eastside (of the sierras) trip report

when the aussie’s in town, it’s time to play.
reece is in town, and that can only mean one thing…it’s btt crazy fun time galore. the first time he came to the states, we headed out to arizona to see a big hole in the ground and then last time we did a tour of california, hitting all the typical outdoorsy tourist places; yosemite, redwoods, monterey, san simeon, etc. this time, though, i thought i’d take him to some of the less visited and even ‘wild’ spots in the state. that’s right, folks, we went to my favorite playground; we headed up the 395 into the vast eastern sierra wilderness.
the plan was to head up to the bishop area, crash and then head over to death valley bright and early on friday morning. we both got up nice and early on friday and put in decent dawn runs, ate a bunch of grub, headed over to the coffee shop where i registered for wildflower and then we were off. we entered the park from the west and dropped down into the main valley through the immigrant area. we stopped at a free campground and set up the tent, dropped the bike and kayak and headed out to explore. the first stop were the sand dunes. we wandered around the dunes, following snake, kangaroo (fancy that) rat and mouse tracks in the sand. there was zero wind, so the hike through the dunes was really pleasant…even if reece’s shoes did gain a couple pounds in silicon. from the dunes, we headed out to zabriske point to watch the sunset. the colours in the hills was amazing and we were treated to an amazing scene with the sun on one side and a nearly full moon on the other.
after zabriske, we headed back to camp, cooked up some yummy ramen and headed off to bed. it dropped below freezing, but we were both comfortable and i even needed to vent the sleeping bag because i was warm. up with the sun the saturday morning, i put on a pair of new vasque trail runners i’d picked up on thursday and decided to break them in with a run across the desert floor. i headed off into the volcanic waste, happy as a lark to be running wild again. the shoes held up really well even with the beating i was throwing at them. the terrain was a constant traversing of shallow washes, dodging the prickly bushes and scrambling across igneous detritus. after a couple miles and a dead end at a deep canyon, i headed back, happy that the shoes and my feet survived. cleaned up, we headed out to drive across the valley and up to scotty’s castle. it was amazing to drive across what was a just a HUGE alluvial fan, spreading out from all the surrounding mountain ranges. reece and i speculated about how the whole thing must have formed and just the thought of the forces involved was mind boggling.
we took a quick look around scotty’s, snapping some photos, reading about the history and marveling at the ability to build such an impressive resort in the middle of such a harsh desert environment. from scotty’s it was further east into nevada, up through the white mountains, the boundary peak area and then down into the mono basin, where we planned to camp for the night. we had hopped to get gas at scotty’s but their pump was broken, so we had to make the gamble of continuing and hoping that one of the small no-stop-light cities on our route would have a gas station, and if so, that it would be open. we cruised along, enjoying the vast wilderness, but all the while watching the gas gauge. as the drive wore on, and we passed a couple small junctions with no gas, concern about being stranded began to grow. the one town that i had banked on having gas seemed to have every building boarded up as we drove through. finally, we coasted into benton nearly on fumes and were able to get a full tank and head on to mono.
the drive out of benton was one that i’d never taken before, but had always wanted to do. highway 120 stretches east from the 395, south of mono and into the mono basin scenic area. we would be coming from the east and dropping into the basin with a full moon behind us to light the way. the 120 did not disappoint, taking us through desert, mountains, forest and the most exciting series of roller coaster dips that i’ve ever had the joy to drive. it was well into evening when we hit the dips and they were so steep that each climb would block visibility of what lay on the other side and the drop back down was always immediate and stomach lifting. they kept coming one after another and after a couple of really wild, blind climbs and drops both reece and i were giggling like schoolgirls. i kept expecting the kayak to provide lift for us and to take off soaring across the desert.
as we got closer to mono the temperature really started to drop and at one point got as low as 4f, so rather than try to set up camp in those conditions, we headed on to lee vining and got a room for the night. up with the sun on sunday, reece hopped on the bike and i laced up for a 17 mile run. it was a bit chilly out, most likely in the high single digits or low teens. the run went along quite well, even with the altitude and cold, although i did have to stop at one point when wienerbite set in. reece, ever the crazy aussie, did the ride in SHORTS. SHORTS, in sub freezing weather. colour me impressed.
after the run and breakfast, we headed out along the lake and set up camp and then to navy beach to put the kayak in the water. the weather had warmed up to the high 30′s and with no wind. wind is always an issue on mono, so i was surprised to see the lake like glass for the first time. as we paddled around, we could see the bubbles from our wake long after we’d left it. we paddled out to the spooky tufa’s and then over to the south tufa collection, floating along and taking the quiet scene. after getting a little wet, the cold started to get to me, so we headed back to the beach and decided to hike over to panum crater and watch the sunset over the lake. we hiked the crater rim track, watched the sun set and then head into lee vining to get some dinner. we poked around the bar at the restaurant, played some pool and then headed out into the cold to brave the night. the low was projected to be in the single digits again and the cold was everything that it was promised to be.
my low point of the trip was sunday night in the tent. i’ve rented four season tents many times, and this was the first time that i’ve had an rei mountain 2. the tents in the past have always been mountain hardware or walrus tents have been fantastic for extreme weather and temperatures. but this thing was awful and i can’t see how they can claim that it’s a four season tent. it didn’t vent well and the inside of the tent was thick with frozen condensation and for a two person tent, we could both barely fit into it. as a result, the tent didn’t help retain any heat and even though my bags are rated down to zero, i was uncomfortably cold all night. i was thankful when the sun hit the tent in the morning. we quickly got up and started packing and getting ready to leave. at this point, the most interesting point of the trip began.
i started up the xterra to let it warm up a bit while we finished packing the tent. i must have bumped the door lock because when we went to get in it to leave, all the doors were locked. here we were, in what must have been 10f cold, just over 13 miles from the nearest civilization and the car was locked and running. we laughed at the predicament and set to the task at hand…getting to town to get the vehicle unlocked before it ran out of gas. fortunately the mountain bike was on the hitch bike rack so reece pulled that off and began cycling to town while i walked, hoping to flag down a car and beat him to town. during the walk, one car passed and i hailed it. now, i know i had about a week’s growth on my face, but i wasn’t dressed like a vagabond and here it was at 8am, 10f outside and i’m miles from nowhere and they didn’t stop. people, i swear. the next vehicle to pass was a garbage truck that was picking up trash from all the area campsites and he stopped for me. he drove me the remaining five miles into town, but reece had already beat me there and was on his way to get the car unlocked. oh, did i mention that reece rode in his shorts again? dood. superhuman.
once the adventure was resolved, we ate some breakfast and headed out to explore bodie. being that it was a monday, the town was abandoned, which added to the spooky feeling. we wandered around the town, marveling at how much effort it must have taken to build such a large town in such a remote place with so little technology. reece tried to drive off one of the cars, but even his aussie resourcefulness couldn’t get the thing started. i was haunted by the bodie witch and had my own little bodie witch project. thankfully i was wise enough to follow the stream back to town and we were able to make it out alive.
alive, indeed. nothing like a little outdoors epic adventure to let you know that you really ARE breathing. thanks, reece, it wouldn’t have been near as much fun without you there to share it!

8 thoughts on “eastside (of the sierras) trip report

  1. That sounds SO fun.
    I hope REI gives you a refund on the tent rental – that sounds like a disaster. Other than that what a great trip!
    I find is so reassuring to get out to the wilderness – especially when I’ve been in Irvine. I just need to feel the open, unclutter, non-asphalt/concrete covered places to remind me that there is real beauty in the world. Thanks for taking us along.

  2. Thanks, Jeff. Fantastic trip, loaded with fun and coolness.
    And to top it off, you saved me from typing up a long blog entry about it. ;-)

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