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Boulder, CO

A guide to the wilderness of the West.

Smoky Sierras


Smoky Sierras

Derek Bartz

Always good to be back

We continued zig zagging our way down the coast eventually entering Golden Gate National Rec Area on our way to pick up our friend, Joe C, in San Fran.  One more stop for a quick swim in the Pacific at Muir Beach, and then we reluctantly left Hwy 1 behind and crossed the Golden Gate into the madness of the city.  A quick bite to eat and a trip to the airport and we were back out in the country heading for the Eastern Sierra.

As we neared Bishop it quickly became evident that we would not be seeing the High Sierra in the conditions we envisioned.  The Rough fire continued to scorch the Souther Sierra, blanketing much of the range in smoke.  Not the views we had hoped for.  The Northern Sierras weren't getting effected nearly as much though, so we decided to head up into the Sawtooths at the northern boundary of Yosemite National Park. The Sawtooths rise nearly 5,000' from the desert and mark the unofficial end of the High Sierra(Emigrant Wilderness and Lake Tahoe still lie to the north).  I had seen this area first from a distance while on the PCT back in 2013.  As we hiked through the trees, I kept wondering why the trail wasn't taking us up towards the craggy looking Sawtooth Ridge.    

High Sierra

We began at Twin Lakes, and spent a night out next to Crown Lake.  A cold front was moving through, creating some interesting clouds and an excellent sunset from the cliffs above our camp.  In the morning, we finished up the climb to Rock Island Pass and decided to cut across to Little Slide Canyon, which would drop us right back by our starting point.   Descending Little Slide Canyon we stumbled upon Incredible Hulk, considered by many one of the best alpine walls in the Sierras.  We watched a bit as two parties made their way up the wall.  Excellent camping exists at the base of the talus below the wall, and the evening light on the Hulk would be fantastic.  A place I'll have to return too.

Sneak peak up Little Slide Canyon at Incredible Hulk on the way toward Rock Island Pass.

A sandy camp just below Crown Lake

Upper Little Slide Canyon

Incredible Hulk looming above

Immediately after getting back to the car, we head straight back up Tioga Pass to spend one more night out in Yosemite backcountry.  This time atop the Valley at the base of North Dome, our favorite quick overnight destination in the park.  

Joe C and I had first laid eyes upon Yosemite Valley during a trip from Cathedral Lakes down to Half Dome some 6 years ago on my very first backpacking trip.  It was crazy to think about all that has happened in that relatively short period of time. I can honestly pin-point that first trip to Yosemite as a life changing experience for me.  After that, life back in the Midwest was never quite the same.  I fell in the love with the mountains, simple as that.  I craved vast, open spaces.  So I moved to Colorado, and made it a point to explore the West as much as my free time allowed me too.  I put in a lot of miles, on the feet and the road; routinely driving 3-12 hours on the weekend just to experience a night out in the's worth it every time.  

It was Joe's first time back to the rim of the Valley.  We reminisced, pointing across the valley and locating the exact spot we had made camp on the shoulder of Half Dome 6 years prior.  As always, glad he came out to join us.  It was a shame to leave the Sierra so soon, but it just wasn't in the cards this time around.  After a mandatory stop at The Stove in Mammoth Lakes for breakfast, we struck off across the desert towards Zion.

Cinnamon Swirl French Toast & Sierra Sunrise