Exploring the San Rafael Swell – Goblin Valley State Park

Have you ever dreamed of visiting another planet? Goblin Valley, located in the San Rafael Swell area of central Utah, may be the closest thing you can get without leaving the comfort of our own atmosphere. In fact, Goblin Valley State Park served as the set for a scene in the Sci-Fi comedy Galaxy Quest, chosen for its other-worldly look. The valley is known for its “goblins”, which are mushroom-shaped rock formations. Like the other hoodoos you’ll find in Utah, the distinct shape of these rocks comes from an erosion-resistant layer of rock atop softer sandstone.

Goblin Valley State Park

After hiking Crack Canyon in the morning, we made the short drive to Goblin Valley State Park. We had a beautiful blue sky, but the wind was blowing hard when we arrived. There are actual hiking trails around the park, but knowing that we may tire of the wind before too long, we opted to explore the valley closest to the trailhead parking area. Due to the size of the valley and randomness of route possibilities, it didn’t take long to leave the crowds behind.

Goblin Valley State Park

Being able to wander around the rock formations is a real treat. It’s also great if you like to take photos, since there are infinite possibilities for unique shots. The blue sky of our mid-day visit provided nice contrast, but it would be fun to come here during low light times of the day as well. We continued to explore until we decided it was time to find cover from the wind.

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

The campground at Goblin Valley looked pretty nice when we drove through it on the way out. The only problem is that it’s fairly small, and sites can be reserved well in advance. Thankfully, there is legal dispersed camping on nearby public lands outside the park. The town of Green River is also nearby for those looking to get out of the weather or are looking for services.

Goblin Valley State Park

If you’re traveling through San Rafael Swell area, you should definitely visit the state park. You’ll see rock formations that you probably won’t see anywhere else in Utah. The park has recently added mountain bike trails as well. And with so may other things to do in the Swell area, it can serve as a destination, rather than just a stop along the way to the more well known National Parks. Goblin Valley is also a safer place to visit if bad weather is threatening, since the roads are paved and you’d be mostly clear of flash flood danger when compared to the nearby slot canyons.

Other Resources:

Exploring the San Rafael Swell – Crack Canyon

Located in south-central Utah about 30 miles west of the town of Green River is the San Rafael Swell. The swell covers an area approximately 75 by 40 miles, and consists of a giant dome-shaped anticline of sandstone, shale, and limestone that was pushed up 60-40 million years ago. Over time, powerful flash floods have eroded the sedimentary rocks into numerous valleys, canyons, gorges, mesas and buttes. Although there are some officially managed areas in the Swell like Goblin Valley State Park, much of the area is wide open for self-guided exploration. We decided to use a few days of our Spring Break back in April to go check the place out.

Temple Mountain
Temple Mountain from behind the reef

After a night spent in Ely, NV, we continued east into Utah. We headed south into the Swell on Route 24 just west of the town of Green River. We took the turnoff to Goblin Valley State Park, but didn’t plan to camp there, since most of the campsites in the park are reserved well in advance. Instead, cutting through the reef, we took Temple Mountain Road in search of a place to setup a tent on public lands.

Crack Canyon, UT
Camp at Crack Canyon

Big RVs full of OHVs were camped all along Temple Mountain Road, filling every available spot. We headed west behind the reef until we got to an area that was too rugged to bring a big trailer. The challenge now was to find a place that was flat enough for a tent, somewhat out of the wind, and not in the path of a potential flash flood. We finally decided on a small patch of ground just north of the entrance to Crack Canyon.

Crack Canyon, UT
Starting the hike

Getting out of the wind was not an easy task, and I don’t think our chosen spot made much of a difference. We did our best to use our vehicle as a windbreak, setting up our gear downwind. Even still, cooking was difficult, and our chairs kept falling over. We spent a noisy night in the tent, the rain fly flapping in the breeze the whole time.

Crack Canyon, UT

We packed up camp quickly the next morning and drove just a little further down into the canyon. It was nice to be so close to the trailhead and ready to go! Navigating into the canyon was easy, as all washes funneled their way down to the canyon bottom. We made sure to note our route in, though, as finding our way back to the vehicle on the return trip would be more difficult with the maze of incoming washes.

Crack Canyon, UT

Once down in the canyon, the narrow walls towered above us. It was an amazing sight to see, and gave me the reassurance that driving two days to go for a hike was all worth it. The terrain and rock formations were always changing with so many interesting things to look at and contemplate. Many rocks warranted climbing for further exploration.

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

We went as far as the first dry fall. My son climbed down to check out the narrows, but didn’t go too far without us. We decided not to bring the whole family and dogs down the climb, just in case we couldn’t climb back up. We weren’t equipped for a long walk back around the reef! Those looking for a bigger hike can walk the whole canyon to the south end of the reef. It’s even possible to take a neighboring canyon back for a loop hike. We just retraced our route back to the trailhead, and with plenty of more time in the day, made our way back to Goblin Valley State Park for some more hiking.

Other Resources:

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek

I don’t normally do point-to-point backpacking trips due to the logistics involved with shuttling vehicles to trailheads and picking them up afterwards, but this is one hike where I’m glad that I did. I’ve hiked into Green Lake and up the chain of lakes from Virginia Lakes before as separate out-and-backs, but joining the two trailheads as a point-to-point trip allowed us to get deeper into the backcountry and see more of the Hoover Wilderness than we would have otherwise. Starting at the Virginia Lakes trailhead, we passed 12 named lakes and a few nameless tarns and ponds along our journey to the Green Creek trailhead, each body of water exhibiting its own unique character.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Virginia Lakes Trailhead

Another thing that made this trip exciting, is that I was taking a friend that was new to backpacking. He just bought his gear and was ready to break it in. This particular hike was selected, because it was somewhat challenging but not discouragingly so. Also, the stunning scenery of the high jagged peaks and mountain lakes would provide a true Sierra backcountry experience. I get a kick out of introducing people to new outdoor activities and seeing them really get into it.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Blue Lake

We chose to start the hike at the Virginia Lakes trailhead, since at 9,800 ft, it’s 1,800 feet higher in elevation than the Green Creek trailhead at 8,000 ft. The high point of the hike is the pass near Black Mountain at 11,126 ft, and it’s encountered in the first few hours of the trip. From this high point, it’s all downhill with the exception of the short 0.3 mile, 181 foot climb up to Summit Lake.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Propped up

The shuttle logistics really aren’t all that bad for this hike. Overnight wilderness permits can be obtained at the Bridgeport Ranger Station. The cutoff to the Green Creek trailhead is just under 4 miles south of the ranger station. The turnoff to this well graded dirt road is signed, but you’ll want to consult your map after this to keep you on track as there are many dirt roads in the area. After leaving a vehicle at the Green Lake trailhead, you need to drive back down the canyon a ways, then take the dirt road over to the Virginia Lakes trailhead. It’s a pretty drive around the base of Dunderberg Peak, and there’s no need to drive all the way back down to the highway. The road is decent for 2 wheel drives, and there are no parking fees at either trailhead.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Cooney Lake

The trailhead parking area is a busy spot with all the activity at the fishing resort. Once out on the trail, though, the crowd immediately thins out. We only saw a few hikers and backpackers on our way up the canyon. The scenery starts immediately, and you enter the Hoover Wilderness just a short ways up the trail. Just past the wilderness boundary is Blue Lake, then Cooney Lake, then Frog Lakes, with only a short distance and elevation gain between them.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
The upper Frog Lake

Once past Frog Lakes, we started up the mountain pass. I had only previously done this climb with a day pack, and was relieved that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be with the overnight backpack thanks to the switchbacks. Thankfully, the wind was in our favor, and the smoke from the California fires didn’t ruin the view. Only Mono Lake far below was obscured in the haze.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Climbing the pass near Black Mountain

Once on top of the 11,100 foot pass we got that on-top-of-the-world feeling with views of where we’d been, and where we were headed. As high as we felt, though, we were surrounded by peaks that were still over a thousand feet above us. We took a little side trip over to a desolate tarn, and were surprised to still see water in the little basin. Summit Lake, our destination for the day, was visible to the northwest. I was excited leaving the tarn to hike towards the lake, because I had never been past this point. It felt like the adventure was just beginning for me.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Looking back on the chain of lakes

In an earlier write up of hiking to this pass, I had called it Summit Pass for lack of a better description. I have since learned that this is incorrect, as the true Summit Pass is at the west end of Summit Lake at the border of Yosemite. Virginia Pass would also be inaccurate, since there is one by this name nearby as well. The trail is well traveled here, so I’m surprised it doesn’t have an official name.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Just a little water left in the tarns at the pass

The trail leading down the other side of the pass takes many switchbacks through the talus as it descends the steep mountainside. We didn’t fully appreciate what we were hiking until we got to the bottom and looked back up to see the big picture. “How did we get down here? There’s nothing but cliffs up there!”

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Coming down the other side of the pass

Down the pass we hit some nice meadows with spring-fed creeks still flowing, followed by steep switchbacks that took us to the canyon bottom. In addition to Summit Lake, we could now see Hoover Lakes and the route we’d be hiking the next day. The colors in the canyon are breathtaking: alternating blacks, reds, and grays in the rocks, blues from the lakes and sky, and green from the trees and bushes.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Summit Lake on the left, our exit canyon on the right

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Steep mountain trail

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Creek flowing down to Hoover Lakes

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Hoover Lakes from the trail

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Cutoff to Summit Lake

We arrived at the intersection. A left turn to Summit Lake or a right turn to Hoover Lakes. We went left and soon arrived at the bottom of the canyon where we had a fun stream crossing. From here, the trail is short but steep up to Summit Lake.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Stream crossing before Summit Lake

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Trail to Summit Lake

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Looking back to the pass we had crossed

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Arriving at Summit Lake

We were very happy to reach Summit Lake, our legs tired from the trek over the pass. We weren’t sure where we’d camp, so we started looking. One person had camped just a few feet off the trail, something they agreed NOT to do when they signed for their wilderness permit. With their gear all laid out, it was like hiking through someone’s living room. We saw another person camped in a good spot up a ways from the lake. With not too many options in the immediate vicinity, we decided to go all the way to the west side of the lake.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
At the border of the Hoover Wilderness

Hiking along Summit Lake is pleasant, with little elevation change. Our tired legs were thankful. At the west end of the lake we crossed the border of the Hoover Wilderness and entered Yosemite National Park. Although it’s just an imaginary line on the ground, it was still an exciting moment. A trail sign marked the real Summit Pass at 10,250 feet. According to the sign, Tuolumne Meadows is just under 20 miles from here.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Entering Yosemite National Park

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Summit Pass

There are a few possible campsites on the west side of the lake, and we found a great one on the ridge above the lake. I thought this location might be like camping in a wind tunnel, but the trees did a good job as a wind break. Not only did we have the best view of Summit Lake from this location, we could also look down into Yosemite through the trees. The jagged 12,001 ft Virginia Peak, that looked so far away earlier in the day, was now rising right above us.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
View from the west side of Summit Lake

It felt good to get the packs off and setup camp. I brought my REI Half Dome 2 tent, minus the “tent” portion. With no bugs this late in the year, I was able to use just the footprint, poles, and rain fly, saving a couple pounds in the pack. This minimal configuration is more spacious, has less zippers to deal with, and still provides plenty of wind break. I was also able to easily check out the moon when it came up (albeit through blurry tired eyes) by simply peeking under the rain fly. My friend was excited to try out all his new gear as well.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Alpenglow on Dunderberg Peak

While we waited for darkness, we enjoyed the changing colors on the mountains. Dunderberg Peak is already quite red, but the alpenglow really lit it up. The colorful sunset clouds reflected on the lake, giving the place a whole new look from when we arrived just a few hours earlier. There was talk of star gazing, but the chilly air and tired bodies coaxed us into our tents pretty early.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Camp – REI Half Dome 2 Tent

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Cloud reflections on the lake

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
View from camp looking into Yosemite

DAY 2

We climbed out of the tents about 06:50. The sun hadn’t made it over the mountains yet, and it was easily the coldest part of our trip. Even with my jacket, hat, and gloves, I still shivered a bit as I got my stove going to make coffee. Not long after 07:00, the sun finally came up and lit up our camp. Instant warmth filled our bodies, and it wasn’t long before we were shedding layers. The morning sun also gave us the best view yet into Yosemite. It was very interesting to see the dark metamorphic rocks of the Hoover Wilderness suddenly give way to granite right across the Yosemite border.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
The sun comes up

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
The 12,001 ft Virginia Peak in Yosemite

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Morning at camp

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Looking down Virginia Canyon into Yosemite

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Summit Pass

After breakfast we were eager to get hiking. Although it would be downhill all day, we had some miles to cover and still needed extra time to retrieve the vehicle at the Virginia Lakes trailhead. It was a beautiful sunny morning in the mountains, and we were treated to an all new view in yet another type of light as we hiked back around Summit Lake, leaving Yosemite behind.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
South shore of Summit Lake

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
The granite of Yosemite

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Starting the trek down the canyon

We hiked back down to the trail intersection we had passed the day before, this time heading down to Hoover Lakes. The trail takes you down to the west side of the upper Hoover Lake, crosses between the two, then along the east side of the lower lake. You get to explore the lakes without even leaving the trail.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Hoover Lakes

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Trail along Hoover Lakes

When you’re out in the wilderness, it’s always a treat when you get the opportunity to forage for some of your own food. Below Hoover Lakes, in a section where the trail comes close to the creek, we found some bushes loaded with mountain gooseberries. It made the perfect place for a break as we loaded up on the sweet juicy fruit.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Ribes montigenum – mountain gooseberry. Tasty!

Next in the tour of lakes is Gilman Lake. The trail stays fairly high along the west side of the lake with good views of the basin below. Although the trail doesn’t go to the lake, we saw a couple use trails that appeared to head down to the water. Not wanting to have to climb back up the hill, we continued on.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Hiking above Gilman Lake

Not far from Gilman Lake we reached Nutter Lake. It was the smallest of the lakes we’d see that day, but also one of the most colorful with a red and green border.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Nutter Lake

We started to joke that we had already seen far too many lakes this day, when just down the trail we came to East Lake, the biggest lake of the hike. Instead of just hiking on by, we took the time to stop and take in the views along the lake. Once, we stood on a high granite shelf above the shoreline, and watched a distant waterfall cascade down to the lake. It was a moment you wish you could take along with you. There looked to be ample camping spots around the lake. I took note of a few, because I will definitely come back to East Lake someday.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
East Lake

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Hiking along East Lake

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Headed down to Green Lake

From East Lake, the trail loses quite a bit of elevation in a short distance to get down to Green Lake. Soon we were down to a section of trail we had explored a few years ago when we backpacked into Green Lake. It was along this stretch of trail that we encountered a couple hiking out that we had met the day before at the ranger station. We were surprised, because they were due to stay for 3 to 4 nights. Apparently it was too windy and they were having difficulty navigating the area. They were frustrated and done. It seemed really strange, since we were having the time of our lives. We wished them good luck and hiked on.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
East shore of Green Lake

We reached the east shore of Green Lake, and decided to have lunch before making the final hike down the canyon to the trailhead. We found a good spot near the outlet, then took a leisurely break while we enjoyed the view of the lake and Glines Canyon above. I was also surprised how high the water was compared to our visit in 2012. The rocks we walked out to then were now islands.

Backpacking Virginia Lakes to Green Creek
Finishing the hike down to the Green Creek Trailhead

Recharged from lunch, we made good time down the canyon. Continuing to drop elevation, we hiked through the Aspens along Green Creek. Soon the sagebrush appeared, hinting of the desert to come below. When we finally hit the dirt road near the trailhead, I thought of the diverse terrain and scenery we had seen. It had truly been a great adventure for just going out overnight! I highly recommend this route, as it packs a lot into a shorter hike.

Virginia Lake to Green Creek
The Route

MORE INFORMATION

  • Permits for this hike may be picked up at the Bridgeport Ranger Station.
  • Recommended map: Hoover Wilderness by Tom Harrison Maps.
  • Start 9,808 ft, Finish 8,000 ft. High point 11,126 ft.
  • Total Mileage: Almost 15 miles.
  • More photos from this trip on Flickr here.

BearVault Review

Losing your food to a bear when miles away from the trailhead would certainly ruin your backpacking trip, but it could also put you or your group in danger if you lacked proper nutrition to continue your hike safely. Additionally, it’s vitally important to keep the bears wild. A bear that gets conditioned to human food becomes a nuisance, and they often have to be put down if relocation fails. When you’re out visiting the wilderness, it’s your responsibility not to lose your food. It’s such an important issue, that many wilderness areas now require backpackers to have a bear proof canister, and will not issue you an overnight permit if you don’t have one.

20 Lakes Basin
BearVaults make it easy when camping above timberline

Why use a BearVault?

There are a few bear proof canisters on the market, but I’ve been using BearVaults for five seasons now. The larger BV500 comes along with us most often, since it easily holds the whole family’s food for an entire weekend. The BV500 has a seven day capacity for a single person. With its four day capacity, I also use the smaller BV450 for solo trips, or when we need additional storage on longer outings or with larger groups. There are no special keys or tools needed to open the BearVaults, and being see-thru, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for without unloading the whole thing. The BearVaults have held up well to continued use, and are easy to clean at home with soap and water.

  • Protect the bears: Bears that get conditioned to human food often have to be put down
  • Losing your food to a bear would ruin your backpacking trip or could put you in danger
  • Required in many wilderness areas
  • Easier to use than hanging a bear bag
  • Don’t have to worry about hanging a bag when above timberline
  • Contents easy to locate thanks to see-thru plastic
  • Easy to use in the dark
  • Rainproof
  • Can be used as a chair with the lid fully closed
  • Excess capacity can be used for other kitchen supplies

BearVault vs Hanging a bear bag

It’s not always easy to hang a bear bag from a tree (especially at night), and many people end up doing it wrong anyhow. Many times when I’ve walked my BearVault out away from camp to set it on the ground, I’ll look up and see 50 feet of utility cord hanging out of reach from a nearby tree. Sometimes one end will have a stick or even a carabiner tied to it, remnants of  failed bear bag hanging attempts. Bears are smart and are excellent climbers. Even if these throws had been successful, the simple line over a tree limb may have been easily accessible to a bear. If you look up the proper way to hang a bear bag, it is actually quite involved, and may be out of most people’s skill level if not practiced. There are also situations when you’re above timberline with nothing tall enough to hang a bear bag from. With the bear proof canister, you simply walk the container a safe distance from camp and set it down. Anyone can do it, and it’s fairly fool proof. When placing your BearVault, keep in mind what would happen to it if a bear gets a hold of it. Don’t leave it right next to a cliff, steep hill, or body of water, or not even you may be able to get to it.

Easy open tip!

The BearVaults generally aren’t too difficult to open, but sometimes they are stubborn on cold mountain mornings when the strong polycarbonate plastic isn’t as pliable. Here’s a tip my friend showed me recently that makes opening a BearVault a snap!

First…line up the tabs, leaving a small gap.

Backpacking to Dardanelles Lake
Line up the tabs, leaving a small gap

Insert an old credit card or similar piece of plastic between the tabs and turn the lid. The tab on the lid is forced behind the stopper tab on the vault. Repeat with the second tab. No digging your thumbs and fingers into the hard plastic trying to get at your morning coffee!

Backpacking to Dardanelles LakeInsert the credit card between the tabs and turn the lid

Backpacking to Dardanelles Lake
And it’s unlocked!

More Information:

  • Weights: BV450 2 lbs 1 oz. BV500 2 lbs 9 oz.
  • More info on the manufacturer’s website: www.bearvault.com
  • Ready to purchase a BearVault now? Buy the BV500 or the BV450 online from REI and help support this website!

Climbing Mount Tallac

Sitting prominently on the southwest side of Lake Tahoe is Mount Tallac. According to a Tahoe Daily Tribune article, the mountain was once known as Crystal Peak. It was later changed to the present name during the 1877 Wheeler Survey, taking its name from the Washoe term “dala’ak” (sometimes spelled “tahlah-act”) or “great mountain”. For many years I’ve sat on the beaches below and gazed up at the mountain, always thinking that someday I really needed to climb it.

Climbing Mount Tallac
Mount Tallac Trailhead

Looking for an adventure closer to home, I decided to brave the summer crowds of Lake Tahoe and give Mount Tallac a go with my dad and my son. With all the backpacking we’ve done recently, the 3,307′ climb over five miles no longer seemed like such a daunting task. Especially with a lightweight day pack.

Climbing Mount Tallac
Getting started – Don’t forget your permit!

The trailhead is located approximately 3-1/2 miles north of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89. Look for the Mount Tallac Trailhead sign directly across from the entrance to Baldwin Beach. Follow the signs, and park as near as you can to the trailhead. With our late start on a nice summer weekend day, we had to park nearly a half-mile from the trailhead! Before you start hiking, you must fill out a permit to enter Desolation Wilderness, and display it on one of your group member’s packs. Note that these self-serve permits are only good for day passes. Overnight permits are issued by the Forest Service. Most wilderness areas do not require a permit for day hiking, but as you’ll see soon into the hike, most trails are not nearly this busy.

Climbing Mount Tallac
Mount Tallac – The climb ahead of you

Tallac GE2
A look at the trail

The trail immediately begins a gradual climb up onto the moraine above the northwest side of Fallen Leaf Lake. In less than a mile, you’re up on top of the moraine with views of Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe. Hiking along the moraine is easy walking, and it gives you a firsthand look at how the glaciers carved this valley out and deposited the earth along the sides as they moved. At about the 1.3 mile mark, the trail leaves the edge of the moraine and climbs up steeper now to Floating Island Lake and into the Desolation Wilderness.

Climbing Mount Tallac
On the moraine

Climbing Mount Tallac
Entering the Wilderness

Floating Island Lake is interesting, and worth a stop to look. The lake is named for the large tufts of grass that break off the shoreline and float around the lake. We saw an island floating next to the shoreline, and decided to have a quick break while we checked it out. I’ve read that this place can be bad for mosquitoes, but we didn’t see any this whole trip. It looks like we’re officially past the mosquito season this year.

Climbing Mount Tallac
Floating Island Lake

Climbing Mount Tallac

About 2.5 miles in, the trail climbs up to Cathedral Lake. This little lake sits up at 7,638 feet in an amphitheater-like setting. It’s not extraordinary, but makes a good rest spot at about the halfway point of the climb. It also appears to be a destination for many hikers, as the lake was packed. Still fresh from our break at Floating Island Lake, we kept moving.

Climbing Mount Tallac
Cathedral Lake

Leaving Cathedral Lake, the trail becomes steeper. Many stairs and switchbacks take you up above the lake and then out into a big open bowl. With all the people hiking the trail, it’s easy to see the route ahead of you. The trail climbs the steep bowl to some relatively flat tableland above at 8,600 feet. Along the way there are fantastic views of the lakes below as you gain elevation quickly.

Climbing Mount Tallac
Leaving Cathedral Lake

Climbing Mount Tallac
Switchbacks above Cathedral Lake

Climbing Mount Tallac
Climbing up the bowl

Climbing Mount Tallac
Gaining elevation quickly with fantastic views

Climbing Mount Tallac
Arriving at the table

The trail reaches the table above the bowl near the 3.5 mile mark. Not only are there great views of Lake Tahoe behind you, but now you can see down into the Desolation Wilderness. Pyramid Peak is clearly visible, and you can see the edge of Lake Aloha.

Climbing Mount Tallac
View of Pyramid Peak

The trail now climbs up the backside of Mount Tallac. You can’t see the top while you’re hiking until near the end. There are a few false summits that make you think you’re almost there, only to see a further peak up the trail as you round the next bend. As you gain elevation, you can start to see more of the lakes in the Desolation Wilderness.

Climbing Mount Tallac
On the way to the Summit

Climbing Mount Tallac
Almost there

Finally the top is visible, and you’re certain it’s the top. Especially when you start to see all the people perched around the peak. We hadn’t seen the Lake Tahoe side for a while now, and I was enjoying the tranquility of the woods. Without warning, Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake were suddenly visible over the cliff side of Mount Tallac, the trail taking us right to the edge. I felt woozy for a second as my brain tried to adjust to what I was seeing. I kept my eyes on the trail for the time being, and didn’t look over again until I had climbed up further from the edge.

Climbing Mount Tallac
First view from the top

Climbing Mount Tallac
A section of trail with some exposure

Still climbing, we could now clearly see Gilmore Lake, Susie Lake, and Lake Aloha. And then we were at the top at 9,735 feet elevation after about 5 miles of hiking! As were dozens of other people. The very tip-top was covered with people, so we made our way to a nearby roost with views of Emerald Bay and Cascade Lake. The other side of Lake Tahoe was not visible in the smoky sky. In fact, we couldn’t see much further than Emerald Bay. It still didn’t change the fact that this was one awesome view.

Climbing Mount Tallac
View of Gilmore Lake, Susie Lake, and Lake Aloha

Climbing Mount Tallac
The Top! Looking down on Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake, and Baldwin Beach

Around 3:00 PM now, we decided to have a late lunch. Our eyes focused closer now, we started to realize that we were not alone. Several golden-mantled ground squirrels were scurrying around all the people seated for lunch, darting in and out for a free handout. With all the daily visitors to the peak, these guys must eat like kings. We had to shoo them away when they got too close.

Climbing Mount TallacGolden-mantled ground squirrel

Climbing Mount Tallac
That’s close enough!

Climbing Mount TallacAzure Lake and Middle Velma Lake

After taking in the scenery and feeling refreshed, we headed back down the mountain, retracing our steps the whole way. Looking down into the Desolation Wilderness, I saw all sorts of places I wanted to go see in the future. Typically, I don’t like to fool with too much red tape when going hiking, but it looks like I’m going to have to become familiar with the online permit reservation system through recreation.gov. There’s just too much to explore up here, even if you have to share it with a lot of people.

Climbing Mount Tallac
Headed back down

Climbing Mount TallacAcross the tableland

Climbing Mount Tallac
Trail through the talus

Climbing Mount TallacAlmost back to the rim of the bowl

Climbing Mount Tallac
Back at Cathedral Lake

Climbing Mount Tallac

Climbing Mount Tallac
The island had floated out further since the morning

Climbing Mount Tallac

By the time we got back to the trailhead, many of the cars from the morning were gone. We walked and walked down the road trying to find our vehicle. Just when I started to get concerned that it may have been stolen, we found it around the next bend. We actually got in an extra mile of hiking because of where we had to park. Next time we will get there earlier.

Climbing Mount Tallac
Almost back

I highly recommend this hike. It’s not the highest peak in the Tahoe Basin, but I thought the hike was interesting the whole way. At around 10 miles out and back, it’s not overly difficult. The other good thing about this hike is that there are several points along the way that could be considered a destination if you don’t have enough time or energy to climb all the way to the top. The lakes might be good for young kids, and the tableland above the bowl still offers fantastic views in all directions. Just be prepared for the crowds, and you won’t be disappointed.

More photos of this hike can be found on Flickr.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes

After a difficult three day hike in the Hoover Wilderness, we decided we needed an easier paced outing with more time for relaxing. We chose to do an overnighter in the John Muir Wilderness to Hilton Lakes. There are a string of about ten lakes along the Hilton Creek drainage, starting with Hilton Lake #1 (aka Davis Lake), and are progressively numbered as you go up the glacially carved canyon. We chose Hilton Lake #3 as our destination, a hike of under five miles from the trailhead.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Rock Creek Lakes Resort

Along our three hour drive from Carson City to the trailhead, we stopped at the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center to pick up our wilderness permit. We got the last 4 walk-in spots for the day, a reminder that it’s always a good idea to have a backup hike in mind. Just south of Crowley Lake is a turnoff to Tom’s Place Resort and Rock Creek Road. At the time of this writing, there is major construction happening on Rock Creek Road. We were eager to start hiking, but had to wait for the follow-me-car to lead us up to the top. Eventually it was our turn, and we made the 9 mile drive up the canyon to the trailhead.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Hilton Lakes Trailhead

Located just before the trailhead parking is Rock Creek Lakes Resort, home to the Pie in the Sky Cafe. Not certain what time we’d be hiking out, we decided to get our fill of pie before the hike. We ate $30 in pie between the four of us, but it proved to be good energy food for the hike.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Leaving the trailhead and Rock Creek Lake

Just past the resort is the Hilton Lakes Trailhead and parking area. There is ample parking and a restroom at the trailhead. Make sure not to leave any food items in your vehicle, as this is apparently a high bear activity area due to all the people at the resort. With the nearby pack station, this is also a popular trail for horseback riders. The trail is wide and sandy most of the way for the horses, and their destination is typically the lower Hilton Lakes, #1 and #2. We saw signs of horses along the trail, but did not encounter any in two days.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Sandy trail

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Into the John Muir Wilderness

Although there is only a difference of about 465 feet between the trailhead and Hilton Lake #3, there is around 1,000 feet of climbing to get there along the trail. The trailhead is at 9,863 feet, climbs up to 10,037 in the first half mile, then begins to descend to 9,841 feet at mile 1.6. From there, the trail climbs steadily up to 10,380 ft at the 3.4 mile mark above Hilton Lakes. Then it’s back down to 10,105 feet at the trail junction at mile 4.0. The hike is finished with a steep climb of 223 feet up to 10,328 feet at Hilton Lake #3 at mile 4.3.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Trail is well signed and easy to follow

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Near the top before descending down to Hilton Lakes

Although this area is surrounded by tall jagged peaks, most of this hike is in the shady woods. It occasionally opens up for some big views, but you’ll be enjoying the forest for much of this hike. We appreciated the extra shade on this hot summer day.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Trail intersection

Right around the 4 mile mark is an intersection. To the right and downhill is Hilton Lake #1 (Davis Lake) and Hilton Lake #2. The other hikers we talked to on the way in were headed this direction. This seems to be the way the equestrians go as well, as the lakes are bigger and the trail maintains some width. To the left and uphill is the trail to the upper lakes. The lake only showed about 0.1 mile away on my GPS, but it was actually about .3 miles up the steep trail with all the switchbacks. Unfortunately we were no longer on pie-power, and had to put it in low gear to get up the final climb to Lake #3.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Final climb to lake #3

Just before reaching Lake #3, there is a good view of the lower two lakes as you approach the outlet stream. Just a few steps further you get your first sighting of Lake #3 and the towering granite peaks above it. After hiking in the woods most of the way, the view is quite striking, and the reason for making the long journey to this location is affirmed.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
View of Lakes #1 and #2

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
At the Hilton Lake #3 outlet

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Arriving at the lake

If you’re planning to stay the night at Lake #3, near the outlet is the best place. It has the best views of the lake, and has easy access to drinking water from the outlet stream. When we arrived, there were already a few tents in this area, so we continued to the northwest side of the lake. We found a nice campsite, but it was pretty high above the lake, and access to water from Hilton Creek to the west was somewhat difficult with the steep slope. In hindsight, we may have been better off looking for a campsite on the smaller east shore, but this is really nitpicking in such a beautiful place.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
View of the lake near camp

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Nice camping spots on the north side

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Hilton Creek

Hilton Creek flows to the west of the lake, but it bypasses Lake #3 on its way down the mountain. Lake #3 does not have an inlet stream, so it must be fed through water seeping through the ground above. I prefer stream water over lake water for drinking, so I found a safe approach down to Hilton Creek to the southwest of the lake. It wasn’t super easy to get to, but was closer than hiking back to the outlet stream from where we were camped.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
View of 12,394 ft Mount Huntington

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes

The next morning we debated about what to do before hiking out. Lakes #4 and #5 are close by, but the extra hiking didn’t sound appealing when we still had to hike out in the afternoon. We really hadn’t even had a chance to enjoy the lake we were at, so we decided to spend a leisurely morning at Lake #3. We found granite slabs to enjoy the sun on as we watched the trout swim by. For a long time, we tried to muster the courage to join them in the water. Finally, after several countdowns from my hiking companions, I took the plunge into the icy waters. There was no snow visible around the lake, but still the water was freezing and my swim lasted shorter than 30 seconds. The boys only got in a couple times, so I know it wasn’t just me.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Morning on the lake

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
COLD water!

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes

After a relaxing morning, we packed up and headed out. We stopped to filter water at the outlet for the hike back to the trailhead, and enjoyed the view a while longer before resuming the hike.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Filtering water at the outlet

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Davis Lake

We descended the steep switchbacks down to the intersection, and then climbed the other side up several steps. Once over the top, we descended again until we reached the edge of the moraine. Then it was a long gradual climb to get to the final descent back to the trailhead. While it’s not overly difficult, this isn’t a hike where you can enjoy an all downhill day on the hike out.

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes
Climbing out

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes

Backpacking to Hilton Lakes

We really enjoyed this trip, but to do it properly, an extra layover day to explore the upper lakes would’ve been better. With all the driving from Carson City, we felt a bit rushed for an overnighter. Still, to be able to spend the night in the John Muir Wilderness in the middle of a work week isn’t bad at all!

Hilton Lakes
The route

Hilton Lakes
The route

MORE INFORMATION

 

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon

Over the 4th of July weekend we had an invite to join some friends on a three day backpacking trip up to Thousand Island Lake. Having done the trip last year, I declined the offer and decided on what I thought would be a much easier paced trek in the Hoover Wilderness. I was familiar with the lower portions of both Molybdenite and Burt Canyons from previous outings, and they are easy enough. All that was left to chance were the upper canyons and the climbs over Hanging Valley Ridge. How hard could it be? When it was all said and done, accepting the invite to the other hike may have been the easier choice! But where’s the adventure if everything goes smoothly and as planned?

DAY 1

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Following a little used trail toward Rickey Cabin

Our route would take us up Molybdenite Canyon the first day, over Hanging Valley Ridge near the top of the canyon to Burt Canyon the second day, and then back to the vehicle the third day. Knowing we’d be happy to be done hiking by the end of the trip, we parked our vehicle at the Burt Canyon trailhead where we’d come out on the last day. Just past this trailhead is a little used trail to Rickey Cabin across the bottom of Hanging Valley Ridge to the east. The plan was to stay on this trail all the way eastward until we reached the Molybdenite Canyon trail, a distance of about a mile over easy terrain said the map.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Near Rickey Cabin

When we got to the top of the ridge, the trail fizzled out, and we found ourselves southwest of the cabin. No problem, we’d just continue east cross country. And that’s what we should have done, but there was a trail of sorts that was heading off to the southeast that looked like it might take us in the right direction. Had I looked at my big map instead of basing my decision on my GPS, I would have not followed this trail. Paper maps are much better for route planning. We continued on.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Me: “Look at the size of those claw marks!”  Kristy:”We need to get out of here.”

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Let’s see where this goes…

The trail we were following felt like it was going the right way, but my compass was telling me different. I even tried to veer to the east, but terrain kept forcing us south. As we approached the mountains of Hanging Valley Ridge, I realized we weren’t nearly as far east as I thought, and were still right above Burt Canyon. The only way to break our current direction of travel was to crash through the wall of aspens to the east and head uphill. It was hard to walk a straight line in the thick woods, so we checked our compass heading regularly and tried to keep from climbing higher than we needed to.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Navigating the thick aspens

We eventually broke through the aspens and into a more open spaced pine tree forest. The walking was much easier now, but we ended up having to head back to the northeast to keep from gaining too much elevation. A thunderstorm was headed in from the east when we finally got out into the open. We were all a bit nervous now, exposed as we hiked quickly through the brush to get over the ridge and down into Molybdenite Canyon. We felt relief getting to a small grove of trees near the ridge line. When we finally crested and were looking down into the canyon, the rumbling to the east had started to subside. Looking at our position, we weren’t too far from where I had planned to camp for the night. Even with the errant route, we had still made decent progress to the southeast. New energy filled us when we saw a nice trail on the valley floor, just a short bushwhack below us. We took a nice break when we reached the trail, then began our hike up the canyon in search of a good place to camp.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Not out of the woods yet

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Nearly over the top of Hanging Valley Ridge

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Finally on the Molybdenite Canyon Trail

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Making our way up Molybdenite Canyon

Less than a mile up the trail, we crossed the creek and came to a clearing near some pine trees. It looks like an area that has been used as a herding camp. We found a little spot in the trees the perfect size for our tent, and went about setting up camp and cooking dinner. I filtered water from the nearby Molybdenite Creek. It was cool, but not cold. The water was swift where I was at, but there are frequent beaver dams along the creek. For good measure, I hit it with the UV light (SteriPEN) just to be on the safe side. We joked about the challenging route we took that day, and I wondered how the hiking would’ve been had I stuck to my original plan. We hoped the next day would be easier, but we were headed into unexplored territory and didn’t know what to expect.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Camp #1

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
View down Molybdenite Canyon from Camp #1. We had Wi-Fi!

DAY 2

The next morning we awoke to the sound of some backpackers hiking out from McMillan Lake up the canyon, the first sign of people out on the trail since we started the day before. We were looking forward to hiking on an actual trail, and had hopes for an easy traverse of Hanging Valley Ridge at the top. The forecast for the day showed early thunderstorms, and it was already overcast. I was eager to get moving.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Continuing up Molybdenite Canyon

The first part of the hike was easy enough, a gentle grade up a well defined trail. Wildflowers were exploding everywhere. We passed the site of McMillan Cabin on the map, but it was too far up the hill to be part of today’s hike. Soon we were past where we had turned around on last year’s hike of Molybdenite Canyon and into new territory. This is also about the time the trail started to become more vague. We came to the intersection where the short trail to McMillan Lake begins, but the sign post was missing its sign.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Lots of wildflowers along the trail

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Not certain if these posts are trail markers or part of an old fence

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
The turnoff to McMillan Lake, minus the sign

We could now see the top of the canyon. It didn’t look too far off, but the trail was starting to go away, and the brush, bushes, and flowers were getting thick with all the water coming off the sides of the canyon. We had to carry the dogs through the worst of it to get through the mud and overgrown foliage. Sometimes we’d get some dry trail, but it was taking longer than expected to make our way up the canyon.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Top of the canyon in view

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Corn Lilies

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Finding our way through the willows

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
On “the trail”

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
A brief section of dry trail!

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Looking for the path of least resistance

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Kristy finding her way through the brush

Eventually we gave up on the trail, and just started trying to find routes around the mud and bushes to find the path of least resistance. The sky was also dark, so I was keeping an eye out for a safe place to retreat to if a thunderstorm broke out. We finally came to a spot that I thought was high enough up the canyon, and we started planning our crossing of Hanging Valley Ridge. There were two options: Go all the way up the canyon and cross over at a lower spot, or climb up to the ridge directly above us to save some distance. Eager to get out of the muck, we decided to start climbing from where we were at and get it over with. From what I could see on the map, and the actual landscape we could see from where we stood, it didn’t look too bad. Just steep.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Top of our canyon climb

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Looking up at the top of Molybdenite Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Starting the climb over Hanging Valley Ridge

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Climbing through the brush

The way forward was drier now, but the brush still took some navigating to get through. Kristy found a rocky drainage that proved to be the easiest way up. It also turned into a small creek that made a nice place to rest and refill our bottles. We still couldn’t see over the immediate rise, but we hoped to see our pass over the ridge soon.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Following the rocky drainage

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Break time at a cool water source

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Ugh, we still need to climb over that!

Climbing again, we finally crested over the hill and into a big bowl. Instead of an easy pass, there was still a big steep ridge ahead of us. My first thought is that it looked like a big tidal wave bearing down on us. As the trip and route planner, it’s always stressful when I see something unplanned like this. How will the rest of the group react? Other than a sarcastic, “Is this the flat spot you were talking about?”, everyone kept moving forward. At this point, though, what else can you do? We didn’t want to go back by any means.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Is this the flat spot you were talking about?

After getting across the bowl, we picked a spot to climb over the ridge. I looked up with much worry, hoping that this was indeed the top. Otherwise there may be a mutiny. The thunder began to rumble to the east. We were tired from the climb, but now we had a sense of urgency to get over the top and down to safety. Everyone was giving it all they had to get up the mountain.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Looking down from the top…almost there

I went up ahead to scout the route ahead (please be the top!) and make sure there was a safe route down the other side. Just past a snow bank, I reached the top at 10,935 feet. I was overwhelmingly relieved to see Burt Canyon on the other side. My son was nearing the top, but Kristy and the dogs were still a ways down. It started to rain and the thunder rumbled in the distance, so I took off my pack and went down to help her get to the top as quickly as possible. The sense of urgency now felt like an emergency.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Ponchos on! Let’s get off this mountain! 

Almost the very second we were all on top of the ridge it hit. CAAARRRAAACK! The thunder boomed directly above our heads. The wind picked up violently and it started hailing along with the rain. I struggled to get ponchos on the family, the wind fighting to rip them off and blow them off into space. I had to tuck them into straps to keep everyone dry. Scared dogs were carried under the ponchos. I didn’t even have time to mess with my rain gear at first, figuring being a little wet was much better than electrocution. As quickly as we could, we made our way down the other side to the safety of the trees. Kristy was taking photos and video of the scene, and I humorously wondered if she was recording evidence for the divorce lawyer. It was definitely not the position I had wanted to put my entire family in!

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Descending to Burt Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Flatiron Butte in the clouds

Once off the ridge, the rumbling stopped, but we still had a challenge before us. The valley floor was still 1,500 feet below, and it was steep and slippery all the way down. All of us fell on our butts a few times to the point of it being a laughing matter…in a hysterical sort of way. We all agreed we’d find the first flat spot and make it our camp if we ever got off this mountain.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Camp #2

Finally at the bottom, we scouted for a camp. Kristy found the perfect spot right next to the Little Walker River, an existing camping area with level ground, a fire ring, and a nice log to sit on. We immediately went to work cooking, setting up the tent, and getting into dry warm clothes. The sun came out as we ate dinner, and it was so peaceful that it was hard to really believe what we had just been through. I looked back up the mountain and it didn’t seem possible that we had just come over it. We made nine miles this day, and the terrain made the first day seem so easy. We went to bed early that night, and slept very well.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Little Walker River near camp

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
So peaceful compared to just a couple hours ago!

DAY 3

We took our time getting up on the third day. I don’t think my son even rolled out of bed until after 10:00. It was a sunny day, and this time we were fairly certain we’d have an easy day of hiking. It was all downhill, open meadows, and lots of trail. Once hiking, we first had to find a way across the Little Walker River. It’s small, but just big enough so that it’s a challenge to keep your boots dry. After that, we set out across the low brush in search of a fading trail.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Morning view of Flatiron Butte

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Even the dogs were taking their time waking up

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
All packed up

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Setting out across the low brush

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Looking back at the top of Burt Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Very large boulder in the middle of the meadow

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Beautiful meadows

Soon we were hiking across the meadows with outstanding views in front of and behind us. There’s a huge boulder right in the middle of the upper meadows, most likely deposited by a glacier long ago. It was times like this that made us forget the hard parts. After enjoying the scenery and a bit of exploring, we picked up the trail. It fades in and out this high in the canyon, but it’s pretty easy to find. We found what I think was the turn off to Anna Lake, but the sign that was there last year appears to be gone.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Back on the trail

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Mudslide/flooding

Partway down the canyon, we saw what looked to be the remains of a mudslide coming out of a side canyon off Hanging Valley Ridge. The river course had obviously been altered since we were up there a year ago. Beaver dams were washed out, and many ponds along with it. We stopped for water along the Little Walker for lunch, and got hydrated for the walk out. We wanted to sit at the water the rest of the day, but we could already see the storm clouds brewing. We headed on our way. Soon we were in the woods where we made camp last year near Piute Canyon, and we ran into a family headed up for some fishing. We were almost shocked to see other people.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Nearing Piute Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
In the woods near Piute Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Busted beaver dam and dry pond

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Lots of Indian Paintbrush

We were making a good pace down the canyon, already talking about where we’d eat that night. All-you-can-eat sushi was topping the list. Our legs were starting to get tired from the previous day’s efforts, and we were all feeling like we wanted to be done hiking. Through a narrow section of trail in the brush, Kristy caught her boot on something, and it sent her tumbling into the bushes. My son said, “Whoa! Mom just did a flip!”. Kristy tore her pant leg and banged her knee up pretty good in the process. I was thankful now for my bulky first aid kit, and went to work practicing my Wilderness First Aid training. We got her all bandaged up and back on the trail, but understandably, our pace was now slower.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
She’s OK!

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Crossing the Little Walker for the last time

Just a little past the scene of the tumble, we came to our last crossing of the Little Walker River. There was no way we’d cross without getting our boots wet, so we stopped to change into our sandals. Once on the other side, we took a snack break to get energy for the final push out. As we were sitting there, my son said, “I think I see a tick on mom’s pack.”. I told him not to touch it, because I wanted to verify the sighting. I made my way over there to see the tick, but when I got there, I couldn’t see anything. My son informed me that it had crawled up into the pack while he was waiting for me. There was some miscommunication here. I wanted to make sure he didn’t flick the bug off where I wouldn’t be able to identify it. He took it to mean not to interfere the natural course of things, so now we had a missing bug. I opened the pack up and made a thorough search, but could not find the bug. Nor was it on the ground in the immediate vicinity. Apparently what may have been a tick was gone. Or so we thought…

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Trail wash out

Kristy’s leg improved as we hiked, and the pace picked up. We came to a section of trail that had been totally obliterated by the flooding. Rock cairns marked the way through the mud, and we picked up the trail again on the other side. Soon we were down to the bottom of Burt Canyon, and the hiking was flat and easy. All of us were glad that we had parked where we did and didn’t have to hike any additional mileage to get to the trailhead. We were done.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Through the aspens

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
And through the brush

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Finishing up

Burt Canyon
The route

EPILOGUE

I would have to say this was the most challenging family backpacking trip we’ve ever done. Over the course of 22-23 miles, cross-country navigation, overgrown trails, bugs, injuries, and thunderstorms all made this a difficult hike. At the same time, though, it was ruggedly beautiful and we enjoyed the solitude, only seeing a few people over the three days. I don’t think we’ve ever seen more wildflowers.

One of the first things I did after arriving home was check the GPS data to examine our route over the top of Hanging Valley Ridge, the hardest part of the hike. Looking at Google Earth, I had originally planned to cross just a little higher up at the next pass. This section is 300 feet lower, but required more hiking to get to. Also, the descent to Burt Canyon didn’t look any easier than the route we took. Either way we would’ve gone would have been difficult, and I don’t know where we’d have been when the thunderstorm hit had we gone the other way. I suppose the only way to know for sure would be to go back and see for myself, although I’m fairly certain I’d be on my own for this excursion.

And what of the missing bug? A day after we had been home, Kristy came to me with her fingers in her hair. She felt something on her scalp, and asked me nervously, “Is this a tick?”. I was fully prepared to ease her mind, but when I looked, there was indeed a tick there. I didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t begin a complete panic, but ended up just being honest and said, “Yes it is.”. We got her seated and calmed down, and I worked the tick out of her hair very slowly with some tweezers. The tick was still small, and looked like it had just bitten her. Over the next day, we learned a lot more than we ever wanted to know about ticks. We identified it as a female dog tick, and felt pretty confident there was very little risk of Lyme disease. No further complications came out of it. On the bright side, we discovered some new bug repellents from Sawyer that we’ll be testing out on our next outing that should keep away the mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks…all of which made an appearance on this trip.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION