It’s been a while since I’ve been backpacking and last weekend was the perfect time. The October weather was warm and stable, the mosquitoes were long gone, and I’ve been getting back into shape with day hikes. So I drove the three hours to the Emigrant Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada range. Emigrant is just north of Yosemite National Park but sees far fewer visitors and still has wonderful scenery. The terrain is less rugged than the Yosemite back country, but it’s a challenge nonetheless with rocky valleys to climb up and down interspersed with meadows and lakes. Another benefit is that there are fewer bad bears.
I decided to lug along my full-frame DSLR camera and tripod. It added weight, but I’m now glad that I did.
I arrived at the trailhead an afternoon before to adjust to the 8,000 foot altitude and be able to better judge the weather. It was cold at night in my summer-weight sleeping bag, but it was still in the low 80’s during the day.
I wanted to stay warm in the evening and also try out taking campfire photos, so I built a fire. The fire didn’t put enough light on the subject (me), so I placed my headlamp on the floor and to the left of the photo for added illumination.
I got an early start and hiked in. I wasn’t trying to do a fastpacking long-distance ultralight trip this time. I just wanted to have fun, so I carried more weight and planned to do shorter days of around 10 miles.
Within a mile, I ran into a group also heading to Gem Lake, and we chatted. Mike, who turned out to be a professional photographer, took this photo of me at the wilderness entrance sign, and I took photos of the group.
I kept crossing paths with the group as we variously hiked and rested, and I eventually just hiked with them the rest of the way to Gem Lake. They had only just met each other because they were part of a meetup group from the Bay Area, and it was just as though I was another group member.
I packed a fishing rod with me, and within half an hour Chris and I had both caught fish. We were definitely going to get our protein for the day.
Here, Ray shows Janet how to prepare a fish for baking on the fire.
After preparing our campsites, we gathered at “Ray’s Place” to cook our dinners, bake the rainbows, and take photos of the stars. It was so much fun to swap stories with new friends who were enjoying the outdoors. From left to right are Mike, Ray, George, Chris, Janet, and me. Janet also brought a rod, along with aluminum foil and flavouring mixes for the fish, so we were set. The fish were delicious and we all shared them.
Mike brought his camera, but it stopped working due to a battery issue. So, we put his professional level wide-angle lens on my professional level camera, and took some great lake and star photos. For this sunset photo, Mike suggested that I took a series of photos with different exposures and then merge them in Photoshop to increase the dynamic range. I like the result.
Later, George found the best spot to take photos of the Milky Way and he got some great photos with his Fuji rangefinder camera. The photo below is a 30 second exposure taken with Mike’s lens on my camera wide open at f/16. The red colour of the tree is from the light of our camp fire.
My original plan was to backpack the second day to Emigrant Lake, but I liked the sound of the group’s plan to use Gem Lake as a base and do a day hike to Emigrant Lake, especially as you can’t actually camp within half a mile of the lake. Ray went in another direction to meet some friends at different lake, and the rest of us stayed together for the next two days.
We climbed canyons.
And we crossed meadows with epic scenery.
And we stopped from time to time to filter water from the lakes. This is Buck Lakes.
We arrived at Emigrant Lake by lunch time. It’s the largest of the lakes, and lies towards the eastern side of the wilderness area about 17 miles from the trailhead.
The photo below is my first try at stitching together photos to make a panorama.
We had time at the lake to eat, treat blisters, and take some photos.
We got back to camp just as it was getting dark, but still managed to get in some fishing and take some photos. We caught two more trout to supplement our instant potato and jerky, and took this long Bulb exposure photo with Mike on the timer.
After another cold night on the ground, we assembled for one last photo at Gem Lake before heading home via a southerly route through Pine Valley.
We hiked past Wood Lake, which is a very beautiful, long skinny lake with a lot of lilies.
And after tracking a bear for a while (well bear tracks anyway), we stopped to filter water at Grouse Lake.
Then, it was a long, steep haul out of the Pine Valley back to the trailhead.
Here are a few more photos in portrait format. First is Gem Lake.
It was Janet’s second time backpacking and I’m hoping we’ll see some of her wrist-worn GoPro video footage sometime.
And this is Chris, who led the meetup group.
Janet and Chris checking the distance to our next rest stop.
And a random tree stump.
I had a fantastic trip and I want to thank Ray, Chris, George, Mike, and Janet for including me and making it fun!