I find myself behind the lens, once again, heading north. I enjoy road trips. Leaving the city skyline and concrete jungle behind, it takes hours for my mind to adjust to the open sky, the wind whipping my hair. When eventually, the mobile phone loses its juice I don’t feel compelled to recharge it. With the passing of each mile I finally unplug and, instead, my soul recharges. In the vast open space, my heart sings.
Memorial Day weekend begins our family camping season. In past years we have locally camped with groups of friends; it has only been recently that we’ve ventured further afield. This year our trip was coordinated by my oldest friend; oldest since I have known her the longest, meeting, both, at age four. Though we lead varied, busy lives our shared history allows us to catch up in minutes. She was always the adventurous one who dreamed of world travel. I read Seventeen, she perused Spiegel catalogs. I bought music, she bought an armoire. This girlfriend can attest to my introverted and shy childhood personality; the bookworm. When I married, she stood with my bridal party, is my middle son’s godmother and it was with her, and our third childhood friend, who helped me decide to have a third child. The three of us are the only ones that left our small town for universities. Eight hours span between our two homes and so we met midway, destination Mammoth Lakes.
The location of our lakeside camp site was idyllic except for the fact that we were at 8,900 feet. We both anticipated cold with highs in the 60s; lows in the 20-30s. As we set up camp I found it odd that our campground wasn’t fully occupied but as the sun waned in the west and the temperatures dropped I realized why. The wind and lake effect continued overnight. It was last year, during this same time, that we experienced camping in the snow at Kings Canyon; our car thermometer read 32 degrees. When we awoke the next morning our neighboring campers, a group of fisherman, relayed that the park ranger told them the temperature at 7:00 AM was 24 degrees. We live in homes whose thermostats don’t get lower than 70 degrees. None of us had ever been this cold in our entire lives!
But in the spirit of camping we soldiered on. The boys fished across the lake while breakfast was made. Our campground had just opened for the season, the day we arrived, and so the lakes in the area are well stocked with trout. Much to the hubs’ chagrin, they were unable to catch anything; though they had plenty of nibbles. My boys followed the rules and did not fish on the bridge, where it clearly is marked with signage Do Not Fish on Bridge; whereas most others did. Our neighbors shared their bounty, caught from a boat, which we grilled over the campfire for dinner. The boys posed with one of their various fishing catches.
Across the lake from our site, a stately crag of granite looms above the ridge. It was the hubs’ goal to hike at snow level, which in his estimation, was about a mile. After conferring with our campground host we drove to the trailhead. It had been two years since we’d camped with my girlfriend, her hubby whom we adore, and two young sons. At that time the hubs had us scale 1000 feet which took 3 hours and almost one hour to come down due to the steep, unmarked trail. During that hike I thought I would lose one of my sons off the vertical cliff and vowed I would never do that again. My girlfriend had opted out of that hike. So I internally groaned when he voiced his desire to reach Crystal Crag and was shocked that my girlfriend’s husband shared his enthusiasm. He is a former football player who played for the University of Oregon and with his support; it cemented the hubs’ proposition. Men!
And thus we hiked, approximately a mile, from 9,000 to 9,640 ft. over the course of three hours; trudging through snow on the Mammoth Crest Trail. At the risk of our tired 2 and 4 year old members, and two dogs, we finally decided to rest and have lunch along the ridge. Snow prevented us from actually reaching Crystal Crag aka The Thumb, so early in the season but we enjoyed the view and occasionally chatted; when the trail was level and our hearts weren’t racing. LOL. Par for the course with this girlfriend who, once, took the hubs and I on an easy hike down the American River for over two hours at a very fast pace. We never let her forget it either.
After another freezing night of howling winds we awoke to another beautiful day. We opted to not stay our third night of our reservation but chose to spend our last day hiking before we made our drives to our respective homes. This time, my girlfriend’s hubby made the choice of an easy, gradual hike near McLeod Lake. So after packing up, we readied for the journey ahead.
We found ourselves on the Mammoth Pass trail, a half-mile hike and a leisurely 350 ft. (8,950- 9,300 ft.) climb in a hazardous CO2 area (hence the dead trees). It was interesting to read the geological history of the area (the high CO2 levels due to magma gases seeping through the surface) and we immediately felt the effects of decreased oxygen. Interestingly enough, our bodies adapted to the steep trail. I had to tease my girlfriend’s hubs at the ease of the hike, as we slipped and slid through various snowy banks. The physical exertion, though, was well worth it for the views of McLeod lake and the snowy landscape were idyllic. In the summer months this place is inundated with tourists so it was nice, albeit freezing cold, to enjoy the views sans the crowds.
What truly is amazing about this area is the vast number of alpine lakes amongst the granite. The town of Mammoth sits on the Long Valley Caldera and is most known for its skiing and snowboarding amenities; a haven for winter sports enthusiasts. In the summer months, late June through September, the area is full of fisherman, climbers, hikers and campers. I know we will return here, my mind already cataloging the trails and crests we will explore. I officially caught the camping bug again. It’s a good thing since the next four months are full of other camping adventures.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.
I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.