In October 2016, I was lucky enough to spend almost three weeks camping and hiking with my best friend Karen. We met in Reno (having flown from Alaska and Oregon, respectively) and then worked our way from Yosemite down to Mt. Whitney before cutting east to finish up in Death Valley.
We packed so much into our 19-day road trip it was challenging to document it all! Here’s what I came up with:
- Lessons from the Road: Rightmindedness, Renewal and Resolve
- Hiking Yosemite…and Loving it to Death? Along with musings about Yosemite, this post covers hikes in the park including Four Mile Trail, the Panorama Trail, and the Moraine Dome Loop.
- Climbing Yosemite’s Half Dome: 6 Crucial Tips for a Successful Trip
- Lee Vining: He was a Guy. It’s a Place. Visit! Area highlights plus our hike up Lundy Canyon.
- Mono Lake: Wish You Were Here
- Bodie Ghost Town: A Peek into the Past
- Bristlecone Pines, Manzanar, and the Alabama Hills: Beauty in the Face of Adversity
- Training for Mt. Whitney: Get the Miles In, and Get ’em up High. In addition to training tips, this post describes hikes to Thousand Island Lake, Convict Lake, Morgan Pass, Bishop Pass, and Kearsarge Pass.
- Climbing Mt. Whitney: An Epic Goal, and One to Hold Loosely
- Four Days in Death Valley: Painted Hills and Hidden Surprises
Check out the trip map (on the “Map” tab) for restaurants and camping spots that might not have been mentioned in articles. Lessons learned and random things I noted:
- When camping, always check water availability and overnight lows; we were ill-prepared our first night in Yosemite. From my trip notes: “I had just typed up ‘easily forgotten items’ and the last entry was FILLED water bottles. And yet we each just had 2 bottles and there’s NO water in the campground anywhere. So yeah. Planning.” Funny!
- Since we had very loose plans and I wasn’t sure how much we’d be camping vs. sightseeing, I packed way too much. The car was my downfall – if there’s space, you might as well use it, right? Oy!
- I sleep better when it’s cold. After the Shenandoahs, I though I might be done with sleeping on the ground. Turns out it was just too stinkin hot there.
- I’m becoming a fan of dispersed camping. It still makes me a bit nervous to be alone in the wilderness, but it’s incredibly peaceful to be alone in the wilderness.
- After camping for days in a row, staying in a hotel (or even a motel) feels like paradise. Paradise!
- Karen has really nice friends. They took off work to hike with us, let us crash with them, lent us stuff, offered to return stuff for us…. Great people. Very glad to meet them all!
When our adventure began, I couldn’t help but document the many ways the trip seemed to be the polar opposite of my last backpacking trip through Shenandoah National Park (SNP), just six weeks earlier. Before the SNP, Lynn (my hiking partner) and I had only met a couple times in person. This trip, I traveled with Karen, one of my oldest and dearest friends whom I’ve known since 7th grade. Other differences:
- Planning: Lynn and I (mostly Lynn!) had intensely detailed plans for the SNP, but this time, I landed in Reno with zero knowledge. Nada. Zip.
- Location: East to west, from Virginia to California.
- Temperature: Hot to cold, sweltering even at night in the Shenandoahs, but struggling to stay warm with temperatures in the mid–20s our first night in Yosemite.
- Environment: From lush, green, tree-covered “gently” rolling mountains to a stark, predominantly brown/gray landscape with massive granite outcroppings.
- Elevation: Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in the SNP at 4,050 feet. In the Eastern Sierras, we routinely hiked at 7,000–12,000 feet in preparation to climb Mt. Whitney which tops out at 14,494 feet.
For all the differences, there were important similarities: 1) I was so very fortunate to travel with two strong, intelligent, kick-ass women who were kind enough to share their beloved “backyard” with me; and 2) the time together only served to deepen each friendship. Referring to Lynn in my SNP trip summary I noted that “…I actually went into a funk on my post-trip travel day back home, missing both her and the trail.” Well, that happened again. I guess some people would be sick of each other and the outdoors after three weeks of camping and hiking, but I was hard-pressed to say goodbye to Karen (even as I also yearned to get back home to Chris). I also longed to hold onto the peace I found while hiking the Sierras. From The Last Season by Eric Blehm:
…there was magic in these mountains. After a couple of weeks in the high and lonely, all the backcountry rangers experienced a slowing down. Randy called is “decompression,” a transition from the fast pace and crowds of civilization. Once in the wilderness, a Zen-like calm heightened their senses exponentially with each passing day. Even skeptical rangers admit that an unmistakable zone comes with time and solitude. Randy had likened the quieting sensation to religion – “a theology not found elsewhere,” he wrote in his logbook while stationed at Charlotte Lake in 1966. He had struggled then to explain these “Sierra moments…only experienced when still…and surrounded by and conscious of the country.”
I don’t think I achieved a Zen-like calm, but definitely felt a quieting sensation. I see now why Karen loves the area so, and will be forever grateful that she shared it with me.