Preparing for a Wrangell-St. Elias Backpacking Trip

The average person has never heard of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in southeast Alaska, even though it is six times larger than Yellowstone National Park, sizing in at a mere 13 million acres. The sheer size of Wrangell-St. Elias makes it the largest national park in the United States and one of the most prized backpacking bucket list adventures in the world.

Preparing to backpack Wrangell-St. Elias can be daunting. The size, the remoteness, the logistics, and the unknown may be too much for a backpacker who is ready to take it up a level in epic backpacking. But let me assure you that, outside of the logistics of planning this multi-day adventure being a bit challenging, you can do a Wrangell trip with the right mindset going into it.

MINDSET

I feel like we had a bit of an advantage, having backpacked for a week in the backcountry of Denali a few years prior. Even though they were relatively different trips, we knew that Alaska could throw any and every challenge and obstacle at you throughout the week. Leading up to this trip I just kept saying, “Backpacking Alaska is 90% mental and 10% everything else.” It may be a little exaggerated, but trust me, you will do yourself a huge favor if you go in with the mindset that there will be times when you will be cold, wet, tired, sore, and frustrated (of course, everyone at different degrees), but you get the point. Go into Wrangell-St. Elias with the right mindset. This is the best advice anyone can give you. If you expect a difficult trip with obstacles, you have already taken a huge step.

LOGISTICS

Before you do anything else, go to the website of Wrangell Mountain Air. They offer a variety of services, but for our purposes, they fly backpackers into the Wrangell backcountry and drop them off at their specified drop point and then pick them up at their agreed upon end destination. Their website not only describes the different backcountry routes, it shows the areas where they have landing strips for the bush plane.  In essence, you will be backpacking from one landing zone to the next landing zone. You choose the route you will take and the number of days you are planning, just make sure you are at your pickup point on time.  After reading the description and discussing how many days we would be able spend in the backcountry, we chose the Seven Pass Route, which is listed as a trip from Iceberg to Bremner. After a bit of additional research, we decided to travel the opposite direction from Bremner to Iceberg. Once you agree upon the particular route you are going to take, I would suggest calling Wrangell Mountain Air and getting on the books for those dates, as it seems the activity in that area has been picking up over the last couple of years. It is an easy phone call. Just give them your info, your dates, and a 50% deposit and you are set. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park does not require any fees or permits. Yes, I know, that is amazing! But it’s true. All you have to worry about is getting there!

We flew into Anchorage, which was easy, but the real question is how to get to McCarthy, Alaska. It is a seven hour drive with the last hour or two on gravel road. I can tell you that after researching all of the options for getting to that area, the most flexible and cost-effective method is to just rent a vehicle, if you are cool with driving for seven hours. You will need to make sure that you rent an SUV with some heavy duty tires and a spare. I wouldn’t really anticipate any problems on the drive, as the roads (including the gravel) were actually pretty good. We didn’t have any situations over the seven hours in which we felt as if our tires would be compromised in any way. There are other ways of getting to the McCarthy area, but we found this to be the method that fit us the best. You may need to check with the rental company to make sure you can drive the vehicle on gravel roads, but we didn’t have any trouble getting a rental from National Car Rental.

We arrived into McCarthy one day before our trip was to start, which meant that we needed to have overnight accommodations. I highly, highly, highly recommend McCarthy Bed and Breakfast. We loved this place so much, we stayed another night after we finished the trip. This husband and wife team have a variety of little cabins that he built himself. For the four of us, we stayed in a two room, four bed cabin. The location was perfect, as well, as it was a ten minute walk to where we would be picked up by Wrangell Mountain Air the next day. Additionally, the bed and breakfast has an AMAZING breakfast consisting of homemade muffins (try the blueberry muffins!!!), greek yogurt, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, granola, cereal, good coffee, etc. It was the PERFECT pre-backpacking breakfast. All four of us highly recommend this B & B.

McCarthy is a very, very, very small community, consisting of no more than 50-70 people depending on the time of year. It is a simple, single dirt street with a variety of businesses lining the street. We recommend eating at a restaurant called Potato. I think we ate there two or three times. Make sure you order the Rosemary Garlic Fries!

The last logistical element that you need to consider is fuel canisters and bear spray. Being that you can not fly with either on commercial airlines, you will need to figure out how to secure them once in Alaska. To be honest, this was the hardest logistical task for us. We arrived in Anchorage and secured the rental vehicle about three hours before the REI in Anchorage opened and we did not want to waste time waiting for it to open. If you arrive in Anchorage during normal business hours, you can just go to REI. If you end up in a situation like us, you will need to do one of two things. Either order online ahead of time or buy the stuff in McCarthy. BUT I need to tell you that I would not wait until you arrive in McCarthy to but these items. I called a couple of the stores a couple of months in advance and they told me that they did not have fuel canisters or bear spray. But when we got to McCarthy one of the stores did have them. BUT I would NOT depend on them having what you need. Did I mention how small McCarthy is? If I understood correctly, the only have a supply plane bring in goods twice a week… and it isn’t guaranteed that they will have specifically what you need.

We ended up ordering both items online, which was tricky as well.  The ONLY online retailer who would ship fuel canisters and bear spray was walmart.com. Other online retailers would not ship combustible items to Alaska (maybe because they would have to be flown?).  Anyway, we asked Wrangell Mountain Air if we could have the items shipped to them and they agreed. The items arrived there about a month before. It worked perfectly.

GEAR

If you are planning for this trip to Wrangell-St. Elias, you should already be well-versed in how to pack for a trip with variable weather conditions, so I won’t go through the entire list. Here are a few things that you may just want to consider. If your trip, like ours, involves glacier crossings, you may want to consider getting some Katoolah micro-spikes. We did not end up using them, but I also slip one time and bruised up my ribs, so it is up to you. The glacier we crossed was non-technical so it didn’t involve any technical gear. If you are close to needing a new pair of boots, I would recommend going ahead getting new boots in advance and breaking them in before this trip. I had about 600 miles on my boots and the lugs were not as grippy as I would have liked for this trip. The terrain is tough and you really need to have a pair of boots that are dialed in and up to the challenge. Once we finished our trip, I retired my boots and bought some new ones. I can’t think of anything else that really stood out from a gear perspective. Maybe just make sure you have some lightweight dry bags in your pack with a dry pair of socks and thermal layer. If you get cold and everything else is weight, at least you will have some dry, warm gear. We also took an emergency satellite beacon that would check the weather, mark our route online for family, and text out if we needed to communicate. That came in handy for our trip, but more on that in a later post.

Those are the biggies, I think. If you have specific questions, just comment below and I will answer them the best I can. You will not regret this trip. It was definitely one of the top trips we have ever taken.

Here is the details and review of each day from Bremner to Iceberg Lake.

Day 1- Bremner to Monahan Creek

Day 2- Monahan Creek to Bremner Glacier Overlook

Day 3- Bremner Glacier Overlook to Bremner Glacier

Day 4- Bremner Glacier to Iceberg Overlook

Day 5- Iceberg Overlook to Iceberg Lake

Brandon

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Reblog: All Creation Sings

Hey lovers of the outdoors!

I wrote a new post on my other blog entitled All Creation Sings.  I recount a specific moment in Alaska when summiting Mt. Eielson when I saw Denali for the first time.  It is a faith post, so if that’s not your thing you may choose to disregard… but I thought you each would identify with the emotions that I share in the post.

Btw… I am heading to Wrangell St. Elias NP in Alaska at the beginning of August for a week in the wilderness.  New trip reports will be coming then.

Peace…

Brandon

California: John Muir Trail- Guitar Lake to Whitney Summit to Whitney Portal- Day 8

John Muir Trail- Guitar Lake to Whitney Summit to Whitney Portal

Mileage- 14.0 miles

Elevation Gain- 4022 feet

Elevation Loss- 7159 feet

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Our eighth, and last, day on the John Muir Trail in California took us from Guitar Lake to the Mt. Whitney Summit and then to a Whitney Portal exit… and this day was nothing short of a MONSTER. We knew this day was going to be long and grueling. Mentally we had been preparing for days, but I had never put in 14 miles with a pack nor had I ever tackled over 4000 feet of elevation (especially at the altitude…remember I am from 650 feet above sea level in INDIANA!) in a single hike. I am in above average physical condition and in pretty good hiking shape, but I am also over 40 and I recognize that 40 is a bit different than my 20’s and 30’s. I knew that I would be able pull of this day with no problem, but in the back of my mind I wondered how long it might take me. Once we had our gear prepped and everything in it’s place, we went to bed. We wouldn’t be summiting Whitney early enough to see the sunrise (and we were all cool with that), but we were awake and geared up before sunrise using our headlamps to guide our path.

The first half mile from Guitar Lake is harmless; it’s just positioning you for a series of twelve-ish switchbacks over a couple of miles. While the cool morning air at altitude was crisp and refreshing, it didn’t take long for the perspiration to make it’s first appearance. To be really honest, I don’t like elevation to start my day (hahaha). I prefer to have my morning coffee, which I didn’t get to have on this morning, and to begin with a nice leisurely hike. Anyway, this is not leisurely. It’s five miles of up. Five miles of up to the highest point in the lower 48, at that. But man, the views as the sun came up were something else. It was cool to look down on Guitar Lake and see how it got it’s name. The skies, again, were clear and a marvelous blue.

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At the top of the switchbacks is Discovery Pinnacle, which is the highest rock formation above the switchbacks.  It is close to this location where one can drop some gear and begin the final 1.9 mile climb to Whitney summit.  I took a few heavier items out of my pack (i.e. bear can, etc.) and left them at this location.  I still carried my pack with everything else in it.  I didn’t feel comfortable leaving all of my gear and pack at this location.  There were just so many people passing that a person could potentially pick through your pack.  I didn’t think, however, that they would be interested in my heavier junk so I left that stuff there.  The trail hugs a ridge line with impressive views both eastward and westward.  The jutting rocks formations and the perfectly placed Tetris rocks were equally awe inspiring.

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It is a beautiful sight when the Survey Hut comes into view. This is where you can sign the Mt. Whitney trail registry. The other guys were ahead of us and Ryan and I were a bit winded. We decided to chuck the packs at this point behind some rocks. Our logic was that if someone wanted to steal our heavy packs and lug them all the way out, they could have them. We picked up the pace and headed to the top. My watch had been calculating the oxygen level throughout the previous days and I was really curious to see how it would register as we approached 14,500. You can see the picture below… 57% of the oxygen level that a person would have at sea level. I could feel it for sure.

When I got to the top it was a really emotional experience that I am not sure I can adequately put into words. All of the months of days prepping, studying, and working out. The long, strenuous days that tried us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The inability to see or speak to our families for eight days. The beauty of this glorious creation day after day that left me in awe and completely speechless. The accomplishment, the achievement, of fighting through adversity to top Mt. Whitney. The view from the highest point in the lower 48 with great friends. And then for my phone to hit a signal… and texts and voicemails from my family to begin pouring in… telling me that they miss me… and love me. My God, it all came together and I cried. What a beautiful, wonderful life. I don’t take any of it for granted.

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And as much as I wish our trip ended on top of Mt. Whitney, the reality was that we had close to ten more miles of hiking down over 7100 feet. Did you get that? Do you understand that? 7100 feet! When we hiked Grand Canyon… that was close to a mile (5200 feet) down. This was a gargantuan dive. In fact, there is a series of switchbacks that I called “Death by a Million Switchbacks,” because they never end. I promise you have never done that many switchbacks in your life. All I can tell you is that we got in a zone and just went for it. I took a few pictures, but I was so focused on getting to the parking lot at Whitney Portal I didn’t take any time for anything (except pumping water one time where the trail crosses Lone Pine Creek). If you don’t have an opportunity to hike the entire John Muir Trail, let me recommend this eight or nine day hike from Bishop to LeConte to Whitney Summit. Make it a bucket list trip and resolve to do it while you have the legs. You won’t regret it.

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California: John Muir Trail- Tyndall Creek to Guitar Lake- Day 7

John Muir Trail- Tyndall Creek to Guitar Lake

Mileage- 10.7 miles

Elevation Gain- 2477 feet

Elevation Loss- 2036 feet

Tyndall Creek to Guitar LakeTyndall Creek to Guitar Lake ElevationOur seventh day on the John Muir Trail in California was supposed to be our “light” day, as our itinerary had us traveling from Tyndall Creek to Crabtree Meadow and only covering 8.6 miles and just under 1600 feet of elevation. But, ever the group to ALWAYS finish our trips a day (or two) early, we recalculated and decided to make our final destination for the day Guitar Lake. By going to Guitar Lake we were making the decision to summit Whitney the next morning and hike out in the same day, which would make our last day close to sixteen miles. But we were feeling grizzled and chiseled and felt confident in our ability to travel 27 miles and conquer 6500 feet of altitude two days! Ha! There were certainly many pros and cons to this idea, but as a group we believed the pros certainly outweighed the cons. And it is a really funny thing how not being able to talk to family for eight days motivates a person. We each had tried throughout the previous week to get a signal, but we never could get one. I believe that each of us just wanted to phone home and let everyone know that we were all doing great and to let them know that we love them. So we pressed on to Guitar Lake this day… and it was a glorious day.
IMG_1614IMG_1620IMG_1621IMG_1625I know I regularly make this claim and I feel like I really mean it when I say it, but this next section of trail is one of my favorites of any trip.  Of course at the very top of my list are Fifty Mountain in Glacier, this sweet spot on the Escalante Route before Hance Creek in the Grand Canyon, a day hike spot on a mountain in Denali, and Mt. Eielson summit in Denali, but I have to add this section to the list.  After climbing out of the boulders and sequoias and passing Tawny Point to the east, the Bighorn Plateau is a very special place.  It has the appearance of a desert with yellow scrub that almost perfectly matches the ground beneath it, all perfectly complementing the spacious blue skies.  I stopped in this vast, open area and just took it all in.  There was this tiny little pond completely out of place, but adding perfectly to the completeness of the area.  I loved this area for many reasons, most of them aesthetic, but there were so many subjective reasons I loved it as well.  I could stand in a single spot, turn 360 degrees, and it was perfect all the way around.  You can even see Whitney towering above everything else in the distance. This is one spot where I shot some video as well.
IMG_1629IMG_1632IMG_1634IMG_1637From Bighorn Plateau the trail descends below the treeline, where there are some pretty magnificent Sequoias, and makes it’s way down to the junction with the High Sierra Trail. It’s at this point where the High Sierra Trail joins the John Muir Trail to the top of Whitney. It is also at this point where you will be at the lowest elevation (10,435) before summiting Mt. Whitney. It’s all pretty much up from here.IMG_1638 IMG_1650IMG_1649IMG_1647IMG_1675The remaining trail to Guitar Lake took us over diverse terrain and a series of ups and downs.  Even seven days into this hike we are still captivated by the beauty of the Sierras.  Any direction we look could easily be a masterpiece hanging on a wall.  It’s funny as this particular day wore on how we kind of fell into this “hiker’s delusion,” that every turn we would make or every ridge we would approach had Guitar Lake on the other side of it.  Maybe we were tired and just ready to set up camp and get on with our evening routines.  Or, maybe it was our anticipation of summiting Whitney early the next morning.  Either way we just wanted to be at Guitar Lake.  With everything we heard about it and everything we read about it, we were excited to see this lake sitting at 11,500 feet.  It certainly did not let us down.  I included some video below that I took while lying on the grass by the lake.  I think I may have fallen asleep there after I shot the video.IMG_1660IMG_1670IMG_1676IMG_1689The next day would be our eighth and biggest day… summiting Mt. Whitney and exiting at Whitney Portal.

California: John Muir Trail- Woods Creek to Bubbs Creek- Day 5

John Muir Trail- Woods Creek to Bubbs Creek

Mileage- 12.6 miles

Elevation Gain- 4440 feet

Elevation Loss- 3487 feet

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Our fifth day on the John Muir Trail in California took us from Woods Creek over Glen Pass to Bubbs Creek.  This was our first of three monster days that had significant mileage and significant total elevation gain.  The total distance was 12.6 miles and the total elevation gain was close to 4500 feet.  I was sitting here somewhat shocked to see our total trip time clock in at nine hours and fifteen minutes, but as I thought of how much down time we had taking pictures and swimming, it made complete sense.  From Woods Creek to the top of Glen Pass is one of the greatest and most beautiful 8.5 mile stretches I have ever seen.  As proof, this post has more pictures than any other post!  We knew that we needed to get an early start because the day was going to be long, but we also wanted to try to get the majority of our hiking done before the smoke of Rough Fire rolled in in the afternoon.  I am super glad that we got an early start!

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We began to climb out of the lower grassy and piney areas into the classic and picturesque Sierra Nevada landscapes- sparse vegetation, big time pale granite mountains set against rich blue skies, and high altitude, crystal clear lakes.  After about four miles of gradual incline we hit Dollar Lake and Arrowhead Lake. The trail snakes in between these these lakes and it’s from these lakes where we got our first glimpse of Fin Dome, which is really easy to spot.  In fact, the trail works it’s way even closer to Fin and provides a ridiculous number of opportunities for stunning photos.

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It is from Dollar and Arrowhead Lakes to Rae Lakes where your heart begins to beat out of your chest because it is just SO BEAUTIFUL. Off topic a little here, but I remember a family vacation we took about ten years ago. It was with my two daughters (6 and 3 at the time), my wife, and I. It was the first time I had been to Colorado and we were in Rocky Mountain National Park driving Trail Ridge Road from the entrance to the top of the mountains and then back down. At one point we pulled off the road and there was a clearing that climbed about 150 feet up to some huge rocks. We got out of the car and hiked up to those massive rocks and jumped up on them and took pictures of ourselves. I had not done any backpacking in my life up to that point and I just remember the freedom I felt running into nature and into something not so domesticated and structured. That was the first day I had this deep longing to get away and go to places and experience this amazing freedom and beauty. I mention that story for two reasons. The first is that I did not grow up backpacking. I didn’t start with extensive experience or great insight. I just had an insatiable hunger TO GO and EXPLORE. I am not joking when I say that anyone, with the right mindset and dedication, can do things you would never imagine you could do. The second reason for this story is that this portion of the JMT reminded me why I first decided to start backpacking in the first place. Despite the rigorous training, difficult situations and terrain, the smoke from Rough Fire, and missing my family… seeing this land… preserved in it’s full glory… and being a small part of it… makes all the rigors and pain worth it.

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We took our lunch break at Rae Lakes. If you get the opportunity to take a break here… DO IT! The trail passes on a ford the separates the lake in two. For some reason half of us stopped at the first portion of the lake and the other half of us went to the second portion of the lake. We were out of view from each other but only 20 to 25 feet from each other. We took some time to pump and eat. Someone asked me if I was going to get in the water. I said no. The truth was that I was going to, but I wanted to catch everyone off guard. So as everyone ate I began to slip off my clothes down to my underwear undetected. And without warning I ran and jumped with the biggest cannonball ever. The sudden explosion caught everyone off guard and within ten minutes everyone (I think) jumped in. The water was so so so so ridiculously cold, but man it was great. While half of us got in the south part of the most northern lake, the other guys got in the northern part of the most southern lake. I actually think that was the better of the two, because it was more like “cliff jumping,” but not quite that high. Either way, it was a great place to have an absolute blast.

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We had taken way too much time with pictures and playing.  We still had to conquer Glen Pass and a total of another seven or so miles.  Glen Pass an easy ascent to 11,926.  We were refreshed and running full of energy from all of the beauty around us.  From Glen Pass we had a little more than three miles down to Bubbs Creek.  I am so thankful that we were able to go from Woods to Glen Pass without any smoke from Rough Fire, but our trek down to Bubbs would be smoky.  I admit that I didn’t take many pictures once the smoke rolled in.  Maybe I didn’t want to remember it.

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There were several spots to camp within a mile of passing the Kearsarge Pass Trail junction.  This junction is really your only option to get off the JMT before Whitney and Whitney Portal.  I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really, really have to get off the trail.  To Onion Valley it is a little over six miles and involves crossing Kearsarge Pass at 11,823.  But anyway, there are several spots to camp after the junction but I would recommend camping closer to Vidette Meadow.  There are several spots to camp in the Meadow and Bubbs Creek is easily accessible for water.  Also, there is a metal bear box nearby for your bear cans at night.

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Our sixth day on the John Muir Trail would take us from Bubbs Creek, over the massive 13,160 foot Forester Pass, and down to Tyndall Creek.

Preparing for a John Muir Trail Backpacking Trip… Getting the Permit

I am writing this a little more than a month after completing our John Muir backpacking trek, so hopefully I will be able to offer some perspective on what worked and what didn’t work based on our preparations.

One thing I should note at the outset is that we backpacked half of the John Muir Trail (JMT).  We began in Bishop, California, connected to the JMT at LeConte via Bishop Pass Trail, took it south to summit Mt. Whitney, and then exited out at Whitney Portal.  I mention this as our planning for half of the JMT will be significantly different than for those of you who are planning a full length through trip.  So, if you are interested in hiking half of the JMT then this is for you.

For this post I am only going to focus on securing the backcountry permit for this trip, because it is a convoluted and difficult procedure that is difficult to explain and even more difficult to pull off.   But here goes.

Backcountry Permit

The logistical planning for this trip was quite arduous, even for hiking half of JMT.  The permitting process was the most difficult of any trip we have taken to this point…and we have done a significant amount of backcountry hiking in National Parks.  I am not going to talk about the in’s and out’s of the permitting process in general, only the permitting process specific to our trip.  So if you are interested in doing half of the JMT beginning in Bishop then this is what you need to do.  Being that our endeavor began in Bishop, we needed to permit through Inyo National Forest.  No matter where you end, you permit through your place of origin.  For us, Inyo National Forest was our place of origin.

You will need to know your entry and exit dates for this online permit process because you can only register six months prior to your EXIT date.  Let me write that again, you can only compete for a backcountry permit six months in advance of your EXIT date.  I know that sounds backwards, but that is what it is.      Our ext date was scheduled to be September 12, 2015.  So that meant we would compete for a permit beginning on March 12, 2015.  The biggest problem is that there are both ENTRY and EXIT quotas and the number for each is different.  Our fear was that by the time we were able to compete for a permit the entry quota would have already been met.  If you think about it, this process benefits those who do shorter trips.  If there are only 15 entry permits available for Bishop and 15 people are doing two or three day trips… the entry permits would be gone before we even get to the exit date of our eight day trip.

I hate to admit it, but we manipulated the system to insure that we got the permit.  With six guys in our group, securing six permits of the available 15 permits was going to be difficult.  And we knew that we were at a disadvantage by doing a longer trip.  So each day leading up to the beginning of the six month window, I would monitor how quickly the permits would go.  You can monitor it at http://www.recreation.gov.  The entry you would look for is “Bishop Pass -South Lake JM21” and the exit would be “Mt. Whitney (Trailcrest Exit) JM35.”  The permit type is “Overnight Exiting Mt. Whitney.”  Each day at 10:00am EST the permits go live and the competition begins.  It lasts less than sixty seconds before all of the permits are gone.  It is serious business.  I practiced a few times by putting in bogus information and then submitting it when it went live. I got really good at securing permits…and then emptying my cart.  Ultimately we decided that to guarantee our entry permit, we needed to go ahead and reserve six entry permits, even though the exit date we put down would be bogus.  Our thought process was that we would just cancel our permit and get charged the cancellation fee, but those six spots would go back to the queue just before our real window opened up.  So that is what we did.  I secured a permit for six with our real entry date and a bogus exit date.  And then about 12 hours before our real window opened on March 12 at 10:00am, I cancelled the bogus permit.  The next morning, just before 10:00am, the quota number repopulated and I was able to secure a permit with the correct entry and exit dates.

I know this sounds confusing… because it is.  It is a terrible process in my humble opinion.  I understand limiting the number of entry and exit permits.  That’s not really the issue.  The issue is making the EXIT date the beginning of the six month permitting window.  It benefits those who want to do shorter trips and unduly penalizes those who want to do longer trips.  Why not make the six month window begin with the ENTRY date?  That way, everyone is equal and has an equal opportunity to secure a permit… without having to manipulate the system.

Below is a picture of our final permit for your own planning purposes.  Of course I removed all of our names and such.

Happy permitting,

Brandon

JMT Permit

New York: Mt. Jo- Lake Placid, Adirondacks

We took a family vacation in October of 2014 to Lake Placid, New York.  Leading into the planning for that trip I looked at the hiking options for the area.  As luck would have it, Backpacker Magazine detailed some amazing hikes in which one could see the bounty of autumn colors. One of the spreads included Mt. Jo, which is a 2900 foot mountain in the middle of the Adirondacks with a spectacular view of Heart Lake and more late year colors than you can handle.

Unfortunately for us… we missed the peak colors by a week.  Nonetheless, this short 4.0 mile circuit with about 700 feet elevation (up to a peak of 2876 feet) is a really nice hike for beginners, families, or anyone who wants some great views of the Adirondacks.

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To locate the Mt. Jo Trail you have to locate Adirondack Loj, which is south of Lake Placid, New York.  Adirondack Loj is the epicenter of several different hikes of varying distances.  There are two different routes up Mt. Jo, as you can see in the picture above.  The first route, which we took, is a more vertical and direct ascent.  The other route is a circuitous trail which is a bit more gradual, but still with some steep grades. We took this route on the way down.

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Despite the fact that my three-year old was completely tearing up the trail, he hit a wall with the boulders because he could not climb over them.  I threw him on my back and headed the rest of the way up.  I had not had a pack on my back since Denali, so it was a good work out with 45 pounds of wiggling and jiggling.

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As we approached the top of Mt. Jo, it was a bit overcast.  I was hoping for blue skies and big puffy clouds, but I can’t get that on every trip!  The view nonetheless was just spectacular, and one that we enjoyed for quite sometime as we had a snack on the large, open rocky area at the top.  We could see Heart Lake and the surrounding Adirondacks.  Most of the yellows had already fallen, which left all the other autumn colors for us to take in.  For such a short hike, it was well worth the view.

IMG_4102 IMG_4105 IMG_0385We made a quick trip back to the bottom.  The little man was ready for a nap.  Overall I was please with how he did…and how the family, as a whole, did.  The entire hike took us close to fours hours, which accounts for our breaks.  Of course, we wanted to see Heart Lake and get some pictures before we left.  I am glad that we did.  It was beautiful.

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Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park- Escalante Route Quick Summary…

I just finished the Escalante Route in Grand Canyon National Park and want to give a quick summary of the hike before I give a more detailed day-by-day account, which I will post soon.

My overall impression of this hike was AMAZING! It was, by far, the most strenuous extended hiking I have ever done… but some of that may be due to the fact that we packed six days of hiking into four days. We covered 40 miles of very difficult terrain from Tanner Trail, Escalante Route, New Hance Trail, Tonto Trail, and then out via the Grandview Trail. The views were stunning and everything about the trip was right on.

Here are a few things that really surprised me:

1. The Colorado River was a beautiful blue-green and not the dirty brown I expected. When I was in Moab, Utah last year… the Colorado was dirty brown. I am not sure what happened but our approach to water access changed dramatically. We just used our water pump filters like normal. Not only that but we actually got in the water to swim a couple of times. We planned for the worst and were pleasantly surprised at the Colorado. That was a huge relief.

2. If you do this hike any later than May… you are insane. The base was about 30 degrees warmer than the rim and we spent the majority of the time along the Colorado. If you add together the tough terrain, the physical exertion, and the heat… man it is rough. We were able to pump at our campsites at Tanner Creek, Escalante Creek Mouth, and Hance Creek. So we usually never carried more than 2-3 liters. But as we left Hance Creek, we took 4 or more liters because that would have to last to Horseshoe Mesa and then Grandview Point. Keep in mind that our trip was in mid-April… so water quantities will vary based upon time of season and how well you hike in hot conditions. I don’t happen to hike well in hot conditions, so April was ideal for me… even though it was toasty on our final ascent.

3. Escalante is not really a “route”… it is a trail. At this point… Escalante has been hiked by serious backpackers and the route has become quite noticeably a trail. You do not have to have navigational skills… other than following cairns and the occasional map orientation. While this was a small let down… it was still incredible. Should you take the Escalante seriously? Absolutely! But just don’t be afraid if you don’t have the best nav skills. You will make it. You should be more considered about your physical condition because the terrain will eat you up if you are not ready for it. We were… and had an amazing trip!

There was also tons of solitude. We only saw 20 passerbys over four days. We did, however, see a ton of helicopter tours passing overhead and quite a few rafters.

Here is the link to Day 1- Escalante Route (Grand Canyon NP)- Lipan to Tanner

Brandon

Notice Every Detail of Creation…

This excerpt is from the post Thanksgiving at my other blog brandonandress.com.  I thought this portion was a perfect perspective for those of us who love nature and the outdoors.

The Spirit cries out to me: See the wonder! See the glory! See the beauty! And move forward in awe!

Listen.

Smell.

Feel.

Take it all in and delight. Let the wind blow at your back and let the sun shine down on your face.

Listen to the conversations.
Joy in the laughter of your children.
Celebrate that you can give your baby a bath.
Delight in the songs of the birds and the rustling of the leaves.
Be enveloped by everything and everyone around you.
Count your blessings.

Smell the autumn fragrance.
Let the preparation of your meal be a prayer and a blessing.
Savor every bite as if it is your very first.
Feel the textures.
Let the work of your hands be praise.
Count your blessings.

Sit in the woods and notice every detail of creation.
Close your eyes and absorb every note and harmony.
Glory in every drop of your morning coffee.
Embrace the touch of another.
Join in the chorus of all creation in praise.
Count your blessings.

Can any one of us even utter a grumble…in the midst of creation’s immeasurable wonder?

It is good.
It is good.
It is good.

From the depths of my soul and with every breath…thank you God. I am an unworthy man.