Pushing Boundaries in the Outdoors: The Grand Canyon of Tuolumne

“It is easier to feel than to realize, or in any way explain, Yosemite grandeur. The magnitudes of the rocks and trees and streams are so delicately harmonized, they are mostly hidden”.

-John Muir

The Grand Canyon of Tuolumne

The Grand Canyon of Tuolumne

National Parks are some of my favorite places to visit in the United States. Of course, Yosemite National Park is on the top of my list, but I cannot grapple with the crowds, traffic jams, and long lines. I avoid Yosemite Valley in the summer and instead drive up Tioga Pass to Tuolumne to experience the beauty of granite rocks, waterfalls, and lush green meadows, without hoards of crowds. I avoid summer weekends and instead get there early on weekday mornings. I also prefer going after Labor Day when the kids are back in school, and the weather is a bit cooler.

Choosing the route

Permits for backcountry Yosemite trips can be challenging to come by through the lottery process, but walk-up permits in shoulder seasons are usually always guaranteed. Luckily for me, I scored a two-night/three-day permit out of Glen Aulin for the middle of September. I was not too familiar with this area, but after a couple of days of research, I stumbled upon an area known as “The Grand Canyon of Tuolumne.” I read that it was not an easy hike, and there were two ways to conquer this trip into Pate Valley.

1) Glen Aulin to White Wolf and either hitch or take the bus back to Glen Aulin.

2) The 60-mile loop from Glen Aulin to White Wolf to Ten Lakes back to Glen Aulin.

I read that both routes were challenging, in a knee-breaking sort of way, and the elevation change was killer. Hitchhiking or taking the bus seemed like a bit more effort than I wanted to deal with, and I was itching for a knee-breaking challenge, so I decided to hike the 60-mile loop over three days.

Glen Aulin trailhead

Glen Aulin trailhead

Hiking out of Glen Aulin

Hiking out of Glen Aulin

Hiking solo

Since I had a permit for three people, I tried to recruit a couple of my friends, but since it was midweek; it seemed that this was going to be a solo trip. I LOVE solo trips! I can make my own itinerary, go as fast or as slow as I want, wake up early or sleep in late. The caveat to backpacking solo in Yosemite is I would be solo, without my dog. I take Moo pretty much everywhere with me, so leaving her behind is always something I struggle with. When I am out with my dog, I do not consider myself solo, since she is entertaining and overly adventurous and the best company on the trail.

My gameplan

My game plan was to average 20 miles and 8,000-elevation change per day. I have never hiked this mileage and elevation change over consecutive days. Sure I have done 30-mile days with a daypack, but not for multiple days in a row. I haven’t ever backpacked more than 13 miles in a day with a fully loaded pack. However, I knew I was in great shape after spending my entire summer in the outdoors, so if I was going to complete this challenge, now was the time to do it.

The importance of pushing boundaries

I am a huge advocate of pushing boundaries and stepping out of your comfort zone. If you do not test these boundaries, how will you learn your limits? How will you discover new things? How will you find out what you love? If you spend your life in a box, playing it safe and doing the same routine; not only is this mundane and boring, but you are robbing yourself of discovering a whole new world. This philosophy is not just applied to the outdoors but also can be applied to your professional and personal life.

This was going to be the most challenging trip I have ever done. To add to this challenge, I planned to climb Mt. Tyndall from Shepherd’s Pass the next day with a friend who was visiting me from Utah! I talked all of this over with a couple of friends, and they were incredibly supportive and had faith in me. I also knew there were three ways to exit the trail just in case I could not keep a steady pace or if I became injured, and of course, I was going to carry my Garmin inReach. I told my work I was going to be off the grid for a few days, emailed my emergency contacts my trip itinerary and contact numbers for Yosemite SAR, hugged my dog, and headed into Tuolumne.

Raging rivers in the canyon

Raging rivers in the canyon

Day one: permit pick-up

I arrived at the Tuolumne ranger station at 8 AM to pick up my permit. There was a line of 7 people or so waiting for walk-up permits, and thankfully, the rangers helped whoever had a reservation first. I went inside, gave them my information, and told them my plan. I arrived on September 9th and was planning to complete the loop on September 11th. I was planning to be on the trail by 8:45 AM sharp. The ranger looked at me and told me that my permit entry date was for September 11th. I WAS TWO DAYS EARLY! I apologized and told him how humiliated I felt. I have done some pretty mindless things before, but never have I showed up for a trip two days early! He knew I was hiking out that day and I had 20 miles to cover, he talked to his co-worker, and they went ahead and gave me a walk-up permit without making me wait in that line. We talked about the Leave No Trace Rules, and he not only asked me if I had a bear canister but asked me which kind. I have never been asked this before. For those who are wondering, I have the Bearikade, which is gold! I thanked him a million times, he wished me luck and gave me directions to the trailhead, and I was on my way. Although I was off to a rocky start, at least I had good karma on my side.

Glen Aulin to Pate Valley

Hiking out of Glen Aulin was breathtaking. The sky was bright blue, the air was crisp, and there were so many waterfalls raging over the granite cliff formations. I hiked mostly downhill, descending the steep granite steps into Pate Valley. I walked (I was actually jogging) past Tuolomne Falls, Glen Aulin High Camp, California Falls, Le Conte Falls and arrived at Waterwheel Falls, where I decided to take a break and eat lunch. I was making great time and averaging 3.5mph. My pack was relatively light (32 pounds, including the six pounds of camera gear). My goal for each day was to start on the trail by 8 AM and stop hiking at 6:30 PM, so I had ample time to look for a campsite, set up my tent and cook dinner before it got dark and cold.

On the way to Pate Valley…

On the way to Pate Valley…

Morning reflections

Morning reflections

The fly apocalypse

After finishing lunch, I hiked through the Grand Canyon of Tuolomne into Pate Valley. The raging Tuolumne River cut through the huge granite walls that hovered over each side of the canyon. I felt insignificant and tiny among this powerful landscape. I continued to hike up steep granite steps to gain 1,000 feet of elevation to then hike right back down 1,000 feet into another valley. What goes up must come down, and this was the story of the trip. Pate Valley is at 4,000 feet, which is a lot of elevation loss compared to 8,000 feet. The constant up and down was tough, but the swarms of flies made it an absolute death march. These flies were relentless. I couldn’t stop because they would devour me. I would look back and see a black swarm following me. Thank goodness they were not biting, but no amount of DEET or any size bug net would stop them. For the first time in months, I wanted to cry. I was constantly waving my hiking poles in my face so I could have split seconds of normalcy. To be honest, I would never hike this route again because the flies were that bad. I swallowed at least a dozen, and the anxiety it caused me was indescribable.

The only photo I took of “myself”

The only photo I took of “myself”

My goal for day one was to reach Glen Aulin, which is about 30 miles, but of course, after the huge elevation change and World War III with the flies, this was not going to happen. After I clocked 22 miles, I found a decent campsite at the end of Pate Valley and knew day two was going to be even more challenging.

Berries on the trail in Pate Valley

Berries on the trail in Pate Valley

Taking care of my body

Each night before I went to sleep, I drank 1 liter of water, soaked my feet in the river, ate a package of electrolytes, and took a full dose (800mg) of Ibuprofen. I needed my body to remain strong, as I could not afford to hike slow or lose too much mileage; if I did, I knew I wouldn’t finish the trail. Prophylactically treating myself with Ibuprofen was a game-changer. My body did not ache in the mornings, and I felt relatively good for the number of miles and elevation change I was traveling.

Day two: White Wolf, death marching and bears

I awoke on day 2, quickly packed up my camp, devoured an espresso GU energy (I didn’t have the time to make coffee and didn’t want the extra weight, so I decided on espresso gels in the morning) and was on the trail by 8 AM. Within a mile, I can across a sign that read “bridge out.” I remember reading that this bridge was repaired, so I was a bit confused but was prepared for any water crossings that came my way. When I came across the bridge, there was a trail crew working on the repairs. I looked around, and thankfully the river was calm, serene even. It was about mid-thigh deep, so I knew it would be an easy crossing since it was not raging. I ventured towards the bridge and greeted the trail crew. I asked them if this was the bridge that was out. They replied, “yes, it is, but lucky for you, it is almost finished” I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, but I was curious. They offered to escort me across the bridge, telling me where I can and cannot step. “More good karma,” I thought to myself. I thanked the trail crew multiple times, and they wished me a great hike.

Bridge is out…

Bridge is out…

After a couple of miles, I started my climb out of Pate Valley into White Wolf. I gained 4,0000 feet in elevation over 4 miles, and the switchbacks were worse than the Mt Whitney switchbacks. They were never-ending. I was glad I camped in the valley last night because there was no way I could have made this climb on tired legs or in the dark. This never-ending death march became steeper and steeper, and I just started to laugh. I wanted a challenge, and clearly, God has a great sense of humor. At one point, I managed to roll my ankle, and I heard, “crack, crack,” however, it was minimally painful, and I was still able to hike on it. When I stumbled across views of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, I was mesmerized. It was stunning. I decided to filter water and soak my feet in a nearby stream. I made sure to soak my feet every day on this trip, even just for 10 minutes.

Hetch Hetchy reservoir

Hetch Hetchy reservoir

After about 10 miles of some of the hardest hiking I have ever done, I reached White Wolf. I considered getting off the trail at this point and hitching to my car. I knew day two was only going to be a 15-mile day if I continued, which meant I would have to do 25 miles the next day. This plan was starting to become ridiculous, but I was not yet convinced I should quit. I continued and ran into some fellow backpackers who were beginning their journey out of White Wolf. It seemed everyone was making the loop over 5-7 days or going from White Wolf to Glen Aulin in 3-5 days. I got a few strange looks when I told others my itinerary. Luckily I met one other guy on day three who had the same itinerary as me, which made me feel a little bit better.

After I completed the death march into White Wolf, I was greeted by stunning lush green meadows, cooler temps, and FLAT ground. I ran the next three miles. My goal for day two was to make it to Ten Lakes, but I had a feeling I may be cutting it too close to dark. I usually do not mind hiking in the dark, but only when I have fresh legs and a sharp mind. I don’t hike over mountain passes in the dark or climb down steep granite rock, so hiking in the dark during this trip was not on my agenda. I started to hike through a forestry area as the sun was setting behind the ridge. I changed into my puffy and pulled out my hat and gloves as the sun dropped behind the mountains. I had a gut feeling this was bear territory; it was also about 5:30 PM, dinnertime for bears. Within minutes of having these thoughts and while I was singing along to my music, a large black bear appeared on the trail about 30 yards in front of me. We both froze, and he bolted before I could even think about making noise. I was so tired to even process what was happening, and I think we both were simultaneously surprised. I stood there hoping there were no cubs around, and then I quickly continued on. I think bears and marmots are the cutest mountain creatures I have ever seen. I am not afraid of bears; however, I am always nervous I will run into a mom and her cubs, and that terrifies me.

 If only my dog will stop barking at bears during our walks through town or the Lake Basin.

 After the five-second bear encounter, I took this as my cue; I should probably start looking for a campsite. I was about one mile from Ten Lakes Pass and two miles from Ten Lakes. I couldn’t beat myself up about a 16-mile day and over 10, 000 feet in elevation change. I found a perfect campsite, and as I took off my boots, I felt the pain from my ankle. I definitely sprained it, and the compression and rigidity from my boots were minimizing the pain. One more day left!

Day three: Ten Lakes aka heaven

I awoke at 6 AM the next morning with hopes of being on the trail by 6:30 AM; however, after discovering my tent was covered in frost, and it was absolutely freezing outside, I quickly got back into my sleeping bag and waited until the sun rose. Once it was warm enough, I quickly packed up camp and headed for Ten Lakes Pass. I was tired. These miles and elevation changes were getting to me, and I knew I had a lot of ground to cover. But I also knew I was strong enough to complete this loop, and that strength is what carried me through. I arrived at Ten Lakes and could not believe how beautiful this place was. It was early enough in the morning that the lake reflections were in full force. I knew I wanted to come back and camp here. This area was one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen in the Sierra. Unfortunately, I was on a time crunch, so I quickly climbed over the ridge and began to descend steep granite switchbacks. I climbed over so many ridges this day that it felt disorienting.

Ten Lakes was a dream…

Ten Lakes was a dream…

Can’t wait to plan a trip here…

Can’t wait to plan a trip here…

I had to remind myself of my sense of direction continually. The views of Tuolumne Peak were stunning, but I knew I had at least seven more miles to Glen Aulin and four miles from Glen Aulin to my car. It was 3 PM in the afternoon, and it was dark by 8 PM. I had five hours to hike 11 miles. Yes, this is very doable for a day hike. This is even doable on a multiday hike. With a sprained ankle, and after pushing myself to the extreme the past two days, I was a bit nervous this was going to be a challenge.

I hiked for five miles as fast as I could, and when I realized I was going to be hiking in the dark, I sat down to rearrange my pack. I knew it was going to be a full moon, so I was going to have natural light, but I also knew I was going to be extremely tired. As I was getting out my headlamp, my warm clothes, and my dinner, I noticed my car keys were missing. I frantically tore apart my entire pack while trying to come up with a plan of how I was going to get into my car without any cell service. I was a wreck. I always put my car keys at the bottom of my bear canister, but they were not there. I figured they must have fallen out at camp early that morning. The last place I looked was in my electronics dry bag, and after praying and simultaneously swearing at myself, I found my keys. I spent 30 minutes tearing apart my bag and wasted so much energy on crazy emotions. This was my final sign that I was exhausted. I am not an emotional person in the backcountry, so when my emotions do come out, it is a sign I am tired and need to stop. I told myself when I reached the end of the loop; I am going to set up camp and hike the last 4 miles to my car in the morning.

Hiking in the dark

I hiked the last couple of miles in the dark, and even with a headlamp and a full moon; it was becoming difficult to find the trail. I gave myself two more rules; if I had difficulty finding the trail and/or if I ran into switchbacks, I was going to call it and set up camp immediately. I finally completed the loop at Tuolumne Falls at 9:00 PM on day three.

I felt it was unsafe to hike the last four miles to my car because I was exhausted and delirious. I was in communication with both my dog sitter and my friend, who was coming into town from Utah, and I explained to both of them my plan. I was proud of myself for completing this 60-mile loop in 3 days but stressed that I was spending an extra night on the trail. I knew I set up my tent off the trail, but I had a hard time deciphering how far off. I also knew I was technically hiking out a day past my permit, however in the event, I did come across a ranger, I would explain to him my journey, and I was not going to compromise my safety. As I lay in my tent, all I could think about was the last four miles to my car, my sore ankle, if I had any important work emails to return, and how am I supposed to hike up Shepherds Pass in the next 36 hours. I also was simultaneously grateful I made it this far for my friends who sent me funny stories and jokes through my Garmin inReach and for Christie, who runs Sierra Dog Ventures for taking such good care of Moo. 

Too many waterfalls to count…

Too many waterfalls to count…

The final home stretch

I awoke the next morning at the crack of dawn and hiked to my car as fast as I could. I made the hour drive back to Mammoth, unpacked, showered, took Ibuprofen, soaked my ankle in Epsom Salt baths, and waited for Moo to come home. I had six hours to reset, take care of my ankle, pack my bag, and hang out with my dog before my friend arrived. We were off to backpack Tyndall the next morning!

 Throughout the entire three days, I ran into only a handful of people. I also only came across two other groups of females; the rest of the hikers were male or mixed-gender groups. The trail was not crowded, which I much appreciated.

All in all, this trip was incredible. I pushed myself to my core, I hiked through stunning scenery in solitude, and I learned I never want to go back to Pate Valley, but I do want to go back to Ten Lakes. I am forever grateful to the kind rangers and trail crew who helped me when they did not have to. And of course, I am lucky to have people like Christie from Sierra Dog Ventures and Judy and Allie from Donna’s Dog Boarding who take the best care of Moo and also put up with my backcountry shenanigans. This trip was one for the books, and I am so glad I did it!

Trip details

  • Trail: Grand Canyon of Tuolumne: Glen Aulin to Pate Valley to White Wolf to Ten Lakes back to Glen Aulin

  • Season: Mid September

  • Mileage: 64ish miles

  • Net Elevation: 24,000 feet

  • Highest Elevation: 9,000 feet

  • Lowest Elevation: 4,000 feet

  • Dogs: no

  • Permit: yes

  • Parking: Along the dirt road at Lambert Dome parking area

  • Weather: Dry, 80’s during the day and 20s-50s at night.

    Thanks for reading,

    See you on the trails

    Xx,

    Kristen

Solo Adventuring in the Outdoors as a Female: Is it Safe?

An Open Letter to Every Woman in the Wild

"Feminism isn't about making women strong. Women are already strong. It's about changing the way the world perceives that strength."

G.D. Anderson

A water crossing over Piute Pass July 2019

A water crossing over Piute Pass July 2019

  • “You are going by yourself?”

  • “Is it safe?”

  • “How do you protect yourself?”

  • “What if something goes wrong”?

These are just some of the many questions most females, including myself, are asked when we exclaim that we are going on a solo adventure. I see so many posts on social media about how so many women are nervous about hiking alone or how their partner will not allow them to adventure solo. This sense of fear and uneasiness makes me sad and I hope this blog can empower at least one female to get out there by her badass self and conquer any trail, crag or mountain she desires. The majority of the folks in the outdoors are extremely pleasant, friendly and humble but sadly there have been multiple cases this past year of physical and verbal attacks on women, and as a result we need to be smart.

Views of Mammoth August 2019

Views of Mammoth August 2019

Snow fields and sun cups for days July 2019

Snow fields and sun cups for days July 2019

The harsh reality of being female

As females, we live in a society where unfortunately we are taught from a very young age to always be “on guard”, to pay attention to our gut feeling and to be careful. I grew up with a badass younger brother and we were both raised by the strongest woman I have ever met and although it was always instilled in me that I should be aware of my surroundings and be in touch with my intuition, I never grew up in a household where fear was instilled. My mom never taught me to be scared of certain people or of certain environments and I think this is one of the main reasons why I live a very fearless and a very fulfilling life. She told me from day one to be independent, to make my own money, to stand up for myself and to “never let a boy touch you where you do not want to be touched and if he does, punch him in the mouth”. My mom says some ridiculous things!

Yes of course, as women, we always have to be on guard and sadly, men do not understand this. We have to wait for our Uber inside the bar just to be safe, watch our backs in a gas station at night, be weary of being date raped at parties or bars, be mindful when we are walking or running at night or walking through a parking lot, walking to our car etc. In other words, as women, we must always be careful and mindful of our surroundings even if we are not fearful. Guys do not understand the risks we, as women, take on a daily basis. I have had conversations with my brother and best guy friends and have asked them if they ever worry about being mugged or attacked while walking down the road or walking home; men simply do not need to take the same precautions we do. Is it fair? Nope. Is it reality? Yep! I have had friends who have been attacked and raped and I am sure many women who are reading this are victims themselves or know of victims. It is the sad reality and my heart goes out to every female who feels she is no longer safe, but I truly believe being safe in the “real world” and being safe on the trail are two very different things that simply cannot be compared. Trail safety is a thing, a big thing, but this should never ever discourage you from getting out there on your own!

Deer Lakes August 2019

Deer Lakes August 2019

But are we safe on the trails?

When I am asked if I feel safe going into the wilderness by myself, I often chuckle, roll my eyes and make a snarky comment about how I am more at risk of getting into a car accident on the freeway or having an unsafe encounter in a gas station at night. As women, we are always at risk, and more so in populated cities and public places. I have had a handful of dangerous encounters with creepy men in big cities but when I am on the trail, I feel so much more at ease.

Guys play a major role in women empowerment

I know a lot of men who do “not allow” their significant others to go hiking, climbing, skiing or backpacking alone. I say dump these dudes, seriously! But in reality, it is totally normal for our loved ones to be concerned about our safety, happiness and well-being. But seriously, guys please support your female partners in their solo adventures in the outdoors. You can play such a huge role in empowering the women in your lives!

Duck Lake August 2019

Duck Lake August 2019

A stunning alpine lake at sunset

A stunning alpine lake at sunset

My definition of “glamour shots”

My definition of “glamour shots”

Getting personal: How do I protect myself on the trail?

Conceal and carry…or not

I am often asked if I carry a weapon or pepper spray and the truth is I do not. I do not feel I am in any sort of danger on the trail to the extent that I have to go to these extreme measures. I truly believe the outdoors is a safe place and with enough street smarts, grit and intuition, we as women, can conquer the trails.

I once considered (for about 10 minutes while standing in Moab Gear Traders in Utah) purchasing a knife but in reality I truly believe I will not be able to get to my weapon in a timely manner to actually do something to my attacker. I wonder “if my attacker saw my weapon, would he be more prone to shoot me right there?” Fumbling with a knife, even if it is in my pants or attached to my body or grabbing my pepper spray off my pack strap makes me wonder, “can I potentially cause more harm to myself because of my slowed reaction time, and my clumsy hands combined with potentially making my attacker more violent”? I also wonder, “what if they grab my weapon and use it on me?” I personally am extremely anti firearms of any sort (please refrain from the gun debate and politics) so carrying a gun is just not my jam.

With that said, I have many girlfriends who do carry a weapon on the trail and I believe if it makes you feel safe and if you are comfortable using your weapon (and actually know how to use it), then by all means, go to town…

Wear headphones…sort of

My main line of defense is my wit, my gut, my two fingers and my 12-pound terrier mix. Let me explain. I get around, literally. I have traveled all over the world and have hiked thousands of miles in the backcountry by myself so I can handle a creepy dude here and there. For the most part, I do wear headphones on the trail because I simply do not want to be asked a million questions about my pup, but what many do not know is I rarely have any music on. A tactic I picked up while traveling across India by train. People think you are unaware of what is going on around you because you are listening to music, when in fact, you know exactly what is happening but just do not want to be bothered.

Sure, I will smile and wave and have the one off conversation here and there on the trail but my solo outdoor time is not my idea of a happy hour.

Side note: If I do have music on, I only have one ear bud in so I can be aware of my surroundings while jamming out to some nonsense Justin Bieber. For that same reason, I do not wear earplugs when I sleep on the trail. I want to be able to hear if something or someone is out there and I want to be able to hear my dog bark.

Follow your gut

This leaves me to my next line of defense, my intuition. I can smell a creepster from a mile away. If you are a dude on the trail who is giving me the creeps then I will kindly step aside and let you hike in front of me. I may even sit down and eat a snack and watch my pup run around in circles. Basically, I do not want any creepy dudes behind me, ever. I feel that if they are in front of me, I have the upper hand.  I seldom tell people I meet on the trail where I plan to camp that night, sure sometimes I meet some incredibly rad people and I want nothing more than to tell them my life story and become best friends but I vibe it out. If my gut is telling me, “this guy is cool and is harmless” then I have no problem talking about my journey. But if I meet a creepster who wants to know where I am camping or where I am hiking to, I will often make something up or simply respond, “not sure yet, wherever Mother Nature takes me”.  In terms of camping, I have unfortunately camped next to some creepy dudes (who set up camp after me). I considered moving my tent but did not feel I was in any imminent danger. I have had friends who have straight up, picked up camp and moved because they pitched their tent next to creepy McCreepster. Do not hesitate to move your tent, trust your gut.

Go for the eyeballs

My pointer finger and middle finger on my right hand are my secret weapons. I have been told by many self-defense instructors to go for the eyes. If I ever get into a situation where I feel physically threatened, these two fingers will take out someone’s eyesight. I can guarantee that.  Sometimes I tell my guy friends this and they tell me “Kristen, you need to stop going around telling people this, it is weird”. Sure it is super weird, but I know any guy can physically overpower me but not one guy is going to physically overpower me when he is blind. Let’s talk about self-defense classes because I am a huge fan of these. I think it is super empowering for women to learn how to get out of violent physical holds by men and I encourage every woman to take one of these classes.

Get an “attack” dog

If you did not know, I am overly obsessed with my pup, Moo. She is the cutest, sweetest, hilarious and most adventurous canine I have ever met. Although she has no viscous bone in her body (and she weighs 12 pounds) she sure does know how to spot creepsters. She is by no means an attack dog and she rarely ever barks, but every so often she will stand next to me and bark at a random individual on the trail until he/she is literally out of our sight. She has chased weird men out of my campsite and she makes it very obvious she wants nothing to do with you if she senses you are a creepster. I have hiked almost 1,000 miles with my pup so I am incredibly in tune with her as she is to me, especially in the outdoors. We are a team! Dogs can truly keep you a little bit safer on the trail and I feel so much more at ease when she is with me.

Moo, the “attack dog”.

Moo, the “attack dog”.

Whistles, alarms and air horns

I actually have a whistle on my running pack and my backpacking pack (but not any of day packs, useful huh?). I actually have these two whistles to scare off furry creatures rather than creepsters but a noisemaker is always a good idea to alert that you are in potential dangers. Growing up my mom always used to carry this heavy “rape whistle” on her keys. She would even tell me, at my ripe age of 9 years old, it was a rape whistle and it sort of made me chuckle but as we get older, we clearly become more like our mothers, right?

I have seen people carry alarms that attach to their back pack strap and also know people who carry mini air horns; which I think are way less annoying than the constant jingling of those damn bear bells!

Crags for days…

Crags for days…

In my backyard…

In my backyard…

Other safety precautions to take when you are solo adventuring

  • Tell someone where you are going, when you expect to be back and who and when to call in case they do not hear back from you.

  • Baby steps: maybe start with a 2-mile solo hike first to build up your confidence

  • Know your limits

  • Have some experience in the backcountry before you adventure solo

  • Be knowledgeable about back country navigation

  • Carry a photo ID on you.

  • Carry a Garmin InReach, it can truly save your life.

I recently had a guy friend tell me that if women needed to carry a Garmin InReach in case they needed to activate the SOS button, then they probably should not be in the outdoors. I thought this was one of the most ignorant comments I have ever heard. No matter how experienced or knowledgeable you are, Mother Nature is stronger, faster and wiser and there may be a time when you need to activate your SOS button and do not ever feel ashamed for that.

For a review and my personal experience using my Garmin inReach, I have included both links.

I am the first person to jump in an alpine lake…

I am the first person to jump in an alpine lake…

Wildflowers in the Eastern Sierras

Wildflowers in the Eastern Sierras

Remember, you are a QUEEN

Of course, tragedies do happen because well there are creepy guys everywhere, even in the wilderness. But in my 16 years of adventuring solo I have had two encounters in the backcountry where the hair on my neck stood up and my gut was twisting and tumbling. As women, we are the queens of intuitive feelings however often times we do not follow our gut and we end up in danger. So my biggest word of advice when adventuring in the backcountry solo is TRUST YOUR GUT. If something just feels off, then it probably is so either take a different trail, allow the weird creepy dude to go ahead of you, move your tent to a different campsite or worst case scenario, get off the trail. But never allow fear to keep you from getting into the wilderness by yourself. You are more likely to be hurt driving on the freeway, walking home at night or going out to a bar. I truly believe with my whole heart that solo adventuring as a female is not only safe but incredibly rewarding and empowering and I encourage every woman to get out there on her own and experience it for the first time.

Packed Moo in on mile 11 out of 15. The previous day she did 12 miles.

Packed Moo in on mile 11 out of 15. The previous day she did 12 miles.

To read more on why I love traveling solo, here is another cheeky but informative blog post written by yours truly on why women should embrace their bad-asser-y more often!

"I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass."Maya Angelou

Thanks mom, for instilling this sense of empowerment in me!

(I honestly do no even know if she is aware I have a blog)

Hope to see you on the trails

Xx

Kristen

Backpacking the Lost Coast Trail: The Quick and Dirty

"There's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it's sent away."
-Sarah Kay

Seals and sea lions on the trail across from Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Seals and sea lions on the trail across from Punta Gorda Lighthouse

The Lost Coast Trail is a force to be reckoned with. From hiking with sea lions and elephant seals, talking sweet nothings to the resident sea otters in Cooksie Creek, staring at the Milky Way in the night sky and observing all the washed up sea life to watching the deer and bear meander down from the mountains to visit the campground creek, the wildlife, night sky, washed up sea stars, sea urchins, whale bones and fish vertebrae are just a taste of the beautiful uninhibited terrain that is known as the Lost Coast. The Lost Coast is mostly a natural and development-free area in Humboldt County California, specifically in the King Range wilderness. In the 1930s this area experienced depopulation and as a result, it was named the “The Lost Coast”. In addition, the steepness and related geotechnical challenges of the coastal mountains made this stretch of coastline too costly for state highway or county road builders to establish routes through the area, leaving it the most undeveloped and remote portion of the California coast. This trip has been on my bucket list for some time and when I saw permits were available for early September, I snagged a solo permit and dove deep into the planning process. From scheduling a shuttle service, understanding the tide tables and mapping the impassible zones on my Gaia GPS, I had my work cut out for me. I decided to do this trip solo since the planning process was a bit intense and frankly, I wanted some time alone to unwind and fall off the grid. From Mattole beach to Black Sands beach this hike is just over 25 miles and I wanted to take my time on the trail, sleep in, make breakfast, have plenty of time to cross the high tidal zones, take in the salty air, watch the waves, and be lost in my own thoughts so I decided to do this trek over 4 days and 3 nights however this can easily be completed in 2 nights and 3 days.

Clear blue skies on an overland trail, day 1.

Clear blue skies on an overland trail, day 1.

Bearikade bear canister, Goal Zero solar panel and battery back and an incredible memoir written by Trevor Noah; all must-haves for backpacking trips. Big Flat campground, night 2.

Bearikade bear canister, Goal Zero solar panel and battery back and an incredible memoir written by Trevor Noah; all must-haves for backpacking trips. Big Flat campground, night 2.

Obtaining that coveted permit

A permit is required to camp overnight in the King Range Wilderness and permits can be obtained at Recreation.gov You can print your permit a week in advance of your start date.

Night 3 at Gitchell Creek

Night 3 at Gitchell Creek

Washed up sea urchin on the trail.

Washed up sea urchin on the trail.

Washed up sea star on the trail.

Washed up sea star on the trail.

Love is truly everywhere, if you look hard enough…

Love is truly everywhere, if you look hard enough…

 Shuttle service, please?

Since this is a one-way hike, you must book a shuttle that will drive you from Black Sands beach to Mattole Beach. Starting from Matthole Beach and hiking the 25-mile stretch back to your car at Black Sands Beach is the way to go because you are hiking in the same direction as the wind and the road to Black Sands Beach is paved and maintained unlike the road to Matthole Beach (an unpaved mess). The shuttle will pick you up at Black Sands Beach parking lot and the driver will give you a 10 minute orientation on proper trail etiquette and the quick and dirty on the tides. He will also give you a tide table book, which is golden for when you are on the trail. The road to Black Sands Beach is windy and narrow and can make you nervous especially if you decide to do this drive at night. I arrived at the parking lot around 11:00PM the night before and quickly discovered that all campgrounds in the area close at 9 PM so I slept in my car since I had a 7am shuttle departure the next morning (not the most ideal situation but sometimes you have to roll with the punches). I booked a shuttle with Lost Coast Adventure Tours (cost about $70) but keep in mind that if they do not have at least 4 people booked for that shuttle time, they will cancel your shuttle or place you in the next shuttle that is full. I was moved from the 7AM shuttle to the 8AM shuttle which meant I was going to start an hour later than scheduled but again, you always have to roll with the punches. Make sure you call them 48 hours before your departure to confirm that your shuttle is full.

Mamma and baby deer crossing Cooksie Creek, night 1.

Mamma and baby deer crossing Cooksie Creek, night 1.

Tide tables and impassible zones

So this is the part where it gets tricky. There are two, 4-mile and one, 0.25 miles stretch of coastal zones that cannot be passed during high tide, and there is one totally impassible zone that cannot be crossed period, regardless of the tide. It is important to study the tide table and understand your hiking windows. The impassible zone is about 0.5 miles from Sea Lion Gulch and there is a small flat rock sitting on top a large boulder referred to as “hat rock”. This “hat rock” is a sign that you must look for the overhead trail that takes you up and over this impassible zone. If you come to the impassible zone like I did, and discover huge boulders that are impossible to climb, retrace your steps and look above for that overhead trail. Once you are about half way up the overhead trail you will notice a trail sign that points you in the correct direction. Remember the ocean is always on your right and the mountains are always on your left (if you are hiking from Matthole to Black Sands).

Now for the 2-mile impassible zones at high tides, the rule of the thumb is to stop hiking 2 hours before high tide and to begin hiking 2 hours after high tide. There is an AM and a PM high tide so you will begin your hike 2 hours after the high tide in the morning and will make sure you are through the impassible zones 2 hours before the PM high tide begins. Here is where it gets tricky; you must deduct 52 minutes from the high tides for the Shelter Cover area and keep in mind the tidal heights. My high tides were all within the 4-foot range so the 2-hour windows were safe for me (for the most part). However if your high tide is within the 6-7 foot range then you may need to give yourself a larger window (most likely 3-3.5 hours before and after high tide). I would suggest going over your hiking schedule with the rangers beforehand if you find this confusing but once you start hiking, you will get the hang of it. I would recommend setting up camp at the beginning of these tidal zones so you can hike through them in the morning after the first high tide so you do not have to worry about getting stuck or waiting out the tide. There are also camping sites within the impassable tidal zones, which are great places to camp as well.

Tide table book.

Tide table book.

Tide table example:

AM high tide 4AM 4.5 tidal height (minus 52 minutes)

PM high tide 7PM 6.5 tidal height (minus 52 minutes)

Start hiking through the “high tide impassible zone” after 5AM and make sure you are through this 4 mile impassible zone by 3PM (see how there was a 3 hour window in the evening because the tidal height is much higher).

One of the “impassible zones at high tide”. Day 2-4 were overcast and gloomy.

One of the “impassible zones at high tide”. Day 2-4 were overcast and gloomy.

Backcountry campsites on the Lost Coast

The “campsites” are basically the creek areas where you are able to filter water. Even if the area is not marked as a campsite on your map, you are still able to camp there as this whole area is considered BLM land.  

Getting stuck in the impassible zone

The first night, I decided to camp at Cooksie Creek, an adorable little area where sea otters play in the river and deer roam around in search of a drink from the stream. I met two super nice guys and hiked with them the first day, sharing stories about India along the trail. Cooksie Creek is about 2 miles into the first impassible tidal zone and we had about 2 hours to clear these two miles before we had to worry about the high tides. Seems easy right? Well, hiking over boulders and sand can slow you down, more than you think. Unfortunately we ran out of time and we had 0.2 miles left until we reached camp but we were stuck on a jagged boulder hanging on for dear life as the waves crashed around us, soaking us from the waist down. One of the guys I was with decided to check around the corner to see how far we had to go. When he realized we had less than 0.2 miles to go, we waited for the next set of waves to crash into us then made a run for it. We made it to camp safe and soaked but my heart was filled with pure joy when I came across a family of three sea otters playing at our campsite. I was in animal kingdom heaven! We quickly learned our lesson about the impassible tidal zones and I gave myself plenty of time the next day.

Day 2-4

On the second day, I solo hiked 10 miles to Big Flat where I set up camp for the night. Big Flat is about 1 mile from the second impassible tidal zone, a very quiet campsite with gorgeous ocean views and a large flowing creek for filtering water. The next morning, I was at the beginning of the second high tide impassible zone so I started my hike with fresh legs and with plenty of time to spare in between the high tides. After hiking a quick and easy 4.5 miles on day 3, I set up my camp at Gitchell Creek, which is right after the second tidal zone. I was the only person camping at Gitchell Creek which was magical (this was most likely because it was only 3 miles from the end of the trail). Day 4 made for an easy 3 miles back to my car at Black Sands Beach. I arrived at my car around 10:30AM and drove to San Jose, checked into a hotel and took a nice long shower before meeting a friend for drinks.

Punta Gorda lighthouse, day 1.

Punta Gorda lighthouse, day 1.

Sunset on our only clear evening.

Sunset on our only clear evening.

 Answers to commonly asked questions

  • This is bear country so make sure you store all of your scented items in an approved bear canister.

  • There are streams about every 2-3 miles along the trail to filter enough water for that distance.

  • Camp at a stream (they are called “creeks” on the trail maps).

  • My starting pack weight all in with 3 liters of water was 32 pounds.

  • It was very sunny the first day and very windy and overcast the next 3 days…the weather changes on a dime.

  • I did not use my tent fly once. If there is no rain in the forecast, I would recommend leaving this at home as it did not drop below 50 degrees at night.

  • Most of the trail is on sand and boulders which will slow you down. I recommend very sturdy and high ankle hiking boots. I wore my LOWA Renegades and my feet felt great the whole trip.

  • There are tons of poison oak and ticks on the trail. Be mindful where you step and check your body for ticks when you get to camp.

  • Although this was a relatively easy trip in terms of physical endurance, the planning and logistics were quite tricky so I would not recommend this as a first-time backpacking trip.

  • No I did not bring any alcohol and yes I started and finished an entire book, “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah.

Wet sea otters in our first campsite.

Wet sea otters in our first campsite.

After he dried out… hehe. They were SO cute!

After he dried out… hehe. They were SO cute!

Thanks for reading!

Please feel free to reach out with any questions.

Hope to see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen