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Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

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Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby diesel » Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:09 am

I guess I'm a level 2 hiker at this point. I'd like to take my first stab at a serious cross country route, hopefully one that'll lead me spectacular scenery. On one previous trip I ended up hiking off trail over boulders and talus for a couple miles (attempting to get around some snow and took an unnecessary detour), and I felt fairly comfortable with it pretty early on, but that's the extent of my experience. Now, I'm looking for a trip where I'd actually plan to explore off trail. Though I will of course be careful and put more effort into planning such a trip, I'd like something where navigating would not be *too* tricky for beginners. I generally prefer loops over out and backs. Any suggestions are welcome...I know I've left it very open. This would most likely be for a 5-7 day trip. I know I've left it very open...

I've done some 3-4 day trips out of yosemite, road's end, and mineral king and usually comfortably average about 15 miles per day on trails (I pack light and hike fast..).



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Re: Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby balzaccom » Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:30 am

There are lots of options here...and frankly, the more specific the option, the more likely that your cross country route will be fairly well marked with cairns or use trails.

We did a lovey trip last year in the Emigrant Wilderness--Crabtree Cabin to Yellow Hammer Lake. That is supposed to be "cross country" from Louse Canyon for about eight-ten miles. We stopped at Resasco Lake one night, lunched at Pingree, and camped at Five Acre. Then took a less well marked route up to Red Can and Leighton,

Stunning scenery (especially around Big Lake!) and excellent fishing at Five Acre and Red Can.

There are links and photos on our website
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check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
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Re: Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:21 am

Most "Cross-Country" routes involve some trail, some off-trail. In general look for:

Easier off-trial travel is usually above timber. I prefer to take a trail through the lower elevations where there is a lot of brush or timber. It is really difficult to navigate when you are deep in trees or thrashing through brush.

Pick off-trail portions that are surrounded by distinct and unique landmarks. For example, if you have to go down a valley surrounded by big peaks, you really cannot get lost. Avoid rolly-hill type terrain where all the hills look alike.

Avoid cliffy terrain. Northern Yosemite is an example of tricky cliffy terrain. Even though you are not lost you get stuck a lot on small cliffs that do not show up on the topographic maps. For example, getting to Lake Edyth is a better trip to do when you gain more experience.

Go "with the grain" geologically. Look at the Google Maps satallite photos. Zoom out a bit and you will see a distinct joint pattern. If you travel parallel to that joint pattern the going is quite easy. Trying to go perpendicular is more difficult.

In general, I think the southern Sierra is easier off-trail navigation than northern Sierra.

Also, particulary this year and early season, watch out for off-trail routes that require to cross major rivers or creeks where there are no bridges.

And be careful of passes. I would stay with Class 1 passes. Definetly avoid Class 3 passes. And in the Class 2 range, be careful, because a lot are "sandbagged" in Secor's guidebook. Remember that climbing guidebooks are written for climbers who know techniques of rock climbing and have experience and equipment for steep snow.

Really spectacular easy to navigate off trail routes are any of the drainages off the PCT between Crabtree Meadow and Shepherd Pass - Wright Lakes, Wallace Lakes or even up to Arctic Lake from Guitar Lake. There are faint use-trails up most of the drainages too. Another nice trip would be to go in Cottonwood Lakes and leave the PCT to go to Sky Blue Lake. These trips are by no means totally off trail- rather are mostly on trail with about a day's travel off trail to get to the destination.

An example of a place NOT to go for your first off-trail trip would be Ionian Basin.
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Re: Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby Carne_DelMuerto » Thu Mar 31, 2011 12:36 pm

Balzaccom makes a great suggestion, I think. I'm also leading a trip this summer that will be a test of our cross country hiking and I've based it off of Balzaccom's trip report from last year. From what I've read and researched, Emigrant out of Crabtree looks to be a great place to hone one's navigating skills. Plus, in this heavy snow year it's lower elevation may make it more accessible for early season trips.

There's lots of good choices, but I thought I'd second Balzaccom. I'll be out in Emigrant in July—can't wait!
Wonder is rock and water and the life that lives in-between.
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Re: Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby quentinc » Thu Mar 31, 2011 12:49 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:An example of a place NOT to go for your first off-trail trip would be Ionian Basin.

WD, it's funny that you mention that because I think one of my first truly cross-country routes was to the Ionian Basin. (But I still think all of your advice is good!)
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Re: Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby Carne_DelMuerto » Thu Mar 31, 2011 1:11 pm

Great advice, Wandering Daisy. Thank you.

I had my maps out last night planning trips for the future and had penciled in Ionian Basin on one route. I'm curious, what is it about that area that makes it more of a challenge?
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Re: Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby maverick » Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:19 pm

Hi Diesel

I think Emigrant and Desolation areas would make for good first time x-country travel
places.
Finding places with wider, open terrain, is easier to navigate than having to
climb col's, passes, nasty talus, scree, bushwacking, or difficult river crossings.
Down south west of Kings Canyon, Blackcap or Red Mountain Basin make for fun
exploring since you can hike into the basin, and then leave the trail to visit the
numerous beautiful lakes, and meadows.
In Blackcap Basin you have Finger Peak, Mt.Reinstein, and really the ridge itself
for orientation.
On the eastern side once you hike over Piute Pass from North Lake you can visit
several lakes cross country on either side of the trail in Humphreys Basin.
In Humphreys Basin you have Mt. Humphreys, Mt. Emerson and several other peaks
to use for direction if you get disoriented.
As WD mention there are some areas where there is little, or no shelter, the terrain
is rocky, I mean almost all rock, which makes for slow going, and much trickier with
a large pack.
Getting to these areas require climbing class 2 passes, which for an inexperienced
backpacker may be asking for trouble.
Also since these places are more remote and if something happens to you, you'll have
less of a chance to be found by another a group.
Ionian Basin falls under this category.
It is beautiful, stark, rocky, and unforgiving, especially if you are unprepared, and
lack the experience!
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby TehipiteTom » Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:29 pm

My first off-trail backpacking experience was on the Monarch Divide, and I think it was a great introduction. Just about every ridge on the Divide can be crossed (class 1-2) at some point, so it's easy to construct basin-to-basin loop routes. Navigation is pretty straightforward--not brainless, but not too difficult for a beginner with solid map-reading skills. There's a sense of remoteness, even (in some cases) less than a mile from the trail. And of course the views are spectacular.
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Re: Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby rlown » Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:35 pm

This is going to get rather strange as we have two requests for info going on at the same time. Giovanni, you might want to break your thread off as a new thread.

Russ
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Re: Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:38 pm

This is the reason Ionain Basin is not a good beginning off-trail route. You actually have to get around these lakes.

Image

Image
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Re: Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby Jimr » Thu Mar 31, 2011 3:19 pm

Ionian Basin will be especially difficult this year with the deep snow pack.
What?!
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Re: Suggestions for for first time backpacking cross country?

Postby paul » Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:37 pm

I'd highly recommend Humphreys Basin - lots of area to wander around in, very easy navigation with the big peaks that surround the basin as landmarks. Plus you can get back on the trail and go around the corner to French canyon where there's more of the same -or if you're feeling more confident, there are several X-C passes over the ridge from Humphreys to French canyon.

Another easy area is Emigrant Basin in the Emigrant wilderness. A lot of nice X-C there is just strolling across a grassy/sandy hillside. You can get in there on the trail from Leavitt Lake in a day if you go late enough in the summer so that you can go over the top of Big Sam without dealing with serious snow, or take a day and a half from Kennedy Meadows. Plus no permit hassles in the Emigrant, since no quotas. Just pick up a permit and head on out.
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