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2001 Sept Sierra Hike

Sugarloaf Creek, Box Canyon, Tablelands

This is a work in progress

First Backpacking Trip

This was my first backpacking trip. I bought books and scoured topo maps for a best first hike. I came up with a large multi-day loop starting in Lodgepole passing Twin Lakes, Ranger lake, Sugarloaf, Roaring River, up over Elizabeth Pass, back on the High Sierra Trail, and ending at Crescent Meadow. It is all trail but a bit ambitious for a beginner. The path we actually took was more adventuresome yet! I had noticed that I could put my hand on the map inside our loop and it would intersect with no other trail. Why not cut across? So, I planned an alternate 'short-cut' across the mountains from Sugarloaf. It went up Box Canyon, over the pass at 10.8 k feet (3300m), across the Tablelands, and back on the trail near Pear lake.

First Day

We drove up and spent the night at one of the Lodgepole campsites. The first day of hiking, Sept 14, 2001, was long. After nearly a day of hiking I had some doubts as to whether hiking would actually be fun. Then, as we crested the pass from Twin Lakes I could look down on the stunning emerald-green Ranger Lake. So this is why people hike! We made camp at Ranger Lake. I found out why it was so green when I went to filter the water. Little green critters were swimming around. I thought my filter might get clogged, so I boiled our water. Thus, I started a foolproof purification process that I used for the next ten years: boiling.

Day 2, Sept 15, 2001

2001 sept 007
Morning at Ranger Lake. Majestic view of Mt. Silliman reflected in the lake

The morning view of Mt Silliman reflected in the lake was breathtaking. It took a long time to get started. This was my first ever morning on the trail, so I was learning what to do. Started hiking about 11AM. Stopped in the Sugarloaf campsite just after 4PM where we spent the night. We had passed a sign with an erroneous distance to the Sugarloaf campsite. So we passed it at first and then had to backtrack.

Day 3, Off Trail!

The entry to Box Canyon is just outside the Sugarloaf campsite. So, real soon after we started hiking we came to a decision point. Should we try the 'short-cut' up Box canyon, or should we stick to the trail? Dale voted for the more adventuresome Box Canyon route. He convinced me, so that's what we did. At this point we did not yet know if it was possible. We would have to do without bear boxes; and we hadn't brought bear barrels. So, food storage was a worry too.

It was a LOT of bushwhacking. The vegetation was tought to get through. "Green" (the color of the brush) became a curse word.

2001 sept 011
Struggling up Box Canyon over logs, rocks, and through 'green'

We made it up to a meadow where we found an old fire pit near a split rock. We hung our food and worried all night about bears

Day 4, Sept 16, 2001

We were much relieved in the morning: no sign of bears. We started hiking about 9AM and were at the crest by 12:30. So it was possible to climb up to the top. Now we just had to get down.

2001 sept 017
Cresting Box Canyon, entry into Tablelands
We poked around a bit trying to find our way. Started down the wrong valley for a bit then backtracked. Hiking over the Tablelands was a lot of up and down over slabs of rocks. We made our way east to the shores of lake 10559 where we camped for the night. I was up at 2AM enjoying the beauty: the stars in the clear sky, a meteor!, the lights of Visalia, and the stars reflected in the lake.

Day 5, Back to the trail

We slept in, got a late start. We followed the creek down till we got to the Pear Lake Ranger Station at about 12:30. Talked to ranger Chris for a bit. He took our picture.

2001 sept 023
Tom and Dale at the Pear Lake Ranger Station.

We were very much satisfied and proud of ourselves at this point. I would guess that not many hikers traveled our backcountry route; and I did it on my first backpacking trip! We continued on to Emerald lake where we spent the night. We did not think we could make it to the trailhead in time to get home.

Day 6, To Trailhead and Home

It was a fast hike downhill to the Lodgepole trailhead. We arrived about 1PM. We visited the Visitor center, then toured the Giant Forest; climbed Moro rock. Left the park about 3:30PM; home by 10PM.


This was my first backpacking experience. It was an unqualified success. I enjoyed it so much that I knew I would be doing it some more. In fact, I have been backpacking in the Sierras every year since (2001-2019).

A central part of the experience was the off-trail adventure. Nearly all of my hikes since have had a major off-trail component. In many cases, I do not know if I will be able to make it through. Such is not the case when the route is all trail. So, success is defined a bit differently. Returning safely is the most important measure; and trying hard is the second.

A number of features and experiences set the process for subsequent trips. Let me go through a few of them:

  • Document the Plans I tell someone who cares where I am going. I put a map, schedule, and phone numbers on the refrigerator door. I write on the map when to get worried. This is especially relevant for off-trail experiences. Since 2004 I have always had a satellite phone or text device for hand-holding
  • Record the Trip I carry a small shirt-pocket spiral notebook to record time and events. This, and the dates of my photos serve as a starting point for the next hike in the same or similar area
  • Go Cheap I cut costs by shopping at Walmart and Big-5 instead of REI. I use everyday items (clothes, kitchen utensils) instead of specialty hiking items. See my hiking equipment and hiking food for other cost savings.
  • Train for Hiking I carry 50 pounds around in a training backpack; I wear the boots I will use. I track my progress (times over standard routes, weight). One advantage to a hiking hobby is that it keeps you in shape. You dare not start a hike without being in shape for it. You will be very sorry.
  • Use an External Frame Pack It is what I use, it is not a recommendation. External frame packs work well for me in the backcountry. They are harder to get now. Internal frame will probably do
  • Use a Bear Barrel! I have carried a bear barrel on every Sierra Hike since this one

© 2019 Tom Judd.
Carlsbad, CA