakes area of the Eastern Sierra.


Like any time you've been away for so long, there were a few things different this time around. Some observations:

There are many more hikers doing overnights and the guys and I hashed out a theory.

The hiking season is particularly concentrated this year. With last winters epic snow fall, nothing was hike-able during late Spring. Or early Summer. Finally around mid summer most areas became hike-able, so everyone is on trail at the same time.


Third Lake

Temple Crag and First Lake.


Additionally I think a decade of savvy marketing, lighter weight gear, internet 'how-to-where-to" websites and videos, push would-be hikers to give it a shot.

This in itself isn't necessarily all bad. Americas wilderness needs a new generation of champions. Of those who discover it, a percentage will cherish it and fight to protect it. Hopefully with both activism and dollars.

Of course, everyone has a different opinion on what should be allowed out there, but that argument is a lesser priority than making sure that what is left gets the protection it needs for future generations.


Third Lake

Sixth Lake and the lucious greenery growing in the drainage coming down from Seventh Lake.


I also noticed that new generation is fragmented. There are the ultra-minimalist-super-fast-high-mileage-fly-weight guys who are doing the trails like they are in the fast lane of the freeway.

And in contradiction there are others that are not interested in ticking off the miles, but in having as many new and modern solar-powered-carbon-fiber-wireless-bluetooth gadgets as possible to make sure their wilderness experience isn't much different from their back yard. Or couch.

In general neither is offensive to me, if wilderness etiquette is observed by all. But even so, a few moments took me by surprise. And disgust.

Like the ultra distance runner, who upon passing descending hikers (including me) neither made way or even looked up to see if there were others that needed to share the trail.

Head down, charging up the mountain, he clipped my pack and gave me a bit of a spin in the wrong direction. The trail seemed to be his personal training ground for a biggest-jerk record. A gold medal to you, sir. 


Third Lake

Mt. Sill left, at about 14+ thousand ft. and a cairn at about 14 inches. The snowy area behind is the Palisades glacier, of which was our destination. The final third of the trek has no trail so to speak. One must traverse snow fields & boulder fields following cairns placed along the way to guide you. Above, a beautifully constructed cairn. The final one before reaching the glacier.


In the most egregious example of selfishness, I'm sorry to report that drones are now making there way to your favorite wilderness get-away. Yes folks, those noisy flying robots with high intensity flashing lights

Around 5am, I rustled from my tent to answer natures call. In the slim dawn light, I stumbled to my favorite bush. Tee-shirt, underwear, sneakers. That's about it.

I started hearing raised voices in the form of whoops and hollars from a group down along lake side from our area. Which, just the fact that people can't respect the peace and quiet of an early morning in by the lake, was really pissing me off. All pun intended.

But then, the giant mosquito noise and flashing red lights made its entrance from the tree tops. What? A drone? Omg, no way.

There's no such thing as a drone with out a video camera and here I am doing my business with this thing flying overhead.

At 5am.
Miles from civilization.
While taking a wiz.

Appalling is too soft of a word to describe my frustration.


Third Lake

Fifth Lake and Mt. Robinson. Mt Sill, seen to the left has the rounded top.


Sort of funny though, how others in my group reacted to this news later that morning. No ill will amoung them:

"Really? I must have slept right through it". "Oh yeah? Was it a Quattro-Copter x-9/5000? It got 5 stars on Amazon". "Wow, I'll bet it got some killer video". (Um..I hope not.)

Huh. I stand alone in my outrage.

Luckily and for whatever reason, the loud group and it's snoopy flying robot all died down quickly and I was able to catch another few hours sleep.


Third Lake

The nightly view from our base camp at Third Lake. The mighty Temple Crag stands tall and reports back the final rays of the day before handing over the sky to the Milky Way.


But these run-ins didn't ruin the visit to my family of mountains, streams and big trees.

The sheer magnitude of the surrounding beauty and the euphoria it brings is no match for a dumb guy and his noisy toy. Or a pushy passing of a trail runner.

With these trips, life in the wilderness is short, concentrated and rich. Hiking rarely allows anger. The act itself forces these things from your mind and you really have no choice than to be a happy camper.


Third Lake

Me and Russ on the snow fields during our trek to the glacier.  The air was warm, the snow was soft, spirits were high.


On another note, I have been listening to "The Trail Show" ( and their discussion of today's hikers as more consumers of wilderness, than say, stewards of it.

In decades past there were more volunteers to do trail work, maintenance, mapping, being a trail angel or SAR (Search and Rescue). 

It got me thinking of all the times that I've hiked vs. all the times I've volunteered my time to make hiking a better experience for the rest.

For me, it's a woefully low ratio. Something to consider next summer. Along with, of course, a return visit to my Sierra family.


At basecamp

The gang welcomes you to base camp.  Photo by Russ Babbitz.


If you have thoughts, opinions or feedback, comments are highly encouraged.  The comment password is:  life is good

Comments (10) -

Elizabeth O'Keefe
Elizabeth O'Keefe 7/29/2017 2:35:35 PM

Amazingly beautiful photos!


Thank you! Good photo's are so easy up there!

Chuck Shanks
Chuck Shanks 7/30/2017 3:21:36 AM

Surprise!!! I'm still alive and have been thinking about the Sierras all summer. How was the trail up Big Pine Creek? Oh how I long to catch a Kern River Rainbow and a hot springs soak. Right now I'm emerging from a year and a half long depression after being forced into retirement. What can I say, too old and no skills for today's job market. Living off social security in Port Charlotte, FL. and shopping boats for the next adventure, which may bring me back to LA as I've gotten very good at growing my own. Anyone up for the JMT next year?


Wow, hey Chuck it's great to hear from you.  The trail up to the lakes was fairly dry with a few wet spots from high running creeks. Nothing major.

JMT: Well it's on my 'wish list' but nothing more than that right now. Haven't you already done this already?  Perhaps you could pick up a little scratch as a guide Smile

Anyway, epic snow fall this past winter - that is the big story for the Sierra's this summer. Too much snow left over, trail and cabin damage everywhere an flooding.

Keep in touch, and be well!


Wonderful heartfelt account.  Sad to hear the drone have arrived. Thanks for sharing.


Thanks for the nice comment.  Not going to let one drone-jerk ruin memories of such a great trip Smile


I can remember hauling up one of the origanal round fishing float tubes over bishop pass. We were the first guys to ever float tube the high siearra lakes. I can remember passing an old timer climber with ropes and helmet. He look at us like, what the hell are you bring up here? He though we were looking for gold or going to an old plane crash. I can only imagine what he thought when he found out it was for fly fishing.

Awe, mom looks great. Nice pics of her. I truly miss her and  wished I lived closer. So many years in her fields and passes. I hear there taking electric bikes up there now!

There's a trail called The Bitch. Yup, it's even printed on maps. It's a 5000ft drop into the upper kings river. I've been down and up it. I doubt those drone people are not there.

Thanks once again for a great read on a Sunday morning with coffee in bed.



Hey Tony, glad this post sparked some memories. Funny how the Sierra's nearly guarantee a good time.  It's a special place.  Thanks for sharing your stories!


It's a very special place. I hope that when i pass my soul goes there first.

Add comment

  Country flag

  • Comment
  • Preview