Trip Report: Castle Peak
(Some images inline - many more available at target=_blank>http://www.flickr.com/photos/atomick/sets/72157606047683411/))
This trip was in two portions: A hike in to Paradise Lake via the PCT, across the shoulders of Castle and Basin Peaks, and a day hike out from Paradise Lake to White Rock Lake, also via the PCT. Likewise, it had two purposes: general vacation and my girlfriend's first real backpacking trip, who had ACL surgery last year and a bunion to contend with. How would she cope with a 30-mile weekend and a 28-pound pack?
We couldn't go ultralight due to my girlfriend's initial apprehension about comfort and convenience; I had to carry our bear canister with 6 person-days of food, so I had to opt for my Osprey Atmos 50 pack to carry about 30 pounds in all (although my gear and clothing, sans pack, was only 12 lbs - the rest was food, bear canister, water, and some of my girlfriend's stuff).
We left from near the Boreal ski resort and quickly hit the PCT heading north; the trail was wonderful, mostly duff or soft sand, with few stretches of muck or loose scree. After going up and over Castle Peak's west shoulder, we descended to Round Valley, whose open beauty was marred only by the legions of mosquitos. We then climbed up onto the west shoulder of Basin Peak and down into the wooded Paradise Valley. We left the PCT to follow a jeep road to Paradise Lake's granite lip; the lake was gorgeous, with small stunted trees on flyspeck islands that looked like bonsai. The second day we returned to the PCT and headed north to White Rock Lake via the Mount Lola Trail; we ran into three thru-hikers charging through the insect-infested valleys. The final day we packed out down the PCT, retracing our steps.
We were joined by three friends for the first night only.
Of course, the smoke from the hundreds of California wildfires was an issue, but we were lucky; the closest fire was 30 miles away and the wind was favorable most of the time. The mosquitos were the worst I've seen in the Sierras due to the snowmelt (even with this being the driest spring on record). Tiny patches of snow remained and only covered the trail in 30-60' sections less than 10 times in the whole trip. The trail was otherwise loamy, soft, or powdery, and make for lovely walking. The lakes were cold, but swimmable, and made for refreshing clean-ups in camp. Temperatures were in the 70's (Fahrenheit) and warmed into the low 80's on the last day due to an incoming heatwave. Temperatures at night only went into the high 40's, and the only moisture was morning condensation - no rain in sight.
The wildflowers were, of course, in profusion this time of year. Stickseed, ceanothus, mule's ears, penstemon, buckwheat, lupine, pennyroyal, and much more...all sorts of flowery goodness, mighty impressive.
My Girlfriend. :-D She really enjoyed it and it felt like a natural extension of all the dayhiking and car camping she's done (much of it with me, but I've been backpacking without her for several years). She used a leg brace and poles, and she just rocked it! She's already thinking about where else to go, and that's the sign of a successful trip!
The Destinations. The lakes in this region are small but surrounded by forest and granite. Quaint but have a majesty to them, and there were very few other people around. Extremely pleasant.
Inov8 Flyroc 310's + SportShield Anti-Friction/Blister Powder. I had reservations about using the Flyrocs with 30+ lbs. in my pack, but all was good. I used 1 tbsp of SportShield each morning to great effect. My feet ached each day from use, but nothing worse than any other footwear I've used, and I didn't suffer any blisters. I used these with REI shorty gaiters and got THREE teeny pebbles in my shoe. Over three full days of hiking. ROCK ON.
Bug Netting. We each had a headnet and they saved our sanity bigtime...see What Didn't Work below.
What Didn't Work
Early-Season Mosquitos. I'd heard stories and dayhiked in some raging mosquito swarms, but never this bad and never while trying to do the simplest of camp chores. Total brutality.
Insufficient Repackaged Bug Repellent. Ah, yes, the urge to repackage to just carry enough liquids that you'll need - well, I planned for one person, not two. We ran out of bug spray so had to do an hour of uphill switchbacks in 80° weather wearing windshirts or rain gear. Easily lost a pound of water weight from that section alone. Lesson learned!
Osprey Atmos 50 Shoulder Straps. Too narrow! I've gotten spoiled by the width of the Gossamer Gear Miniposa shoulder straps, which really work well for me. It didn't kill me, and didn't leave any marks or anything, but definitely less than ideal.
Western Mountaineering Megalite Sleeping Bag. What?!? This is because a 30° bag was far too warm for the high-40's nighttime temperatures. 1.6 pounds' worth of warmth could have been maybe 1 pound, at most, if I'd have packed a lighter down quilt, which would have been fine. As it was, I slept with the bag over me as a quilt wearing almost nothing and I was still almost too warm. It's a great testament to the WM Megalite's warmth, though!
Too Much Food. We had 1.5 pounds of chow left over, and that INCLUDES eating cold pudding on the hike out. *AHEM* As long as I'm carrying the bear canister, we'll resolve that one for the next hike for sure! :-)