Tips for Getting Better Sleep When Camping

Many women tell me that one of the biggest reasons they don’t like camping is the poor night’s sleep they get. Women like the comforts of home and don’t want to give those up for the great outdoors. But, I’m here to say that it is possible to be more comfortable at night and make your sleeping situation feel much more like what you have at home if you just make a few adjustments.

My Tips

Bring an air mattress or a cot.

One that can be plugged into your car to inflate. Or, bring a large cot. If you have kids, my sis-in-law recommends getting an extra-large cot, because kids almost never stay on their own cot the whole night. She loves the Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Camping Cot (<–Amazon). Cots don’t get holes like air mattresses do, which kids will undoubtedly break with their jumping.

Consider getting a mattress pad.

Cut it to fit your cot or air mattress. Suggestion: Rolyan Egg Crate Mattress Topper. (<– Amazon link.)

Bring extra blankets.

A large down blanket is our favorite to camp with! Even if you have a sleeping bag, a blanket is always essential when it’s cold.

Bring sheets, IF you have a thick mattress pad.

Sheets are more comfortable, however: if it is cold, the sheets won’t hold in your body heat and the air mattress will wick away every shred of warmth, leaving you shivering. The solution is to put down a thick mattress pad and make sure you have lots of blankets on top. But if you’re camping in warm weather, you’re golden!

Make sure there is good air circulation on warm nights.

Leave part some of your windows unzipped so air can get in, or bring a battery powered fan.

Do not leave any food out.

What does this have to do with sleeping? Well, critters will come along and make racket trying to snatch whatever food you have left out, and it will wake you up. Make sure everything is locked up tight in a plastic bin or your car. Or if you’re camping in bear country, put it in a bear proof locker or bin. (Those campsites will notify you if bear lockers are provided.) Not a problem for most parts of Texas.

On that note…

Try not to stress about the noises in the middle of the night.

I have a lot of friends who say that the sounds of the forest keep them up at night, and freak them out. Unless you’re camping in bear country, then you don’t have anything to be afraid of. At most, there are only a few raccoons here and there and they won’t harm you.

Make sure your tent and rain fly are staked down really well.

One thing that has given me many a sleepless night has been a flapping rain fly that the wind keeps whipping about. It can really drive you nuts. Stake it all down tightly, and you reduce the chance of this happening.

Check your sleeping bag and tent before you get in.

Make sure no spiders or other tickly critters made their way into your tent. I’ve never had this happen, but it will give you peace of mind. Then make sure your tent’s zippers are all closed tightly when you’re ready to go to bed. You won’t have to worry about a big spider (or whatever bug related fears you may have) attacking you in your sleep.

Do not put your head close to the tent wall.

Condensation can accumulate on the wall and you might get a tiny bit wet. It won’t be too bad–only a few drops–but still, it can disrupt a good night’s sleep. Condensation doesn’t mean your tent is leaking, it just means the laws of physics still apply.

Pick even ground for your tent and remove any rocks underneath.

Get a lot of physical activity during the day.

Remind yourself when climbing up a steep hill–the more I do, the more tired I will be and the easier it will be to sleep!

Take my advice for middle-of-the-night restroom runs.

Don’t go camping during rainy or extremely cold weather.

A drizzle here and there is okay, but a lot of rain can ruin your trip and prevent you from sleeping.

Bring ear plugs.

“For when a family of 6 pulls up right next to your campsite at 8:30 pm right after you got your baby to sleep and she’s up for the next 2 hours because they want to blast the radio,” my sis-in-law adds. (Why do people do that?!)

Extra Tips for Backpacking Trip Nights

Backpacking through the wilderness to your camp site (as opposed to driving up to it) means you can’t take an air mattress or cot, but it does mean you are so tired you won’t care what’s on the ground as long as you get to lay down!

Pack a Thermarest.

If you want to sleep well when camping, never go anywhere without your Thermarest. It’s a thin inflatable mattress that is ultra-light. (Amazon link to the one I have here.)

  • Don’t buy a 3/4 length one. Backpacking stores might try to sell you this because it is weighs less than a full size thermarest. However warning, you will feel like your feet are hanging off the bed all night long and I found it very uncomfortable.
  • Get one with a soft fabric-like surface. Some are made with a slick rayon-like surface and I DON’T recommend these. They will make a “swish! swish!” noise every time you move a muscle and it is so obnoxious. It’s worth going to the backpacking store and looking at them in person.

Invest in an inflatable pillow.

Therm-a-rest Inflating Camping Pillow. (<– Amazon link.)

Many backpackers prefer to just roll up a jacket and use that as their pillow, but I personally like having a legit pillow to rest my head on. It won’t come unrolled in the middle of the night like a jacket does and it feels fresher and cleaner than the jacket I’ve been wearing all day.

 

Get a backpacking tent that has room near your head.

Backpacking tents are smaller than regular car camping tents because you have to carry them down a trail. Some backpacking tents have the peak in the middle, like over your waist when you’re laying down, but you want one that has the highest point of the ceiling over your head. This will allow you to sit up in bed, change easier, and prevent your head from hitting the tent wall in the middle of the night.

Hope this helps! If you have any tips feel free to share them in the comments.

PS. Don’t forget to bring a bed for your dog! 🙂

3 Hiking Shoes Perfect for Girl Hikers

SHOES. One of my favorite topics. (And literature, world affairs, and politics, of course.) One of the most common questions I get from girls who hike is what hiking shoes I recommend. The world of outdoor shoes is vast, and it’s hard to tell online or after 15 minutes in a store what will be comfortable over miles and miles of trail.

But this list is pretty bulletproof. I have tested these shoes and feel very confident recommending them to you! I own two of these and my mother owns the other, which I proceed to steal from her whenever I get the chance.

FYI my post How To Pick the Perfect Hiking Shoes is a helpful guide for sizing and selection.

Merrell Siren Sport Waterproof

Perfect for: day hikes

I love these Merrell’s so very much. They’ve seen me through a month backpacking through Europe and a week hiking in the Canadian Rockies, and many mountain and trail adventures that followed, and I’ve never been uncomfortable in them. The sole is very sturdy and has lasted for ages.

 

Merrell Siren Sport, Amazon.com (several colors available)

Waterproof version: Merrell Siren Sport Waterproof (<– Recommended for longer hikes/backpacking trips)

Salomon Ellipse GTX

Perfect for: day hikes

This is another one of my favorites. Holly wore these here, hiking in Peru. They are waterproof.

Salomon Ellipse GTX, Amazon.com

Another great Salomon option: X Ultra 2, Amazon.com

Lowa Renegate GTX

Perfect for: longer day hikes (over 5 miles), backpacking

These are my latest favorite purchase and they come in about 99 different colors, so it was hard to choose. (But those who know me well will not be surprised to learn I ended up with purple.) They are SO comfortable, I wore them all over the eastern Sierra mountains this summer backpacking with my brother and husband. My feet couldn’t have been happier, despite the long days and rocky terrain.

Lowa Renegade GTX Hiking Boot, Amazon.com

(A larger color selection can be found on their website.)

Highly recommend!!

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12 Beauty Products I Always Take Camping

One of the biggest misconceptions about women who like the outdoors is that we aren’t the “girly type.” I find that pretty amusing because most of the outdoorswomen I know wear make up on a regular basis (even if it’s minimal) and are just as in to fashion as their non-outdoorsy friends. Sure, there are women who don’t do those things. More power to them…I wish I looked that good naturally! But I can’t seem to shake my need for looking and feeling presentable even if I’m in the middle of nowhere.

Below I’ve listed some tips for how to look fresh while staying in the wild outdoors. This list is created with day hikes, overnight camp outs, and backpacking in the wilderness in mind.

Let me know if you have any tips others should hear about!

Skincare

  • Facial Wipes

Often campsites don’t have hot water, so washing your face is painfully uncomfortable. That is why I bring these fabulous Yes to Cucumber face wipes.

Yes to Cucumber Facial Towlettes

With these I can clean my face in my tent without having to go to the campsite bathroom or fetch water from the creek when backpacking. Plus after a long day of wearing sunscreen, it’s nice to freshen up with these when we get back to the campsite.

Also, you don’t have to pack an extra towel to dry your face, which makes life easier!

  • Tinted Moisturizer

This is a great time to use tinted moisturizer, since you won’t necessarily be going the full-on foundation route but will want some color. I love Oil of Olay because it has built in SPF.

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Oil of Olay Total Effects Tone Correcting Moisturizer

  • Lotion

Unless you’re camping somewhere humid (and if so, bless your heart) your skin is going to get drier than it does in the city. I definitely recommend bringing a small bottle of lotion.

Aveeno Daily Moisturizer

  • Vaseline

Not only is air in the wilderness often dry but it’s often windy, and Vaseline is my favorite for protecting your lips from the elements.

Vaseline Petroleum Jelly

  • Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm

This is natural looking color I love!

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Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm

Make Up

  • Small Mirror

The first thing I would pack in your bag is your own mirror.

  • Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion – tinted

I’m a huge fan of this stuff and wear it every day, whether I’m doing eyeshadow or not. It makes your skin tone around your eyes look a lot more even, and it doesn’t require precision, which is nice when you’re doing your makeup in your tent. When I’m camping I usually just use this by itself or with a light eye shadow on top.

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Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion

  • Light colored shadow

Applied evenly across your lids

Other essentials:

  • Mascara
  • Eyebrow brush so your eyebrows don’t look like they’ve spent all night in a sleeping bag! 🙂

Other Toiletries/Cosmetics to Pack

Aside from the usual toothbrush/toothpaste and other basic items I recommend packing:

  • Fingernail clippers
  • Tweezers – for removing splinters or thorns
  • Purell
  • Hand soap – there is no hand soap at most camp site restrooms
  • Hand towel – I would take a small hand towel that is saved exclusively for your makeup/skincare needs
  • Dry shampoo

I prefer to keep my time in the communal restroom to a minimum, so I do as much of this regime as possible at my camp site.

One note: if you’re traveling in bear country these items all need to go in your bear canister. Bears are attracted to the oil and scent in these products.

Hope this helps you feel a tad more glamorous on your next camp out! These products are also great for day hikes. Enjoy!

beauty-products

Affiliate links used

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Sunrise in the Sierra Mountains

One of the most majestic sights to see in the Sierra mountains will always be a sunrise or sunset. I’ve never seen another mountain range that is as filled with light as the Sierra, and it’s no wonder that when the writer and hiker John Muir called it “the Range of Light”, the term stuck.

{See A Guide to my Favorite Trail in the Sierra to plan your own trip.}

“The mighty Sierra…it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city….”

— John Muir, The Yosemite

On our recent backpacking trip (post here) my brother hung himself out of the tent one morning and captured these images, all while still tucked comfortably in his sleeping bag.

Like the good outdoor blogger I am, I was sound asleep. Thank goodness this blog doesn’t depend on me.

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The sunrise show is about to begin…

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A trickle of light comes over the neighboring peaks…

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A trickle more. All the heart eyes emojis here.

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This color! Over the course of the night, the wind had died down and the waters turned into glass.

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“And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.”

— John Muir

I still pinch myself that this was real. Add this to your outdoor bucket list and when you get there, be sure you are awake for the sunrise. Obviously, it’s worth it.

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A Guide to my Favorite Trail in the Sierra

If you are going to go on one backpacking trip in your life, might I suggest the following trail. As I said in my post yesterday, it is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done.

Yesterday I shared a synopsis of our adventure, which you can read here. Today’s post is the guidebook for this trail. Happy hiking ladies!

PS. See the end of this post for a convenient day hike option within this route.

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First and foremost, where is the Sierra?

I’ve gotten this question a lot since coming home. West of the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada is a mountain range that runs near California’s eastern border. You may have heard of the Sierra Nevada in Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, or you may have heard of Yosemite National Park, which is in the Sierra.

By the way, the correct term is “The Sierra”, NOT “The Sierras”—as I was corrected. 

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Reasons We Loved This Route

  • It’s a loop: you never see the same scenery twice
  • Some of the most beautiful countryside we’ve ever seen; waterfalls, more lakes, cliffsides, vistas, you name it.
  • Campsites were flat and picturesque
  • Third day was nearly all downhill

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*Important Note*

A permit is required to stay overnight. You must get online far in advance to get a permit so if you’re interested in doing this trail, reserve as far as 6 months in advance. (Instructions later in this post.)

Where This Route is Located

In the Ansel Adams Wilderness area, inside the Inyo National Forest. Wilderness areas are designated within public lands and are differentiated by their more stringent rules against vehicles, construction, roads, or anything else that causes great disturbance.

How to Get Here from Texas

Fly into Los Angeles and connect to Mammoth Lakes, CA. Alternatively, fly directly into Reno and drive or take the shuttle to Mammoth Lakes.

I suggest flying into Reno and driving/shuttling to Mammoth. Then, after your backpacking trip, spend a few days at Lake Tahoe and fly back out of Reno. The Tahoe area is beautiful and will give you more time in the mountains. Another great option would be to stay in one of the lodges in Yosemite National Park.

My family has always enjoyed having comfortable accommodations after a strenuous backpacking trip, to give ourselves a rest and get to spend more time in the mountains before getting back to the real world.

From Reno, Mammoth is a 3 hour drive.

  • See flight schedules from LAX to Mammoth here
  • Southwest flies directly into Reno
  • Shuttle schedule here

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Time of Year to Go

  • Mid-June to mid-September.

Important note: mosquitoes are bad late June/early July.

We went the first week in August and it was perfect. The flowers were in bloom and the weather was spectacular.

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Suggested Itinerary

Day 1 – Prep Day

Allow a day to get settled in the area, sight see in nearby Yosemite National Park, and get any last minute supplies at one of the many outdoor supply shops in town. Camp that night by Lake Mary.

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Day 2 – Start the Trail

  • Park in the lot by the Mammoth Mountain Lodge
  • Hop on the Reds Meadow/Devil’s Postpile shuttle that picks up there. Enjoy the most thrilling bus ride you’ve ever been on! It’s on the edge of a steep cliff and has excellent views.
    • Shuttle tickets are $7 per person
    • Get off at the Agnew Meadows Trailhead stop. From there you can access the Shadow Creek Trail and make one last bathroom stop.
    • Pro tip: You will be coming right back to this same place when you finish your hike, since the loop ends here. I recommend storing some special celebratory treat like Oreos or sodas in a sack in the bear proof bins here. It’s unlikely someone will take it, and you won’t have to carry it on the trail, and it will be a nice reward for when you finish!
  • 10:00 am – Aim to get started on the trail by this time.
  • 7 or so miles to Ediza Lake, roughly 1,000+ ft elevation gain (though my FitBit said more like 10 miles)
  • Camp that night in the meadow by at Ediza Lake (note camping is restricted to the far side of the lake)
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The start of something great!
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Our campsite at Ediza Lake

Day 3

  • Early start recommended for cool weather and plenty of time to explore the lake where you’ll be camping this night (8:30 am should be fine)
  • Roughly 8 miles to Thousand Island Lake
  • You will pass several lakes, Garnet Lake being one of the most spectacular
  • Camp that night beside Thousand Island Lake. Campsites are scattered around the lake, and I recommend finding one out of the wind so you can cook your dinner. There are hundreds of large boulders around the lake and plenty of flat, quiet and private campsites tucked in beside them.
  • Best time of day to photograph Thousand Island Lake is definitely early morning! Set your alarm and go down by the lake, and document the glass like water, pure reflection of the mountain, and rays if the sunrise dancing on Banner Peak. It’s a sight not to miss and definitely worth waking up early for.
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Trail to Thousand Island Lake
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Garnet Lake (one of the prettiest stretches)
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Mountain views on the way to Thousand Island Lake

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Day 4 – Last Day!

This is the day you will hike the iconic Pacific Crest Trail. 🙂

  • Early start recommended (8:30 am) — the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be back to your car and on your way to a hot meal.
  • This is the best of all the days, because it is almost all downhill.
  • As you follow the trail down the alpine meadow, keep an eye out to your right. You will be able to see Shadow Lake, where you hiked the first day, on the other side of the valley from you.

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Campsites

There are no assigned campsites, only designated camping areas at the lakes.

How to Know Where to Pitch Your Tent

Look for the flattest, smoothest surface you can find that is out of the wind. If it looks like there’s an area people will be using to collect water, don’t camp in the way of everyone’s route there.

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Map

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Purchase a map of this area before starting the trail here.

Brian at the blog CaliTrails.com let me borrow this map. He has an incredible post about this trail which you can see here. (The only difference is that we didn’t continue on past Ediza Lake, so you can ignore the red squiggly line that goes southwest from Ediza Lake.)

Distance

  • Roughly 24 miles
  • 2,000+ feet elevation gain (see a topographic map for specifics)

Difficulty

I will confess, it was a grueling trek. I stopped to catch my breath quite a bit and I was tired at the end of each day. There were a few points when I may or may not have asked, “Are we there yet?”

That said, I did it. And I still enjoyed myself immensely.

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How to Acquire a Permit

This trail is wildly popular so be ready to get online 6 months before your start date to request a permit.

Make a morning coffee date with the online reservation system.

How to Book Online

  1. Visit www.recreation.gov.
  2. Search “Inyo National Forest wilderness permits.”
  3. Select your dates, party size, and trail. For this, select Shadow Creek Trail. See screenshots below.
  4. Pick up your permit at one of the four ranger offices listed on this website: Inyo National Forest Permit Pickup

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How to Get a Permit in Person

60% of the available permits are reserved for those who book online (above), and 40% of permits are reserved for walk-ins.

The in person pickup process is so much of a circus that would be amusing, if not so stressful. Bear with me.

  1. On the day before you’re set to hike, get to one of the ranger offices listed on this page: Inyo National Forest Permit Pickup Locations NO LATER THAN 10:00 AM. THE EARLIER YOU CAN GET HERE THE BETTER. At some unknown point before 11am, they start passing around a sheet of computer paper on which everyone wanting a permit writes their names, time of arrival, permit requested, and number of people. You want to be as high up on this list as possible because this is the order in which they distribute the remaining walk-in permits.
  2. They begin issuing walk-in permits at 11am, and you must be standing within earshot to hear your name being called. There is no microphone and if you’re in the bathroom, you will miss it.
  3. When they call your name, you go up to the ranger desk and tell the ranger which trail you want, and he sees if there are any permits left.
  4. The ranger is pulling your permit from the same database the other ranger offices are using, so you just have to pray that Joe Blow at the other ranger office doesn’t get it before you.
  5. NOTE: You can NOT have a permit to two trails at once. This means that if you have pulled a permit for a “Plan B” trail, but attempt to get a walk in permit to this trail (your Plan A), the ranger will have to cancel your Plan B permit before issuing your Plan A permit–during which time beads of sweat will form on your upper lip as you hope no one at another ranger office is taking your permit while he does this. (Can you tell I don’t do well with last minute plans?) That said, I definitely would have a Plan B because you’ve come all this way and what are you going to do?

If you haven’t already noticed, I find this to be a nerve-wracking option. And I speak from personal experience–this is what we did. HOWEVER, I am really glad we did at least try because we got the permit, dang it, and I was able to go on the hike of a lifetime. 🙂

Weather

Typically 70’s during the day, 30’s and 40’s at night.

As a Texan, you will notice the chill at night, so bring a down jacket and a warm vest. I also recommend a hat, long underwear, and gloves.

Food and Water

We cooked everything with my brother’s small backpacking stove. The following is a great set to get you started: Pocket Rocket Stove Kit, REI.com.

Our menu:

  • Breakfast: hot oatmeal, Starbucks Via coffee (<–these can be easily prepped by boiling water from the lakes)
  • Snacks: Lara Bars, Clif Bars, and Luna Bars
  • Lunch: summer sausage and cheese in tortillas
  • Dinner: mac and cheese, freeze dried meals (you can find these at REI and outdoor supply stores)

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(This beef stroganoff is the best!)

Water

Assume 2 liters of water per person per day.

We each carried two 1-quart Nalgene bottles of water every day, and refilled them in the evenings at the lakes and then again in the morning for the rest of the day.

Water needs to be purified even if you’re drinking it out of a clear mountain lake, and we used chlorine drops like the following: Aquamira water treatment drops, REI.com.

Some people use pumps and filters, but these drops are lighter and work fine for this trail, where the water is not murky.

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Justin collecting water

General Pointers for this Trail

  • It’s bear country, so all your food and oil based cosmetics such as sunscreen, lotion, and chap stick MUST go in a bear proof container such as the following: BearVault, REI.com.
  • I recommend a prep day as mentioned above
  • Plan to eat out the first night you’re back to civilization!
  • Don’t waste valuable packing space on extra clothing. One set will be fine.
  • Bring trekking poles such as the following: Traverse Trekking Poles, REI.com
  • Bring a camera with a big SD card. You will be taking pictures right and left, the scenery is so breathtaking.
  • When allowing people to pass you on the trail, be cautious that you don’t get pushed off the side of the hill. This may sound silly or obvious, but I nearly got knocked over by a group of haughty college guys.
  • Take your time, take breaks when you need to, and catch your breath. Starting early in the morning will give you plenty of time to go the distance while still taking plenty of breathers.
  • Stretch each night
  • Enjoy and explore the land around your camp site!
  • Do not pour soap or waste into the lakes

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Book to Read in Preparation

  • Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild is about her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, which you will cover on this route. It’s also a movie with Reese Withserspoon. (Read my review of Wild here.)

*Day Hike Option*

Camp at Lake Mary and take a day hike up to Shadow Lake. Stop and have lunch before returning home. This would be a spectacular and full day!

I hope you all make it here some time in your life and get to experience the adventure we loved so much. This trail opened up a new love of the Sierra mountains in me and I hope to go again sometime soon.

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A Backpacking Trip Like No Other

The most beautiful and awe-inspiring places are, without fail, the hardest to write about on this blog. Nothing I say can do them justice. I end up sputtering out phrases like “it was so incredible!!” and hoping the pictures will tell you everything else.

So here goes—this week I’m sharing the “epic” “stunning” “gorgeous” and “incredible” trail I recently hiked in the Sierra Nevada, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Today’s post is about the adventure, and tomorrow’s post is all about guidance for your own hike there.

Update: guidancce post is live! Click here: A Guide to My Favorite Trail in the Sierra

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I’m blessed with a brother that loves the outdoors even more than me. He hikes, rock climbs, ice climbs, and scrambles over precipices from here to the Western seaboard, and is gone so much he’s hard to keep up with. He owns at least 3 of everything a person needs to go backpacking, and stuffed away in his noggin between baseball stats and economics data lies a decent knowledge of the Sierra Nevada.

 

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So, when I told him Brandon and I wanted to go backpacking, he not only acquiesced but took up the chore of researching trails and coming up with a game plan. He was essentially our mail order guide, though slightly peskier.

(Justin and my previous backpacking trip together, over 15 years ago, bordered on complete failure. We hiked into the remote reaches of Rocky Mountain National Park with our mother and a bunch of rented equipment from REI, only to find that it was going to rain for three days straight and the tent would leak. Our mother laid awake every night listening for bears, since due to weather we were forced to eat summer sausage in the tent. Good times.)

This was Brandon’s first backpacking excursion ever, and with no idea how he would react, I was crossing my fingers for perfect conditions—weather wise, elevation-wise, and distance-wise. I wanted him to have fun, of course, but I also hoped that at very least he wouldn’t be completely miserable. I made sure we had new hiking shoes, some new gear (I may have used this as an excuse to get a few new things, no big deal), and helped us get as prepared as possible. All summer, Brandon would load my pack up with physics textbooks and carry it on our walks around the neighborhood. We were a sight to behold.

The trail we hiked started in Mammoth Lakes, California, a cute mountain town. One of the great decisions we made was to get there a day early and stay at one of the many drive-up campsites around Lake Mary and Lake George.

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This allowed us time to get organized, sight see in nearby Yosemite National Park, and say our final goodbyes to flushing toilets. (Tear.)

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I would recommend these campsites if you’re with young kids or not up for a big backpacking excursion! The scenery rocks and the campsites are tidy (thanks in part to the chipmunk cleanup crew), and there are dozens of gorgeous trails in the area. See tomorrow’s post for a day hike suggestion.

Our trail was 21 miles long in total, with about 1,000 feet elevation gain each day (with the exception of the third day). We planned to hike about 6-7 miles each day, with the final day leading us back to the car. The trail was a loop, as opposed to out and back, so we never hiked the same part of the trail twice.

The morning of our hike, a funny thing happened. Each of us emerged from our tents wearing orange! It looked completely planned, though it was not.

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Go Team Orange!

Given that the trail we were hiking was located in a wilderness named after the most famous landscape photographer of all time, Ansel Adams, I had expected great things. I also knew that the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the more famous trails in America, would be part of our hike and that our particular route was so popular that we couldn’t get advance reservations.

But despite all of that, I was so unprepared for the beauty that lay before us.

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Within the first half a mile: this view.

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Within the next two miles: this view.

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Over the next few miles, constant views of a gushing waterfall as we approached Shadow Lake.

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The reward at the end of the next steep incline: the beautiful Shadow Lake.

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Resting at Shadow Lake

One amazing sight after another–and so it went for three days.

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So many trails in this world require you hike for miles and miles through the woods just to enjoy one or two beautiful sights. On this trail, we barely had to go a mile before we were treated to something new.

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The first night, we camped beside Ediza Lake, a glacial lake surrounded by peaks called The Minarets.

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I had a lot of fun that night leading the guys in a yoga session (I NEVER thought they would go for that…but they did), inventing a story for them about how Ediza Lake got it’s name, and singing old camp songs. I’m sure if I hadn’t been there they may have enjoyed the peace and quiet of the wilderness a little more.

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Just after the sun set, Justin and I climbed up a nearby rock for a view of the lake at twilight.

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(One of his pieces of backpacking advice is to explore the area around your campsite.)

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Brandon did not join us. We had climbed over 1,000 feet in elevation that day, and he was out like a light. In our relationship, he’s typically the responsible one, but this time we had a little bit of a role reversal as I set up the tent and took care of unpacking our things.

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Hehehe.

The following day was as gorgeous as the day before. It was this day we were treated to one of the most beautiful parts of our hike—a downhill traverse with panoramic views of Garnet Lake.

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It was all I could do not to fall flat on my face while trying to hike and enjoy the view at the same time.

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That night, we camped by Thousand Island Lake. It was even grander than Ediza Lake, and I felt like I was walking through an Ansel Adams photograph.

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Named for the rock outcroppings which dot its surface, Thousand Island is framed by two huge peaks—Banner Peak and Ritter Peak—and rimmed with massive boulders smoothed by ages of wind, snow, and rain.

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We camped on a flat rock outcropping with a view of Banner Peak. I look at this picture and still can’t believe this was our campsite!

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Our third and final day on the trail was perhaps my favorite—it was downhill (amen) through a flowered meadow, with panoramic views of the Sierra mountains all around. We could see Shadow Lake in the distance.

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We could feel the pizza and hamburgers we’d been fantasizing about getting closer and closer with every step.

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On the trail you have ample time to think, and often your thoughts circulate around what you would eat if you were back in civilization. We all agreed there was only one thing we needed:

Not to just eat pizza, but to eat pizza while sitting in a hot tub.

(On your next backpacking trip, tell me if that’s not what you dream about too.)

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As we were coming down off of the trail, we passed a surprising number of women and couples heading on up the trail the other way. I loved seeing all those women taking on the trail!

My brother, who has seen lots of countryside in his day and climbed more peaks in the lower 48 than I can count, said that this trail was the most beautiful one he had ever seen. A lot more subtle and soft spoken than I am, my brother is not one for hyperboles so I take his statement to heart.

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Even Brandon, who by the end of each day was face down in a pillow, said this trail will be hard to top.

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I’ve decided that with hiking, there’s a ratio of effort to beauty, and that ratio determines if you’ll enjoy it in the end. This trail was high on the effort side of the scale, but the beauty far outweighed the effort.

Oh and by the way, we did make it to that hot tub.

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Hallelujah!

A huge shout out to my brother for planning the trip, equipping us, putting up with my jokes, and stretching his hamstrings during yoga. He even hiked a portion of the trail the week before we arrived to make sure it was good enough. Justin officially receives a Whit’s Wilderness Gold Star for Service to the Blog.

Tomorrow: guidance on how to hike this very route!

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