Monday, April 7, 2014

The Best Thing About Memories...Is Making Them


Nothing gives me more joy than having the privilege of sharing my passion for backpacking with my daughter.  I am truly a lucky man to have daughter who can see the same beauty I see when I am exploring our local mountains.

When a friend of mine posted that he was taking his daughter to Third Stream Crossing, I jumped at the chance and asked my daughter if she wanted to go.  Originally, the plan was to stay home and watch TV while she, most likely, will be playing games on her smart phone all day long.  I responded to my friend and said that I'm 50/50 and that I will let him know if I was going or not.

Thursday evening, coming home from work, not even dropping my laptop bag, I hear my daughter from the bedroom, 

"Daddy! I want to go backpacking with you this weekend!".  Do you even realize how that's music to my ears? 

"Are you sure?", I said.

"Yes, I want to go...I already picked out the stuffed animals I'm bringing", she excitedly said.

Warning her I said, "Ok, well, I'm letting everyone know that we're going to be can't back out last minute"

"I won't, I want to go...", she replied.

After hearing this, I couldn't stand to wait another day but I knew that like me, she's decided to go and she's not going to change her mind.

Friday, after arriving home from work, I start packing our things and make a trip to the store to grab last minute provisions.

6:00 AM Saturday morning, I walk into the bedroom and my daughter opens her eyes and she smiles..

"Time to get up baby, it's time for our adventure", I whispered.

Eyes barely open, warmly tucked under her a soft voice she says, "Yaaaaay!"

Bags all loaded, we leave the house by 6:45 to meet our other friends and caravan to the Lytle Creek Ranger Station.  However, before we do, a quick stop for breakfast at McDonald's was in order.

She will need all the energy she can get...Pancakes, Sausage, and OJ should do the trick.  Next stop, the ranger station where we meet the rest of the crew.  

My daughter gets to meet her hiking buddy for the first time at the station...they hit it off almost instantly and become inseparable.

Shortly after the quick meet and greet at the Ranger Station, we head on to the Middle Fork Trailhead where our hike would start

The weather was really good this past weekend.  High 50's, bright sun, and short kisses of wind made the hike tolerable for the kids.  The first mile of this hike is unshaded and during the summer time, if hiked then, the kids would have lost their energy quick.  

Eager to start, the girls lead and take point while we take the rear.  We had beautiful weather for this hike...clear blue skies with patches of clouds. On some sections, you can also see portions of the mountain tops where snow still remained.  After the first mile or so, we hit the shaded portion of the would remain this way for the most part till we reach camp.

The girls were having a great time though the Dad's we're anxious to get to camp.  I know I was, the pack I had on my back wasn't getting any lighter.  We encouraged our girls to keep going...

"We're almost there baby, you're doing really great!", I praised.

Not sure how long it took us to hike the 2.3 miles to camp but we didn't care.  It was gratifying enough to be able to spend time with my daughter in my place of Zen as opposed to sitting on a bench at the mall.

A few turns and a couple of switchbacks later, we arrive at the stream crossing to our camp.

At this point, our group was already at camp.  Both girls are tired and they just want to drop their packs, explore, and play.  

"Baby, go ahead and drop your pack while I look for a place to setup"

"Ok...Daddy, can I get my stuffed animals out of my pack now?", she asked.

" about you wait for a minute until I setup our tent ok?", I replied.

We found a flat-enough spot close away from the stream with enough trees to break any winds for the evening.  

Not long after setting up, the girls unpack themselves and bring out their toys and rest for a bit.

Knowing how hungry she is from the hike, I cook up some Mac 'n' Cheese with Meatballs for our lunch.  

Tip: If you want to take your kids with you on a backpacking trip...bring lots of sugar and try to pack foods that they normally eat at home.  

photo by: marvin m.
After our lunch, our group decides to head to the waterfalls nearby. I promised my daughter a nice waterfall...this was one of the main reasons why I wanted her to join me on this hike.

The hike to the falls from where we are can be tough enough for adults.  I knew it would be a challenge for an 8 year old who has never had to scramble over rocks.  Undeterred, my daughter was game.  

Climbing at least three-tiers and who knows how many rocks, we made it to the falls.  The look on their faces totally makes for this trip.  I remember doing this hike 2 years ago and how much I wished I could have shared what I saw with someone...I was finally had the chance and I couldn't have asked for a better person to share this with than my daughter.

We spent a few minutes here to take photos and play.  I was really proud of my daughter on this trip.  For the first time, she carried her pack all on her own! Not once did she ask for me to take the pack.  To date, this is one of her most difficult hikes she's done with me.

After enjoying the falls, we all head back down to camp.  At camp, the girls continue to explore and's nice that the two girls were on this hike together and it was also great they just hit it off from the start!

Nighttime falls and the cold comes in.  Dinner and dessert for the kids...then time for bed.  A day full of activities that I hope my daughter will remember.  I hope that she does indeed love the woods as much as I do.  My fear is that as she grows and matures, she may lose interest in backpacking with this old man...I hope she doesn't.

The following morning, the same smile greets me just like the morning before.  I cook up some pancakes for her and soon we pack up.  Sad to leave only because I truly enjoyed my time with her this weekend.  I've taken her on other trips but this one was special.  I can't put my finger on it but this...this was something else.

On the hike out, both girls take point as they did the day before and the Dad's follow closely behind.  They stop every now and then to look at things that interest them both...pine cones, rocks, even a mistletoe.  

We arrive at our cars, tired and hungry but full from adventure.  I truly hope that my daughter had much fun as I did on this trip.  

As always, I appreciate you all reading my ramblings...

If you have a chance to share your passion with someone dear to it.

Till next time....see you on the trails.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Views, Views, and more Views at Windy Gap Trail


Ahhh...the Windy Gap Trail. When I discovered that Crystal Lake was actually closer to me as opposed to Islip Saddle Parking Lot, I jumped at the chance to hike to Little Jimmy from Crystal Lake (Windy Gap Trail).  As usual, I am joined by a couple of friends on this hike.

Windy Gap Trail to Little Jimmy is actually a longer hike with more of an elevation gain compared to the approach from Islip Saddle.  I was open to the challenge and to be honest, I was quite excited.  I haven't hiked from this side before and I was looking forward to seeing this trail.

We had perfect weather for this hike and it was needed since this trail does not have much shade and if hiked during a warm day, this could prove to be more difficult that it is.

We had a late start for this hike and we didn't mind since the weather was nice and cool...the sun wouldn't have an affect on us for this hike.  The first section of the trail was nice and shaded until you get passed the first road crossing...from this point, the ascent starts.

It's amazing when you look ahead towards your destination from the valley below.  From my point of view, I didn't believe that the saddle was only 3 miles from where we started.  This will, however, soon pass...the views from this side of the mountain is nothing short of beautiful.

The hike to the saddle was picturesque and the views appeared endless.  The panorama we were granted helped keep our minds off the difficulty of the elevation gain.  It's also nice to have people around you that you naturally have great conversations with...time seems to pass rather quickly.

One more switch back to go and the saddle was within reach.  From this point, we cross the PCT...a quick map check and we saw that we were close to Little Jimmy.

We push the last half mile (or less) to camp.  I was actually quite surprised to see how much snow was left on the ground considering how warm it has been.  This is also gave me chilling flashbacks of when I had to run for rescue to get assistance for someone who couldn't hike out - this will be for another story.

Our other friends who came from Islip Saddle were at camp at this point.  We decided to pitch above camp overlooking Antelope Valley.  Views were amazing facing north as well.

Seeing how beautiful the views are, my friend Pete talked us into walking to Islip so we can enjoy a 360 degree view of where we are.  It was absolutely beautiful...

That evening, the real social networking begins...gathered around a fire, we enjoy a few drinks, good food, great conversation...and a movie.  Yes, you read that right...we watched a projected movie.  I wonder if we can even consider this a backpacking trip.

11:00PM, the few left retire to our individual tents.  With temperatures down to 36 degrees, we looked forward to the warmth of our bags and a good nights sleep.

Slow to rise the following morning and after having our fill of coffee and oatmeal, we say our "goodbyes" and "see you later" to everyone and we head back down Windy Gap Trail...looking forward to a real breakfast at Crystal Lake Cafe.

Breakfast at the Cafe was quite tasty and I would recommend it to anyone in the area.  On a sad note, seeing as this was my first time at Crystal Lake, I was really looking forward to meeting Bubba the sad I didn't.

Anyway, if the weather is cool and the skies are're guaranteed an awesome hike via Windy Gap...I would definitely recommend it.

Till next time...see you on the trails.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What to bring on an overnight adventure

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In the coming weeks, I will be participating on a "Mentor Hike" where we, experienced backpackers are paired with a beginner backpacker. I wouldn't say I'm "experienced" but I can say that I have had my own share of scares on the trail and I was once responsible for searching for a SAR team to get someone off a mountain - this post, however, will not be about that.

I can still remember my first backpacking and how miserable I was carrying so much unnecessary weight to a point that I did not enjoy my first backpacking experience. Unhealthy, overweight, and burdened by a heavy pack was not my idea of a good time.  I always wished that I was first shown the ropes and covered the basics of what to bring.  I believe that if given that opportunity, my first trip experience would have been entirely different. 

My evolution from 2011 to 2013
NOTE: The photo above (L) carrying a 55 pound pack for an overnight trip and (R) 2 years later, an 18 pound pack for a 3-Day trip in the Sierra Nevada.

I don't plan on discussing "Ultralight" backpacking and I don't plan on covering costs but my hope is that this article will still help you determine what to pack for your first backpacking trip.  

Please note that the gear I am covering below is rated 3-season for temps that range in the 30's and up.  This gear mentioned will not cover snow and off-trail travel - this is meant for on-trail travel on established trails.  

Let begin!  


Before we talk about gear, let's discuss first what to wear.  Ideally, you want to avoid wearing cotton. When cotton gets wet, it ceases to insulate you because the fabric fills up with water. When you hike, you perspire,  and any cotton clothing touching your skin will absorb your sweat like a sponge.  It is best to avoid any garments that contain cotton or a blend of cotton.  Instead, wear clothing made from synthetic materials or merino wool. These materials basically allow for moisture wicking and some like wool, can be virtually stink-proof.  

For more information:

Items I personally wear on hikes consists of:

  • A short-sleeved synthetic hiking shirt
  • (Or) A long-sleeved synthetic light polo
  • Hat
  • A pair of pants or shorts
  • A pair of synthetic/wool hiking socks
  • Shoes w/ good traction (some opt for boots for ankle support)
  • Trekking poles (not pictured)
  • Sunglasses (not pictured)

Other items you may want to have on-hand while hiking may be some electronic device for taking photos, GPS tracking (as seen on the photo above).  These days, most smartphones have the ability to do multiple tasks like track your route and take photos - I included these devices next to the clothing photo above because I have these devices accessible at all time.


Now, on to the meat and potatoes...let's talk about the "Big 3" items.  The big 3 items basically are your:

  • Pack
  • Tent/Shelter
  • Sleeping Bag + Sleeping Pad

These main 3 items will allow you to (1) carry your gear (2) have a place to sleep and (3) have something to keep you warm and comfortable when you sleep.

Big 3 Items

Next on the list, essentials. These items consists of:

  • Map and Compass
  • A knife
  • Headlamp/Flashlight
  • Lighter - or other firestarter
  • Mylar Blanket (not pictured)
  • Whistle (not pictured)
  • First Aid Kit - this can be either purchased as a whole or can me custom made per preference
  • Toiletries (wipes, toothbrush/toothpaste, etc.)

More info on First Aid Kits can be found here:

The first aid kit I personally have (pictured left) is something I customized myself. I just have your simple burn cream, antibiotic cream, a variety of bandages is different sizes, advil plus other prescription meds I may have, and some fabric tape or duct tape.  Pictured on right, is my headlamp, knife, map and compass - very important items.  I never venture to the wild without at least my map and compass.  I always like to know where I am going and how I am going to exit.  Prior to any trip I take, I always plan my route before-hand. Trail research is neither difficult or is necessary! 

NOTE: It is important to notify people you know prior to an outdoor adventure. Always let them know when they can expect a call upon your return and provide them with information on where you are going.  As Louis Pasteur once said "Chance favors the prepared mind"...


Moving on, it is important to also bring clothing that you will need to keep you warm and protect you from possible rain and wind.

For most overnight trips, I like to bring:

  • A wind shirt - also waterproof for rain protection
  • A down jacket - to wear around camp when it gets cold and also to sleep in
  • A rain poncho (not pictured) - additional rain protection

If you do not own a down jacket, you can also bring a fleece sweater/jacket as an alternative.  Fleece as a fabric has very good thermal properties that continue to keep you warm even when slightly damp.  

Next, sleepwear. I like to bring a change of clothes to use when I sleep.  I happen to like keeping my sleeping bag as clean as possible and this can be achieved by having a change of clothes.

Typically sleep clothing I bring:

  • A pair of long-johns - to keep my legs warm
  • An extra pair of wool socks
  • A capilene long-sleeve shirt (not pictured)
  • Beanie - to keep my head warm
  • A bandana - multi-use item
  • A big headnet - in case it's buggy.
  • A pair of gloves to keep my hands warm
NOTE: Depending on weather conditions, there are a few items listed above that I do not bring.  Again, prior trail research will aid in my decision on what I should and shouldn't bring.  This is easy to determine especially on an overnight trip.


On to my favorite part of backpacking...FOOD! When you're out in the woods away from the nearest store, it is important to plan your menu carefully.  You have to determine how much calories you will burn during the hike and figure out how much food you will need to replenish your body with the lost calories.  

On a simple overnight, you will need to plan for:

  • Snacks - to be eaten during and after the hike
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Breakfast - what you want to eat when you wake up

Keep in mind, the weight of the food you're carrying.  It is a good idea to bring caloric-dense food, food that packs a punch and will provide you with the lost calories as well as fill your stomach.  

Here's a good comprehensive list of food along with calorie information (not my list, found on

Aside from the food you bring, you may also want the ability to cook and/or heat something up for a warm drink. Most backpackers will bring a cook pot and stove system for their cooking needs. Pictured above on the right is a Jetboil system - this is an all-in-one system that provides you will a stove, pot, and a cup to fill most of your cooking needs (spoon and fuel separate).  

Another consideration is also where to store your food plus other smelly items.  Having a bag or container to store your food is also a good idea. If using a bag/stuff sack for food storage, it is important to bring at least 50 feet of cord to hang your food.  One can also opt to bring a bear canister to store food overnight.

NOTE: When storing food either via hanging or use of a canister, it is a good idea to keep the food at least 200 feet away from where you are sleeping.  This is also the case for cooking and food away as possible from your shelter.   

Now that we have talked about food in general, let's discuss water treatment.  On most wilderness destinations, clean water is not as readily available.  One has to be prepared to treat the water.  Below is a list of water treatment options:

  • UV (Steripen) - pictured above
  • Bleach - purifies water
  • Filter - depending on the filter, this can purify and/or treat water
  • Boil - when none of the above are available, boiling works best

For more information on water treatment options:

NOTE: You will need the ability to store water either by bringing a water bottle or soft water bottle (pictured above).

I hope that you find this short and simple guide helpful.  I am always open to suggestions and if you feel I am missing important key items, please feel free to comment.

Till next time, see you on the trails!