January 20, 2017

The Backpack Section leads you deep into the heart of nature

Photo by Backpack Section leader Andy  Westbom.

Photo by Backpack Section leader Andy Westbom.

If wilderness is the heart of nature, then backpacking is the artery that leads us there, along a path less traveled but always ready. The skills of backpacking are developed one step at a time. The Backpacking Section provides information, experience, and leadership to support our individual quests to experience with confidence nature on her terms.

The Backpacking Section promotes education. Each spring Thomas Meissner coordinates a Beginner Backpack Course: a one-day seminar, where experienced leaders share skills and demonstrate equipment, followed by an overnight field trip to practice new skills in small groups. Look for the announcement of next year’s course in the February-March Yodeler.

Beyond this basic training, the Backpacking Section offers a wide variety of outings to expand and strengthen our experience in the outdoors.

Trips change as the seasons progress. John and Linda Ghysels lead a delightful spring flower outing to Hite Cove, a historic gold-mining region in the Sierra foothills near Yosemite. Other spring outings include destinations like Rancheria Falls in Yosemite, Preston Falls on the Tuolumne River, and Chilnaulna Falls on the South Fork of the Merced River. These outings provide close-ups of cascading melting winter snows unleashed and rushing toward the sea, powerfully displaying the cycles and moods of nature.

Relaxed main-season outings include Stan Pawlak and Teri Shore’s Murphy Creek adventure from scenic Tenaya Lake to a special glacier-carved, polished granite mantle that channels swirling spring melt past meadows bordering a playful creek set in a granite canyon featuring ridges and domes joined by delightful paths allowing opportunity for unhurried exploration of a mountain environment close to both camp and trailhead. Interested in more distance, more variety, and more named landmarks? One can follow J. P. Torres over many of the most popular Yosemite backcountry routes, or share with Robert Howell, Ted Pekny, and Dean Schwartz the wonder and isolation of the Lost Coast classic beach walk along the rugged, isolated Humboldt County Coast in the strikingly beautiful Kings Range Conservation Area. More aggressive hikers in superb physical shape can ‘run’ with Kevin Sawchuk (this author’s son) and Brian Gunney on “fast and light” outings designed to cover more ground and elevation gain, compressing normal multiple-day hiking distances into weekends of intense travel over routes most people are content only to read about.

As the season progresses, accompany Andy Westbom to the “high country”, traversing rocky, weather-worn passes between granite ramparts to high meadows bordering cascading streams and rockbound glacier-carved lakes pocked with perfect circles marking the spot of rising trout breaking the still reflections of distant vistas, with some mountains still snow-capped. Later still, accompany Roger Williams and his band of autumnal color seekers to the east side of the Sierra to enjoy fall colors splashed, like paint from a palate, on ridges glowing golden as far as the eye can see, while restless winds await winter, rustling mule ears shriveled by early frosts and rattling skeletons of cow parsnips and skunk cabbage crouched low to the ground.

And some proclaim winter to be nature’s secret time, the link between history and hope, a transition between what was and what will again be, a time of quiet reflection—pure, still, and complete—dazzling reflections of pure light captured in snowflakes, ice crystals, and frost. Some of us enter winter through the relative simplicity of hostel and wilderness-hut weekends. Leaders Al Murdach and Cathy Dezendorf, for example, enjoy the camaraderie of group-prepared meals in comfortable surroundings following the day’s hiking. They frequently lead outings to Point Reyes, Monterey, and Carmel in addition to a winter snowshoe excursion to Bradley Hut, the Sierra Club’s newest alpine hut located near Lake Tahoe. Other leaders offer more-rugged winter camping, including very popular “Yosemite in Winter” snowshoe outings to Dewey and Crocker Points on the south rim overlooking the majestic Yosemite Valley. For other winter possibilities see the articles about the Snowcamping and Ski Touring Sections in each December-January Yodeler.

Do you love the outdoors and the changing seasons with unlimited trails, but not the carrying of your abode on your back? Brad and Katy Christie offer a popular alternative: car camps or motel-based outings to carefully chosen sites depending on the season, with long challenging hikes each day. Outings have included Monterey/Carmel, Napa, the Pinnacles, the Redwoods, Bishop Park in Inyo National Forest, Yosemite, and Kings Canyon, spiced with occasional out-of-state offerings, some with prepared breakfasts and dinners (central commissary) and others depending on individual arrangements where commercial meal service is available.

Some folks are specially intrigued by long trails with special names, such as the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails. These people can follow the mileposts, arranged like notes in the grand symphony of wilderness experience, with leaders like Thomas Meissner, Katy Christie, and Craig Vassel, who plan trips dividing these trails into segments manageable for day hikes, using car shuttles to link trailheads with motel/campground bases.

Backpacking is life in all seasons waiting to create personal memories for you. The Backpacking Section is dedicated to assist you by providing safe, fulfilling, co-operative group settings for experiencing wilderness, the ultimate unbridled expression of nature. For fullest trip listings see the Chapter Calendar.

Lloyd Sawchuk, Treasurer, Backpack Section

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