Off the Beaten Path: An Adventure Along the Mokelumne River

Mokelumne River California
Photo by Jackie Richardson

As an avid local day hiker I always longed for a bit more of an adventure. At the end of this summer I had the opportunity to take my very first backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the Sierra Nevada mountain range for a real off the beaten path experience.

Little did I know that I was hiking right along the Mokelumne Watershed, which links to the San Francisco Bay! The Mokelumne River begins in the Sierra Nevada, flows through the foothills across the Central Valley and into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which empties into the San Francisco Bay. Not only does it supply most of the East Bay’s residents their drinking water through the Mokelumne Aqueduct, but it also provides clean water to a thriving San Francisco Bay.

Pictured at the top right was the first stop, Lower Kinney Lake of Mokelumne Watershed. Kinney Lakes are actually a trio of reservoirs along Ebbetts Pass where you can often find PCT hikers camping out for a night. Once I arrived at Lower Kinney Lake I couldn’t believe how serene and clean the glass-like water appeared.

Mokelumne River
Photo by Jackie Richardson

While both preparing and hiking along the watershed I learned a few do’s and don’ts of backpacking (from a first timer’s perspective) highlighted below:

Do:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. I was surprised to find out how long it took to prepare my pack due to the limited amount of space.
  • Research! Be sure you have an idea of exactly what you need for your trip from tents and sleeping bags to freeze dried food.
  • Get fitted for your pack. This is one of the most important things I learned while getting ready for my trip. Have a professional fit you for your pack so you can be as comfortable as possible while hauling 40+ pounds up a mountain. Be sure they fill your pack with a realistic weight so you have an idea of how it would feel full. Make sure the majority from the weight of your pack is resting comfortably on your hips and not entirely on your back or shoulders. I was adjusting the straps on my pack for the first two miles of the trek until I found a comfortable fit. Everyone is different; make sure you find a pack that fits you right.
  • Take everything out that you brought in. A sign of a good backpacker is leaving no sign that you were ever there.

Don’t:

  • Don’t pack more than you can carry. This is very common for first time backpackers. Take the essentials and nothing more. Conserve weight by purchasing a water purifier, freeze-dried food and keep the electronics at home.
  • Don’t be an over-achiever. Do what you can. Carrying a 40+ pound pack is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Don’t out-do yourself on the first day.
  • Don’t skimp on the essentials, including rain gear, shelter and good hiking boots.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of nature. Be aware and know what’s around you.

While hiking along the Mokelumne Watershed I learned first-hand the satisfaction and challenges of backpacking, I also took on a whole new perspective about how water travels from the Sierra to the Bay. Backpacking in such an isolated area, knowing that the environment surrounding me supports the health of our Bay reminded me how important it is to take care of our environment, no matter where the trail takes you.