Trekking California
by Paul Richins, Jr.
(revised 12/6/08)

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Trekking California, by Paul Richins, Jr., Mountaineer Books, Seattle, WA, October 2004, 288 pages, an all-color publication.

  • Treks range from 30-90 miles
  • 70 exquisite color photographs
  • Color topo maps in 3-D "real image"
  • Photographic Tips
  • Equipment Checklist and Menu Planner
  • Go light recommendations
  • Trek Planning Tools
  • Tables summarizing each trek by difficulty
  • Side trips and Summit Scrambles

This page includes: [Overview] [Review by Reno Gazette-Journal] [Table of Contents] [Preface] [Route Info] [Photo Gallery]

Click on Trekking California , to purchase the guidebook. It is also available from the publisher, Mountaineer Books in Seattle, by calling (800) 553-4453 or e-mail:, and selected book and specialty stores.

Review from Kenny M. Helwig
Great Book!! Just read and really enjoyed your Trekking California book. It gave me many ideas for some new trips and adventures. I am glad that you included a section on trekking light. Great idea! Lighter weight=better mobility. Thanks for such a great read! Ken

This splendid all-color publication includes the crème de la crème of multi-day backpack treks in California ranging from the Oregon border to the lofty summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower-48 states. Based on many years of backpacking and ski mountaineering experience in California's ruggedly-beautiful mountains, I have carefully-crafted this guidebook to include twelve treks that follow established trails to remote regions of the state's wildernesses and eight others that traverse seldom-trodden trail-less terrain linking one trail with another. Not only have I hiked each of the treks contained in the guide on foot but I have traversed many of the areas these treks pass through on mountaineering skis. Visiting the mountains whether on skis, snowboard or snowshoes in the winter and spring or on foot in the summer and fall, the mountains have much to offer those willing to explore the vast reaches beyond the end of the last road.

Trekking California, with its abundance of valuable information and attention to detail, will soon become the standard by which other guides are judged. The book is a critical resource for all outdoor enthusiasts regardless of experience and skill level. The first several chapters focus on the four principles of a safe and successful trek (planning, preparation, perseverance, and pack weight). The later chapters contain descriptions of multi-day treks for backpackers of all abilities: shorter treks ideal for the less experienced and cross-country treks for the seasoned veteran.

Several of the cross-country treks are difficult: probably more difficult than you might envision. Those attempting these excursions should have extensive route-finding experience and be in excellent physical condition. I was careful to describe the potential difficulties one might encounter on these cross-country treks; however, it is easy to get off-route where further complications can occur. An experienced hiker may be required to tackle these unanticipated difficulties.

Trekking California will improve your enjoyment, safety, and success in the mountains and is a vital resource for your library. I hope you benefit from the guidebook but, more importantly, that you have many opportunities to safely enjoy the mountains of California. In the publication of the guidebook, Mountaineers Books edited out some of the details due to space limitations. Therefore, if you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them to ensure a safe excursion ( Below, I will be adding additional clarification to some of the route descriptions to assist you.

What Others Are Saying
This meticulously written guidebook includes 3-D "real image" color topo maps, multicolored elevation profiles, and 70 color photos. Trekking California covers in detail the four keys to a successful trek (planning, preparation, perseverance, pack weight) as well as tips on planning the ultimate wilderness escape, when to go, wilderness permit requirements, hypothermia, mountain sickness, dehydration, lightning, black bears, and the best and most creative treks in California.

Paul Richins knows the mountains of California as few do. His love for the wilderness is evident from the first page. Drawing upon more than 35 years of backcountry experience, he has selected 20 of the finest multi-day backpacking treks in California ranging from the Oregon border to Mount Whitney. Class 1 treks link established trails to guide you far into the wilderness. An important feature that sets this guidebook apart from the others are the eight Class 2 treks that require cross-country travel to link one trail with another for a unique excursion and experience. These treks have been described in detail to help you avoided the potential difficulties of cross-country travel. The guidebook features:

  • Treks range from 30-90 miles spanning 3-7 days
  • 70 exquisite color photographs
  • Color topo maps in 3-D "real image"
  • Photographic Tips and Photographic Points of Interest
  • Equipment Checklist
  • Go light suggestions
  • Menu Planner
  • Trek Planning Tools
  • Tables summarizing each trek by distance and difficulty
  • Recommended side trips and summit scrambles
  • Shorter treks ideal for the less experienced
  • X-C treks perfect for the seasoned veteran

Paul Richins has more than 35 years of wilderness experience in the mountains of California and around the world. He has climbed hundreds of peaks in the summer and winter. Numerous climbs have included first-ever ski descents. Paul has hiked each trek and traversed many of the regions depicted in this guide on backcountry skis. He is the author of 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits: Mount Shasta to Mount Whitney (1999), Mount Whitney: The Complete Trailhead-to-Summit Hiking Guide (2001), and Best Short Hikes in California's South Sierra (2003).

Book Reviews
Review written by Mark Vanderhoff, Outdoors Reporter, Reno Gazette-Journal

The Mountaineers Books may have set a new standard for guidebooks with "Trekking California," ($18.95) a smart and appetizing book out this week.

The first things I noticed when opening this guidebook were the two-page relief maps. Big and colorful, they really give a reader an overall feel for the landscape. Although some readers may prefer the topographic maps featured in some guidebooks, I prefer to buy real topographic maps separately and use guidebooks as a primer or to help me pick a trip.

The second thing I noticed was the photography. While many publishers rely on authors who write well but don't necessarily take great photos, The Mountaineers found a man who can do both in Paul Richins Jr. He's no David Muench, but his work beats most of what's out there in guidebooks. The publisher even did his photos justice with quality reproduction.

After scoping the maps and looking at the photos, I started reading about Richins' recommended treks. Although skeptical at first about the title, which I thought was a gimmick to repackage old material, I realized that treks are long-distance hikes that often travel cross-country, or off the trail. Eight of the recommended treks travel off-trail.

The treks include a creative loop on trails in Desolation Wilderness, an intriguing Northern Yosemite jaunt that includes some cross-country travel and some standards like the Lost Coast Trail and a portion of the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Richins' writing is never melodramatic, but always clear and interesting. Charts and graphics pull the essential beta out for easy access. One feature I don't recall seeing in any books before is a trail summary chart that breaks down mileage between major points alongside a running trip total. I've always had to write out this information myself, but here it's done for the reader.

Finally, The Mountaineers need to be commended for using slick paper that withstood some ginseng tea poured on a page. After being wiped off, the tea left neither a stain nor a rumple, a quality that will come in handy in the field.

Backpacker's best buddy
Trekking California, by Paul Richins Jr., The Mountaineers Books, $18.95

Review written by Emmett Berg, Outdoors Reporter, Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2005.

Veteran hiker and mountaineer Paul Richins Jr. draws upon his 35 years in California's wild spaces to craft a well-appended guide to 20 multi-day hikes, most 40 to 60 milers.

As the "trekking" handle indicates, the book focuses on longer, more adventurous trips. Several routes blaze trail-free or seldom-trodden terrain. Each trek is illustrated with a glossy map and includes elevation relief, total distance and camp logistics. Richins also suggests side trips and jaunts up peaks.

Besides sample trips and mileage breakouts, Richins has included chapters on planning a long trek and executing it safely, advice everyone from the beginner to the sand-bagger can use.

After all, as he writes, days in the backcountry "may well be the best days of your life."

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Planning the Ultimate Wilderness Escape
Four Keys for a Successful Trek: Planning, Preparation, Perseverance, Pack Weight
When to Go
Wilderness Permits
Protect the Fragile Alpine Ecology

Chapter 2: What to Expect On Your Trek
Injuries and First Aid
Photographic Tips
How to Use This Guide
Summary of Treks

Trek 1. South Warner Wilderness Loop
Trek 2. Trinity Alps: Grand Circuit
Trek 3. Trinity Alps: Caribou Lake to Four-Lakes Basin
Trek 4. Lassen Volcanic National Park Loop
Trek 5. The Lost Coast
Trek 6. Tahoe Rim Trail
Trek 7. Desolation Wilderness Loop
Trek 8. Northern Yosemite Loop
Trek 9. Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River
Trek 10. Yosemite to the Minarets
Trek 11. Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake Loop
Trek 12. Little Lakes Valley to Duck Pass
Trek 13. Humphreys Basin-Bear Lakes Basin Loop
Trek 14. Bishop Pass-Muir Pass-Piute Pass
Trek 15. The Palisades: Jigsaw Pass to Taboose Pass
Trek 16. Rae Lakes Loop
Trek 17. Traverse of the Great Western Divide
Trek 18. Circumnavigation of Kaweah Peaks
Trek 19. Mineral King Loop
Trek 20. High Traverse of Mount Whitney Environs

Appendix 1-Gear and Meal Planning (Equipment Checklists and Menu Planner)
Appendix 2-Information Resources (phone numbers, addresses, web sites)
Appendix 3-Summary of Treks by Difficulty and Distance
Selected Bibliography and References

There is something special, even magical, about the mountains. Whether relaxing at the edge of a lush mountain meadow, hiking to a distant alpine lake, scrambling to the top of a prominent peak, or camping high above timberline in a remote glacial cirque: the overpowering vistas and rugged beauty of the wilderness experience is richly rewarding and universally exhilarating. Mere words are inadequate to describe the enjoyment and satisfaction experienced in the solitude of these wild places. And, the days spent in the backcountry might well be the best days of your life.

Backpacking, or trekking (the term used in this guide), provides the opportunity to go beyond the insignificant outer edges of the wilderness and fully immerse oneself in its grandeur. A multi-day excursion allows the trekker to more fully appreciate all that the mountains have to offer and experience these remote places firsthand. It is this opportunity to touch, to observe, to discover the refined subtleties of nature that is so personally rewarding.

Whether you are a novice planning your first major multi-day trek or a capable veteran, Trekking California will equip you with the necessary information for a safe and successful outing into the isolated regions of the state. Featuring 20 multi-day hikes, 30 to 90 miles in length, Trekking California provides the opportunity to explore the far-reaches of California's marvelous coastline and backcountry, and to visit spectacularly scenic destinations. Some of these places are so unique it is as if an artist created a larger-than-life fantasy scene of majestic mountains surrounding a deeply-carved glacial canyon with waterfalls plummeting over formidable cliffs and then flowing idyllically through garden-like meadows enveloped in colorful wildflowers. Thankfully, the wonderful places described herein are not an artist's imaginary composition, they are real.

What distinguishes Trekking California from other guidebooks is that it not only includes excursions that follow established trails but also features treks requiring limited cross-country travel over seldom-trodden, trail-less terrain linking one trail with another. Each of these outings pass through magnificent topography and are far removed from the hundreds of hikers along the more popular trails.

Through this guidebook, I hope to share my joy and enthusiasm for the mountains and to contribute, in a small way, to your enjoyment of California's wild places. I hope you have many opportunities to explore the boundless riches of the wilderness. In so doing, your spirit will be reinvigorated and perhaps you will be inspired to new personal heights.

Your comments and questions are appreciated via email ( Additional information can be viewed on my web site at

 Happy Trekking, PAUL RICHINS, Jr. 

Additional Route Info and Clarifications
Mountaineers Books cut considerable narrative text (more than 10,000 words) from the manuscript to pare the book to their 288-page standard length. As a consequence, some important route description details were left out. Below is info to supplement the route descriptions in the book. If you have questions about a trek, please contact me at

Trek 2 and 3, pages 63 and 72--The trail to the lower end of Sapphire Lake is excellent; however, hiking around the right shore of Sapphire Lake becomes a bit of a cross-country route. The historic trail around Sapphire Lake was constructed in the 1890s by the gold miners and remained in good condition into the 1980s. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has not continued to maintain this trail. The old trail follows the right side of the lake traversing below large granite cliffs at the start and continues around the lake staying about 20 to 80 feet above the lake.

Once you reach the upper end of Sapphire Lake, follow the main drainage and valley to Mirror Lake. The outlet stream from Mirror Lake will flow over the steep cliffs high above you on your right. Early in the summer you will cross a large snowfield that covers boulders and talus. Ascend the valley on the snow (or talus). Mirror Lake will be off to the right (north) as you reach 6,600 feet.

Trek 2, page 63--The best route to follow from Mirror Lake to "L" Lake is to climb/traverse above the lower cliff band and below the upper cliff band (located west and south of Mirror Lake) to the Mirror Lake/"L" Lake Pass. From Mirror Lake's outlet stream, walk around the left (east and then south) side of the lake. You will see a distinctive gully that bisects the cliffs at the southern end of the lake. Ascend this steep gully, or the buttress to the right of the gully, to about 7,300 or 7,400 feet and then traverse south to the pass between Mirror Lake and "L" Lake.

Trek 13, page 186--In the text of the book I suggest that you pass through Dancing Bear Pass and drop down to two tarns by Black Bear Lake and follow the outlet stream to Big Bear Lake. A more direct, faster, and easier route to Big Bear Lake is to hike through Dancing Bear Pass and drop down to White Bear Lake skirting the northwest side of White Bear Lake past two small tarns. There is a use trail that drops from White Bear Lake directly down to Big Bear Lake. At the outlet of White Bear Lake you can see the rounded lower portion of Big Bear Lake and portions of the long and narrow Little Bear Lake. There are camping opportunities at the upper end of Big Bear Lake, and between Big Bear Lake and Little Bear Lake. The largest lake in Bear Lakes Basin is Vee Lake, a short hike from Little Bear Lake. Cross the inlet stream to Little Bear Lake and hike along the southeast shore for a short distance before walking through a natural break in the granite cliffs. Travel over easy terrain past several tarns to Vee lake and many good camping spots.

Another option not discussed in the book is to leave the use trail at 11,600 feet near a cluster of tarns and head west ascending a dictintive "U" notch in the ridge. From the pass it is an easy descent on gentle terrain to Black Bear Lake. This notch is the largest notch in the ridge dividing Granite Park and Bear Lakes Basin. This is a class 2 route that steepens near the crest of the pass on the east side. There will be snow along the route into August.

Photo Gallery from Trekking California (all photos by Paul Richins except where noted)

Stream Crossing below Picture Peak near Sailor Lake

Fall colors of Aspen at Lake Sabrina

Dave crossing the stream flowing from Hungry Packer Lake to Sailor Lake. Picture Peak rises in the background (Page 7, Trek 14).

Brilliant autumn colors of thousands of Aspen trees line the shore of Lake Sabrina near the trailhead for Trek 14 (Page 2, Trek 14, Variation 14.1).

Heather Lake with Recess Peak

Kings Creek Falls, Lassen Volcanic National Park

A brightly-colored laurel bush on the shore of Laurel Lake. Recess Peak provides a spectacular backdrop to this beautiful setting (Page 175, Trek 12).

Kings Creek Falls in October. The photo was taken with a slow shutter speed to capture the angel hair appearance. This beautiful waterfall is only 1.5 miles from the Lassen Volcanic Park Road. (Page 85, Trek 4, Photo by Judi Richins)

Little Bear Lake and Seven Gables

Aspen Fall  Colors on the Trail to  Barney Lake and Peeler Lake

Little Bear Lake with Seven Gables in the background. The surface of the lake is frozen when this photo was taken in early-November (Page 186, Trek 13).

Vibrant-autumn color of the Aspen in early October. The trail passes under this grove of Aspen on its way to Barney Lake (Page 129, Trek 8).

Garnett Lake with Mount Ritter and  Banner Peak

Mount Whitney at sunrise from Whitney PortalMount Whitney is framed by a large pine tree along the road near the Whitney Portal trailhead. A graduated neutral density filter and Tripod was used to fully capture the morning alpenglow (page 41, Trek 20).

Near the outlet of Garnet Lake with Mount Ritter and Banner Peak. (Page 166, Treks 10 and 11).

Robin Fuller on the summit of Mount Haeckel with Mount Darwin
Robin Fuller, reading the summit register on Mount Haeckel. Mount Darwin is in the background (Page 18, Trek 14).

Waterwheel Falls, Grand Canyon Tuolumne River, Yosemite
A rainbow is formed in the mist above Waterwheel Falls, Grand Canyon Tuolumne River. A tripod and a very slow shutter speed captured the angel-hair effect of the falls (Page 39, Trek 9).

Judi Richins near Smith Lake below Thompson Peak, Trinity Alps
Judi Richins, just above Smith Lake, on the x-c portion of the trek from Alpine Lake to Smith Lake. Sawtooth Mountain is in the background. These tilted sidewalks of glaciated granite make x-c travel a little easier in the Trinity Alps and Sierra Nevada(Page 43, Treks 2 and 3).

Alpenglow on Mount Whitney at sunrise
Early-morning light on the east face of Mount Whitney. An October snowstorm added 2 inches of snow overnight at our camp at Iceberg Lake. These rich colors last for only a few minutes at sunrise and quickly disappear (Page 263, Trek 20).

Backcountry_Resource_Center, by Paul Richins, Jr.
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