Climbing Peep Sight Peak

At 9,716 ft elevation, Peep Sight Peak in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness doesn’t stand out as a mountain worth bragging about climbing. There are much taller peaks in the area and throughout the Sierras. Even the trailhead for this climb is somewhat remote and inconvenient to get to. The draw to climb Peep Sight Peak are the many large and interesting conglomerate rock formations that top this mountain. Also worth the journey are the wide open views of the wilderness, with many other noteworthy peaks visible from the trail.

Peep Sight Peak
Look for the trailhead sign on the Highland Lakes road

This hike is started at the Tryon Meadow trailhead on the Highland Lakes road, which is a well graded dirt road off Highway 4 just west of Ebbetts Pass. Low clearance vehicles should be able to make it if care is taken. The trailhead is signed, and will be on your right (west) about a mile before Highland Lakes. Plenty of room to park and turn around off the main road is provided.

Peep Sight Peak
Plenty of room at the trailhead

The trail immediately enters the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. Wilderness permits are not required for day hiking. The first section of this hike follows rolling terrain through the woods on its way to Milk Ranch Meadow. Very little overall elevation gain is made during this first leg, so it’s easy to get this section done quickly.

Peep Sight Peak

Within just a few minutes on the trail, you’ll realize that this area is used for open cattle grazing. The water crossings are trampled with hoof prints, and the faint odor of cattle byproducts is present for much of the trail. This means bring plenty of water with you, and be real selective of your water sources when filtering or treating creek water. We were frequently surprised of the terrain these cows could get into. These are some tough cows.

Peep Sight Peak

This hike was done on July 27th with temperatures in the 90s back in Carson City below. The tree cover was welcome for the first part of this hike, since the trailhead is at around 8,500 ft and still a bit warm. There are plenty of opportunities for shade until the real climb begins. Breaks in the trees allow for good views of the jagged Raymond and Reynolds Peaks to the north.

Peep Sight Peak
Arriving at Milk Ranch Meadow

After circling around the base on the north side of Folger Peak, the trail arrives at Milk Ranch Meadow. It’s very scenic here, but obviously a very popular place with the cattle. There are fences here, and even an electric one that I verified is live, but they don’t seem well maintained. It appears that the cows can still go wherever they want. The trail is a little confusing through the meadow, with frequent forks. All the trails seem to parallel the meadow though, and it looks like new trails were made around fallen trees. Just follow along the meadow, and you can’t go wrong.

Peep Sight Peak
Looking back at the meadow

When you reach the top of Milk Ranch Meadow, it’s time to climb. The trail leaves the meadow through a little break in the fence between two trees. The trail from here appears to receive very little use, and is hard to follow at times or just disappears altogether. Sometimes the trail is just what appears to be erosion from water runoff, and you wonder if you’re really on the trail. There are also a few times when you must scout around to pick up the trail again. A good trail map and compass is very helpful on this hike. I used the Carson-Iceberg, Emigrant and Mokelumne Wilderness areas map from National Geographic with good results.

Peep Sight Peak
Wildflowers along the way

As you start to climb, great views of the surrounding peaks come into view.

Peep Sight Peak
Airola and Iceberg Peak

Peep Sight Peak
Folger Peak

Peep Sight Peak
Folger and Hiram Peaks

Eventually we came to the creek that drains the northeast side of Peep Sight Peak. Just past the creek the trail disappeared completely and a barbed wire fence blocked further progress. There was no indication where the trail might go, other than the map showing the trail continued somewhere past the fence (we’d eventually find the trail 50 yards away to the west on the way back). We decided to go off trail at this point, and followed the creek drainage up around the north side of Peep Sight Peak. It was at this point that our hike strayed from the most direct route. We would’ve been better off time and mileage-wise to hunt for the trail beyond the fence; however, looking back, there are no regrets for taking the route we did. We did some great exploring, and saw some amazing country that we wouldn’t have got to see otherwise.

Peep Sight Peak
Leaving the trail to ascend

Peep Sight Peak

Peep Sight Peak

Following the creek up took us through a lot of wildflowers. Eventually the conglomerate rock closed in on us, and there was just a narrow slot where the creek has cut through. I climbed up the slot to see what the route ahead looked like, and was surprised to see the beginnings of a big tabletop mountain and the peak just ahead.

Peep Sight Peak

Peep Sight Peak

Peep Sight Peak

Peep Sight Peak

Once up on the table area of the peak, it occurred to me that I really didn’t know where the arch and other formations were located on the mountain. The highest point of the mountain was directly ahead, but didn’t appear to host any formations. We decided to hike the table around the peak to the west.

Peep Sight Peak
View of Bull Run Peak

Walking the table provided great views of the surrounding area, including Bull Run Peak to the southwest. After a rest, I decided I would ascend to the ridge over the talus to try and find the arch. Once up at the ridge, there was no sign up the arch. I was very near the top though, and had some great views off both sides.

Peep Sight Peak
Views off both sides of Peep Sight Peak

Peep Sight Peak
View of Raymond and Reynolds Peaks

Peep Sight Peak
View to the west

I continued south along the ridge in search of the arch. Eventually I found the tall crag that stands alone, appearing to watch over the valley below. It was truly a sight to behold, and I knew the photo wouldn’t do it justice. Next time I’ll have to get a person standing next to it for size comparison.

Peep Sight Peak
Watching over the valley below

A little further south along the ridge, and I finally found the arch, the “peep sight” that the peak is named for. I climbed through and around it to get some photos.

Peep Sight Peak
The Peep Sight arch

Peep Sight Peak
Side view of the arch

Peep Sight Peak
A view of one of the arch’s legs

After regrouping with my dad, we filtered some water from a spring and made plans to hike out. Following the ridge to the southwest didn’t look too terribly hard, and we would eventually join back up with the trail. Down below, there was a big wash with steep exposed sides. We tried our best to avoid it as long as we could. Eventually the terrain forced us down into it, and we had to scramble down loose banks to the creek below. This turned out to be another good water source, mostly free of cattle evidence, so we filled our bottles again.

Peep Sight Peak
Looking for a good route down

Peep Sight Peak
Making our way along the ridge

Peep Sight Peak
Trying to avoid the wash below

Peep Sight Peak
…but finally forced into the wash

Peep Sight Peak
But there was a good water source!

The hiking became much easier now, and we finally reunited with the trail. It was nice to walk along easily for a while. I was surprised at how much elevation we had lost though, and we had to climb out quite a bit.

Peep Sight Peak
I think I see the trail down there…

Peep Sight Peak
Climbing up along the south base of Peep Sight Peak

Eventually we came to a high point on the trail. We were right below the arch and tall crag. Now revealed was the best way to reach these two landmarks. Apparently I had looked over the edge from the top in the wrong spots, and didn’t see this route. Someone looking to do this hike with the least amount of mileage will want to climb here. Another good option would be to go up where we did, and down here to make a loop. Going around the southwest end of the mountain was definitely not the best way, and we lost too much elevation.

Peep Sight Peak
The best way up to the arch and tall crag

The trail started to descend back towards the point where we left the trail to begin our ascent. It was very hard to follow. Occasionally we would find the remnants of old trail blazes in the trees. They’re easy to miss. Some scouting was required to find the trail again.

Peep Sight Peak
Remnant of an old trail blaze

Peep Sight Peak
And another old trail blaze

Eventually the trail disappeared in a meadow. We continued walking through the woods, and found the barbed wire fence where we turned off to make our ascent. We had finally come full circle.

Peep Sight Peak
Trail disappearing into the meadow

It was starting to get late in the day now, and we did our best to make haste. Occasionally we would lose the trail, but then find our footprints again. It was nice to get down to Milk Ranch Meadow again for some easy hiking. The bugs were virtually non-existent on the way up, but now that evening was drawing in, the mosquitoes would bug us if we lingered anywhere too long.

Peep Sight Peak
Back at Milk Ranch Meadow

After hiking between 10-11 miles, we got back to the trailhead at 7:30 PM, much later than we had anticipated. Having explored the area now though, and knowing the best route, we can shave several hours and difficult hiking off the next trip. We wouldn’t have phone signal again for more than hour into our drive back. As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones anticipating an earlier return home, so some apologizing was required to worried family members.

I highly recommend this hike into a little used part of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. We didn’t encounter another hiker all day, so the hike ranks very high on solitude. Anytime we thought we heard other people, it just turned out to be a cowbell from a wandering herd of cattle. Having a compass, good map, and sticking to the south face to make your ascent will make your hike much easier. Bring lots of water or a means to treat or filter your water, and choose your water sources carefully. There aren’t too many places the cattle haven’t been. Backpackers looking for an extended stay in the wilderness can enjoy a few different loop options off this same trail.

More photos of this hike can be found here on Flickr.

Sawyer Mini Water Filter Review

I’ve become frustrated with my pump water filter. Not only can it be a lot of work, performance degrades pretty rapidly over a weekend outing. Cleaning the ceramic filter in the field doesn’t seem real effective, and there’s the risk of contamination when cleaning it in the stream. When I saw the super simple $20 Sawyer Mini Water Filter, I thought it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Filtering water on the Pacific Crest Trail

The Mini Filter kit comes with the MINI Water Filter with Tip Cap, a 16 oz Reusable Squeeze Pouch, a 7″ Drinking Straw, and one Cleaning Plunger (Syringe). The whole kit, including the stuff sack I put it in, weighs only 4.5 ounces (130 grams), and takes up very little room in a pack. By leaving out the straw or the syringe (if you don’t need to clean the filter on a shorter outing), you can reduce the weight and volume even further.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Just Squeeze!

I got to test the Sawyer Mini on a 2 night backpacking trip recently, and used it for our family of three. I headed down to the creek on our first morning, eager to put this little filter to the test. The first thing I noticed was that the little 16 oz pouch was hard to fill with water. I don’t think the water flowing into the pouch was strong enough to counter the water pressure pushing in on the pouch. I moved out to a rock in the middle of the creek where the current was much faster. This seemed to do the trick, and the pouch filled up. After screwing the filter onto the pouch, I started to filter the water into my Nalgene bottle. Before even squeezing, water was coming out the clean side using gravity alone. Nice! Squeezing the pouch and keeping a constant pressure on it easily started to fill my bottle.

Since I planned to filter a lot more water than the 16 oz pouch would easily handle, I decided to try one of my extra 2 liter Platypus soft bottles I brought along. I was happy to find that the screw-on threads were compatible. I filled up the 2 liter bottle (which filled much easier than the little pouch), and repeated the process. Once I had my bottles filled, I even carried a 2 liter bottle of creek water back to the campsite to be filtered later. This was something I really couldn’t do with my pump, and saved me additional time.

Sawyer Mini Water Filter
The whole kit (including an added stuff sack) weighs only 4.5 ounces

By the second morning, I noticed the filter wasn’t flowing as fast as when I first started using it. Squeezing the pouch or bottle was still a simple task though. I used the syringe to back-flush the filter a few times. I was probably too cautious when cleaning the first time, and eased the water through the filter not wanting to damage anything. Rereading the instructions when I got home though, it says to back-flush the filter with enough pressure to make sure you force the contaminants out, and not merely allow the water to take the path of least resistance. I’m looking forward to using the filter long term to see how well the water flow can be maintained.

SUMMARY

I really like the Sawyer Mini Water Filter. It worked great for our family of three for a 2 night backpacking trip. I imagine the full size filter would be faster, but I didn’t feel under-powered on my weekend outing at all. It’s a lot less work than my pump filter, takes up less volume in my pack, and works with a number of the bottles I already have. It even works with a disposable water bottle in a pinch. I also liked that I could easily take water back to camp and filter it in a more comfortable, drier location. I thought the 1 pint pouch was a little small, and is probably better suited to emergency use when you may need the filter “just in case”. One of my 1 liter Platypus soft bottles would be more practical for personal use without any real space or weight penalty.

Not only is it great for backpacking, but it will be great for those longer hiking and biking day outings where I’m not sure if I’ll have enough water, but still want to travel light. I’ve run out of water with a few miles of uphill still to go, and one of these Minis would have made a huge difference. And for around $20, it’s hard to beat the deal!

Ready to purchase? Buy this product now at REI, and help support this website!

More information at the Sawyer website here.

Backpacking Luther Pass to Carson Pass

We kicked off our backpacking season at the same time and location as last year. School just got out for the summer, and we headed to the southernmost section of the Tahoe Rim Trail. The big advantage this year is that we knew what type of conditions to expect on the trail. We wouldn’t get stuck walking through miles of snow like last time! This year we added an additional day to our journey, and hiked out to Carson Pass instead of Echo Summit, a route that kept us mostly out of the snow and having a lot of fun.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Getting started at Big Meadow

We got a late start on Friday, May 30th, not leaving the Big Meadow-Tahoe Rim Trail trailhead on Luther Pass until 3:00 PM. Although it was a late start, we didn’t even start getting ready for this trip until that very morning. It used to take us days to prepare, but we managed to pull it all together in a few hours including food shopping and stopping off to get a campfire permit. We’re getting better at this!

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Leaving Big Meadow

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
A quick look at Round Lake

Still, the late start inspired a brisk pace. We wanted to make sure we got to our campsite near Meiss Lake 5.5 miles up the trail with enough daylight left to setup camp and eat dinner. There wasn’t much stopping along the way, and this was probably the longest we’ve hiked without taking off the packs to rest. We hiked right on by Round Lake and a big creek crossing, places we had extended rest breaks at last year. Not bad for our first outing of the year!

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Big boulders along Round Lake

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
TRT south of Round Lake

We encountered some snow and only a few mosquitoes before getting to Meiss Meadow. There were quite a few snowbanks to go around or over, but the trail was still easy to follow. Without taking any breaks, the snow was tiring on the legs. We were pretty excited when the woods opened up, the snow disappeared, and we could see the Pacific Crest Trail intersection at Meiss Meadow. It was now just about a half mile to the campsite.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
There was snow between Round Lake and Meiss Meadow, but the trail was easy to follow

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
At the TRT / PCT intersection

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Camp setup just in time

We finally made it to our campsite south of Meiss Lake. We had just enough time to setup the tent, and get dinner and a fire going. When we picked up our campfire permit, we were told they wouldn’t be allowing open campfires much longer this year due to an early fire season. We were thankful we were still able to build a fire at this time, because it was cold! After enjoying dinner, cleaning up, and spending a short time enjoying the fire, we quickly retreated to the tent to warm up. I fell asleep almost instantly after the big day. It was a cold night, reminding us that Spring was just barely getting started in the mountains. Frogs numbering in the thousands were croaking in the meadow most of the night. It was hard to imagine an animal being so content sitting in the freezing water, while I lay there buried in layers of clothing and a sleeping bag.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Morning exploration around Meiss Lake

We were thankful when the sun finally hit the tent in the morning and it warmed up quickly. We took advantage of our campfire permit and built another fire while we got drinks and breakfast going. The last time we were here, we had to pack up camp to hike out to Echo Summit. This time we had nothing planned but to stay another day and explore the area.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Creek Jumping

We started off the morning with a hike towards Meiss Lake. There are some interesting boulder outcroppings surrounding the lake that resemble little islands in the meadow. The rest of the meadow was like a marshy maze where the snow melt made its way to the lake through a network of little streams. We got fairly close to the lake, but finally got to the point where we couldn’t go any further without getting our feet wet. Meiss Lake is probably best approached from the much drier east side. With all this standing water, it was amazing we didn’t see any mosquitoes while we were camped.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Emerging Corn Lilies

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Meiss Cabin

After some exploring, it was time to meet my dad. He was on his way in from Carson Pass to the south to join us for the night! We followed the PCT back to the south and went over to the Meiss Family cabin. We were only at the cabin for about 10 minutes when my dad and his dog showed up on the PCT and joined us. After some time exploring the cabin area, we returned to camp for some lunch.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
The barn at the Meiss Cabin

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Some water time on the headwaters of the Upper Truckee River

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and doing some short excursions around the area. The ford at the Upper Truckee River has been improved since we were here last. There are some big rocks crossing the river now that make it easy to hop across. The borders of the crossing also have some nice new flat rocks that border the banks, making it easy to collect water without getting muddy. On one excursion we headed north on the PCT past the ford. We quickly hit snow on the way to Showers Lake, and the ground between the snow was muddy. We headed east back towards Meiss Lake, but encountered water too deep or marshy to get across. The river directed us back to the crossing at the ford. It’s going to be a few weeks still before the trail to Echo Summit is good for hiking.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Our home for the weekend

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Brrr! A cold morning.

I was hoping that it’d warm up some the second day, but we had another cold evening. I sat there wishing that I’d built the campfire in the sun to get more warmth! Without being in a hurry, we had a much more relaxed dinner this time. The cold night was creeping in quickly though, and I found myself wishing the sun would go down faster so we could climb into the tent. There wouldn’t be any staying up late to gaze at the stars on this trip.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Ready to hike to Carson Pass

I think the second night was colder than the first, and we woke up to a frosty tent and gear. The sun and campfire quickly warmed us up though, and we started taking off layers. The plan for the day was to hike out with my dad to the Carson Pass trailhead, 3.5 miles to the south. This was 2 miles shorter than going back the way we came, and we’d get to see some different country.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Hiking south across Meiss Meadow

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Carrying dogs across the creeks

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Little waterfall below Red Lake Peak

The hike to Carson Pass was really nice. It started off with an easy hike across Meiss Meadow with great views of Red Lake Peak. After a couple stream crossings, we hiked through the woods a short time and then climbed near the top of timberline as we topped out above Carson Pass. Along the climb were some great views looking back towards Lake Tahoe, lots of wildflowers, and even a waterfall. Round Top and the other breathtaking rugged mountains lay further to the south. As we made our final descent to Carson Pass, we started to pass a lot of people hiking in for the day. The rumble of cars and motorcycles on the highway below signaled that we were almost done with our hike. Once back at the trailhead, we shuttled back to Luther Pass to pick up our car. We were pretty tired, but started to think of where we’d backpack next!

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Almost to Carson Pass with Round Top peak in view

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Looking back to the north with Lake Tahoe visible

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Some nice wildflowers

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Made it to Carson Pass!

Tips: There are no wilderness permits required for this hike, but you’ll need to get a campfire permit just to use your gas stove. A permit can be acquired at the ranger station at the Carson Pass trailhead, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in South Tahoe (Monday-Friday), or at the Taylor Creek Ranger Station near Fallen Leaf Lake. There is lots of water available in this area, so there aren’t any long stretches without it. There is no need to carry a lot of water and burden yourself while you’re hiking (just be sure to filter or treat all water).

More photos of this trip can be found on Flickr HERE.

Backpacking to Barney Lake

On the first weekend of October, we went out for what was very likely our last backpacking trip of the year. Below freezing temperatures led into the weekend, and left us wondering if we’d stay warm enough. And not only would it be cold, early nightfall would mean a long time in the tent waiting for the morning sun. We packed a couple extra layers for this trip, pulling items from our winter gear and even pajama collection. And to add another challenge to this hike, we’d have to figure out how to get a wilderness permit in the middle of a federal government shutdown!

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Entering the Hoover Wilderness

My dad planned this trip for us. Two nights at Barney Lake in the Hoover Wilderness, with a day hike up to Crown Lake. To gain overnight access into this area, you need a wilderness permit. We stopped at the ranger station in Bridgeport, CA and hoped for the best. As expected, the ranger station was closed, but there were plenty of permits left at the self-serve kiosk outside the building. This was a relief, because there are stories around the country of rangers writing tickets for people hiking in some areas.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Further up the canyon

We parked at the Mono Village backpacker parking lot and paid our $10 for leaving the car there three days. Mono Village is a privately owned RV campground, and you must pass through it to get to the trailhead. My mother-in-law and husband were camped here, and we paid them a visit before hiking up into the mountains. They said the bears made nightly walks through the campground, and went through anything they could find. They had an ice chest outside with waters and iced tea in it, and the bears busted open the tea. Since it’s a private campground, there are no bear boxes for campers like you would see in a Forest Service or State run campground. I don’t think I’d want to be in a tent here, and from the look of things, nobody else did either. It was all just RVs.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Little Slide Canyon

Because of other weekend obligations, we got a late start on the trail that day. It was already 3:00 PM, and we had about 4 miles to get to Barney Lake through unfamiliar country. We’d also need some time to locate a campsite once we got there. Our pace was a little quicker than normal, fueled by some nervous energy.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Up the final switchbacks through pretty Fall colors

The trail leaves Mono Village at 7,095 feet elevation, and quickly enters the Hoover Wilderness. The forest here is full of big and widely spaced trees. It almost feels like a park. We passed several large piles of bear scat, apparently left by bears gorged on camper food, headed up to the mountains to sleep it off. After leaving the woods, the trail enters some open country for some great views of the canyon ahead, and Little Slide Canyon to the south. There are many aspen groves here, and all were glowing bright gold.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Arriving at Barney Lake

We made good time through the canyon, thanks to a mostly straight trail. The switchbacks don’t start until the end of the canyon. A lot of elevation is gained quickly through the switchbacks, the trail climbing over granite and under the aspens. Finally the trail arrives at Barney Lake at 8,258 feet elevation. Because of our late start, we arrived at near the perfect time for a stunning view. The lake was smooth and dark, but the massive Crown Point at the other end of the lake was still sunny and reflecting in the water.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
South of Barney Lake looking for somewhere to camp

Still needing to find a campsite, we kept hiking around the west side of the lake, passing a few berry laden piles of bear scat along the way. My map showed a marshy area to the south of the lake, so I wasn’t sure what we’d find. The first good campsite we came to was occupied, so we kept hiking. Large pine trees ahead at the border of the marsh indicated some firm, dry ground.  We hiked down off the trail through a talus field, and entered the stand of trees where we immediately found a good campsite. Just to be sure, I dropped my pack and went a little further into the trees. Just out of sight from my family, I heard a big animal crashing through the nearby trees. It sounded more like something tall and graceful (deer) and less like something short and brutish (bear), but I didn’t want to investigate further. I suddenly decided that the place where we dropped our packs was as good as any other place to camp.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Morning at camp

Without any resting, we went quickly about setting up camp and making dinner. Partway though dinner, a deer walked right through camp and confirmed my suspicion about what was lurking in the nearby bushes. Nightfall was upon us before we could finish our camp chores, and dishes were done with the headlamps on.  We also had more food than room in the bear vaults.  Kristy and I went into the woods with a bag of food and 50 feet of utility cord.   We found a suitable branch, hung the bag high, then I made some of the most pathetic looking knots you’ve ever seen to tie it off.  I really need to practice this.  Soon we were in our tent, and got bundled up for the long, cold night ahead. It was only 8:00 PM, and because of the orientation of the canyon we were in, we wouldn’t get sun on our tent for a while into the morning.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Aspens below Crown Point

Not too long into the night, I heard a munching sound coming from outside the tent where we left the packs. I got my headlamp, unzipped the tent and lit up the packs propped up on the granite boulders. Sure enough, there was a big rodent underneath my pack. It looked more like a big rat than a marmot (which looks more like a fat squirrel). A mountain beaver? It was hard to tell in the dark. I got out and moved our packs underneath the tent fly where I hoped they’d be safe the rest of the night.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Robinson Creek with a covering of ice

The night was long and cold, but we stayed warm enough, mostly complaining about cold feet. Towards the end of the night we tucked our faces down into the sleeping bags for more warmth. While we weren’t really cold, it wasn’t really comfortable either.  I think we all agreed that we prefer warmer temperatures to camp in.  It was more like surviving than camping.  Daylight finally arrived, but it would still be a long time before sun hit our camp. You could see it slowly creeping down the mountainside high above us. Instead of waiting for the sun, we got started on some hot beverages and oatmeal to warm us up. Filtering water with my pump from a nearby creek was also a good way to warm up.  There was a thin layer of ice on the slow moving water in the meadow.  As we started getting ready for the day, we discovered that the rodents had gotten into a couple things that weren’t secure. The packs were fine, but Kristy’s hiking hat had the sweatband chewed out! There were a few nibbles on her trekking poles as well. They were apparently after anything salty.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Granite everywhere

After breakfast and getting camp tidied up, we decided to split into two groups for the day. Kristy, my son, and the dogs would stay behind and hang out at Barney Lake for a more relaxing day. My dad and I planned to hike to Crown Lake up above to the south. My dad and I set out directly to the south along the marsh instead of climbing back up to the trail. The trail eventually crossed the valley, so we’d run into it if we kept going straight. This turned out to be a big mistake though. The brush started to get real thick at the end of the valley. I crossed the creek, and tried my luck on the other side, but eventually got walled up and had to turn back. I followed my dad into a boulder field that was thick with aspens. It was tough getting through, and I thought I might rip my pants or worse, break an ankle. By the time we broke through and reached the trail, we realized how close we were.  It took several minutes to walk just 50 yards.  This little adventure cost us some time, and it felt like we had walked an additional mile. That little climb from camp back up to the trail didn’t seem bad at all now.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Up many switchbacks

Back on the trail now, we stopped at Robinson Creek to fill our water bottles and cool down a bit from our tangle with the bushes. After crossing the creek, the trail climbs up into the woods again, crosses the creek again, and then starts a long series of switchbacks to climb the steep granite mountainside. Because of the bends in the canyon, we never could see Barney Lake as we climbed higher.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Pass through the granite

After many switchbacks, we finally arrived at an intersection. To the southwest was Peeler Lake, to the southeast, Robinson and Crown Lakes. Either direction would’ve been a beautiful trip, but we hung a left towards Crown Lake.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Intersection

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Big boulders of granite

This section of trail passes through fields of enormous boulders that were probably moved downhill by glaciers coming off Crown Point. The trail work that was done to get through this area is pretty amazing. I thought of the people who first explored this area, and what it must have took to climb through all this. Here we were just out for an easy stroll.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
First of the Robinson Lakes

The first of the Robinson Lakes we encountered was a pretty turquoise color.  The water was crystal clear and it had a sandy bottom, so it was hard to tell why it was so green.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Another one of the Robinson Lakes

The trail passes right between a narrow strip of land between the two lower Robinson Lakes, with a lake visible on each side. After passing by all the lakes, we followed the creek up through more giant granite boulders.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Outlet of the lower Robinson Lakes on the other side of the lake

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Almost to Crown Lake

The trail crosses the creek once more, and then you are in a basin. Slide Mountain towers above, and soon Crown Lake (9,600 feet elevation) comes into view. The trail follows right along the lake shore for a wonderful hiking experience. We hiked around to the south side of the lake to have lunch, and ran into the two backpackers we saw camped at Barney Lake. These two ladies were headed further up to Snow Lake. We got to talking and found out that the rodents got their stuff too! One of the lady’s trekking poles was pretty chewed up.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Crown Lake and Slide Mountain

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Slide Mountain

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Meadow above Crown Lake

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Trout in the Crown Lake inlet

It was very exciting to be up in this area. I wanted to hike every pass and see what was around every corner. Any side trip we did though was going to add an additional three miles. After sitting down for lunch and relaxing, my legs started to stiffen up, and going back to camp seemed far enough. We investigated the inlet creek to Crown Lake and it was full of some pretty good sized trout. I bet there are even bigger ones in the lake.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Another view of Crown Lake looking north

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Back to Robinson Lakes

We followed the same trail back to camp, but this time getting to see everything from another point of view and with different lighting. We made much better time going back down. We passed a group of backpackers on their way to Peeler Lake. They were running out of daylight and were inquiring of the trail ahead. Luckily they only had a couple miles or less left. I was glad it wasn’t us in a hurry this time.  We flew down the switchbacks, and I couldn’t believe how many we had come up!

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Heavy duty trail work

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Down the Switchbacks

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Pretty Autumn forest trail

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Almost back to Barney Lake

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Swampy meadow south of Barney Lake

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Returning to camp

We finally returned to camp, and were ready for a more leisurely dinner than the night before. It was good to reunite with the rest of the family and hear about their day. I was sorry they didn’t get to see the sights we saw, but also thankful we didn’t drag the dogs into our first bushwhacking adventure. That might have killed the whole day!

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Camp Dog

This night we stashed all our gear under the tent fly, and didn’t leave anything out for the rodents to gnaw on. Sometime in the night a breeze came in, and the aspens were quaking all around us. This also seemed to bring in warmer temperatures, and the night wasn’t as cold as the night before. The night pretty much went without incident with exception of a daddy longlegs that got into the tent and crawled on my neck. In the dark I brushed off whatever was crawling on me, and then I smelled something strange. A little freaked out, I grabbed my light, and then discovered the bug. I’ve since confirmed that daddy longlegs have a pair of defensive scent glands that secrete a peculiar smelling fluid when disturbed. Gross.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Starting the hike out

We woke up and started the coffee/tea/breakfast routine. Normally my son likes to sleep in, but he was already deflating mattresses and stuffing sleeping bags. He was on a mission to get back on the trail, so he could hopefully see my mother-in-law before they left camp. He’d been talking about their raviolis all weekend. I don’t think we’ve ever left camp sooner than we did that day.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Back to Barney Lake

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Looking back at Crown Point and Slide Mountain

Backpacking to Barney Lake
A short visit to the beach

Before the final hike out, we stopped at Barney Lake to shed a layer of clothing and filter some more water. It’s a beautiful view anytime of the day, so of course we took more photos too.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
A final viewing of Barney Lake

Backpacking to Barney Lake
More pretty autumn trail colors

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Enjoying the trail

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Upper Twin Lakes below

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Final showing of color before the snow

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Little Slide Canyon

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Trail Dog

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Looking back up the canyon

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Almost back to the trailhead

Backpacking to Barney Lake
At the Mono Village trailhead

After we got down the switchbacks, Kristy and my son flew down the trail, determined to make it back to see her mom before they left the campground. My dad and I took a more leisurely pace. As we neared the campground, big piles of bear scat looking like early Clif Bar prototypes became more numerous. I was glad they stayed down low and didn’t bother us. By the time we caught up with Kristy, they had been waiting at the campground for a half hour. Sadly though, the camper was gone, and there would be no raviolis. They probably just missed her mom by minutes. Instead, we opened up the bear vaults, and had a backpackers buffet with our leftovers as we drove back to Carson City.

Backpacking to Barney Lake
Looking back at Sawtooth Ridge

This is definitely an area I want to come back to. Especially for longer trips. There are a few different options for loops or extended out-and-backs that would take you through some amazing country. It’ll have to wait until next year though. Snow was forecasted for the area just a few days after we left. I think we got our final backpacking trip done just in time!  It’s with mixed feelings that we say good-bye to backpacking season.  Spring is a long way off, and we’ll miss it.  On the other hand, we’ve certainly got our fill of camping this year, around 25 nights sleeping outside.  Winter is a good time to rest, dream up next year’s trips, and do some day hiking and snowshoeing.

The complete photoset of this trip can be found on Flickr here.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad Review

When I look back on all the backpacking gear I’ve purchased and used this year, my Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad is the item I’ve appreciated the most. Getting a good night’s sleep in the backcountry can make all the difference to enjoying a backpacking trip to the fullest, and this pad has made that possible. And not only is the NeoAir XLite comfortable, it’s also very light. Keeping my pack weight as low as possible has been key to an enjoyable hiking experience.

Climbing Mount Jefferson, NV
NeoAir XLite

We had been using bulky and moderately comfortable Therm-a-Rest pads that we bought when we were car camping exclusively. After two of them sprung leaks, it gave us an excuse to look for something lighter and more suitable for backpacking. We first got my wife a NeoAir XLite to lighten up her pack. I was hesitant to spend the extra money on one for myself, but then was so impressed with hers that I had to have one too.

NeoAir XLite Features:

  • Very comfortable at 2.5″ thick.
  • Only 12 ounces (Regular Mattress, 72 inches long).
  • Warm – reflective layer recycles body heat and creates dual air pockets that conserve warmth.
  • Packs down small to fit safely inside a pack.
  • Stuff sack and repair kit included.
  • Made in Seattle, USA.
  • Comes in 47″, 72″, and 77″ lengths. There is a women’s version too, but it only comes in a 66″ length.

Comfort

Prior to this purchase, when I thought of lightweight sleeping pads, I thought of thin, closed-cell foam pads. Although these types of pads do have their merits when it comes to durability, they leave a lot to be desired when it comes to sleeping comfort. This is not the case with the NeoAir XLite though. At 2.5 inches thick, there is more than enough padding for a comfortable night’s sleep. I’m a side sleeper, and the extra thickness allows my shoulder to sink into the pad without hitting the ground. I keep my pad on the firm side, and it stays well inflated throughout the night. I’ve even gone a couple nights without having to adjust the pressure.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
A very comfortable 2.5″ thick

Light Weight

The pad I was carrying on my pack was 2.5 lbs (40 ounces). At only 12 ounces, the NeoAir XLite has saved 1.75 lbs of pack weight. Although not a huge number by itself, when you apply a weight loss strategy across all your gear, significant weight savings can be achieved. There is definitely a pack weight threshold, that when crossed, the pack becomes a burden on your shoulders, back, hips, knees, and feet. The NeoAir XLite has helped keep my pack in the comfortable zone.

Packs Small and Carries Safe

We were carrying our old pads on the bottom of our packs without any protective stuff sacks. Every time we sat the packs down or leaned up against something, the pads were taking abuse. Eventually, abrasions caused the two pads to go flat. What I like about the NeoAir XLite is that it comes with its own protective stuff sack, and it fits inside the sleeping bag compartment of my backpack where it’s safe from the outside elements. And should a problem arise out on the trail, a small patch kit is provided for fixing the pad in the field.

Climbing Mount Jefferson, NV
Packs down small

Warmth

Also notable about the NeoAir XLite is its warmth. I wasn’t sure how an all-air pad would perform without the heat-trapping foam in it, but the inner reflective layer does a great job at recycling body heat and conserving warmth. In fact, I was surprised at how much warmer it was than my old pad. I have the Regular sized mattress, and at 72 inches long, it fits my 5’10” (70 inches) body perfectly, helping to keep me warm from head to toe.

Inflation, Using, and Deflation

Since the NeoAir XLite doesn’t have a self-inflating foam core, it takes a little more wind to inflate. The inflation time is only slightly longer than thinner pads though, and I don’t find it significant.

Some people have commented on the “crinkly” sound the pad makes when you climb onto it or move around. I think this is due to the reflective baffling inside. While it is a different sound than a self-inflatable, I don’t find it annoying, and it hasn’t cost me any sleep. I even think the crinkling has subsided some now that the pad is broken in.

Deflating the pad is easier than with a self-inflating pad, since there is no expanding foam to fight back. Simply open the air valve, squeeze the air out, fold in half, then roll up and stuff.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Light weight and full length

Bottom Line

I highly recommend the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad for those looking to lighten up their pack weight and get a good night’s sleep in the process. The pad has proven to be quite durable for its weight, and has stood up to several backpacking and car camping trips this year. The small size of the pad when in the stuff sack allows it to be packed away safe inside a pack instead of lashed to the outside. This also keeps the pack’s profile smaller, better balanced, and more maneuverable in tight situations. The price for this pad is significantly higher than many other pads on the market, but I feel the performance gains are worth the extra money.

More info and specs on the Cascade Designs Website.

Ready to purchase? Buy now at REI and help support this website!

Backpacking from Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass

In September we were looking for a quick weekend overnighter, not too far from home.  I had never hiked above Virginia Lakes in the Hoover Wilderness.  The maps and photos showed several lakes, jagged mountains in a variety of colors, and an 11,100 foot pass that promised spectacular views. All this without a lot of hiking.  For this hike, my dad would be joining my son and I (and our dogs of course) for our first ever father, son, and son hike. I hadn’t backpacked with my dad since I was just a little older than my son is now, so this was a pretty special occasion. We left Carson City early in the morning on a Saturday, and stopped at the Bridgeport Ranger Station to pick up our overnight wilderness permits before arriving at the trailhead.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Virginia Lakes Trailhead

The trailhead for this hike is at the very end of the Virginia Lakes Road which leaves HWY 395 to the west at Conway Summit just north of Mono Lake. Virginia Lakes Road is paved until almost the very end, then turns into a well graded dirt road near the trailhead at Big Virginia Lake. There is ample parking and a restroom here. The trail leaves from the end of the parking lot behind the restrooms.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Into the Hoover Wilderness

The trailhead was really busy this time of year, but most of the people were down at the lake fishing. The fishing looked to have been excellent. One guy was returning to his car with a trout that was at least as long as my forearm! After leaving the trailhead though, the crowds thinned out, and we only saw a few anglers and day hikers heading up the trail for the upper lakes.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Below Blue Lake

This hike starts at over 9,800 feet elevation, so you’re into the rugged mountains from the very start of the hike. Soon after leaving Virginia Lakes, you enter the Hoover Wilderness, and arrive at Blue Lake at 9,886 feet. There is no camping at Blue Lake due to its proximity to the trailhead, but not to worry, as there are plenty of places further up the canyon.  Although there was evidence of fire rings in the canyon, fires are not permitted here above 9,000 feet.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Blue Lake

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Looking back at Blue Lake

We hiked around the north side of Blue Lake, and then climbed above it to the west. In the woods above the lake is an old miner’s cabin making its last stand. It looks small and cozy, and probably slept one short prospector. There are remains of old furniture inside, and even a few old items still sit on a table. It’s severely leaning right now, and many logs are propped up on one side to keep it from falling down.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Old Miners Cabin

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Cooney Lake

Just past the cabin is Cooney Lake at 10,240 feet, bordered by big boulders. A few anglers were casting from the shores, and we could see Summit Pass now further up the canyon.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Lower Frog Lake

Climbing around the north side of Cooney Lake, we soon came to Frog Lakes at around 10,370 feet. There are three Frog Lakes, but they are smaller than the previous lakes. As we hiked around the upper lake, the largest of the three, we spotted potential campsites above the south shore.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Upper Frog Lake

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
One of the many frogs around Frog Lakes

We hiked around the west side of the lake through a meadow and over the lake inlet. Frog Lake really lived up to its name. The grass was hopping with little frogs, and there were so many that we had to walk slow and careful so we didn’t step on them.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Upper Frog Lake inlet below Black Mountain

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Camp at Upper Frog Lake

We found an existing campsite on the southeast side of the lake, far enough away from the water, with a good tent area, and nice pile of flat rocks with log chairs for a kitchen. There is no shortage of suitable sites on this side of the lake. Those looking for more privacy can climb up a bit higher.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Looking down on Cooney Lake

Setting up camp early gave us the luxury of getting a head start on dinner, a big pot of vegetable noodle soup. After cleaning up, we still had plenty of time to explore the area. Just to the east of camp we had good views of Cooney Lake below. Later my dad and I went off to filter some water near the outlet of the lake. A couple bottles into the process, we heard a pack of coyotes howling back in the direction of camp. It was so loud that it could’ve been in camp, so my dad went back to check on things while the dogs and I continued our chore. It turned out the coyotes weren’t in camp, but my son was worried that maybe our dogs had gotten loose and were being attacked just up the hill from him. My guess is that they were hunting the small rodents that have made numerous holes all over the hill above.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Alpenglow on Dunderberg Peak

We wound down pretty early that night. My dad brought along a bivy sack to sleep in, and my son, the dogs, and I shared our 3-man tent. We had a little extra room just in case my dad changed his mind. I stayed up until near dark, sipping some wine and trying to capture photos of the alpenglow on Dunderberg Peak. It was a peaceful evening with barely any breeze, and no bugs. And if you don’t have bugs to contend with, you can almost say that everything is perfect.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Bivy sack and tent

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Evening at Frog Lakes

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Hurry up sun!

It was a pretty comfortable night until late morning. I was glad to see the sky getting brighter through the tent walls, and I couldn’t wait until the sun hit the tent. It was pretty chilly, and I was really starting to doubt the 20 degree rating on my sleeping bag. Either it’s not really rated for 20 degrees, or the ratings don’t actually mean you’ll be comfortable at this temperature. Perhaps it just means you won’t freeze to death.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Morning at Frog Lakes

None of us waited for the sun to hit our campsite before getting up. Tall trees were preventing a timely warming. Instead we bundled up, and made some hot coffee and tea. Finally we had some patches of sun to sit in by the time we started on breakfast.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Morning Exploration

The plan for the day was to hike to Summit Pass without the big packs. We cleaned up camp and packed most of our stuff away. Before heading out though, we explored further up the hillside above camp. My dad found some old mines, and this explained the purpose of some of the old scraps of metal we had found around camp. Some of the shafts were still pretty deep, and we even found the remains of what might have been a small stone cabin.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Remains of an old mining cabin?

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Open mines

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Balanced Rocks

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Climbing to Summit Pass

We were finally ready to make our climb to the pass.  Although it doesn’t seem to be officially named Summit Pass, this seems to be the generally agreed upon name when referring to it. On the other side of the pass is Summit Lake, so the name is fitting.  We returned to the trail on the north side of the lake and followed it up to the west. Soon we came to the upper lake with no name. It appears to be a permanent lake, but its shallowness gives it a emerald color.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Unnamed lake at the top of the canyon

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Near Summit Pass

After leaving the lake, the trail switchbacks up a steep slope of talus. Elevation is gained quickly, and amazing views of the canyon below open up. Directly to the south are some black jagged peaks, and they still had snow patches from last winter at their base.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Top of Summit Pass

Up on top of Summit Pass, the jagged peaks to the west come into view. The 12,000 foot peaks of Virginia Peak and and Whorl Mountain in Yosemite National Park look impossibly steep. Just a little bit further and Summit Lake in the valley below becomes visible. You feel like you’re on top of the world.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Summit Lake, Virginia Peak and and Whorl Mountain in the background

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Hoover, Gilman, and East Lakes

Untitled
Panorama of Summit Pass

We hiked over to a spot where we could look down into valley below, and found a good lunch spot out of the wind. From our vantage point we could see Summit Lake, Hoover Lakes, Gilman Lake, and East Lake. Way off in the distance we could see Bridgeport Reservoir.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Hiking along the pass

We explored the pass more before descending back to camp. We found the couple of little lakes on the map just south of the summit, but there was very little water left in them. As high up as we felt, there were still nearby mountaintops a thousand feet above our location.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Heading back down

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Mountain Dogs

After a smooth descent back to camp, we finished taking down the tent and loading up the packs. We stopped at Cooney Lake for an intended swim. As we got to the lake though, the wind was blowing really hard. My son was in his bathing suit ready to go, but eventually gave up hopes of a plunge. The water probably wouldn’t have been too bad, but the windchill getting out would’ve been brutally cold. He made a wise decision I think.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Loaded Packs

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Cooney Lake and Summit Pass above

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Moat Lake is up in this canyon

Between Cooney Lake and Blue Lake, there is a canyon below Dunderberg Peak. Sitting up in a little basin is Moat Lake, out of view from the trail below. Climbing up to the lake would make a nice little side trip.

Virginia Lakes to Summit Pass
Back down to Blue Lake

We returned to the trailhead in great spirits , feeling like we had hiked just the right amount of miles for this trip. It was enough of a hike to feel like you did something, but short enough to enjoy some downtime resting and enjoying the scenery. The fall colors of the bushes and trees really complimented the black and red mountains, and made it a unique time to visit. We’ll definitely be back for another trip into this area.

More photos of this hike can be found on Flickr here.

Tip:  Free wilderness permits for overnight trips, and good maps can be found at the ranger station in Bridgeport, CA.

Weekend in Monitor Valley

Labor Day weekend was approaching, and the smoke from the Rim Fire was still choking Carson City. We went south to flee the smoke the weekend before, so this time we decided to head east to Monitor Valley in Central Nevada.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Quiet NV Road

We left Carson City about noon just as the smoke was starting to clear up for the day. Not far to the east, the smoke thickened, and each valley we passed through was full of smoke. We were starting to lose hope until ironically, the haze cleared when we got to Big Smoky Valley east of Austin.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Pine Creek Campground

The evening was coming on, so we started thinking we should find a campsite soon. We were approaching the Toquima Cave Campground at Pete’s Summit. The last time we came through this remote area, it was completely deserted. When we arrived though, all the sites that can really be called a site were taken. This is the risk you run getting a late start on a busy camping weekend. We still had daylight left, so we pressed on to Monitor Valley, hoping for something at Pine Creek Campground.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Tent next to Pine Creek

When we finally got to the turn off for Pine Creek Campground, we saw a jeep coming down the road. Either they were just going out for a cruise, or they found the campground full and left. I was pretty nervous driving up into the mountains, expecting to find the campground full. Time was running out to go find an alternative in a nearby canyon.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Camp all setup

Entering the camp we found the first few sites packed. But just up the loop we found several sites open. We picked the site at the very top of the loop, right on Pine Creek. We setup our tent just above the creek, and I thought about how soothing the noise of the creek would be as we slept. After the shelter was setup, we went to work getting a fire built and food on the table. We relaxed by the campfire before going to bed, and enjoyed the dark starry night.  I wasn’t sure how I’d sleep with the sound of the creek so near, but it ended up being one of the best night’s sleep I’d had in a while.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Can you spot the lizard?

The next morning we headed south for the ghost town of Belmont. Belmont was established following a silver strike in 1865, and at one time boasted four stores, two saloons, five restaurants, livery stable, post office, assay office, bank, school, telegraph office, two newspapers, and a blacksmith shop. But like many of the mining towns in Nevada, it eventually experienced decline. Thankfully there are still some proud residents left in Belmont who take great care of the town.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Combination Mill – East Belmont

We climbed up out of Monitor Valley to East Belmont, just over the ridge from town and where most of the mining activity took place. Our first stop was at what is left of the Combination Mill. You can see the outline of the buildings here and there is a small room in the side of the hill, but the prominent feature is the giant remaining chimney. At this mill, the sulfide silver ores were crushed, roasted, salted, and mixed with mercury to extract the silver. The big smokestacks were intended to carry the smoke and pollutants down wind and away from the community of East Belmont. I can only imagine the smell and health hazard!

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Chimney at the Combination Mill – East Belmont

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Welcome to Belmont

Just over the ridge from the Combination Mill is the main town of Belmont. We first stopped at the center of town at a self serve visitor center. Here you can pick up a pamphlet for a self-guided tour of 16 points of interest. We leashed up the dogs, and began a leisurely stroll around town.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Still Standing

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Bank Building

Only the front of the old bank building still stands. It was originally a bank, but later became a sheriff’s office with 2 jail cells in the basement. In 1874 two strangers, Charlie McIntyre and Jack Walker, drifted into town and had an altercation that ended up with a citizen being wounded by gunfire. Charlie and Jack were taken to the jail in this building. A vigilante lynch mob broke into the jail one night, and hung the two strangers in the basement. Such was justice in the old west.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Rubble

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Rust in Peace

Weekend in Monitor Valley
A little overgrown

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Fire Dept

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Turn up the heat!

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Maid’s day off

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Indian Maggie’s Saloon

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Pretty good indeed

We walked all over town, looking at all the points of interest.  The main attraction in town, though, is the big Belmont Courthouse, built in 1875-1876. From a distance it looks well maintained and in good shape. It’s not until you get up close that you see it’s as old as it is. We arrived for a tour, but the tour guide never showed. It looks like we could have gone down the street to one of the local businesses to request a tour, but it just wasn’t that big of deal. We peeked in the windows instead, and saw walls covered in graffiti. Apparently there is one marking on the first floor that reads, “Charlie Manson + family 1969,” with a peace symbol drawn in the O in Manson. Some speculate that this inscription from the doomsday cult may be authentic. Not able to see much inside, we wandered around back and found a few jail cells with heavy iron doors. I feel sorry for anyone who got locked inside one of these metal boxes on a hot day!

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Belmont Courthouse

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Locked Up

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Jail Keeper

Weekend in Monitor Valley
View to the Southwest

Before heading south, we stopped at the spring in the middle of town, drank the cool water, and refilled our water bottles. This spring was a good stop for early Native American hunting parties, and probably a reason the town was built where it was.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Spring water

Our next stop was the Belmont Cemetery. We didn’t spend too much time here, but examined a few of the older headstones.  It’s a peaceful and well maintained place.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Belmont Cemetery

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Old Grave Site

We left Belmont to the southwest, and drove through the hills to the small ghost town of Manhattan. There are a few people living here, but it’s not as well preserved like Belmont.   According to this website, the church in Manhattan was originally in Belmont and moved here in 1905.  The new church in Belmont is a replica of the old one.  We decided not to stop and hike around, and just viewed a few sites from the car before returning to Belmont.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Old Church in Manhattan

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Mine in Manhattan

Upon returning to Belmont, we investigated the Belmont campground. I didn’t see any fee stations, and the place seemed to be occupied by RVs and buses, the visitors probably staying more long term. There were more ATVs in town than cars, and more often than not, there was a dog riding on the ATV as well. I think a lot of these ATVs were coming from this campground.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Dirty Dick’s Belmont Saloon

Wanting to get a cold drink before heading back to Monitor Valley, we stopped at Dirty Dick’s Belmont Saloon. Since we had our dogs, we couldn’t stay inside, but we enjoyed beers and sodas out on the porch looking out over the canyon. The bartender says we missed a huge Labor Day party the day before, complete with a BBQ. We’ll have to keep this mind for next year!

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Enjoying a cold drink at Dirty Dick’s Saloon

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Whoa!

Once back to Monitor Valley, we took a small side road to explore a hill of interesting rock formations. We climbed around the rocks, and investigated the little canyons. This little hill would have been great to climb if we had more energy and weren’t ready to get back to camp.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Back to Monitor Valley

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Climbing some rock formations

Back at the Pine Creek Campground we relaxed for a while, then began our chores. The sky had darkened, and we could hear thunder off in the distance. It sprinkled lightly off and on, and we weren’t sure if the storm would pass. We built a fire and cooked dinner. The rain picked up a little after dinner, and then continued to build. Soon it was a full on thunderstorm, and we retreated to the tent. The campfire hissed and died.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Pine Creek Campground

Thankfully we brought some good books along. The rain continued on, never letting up. Thunder boomed overhead, and one of our dogs dogs shook with fear. It’d be a long time before she finally calmed down. We could no longer hear the creek, and fell asleep to the sound of rain instead.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Creekside Camping

We awoke to a calm cool morning. The desert can sometimes heat up quickly as soon as the sun comes up, but the temperature stayed comfortable all morning. We made up for the campfire we missed out on the night before, and took our time packing up.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Morning Fire

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Pine Creek

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Turnoff to Pott’s Ranch

After packing up, it was time for the grand finale of the visit in Monitor Valley, a stop at Pott’s Hot Springs. The rain had left the dirt road in a different state than when we arrived. There were puddles everywhere, and we had to scan the road for new ruts and washouts. On the plus side, there was no dust.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Pott’s Hot Springs

Activity in the valley had really died down by Sunday, and we were pretty sure we’d have the hot springs to ourselves. A quick scan of the area from the road with binoculars verified this. When we got to the hot tub, it was already full and ready, and we promptly jumped in for a long period of relaxation. It looks like the place had some activity over the weekend, and there was a bit of litter in the area. In some places you expect this, but it seemed to defile this pristine location. Before leaving we walked around and picked up all the trash, leaving the place better than we found it. We also drained the tub and fixed up the flume a bit. It’ll be all ready for the next visit.

Weekend in Monitor Valley
Back over Pete’s Summit

As we left Monitor Valley, I examined all the other possibilities for exploration. Unexplored canyons and unclimbed mountains. The Table Mountain Wilderness on the east side of the Valley. You could spend days here exploring. A whole book could be written about this place. We can’t wait to go back.

More photos of this trip can be seen on Flickr here.

Additional information on Belmont at this site here.