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Late season backpack trip

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2020 1:17 pm
by brownfox
Due to various fires, we didn't really end up backpacking much at all this summer. Its late now but we are trying to squeeze in one last weekend (2 night trip) in the Sierras.

I wanted to ask folks about a backcountry trip this late in the season. Normally, we don't go after labor day or a week or two after. I know mornings and nights will be much colder than in Aug/Sept and days shorter so we will plan for that. I"m a bit worried about bad weather, especially storms hitting us. To be on the safer side, I was thinking of trips in lower elevations. What would folks recommend?

We are not very experienced backpackers. We end up doing a few short trips (2-3 nights) in the summer months.

Re: Late season backpack trip

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2020 2:13 pm
by bobby49
Some backpackers will still go after Labor Day. However, they generally do not go to the higher elevations unless they have a good escape route. If you get hit with an inch of snow, then that is only an inconvenience. If you get hit with a foot of snow, then you can't even find the trail, so you tend to end up with some injuries from a slip-and-fall.

Re: Late season backpack trip

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2020 3:28 pm
by mort
Hi brownfox,
I try to get at least one late season trip in. After school is back, and vacation is over the trails are completely different.
I suppose it depends more on how much driving you're willing to do. Bishop Creek/North Lake: Lamarck Lakes/Lamarck Col depending on how far you like to go the first day. Or Piute Lake/Humphries Basin are all excellent late season. It's pretty easy to bail out if the weather gets really nasty. The Lodgepole/Giant Forest area is also very nice. The road is plowed so you won't get stuck that way. Both Pear Lake - Tablelands and Twin Lakes trails are very nice late season. The meadowy parts are dry and kinda bleak, but the lack of Boy Scouts more than compensates. The Twin Lakes trail is an xc ski route so the trail is easy to follow and marked with clover ski route signs high in the trees. Pear Lake also has ski markers - boring yellow triangles.
South and east, this year fires and smoke make this unlikely, but Horseshoe meadow, either Cottonwood Pass, I'd suggest over the pass and down to Big Whitney Meadow, or something like that OR Southfork Lakes and/or Cottonwood Lakes.
Southfork Cottonwood Creek Nov. 11, 2017
I've done all these in 2 or 3 or more days in late season. I've gone when the weather forecast was clear and had great trips. With my brother over Piute Pass, and to Goethe Lakes. On one day it didn't get above freezing, we hiked in our down parkas wearing gloves all day. Clear, crisp and beautiful.
Out of North Lake with a friend we got into the first snow of the season. It was like hiking in a Christmas card. Fantastic. But watch out for deer season (Sept 20 to Oct 20), the area around North Lake get thick with hunters.
Many more suggestions, I'm sure.

Re: Late season backpack trip

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2020 7:27 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Each year is different. Some years no weather hits until November; others get some good storms in late September. What is consistent each year is:
1) less daylight and low sun angle resulting in shady cold conditions in steep canyons, 2) low water flows which actually allow you to do some routes that you could not do early season, but be careful of dried up water sources (common in northern Yosemite), 3) colder nights with good chance of frost, 4) late season vegetation can be beautiful in fall colors or dead looking and dried out depending on elevation.

I think as less experienced backpackers, it would be best to stay on trails instead of trying off-trail routes. Lemark Col and Darwin Canyon are, in my opinion, too difficult for your level of experience. Also avoid getting stuck over a high pass which can turn dangerous in a storm.

One suggestion is an overnight out of Rock Creek. You can get out in all conditions and really cannot get lost even if the trail gets covered with snow. Another is the lakes east of Bishop Pass out of South Lake. Both of these have big peaks, relatively lower elevations lakes and no big passes to go over and chance getting stuck. Of course, right now no backpacking is allowed on Inyo Forest and the east side has been getting a lot of smoke. I am not sure you asked specifically about a trip right now. Between COVID restrictions, fires and smoke there is not a lot of choice right now.

Re: Late season backpack trip

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2020 10:09 pm
by wildhiker
I think brownfox is asking about a trip right now, not a hypothetical future late season trip.

Brownfox didn't tell us where he/she is located, which makes a difference in what to recommend. Lake Tahoe area is close to the Bay Area and Cottonwood Lakes are close to Los Angeles, but neither one makes a good short trip for the alternate origination.


Re: Late season backpack trip

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:11 pm
by bobby49
I find it particularly difficult to plan some trip on the east side during this season. You never know when some storm will suddenly force the mountain passes closed.

Re: Late season backpack trip

Posted: Sat Oct 17, 2020 6:08 am
by TurboHike
some parts of Inyo National Forest are still closed, which could impact some of the trip recommendations.

Re: Late season backpack trip

Posted: Sat Oct 17, 2020 12:53 pm
by brownfox
Thanks everyone for the suggestions. We are in the Bay Area.

We have done several trips in Desolation. That is probably where we will start looking since we know some of the trails/lakes there. I'm thinking of picking a trail where we are a short distance from the trail head (< 3-4 miles) and then deciding if we will go further/stay/return after the first night.

I was hoping to see if others have other wilderness areas that they like in mid October 4-5 hours driving from SF and not impacted by the fires right now.

Re: Late season backpack trip

Posted: Sat Oct 17, 2020 5:26 pm
by Jim F

If you plan to go to Desolation in the near future, first check that it is open for overnight outings. I did a day hike there two weeks ago and Desolation was closed for overnight trips at that time. (Day hikes were OK.)

Last night I returned from a couple days in Yosemite NP. For me the mild haze was acceptable. There were quite a few backpackers in the Yosemite Valley Backpackers Camp (located in the last loop of Upper Pines this season). The Trailhead Parking Lot near the start of the JMT was completely full.

Even the (officially closed) Backpackers Campground at Tuolumne Meadows had a few hikers camping. Starting Oct 15, launching a backpack from TM is complicated by the fact that overnight parking is no longer allowed on the Tioga Road and YARTS is no longer serving the Tioga Road.

Good luck on your outing.


Re: Late season backpack trip

Posted: Sun Oct 18, 2020 8:12 pm
by Matthew
Given that you are from the Bay Area, there are Nat. Forest closures (incl. Desolation Wilderness), and the need for lower elevation hikes due to the late season, I would have suggested Lassen National Park. However, the eastern half is closed to backpacking due to bear activity. Does anyone recommend any hikes in the western half of Lassen? They mostly seem to be day hikes, with the option for overnight, but lacking the lakes of the eastern half of Lassen. You could always camp in Butte Lake or Manzanita Lake campgrounds and do some of the great day hikes.