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CA destinations
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Vincent Lauricella
(1776SM) - F
CA destinations on 02/02/2012 07:07:57 MST Print View

The Scouts of my Troop are planning a summer backpacking trip to California and have narrowed the choices down to either Desolation Wilderness or Lassen Volcanic Park. We're looking to go over the 3rd week of August and spend a week on the trail. Being from the east coast, we have no firsthand knowledge of either area. I'm hoping to get suggestions as to which area will be a better fit for us.

Experience Level: Our Scouts are fairly experienced lightweight backpackers. They're well versed in LNT, bear issues, and water purifacation. We primarily do trips on the AT and in the Adirondacks. I personally have done western backpacking trips in Montana, Washington, and Colorado.

What we're looking for: I think the Scouts primarily want to experience a different kind of terrain and scenery than what we're used to here on the east coast. In the Dacks we usually pack in 5-10 miles, set up a basecamp, and then do fast and light day hiking loops from that point. We'd probably like to do the same thing on this trip, maybe relocating basecamp several times during the week. They'd prefer to get away from the crowds. Catching some trout would be thrill for the guys.

From the research that we've done so far, there are a couple of concerns:
1) Desolation seems to be described as "crowded". I know that's probably a relative term. The Dacks are also described as crowded but we've found that once you get in a little bit and away from the popular dayhiking trails, you pretty much have the place to yourself.
2) How remote are the trails of Lassen? Will we be able to get away from tourists, roads, and car campers?
3) How does the scenic beauty of the 2 locations compare?

Thanks in advance for any help.
BTW: I loved the disertation! It's great to see that not all Scouters are still using backpacking practices from 1975!

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: CA destinations on 02/02/2012 07:25:28 MST Print View

Lassen will be uncomfortably hot the 3rd week in Aug. At least for me.

Edited by kthompson on 02/02/2012 19:11:33 MST.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
CA destinations for East Coast Scouts. on 02/02/2012 09:22:01 MST Print View

I wouldn't go with either for a first-time, maybe only, backpack trip to California. Why not the High Sierra?

Lassen is beautiful and has unique volcanic features you won't see back home, but other than those volcanic features it's mostly rolling forestland. Although the peak is high, your backpacking would be lower and hot.

Desolation- I haven't backpacked there but it's the Bay Area's weekend wilderness and is reported to be busy.

More info may help us Californians make better suggestions- What are the group needs/desires/goals?
Group size?
Campfires- Must have, preferred, don't care?
Adventure goals- Peak bagging, iconic photo ops, famous places, etc?
Fishing- Must do or just preferred? Every day or just a couple times?
Is the base-camp idea highly preferred or would maybe two layovers be ok?
Transportation? Rental van or public bus? (Affects trailhead choices and ability to do an open-jaw trip. If rental vehicle, will any adult NOT be doing the hike (meaning could they drive around to pick up the group?)

Will you be doing any other tourist-type things on the trip- San Francisco, beaches, etc? Assuming your're flying in, the preferred airport could affect trailhead suggestions, and the preferred trailhead could affect airport suggestions.

For youth from low elevation going over 11,000'+ passes, I suggest at least one night at moderate elevation 6,000' - 9,000' before you start hiking, and a moderate first day. This is especially an issue on the East side of the Sierra where trailheads are often above 9,000' and the first pass is 11,000'+

(Kids unfamiliar with altitude sickness feel great, go hard, and then get hit with extreme cases of AMS)

Edited by jimqpublic on 02/02/2012 09:28:49 MST.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: CA destinations for East Coast Scouts. on 02/02/2012 09:50:01 MST Print View

I suggest the iconic "High Sierra". In the 100 miles between Mammoth Lakes and Olancha the Sierra crest never dips below 11,000'.

Altitudes are high, small lakes are plentiful, and with the exception of one North-South trail (John Muir/PCT) and the side trails connecting to road ends, it is very lightly traveled. Weather in late August is almost guaranteed to be perfect- Sunny warm days, nights approaching freezing. It could rain or snow- so be prepared, but it isn't likely. At these altitudes there are no ticks, no poison oak, and the mosquitos will be just about gone. You will need bearproof food canisters, but they can be rented at the ranger station. Lots of opportunities to fish- but especially in the National Parks the fishing isn't always very good.

Vincent Lauricella
(1776SM) - F
CA destinations on 02/02/2012 10:48:54 MST Print View

Thanks for the suggestions!

Here's some additional information about our group:

Size: We understand that we'll be limited by the size restrictions for the particular destination. We anticipate 10-12 Scouts and adults.

Campfires: Don't care. We'll smell better and the campsites will be better off without them.

Adventure Goals: Peakbagging would be great, mostly as a way to achieve a great view. Our Adirondacks trips usually involve peakbagging. We're all working toward becoming 46ers. Photos would be great, but I'd be more concerned about creating memories. The Scouts are probably not that concerned about the name recognition of the place that we go to. We'd entertain the possibility of touring San Francisco at the end of our trip. We have a total of 10 days alotted for the trip.

Fishing: Fishing possibilities would be an added plus, but not a deal breaker. I still have memories of catching brookies and cutthroat on every cast in Montana when I was their age...totally ruined me for trout fishing on the east coast!

Transportation: We'll be flying in and renting 2 cars or min-vans. Sacramento seems to be a convienient destination for us, but we're flexible. Being able to return to the same trailhead would be easier logistically, but with 2 cars we should have the ability to thru hike a trail.

Altitude: I'm concerned about this. We live at 250' above sea level. I know from skiing in Colorado how debilitating it's effects can be. I'd hate to see an otherwise great trip ruined by our inability to deal with the altitude.

Bears: I'm never excited about carrying 3 pounds of plastic around with me, but we're required to use canisters in the Dacks, so this wouldn't be a deal breaker for us.


Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: CA destinations on 02/02/2012 11:22:26 MST Print View

I wouldn't take Desolation Wilderness off of your list due to crowds. Mostly these are weekend hikers with a few of them on 3-day trips starting Friday. If you'll plan your trip to occur over the work week and get further from the trailheads you shouldn't run into too many people. Also, there are a few dead end lakes or those that require minimal off trail route finding (compass training for scouts!) that could offer you additional solitude.

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
week long trips in the West on 02/02/2012 14:20:14 MST Print View

I would hit the Sierra before Desolation Wilderness. But some attractive alternatives are these:

Sawtooths of Idaho, no bear canisters required (and no bear issues), 12 person max group size, low crowds, you register on the trail on the way in, no other permit required, fires allowed at most lakes, great fishing, very scenic alpine trails and lakes. Link to trip report and pictures

White Clouds of Idaho: no bear canisters required (and no bear issues), 12 person max group size, low crowds, you register on the trail on the way in, no other permit required, fires allowed at most lakes, great fishing, very scenic alpine trail and lakes. . Link to trip report and pictures

Titcombe Basin in Winds, Wyoming: no bear canisters required (and no bear issues), 12 person max group size, low crowds, you register on the trail on the way in, no other permit required, fires allowed at most lakes, great fishing, very scenic alpine trail and lakes. . Link to trip report and pictures

You can't beat the Sierra for scenery, but you can beat them for bear canisters, fire restrictions, permit requirements, and overcrowding. But the best week long trips in California I know of are these:

1. South Lake to Sawmill Pass:

Sat to Saddlerock Lake
Sun over Bishop Pass to Dusy Basin, climb Mt. Agassiz
Mon to Palisade Basin, over xc pass climb North Palisade
Tues to Palisade Lake, over xc pass climb Sucker Peak (Jepson)
Wed over Mather pass, climb Split Pk
Thurs to Twin lakes
Fri to Woods Lake climb Cedric Wright, Coliseum
Sat over Sawmill pass to Sawmill Meadow
Sun to cars and home.

2. Cottonwood pack station to Symmes Creek

Sat: depart Cottonwood roadhead and proceed up Cottonwood Creek past Golden Trout Camp to South Fork Lakes area for camp (5 miles).

Sun: Ascend basin to New Army Pass for commanding view of Kern Basin and Trench as well as the Owens alley and Sierra Crest. Descent into Rock Creek basin past Rock Creek Lake, down the canyon to the9600 ft elevation for camp (9.5 miles).

Mon: Ascend the north side of the canyon, cross Guyot Creek to the saddle below Mt. Guyot. Hike to Crabtree Meadow and up the creek to Crabtree lakes for camp (9 miles). Layover day here.

Wed: hike back down Crabtree Creek to the meadow and join John Muir Trail. Proceeding North to Wallace Creek and climb Wallace Creek valley to timberline campsite (9 miles) . Have layover day.

Fri: return to John Muir Trail and hike to Wright Creek hike up the creek to timberline for camp (6 miles).

Sat: cross country over the ridge dividing Wright and Tyndall Creeks until we meet the Shepard Pass Trail. Then proceed over Shepard Pass and descend to Anvil Camp (5 miles.

Sun: Descend the eastern Sierra escarpment to the Symmes Creek roadhead. (7 miles) .

3. Toulumne Meadows to Devils Postpile

S Hike from Toulumne mdw to Rafferty creek
S Rafferty Creek to below Lyell Creek
M Lyell Creek, over Donahue and Island Pass, to Thousand island Lake
T Layover Day
W Thousand Island Lake to below Lake Ediza
T layover day
F lake Ediza to Trinity Lakes
S to Devils Postpile, get food drop, hike 2 miles out of DP

4. Devils Postpile to Lake Sabrina (or North Lake)
S to Purple Lake
M over Silver Pass, to Quail Meadow
T to Lake Marie
W over Selmer Pass to Evolution Valley
T over #&%!$ for Brains Pass, to Midnight Lake
F to Lake Sabrina, (or via Piute Pass to North Lake)

5. South Lake to Onion Valley

S start at South Lake, hike to Saddlerock Lake
S To Barrett lakes
M layover, climbed Polomonium, Sill
T to Palisade Lake
W over Mather Pass to Lake Marjorie
T over Pinchot Pass to Rae lakes
F To Onion Valley, over Glen, Kearsarge

6. Onion Valley to Mt. Whitney, Whitney Portals

S to Flower Lake
S over Kearsearge Pass to Bubbs Creek
M over Forester Pss to Wright lakes
T Layover
W another layover for Group A, to Wallace lakes for Group B
T To Hitchcock lake for Group A, layover at Wallace for Group B
F over Trail Crest to the Portal, to summit of Whitney
S out to trail head Group A, down to Whitney Portal Group B

7. High Sierra Trail to Little 5 Lakes

Wolverton Meadows to Mehrton Meadows
To trail camp, above Bearpaw Meadows, climb Alta Peak
Past Hamilton lake, over Kaweah Gap, to Big Arroya
Thru 9 lakes basin to Little 5 Laks
Thru big 5 lakes to Lost Canyon
Past Columbine lake, climb Sawtooth peak, to camp at Timber Gap Creek
Near Bearpaw Meadows
To cars at Wolverton Meadows

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: week long trips in the West on 02/02/2012 14:53:27 MST Print View

I like Bob's routes- done most of that ground myself one time or another.

A few notes on the Cottonwood to Symmes route. Whitney makes a good layover day option- but you aren't subject to the Whitney Zone quota. Also if you start out over Cottonwood pass instead of New Army it provides a little more time to acclimate before hitting steep climbs (and a different quota applies)

Check the max group size though. Trips from Sequoia National Park mostly allow groups of 15 while many east side trailheads are limited to smaller groups.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Wind Rivers and fires on 02/02/2012 17:01:40 MST Print View

Just to correct some misinformation above about the Wind Rivers:

In the Bridger Wilderness, fires are not allowed above timberline, about 10,500 feet. In popular places like Island Lake and Titcomb Basin, there is basically no firewood available anyway. I can't find this info on the Bridger-Teton NF website, but it's on the USFS Bridger Wilderness map, which shows where fires are not allowed. A considerable part of the Winds is above timberline.

Organized groups, such as Scouts, require a permit (free) and are not allowed to camp in some sensitive/overused places (including Island Lake and Titcomb Basin).

There are also food storage requirements, although hanging is a legal alternative to bear canisters:
Those accustomed to Sierra bears will laugh at the drawings showing how to hang your food!

Of course the Winds are not in California, so this info is thread drift anyway.

Do allow several days at intermediate altitudes for acclimatization. Consider camping at 8,000 feet for a couple of days and dayhiking higher each day. If you can then move the base camp 1,000-1,500 feet higher for another day or two, and dayhike higher yet, so much the better.

Edited by hikinggranny on 02/02/2012 17:07:30 MST.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Elevation on 02/02/2012 18:08:52 MST Print View

I would strongly suggest camping under 9000 feet for a while. With a group that size theres a good chance someone will feel the elevation at some point if you go too fast. A basecamp at 8000 or so might be a good idea, you could spend a couple days hiking up higher but returning to camp lower at night. After a few days of that you can go higher if everyone's okay.

In Active
(blatargh) - F
Desolation Wilderness on 02/02/2012 19:07:13 MST Print View

Week long backpack trips in Desolation Wilderness with a very outdoor oriented Boy Scout troop were the highlight of my childhood.
I don't know if the crowds in Desolation would detract from the Scouts' experience ( I certainly didn't mind seeing lots of people up there when I was a kid ), but a Scout troop in a more secluded setting might detract from someone else's experience.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: CA destinations on 02/02/2012 21:03:33 MST Print View

Desolation can be really nice if you head for the areas that get less use - there are some nice little lakes in the Rockbound Valley that don't see a lot of visitors, and the lakes around Aloha that are off the trail are very nice. Pyramid Peak is a great scramble, very do-able for your scouts (took my son up when he was 11 or 12),and a great view.

However, not my first choice. Others have already suggested a lot of great spots in the central sierra, and I have another idea - the Emigrant Wilderness just north of Yosemite. Beautiful country, no permit hassles - just drop in and pick one up, no reservations needed - no bear can requirements (though I take mine when I go, since I'd rather carry it than deal with hanging my food), pretty good fishing, really easy cross-country hiking in a lot of the areas, and a little lower elevation than you'll find down south. The area around Emigrant Pass, Brown Bear Pass, Emigrant Meadow lake, Bond Pass, and the upper West Walker River is all great country. Take a look on google Earth ( search for Sonora Pass, then look south to Leavitt Lake and keep going from there). I'd highly recommend going in by way of Leavitt Lake, it's a great starting spot - but you need pretty good ground clearance to drive in there. I bet a full-size van like a Ford or Chevy would do fine. If you start from the lake and head south up the main trail (an old mining road at first), you go right up to a spectacular view in a mile or so - it will fire your boys right up. One thing I think would be great for your group is that off-trail travel in a lot of this area is super easy, and I think yur boys would really have fun if you take them off trail for a bit. If this interests you, send me a PM and I can give you loads of suggestions.

Other trailheads:

Leavitt Meadows (east side of the crest,on the West Walker, you head up the valley and westawrd to get to the really good stuff) Easy to get to, but has a pack station so the first few miles tend to be very well used by lots of stock, thus dusty and sometimes fragrant if you know what I mean.

Kennedy Meadows (west side) somewhat lower so it's all uphill to the good stuff, and also has a pack station that sees lots of use. Not my favorite.

Gianelli - west side - some dirt road but no problem for any normal vehicle. Starts up on a ridge so yu hae views real soon, and not much stock use. You tend to see quite a few folks in the first 3 miles, then not many.

Crabtree - west side - I've never gone in this way, it's lower than Gianelli and so not as good views on the hike in, from what I've heard.

Vincent Lauricella
(1776SM) - F
Ca destinations on 02/03/2012 08:48:08 MST Print View

Wow, too many choices!

We're used to hiking the AT which in the mid-atlantic region is hardly wilderness. I think any of these destinations would be awesome.

A couple of follow up questions and thoughts:
The Idaho photos are spectacular. I've backpacked not too far from there in the Beaverhead National Forrest. I assume that Boise would be the place to fly into? Is that area potential Grizzly country?

I'm trying to research the Sierra trails well south of Desolation that were mentioned. It seems that many of the suggested routes were in and around Kings Canyon NP? Would it make more sense to fly into LA if we did this area? The airfare to LA is considerably less expensive than it is to Sacramento.

Point well taken about a group of Scouts not ruining the experience for someone else. Our guys are very well manored, but then again, they are teenage boys.

As far as "crowds" go: We're not trying to find a location where we won't see another human for the length of our trip. To the contrary, I actually enjoy meeting like-minded hikers and being able to swap stories and destination suggestions. What I would like to avoid are partying groups that would be disrupting us at 2:00am.


Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: Ca destinations/Flights on 02/03/2012 09:06:40 MST Print View

Depending on your final location you could fly into a number of places. You mentioned Sacramento but for most of the destinations suggested thus far, San Francisco or Reno may be closer.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
CA destinations for East Coast Scouts. on 02/03/2012 09:51:16 MST Print View

Partiers at 2:00 AM? I've never heard backpackers partying. Trying to scare away bears maybe, but not partying. Car campgrounds are another story.

King's Canyon is slightly closer to LAX than Sacramento- each about 240 miles to the Grant Grove visitor center. Eastern Sierra (Lone Pine through Mammoth Lakes) are closer to LAX. Reno is a good option for Eastern Sierra, Yosemite or points north if you can get a good fare.

I live in LA and don't sweat the traffic or crowds- but Sacramento airport is definitely easier to manage than LAX. If you do fly into LA, check prices to Burbank, Long Beach, and Ontario. Burbank is at least 1/2 hour closer to the Sierra (in light traffic!) and will also save time getting cars rented. Long Beach is even better for ease of use, but is just as far from the Sierra as LAX.

Check prices for a chartered van or minibus. Total cost -might- be competitive with renting two vans for 10 days, and it would allow you to do a point-to-point trip, but not supplemental sightseeing. is one that came up in a web search.

Upon reflection- I doubly agree to keep elevation in the 7,000-9,000' range for a couple nights before going higher, or even a basecamp at that altitude with day hikes higher. Trailheads that meet this criteria are Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite and Red's Meadow / Devils' Postpile near Mammoth Lakes.

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
to answer questions on 02/03/2012 10:53:10 MST Print View

Sawtooths: no grizzlies in the Sawtooths, and black bears only at lower elevations.

airport would be Boise, but there is a small airport at Ketchum, but I'm not sure commercial airplanes go there.

White Clouds: the same as Sawtooths.

Titcombe Basin in Winds: yes, if you tell them you are a scout group, bear canisters will be required, and each campsite has to be designated and approved (and negotiated) by management on a permit, and they will verify your gear before issuing a permit. The message really is "we don't want scout groups here, and don't trust you, so stay away."

Unfortunately, a few scout groups have probably set the tone for their impressions of all scout groups. If a mixed group of adults and youths just shows up and goes on a backpack, no permits required in advance, no bear canisters required, camp anywhere you feel like it. I would suggest that group act very responsibly, and not like the old stereotype of scout groups (a stereotype which is true in some cases). The whole hike is close to 10,000, so fires are not the best idea on this hike.

Sierra hikes: if you can pull off the permits, and the transportation, the scenery is the best. A quota of hikers is allowed at each trailhead per day. Due to the permit system, I doubt its too crowded.

Hobbes W
(Hobbesatronic) - F

Locale: SoCal
CA destinations on 02/03/2012 11:14:59 MST Print View

Well, I quickly scanned the various recommendations, and was surprised that my #1 go to spot to introduce people to the Sierra wasn't listed until I came across Bob's post:

3. Toulumne Meadows to Devils Postpile
S Hike from Toulumne mdw to Rafferty creek
S Rafferty Creek to below Lyell Creek
M Lyell Creek, over Donahue and Island Pass, to Thousand island Lake
T Layover Day
W Thousand Island Lake to below Lake Ediza
T layover day
F lake Ediza to Trinity Lakes
S to Devils Postpile, get food drop, hike 2 miles out of DP

Having done almost every major section of the Sierra, along with Desolation up by Tahoe, the Tuolumne to Reds/DP is a no brainer if you want to convert someone into an outdoor enthusiast.

First, the single con: it's a popular section of the PCT/JMT, so you're not going to get much solitude.

Now for the pros:
1. Ritter/Banner/TI lake were both Muir's and Adams' favorite section of the entire Sierra Nevada. If that doesn't tell you something about the beauty of the region, then nothing else will.
2. It's probably the easiest section of the JMT - low passes, no hard uphills (other than Donahue), fairly soft ground ie the very hard, rocky granite stuff starts lower down by Bishop.
3. Zillions of lakes - while not a destination for the hard core GT set (such as myself), there are plenty of 'Bows and Brookies to keep kids entertained.
4. And last, but not least, it has the best, easiest & most convenient way to shuttle between the two THs. Not only that, but ending up @ Mammoth allows everyone to get cleaned up, go grab a dinner, and spend the night in a bed.

Oh, and one other thing: definitely fly into LAX. You can rent a van and drive to Mammoth in 5-6hrs depending on traffic. Spend the night in Mammoth, catch the shuttle the next day to Yosemite and begin your trek.

Edited by Hobbesatronic on 02/03/2012 11:32:36 MST.

Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: CA destinations on 02/03/2012 11:26:55 MST Print View

FYI, Reno to Mammoth Lakes is 3.5hrs of easy driving. Flights will probably be cheaper to LAX.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: CA destinations on 02/03/2012 11:46:20 MST Print View

I'm a big fan of Lassn NP for the variety of volcanic features, the ability to get above tree line (remember left coasters - east coasters don't get to do that much), and the lack of crowds. 2-3 miles from the trailhead, you might share campsites with others. Further out and you'll mostly be on your own. You'll often be in sight of a 14er - Shasta

The approach to Lassen can be quite hot - could be 100F coming through Red Bluff, but not with east coast humidities (and that's a HUGE difference). But at 7,000 feet, it would be 75-85F. Remind about sun intensity at elevation at either location - sometime you don't experience back home.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
high altitude sun on 02/03/2012 12:10:17 MST Print View

+1 on David's mention of the high altitude sun. Bring plenty of sunscreen for theose boys, and make them use it! I aim for every 2 hours myself when I am above the trees.