Sendero Group Travel Blog

Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Hiking with new tools at Fallen Leaf Lake

the view of Fallen Leaf Lake
This relatively small 3 by 1.5 mile lake is near Lake Tahoe at an elevation of 6,400 feet. My wife Jennifer’s family has a house there and we gathered this weekend for her birthday.

We went on a 4 mile hike to the beginning of Desolation Wilderness yesterday and on a shorter but much more challenging 3.3 mile hike today.

Five of us, plus Miguel guiding me, set off for the Angora lookout, nearly 1000 vertical feet above the lake. The trail varied a lot from 3 feet to one foot wide. It was sometimes smooth, gravelly, then big boulders, holes, roots, drop offs and it always had a steep incline. This is not the sort of terrain I would choose to hike but it was Jennifer’s birthday and she really wanted me to come.

Jamie, Mike, Jennifer, Wyndham, and Miguel ready to hike

I tried a new tool for this hike. Erik Weihenmayer sent me a set of trekking poles, which I first saw at our No Barriers event in Cortina Italy. Essentially these are telescoping ski poles and you use them the way you would use a cane on the street to feel in front of you but also to provide some balance and to help recover from stumbles. They are extremely light and still have considerable strength.

Hear an audio file of Mike hiking using the trekking poles

With Miguel on my left, I had one trekking pole in my right hand. I of course was wearing my PK GPS. I was motivated not to slip and fall not only for the sake of my body but because of the PK. This took all my concentration.

The new system really worked great because the trail was often so narrow that I was walking almost sideways next to Miguel. He might find an opening between boulders big enough for him but not for all of me. With the trekking pole, I could feel the boulder in front of me, then the other side so I could step over it safely. When the drop off was on my right side, I would trail the edge with the pole.

Mike and Miguel navigating a steep set of boulders

Miguel was amazing, slowing down, weaving and speeding up depending on what was in front of me. He loves to lean into the harness and he never let up on this strong pull the entire hike. I loved it when there were multiple obstacles and we had to read each other’s signals very carefully to find a path that worked. This involved hopping down and/or over boulders and logs. This hike really wouldn’t have worked without the pole unless I was literally crawling along.

On our way back down from the Angora Lookout, I tried using both poles for a particularly narrow and treacherous section. Miguel’s pull was too strong and it was just too narrow for him to guide. The double pole technique worked fantastically although Miguel did not like being heeled behind me. I didn’t want to risk stepping on him or sticking him with a pole. My nephew tried hiking with the two poles with his eyes closed. He did pretty well while gaining an appreciation for how tricky complicated terrain is to negotiate when you cannot see it.

The GPS was useful for knowing our distance traveled, the line of sight distance back to our destination and our elevation climbed. In addition to streets in the map database like Angora Ridge Road and Fallen Leaf Lake Road, there were a number of user points I had entered on previous hikes. I added quite a few more points for future reference. I’ll be much more inclined to go on a hike like this with the addition of the new trekking poles.

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