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Advice: Guiding a Visually Impaired Backpacker

Posted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 6:51 am
by htrout
Howdy. A good friend of mine who is legally blind wants to expand her backpacking experience into the Sierra. She's very strong and fit and an avid runner and does triathlon, so I'm not worried about her fitness level. I am her guide on many training runs and during races so I know she can physically handle the Sierra. We've also done some 2-3 day treks in the Ventana Wilderness (in our backyard) without issue, but that is hiking along smooth dirt trails, many of which are wilderness freeways (Poison Oak and ticks are our biggest issue in Ventana - she can't see them to avoid them).

That said, she is blind and I don't want her walking off a cliff or falling during a gnarly creek crossing. I can't hold her hand the entire trek. We'll have her guide dog with us on the lead (trails aren't ever wide enough for the dog to truly guide, so she's on a lead). The dog has a lot of experience guiding on trails.

What I'm trying to find is a 3 night route in mid-June with 5-9 miles per day that doesn't have any scrambling, slick rock, or significant rock-hopping across streams (she can make her way across a creek if it is more like a Japanese garden style stepping-stone arrangement). We have waded hip-deep across slow creeks before so we can get 'er done in some cases. I just sherpa the gear across in multiple trips and guide her gear-free.

I've backpacked countless times in both SeKi and the East Sierra but tend toward trails that are much more technical and not blind-friendly. The trails I've done all have sections that are manageable for this, but then have sections that would be a bit dangerous for this situation. I'm tending toward SeKi, simply because it is closer to home, but certainly open to options.

I know it is a wide parameter... I'm hoping somebody has intel on a friendly loop, lolli, or in-out that we could manage. Selfishly, I'm wanting a bit of solitude and beauty along the way (aka not along the ugly PCT parts). I also want to avoid PCT... if possible. And mosquitoes... if there is any way to avoid in June, I'm all ears.

Thanks for helping us think of something... :-)

Re: Advice: Guiding a Visually Impaired Backpacker

Posted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 7:40 am
by balzaccom
A couple of thoughts:

1. Mosquitoes are a function of season, not destination. Later in the year, you'll see fewer mosquitoes. Mid-June should be high season for mosquitoes. Sorry. The only real solution is to go so high that they haven't really hatched yet. But that's probably not an option for you in Mid-June.
2. You don't mention where you live. Do you want to drive five hours to the trailhead, or only three?
3. Most of the primary trails in the Sierra will meet your guidelines. Yeah, you may have to hop a stream, but the trails are generally well-marking and maintained.

First suggestion that comes is mind is in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness--a nice loop from Rowell Meadow to Jennie Lake, over JO pass, past Twin lakes, over Silliman Pass Ranger Lake, and back out. No real stream crossings that I remember...but you will have bugs.

Re: Advice: Guiding a Visually Impaired Backpacker

Posted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 8:26 am
by htrout
Great thoughts. We live in the Bermuda triangle, AKA, Central Coast, right on the ocean - a minimum 3 hours from anywhere. It takes 3 hours for me to get to Fresno or Bako. A long drive isn't a bother though. A trek to the east side is the same as a trek to SeKi in my world. It is just driving.

By Primary, are you meaning HST, JMT, PCT or are you meaning the lines on the maps?

Re: Advice: Guiding a Visually Impaired Backpacker

Posted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 8:32 am
by rlown
Could do this trip on the West side: ... 175#p59234

Trails are nice with no rocks.

Re: Advice: Guiding a Visually Impaired Backpacker

Posted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 8:37 am
by AlmostThere
I think Saddlebag Lake loop is about the most benign scenic place imaginable - without the forests there aren't tons of trees down in the trail, there's a ferry to take a few miles off the trip, there's no endless stretches of steps or grinding up/down steep miles... Just the scenery. No major water crossings. No fires, but the permits are easy to get.

Another option would be the section of the JMT between Tuolumne Meadows and Agnew or Red Meadow. Yes, it's the JMT. Yes, it's busy. But that trail corridor is usually the first maintained trail of the year - the trees will be sawed out of it early.

Mineral King - the trails are wide and well maintained to the popular destinations. Going over Franklin Pass and returning would be nice enough.

Primary trails are the ones on the map, and to popular places - unfortunately budgets limit maintenance to popular trails. With all the dead trees in the Sierra there are a lot of less traveled trails that may continue to worsen as the crews are directed to the ones people use and talk about.

Re: Advice: Guiding a Visually Impaired Backpacker

Posted: Sun Jun 24, 2018 8:52 am
by htrout
Howdy everybody. So we did a trek! We ended up going out on the High Sierra Trail out of Sequoia and made it as far in as Lone Pine Creek.

Our Trek:

[youtube_vid]<iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>[/youtube_vid]

A few things we learned along the way:

1. Everybody commented on the guide dog - a beautiful German Shepherd. The NPS, CDF and Ranger people we ran across quickly realized that she was a guide dog and made sure we were well equipped to handle the trek and wished us well. The ONLY problem we had was the pack mules being led in and out - they didn't like the dog and wanted to kick at her. We just pulled her far off trail to accommodate their passing. Fellow hikers were, for the most part, cool with the dog. Only had one ass hole give us crap, but I think he was born that way so we accommodated his disability.

2. Going downhill is by far the hardest for a blind person. She had her trekking poles and used them as if they were her (white) cane, but stepping down from rocks and roots slowed us down considerably. Each step down was a shuffle forward, find the depth of the step down, position to drop the first foot, find it cautiously, and then finish the step down. So, the lesson was that our travel times were opposite of a normal person. Slower on downhill and descents, faster on uphills.

3. Dog food weighs a ton. We were out from Wed - Wed, so 7 nights. She hadn't experimented with giving the dog dehydrated chicken, rice and carrots so we hauled dog food and snacks. So, she packed the dog food/supplies, I packed our food/supplies. That made for some very heavy and bulky packs.

4. I guide for her on trail runs and foot races frequently, so I'm used to calling out obstacles. We ended up with a new language to help her navigate the footing. We had baseballs, softballs, ping pongs, rock-walk, toes up, big feet, step-up, root step-up, root step-over, rock step-over, and on and on. I don't think I went more than 90 seconds without calling out the footing. That really changes the hiking experience... But, she only fell five times, all of them on downhills (and fortunately, in safe areas).

5. Blind people have amazing balance. I had gone in nervous about the creek crossings. But, because she is constantly tripping up and catching herself on falls, she had developed amazing balance and footing. She waltzed across every creek crossing with ease. Of course, it is a VERY low creek flow year.

Lastly, we had NO bugs. It was excellent. The nights were pretty cold so the buggers weren't out.

Thank you to everybody for the suggestions and PMs. She had the trip of a lifetime!


Re: Advice: Guiding a Visually Impaired Backpacker

Posted: Sun Jun 24, 2018 12:36 pm
by KevinDo
That is a beautiful dog! Glad that 99.9% of people didn't give you guys issues regarding the dog and that you guys were able to communicate well to avoid most of the obstacles.

How much did your guys pack end up weighing? with and without dog food lol

Re: Advice: Guiding a Visually Impaired Backpacker

Posted: Sun Jun 24, 2018 2:03 pm
by maiathebee
So cool! I was backpacking on the Kepler Track in New Zealand in January and had my first encounter with a blind backpacker. It's so super amazing that we're helping as many people as possible enjoy our public lands and wild places.

Re: Advice: Guiding a Visually Impaired Backpacker

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 5:35 am
by htrout
KevinDo wrote: How much did your guys pack end up weighing? with and without dog food lol
I carried all the human food and the kitchen. I have no doubt I weighed in at 50 lbs at the start (with 1.5L water). I weighed in before departing and was at 47.4 (no water). My base weight solo no food/water is 31.2. But this time I brought the hammock (no regrets), chair (no regrets) and fishing gear (never got to use), which added 5lb 4 oz to me).

She weighted in at 46.8 to start. We packed 15 oz of dog food for each day plus some snacks, so start weight of dog food was almost 9 pounds. Her gear is much heavier than mine (she could easily lose 7 pounds in gear) so I had the bulkier pack. Her pack was clothes, personals, dog food, her tent/bag/pad, and her chair (1 lb 3 oz) and she had the fuel. Plus, she had a kid-sized sleeping pad covered with a pillowcase for the dog (if she didn't, the dog wanted her pad/bag).