Back at the end of May this year, I took a little trip up to the Mammoth Lakes area on the Eastern side of the Sierra’s. I had read about this area last year and it had been on my hit list ever since. Given the rather dismal winter, I had thought that enough snow had melted in order to allow for a hike around 20 Lakes Basin, but I was wrong. Both of attempts via Lundy Canyon and Saddleback Lake ended in too much snow. Talk about disappointing! So, it went back on the list until last month.
As I had mentioned in the posts about Yosemite and Tioga pass, the weather had been a little precarious with the sun, snow, and freezing temperatures. As you can see, we were not without snow on this trip either. This time however we could walk though it and not slide down the slopes and into the semi-frozen lake. I took this as a great sign and was even on board with the whole let’s camp at high altitude in the soon to be super coldness. This will be a grand adventure. Preparation for our snowshoeing and backpacking trip I had been dreaming about for this winter is what I thought. This plan would come back to haunt me several hours later in one of my most graceless moments.
Off we went with our gear, food, and approximately eight layers each. Hey, it’s not that cold in LA! The first lake we came to after Saddleback was perfectly calm and I swear if I could do a handstand it would have reflected the surrounding mountains and clouds with complete clarity that I wouldn’t have had any idea which was was up. This adventure was looking up!
We continued hiking over patches of snow, the patches of snow got larger and larger the longer and higher in elevation we hiked. All I kept thinking was, “what incredibly blue skies, super puffy white clouds, and crystal clear ice cold water! If it were a little warmer this could be heaven on earth!” Then I had thoughts of a small mountain top cabin with my own personal ski lift or tow rope. Ah, life’s simple pleasures…that is if you don’t factor in possible solitary confinement in case a storm hits, the huge quantities of firewood, the muddy footprints running through the house, the backup generators in case the power gets knocked out, the frozen pipes, and things like that. But, with views like this, who could blame me?
After that lake we took a short break to eat some snacks, oh how I love snacks, and drink some of our water that hadn’t yet turned to ice. Abby promptly set herself on the largest and most flat rock that she could find. Lexi, however, had a totally different idea. She dug out a nice little hole for herself in the snow to take a break. I have no idea where she learned this from. Either, she has really good doggy primal instincts or she grew up in Truckee and learned this from experience. The girls both love snow but they are so completely different in their approaches.
We hiked a little further, maybe another 30 minutes or so, and decided it was time to set up camp and get dinner taken care of before the sun set behind the Sierra’s. There was no way I wanted to try and pitch a tent in quickly dropping temps and pitch blackness. Had I been thinking clearly I would have taken a quick snapshot of the site we chose but that didn’t happen, sorry guys. Maybe next time I’ll be more on top things.
Everything went smoothly even though I was starting to get a headache. At first, I thought maybe I just need to drink more water and have some dinner. That would totally do the trick, right?! So, we pitched the tent, got everything set up, and the little camp stove lit. I even stuck the girls in the tent in preparation for a very snug night. We scarfed our dinner down because, let’s be honest, it was really getting cold, especially when you’re not moving around. We packed everything away for the evening as the sun dropped below the mountains and crawled in the tent. Choreography the whole stuffing of two people both wearing almost all of their clothes (except for pants I had worn in, they were a little wet from hiking though the snow and I didn’t want them in my sleeping bag – changing clothes in a tiny ass tent with another person and two dogs at over 12,000 feet in elevation is a lot more challenging than it sounds) into their respective sleeping bags, boots, water bottles, two dogs, and the blanket I brought for them was comically to say the least.
What happened in the next hour or so will possibly go down as one of my least favorite moments of the entire trip. Let’s start by saying I wasn’t the only one with a headache and given my “drink more water and eat dinner” idea hadn’t worked I now knew that my headache was a sign of altitude sickness. Something up to this point in my life I had never experienced. I thought I was going to make it through my life without ever experiencing it. But, man alive was I wrong!
After getting everyone situated I decided I need a little fresh air. I was starting to get rather queezy. Not good. So, I gracefully extract myself from the tent head over to the end of the rock we were camped on, approximately 9-10 feet above the snow below, and think about puking my guts out. But, thanks to the fresh air, I feel better and decide to get back in the tent and just go to sleep. Everything will be better in the morning, right?
Wrong! Once again, getting back into the tent is a test of all one’s body has to offer in the way of strength, flexibility, dexterity, etc. Finally, I’m all snug in my sleeping bag and feeling okay but not great. I have a genius idea to adjust and roll over onto my side. This was so genius in fact, that it then lead to me trying to extricate myself from the tent in warp speed over two sleeping dogs and through two zippers, who the hell puts two zippers on a flipping tent made for backpacking, and just barely, making it outside. By barely, I mean I was still in my sleeping bag and only half of me was outside of the tent, I can’t really remember where everyone else was at this point. All I could focus on was the fact that I then proceeded to puke my guts out. Everything I had consumed in the last week was purged. It was sooooo not my finest hour, or 30 seconds, depending on how you look at it.
*I would like to take a moment to apologize to my camping partner and the girls. I’m very, very, very sorry and I’ll try not to let it happen again. I promise.
The rest of the night went much better though. It was freezing cold though and there was a fair amount of adjusting throughout the night and I was your typical worried mother who kept making sure the girls were covered by their blankie. But we all survived, thank God!
The following morning we woke to a frozen lake. I think we could have gone ice skating had we been so inclined. Instead, we briefly took in the beauty, packed up our gear, and started hiking out.
The views were still gorgeous even though I kept getting a whiff of vomit every now and again. I determined that was because in all of my grace from the night before I had managed to puke in my hair. Yep, I’m incredibly gifted in the back country at high altitude at night!
We eventually made it back to the car where we promptly threw everything inside and headed down the mountain. I can’t remember exactly when it was on the hike out that I decided that snowshoeing and backpacking this winter was no longer appealing but it did happen. I think all such things will wait until next summer when there’s absolutely no snow. I have also resolved to not camp at 12,000 feet again. Once was enough. My new motto, “Summit, and get my ass back down to a reasonable elevation, all in one day.”
All in though, it was an incredibly beautiful hike. One of the most stunning I have been on this year. Would I do it again? Yep. But I would start early in the morning and complete it before nightfall.