Frequently Asked Questions about our Backpacking Trips (some tongue in cheek):
Is there a weight we should be shooting for our backpacks (and max weight) before we leave home? If you pack only what is on the list, which includes what you will be wearing on the trail, and nothing more & think light & tiny, together, we will be able to carry all the group food and group gear along with your own gear and our packs will weigh around 35 lbs. Since we try to even things up between everyone on the trip, we all want to aim for our gear being as light & tiny as possible. One person's bowling ball (or even a heavy vinyl rain slicker) will affect everyone else's pack weight . (I'll have a scale at the trailhead.) I insist that our clients strictly follow the list and then vary it to their own personalities and desires on their future trips. We would be huffing and puffing and sweating even if we had no pack, so it's important to start out as absolutely light as you can as a baseline weight. If, after this trip, you conclude that you are comfortable under these conditions, then feel free to add those extra clothes or 4X5 camera & wooden tripod on a later trip. I hope that you have hiked a few miles with a 35 lb pack to know if this trip is for you. There are NO porters or pack animals. If you are unable or unwilling to carry 35 lbs., perhaps this trip is not a fit. Backpacking is hard work for those in the best of shape but the rewards are worth it.
How about some tipping guidelines? Tips are always appreciated. A good guideline is $10-$15 per person, per day, per guide. Some like to hand the tip to the guide for a more personal experience. Some groups have pooled their tips and presented them to the guides at the end of the closing ceremony. However you do it, be assured that your hard working guides will appreciate it.
How should I train for this trip? 3-5 hours of aerobic leg workouts a week (i.e.. treadmill, elliptical, hill walking, stair stepper, step aerobics, etc.) will help to make your trip so much more enjoyable. Some upper body strength to help shoulder your pack will help, too. Also, try hiking around with your pack weighted for a few miles to get used to carrying a pack. Of course, we recommend seeking medical approval before you begin any exercise regimen and immediately seeking medical attention if you encounter any ill effects during your training.
How can I train for the altitude?
Only by being at altitude. If altitude presents a problem for you, I recommend you stay an extra night before the trip at one of the high elevation campgrounds (not Yosemite Valley) in or around Yosemite. Lee Vining Canyon on the east side of the park in Inyo National Forest
has many campgrounds.
What about food? What are you bringing? We will provide all the food for the Trip, first evening through last day's lunch.
Here's the trip Menu
. We provide breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks and hot drinks. I try to have food that everyone will like. If you have any food issues/allergies let me know. We go over everybody's snack choices (chosen the morning of the first full day) and gear to make sure everyone's got enough and not too much, and to distribute the group gear and food. We've been doing this for years. Don't worry. My motto: "No one goes hungry." We will be storing whatever food we don't take with us in bear boxes by the road at the trailhead.
For the first night, leave any food you've brought in a bear box (located half-way down on the north side of the gravel road) NOT IN YOUR CAR.
I'm a vegetarian. Can you accommodate me?
Yes. Here's your menu.
Just let me know ahead of the trip.
How about Gluten-Free?
Yes, I can do that. Here's your menu.
Just let me know ahead of the trip.
How about us Vegans? Maybe. Work with me by providing suggestions &/or substitutions to the vegetarian menu. I don't have a vegan-specific menu.
I hike in running shoes all the time. Will I be turned back if I show up in running shoes? No, you're welcome to join us. Carrying a pack lessens our stability and over-the-ankle shoes help. Heavy soles help on rocky terrain.
What kind of toiletries should we bring (i.e. biodegradable soap/toothpaste)?
Just bring the stuff on your gear list: no soap, deodorant, or lotion stuff.
Only bring toothpaste (sample size or smaller; share with someone you know, us guides keep a dab in a contact lens case), sunscreen in a small bottle, lip balm, some individually wrapped personal wipes (Like Summer's Eve feminine Wipes
), and some individually wrapped WetOnes Singles
(2 of each per day). Get them at RiteAid. Bring prescription meds in Ziplock Snack Bags, labeled with your name, to more easily fit them in the bear cans. We have to put all that stuff in the bear canisters
and it just won't fit if everyone brings their medicine cabinet.
Why no deodorant, even if unscented? Unscented means unscented to humans. Bears can smell 400 times better than us so they can smell it & it attracts them to our camp. No deodorant because we can't fit unessential toiletries in the bear cans with all the food. We swim everyday and believe it or not, no one smells. You can even rinse your T-shirt out in the lake if the weather's warm enough to dry it.
I use contact lenses. I am assuming there will not be an issue. Have you known others to manage with contacts during such a trip? A lot of our backcountry guests use contacts as have the guides and myself. Some of us wear them for the whole weekend without taking them in or out. Some take them out at night. The only problems I've had is getting some grit in my eye overnight and having to take them out in the middle of the night and then put them back in the morning without a mirror. Bring a small bottle of solution. A big one isn't necessary and is heavy.
Rain gear and a down jacket/fleece in the summer?!
Yes, our Sierra can get rain, hail, and occasionally snow in the summer. Hypothermia can kill. Here's the high country weather report
and here's the current temps
at Tuolumne Meadows.
List mentioned midweight thermal top and bottom.....what are these to be used for...should the top be long or short sleeve? Long sleeve, For the cold evenings (the 20's - 30's), (sometimes cold days), and to sleep in. It will also serve to keep the mosquitoes off you in the evening. Remember, even though it's summer, it can get very cold at 9500 feet. AND it can rain. So, for your safety, you must bring all the required gear. While I think of Yosemite as user-friendly wilderness, it would be irresponsible of me to take you into the backcountry without the necessary gear to survive her extremes.
The list of items to bring includes a down jacket or vest. Does it have to be that or can we substitute a heavy weight fleece? It depends if you run hot or cold. I run cold and bring a down jacket. I sleep in it, inside my 0 degree down & Gortex sleeping bag! Yes, I'm extreme AND I sleep out in a hammock, not a tent. Some folks get cold with just fleeces but my fellow guide, Michael, is fine with just a big wool sweater. But he's extreme the other way. I've had clients who run cold say that a down jacket should be mandatory, especially in Sept. The night-time temp could be in the 30's (20's in Sept.). On most trips we will have a fire both nights but on the Cathedral Itinerary we will not have a fire on the first night and on the High Sierra Trip we are not able to have fires at all. The morning can be cold til the sun warms it up. In the Sierra it is best to be prepared for the worst. Error on the side of warmth. Freezing is no fun.
Do we need the rain cover for the back pack or can we use a garbage bag? Also, do we need rain pants? The thing with rain gear and pack covers is they're great when you need them and a drag to buy and lug around when you don't, but you never know ahead of time if you'll need them. Some of our guests have bought stuff and then returned them if they didn't use them. A garbage bag is better than nothing but a pack cover is much more effective in covering your pack when it's on your back.
Should the T-shirt be sleeveless or long-sleeved or short sleeved? The T-shirt is the one you will be hiking in. It should be short sleeve to keep the sun off your shoulders but let your arms breathe & sweat evaporate. Tank tops don't work. With less atmosphere at these altitudes to filter out the sun's rays, the radiation is brutal. If you are really sensitive to the sun, a long sleeve shirt is ok instead of a T-shirt. We'll have a pack check the first evening to make sure you got everything you need to be safe and not so much so that you're uncomfortable carrying it.
What kind of pad should I bring?
Thermarests or inflatable pads especially the Big Agnes
(my guides use them) & Pacific Outdoor Equipment inflatables make for a comfy bed. Foam pads suck.
Do you supply tents? Do we each get one? I supply light weight backpacking tents. There are typically 2 people per tent. I group people who know each other, and people of the same sex, and you're always welcome to sleep out under the stars with me. I also have available some very light-weight tarp-tents for those who want to tryout some minimalist gear. All my guides and I use tarps that weigh in the ounces, not pounds.
Can I bring my own tent? Email me with the brand, name and weight, if you know it, so I can plan.
I got a new water filter/stove/whatever. Can I bring it on the trip to learn how to use it? Sure, just email me ahead of the trip so I know what to pack.
With the "Leave No Trace" camping ethics, how is human waste handled? Flush toilets the first night in the backpackers camp. Vault toilets at our Lembert Dome staging area and trailhead and "dig-a-hole-with-your-orange-trowel technique" in the backcountry. We bury it 6 inches in soil and then pack out our used toilet paper in Ziplock baggies. I go over this in detail during orientation. This is what backpackers do, it's park rules, and it's no big deal.
Do we need special provisions for the human waste?
Bring a plastic trowel (gear stores sell them) to bury your waste, a small roll (not full roll) of toilet paper, a Quart Ziploc Baggie for your used toilet paper (we're required to pack it out), some individually wrapped personal wipes (Like Summer's Eve feminine Wipes
), and some individually wrapped WetOnes Singles
(2 of each per day. Get them at RiteAid.) all in a gallon Ziploc Baggie.
Tell me about bears. I hear they're a big problem in Yosemite.
There are only Black Bears in California. There are no Grizzly or Brown Bears. Black Bears do not like humans & will avoid you. They only want our food & they don't consider people food. They are opportunists looking for easy calories. They do break into cars if food is left anywhere in your car (including the trunk) or there is visual evidence of food (wrappers, ice chests, anything that they might interpret as a source of food). Store food & toiletries not coming on the backpack trip in bear boxes at the trailhead or at the Lembert Dome gravel road bear boxes. You will probably not see a bear on the trip & if you are lucky enough to, bears are easy to scare away. They are like big timid dogs. I will go over bears at the orientation the first night. Park Site on Bears.
How do we keep our food safe from bears?
While at the Backpacker's Camp we will store our food in a bear box
at the campsite. We will store whatever food & toiletries that are not coming on the trek in bear boxes at the trailhead or at the Lembert Dome gravel road bear boxes. There will be opportunities to take care of all of this. While in the backcountry, we will store our food & toiletries in the required
plastic bear canisters
that I supply and that we will carry in our packs along with all our other stuff. Try to get a pack that will fit a bear can placed horizontally in your pack.
They're 2.5-3 lb empty and a drag but they are mandatory in Yosemite and it's a lot easier getting your coffee out of one of these in the morning than out of a sack hung in a tree (the old fashioned way to store food). No worries. I'm seeing so many fewer bears since the canisters became mandatory. I think the canister requirement is helping to sever the link in the bears' minds of humans and food. A bigger concern should be mosquitoes in July.
We're traveling and will have toiletries, vitamins, etc. to store during our trek. Where shall we store them? There are big metal boxes (bear boxes - a misnomer since they are not to put bears in) by the road all over the park to store toiletries & extra food in while we are backpacking. There's a bunch of them just off the gravel road in the overnight parking area in Tuolumne. And there's a bunch of them at all trailheads, including ours. We will have one in our campsite on the first night when we are in the backpackers camp. I store tons of food in these public boxes all summer and have never had anything taken.
What altitude will we be at mostly? Depending on our trip route, we will be hiking between 7,000 & 10,200 feet. That's high. Altitude sickness can feel like a really bad hangover and your acclimation will be greatly helped by drinking lots of water (aim for 1 gallon per day) before and during the trip and arriving rested. If possible avoid jet lag.
About how many miles in daily hikes? 3.5-6. Up to 9 or 10 on the Half Dome Trip. 3.5 to 6 may not sound like much, and for some it isn't. For most it's a challenge with a full pack, uphill, at altitude. If you hike fast you'll get to hear more stories and info from me while we wait to group-up. The bottom line is that we only go as fast as the slowest hiker.
Expected daily temp. range?
25-85 degrees F. (I've had some trips where it dipped into the teens at night.) We can have sun, rain, hail, lightening, thunder, and sun again all in a single hour. Usually it's sunny and warm in the afternoons, cool in the morning and evenings, with an occasional afternoon thunder shower. In Sept. it will be freezing (usually high 20's)
at night. Tuolumne Weather
Should we bring our cell phones in case someone in my family has an emergency? Cell phones don't work. They are unusable dead weight. Us guides will have them and know where to hike to in order to get reception if we need help. One of the charms of the backcountry is getting away from everything. Leave them in your car along with your worries, commitments, & obligations.
How about my wallet? Lock it in your glove box or trunk. If you're arriving by public transit, put it in my car. Again, dead weight.
Will there be anywhere to charge a camera battery? We will be in the wilderness where there is no electricity, so chargers will not work. I recommend taking an extra battery or 2 along. That's what I do. Keeping them warm helps, too - keeping them in a pocket at night, that kind of thing.
How many others are signed up? I get folks signing up 9 months to 9 hours in advance. We'll all know when we meet. My trips often have a full quota of 10 guests and 2 guides on the Half Dome Trips and 12 guests and 3 guides on the others.
What time do you expect to return to the cars on the last day? usually between 3-5 pm depending on how fast the group hikes..
Any book I could be reading about the area to know more about plants & animals, etc.?
on map & compass: Staying Found
, by June Fleming. The Yosemite Conservancy
has a great selection of books on Yosemite.
About the day hike on the Yos Creek Trip: You mentioned that we will bring our water bottles and leave our packs at camp. Will we need some kind of small pack to carry whatever we may need for the day? i.e. camelback pack, fanny pack? If you have a light-weight daypack or fanny pack, bring it along. Some pack lids convert to fanny packs.
What about washing clothes? Dipping them in a creek will suffice. On all my backpack trips (even 9 day trips) I bring a minimum amount of clothes and swish them in a lake or creek to keep them habitable. It's amazing how wonderfully clean they seem with a little swishing and wringing.
What about bathing? We'll camp by a stream or lake at every campsite. Swimming or dunking is a great way to clean up. Just wiping down with a wet bandana can feel great. Bring individually wrapped feminine wipes (not a whole heavy pack of them) for extra tidiness. (My husband likes them, too.) I always include them with my TP and orange shovel along with some individually wrapped anti-bacterial wipes (WetOnes Singles). A swim suit works.
Should I bring a map? I supply everyone with a detailed topographical map of our route. I want you to learn to read a topo map. You will get a Park map at the Park entrance gate.
Should I buy a compass ? The Sierra affords a great area to learn map and compass & we make numerous stops to teach it. If you want to learn map and compass I recommend you buy a compass with a KEY to change the declination. Figuring out when to add and when to subtract 15 degrees at 10,000 feet still taxes my brain. That's what I carry. Brunton now sells an inexpensive version that rotates to set the declination. If you are not interested in map & compass, that's ok, just enjoy the view while I'm teaching.
Do you supply a water filter? Yes and we teach you how to use them.
Do we get coffee/cocoa at breakfast? Yes & yes. I mix Hot Chocolate into my coffee for a Sierra Mocha. What's better than a Cup o' Joe on a clear mountain morning? Sipping my coffee and watching the sun rise over the granite peaks to sparkle on the lake is one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.
I usually drink caffeinated sodas how do I deal with the lack of caffeine? This is an issue, since we can't pack sodas because of weight and volume in the bear cans. Consider coffee, which we bring, or chocolate covered coffee beans.
We will be arriving at Yosemite in traveling clothing - not our backpacking clothing - which we obviously don't want to take with us. Will be have time on Friday morning to drop these clothes in our car, or should we be changing into our backpacking clothing on Thursday before we meet up with you, or do it before retiring for the night? We will be with our cars on Fri. morning at the Lembert Dome picnic area so you can put your traveling clothes and anything else non-food in the car then. We've never started hiking before 10:30 am, sometimes as late as noon. We have lots to do Friday morning - 1st is coffee!, followed by breakfast, then striking camp, walking to our cars, moving cars to the Lembert Dome Picnic Area, distributing group gear and food, doing our final pack packing, and weighing of the packs to make sure they're not too heavy, adjusting packs, even though they are supposed to be fitted, etc., etc.. We even do a little map and compass work before we head for the trailhead. I have a very complete orientation around dinner the first night that tells you in detail what to expect each day of the trip, then I go over it again each morning. No worries.
Does it have to be a "wide mouthed" 1 quart bottle? Preferably because the wide mouths fit onto my water filters. And one will do except bring 2 on the Half Dome Trip.
I have a hydration system. Do I still need the water bottle? Yes, to fill your hydration bladder &, to take on our day hike, and to have by your bed at night. Only bring your hydration system if you are used to using one and are married to it.
What about bears? We will be in bear territory but not to worry. They are only interested in your food, not you. If your food is stored properly, the bears just wander off to look somewhere else. No food in tents or cars and we store it in bear canisters when it is beyond arms reach. I will teach you what to do if we are lucky enough to encounter one.
What about mosquitoes? Bring repellant with DEET and a head net. The summer sierra is no place to try out some wimpy natural stuff. For a few weeks they can be a nuisance just after sunrise and before sunset. In July they can be more than a nuisance. In September they are gone so no DEET or headnets are needed then.
It's 105 degrees outside right now. Do I still need to bring my hat, gloves, & raingear? Yes.
If I don't know what something on the list is for, do I still have to bring it? Yes. We'll teach you what it's for.
How do I get to Tuolumne Meadows from the Bay Area?
Will I have a good time? Absolutely.
I have a question not covered here. Can I contact you? Please email me with any questions or concerns (the sooner the better) so we have clarity on the trip: firstname.lastname@example.org
For Trip Queeries or Reservations
email Karen, email@example.com
"Discover the Soul of the Sierra"