Trip Report
High Sierra Light Backpacking - Not a single bit of climbing
Wednesday August 7, 2013 12:56am
In the last 20 years, I think I have been backpacking once. Or twice. So it was time to see what this sport was all about now that we have the light light gear.

Our goal was simple: stay off the John Muir Trail... or any other major trail. We even managed to mostly stay off the major non-trail in the region: the Sierra High Route.

The Team: Chris and Toby and Me.

Our route in two photos (bivies 1-4 in red)

Credit: Chris McNamara

Credit: Chris McNamara

Mt. Tom Obscured by the Big Fire smoke.
Mt. Tom Obscured by the Big Fire smoke.
Credit: Chris McNamara

The most delicate and stressful part of the trip... getting the whiske...
The most delicate and stressful part of the trip... getting the whiskey in the Platypus.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Below was our bivy set up: Big Agnes Seedhouse with just the fly and pole set up (fast fly) and the Kelty Cosmic 40 Down Bag and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. All which weighed 3-4 pounds per person.

Big Agnes Seedhouse - just the fly and poles. Weighs about 2 pounds &#...
Big Agnes Seedhouse - just the fly and poles. Weighs about 2 pounds (or one pound per person).
Credit: Chris McNamara

Starting up the South Fork of Big Pine Creek.
Starting up the South Fork of Big Pine Creek.
Credit: Chris McNamara

World's most camo frog above Elinor Lake.
World's most camo frog above Elinor Lake.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Heading up to Scimitar Pass.
Heading up to Scimitar Pass.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Sunset from Scimitar Pass. At 13,000+ feet... felt more like a summit.
Sunset from Scimitar Pass. At 13,000+ feet... felt more like a summit.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Sunrise over Glacier Lake... or the unnamed lake above Glacier Creek. ...
Sunrise over Glacier Lake... or the unnamed lake above Glacier Creek. Our camp in the bottom right corner.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Crossing Glacier Creek on the way to Palisade Creek.
Crossing Glacier Creek on the way to Palisade Creek.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Fly fishing at Dumbell Lakes.
Fly fishing at Dumbell Lakes.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Bushwhacking down Cartridge Creek. Few people go down this... we found...
Bushwhacking down Cartridge Creek. Few people go down this... we found out why.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Toby moving over a chockstone... Raiders of the Lost Ark opening scene...
Toby moving over a chockstone... Raiders of the Lost Ark opening scene flashed through my head at this moment.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Bird.
Bird.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Joining up with the old John Muir trail and looking down toward the Mi...
Joining up with the old John Muir trail and looking down toward the Middle Fork of the Kings.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Middle Fork of the Kings. The most dramatic river and terrain I have s...
Middle Fork of the Kings. The most dramatic river and terrain I have seen in the High Sierra.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Large Wall above middle fork of the Kings.
Large Wall above middle fork of the Kings.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Looking down MIddle Fork of the Kings toward LeConte Canyon.
Looking down MIddle Fork of the Kings toward LeConte Canyon.
Credit: Chris McNamara

The Citadel to the left.
The Citadel to the left.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Jigsaw Pass : 3.14  (stout 3rd class).
Jigsaw Pass : 3.14 (stout 3rd class).
Credit: Chris McNamara

Temple Crag after coming full circle and exiting on the North Fork of ...
Temple Crag after coming full circle and exiting on the North Fork of Big Pine Creek.
Credit: Chris McNamara

  Trip Report Views: 2,779
Chris McNamara
About the Author
Climbing Magazine once computed that three percent of Chris McNamara’s life on Earth had been spent on the face of El Capitan – an accomplishment that left friends and family pondering Chris’s sanity. He has climbed El Capitan more than 70 times and holds nine big wall speed climbing records. In 1998 Chris did the first Girdle Traverse of El Capitan, an epic 75-pitch route that begs the question, “Why?”

Outside Magazine called Chris one of “the world’s finest aid climbers.” He is the winner of the 1999 Bates Award from the American Alpine Club and founder of the American Safe Climbing Association, a nonprofit group that has replaced over 5000 dangerous anchor bolts. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and serves on the board of the ASCA and the Rowell Legacy Committee. He has a rarely updated adventure journal, maintains BASEjumpingmovies.com, and also runs a Lake Tahoe home rental business.

Comments
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10b4me

climber
  Aug 7, 2013 - 01:01am PT
TFPU
MisterE

climber
  Aug 7, 2013 - 01:10am PT
That camo frog is most excellent!
skywalker

climber
  Aug 7, 2013 - 01:20am PT
For 20 years I have been known to my friends as "anti-hiking boy". Not that I didn't hike, it just needed a climbing destination or "purpose". In reality I have found that at least 1/2 my time is spent hiking anyway getting to and fro' and I've grown to appreciate that time as well for its own "purpose".

TFPU!

S...

P.S. That 'camo frog' IS bad ass as the up-post mentions!
Footloose

Trad climber
Lake Tahoe
  Aug 7, 2013 - 01:20am PT
Very cool.
Love the off-trail theme!
Pac8541

Trad climber
Queen Creek, AZ
  Aug 7, 2013 - 01:47am PT
SPECTACULAR!! Was the fly fishing fruitful?
Mark Sensenbach

climber
CA
  Aug 7, 2013 - 04:51am PT
Looks super fun. What was some of your fav. food?
tfpu
WTF

climber
  Aug 7, 2013 - 08:39am PT
Bird= blue grouse. That's a mountain chicken some really good eating right there.

Cool trip.
eKat

Trad climber
  Aug 7, 2013 - 08:46am PT
YAY!

TFPU!
Patrick Sawyer

climber
Originally California now Ireland
  Aug 7, 2013 - 08:56am PT
Wimps. Try being put on hold with the Irish civil service like I am right this minute, now that is an epic. Hah hah.

Good TR Chris.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Aug 7, 2013 - 10:08am PT
Wish our dinner include that Mountain Chicken... but was most salami quesso's with one night of Gado Gado (amazing noodle/peanut sauce concoction.
Roxy

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Aug 7, 2013 - 10:15am PT


"going to the mountains is going home" -Muir


great TR, and I love that frog!

rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
  Aug 7, 2013 - 10:33am PT
Cool trip! The Sierras are probably the best range in the country for off and obscure trail excursions.

I think one of the reasons many climbers are not enthusiastic about hiking is that their hikes are climbing approaches and so they are always laden down with climbing gear. A week's worth of food together with a full rack and two ropes isn't going to be all that pleasant.

The combination of modern light-weight gear and ditching the climbing equipment makes for a different experience which, I think, many climbers would enjoy far more than they realize.
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
  Aug 7, 2013 - 10:45am PT
Nice, catch any fly fishing?
TFPU
Tad
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Aug 7, 2013 - 10:46am PT
Caught tons of fish. Many Goldens and Rainbows. All small.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Aug 7, 2013 - 10:53am PT
I can agree with you R.

We used to say that backbacking got you into shape for backpacking.

Such overblown egotism is misplaced. Each activity, climbing and packing, has its rewards.

Thanks for reminding us, Chris, and next trip take more good shots like these.
wstmrnclmr

Trad climber
Bolinas, CA
  Aug 7, 2013 - 12:13pm PT
Chris,
Having just gotten back into the backpacking scene through my girlfriend, the beautiful Miss Colleen, it is neat to get updated on all the new lightweight gear. She stays up on it as she's the pro. Notice the Big Agnes Seed House parked at the base of Star King. Also note new, lightweight beer can.
Lightweight gear!
Lightweight gear!
Credit: wstmrnclmr
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Aug 7, 2013 - 12:20pm PT
yeah, the 3 miles we were on the muir trail, it was staggering to see how heavy most people still pack. if my pack weighted 40+ pounds, i would not backpack! that is not fun... more like impersonating a Mule.

but now it is super easy (and cheap) to get a good set up that weight 20 pounds or less (without food or fuel)
NutAgain!

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Aug 7, 2013 - 01:18pm PT
I wonder how many climbers lost touch with backpacking when they discovered climbing. I am certainly one. Thanks for sharing.
TwistedCrank

climber
Released into general population, Idaho
  Aug 7, 2013 - 01:46pm PT
Super-lightweight backpacking is awesome. But what would Norman Clyde say?
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Aug 7, 2013 - 01:45pm PT
Nice! Always wanted to get back to Dumbell Lakes. Also, I thought there was an old trail that paralleled Cartridge Creek. Maybe not?
HighTraverse

Trad climber
Bay Area
  Aug 7, 2013 - 01:55pm PT
Norman Clyde would say "lighter gear means take more books".
Nicely done. Oddly enough I'd been thinking of making a similar trip (in notion, not in the same canyons) myself. I'm also Not a Backpacker but going light, off trail, across alpine country is always a fine endeavor. So many more options available.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Aug 7, 2013 - 02:15pm PT
I've progressively reduced my overall pack weight as a young lad from something 60lbs a trip, to closer to 25lbs.

The heaviest thing is carrying the tequila for gatoritas!
MikeL

Social climber
Seattle, WA
  Aug 7, 2013 - 02:15pm PT
Excellent. My wife wants for us to do this. She'll appreciate the TR. Thx.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Aug 7, 2013 - 02:29pm PT
Yes, the Old John Muir trail parallels Cartridge Creek from Lakes Basin down to the Middle Fork of the Kings. This trail was abandoned in 1938 so it is hard to find in places... total bushwhack in others.

There is no trail we saw from Dumbell Lakes down to Cartridge Creek (we intersected Cartridge Creek just below Triple Falls)
Reeotch

climber
4 Corners Area
  Aug 7, 2013 - 05:44pm PT
Thanks for that Sierra love . . .
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 8, 2013 - 01:30pm PT
Awesome pics and TR, I also loved the frog.
The hike in and the views are half of the fun in climbing for sure.
crankster

Trad climber
  Aug 8, 2013 - 01:43pm PT
Excellent TR. Sometimes ropes can get in the way of fun.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Aug 8, 2013 - 08:42pm PT
Awesome! One of the reasons I like to climb in Sierra is so I could pack in somewhere beautiful. Range of light is fantastic.
socialclimber

climber
CA
  Aug 8, 2013 - 08:50pm PT
Didn't read all the posts, but did you bear can the food?

Charles
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Aug 8, 2013 - 09:21pm PT
Yeah, this is the bear can to use. Expensive but way lighter than the rest and you can rent it

http://www.wild-ideas.net/the-weekender/
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Aug 8, 2013 - 09:51pm PT
You're forgiven for not climbing. The Sierra is so magnificent that you can easily be forgiven for "just" walking through the Church of Light. One summer I spent 13 weeks back-packing in the High Sierra and climbed only 5 peaks. And it was still a perfect trip.

PS Love the granite frog
Some Random Guy

climber
  Aug 9, 2013 - 12:08am PT
nice! so there are no more skeeters to worry about? sleeping in the open.

i'm prolly gonna do something similar by the end of august.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Aug 9, 2013 - 12:21am PT
RIP skeeters ( for the season)
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