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For my Black Friday, as I always do every year, long before REI ever came up with the idea, I go out hiking. My hike this year was going to be an epic one, but unfortunately did not quite turn out that way. It was a long one, however. I hiked 17 miles; I started my hike before sunrise, and it ended after sunset. Wow!

I started at the Salt Springs Reservoir hiking into the Mokelumne Wilderness. All access roads to the reservoir have been closed due to storm damage from last year. Two of the roads are still closed. I noticed on the Eldorado NF website, however, that Ellis Road is now open. It seemed like the perfect time to get back here. This road will be closed soon for winter, but it is not closed yet, and the river would be flowing strong as well. It was going to be awesome.

Surprisingly, I was not the only one out so early at Salt Springs Reservoir. There was a car parked at the trailhead where a fisherman was sleeping in his vehicle. I think I woke him up, but he did not seem to be upset about it, and we chatted briefly before I started my hike. Even though I started early, the hike to the end of the reservoir took longer than I thought it should. I do not really understand why. I also found a multitude of ticks. The first ticks I have seen this season, and there were a heckuva lot of them. It is only November, far too early for ticks. I was constantly swatting them off the brushes with my hiking pole as I hiked along the trail. By the end of it, the ticks had worn me out. Literally. And I think it cost me a bite. When you get to the end of the reservoir, there is something else to worry about too: poison oak. Somehow, I managed to get in the wrong place, right in the middle of the stuff. Fortunately, I somehow managed to avoid getting the big itch, which is a miracle, considering how late it was before I could get home and wash myself down.

So I was already running late, tired from swatting ticks, and already in the poison oak. I took a long distance photo of the Blue Hole Falls which I have been to previously, then continued hiking up the river. There is no more trail, or not much of one anyway, but it is fairly easy going. I did not see any ticks in this area, thankfully.

I came to this 20 ft. high waterfall, which is called Island Slide Falls by the kayaking community. It is easy to see why it is called this, as the river splits around rocks at the top of the falls. It is a gorgeous slide. I debated about even going to this waterfall because it is out of the way, and delayed me even more. As it turned out, I am glad I did go here.

From here I retreated in order to climb up the mountain. I went the wrong way up and it took much longer than anticipated. More delays. Frankly, I thought I was going to get cliffed out and not be able to get all the way up, but I made it up successfully. I then started going down the other side. Now I did get cliffed out. There was a tremendous amount of brush, and major cliffs. I could not get back down to the river. I retreated back up the mountain, and ate my lunch at the top. The views of the Mokelumne Wilderness are stunning from here. However once again, I could not get to Fantasy Falls as I had hoped to do. Will I ever try it again? Yes, for sure I will. After I ate my lunch, I did find a possible route down. I don’t know if it will work or not, but I marked it with my GPS. I think next time, however, I will backpack in here. That will give me more time.

I went back down the mountain (the proper way). It was late, I was tired, I was out of water, and I still had 7 miles to hike back to the car. I filled my water reservoir in the river, then made the long hike back. I tried to hike at a fast pace on the downhill parts. I did not want to be hiking back in the dark. You cannot see ticks in the dark. I arrived back at the car just after it started getting dark. It was not until I got back home that I noticed I had a tick embedded in my backside. I had to get my daughter to get it out for me. It is odd that I did not notice it biting me beforehand. How long had it been embedded? Thankfully, it was not a bad bite. It was a long but beautiful day in the Mokelumne Wilderness.

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It was the first major snowstorm of the season this weekend. Of course, like a madman, I wanted to get out into it. But where to go? I wanted to find a snowy waterfall that was still flowing decently. That meant it would have to be above 7000 feet and somewhat easily accessible and somewhat flowing as well. I decided to try Susie Lake Falls in the Desolation Wilderness. I knew it would not be flowing great but I thought it should still be decent at least.

I have not been hiking or exercising at all for a couple weeks because I put my back out just bending down to pick something up. OK this is what it is like to feel old. I have not had any issues with it in over two years, and now it goes out? I had been doing exercises faithfully from my physio-therapist sister, but I stopped because it had been so much better. Well I won’t be stopping those exercises any longer in the future. The back is better but still bothering me a bit, yet I still wanted to get out hiking this weekend. The worst part was driving back home from Lake Tahoe afterwards.

It was extremely windy when I got to the trailhead, a full on storm blowout. This was going to be a fun day, I thought. At this elevation, there was no snow on the ground. It was snowing a bit but it was not sticking until I got higher up in elevation. When I got up to Susie Lake there was a good 3 inches of snow on the ground, but I was actually hoping for a lot more. It seems that most of the precipitation fell further north (the northern foothills got about 4 inches); the Tahoe area did not receive too much at all.

At the lake, the wind was just completely crazy. Snow was blowing in my face from across the lake. I could see nothing. It was a struggle to walk to the end of the lake. Now we really were having fun. From the outlet, it’s a steep descent down to the waterfall. In the summer I imagine it is a cakewalk, but now? With snow on the ground? With slick terrain? With ridiculous steep dropoffs? Good luck with that, madman. Well, I found a way around the dropoffs. Overall, it was not too bad or dangerous.

I made it down to the waterfall and it was actually pretty nice with the snow, though it would’ve been a lot nicer if there was more flow in the falls and more snow (so I guess it was not such a perfect storm – but then again, could I have gotten here at all if there was more snow?).

But it was fun, and despite the cold and blowing snow I was warm and quite dry enough in my rain gear. It was a good start to the season in the Desolation Wilderness. I just pray we have another good one this year.


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This is Ritter Lakes Falls, total height is about 350 ft. high. The bottom section shown here is about 200 ft., the top is out of view. I could not find a viewpoint where I could see the whole thing in one shot, though it may exist somewhere. I got down to the bottom of it here a bit past sunrise and there was still some nice color in the sky. Pretty sweet. I was surprised that this creek still had so much flow in it. On the way up, I had to wade across it at a sketchy spot above a small waterfall. It was a bit tricky. On the way back down, though, I found a much easier place where I could just jump across.

Our family is excited about watching the new season of Stranger Things. We are looking forward to the start of the showdown this evening, after our big church celebration today. It is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation of Martin Luther. We are Lutheran so that is a big deal for us.

Speaking of Stranger Things, my back is out again. I have had no issues with it for two years. It has felt really strong recently, on backpacking and hiking trips, then I bend down to pick something up and it goes out. Oh and we have to move heavy stuff this weekend because we are getting our floors re-done next week. Just perfect.

More Stranger Things … not so strange really, but we still have not had much rain yet. By this time last year, we had well over 10 inches of rain in the Foothills. This year, not so much. Only a couple inches thus far. I suppose last winter was the strange one. It is actually normal for it to NOT rain in October. Good news, though, there is finally a good storm in the forecast for next weekend. I am excited. Let’s pray it is just the beginning of another good winter for us.

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It is October now. Just when you thought fire season was over … all of a sudden California is facing disaster. Multiple fires raging in the state. Awful devastation in multiple counties. Caused by high wind? Certainly it is the wind and dry conditions that have stoked up the fire, but wind does not create fire, so what did? It was actually quite surprising when I woke up and learned so many fires were all of a sudden raging in the state. These must all be human caused fires (not necessarily intentionally, but definitely human caused). Don’t you think so? It is certainly not caused by climate change as some would have you believe (whose initials are HC). By this time last year we had over 10 inches of rain in the northern Sierra foothills. This year, essentially nada, and with the hot dry summer we had it does not help with the fire situation. Last year was an anomaly. We do not normally get very much rain in October. IT IS NORMAL TO NOT GET RAIN IN OCTOBER. Perhaps we usually do get a slight bit more than this year, but not much more. I think this summer is an anomaly, like last winter was an anomaly. However, we sure do need the winter to get started, especially now with all those fires. It looks like we have a weak La Nina this year again, precisely the same as what we had last year. So that should mean we will get another big winter, right? I wish. Unfortunately, there are many other factors and some of those other factors are different this year, so it certainly does not mean we will have a similar winter. I am just hoping and praying we will at least have an average winter, and we do not get sent back into a drought. Please God, no more drought (for a few years, at least).



This is the waterfall at Hemlock Crossing. It may not quite be 20 feet high, but to my eye it is very close. I do not bring my waterfall measuring devices (rangefinder and clinometer) on backpacking trips because it is extra weight that I do not need to carry. 20 feet is my limit for including on my website, but I do make exceptions and this would be such an exception. It is the most well known waterfall on the North Fork San Joaquin river, and the one that everyone takes a photo of, and this is probably because it is the only one that people see since it is located right at the bridge over Hemlock Crossing, which is the end of the road I suspect for most people. I think most people do not go further than this and never see the myriad of other waterfalls on this river (or even know about them). So this is the one!

I was not ever a huge fan of Tom Petty but I did appreciate his music. Free Fallin’ was probably my favorite of his songs. It also happens to be a good way to describe waterfalls! Coincidence? Since I was camping here, I spent a lot of time beside this waterfall, watching it, sitting in the sun, and listening to music. I love how smoothly it falls (freely) off the cliff into the beautiful large pool. It certainly was very sad that Petty died so young. I tried to educate my son Jadon on his music, as I often do for various things. But he is a strange one and likes strange music. I cannot even tell you. He was not a fan of Tom Petty’s music. Oh well, I tried.


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