backpacking

24 hours in Buckskin Gulch

How Deep?, Buckskin Gulch image

Probing one of the deeper sections in Buckskin Gulch…


Sometime in the early afternoon of June 5th 2015 I found myself in the backcountry of southwest Utah, wedged in the nook of a slickrock outcropping to avoid the hail falling and lightning striking around me. From my precarious position I had a reluctant front-row seat at the center of an early monsoonal thunderstorm on the Colorado Plateau. Torrents of water and pea-sized hail smacked against my rain gear, managing to sneak in and soak me as I squatted on a foam pad to insulate myself from contact with the ground in case of any unlucky lightning strikes. Curiously I crouched here with a sense of relief, because my situation at that particular moment represented an escape from a much more immediate threat – I had just climbed out of the narrow slot of Buckskin Gulch and sat watching torrents of water flood into it from above.

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Hungry Packer Lake Overnight

Picture Peak

A storm looms over Picture Peak in the High Sierras…


Stressed and restless, I needed a night in the mountains. The usual overnight to the San Gabriels north of LA wouldn’t do. I needed some time in the Eastern Sierras, even just a night or two. I had seen some trip reports from Hungry Packer Lake up near Bishop and I began planning. What drew me to the place were photographs of a mountain nicknamed ‘Picture Peak’ – a commanding 13,000 ft mountain peak with a perfect shape dominating the vista from the lake shore. That was where I wanted to spend the weekend. I packed quickly and was on the road the following morning.

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Big Pine Lakes

First Lake, Temple Craig, big pine lakes, ca

The moon rises above Temple Craig and Mount Alice near camp…


If Disney made a “SierraLand” it might look a lot like the Big Pine Lakes Basin, which lies tucked away in the John Muir Wilderness. The Big Pine Lakes present the very best of classic high-sierra scenery: photogenic mountain peaks, mineral-tinged emerald lakes, sweeping pine-studded vistas, glacial access, and alpine meadows – all compressed into a manageable area with straightforward access that can be toured in a lollipop loop. It is perfect for a first-time backpacking trip, or a one-hundredth, and indeed it was one of my first in the high sierra. The opportunities for photography are among the best around and after reaching the first Lake, almost every turn of the trail offers a stunning vista…

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Into the Tsegi: Keet Seel

Keet Seel

The main throughfare in the Keet Seel alcove…


Time in Arizona can be a tricky thing to someone from out of state. I was reminded of this in early September of 2013 as I embarked on a quick backpacking / photo trip to visit Keet Seel – a historic site near the Navajo National Monument in AZ. Accessed from the National Monument via a ~19 mile round-trip hike, Keet Seel is home to some of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff-dwellings in the United States.

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