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.

 

Notes from the Field: Seth’s Three Cents

volunteers
Exchange students from Singapore removing invasive species at Ravenswood Pond in Menlo Park.

With a new school year recently underway and our native planting season beginning in a few short months, I took some time this past weekend to reflect upon the two and a half years I’ve spent with Save The Bay. Ultimately, I identified a handful of personal opinions formed while leading habitat restoration programs with Save The Bay. Anyone who has spent time with me in the field has probably listened to me harp on some of the themes discussed below, and while I do not intend to come across as prophetic or prescient, I firmly believe in these three ideas:

1. Almost nothing is static. People change, cultures evolve, economies fluctuate, and landscapes are perpetually in a state of transformation, albeit a gradual one. Back in the fall of 2011 I applied Jared Diamond’s theory of landscape amnesia to the San Francisco Bay. Humans often fail to recognize changes when they occur gradually enough to be imperceptible to the human eye. While we may look at the shape of the Bay and assume it remains unchanged, in reality the outline and appearance of our estuary has shifted dramatically—due to geology, climate, and human impact—and will continue to shift due to these same variables.

Though humans’ impact on the Bay has been ecologically destructive in the post-Gold Rush era, this momentum can be reversed through progressive legislation and physical reparation. Our land use advocacy and on-the-ground wetland restoration accomplishes exactly this: changing the shape of San Francisco Bay in an ecologically beneficial manner. Personally witnessing two and a half years of work at our restoration sites has proven to me that our approach really works; degraded wetland areas can be improved at a terrific pace. As we look towards a future challenged by the threats of climate change, water scarcity, and loss of biodiversity, maintaining a dynamic view of our relationship with the California landscape will be critical to finding creative, sustainable solutions.

2. Everyone cares. I’d like to suggest that Community-based Restoration be renamed “Global Community-based Restoration.” The sight of 50 or 60 Bay Area locals showing up to volunteer at 9am on a rainy Saturday morning will never fail to impress me. That being said, even more astonishing are the groups of volunteers from Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and even Singapore we’ve witnessed demonstrating the same dedication and respect for our projects that the locals do. Despite the likelihood that these volunteers will never visit our sites again, they still take the time to plant each native seedling with care, recognizing that while we do not necessarily all share a bay in common, we do share oceans.

Peter Baye
Local wetland ecologist Peter Baye, Ph.D, walking down a bike path flooded by king tides last winter.

3. It’s all about the “watershed” perspective. One cannot talk about the health of San Francisco Bay without also considering the health of the Pacific Ocean, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the polar ice caps. Melting glaciers at the poles are raising ocean levels worldwide, which means that our Bay will also experience a rise in water levels. In anticipation of this change, local scientists are focusing research on wetlands’ ability to migrate vertically and keep up with rising waters. One major variable in determining the success of vertical migration is the availability of adequate sediments (dirt, sand, and other materials) present in Bay water. The majority of these sediments originate from the Sierra Nevada mountains and travel to the Bay via the Sacramento and San Joaquin Delta.

In recent years the sediment load entering the Bay has decreased significantly due to river damming and diversion in the Sierra Nevada and Central Valley. This sediment supply chain connects the future of coastal Bay communities with the water politics of the San Francisco Bay watershed, an area comprising 40% of California’s landmass. As you might guess, this is just one of many complex interrelationships impacting the Bay. What this means is that San Francisco Bay conservation and restoration cannot just be a local issue; effective action will require state-wide participation and collaboration. Everyone will have a role, and the more we can educate ourselves and maintain a big picture view, the better off our state will be.

Care to discuss any of these ideas in person? Come volunteer with us.

Notes from the Field | Where is your water… shed?

Jack  with map
Jack gives students a bird’s eye view of our local watershed.

Have you noticed a recent upsurge in interest concerning the health and resilience of the Delta in light of the proposed Delta tunnel plan? This got me thinking about how little we see of our watersheds and how they affect our lives, and the lives of plants and animals that also call these watersheds home.

I must admit I am a bit of a history and map nerd, so I jump at any chance to combine those two subjects in my work. As a Restoration Project Specialist, I lead Save The Bay’s Restoration Education Programs, which gives me the opportunity to explore the ecological history of the Bay through maps. I often start programs with a map of the Bay from space so that students can get a bird’s eye view of their home and the surrounding geographical features and landscapes that encompass this region. When teaching students about watersheds, I love using a relief map of California because it helps them see the immensity of the San Francisco Bay watershed which extends the length of the Central Valley. The maps help students understand the myriad of uses and stressors that we have put on such an important, fragile and interconnected ecosystem.

I recently wrote about my restorative hike through Redwood Creek in the Oakland hills where I discovered the headwaters of the San Leandro Creek watershed. This exploration got me excited to find other watersheds around the bay. I came upon an awesome website created by the Oakland Museum that sheds some light on these hidden creeks and streams. Spring has sprung so I encourage bay area residents to explore these green spaces and learn more about your local watershed!