It’s probably just above that next ridge. There are only so many times you can hear that phrase before it loses all meaning and becomes white noise. And it’s not the pleasant type of white noise that helps lull you to sleep. No, this is the grating, obnoxious kind that causes you to ball up your fists and grit your teeth. We were about six miles up a seven mile hike into the Trinity Alps.
There were a few spots that leveled out, giving our screaming lungs a brief respite, but most of the trip was a constant incline, a continual climb up 4,000 feet of rock and earth. I had been running a few times a week as of late, but my legs were not at all prepared for this sort of hill climbing. My quads were on fire, but the end point was still above the next ridge…probably. The only thing that drove me onward was the realization that the incredibly sweet, horribly fit group of college kids we had run into on the trail were gaining ground every time I slowed or stopped. It isn’t that I needed to beat them, but that I didn’t want them to beat me.
This was supposed to be our “easy” backpacking trip. We had goats! Real live pack animals to help carry the load and have nonsensical conversations with. There was Olaf, stubborn and big, with white and brown coloring and the best floppy ears; Rocky, all white with a timid, yet somehow shifty stare; and Red Bull, a black and brown, sweet little meanderer. Red Bull was good enough to not always be tied into the train, so sometimes he hung out in the back of the pack with me (clearly my favorite). They not only helped carry our gear, but they also were the perfect trail-mates, posing for pictures and listening to our babble without complaint.
I’m not sure if it was my excitement over having goat buddies or my general lack of experience, but I had made a litany of packing mistakes. We had pets with fun little vests to carry things, so for food I had packed steaks, twice baked potatoes, sausage, cheese…the list should stop here, but it doesn’t… tri-tip, French toast, veggies, bread…you get the picture. Then on top of that I decided that I would pack some of the heavier items I wouldn’t get to bring on longer trips…a chair here, a cot there, extra clothing…again, not my best thinking day. Turns out, goats can’t actually carry enough to warrant these choices, maybe a few luxuries, but definitely not the treasure trove I had amassed. My pack wasn’t nearly as crammed and heavy as last time, but it wasn’t a light little cloud on my back either. E: There is so much I want to snark about on this packing list, but I will concede that those twice-baked potatoes were DAMN tasty!
I fought through the fatigue with my standard mishmash of obscenities and self-deprecation until I finally made it over yet another ridge, where the goats were sitting on the grass with smug “What took you so long?” looks on their faces. Damn you, Olaf. Your sass is noted. It wasn’t the end of the trail mind you, just a flat meadow housed inside a cup of red smooth boulders. I devoured something delicious Emily must have handed me as we watched Denita labor her way up to our grassy little oasis. I’m sure that the contrast of the white and red rock faces towering around us was breathtaking, but my exhaustion didn’t really allow for a lot of reflection or appreciation. At least there are pictures. Ah, pretty. E: It WAS pretty! This area is unique in that it’s the convergence of two areas of the Trinity Alps – the White Trinities and the Red Trinities. If you’re into geology (we actually ran into some avid rock hunters on this trip), this is a very cool place to check out.
I was under the impression, DENITA, that your goats would hoof it at a leisurely pace. However, our mountain man and goat-whisperer Dustin had been working them like crazy. There were four goats when the training started, but poor Henry didn’t quite make the cut and had to become a pet goat for the season. D: They have two more legs than us so there’s that and he had been working them pretty hard, but I swear they were A LOT slower the last time I went!!!
Bottom line, their speed and stamina were substantially greater than advertised. E: Goats: 1, GGitW: 0 They lumbered on without stopping, while I needed a substantial amount of rest, which sometimes involved just lying down in the middle of the trail (ignore the smiles, delirium must have set in). D: Ignore the vomiting, altitude sickness must have set in
After another series of ridges, we finally, FINALLY, arrived at the ridge we had been talking about for hours. Though I didn’t believe Emily at first when she yelled back “this is the ridge, for real this time”, the view immediately reassured me that our forced march was over. Looking down at the meandering switchbacks to the first lake of the weekend, Deer Lake, was a beautiful and welcome sight. The goats seemed unimpressed.
Our last trip to the Marbles coupled with this death march has me seriously questioning the necessary criteria for a body of water to be classified as a lake. I am used to vast expanses of water like Whiskeytown and Shasta, but these are about the same size as the ponds I learned to swim in as a kid. Does that mean I can file some sort of petition to reclassify those ponds into lakes and maybe give them fun names? Jessica’s Super Special Lake sounds pretty good to me. D: I think that’s a horrible name for a lake/pond. Well then you can’t swim in it D. While these ‘lakes’ might be small, they still warrant conquering. We set out to find the best jumping rock and take the plunge. Cold, but refreshing! E: Size doesn’t matter, Jess! But doesn’t it though…
We set up camp on a nice bed of grass after a tasty victory beverage Em snuck into her pack. Our first in-camp mission was to try and get the goats to hydrate. After many failed attempts to drag their little noses to the water, Dustin whipped out ‘their’ Gatorade bottle and they promptly gulped in down. So basically, they are holding out for the good stuff and can’t be bothered with boring water from fresh streams and pond-sized lakes. I think these goats are playing us. E: Goats: 2, GGitW: 0
Our hearty dinner of steak and potatoes was probably delicious, but my body didn’t even care, it just wanted to collapse into slumber. The next morning there was a noted lack of enthusiasm. We were all a bit on the exhausted side. However, we only had about four miles to go today. And even though I could see where our intended path went up, up and more up, it was nothing compared to the never-ending up of yesterday. We were pretty much at the top of the flipping mountain, how much more up could there be?
The goats were none too pleased when we packed up. I think they’d grown attached to the tall grass they had feasted on a little too heavily the night before. Denita had to give them some tugs along the way. It was amusing to watch a battle of wits unfold between a tiny woman and three goats that clearly knew they outweighed her. We were crossing a section of shale scree when Rocky, the little white goat, lost his footing. We figured he injured himself because he kept stopping or doing this weird collapse/sit down move. We decided to unload him. Em and I each took one of his side packs. He seemed completely fine after that. In fact there may have been a spring in his step. And at one point I swear I saw a smirk…these goats are definitely working us! E: Goats: 3, GGitW: 0
We hiked up and out of the Deer Lake basin and around the rim before we dropped down towards Diamond Lake. We took it in and then backtracked to the Summit Lake trail. So we have now visited three lakes on the Four Lakes Loop, close enough.
We creepily stalked another group of college kids for the lake’s premiere camping spot and once again had to conquer the lake with a rock jump. I took my time this go-around, and swam the frigid waters for a bit. The cold seeped in and gave my aching muscles some relief. Today’s four miles seemed infinitely easier than yesterday’s seven. We still had switchbacks and climbs, but far less elevation gain and mileage meant we had ample time to nap, enjoy our surroundings, and annoy the goats with love. Red Bull and Rocky were happy to participate in the shenanigans, but Olaf seemed mildly annoyed with our antics. He kept trying to dig beds in the earth. He was clearly pissed about our change of venue and wanted to return to the tall, soft grass. There was a forest fire not too far off and the air had a creepy yellow hue. Another luxurious meal of solid foods, and this time my body was actually interested in consuming it.
As this was the trip Denita was in charge of logistics and timetables, she had decided that due to impending rain (big deal!), she wanted to wake up before the sun and hike out. WHY?! D: Because that’s what I do! Get in and GTFO!!! Good MORNING!!! In my mind this was some sort of cruel revenge for all the camping we had been dragging her into. I thought I would be the reluctant party this year.
It was a long hike out, but I’ll admit I was pretty excited about all the DOWN! It took me a couple miles to wake up, but then I was able to get the hang of the half-hike, half-fall rhythm required to keep up (barely) with the happy morning folks and the overenthusiastic goats (they love going down!). Denita and Emily seemed to be almost skipping down. D: We did skip a little! E: Skipping is the best! People who function well before noon annoy me. D: People with shiny hair that dilly dally through the woods chasing butterflies annoy me.
On the way down my legs weren’t shrieking at me, which gave me the opportunity to soak up my surroundings. Some of the trees were losing their fall colors and the bubbling creek the trail crossed on occasion broke up the silence of the morning. The Trinities weren’t as green and lush as the Marbles, but the hard lines of the granite peaks held a different kind of beauty.
Getting to the car took way longer than I had anticipated and my body was done. Done, done. This trek had been the most physically challenging so far. The last trip I left in a state of zen, and this trip I left in a state of complete exhaustion. I’m not sure if it was the location or my state of mind, but the pay-off on this one just didn’t wow me like some of the others. I did get a little hit of pride from conquering something I definitely would not have tried this time last year. But overall, the best part about this trip was the goats. Hands down! It was like having little horse/dog pets that ate your apples, nudged your side, and gave you annoyed looks when you played with their ears. Adorable little goof-balls that (I am convinced) are smarter than we are give them credit for. Watch a goat trick a grown man into pouring Gatorade into their mouths if you don’t believe me. E: And for those keeping score, the goats easily won this trip.
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For the last few months, I have been able to distract the girls from their backpacking mission with sporty exploits: we mountain biked at near suicidal speeds (ok, and sometimes at a snail-like crawl), risked life and limb climbing dauting rock formations, and cruised around crystal blue water on stand-up paddle boards. All these distractions meant our camping didn’t have to take on a rustic, pack-it-all-in flavor just yet. But my time had run out… this journey would entail strapping on a (shudder) backpack, hiking into the wild, and pitching a tent. Shit.
That’s right, I was worried and I’ll tell you why; I’m an over-packer. I like having all the things all the time. I like food, and back-up items, and back-up items for those back-ups. What if it’s cold? What if it’s hot? What if it rains? I don’t give a damn what that smug weatherman says, he’s just some guy reading off a prompter! D: Her purse, her car, her house…over-packing could also be defined as hoarding.
It helped that our destination conjured up images of a JR Tolkien novel. We were heading to the Marble Mountains. The name alone invokes images of castle-like spires and cute little hobbit holes, but the description really brought the Lord of the Rings imagery to life: multiple lakes, sheer granite faces, and a woodsy hike in. And all this only a short drive north of our home base.
We departed in the early morning and made our way into rural Northern California. Farmland soon gave way to forest as we wound our way further and further away from civilization. We arrived at the parking lot and started to gear up, right about the same time thirty or so firefighters were unloading. It’s summer, so obviously California is burning somewhere. Luckily, no fires here, just some clean-up. Phew! We shouldered our packs, and almost on cue, dark clouds rolled in and rain started to pelt us from above. It has been in the high 90s or just over 100 all month and the weather report had guaranteed more of the same. See, the weatherman is not to be trusted. We had packed for a summer excursion and left the rain gear behind. But it’s us, so of course, rain. Once we were completely drenched, it let up and blue and white took back over the sky.
As we hiked, the forest thickened and grew taller around us. And the Tolkien-esque name didn’t disappoint. Huge, moss covered trees framed our path, and long tangled vines crept their way along it. Everything felt massive, old, and foreign. Immense granite boulders jutted out from the landscape. A dwarf would have felt right at home.
I had tried my best to pare my gear down to the absolute essentials. However, I maybe…possibly…ok probably, should have kept cutting. My poor 60 liter pack was stuffed to near bursting and the seams strained to hold it all in. I really wasn’t sure what ‘extras’ I could have lost, but the 50 pounds seemed to be pressing down directly on my will to live with each step, and it was a constant reminder that I should try much, much harder next time.
For the first few miles we came across small streams and felled trees, but the trek was fairly flat, and pretty easy going. Then at some point the trail started to morph from a woodsy meandering path to a staircase of marble. Before I knew it the soft dirt trail was completely gone and we were walking on steps…cold, hard, rock steps. And here I thought the 50 pounds was unpleasant on the flats. We hiked until our backs were screaming in pain, and then stopped for “lunch”, aka we found a flat spot where we could half-faint without falling down the steps.
If you go, wait for the waterfall before you break down and stop, we were so close! And for the love of god, if you like beer, stash a couple upstream a bit. This was the coldest water we encountered and it would have been wonderful to sip something cold and bubbly during the descent. Seriously though…DO THIS!
It wasn’t long before we made it to the fork in the trail and dropped into Sky High Valley. The lakes were at the far end, so we walked through meadows and groves of trees until we got to the rock wall on the other side.
We were barely walking, eyeing the different camp spots on the lake when inexplicably, I fell down. My foot just kinda slid into a hole on its own, and I dropped. The first thing out of Brad’s mouth was ‘Did you just fall on the flattest ground we have seen this entire time?’ Yes Brad, new camping companion, I did! Who invited you anyways? Oh…right. Me. Dammit. Luckily, years of destroying my ankles in organized sports has left my joints pretty pliable, sort of like if Gumby twisted his ankle. So while I would now have an annoying twinge with each step, it wasn’t bad thanks to my Gumby super stretch.
Emily and Denita found us the PERFECT camp spot on the Lower Sky High Lake: a beautiful stand of giant trees, a nice little fire pit, flat tent spots, and gorgeous views in all directions. After the steps, and the soul crushing weight of my backpack, I didn’t think that our final destination could be worth the hassle. I was totally wrong. This place is perfect; exactly what I had envisioned when we started this forced march. We all happily threw our packs down and jumped into the lake.
We left the boys to their fly fishing (the only reason they will join us) and made our way up the valley to a huge rock in the middle of a meadow. It was the perfect spot to take in the abundant beauty and act out our own nature themed music videos. Yes, we are aware that we have a problem.
Our rumbling stomachs finally pulled us away from our most likely award winning dance choreography, and we headed back to camp, started a fire and watched the sun paint splashes of orange light along the rock formations. Darkness fell, we are our Good To-Go food packets, and settled down for the night. I was doing an ok job at getting some sleep when…
E: There was certainly enough bear scat on the trail to warrant a certain degree of alarm, but with our group of 5, and the amount of noise we were making, I wasn’t really worried about a surprise encounter. Of course, Nature took note of my calm attitude and decided to shake things up a bit. At about 2am, my dog starts going nuts in the tent. She’s restless, won’t stay still, and making low woofing sounds…being persistently obnoxious. I crawl out of the tent with her, thinking she needs to pee. Nope, just more weird dog behavior. Scanning the pitch-black night with my headlamp, I catch the reflection of eyes in the bushes just behind our tent. Shit. I don’t want to wake everyone up and alarm them, but there’s definitely something rustling around those bushes, which are uncomfortably close to our camp. I start stomping the ground a bit and telling that bear to GTFO, and of course, wake everyone up. I can hear the girls in our tent whispering “Did she just say BEAR?!” Dan and his dog Bruno crawl out of their tent. Bruno is probably large enough to scare off a bear, but he would have to care that it was there first. By that time, whatever was in the bushes had moseyed off. Needless to say, I was quite a bit more on edge during our pre-dawn hike out.
Everyone else just seemed to slip blissfully back to sleep, but my stupid body seemed fine with the paltry amount of sleep I’d given it. I sat there listening as rocks cascaded down the bank for what seemed like hours. I could just imagine Em’s bear lazily knocking rocks down at us out of sheer boredom. I guess that furry bastard couldn’t sleep either, but at least he kept himself occupied with activities that didn’t involve ripping us to shreds. Then, around 4:30am, Emily and Denita got up for a ridiculously early and utterly insane death march out.
D: You may ask, “Why? WHY 4:30am?? What would two grown women need to do that require them to hike out of the woods so early? Obviously, ballet class. So Emily (the ballerina) and I (her buddy system) cut our trip just a touch short, by hiking six miles in the F#@$ing dark to get back to Redding in time for class. Most would say that’s way too early for anything (Jessica), but I’m a glass half full kinda girl. The way I see it, I haven’t really GONE to sleep yet, so not getting up super early, I’m just staying up a little later.
One thing you should know about Em, she doesn’t mess around when it comes to ballet. I knew she was going to be in gear and focused on getting out quick-style (which I usually prefer) so we packed quick and hit the trail with a vengeance. Dan was kind enough to escort us through the open space/ heavily grassy areas for protection, which was nice, but of course, made me all the more worried when he left. Dan don’t leave us! Dan left us. The trail became more wooded and the valley started to close in behind us. We were on our own just as the pre-dawn light hit the peaks. Super gorgeous YET super-duper eerie!!
Emily and I made a point to talk loudly and often back and forth while I held a death grip on the bear spray, hoping and praying I wouldn’t have to use it!!!! In my head for the majority…ok the WHOLE HIKE, these were the thoughts running through my head: Where would the bear come from? How big would it be? Would the spray really work? Would we die? Who would find us? My head was a swirling jumble of gory images of potential death and dismemberment as we casually discussed skin-care, our favorite TV shows, and any other mundane topic we thought might scare (or bore) a bear away.
My feet were in piss poor condition after the hike in. With every step I could feel the blisters multiplying in size. 14 in total!! The packs were light but the pace was quick. With each turn around a bend I thought, ok the parking lot has got to be approaching……………..ok parking lot…………OK PARKING LOT!!!!!! Finally! We had made it, NOT ONE BEAR, and we had time to spare. Another one in the books, please excuse me while I go milk my foot blisters.
Denita and Emily are the task masters, the responsible individuals that make sure we get places on time and don’t wander too far off track. While the girls were likely loading up the car and driving back down the mountain, we slept. Glorious sleep that was only interrupted by the mid-morning sun heating up our tents. We slowly roused ourselves, and slowly is pretty much the perfect word to explain the rest of our day. Our main goal was to meander around the valley and explore the other lakes. There was quite a bit of rock hopping and peaceful ‘sits’. It was a beautiful day of nothing. Somewhere around 2pm we decided to wander our way back to camp. And this is what happens when you leave the lollygaggers to their own devices.
As we wear paused yet again taking it all in at Upper Sky High Lake, we heard the same cascade of rocks we had heard the night before and looked across the lake to find a bear! My very first sighting! And what a perfect way to meet one. He was wandering along the rocks and through the bushes (Lost style) on the other side of a decent sized lake. He sized us up, and without further ado, kept to his course. We were stoked!
After he had lumbered out of sight, we completed the wander back, packed up, and left our valley. Since we felt so bad for the girls and their early departure, we had told them to leave ‘a lot’ of their stuff. This meant that the food weight we had lost was now replaced with more gear. At least we were headed down! Dan and I fashioned walking sticks from our kindling pile and these babies were a godsend heading back down the marble stairs with our newly added weight.
We hiked out at a leisurely pace, and stopped at a few spots to float leaves and look at bugs. We got back to the car right around dusk and cracked open a few cold beers we had waiting for us. The drive out was gorgeous and surreal. I was in a weird state of excited relaxation. High on life, but peacefully so. We stopped for burgers and milkshakes and when we tried to verbalize our odd state of Zen like serenity, we realized we were all three on the same page, but we all lacked the right words to describe how fucking cool it felt. I was bummed the girls were missing this, but I’m pretty sure either one of them would have murdered us if they would have had to watch this unfold. D: Wander the valley? Float leaves? Watch bugs? Then dinner? You didn’t get home until midnight! We almost called search and rescue! 4:30am doesn’t sound as bad anymore you lollygagging weirdos.
In all, the trip was amazing. It was exhausting, but my body hurt in that way that was more enjoyable than irritating. We had seen a bear, he didn’t maul us. I twisted my ankle, turns out I have Gumby super powers. I had to do my business outside, didn’t pee on myself. We ate dehydrated food, it wasn’t horrible. All wins in their own special way. I was going home tired but happy. I’d go again in a heartbeat, which is good because our next trip is coming up fast. And do I really need to work on my over-packing problems if we are bringing pack goats?
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To date, nature has come in three distinct flavors. On any given venture you might get a mix of all three, but single scoop, double scoop or Neapolitan has been a pretty good gauge so far. The first, a white-knuckled, adrenaline filled whirl of excitement. Tearing through the grandeur of the landscape with fire, purpose, and will. Next, a grit and endurance focused sufferfest. Trudging through long-standing elements to reach some elusive, but triumphant pay off. While the third, an indulgent meander through splendor and stillness. Floating through tranquil settings to soften the areas you have allowed to harden.
Why the introspection? This particular adventure fell predominantly into the third category. There was a great deal of floating and splendor-ing, so there may just be a little bit of soft mixed in with the normal helping of hard. D: Jessica? Soft? Yeah, we’ll see how long this lasts…
Since the last adventure Emily, Denita and I tackled was a disaster; AND mountain biking was something they agreed they would loathe for life; AND they were close to pitching me off a cliff and hanging up their adventuring cloaks for a bit…I proposed we tackle the trip that had started this adventure quest in the first place. It was the idea to expand our Sunday morning stand-up paddleboard jaunts into a weekend trek that got this whole ‘you have never been camping?’ nonsense started. D: This was THE trip for me from the get go, anytime water is in the plan I’m stoked (No, snow is not frozen water!) There is something sorta “perfect” about being on any body of water and something even better about sharing it with friends.
Emily suggested Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, an isolated and unique camping spot, accessible only by water and located in the Fall River Valley. The areas that sounded the most intriguing for exploration aren’t exactly boat friendly, but the shallow draft of a SUP would do just fine. We readied the steads…one hard foam core, one inflatable, and one ratchet together canoe-esque plastic shell.
We had left for Fall River around sun-up, and even through my early morning haze, I was able to take in the beauty of our surroundings. The soft morning sun was at our backs and Mt. Shasta stood before us. We slid over the glassy water like it was butter. Everything was silent and still.
Well, at least for the first mile or so. Then our less austere sensibilities kicked in and we were throwing shade, testing our dry bags (aka splashing each other), and racing to birds that would inevitably fly away leaving no winners (but I like winning).
Instead of heading to camp right away, we turned up into the creek fed springs. The water changed color as we went. The thick forest green of the main pond turned to a translucent emerald, that made way for a soft blue, and finally patches of deep azure. And as the color changed, so did the temperature. The closer we got to the glacial run-off of Shasta the less we wanted body parts to linger in the water. The desire to not swim was further compounded by floating piles of what I imagine was some form of algae, but resembled a mix of yellow-brown snot and vomit. Luckily, it was pretty easy to avoid in the larger channels and it only smelled if it got caught in debris and had time to make a nice little bed for mold.
As we continued upstream, we reached a small bridge. End of the line for the boat, but Denita and I had different plans. We attempted to ford the seemingly mellow current, mount the bridge, and ride a paddleboard back through again. Our plan was to ride our paddleboards under the bridge. Though there was no whitewater in sight, the current and my lack of respect thereof meant I hit the water and the underlying rocks without much grace. Blood was drawn, which now meant I was wholly committed to this small feat. After some finagling and more blood from the lack of water shoes, Denita and I were on the upstream side of the bridge. Do not ask me why riding under a tiny bridge on a flat board would prove to be such a novelty or a ridiculously onerous task, but victory was ours!
As everyone knows, victors need spoils and feats of strength subsequently require periods of rest. Thus, we decided a mid-morning beer and a little bit of floating were in order. And it just so happens that a healthy helping of lazing about was on our to-do list.
We eventually headed over to the shade of our selected campsite, which was a tree grove way back from the water. WAY BACK. I guess it mitigated the mosquitos, but no sweeping water views this time.
Ridiculous amounts of karaoke and improper use of our Eno doublenest hammock passed the time. Then Brad pulled out a bow and arrow and we pretended to be Robin Hood and Katniss for a bit. Brad killed it, Denita lost an arrow and I managed to snap my arm with the string. Ouch. As the sun started to fade in the sky, we hustled back down to the dock to finish out the day with a sunset boat ride.
The mosquitoes were in full force. I learned from our last bug-infested night that I am not a fan of creepy crawlers and layered on the natural and chemical remedies. Emily decided to join the boys in the world of hammocks, as she is a lover of hanging beds. E: It’s true! I sleep like a baby in hammocks! Two people in a four-person tent, atop a bed of oak leaves, after a day of sunshine, paddling and rum is pretty darn comfy. Best night of sleep so far!!! About seven hours, which is at least close to what normal people sleep.
Come the morning, our tent had treated us well but the bugs had attacked the hammock goers. Emily had bites pretty much in all the places, including the middle of her upper lip, which gave her a strange Angelina Jolie-mated-with-a-bird like appearance. E: This is pretty typical though. I am always the first to be feasted upon by mosquitos.
The next morning Dan was ready to explore. He plotted two courses to Eastman Lake. One for the SUPs/girls over a shallow pond and one for the boat/boys taking the long way down and around. So off we went over a boggy berm and into a swamp. The shallow pond, was really, really shallow and the water was a bloom of thick algae. We knew the water would barely cover our knees at times, but the fear of getting entangled in the algae bloom, however irrational, was still there. After AWHILE, we made it through the swamp and to clearer water. We headed into the tiny current and headed towards the lake, or were we on it? Anywho, off we went. I was enjoying the scenery when I realized I was all by myself. Not again. The girls had stopped paddling. D: We had been paddling forever! With no end in sight! I turned around and we snuggled our boards together and chatted for a bit as we drifted back down the river/lake.
Eventually the boys came back down our direction. We hitched a ride back to our swamp and headed back towards camp. We were in a much different position than where we began, which led to some confusion. Emily was convinced we should head to the far right, while Denita and I were equally convinced it was the left. We ended up somewhere in the middle of our respective opinions. When we got to the berm, we were a slight distance apart, but it wasn’t bad. When we crossed through the reeds I went left, and Denita went right to orient. I found the dock and yelled back. We waited, staring down the reeds at where Emily should have come through… No Emily.
We lost Emily! How do you lose a person…a whole person…wearing bright pink…on a body of water?
D: I am the worrier…..I take that title with pride, I do not enjoy losing a P (player), even if it’s for a hot minute. We go together, we conquer together we experience this together….If there are not 3, I am not ok (sorry E no quiet, tranquil time for you)….With each minute that passed I thought park ranger…ok paramedic…perhaps the coast guard boats…OK CALL IN THE HELICOPTER! Dramatic? Yeah, maybe. Do I care? NOPE! Instant tranquility took over when we rounded the bend and her chill little face was paddling along like nothing was wrong.
E: Meanwhile, I was off on my own stubborn way, but not exactly lost. I had been sick of how slow those two were paddling and forged ahead, thinking about how annoying it was going to be for them when they came across the dead-end I was sure they were heading towards. Following a bank of reeds, I was enjoying the wildlife and peace and quiet… but after about 30 minutes of paddling, it was becoming apparent that the pass-through I was looking for, that would pop me back into our campsite’s lagoon, was not appearing. I finally looked up to reorient myself and noticed that Mount Shasta was at least one cardinal direction off from where she should be. Well, shit.
Paddling slow? Yes, but technically, we were gaining on camp, while she was rapidly traveling away from it.
Luckily, the boys made it back soon after and they searched the perimeter while Mark and I searched the reed banks and swamp on SUPs. It was at least 45 minutes, maybe an hour, before our reunion. Just enough time for some more hammock snuggles before we had to pack up and head back to reality.
With the exception of losing Emily for a short stint, (D: Plenty long!) this trip was a relaxing and pretty lazy way to spend a weekend. It was a serene respite with nature plus some levity and silliness thrown in for good measure. I love being on the water whatever the sport, but there is something incredibly calming about the smooth stroke of the paddle. While I have enjoyed all flavors of adventure in their own right, this particular brand is a great way to recharge and soften. ALSO, I just made camping my bitch! Seven hours of sleep. WINNING!!! D: And there goes the soft...
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I like to think of myself as a fairly tough human being, but my lack of confidence in sleeping outdoors has really been injuring my internal street cred. There are a few hobbies I have in my back pocket that one could define as outdoorsy. Mountain biking is one in particular I can confidently say I have had way more practice over my camping companions. As they are pulling me into new territory, I am hoping to return the favor. Assuming this would be a fun-natured role reversal, I started looking into a few spots where we could load up some bike packs, hit some fun trails, and then spend a night or two in picturesque locations. Every time I brought it up they made me feel like one of those old time movie villains twisting a mustache as they lie bound on the tracks waiting for the train to come. They were none too pleased about the prospect of mountain biking and were adamantly opposed to the idea of bike packing.
E: I knew she would get back at me for all the “no, you can’t bring that” and “yes, you have to poop in the woods” lip I have been giving her. For me, mountain biking involves two states: totally fucking exhausted, or in a pucker-factor blind panic. Nothing is easy on a mountain bike. They weigh approximately the same amount as a young elephant, which means uphills are a bitch, and downhills get you up to mach-rated speeds, and then you must dodge obstacles such as rocks, roots, and rattlesnakes. How is that fun?!?
D: Exactly! How is it that even when there is only one obstacle in your way with ample room to avoid that object on all sides you hit that object? Come on! I thoroughly enjoy my teeth. And don’t even get me started on rattlesnakes…
It took some doing (cocktails) and light ribbing (thanks Billy), but they finally committed to a weekend bike trip, that was quickly edited to an evening of camping that would include riding a trail or two nearby Whiskeytown Lake. We packed up some bikes and drove the whopping 20 minutes to one of my favorite beginner routes, which is a pieced together mish-mash of the Shasta Mine Loop, Clear Creek Canal Trail and Guardian Rock Trail. I was going easy on them. Yes, there is dirt, and rocks, and obstacles, but about halfway through there is a stretch of winding singletrack I could ride all day.
We gear up and set out on the trail. They are noticeably uncomfortable, which suits me just fine. A couple of dips and turns; no broken bones. A small climb up a rocky slope; nailed it. At one point we stop for a quick water break and the laughs sound like enjoyment, not manic stress. Denita shows us her ‘one bike trick’ of riding superman style which was both impressive and adorable. We get back at it and just about when I start to think I have found myself two new riding buddies (D: HA! Nope.), we come to a few hills.
m is riding my cross country bike and it starts jumping around a little on the gears. We flip it over to inspect the mechanics, and then look at eachother with shrugs. Our lack of bike knowledge means we’ll take the wait and see approach. We trade bikes and hop back on the trail.
E: At this point I’m thinking I just got screwed. I am now on Jess’s downhill bike and it weighs about the same as an adolescent elephant, which isn’t making this climb any easier.
We get through our first patch of easy downhill.
D: Easy? The crevasses in the hard red California clay are so deep, I’m not just afraid touching one with my tire would mean instant wreck, I’m afraid my whole body would be forever lost inside it. How the EFF am I supposed to ride a bicycle down a steep grade with root balls the size of hippopotami and boulders the size of small cars strategically placed throughout the route?
And yet, we made it to the bottom without failing into any crevasses or running into any hippopotami shaped anything. Then my bike made a large pop and decided to abruptly halt. I hopped off to examine the damage. My derailleur had bent into the tire, grabbed hold of a spoke, severed the chain, and popped the wheel out of its home. Oops.
E: The bike essentially ATE ITSELF! We’re talking mountain bike self-cannibalism!
We were losing the light, but being so close to Denita’s husband’s bike stable meant we could run into town, grab another bike and try again. The girls rode back the way we came and I hiked my bike through a few thickets to a nearby road. As we were headed back into town, the look on Emily’s face changed from oopsie, oh darn to an amalgamation of I hate you, why are you doing this to me, and I may poison you later. Pretty sure she was elated the bike had bit itself and thought that meant we were done for the day. On our way back from the bike swap, she let out her building frustration and told us she tried, but she was done. Since we had only made it a mile, maybe two, I bartered that we should try again and I would take them on the easiest trail I knew. The Oak Bottom Channel, which follows the north side of the lake and is basically like taking a paved path, but it is technically dirt. I believe it was her pride that pulled her back on board, but I definitely got the feeling I should check my food.
Being that this trail was remarkably easy, the ride was pretty chill. We got to meander along the lake and take in the views as the sun creeped down towards the horizon. At one point Denita issued a squeally scream. She swears there was a rattlesnake coiled up next to the trail, but neither Em nor I caught a glimpse of her slithering nemesis.
D: Have you ever ridden past a rattlesnake on a bike? I didn’t know I could coast so fast while resting my feet ABOVE my shoulders and my hands covering my eyes!
But that was our only dramatic interlude. We finished out the 6 mile back and forth just as the golden hour started. My favorite time of day! We set up the tent, kicked back some beer, and relaxed.
As we were setting up camp, I kept wiping these tiny little worm-bugs off me. Apparently, our chosen camping area was ground zero for The Great Whiskeytown Silkworm Hatching. They were everywhere; hanging from everything. And then once the heat dissipated and the sun sunk lower, all the silkworms’ friends came out to play. Every surface was crawling with something and the air was a constant buzz of activity.
Let me reiterate: there were worms dropping out of the sky. It was raining maggots. The sheer volume of swarming creatures was stupefying; solid objects took on more fluid dimensions.
My camping buddies just smiled as I sat in complete and utter discomfort. I’m sure my internal war to keep my shit together was entirely hilarious to behold. D: Hell yes, it was entertaining. The next day they admitted to being completely grossed out by the epic amount of creepy crawlies, but my reaction made sticking it out in the elements, instead of inside the tent, worth it.
This adventure was far from exciting and far from successful. We did all get to experience something a little new; mountain biking and bug-palooza. While I decided that deet is a must have camping staple from this point forward, Emily decided she will be …sticking to pavement. Smooth pavement. With a light roadie.
Our comedy of errors wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but it was a good reminder that gear breaks and things don’t always go your way. Sometimes you have to adapt and make do, while other times you just have to sit in a swarming mass of worms and ride it out.
Dangling off the side of a cliff sounds more like an intense scene from an action movie than a casual weekend with friends, but not anymore; this month we decided to tackle rock climbing. How hard can climbing something be? I killed it on jungle gyms…when I was seven.
Denita and I are legitimate first-timers, but despite Emily’s many rock climbing experiences, she didn’t feel 100% ready (E: or even 10% ready…) to be our trainer. We called our friends John, Mark and Liz, who all admittedly have more climbing experience than Emily (thank god). We cajoled (read: begged) our good friend Dan to handle the camera, promising he would at least get some laughs out of our inexperience.
There are some great rock-climbing spots for beginners within driving distance of Redding, but since the whole point of GGitWild is to get us out of our comfort zones, John selected a site a little further afield. He chose a lonely table of limestone called Lover’s Leap, located in one of the beautiful valleys in far Northern California. It was a long, meandering drive through acres of farmland. This unique little spot is both isolated and exposed. The Lover’s Leap in Tahoe is more commonly known, so this one has been dubbed the ‘Other’ Lover’s Leap by those in the know.
We arrived around midday to a quintessential California weekend; warm and sunny with adorable cloud puffs scattered across the bright blue horizon. We parked in the open area at the end of the road and set out on the hike that would take us to our first climbing destination. We were all smiling as John walked us up to our first wall, except for Denita, who’s face showed wonder and excitement mixed with a little bit of are you freaking kidding me? Up until this point, she had been cool and aloof about the prospect of climbing, and just like me wondered how hard can climbing be? Of course, that was before she saw the towering rock cliff that was higher than either of us were expecting. Our handy dandy climbing book informed us that the wall we were about to scale (well attempt to scale) was a 5.8. D: WTF does that even mean?! It’s hard to feel like an outdoorsy badass when you’re climbing routes names after Sesame Street puppets.
John dropped the rope from the top of the cliff, then he and Liz gave us a rundown of safety procedures and the gear we would be using. A Metolius Waldo harness and Monster Dynamic 8.9mm rope; 5.10 Rogue VCS climbing shoes; carbiner/belay device; and a chalk bag . . . which I attached to my harness, but never reached for once as the chalkiness of my hands did not register once as a variable I gave any shits about. Then, they tied, cinched and clipped us into a harness.
Denita jumped up first. She tackled the wall from multiple angles, but just didn’t have much luck getting over a weird little bulbous formation at the base. Then it was my turn. I got a little ways up the wall before John told me to lean back and get a feel for the rope. I was not pleased to lose the small gains I had made, but I acquiesced, and let him lower me back down a bit. I made it about a third of the way up, but hit a wall (D: Ha! So punny) when I reached a spot with handholds so small they were almost non-existent. I slid back down Grover’s Fluffy Bum (or whatever it was called) in shame, and sat down to rethink my strategy. Before I could even get the top off my water bottle, Emily had got into her gear and scaled the wall, making it to the summit in no time. Show off.
While we rested, we got a crash-course on how to properly belay, aka not letting the climber fall to a rocky death if they lost their footing. Emily and I belayed each other up a 5.7. I got further, which I attribute mainly to my newfound skill of grunting, which strangely seemed to help. But right around halfway up my muscles had had it with Ticklish Elmo. Clinging to those teeny tiny finger holds really takes it out of you. Please note my wall names are less than accurate. They are named after puppets, and since all puppets are pretty flipping creepy, they deserve to be mocked.
Next Emily hopped up onto the wall and I experienced the abject terror that comes with having someone’s life in your hands. Basics of belaying – move the rope through the belay while making sure one hand is always ready to apply pressure and not let a missed grab be a gruesome injury. Mark stayed close and talked me through it, but still, TERROR!!! E: Trust me, the terror was felt on both sides of that rope! Despite my novice skills, Em did great and even screwed with me a little on the way down by taking a few kick offs from the wall, making me grip the rope even tighter and curse like a sailor until her shoes hit the dirt.
As we hiked out, I reflected on my two failed attempts to reach the top. It seems to me that one of the main skills necessary for rock climbing is unrelenting stubbornness. E: Which she is in no short supply of. You need to stubbornly ignore the pain building in your extremities, stubbornly refuse to let the multitude of cuts and scrapes hinder your progress, and stubbornly fight the urge to fall backwards and let your belayer lower you softly to the ground. Editor’s note from Billy: Most people call this being tough. Writer’s note to Billy: :-p
We set up tents at the trailhead and lit a fire. We ate delicious food and some of us drank strong whiskey while we watched as thousands of stars glittered across the night sky. I doubt there was another soul for miles. One great thing about being in the middle of nowhere, the only light pollution is your own. Soon, the whiskey and exertion did their jobs and we fell asleep under the stars. Of course I mean in a tent, I am not that advanced yet!
The next morning we woke up slowly due to the whiskey. As I stumbled around camp, rubbing my sleepy eyes, I realized a horrible thing. No bathrooms. The time had finally come. I tried to sneak away from camp, only to hear the laughter of my ‘friends’. With as much dignity as I could muster, I found a woodsy spot overlooking the valley to do my business. D: BAHAHAHAHA! E: HAHAHAHAHAHA! I hated it and I hate that I am talking about it. SO MUCH HATE.
Sometime during the night, Emily’s dog Hazel had managed to mistake one of our brand new climbing shoes as a chew toy and decided it needed an open toe. We were hoping the indigestion might teach her a lesson, but she was pleased as punch with her new toy.
The next wall required a bit more hiking, which was not ideal considering that Liz, one of our climbing experts, is pregnant. For her, this weekend entailed hiking miles just to watch us climb and sit on uncomfortable rock piles . . . yep, she’s a badass. No one wanted to get overtaken by a very capable, but still very pregnant lady. The group quickly spread out with me somewhere in the middle. I was having a very pleasant solo hike, a fact that I failed to register until I heard Mark calling to me from far down the trail . . . behind me. Apparently the trail we were on had turned and I had just kept going straight. How am I supposed to tell the difference between trail marker rocks and normal flipping rocks!? They are rocks!!! D: Chasing butterflies probably.
We checked out a few different lines and decided on a section that had a 5.5. YAY! As our group started tackling the wall, we realized the abrasiveness of these rocks were way better than what we had climbed the day before. I’m not going to say smooth or even pleasant, but better. My spirits restored, I began to work on fortifying my stubbornness. John began the lead climb to the top to set the rope. Emily topped out, and Denita made it further up the wall than the day before, but just couldn’t get past the mental block of ‘I don’t want to do this’ (and for Denita, that means she is done).
My turn! I stepped up to the plate (so to speak) wielding my bolstered stubbornness and my newfound grunting power. E: The Williams sisters got nothin’ on her! Up I went. At times it felt like I was flying up with incredible acumen and other times I felt inept and inches took ages. But I made it!!! Sure, it was an ‘easier’ rock to climb than the previous day, but I’m taking the victory, dammit. D: As you should!
The sporty part of this trip was amazing – I loved the thrill and challenge of rock climbing. For me, hikes are way more fun with a pay-off at the end. And what could be more fun than arriving at a grown-up jungle gym to play on? It was convenient to camp at the trailhead and it was a very pleasant evening for a campfire with friends, but . . . I am definitely not used to doing my business outside! I am heading home with two victories under my belt: I climbed a rock wall and I pooped in the woods. While the former involved some physical pain, it was the latter that my mind was the most opposed to. I guess like anything, this too will require some practice. Ew. D: Double ew, followed by BAHAHAHAHA!!!
Update – we have since been to our local climbing gym, Shasta Rock Club. We learned a little terminology. Large, comfortable hand holds are called jugs, really? And apparently when you are talking about the difficulty of a route you say five, eight, instead of five point eight. Ben, the gym owner, asked that we continue saying it wrong, as it was cute. Cute? Ben, you are now on my list. Cute or not, we accomplished the main reason for our visit; Denita got over her mental block! WAY OVER IT. She was climbing up, up and away in no time, and now she wants to get back onto a real rock and try again. D: Wait, what? I do?
Are we lost? I was starting to wonder if we were on the correct rural road to take us to our specifically chosen middle of nowhere. All traces of modern civilization had been left behind two hours ago, and I could swear that I was hearing snatches of banjo music coming from the increasingly thick woods. Finally, we rounded a bend in the road and there it was. Our mountain. I grew up under the shadow of Mt. Shasta, literally, so when someone says ‘we’re hiking up a mountain’ I immediately think of glacier and snow covered peaks up in the 14,000’ range. So, while this particular peak was FAR less intimidating, clocking in at 7,195’ (thank goodness!), the idea of getting to the top of it still put butterflies in my stomach and an anticipatory ache in my hindquarters. However, we were determined to make it to the top.
When we plan a new adventure for GGitWild, we have one major criteria: a new challenge. Whether we are diving into a mountain sport, tackling some diverse camping conditions, or attacking a new physical trial, the idea is, we have to up our game in some way. This time we wanted to take advantage of the snow before we jumped into spring. While I do have a sense of adventure and my hubris tends to be pretty healthy, I really didn’t want to take my first official backpacking trip using snowshoes and have to sleep ON THE SNOW! I’ve never understood the allure of exploring winter landscapes, unless we’re talking about riding up a chairlift with a snowboard strapped to my feet. Emily, in a moment of pure genius, made a suggestion: a lookout tower! Still snowshoeing, still backpacking, but as long as we made it to the top, there would be a bed, a fireplace, four walls, and a roof! Hallelujah! E: And just in case you aren’t familiar with these little gems . . . They’re obviously in use during fire season, but the forest service rents them out in the off-season. Some are drive-up, some you have to hike to, but every one I’ve stayed in was clean and cozy, with some spectacular views, providing the weather cooperates!
Two quick facts you should know: Denita hates backpacks and Denita hates snow. Finally, I’m not the most hesitant and skeptical member of the group! In the weeks leading up to the trip, Denita bartered, bribed, and even flat out begged us to let her bring a snowmobile. Her trickery knew no bounds. In a moment of complete desperation, she offered our gear guru and editor Billy Brown cash money, plus the promise that she would ride it in a bikini the entire time. Our title is a tongue-in-cheek hint to Girls Gone Wild, not an attempt to follow in their bare skin ways. No snowmobile! D: One thing! I asked for one, teensy little thing!
On to gear! I have decided to up my gear game. Before now, my only experience with sleeping bags was grabbing something ‘that will work’ for a weekend in a remote winter cabin that ended up being devoid of any heater or extra blankets. The freezing, frosty night had me shaking so hard my body refused to sleep, likely from fear of death. After trying out a few top of the line bags in our 3×3 Sleeping Bag Review and seeing what a difference the right gear makes, I will never just grab an ‘it will work’ again. I am going to search, test and scrutinize until I find my perfect gear companion.
This is my first trip where the weight of all my supplies will be carried on my back. Um, crap. I should probably start listening to Emily’s ‘you cannot bring that camping’ rants now. E: Yep! My general rule is that you can bring anything you’d like, but any NEI’s (non-essential items) that I find in the gear pile, you’re carrying yourself! As for me, there’s nothing quite like that first sip of a cold beer after exerting myself for hours, so I happily carry that extra nectar-of-the-gods weight.
I borrowed a pack and got to work on my gear list. Layers are crucial, but there is a delicate balance to maintain. No sense ruining my whole weekend because my only shirt got wet, but I didn’t want to carry my closet around on my back either. For food prep, we packed up part of the MSR Flex 4 set. I still haven’t acquiesced to dehydrated food alternative. Since we were dealing with snow (and the very real possibility of getting stuck in it), my husband bought me a bivy, which is a body bag looking thing that slips over your sleeping bag and gives you extra warmth in an emergency. D: Exactly, it’s a body bag! However, we weren’t going to be dealing with negative temperatures, so instead for our ‘just in case’ we threw in the Big Agnes Down Comforter. A much more comfy companion, but it did add a little more in the weight department. And for dealing with the actual traversal of the snow covered ‘almost-mountain’, we wrangled up three pairs of differing snowshoes. D: It’s a mountain, read the title!
It took a bit of a car ride, and many wrong turns which I like to call scenic meanderings, but we finally made it to the snow! Unfortunately, the mountain was a quirky little bastard and as we started our ascent, snow seemed to come in patches. Dirt, then snow, then back to dirt, again snow . . . make up your mind already! The first hour of hiking was less hiking and more of a mental game called, “Do I take these snowshoes off or wait this dry patch out?”
Hiking tip: In the face of increasing inclines, inconsistent weather conditions, and general crankiness, it is important to keep spirits high. We took two breaks to this end. The first was to eat an apple. Sounds like a small thing, but fresh fruit, mid-hike can be a delicious, life affirming experience. Once the rejuvenation of the apple faded we did what any rational group of exhausted women would do . . . we had an impromptu trailside dance party! Special thanks to Emily’s Outdoor Tech Speaker. Not only did the thumping dubstep raise our spirits, it also had the added benefit of scaring off any potentially lurking mountain lions. D: POTENTIAL? The trail was littered with their giant cat paws! We TOLD you those were probably just bear tracks. D: HOW IS THAT BETTER???
At one point I may have mentioned something about wanting more snow on the trail, but I take no responsibility for what happened mere minutes after I uttered that phrase. I do not control the weather! If I did I would buy a cloak and make everyone call me Storm. At that point Denita was livid. Mad at the snow falling on top of her head, mad at me for conjuring it, and mad at the backpack digging into her shoulders. She was ready to explode. Emily and I let her take the lead and kept back, WAY back. We didn’t want to find out exactly what the wrath of a 5 foot 4 firecracker looks like in full fiery flame.
After a leg straining three and a half hours, the trees fell away, and the tower came into view. It existed, and we were all cheered by the fact that we wouldn’t freeze out here in the cold. One steep ass hill and we would be there. I even managed to outpace Denita and Emily on the final stretch which is abnormal as I tend to be the meandering, butterfly chasing type (maybe I’m getting the hang of this outdoorsy thing after all). The girls came up the steep hill with determination, poise and what sounded like a few choice words. Denita even broke into song, “I love this, I love this, I really, really love this.” Her tone and follow-up hand gesture was not entirely in keeping with the happy words. After a last embittered, but invigorating effort, we made it to the top. Once we got inside, we started a fire, and prepared to spend our first night home.
The wind howled throughout the night and the snow swirled around the windows and whipped over the railings. It was creepy. Not just gloomy dark creepy, but ‘the whitewalkers are coming’ creepy. Our visibility was about 30 feet. We went to bed excited to see the view in the morning when surely the storm would have moved on.
It didn’t move on. We were stuck in a box in a snow storm.
Somewhere around 3pm the snow started to let up. We quickly donned our warmest clothes, grabbed the snowshoes and escaped down the mountain for a little bit of mischief. The wind picked up and we were about to head back when suddenly sections of clouds opened up and we got glimpses of the vast landscapes beneath us. It was gorgeous, expansive and worth the wait. Unfortunately, it was a brief respite and the clouds quickly went back to obscuring our views and blotting out the little bit of sunshine that had snuck through. As the snow returned, we had no choice but to head inside our humble abode.
Our night was spent trying to put together an impossible puzzle. We gave Bev Doolittle a rather impolite middle name as we cursed her ability to make everything look identical. As Denita was displeased with the snow and the backpack, we were sure to bring her poison of choice. Vodka. We went with Snow Leopard; what else for a snowy mountain? D: YUMMY! As we sipped and shot our clear concoction the wind howled and the shack groaned.
Being shut in a cabin with these two is a riot, but we still had to venture outside for the essentials: melting snow for water and handling other business. We called the later making a peesicle because . . . well, you get it. For the former, I soon discovered that snow is dirty (hey, I’m new at this). I want to put my water into a purifier that comes out looking like Evian. Is that a thing? Billy, here do I get that?
The next morning we awoke above the clouds:
The wind was still howling and the temperature had dropped even further(!) , but there was sunshine and our line of sight had expanded from 30 feet to far reaching horizons. Emily, who was the most disappointed about the storm stealing our views, was giddy with excitement. E: Giddy like Christmas morning. I was up well before sunrise bargaining with the weather to cut us a break, scraping windows to make sure we had a clear view, and making sure the camera was ready for the money shot I was convinced we’d get. We spent most of the morning standing in awe as the sun rose over the vast expanse of clouds. Our little lookout was the only thing above the white fluff for miles and miles. Only mountains in the distance poked up in the far reaches of our vision. Amazing.
Our time in this particular middle of nowhere had come to a close. We bundled up and headed back down the mountain. Fresh snow (finally!) covered the trail completely, making our snowshoeing a bit easier. The trek down the hill was substantially quicker than up. We made it back to the car in under an hour. Soon the mountain was in our rearview. We felt exhausted but accomplished, and more importantly, ready for the next adventure. There was an amazing sense of liberation that came with such a remote and isolated location. I am starting to understand why people load up and hike into the wilderness. Solitude, beauty, freedom. . . experiencing places you can’t reach with a simple day hike. I LOVED having a structure to call home, but I think I might be ready to tackle something bigger and scarier. But first, we are going to learn to rock climb!
Well, I did it. I am officially deflowered. It was dark, awkward and uncomfortable, but the deed is done. That’s right, I slept outside . . . for a whole night . . . in the wild. I did not fall into a cavern, get devoured by wild animals, or sustain any major injuries unless you count general paranoia and lack of sleep. It wasn’t that bad, but I can’t say I am jonesing for my next hit.
There has been some . . . discussion over my style of camping. Which has been described by some as more “glamping” than actual “camping”. Personally, I think your first time should be a bit glamourous, like a swanky hotel room after prom, so I make no excuses for my “frivolous” additions to our camping supplies. E: Flower centerpiece! D: Champagne glasses! Regardless, Denita and Emily wanted to peel back a layer or two of comfort before they took me into the snow. That’s right, I said snow. Emily assures me people do this, but I am equally assured she is nuts. However, for this next round, we are going to the beach! Visions of sand, sun and volleyball floated through my mind, but then the fact that I could see my breath brought me back to reality. It’s winter and the Pacific Ocean of Northern California can induce chattering teeth in the heat of the summer. Still, the waves, the sand, the sunsets . . . ah, the beach is a happy place. Now if we can just make it through the weekend without another baby hurricane.
I have been told we need to cut down on the “extras”, which means no champagne glasses or French cuisine. E: We’ll see how much French cuisine and stemware we’ll end up with once you have to carry it all on your back Jess. I coolly agreed to their terms, but then quietly reached for my phone and called in reinforcements. I assembled the most bourgeois of crews I could find. The Techie: my husband, who cannot and will not leave technology behind on any adventure. The Beauty: my sister, who believes nature is no excuse not to look good. The Chef: my brother in law who, like me, believes nature is no excuse not to eat well. And finally, The Back-Ups: Leon and Andrew, who not only know how to glamp, but do so fabulously. They think I am bad? Well, let’s just give them some perspective. D: She was fooling no one, but how she got them all to camp in the winter is beyond me.
Gear time! Here is what I have learned so far: Light, that bright shiny stuff that emanates from fixtures when I flip various switches, is something I take for granted. While camping, it is a bit harder to come by once the sun goes down. And since it is what keeps you from tripping over rocks or running into trees I will need to bring it with me. Lanterns are great for car camping and the occasional power outage. However, no matter what, you should always have a headlamp. They are convenient, lightweight and free up your hands for all sorts of things. Next, wool is my friend; I need more of it. Breathable articles of clothing now make sense! Puffy vests are a wonderful item to have handy in your wardrobe when the temperature drops, plus they make me feel very outdoorsy, so at least I look the part. Last, but definitely not least, a tent is an important investment in your future sanity.
After much research and poking, I plunked down some cash for my very first tent. The Big Agnes Jack Rabbit SL4. I figured it was light enough to haul around on my back, big enough for the occasional guest, and most importantly, looked sturdy (still no force field – darn it science, catch up with George Lucas already!).
For this trip, we turned once more to our favorite gear guy, Billy Brown. Since we liked our MSR kitchen toys so much last time, he recommended their Flex 4 cooking set, lent us a Coleman Pack-Away Camp Kitchen (it looks so handy!) and grabbed a couple Coleman Lanterns due to the aforementioned epiphany on light.
Denita wanted to get a pack on my back before we pulled off the band aid of modern civilization completely. Her words . . . D: I don’t want to nature rape you. So the plan was to embark on a day hike with me carrying 30ish pounds on my back.
We set out midday on a Friday. The rest of the group was meeting us there, so it was just us three riding shotgun in Denita’s truck. We soon found out that Denita drives just like my dogs walks . . . a barely restrained bundle of aggression with an overwhelming desire to be in front. Emily and I couldn’t help but laugh when we came upon a caravan of cars so long any sane person would just resign themselves to their fate. Denita, sanity questionable, simply muttered through gritted teeth, “I have a whole lot of passing to do.” And then she began to do so as I internally debated whether death would be less painful plummeting down the cliff on one side or slamming into the rock wall on the other.
We made it just in time to unload and get the tent up before dark. I put up my shiny new tent in a nice little spot hidden by trees. E: D and I conveniently found other, more pressing tasks to take care of while Jess struggled to set the tent up solo. It took some effort and a boatload of unladylike phrases, but she did it! And since I didn’t want a repeat of waking up in a puddle, this time I remembered water runs DOWNhill and picked a high spot. Almost on cue, giant raindrops started descending from the sky. Really? Again? We sat around our fire in protest getting drenched for a good 30 minutes. Note to self – buy rain pants. Then as soon as we caved and drug out the pop-up, it stopped. Then my crack team of glampers began to arrive. As they started to unload, my plan was becoming more and more apparent. Leon and Andrew set up their Taj Mahal complete with full bedding and end tables. They also brought a camp stove with more firepower than my range at home and bin after bin of kitchen gear and comfort items. Combined with the Coleman we nearly had a full kitchen. Then my husband showed up with his ‘tent’, which looked suspiciously like our SUV with the back seats removed, in additional to enough bedding, lights and tech gear to entertain a gaggle of teenage boys, or you know, just him. And my sister and her husband were late. Not just later than expected, but wee hours of the morning late. My plan was falling into place. D: Their ridiculousness does not lessen yours!
While we were getting set-up for dinner, a bag of food fell off the table. No big deal. However, when we walked over a minute or two later to retrieve it, we found it had disappeared. We quickly surmised that it was drug off by a cute little forest creature and went about our business. Then five minutes later it happened again. This time we were standing mere feet away from the table and caught a glimpse of the ballsy bandit. A raccoon, bigger than my dog, had stolen tortillas and hamburger buns. D: Not the onion buns! How are we supposed to eat hamburgers with just plain buns?! He looked at us with dead eyes and flashed his creepy opposable thumbs before he sauntered back into the brush. Sauntered, like a boss. E: Back to its bramble-nest just out of reach, littered with food wrappers from other unsuspecting victims. This was clearly not the first heist. Well, now we had been bested twice by a rodent of unusual size and decided to transfer all food into the handy little bear box. This only pissed them off. Oh, did I say them? At one point I walked out of camp to head over to the bathroom and as soon as I was alone a whole gang of those creepy, giant a-holes surrounded me making weird hissing noises. I tried to chase them off with my superior size and animal-like noises, but the beasts remained unfazed. They were obviously some kind of territorial street gang demanding we pay some kind of food toll for the right to camp on their turf. Our camp shifted to high alert, which basically meant we were ready to unleash the hounds on them. The hounds consisted of my dainty vizslas, one super chill boxer and one baby boxer; all not incredibly interested in securing the perimeter. Cowards! They are lucky they are all adorable. Still, the dogs mere presence seemed to be a fine deterrent. However, once they had the cover of darkness, the giant rat-ninjas descended on our camp like a voracious stampede. Every surface in our camp was covered in their muddy claw prints. By the way, those little lids on the top of larger coolers . . . just as handy for raccoons as they are for humans. They didn’t get away with anything as precious as the onion buns this time, but those little thieves are crafty!
After we cleaned up their filthy paw print and food wrapper debris (not just thieves, but littering thieves!), we secured the camp as best we could against the inevitable follow-up attack. After a counterattack was ruled out, we took in the morning. The clouds had given way to sunshine and the temperature was pleasantly fixed in the 70s. We wandered down the beach and readied my sack of goodies for our hike. It was a pretty easy 3-4 miles along the coastline with dalliances up to beautiful vistas or down to rocky beaches. We explored the shade of canopied forest trails, poked squishy, green sea anemones that resided in the tide pools, climbed jagged rocks and accidentally scared off seals. Dammit! We only want to love you, seals!
Everyone we passed looked at my 60 liter backpack with curiosity and raised eyebrows. If you are wondering what we stuffed it with, well, we made ourselves a delicious little gourmet picnic and filled the rest up with beer, which, of course, we had to finish before we got back. It was a beautiful day, and the extra load wasn’t bad. Although, there was one spot we had to climb that made my quads and rear burn like crazy. However, that likely could have been remedied if I was capable of exercising without having to trick myself with organized sports. In fact, the whole thing would have been a breeze, if I didn’t have the a 30 pound orangutan clinging to my back. As the sun started to drop we rushed back to camp to enjoy cocktails and the sunset beachside.
We got to bed pretty early that night, as I suspect happens quite a bit while camping. I recorded my personal best for most sleep in one night while out in the wild! My guess is I clocked five total hours. Feeling more rested than any other night camping, my brain was excited and ready to go . . . at 4am. This, for me, is completely and utterly preposterous. I glared at the top of the tent and played on the internet until six. Then I rallied and left my cozy Therm-a-rest sleeping cocoon. Begrudgingly, I admitted the sunrise was beautiful and the beach was quite tranquil predawn. Since I was bored and alone I attempted my first campfire. It was perfect. E: So perfect that it warranted a “First Fire” selfie. This was probably due to the inordinate amount of cardboard I utilized, so I will have to try that again with less manmade products soon. Unfortunately, the ruckus I made while starting the fire (or potential my enthusiasm over getting it started) woke a few of the group. Leon, Emily and Denita found their way over to the fire. From his tent, Andrew told us to pipe down. After I loudly waxed poetic about the beauty of nature’s sunrise (mainly to be a brat) through the tent walls, he said “text me a picture” with a grunt. I obliged and have included it for posterity’s sake. He may have issued some choice words, but I couldn’t tell over the roar of the glorious fire I had built.
Soon the girls, Leon and I were sipping hot cocoa. My brother in law’s pit-bull Porter was now present, so the thieving little coons wisely kept their distance. His sentry skills are legend. We took our dogs for a walk and enjoyed our serene surroundings. The littlest pup Izzy got to stay in her preferred snuggle spot of the weekend the entire time. We had a delicious breakfast, which topped off our weekend of delicious camp meals, and packed up.
I had a good time and the campground was beautiful, but I must say I don’t get the allure of car camping. We could just as easily (but for slightly more money) have rented a house on the beach somewhere and enjoyed these same vistas, hikes and experiences. It was a pleasant and relaxing weekend, but why do we have to be in a tent? I am curious to see if the allure of hard to reach places and adventures make me change my tune. So, with the exception of the raccoon hunger games, if you are thinking this sounded pretty tame and let’s just say it, a little boring, I concur. However, I am beginning to realize that camping isn’t all about non-stop excitement. You can’t always be fearlessly leaping into black pools of piranha infested water. E: Fearless? Bravely tromping into the unknown with steely reserve, or jumping out of the way when you promise to catch your friend jumping off a rock. D: Hey! I missed the excitement and maybe the slight amount of danger involved in the waterfall jump. E: You asked for it – one order of hard-to-reach, hike in adventure coming up! But this time we’ll let you ditch the tent.
Maybe it’s a good thing that our next adventure has me wishing I had taken some sort of outdoor survival class . . .
You’re sitting in a doctor’s office. An angry looking nurse pulls out a needle the size of a small javelin. Your pulse is racing, your head is swimming, and there is some deep, primal urge inside of you, shrieking to pull your pants back up and flee this place. Then, you feel a slight prick, a small band-aid being applied to your bum, and the now kindly, could be your grandmother, looking nurse is telling you that you are all done. As you button up your pants, you glance over at what should be a gore covered spear, and find someone has replaced it with a needle so small, it’s a barely visible gleam of metal. Your heart slows from a gallop to a trot, and the traitorous voice that was just screaming at you to flee is now calling you a big wussy baby and asking if you need to call your mom.
This is what I assume camping will be like.
Pants down panic, followed by shame, self-deprecation, and a dawning realization of my own cowardice. However, since I am a complete and utter camp-virgin, I have no idea if the panic and general desire to flee is unwarranted or fully justified. I am wandering into new territory and freaking the heck out.
The plan was to take this adventure in late summer, but life (and possibly paralyzing fear), delayed the trip all the way into the rapidly dropping temperatures of late fall. However, the determination to jump was still there (figuratively and literally – see waterfall idiocy below). D: Whoa, whoa . . . don’t group me into this lunacy. I wanted to skip the insane waterfall jump, but you two are stubborn. Dumb and stubborn.
I like to Be Prepared. I may not be a Boy Scout, having lacked the proper equipment since birth, but I am fully behind their motto. I have read dozens of “camping 101” type articles and blogs, played around on the Pinterest camping boards and am obsessively making lists of things to pack, buy or borrow. I’ve even found myself asking a random, outdoorsy-looking stranger sitting next to me on a plane for camping advice. Denita and Emily have taken my crazy in stride, but their flippant retorts and general refusal to talk through every last detail was slightly infuriating. E: I’d like to interject here to shed some light on the Y2K style levels of crazy-preparedness we’re talking about here. There were checklists. Back-up checklists. Packing lists printed off the internet. Types of MAKEUP best suited for camping! There was even talk of laminating said lists in case of a flash flood. For the record, the makeup list was from my sister and flash floods are an actual thing.
Off we go. McCloud is about an hour north of our home base, Redding, California. There is a 39 unit campground right next to the Upper McCloud River and a series of waterfalls. We arrive at Fowlers Camp Campground. Ok . . . looks innocent enough. Only one other lonely tent was set up on the other side of the campground. Turns out the tent Denita’s parents lent us dated back a couple of decades and had seen better days. It took an hour to piece the archaic thing together and then another hour for Emily to break out her architect skills and make it less of a cave in risk. E: And by “architect skills” she means hammering in stakes, piecing tarps together and tying questionable knots in hopes the thing would last through the night. If the Architect’s board saw that sorry mess, my license would be promptly revoked.
Car camping means we have very little restriction on what to drive to the site; basically, whatever can be piled into the truck is fair game. With these paltry restrictions we decided to elevate camping to glamping, at least in the food and drink department . . . because we can. E: Among other things this included a flower centerpiece. Ridiculous, but I will admit, the cheery colors added a certain je ne sais quois. And yes, that is us testing out the MSR sauté pan with a nice little cognac flambé.
As mentioned in the intro, we also had the chance to put a few other goodies to the test: a couple of Coleman lanterns, a kitchen utensil set and skillet by MSR, an underlayer by TASC, and wonderful, glorious shoes from Columbia!
Back to our adventure! Denita pyro-d up a roaring fire and we drank and ate like queens. It almost made me forget that there was a janky mishmash of jimmy-rigged metal and fabric we would be spending the night in. And did I mention that a high wind advisory was popping up on our phones? After finishing off our spiked cocoas and the yawns started sneaking in, there was no longer any reason to delay.
We settled in for the night, but our peaceful evening didn’t last long. The winds went from light and adorable, to intense and angry. You could hear the gusts roaring over the tree-tops and coming towards us like freight trains. D: It literally sounded like a train was coming right at us. Why are we doing this? The winds tore through camp and rattled the tent and tarps with impressive fury. Then the rain set in. I had decided to pop my camping cherry in an ancient tent in the chilly fall during a flipping baby hurricane.
I’m pretty sure that sheer exhaustion won out around 5am. About two hours later I was awakened with water dripping directly into my eye. Lovely. The water had made it around the rainfly (tarp) and was pooling along the top of the tent and infiltrating our makeshift dwelling with increasing efficiency. As I sat up in a cranky stupor of morning, it felt oddly like I was floating. I quickly came to the realization that our sleeping pads were the only things protecting us from the rising water level inside the tent. At least the rain and wind were calming down enough that we could wring out our gear without pulling it back inside wetter than it was before. D: Please note, that by some miracle of architecture prowess, the tent was still standing . . . barely, but barely was enough.
I hate mornings. D: Understatement. E: Of the year! D: Decade? E: Century. D: Nailed it! And waking up to soggy everything with very little sleep was not improving that disposition. We almost gave up and packed it in. Somehow Emily inspired us to cook breakfast. E: Mostly because I wanted the bomb-diggity french toast I was promised… and maybe a little bit wanting Jessica to slog through this a little longer. Love youuuuuu! The breakfast got our butts into gear and the mimosas lent the necessary motivation to tackle a hike. D: And we found out Jess was a puddle jumper. I guess when the water is on the GROUND, she’s fine. We were rewarded with some amazing views and a giant log to reenact a scene from Troop Beverly Hills. There was a bit of a disagreement about the risk level with said ravine. I was pretty darn certain that a fall could have resulted in blood, guts and certain dismemberment, while Denita seemed to think a twisted ankle was more likely. We were walking over a rounded surface fifteen feet over jagged rocks. You decide. D: Really Jess . . . Really? Again, Oh geez!
Remember that waterfall jump I mentioned? Yeah . . . let’s get back to that. Once we reached the waterfall we peeked hesitantly over the ledge. The waters were black and tumultuous, which mirrored the hate-fire rousing in my soul for this idea. Seriously, how do I know there isn’t a rock or tree submerged down there? Pictures had not, and still do not, do it justice. I’m pretty sure we each went through the seven stages of grief as we got into our bathing suits and stared down at the icy depths . . . shock, terror, anger, terror, denial, terror, depression, and right back to terror. Denita lingered on bargaining for quite some time, but we finally got to acceptance. E: Our very reputations were at stake! Before we left town for our adventure, Billy told us that despite the weather, we better “nut up” and do the jump. Trust me, if there had been any nuts in attendance, they definitely would have been way, way up.
Our feet hit the water and panic hit simultaneously. It was arctic tundra cold! We braved the frosty waters, D: Like we had a choice!, as we swam across the dark pool. Then we had to haul our nearly blue bodies onto shore, stumble down the bank, cross again, D: AGAIN! and climb a rocky ledge to our towels. However, the sense of accomplishment and general awareness of being alive really did help bring up the mood. As stupid as it may have been, we promised ourselves we were jumping off a waterfall, and dammit, that’s exactly what we did!
There were so many things that went wrong. Gale force winds, icy downpours, freezing cold swimming holes and Denita even shed actual blood when I failed to catch her jump from a rock. D: I hate you. Never again! But you know what? We didn’t die. And amazingly, I’m glad I jumped in. It may not have been a romantic and idyllic evening under the stars, but it was an experience with two awesome chicks and that’s something. I have officially lost my camping virginity. However, nature is really going to have to up its game if I’m going to enjoy sleeping with her.