Sunday, September 29, 2013

Buttermilk Country



Located just 7 miles west of Bishop, CA off Hwy 168, Buttermilk Road got its name from a dairy that produced buttermilk in the 1800s. The area used to be known for its tungsten mines, but is now famous for bouldering. The dirt road is very wide but was one of the worst washboard roads we’ve driven on. There are a few legal spots to disperse camp, but much of the land is owned by the LA Dept of Water and Power and is posted no camping. Doubt we could drive the Lazy Daze slow enough to keep it from falling apart, anyway, but we did see a couple RVs several miles down the road. Of course one was a rental. We always get a kick out of the places we see rental RVs. They must have to sell the used ones for next to nothing!

On a weekday there was hardly anyone around, so we parked near a trail going up to the rocks. 


Saw a couple climbers. The rock is so rough and porous and full of foot and handholds that it’s surprisingly easy to climb up


The landscape is dotted with huge boulders and piles of rock.


Finger rock?


A beached whale?


Lots of interesting shapes and sizes.


Jim and Debbie got high, but it was a bit too much for me. Got halfway up and decided I may never get back down so I did my own exploring and took some photos.




Jim took this from his highest point.


The big wildlife sighting, other than a jack rabbit.


We could see this dirt road going up to more rocks, so Jim decided he wanted to try and drive up it.


It looked so good from a distance, but was steep and full of huge rocks and ruts. I got out to walk and scope it out ahead, but he decided to try it anyway. Didn’t get too far, though, and finally backed up to a level area and parked. The rocks were even better looking up close.



Once again Jim set his sights on the highest point, but only made it about half way. We had been out there almost three hours, ran out of water, and were getting tired. He decided we must come back another day.


Bouldering is great fun, although our tamer version of it is really more like rock scrambling.  And if you just like looking at fantastic scenery, it is definitely worth taking a drive along Buttermilk Road.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

An App for That


Gayle has been posting our distances traveled on our hikes. This has elicited a deluge of one comment asking what we use to measure the distance.

I started trying out various Android GPS apps from the Google Play store. Gaia GPS, GPS Essentials, My Tracks, Trimble Outdoor Navigator, Viewranger,  Alpine Quest and BackCountry Navigator Pro. There are a few others that I don’t remember.

All of these have a learning curve and like most software work a bit differently, one from the other. Some, like Viewranger simply wouldn’t work on my phone and they had no idea why it wouldn’t.

In the end, there are two that I like. Trimble Outdoor Navigator Pro and BackCountry Navigator Pro. That said, I have ended up with BackCountry.

Both of these programs allow you to download topo maps for use offline and have more than one way to do this. In the case of Trimble you can download to your computer and then copy to your phone’s memory or download directly to your phone. Also, when you are connected to either wifi or cellular data map tiles are stored as you scroll over the map. In the case of BC you have to download via the phone or as you scroll.

What I generally do is zoom out on the topo map, select an area and download that area. The advantage of that is it downloads the map with several zoom levels at one time. Downloading by scrolling the map requires you to do that for each zoom level that you want.

With both apps you have a variety of mapping sources to choose from that are included at no additional cost. However, there are overlays that do add cost. With BC I chose to buy the Accuterra overlay which includes a variety of useful info including color differentiation of the different public lands. Trimble has this as well and they call it Public Lands. The advantage to this is in determining what land you are camped on when it is not clearly marked. We used it in Arizona to determine what was National Forest and what was Arizona Public Trust land. Same for National Forest and BLM since it isn’t always clear which is which.

In the end I went with BC because the map covers the entire phone screen whereas Trimble blocks the top and bottom with bars that are not transparent. Secondly, after using Trimble for several weeks they upgraded the software and it would no longer work on my phone, and they had no idea what the problem was. I had saved a copy of the previous version which I re-installed and that solved the problem.

The first image is Trimble. This was not from my phone but copied from an online source. The next two are screen shots from my phone. This function is built into BC’s app but not Trimble and I can’t do it with my version of Android, 2.3.4.

The second image shows the tracks from a couple of hikes. The third shows some of the detail you will see on topo maps including trailheads and campgrounds.




What you are not seeing in the screen shots from BC is there are two transparent buttons on the right to zoom in or out and one transparent button on the left to create a waypoint. At the top there is a transparent bar which gives you access to other functions and at the bottom center is a compass, but when you slide it up with your finger it shows you your trip stats like distance, time, speed, elevation, etc.

I also have found that BC is more accurate under tree cover. As much hiking as we do it is an app I can’t do without. We have frequently had to use it when a poorly marked trail divides without any indication of which one to take. We have used it to shortcut our way to another trail or road. I find it as necessary as I do the GPS in our car.

The only surprising issue I have found is that the compass function in smart phones is notoriously unreliable. Don’t know why that is but I have found it to be the case. Luckily, I don’t use it for the compass so it isn’t really an issue.

Finally, for you Apple fanboys BC doesn’t make a version for you but Trimble does. I liked Trimble. In fact had it been more reliable and not had the bars blocking the screen I would have stuck with it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Treasure Lakes Trail, Bishop, CA



It had been a few days since we hiked in the mountains, and low 80s were in the Bishop forecast, so we took a scenic drive up Hwy 168 west of town to the South Fork Bishop Creek Canyon. The road climbs from about 4,000’ to 9,800’ at the trailhead at South Lake, quite a steep drive over 20 miles, passing several forest service campgrounds. It was in the low 60s by the time we got to the large parking area, which wasn’t even a quarter full. Perfect.

When we visited with friends Rick, Annie and Steve at June Lake, Annie loaned us a book called “Exploring Eastern Sierra Canyons, Bishop to Lone Pine”. It is full of excellent information about the canyon’s history, hiking, scenic drives, camping, etc. From what I’ve read so far, it sounds like most of the hiking trails in this area involve a lot more elevation gain than we care for, but I chose one that wasn’t too long (3 miles to Treasure Lakes), and was rated as moderate.

The trail begins at South Lake, where the aspens looked to be at peak colors.


The lake was quite low at this time of year.


The climbing started almost immediately, and perhaps because we’d spent a couple days below 5,000 feet, or maybe we were both just having a bad day, this was one of the toughest trails we’ve done lately. Many times we stopped to catch our breath and Jim would check to see how far we’d walked, always a disappointment. We really weren’t sure we would make it the 3 miles to the first lake. But after resting and eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we slowly continued on up the steep rocky switchbacks.

At just under a mile the trail forks off to Bishop Pass, which must be where most everyone else was headed, as we didn’t see another hiker until we were almost at the first Treasure Lake. This truly felt like a wilderness hike.


High above South Lake.


We crossed several creeks.



And saw quite a bit of snow left over from the storm last week.



There was one more big climb just before the lake, but as usual, we were glad we pushed on. Impressive 13,000’ peaks surround the lakes at 10,600’




There was a man camping near the lake, and we had a nice long chat with him. He’s from Marin and lives on a 36’ sailboat, an interesting guy. What a great campsite he had all to himself.


As we were exploring the second lake a little farther down the trail, I wasn’t paying attention to the ground and my left foot went into a hole. I felt my ankle turn, and went down on my right knee. Fortunately we were by the shore and the ground was spongy grass. I could tell it wasn’t badly sprained, so I cinched the laces on my hiking boots a little tighter and had no trouble walking back, and it was so much easier being downhill most of the way. I told Jim I would crawl the 3 miles back to the car before I was airlifted on a helicopter. I think I would have to be unconscious before that happened!

It did make us wonder if we should get one of those Delorme inReach devices that track your location so you can get help out of cell range. We don’t know anyone who uses one, but it might be a worthwhile investment for as much hiking as we do.

That evening the winds picked up, and we spent a sleepless night rocking and listening to things rattle and whistle that we have never heard before. And we’ve been in some pretty strong winds in New Mexico, but instead of coming from one direction it just seemed to swirl around us. Yesterday was a wasted one as we felt like zombies, and the wind continued much of the day. Today is much cooler and the clouds have dropped more snow on the mountain tops.

After an interesting sunrise this morning,


these ominous looking clouds dropped more snow on the higher peaks. I kind of like never knowing what to expect!


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Horton Creek Campground, Bishop, CA



We finally moved south on 395, although only about 30 miles, to Horton Creek Campground 10 miles northwest of Bishop. It’s the first time we’ve paid for camping since arriving in California at the end of July. But for $5 a night (actually $2.50 with Jim’s senior pass), it’s hard to complain. This BLM campground has water, trash, very clean vault toilets, and a dump($5).

Plus it’s convenient to Bishop and has lovely views. Located at just under 5,000’ elevation, it’s a bit warmer than it was in the Mammoth area, but the cool mountains are not far off.


We took a trip into town yesterday to pick up a few things at Kmart. Also stopped in to check out Schat’s Bakery, but it was lunchtime and the place was packed. We did see several things we wanted but will go back another day. Bishop looks like a nice little town, and we look forward to exploring it.

Today we took our first hike in the area to a couple more high altitude lakes, but more about that tomorrow….too tired tonight!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Shadow Lake Trail



We wanted to do one last hike near Mammoth Lakes and decided on the Shadow Lake trail. The trailhead is off Minaret Rd at Agnew Meadows, a few miles past the Forest Service entrance station. This is the same fee booth we went through to get to Devils Postpile. $10 per vehicle or free with the National Parks pass. During the season you have to take the mandatory shuttle to the trailhead from the Mammoth Ski Area, but it stops running after Labor Day.

The parking lot was nearly full, but we didn’t realize the Shadow Lake trail was actually part of the Pacific Crest Trail. We saw quite a few backpackers going both directions along the trail.

The trail begins at 8,300 feet, with the grasses of Agnew Meadows dry and brown at this time of year.


For over two miles the trail is mostly level or gradually descending into the San Joaquin River Valley.


We passed by Olaine Lake.


Then crossed the river over a nice bridge.


After the bridge the trail begins a fairly steep uphill climb, with switchbacks and rock steps.


But nice views of Mammoth Mountain.


After over 700 feet of climbing in about a mile, we knew the lake had to be close when we spotted this waterfall.


First glimpse of Shadow Lake. The photos don’t convey how beautiful this looked.



We stopped for lunch behind the shelter of large rocks. Although it was sunny, it was extremely cool and windy by the lake.


The Ritter Range and Minarets with13,100’ Mt. Ritter.


This was a good choice for our last Mammoth Lakes hike. 7.4 miles and moderately strenuous. The trail continues on another 3.5 miles to Ediza Lake, where most of the backpackers were heading.

And we got to see bear scat, so we know they’re out there. In fact we saw the same thing less than a mile from our site near Hot Creek just a few days ago.


Yesterday we had strong winds, with a slight chance of rain in the forecast. We ended up having light rain most of the afternoon and evening, and awoke this morning to 33 degrees and snow on the Sierra.



Actually it’s been in the 30s the past five nights, a little out of our comfort zone for camping without electric. So today we are moving south closer to Bishop at lower elevations and hopefully warmer temperatures.