Trip Report: California’s Mt. Whitney

It was Friday and the end of a busy week when I decided I needed some Sierra therapy. On a whim, I went home after work and packed my stuff to head up the 395 North. Without campsite reservations, I was taking a chance, but I figured that the worst that could happen would be that I’d end up forking over some money for a last minute hotel or sleeping in my car at a campground or trailhead.

I drove to one of my favorite campgrounds in the Sierra, the Cottonwood Lakes Campground at Horseshoe Meadow, and lucked into a walk-in campsite.

The next morning, I woke up, unzipped the door of my tent and immediately recognized two of my friends sitting at a table enjoying breakfast. They were just as surprised to see me as I was them. They were hiking Mt. Whitney the next day and invited me to join them since they had an extra permit.

Why not?

We relocated to Whitney Portal Campground from Horseshoe Meadow (it was more convenient to start closer to the trailhead), and I went to bed before dark. But I didn’t get much sleep because of all the noise and rambunctious kids running around.

At 1:30 the next morning, my boots and me hit the trail. It was a later start than I wanted. I usually prefer to start this trek at midnight to give myself ample time to complete it at a decent hour. The first time I conquered Whitney, it took me 22 hours to do the whole hike. The hike is 22 miles round trip with over 6,000 feet of elevation gain and I try to maintain a steady pace of at least one mile per hour. I knew I was going to be pushing it by getting started so late.

I originally wrote this article for the Oboz Footwear Trail Tales Ambassador blog. Read the conclusion of this serendipitous story here: http://obozfootwear.com/trail-tales/trip-report-californias-mt-whitney

It’s OK to Date a Girl Who Climbs Mountains

When most people see me, they view me as someone who has my head in the clouds. Most of my posts on social media feature breathtaking scenery of outdoors adventures and, yes, of course, mountains. Like most people, and not just women in particular, I can’t explain what it is about mountains and adventure that keeps me coming back for more.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I don’t like crowds and enjoy going to places where (for the most part) I don’t have to deal with them. Or maybe it’s because the once sheltered little girl in me has finally realized that the roof has come off and she’s free to fly wherever the wind takes her. Maybe I just love the idea of exploration and taking pictures of pretty things to quench my insatiable longing for something more out of life. Maybe I just feel most beautiful when I’m standing among the trees, rocks, creeks, crags and hills. There is no way to pinpoint any one reason.

One thing I know for sure is that what John Muir said about climbing the mountains to get their good tidings is absolutely true. There are plenty of good tidings to be received in the mountains, and those tidings should be shared with someone special. It’s just that many of us women who fancy ourselves as climbers aren’t viewed as date-worthy or marriage-worthy material. While we may in fact be considered crush-worthy, there’s just something about us that keeps potential suitors at bay. We find ourselves caught in this weird conundrum where we are viewed as both too much and not enough.

In this sense, we are too much because we can go out into the wilderness for days and take care of our needs for survival. We can be totally okay whether we’re alone on the trail or with others. We’re too much because you can always find us standing on top of another high peak looking large and in charge, having conquered the greatest mountain of all: ourselves. We’re too much because we can fall multiple times, scrape our knees, get a black eye (which happened to me once), get back up, dust ourselves off and keep trekking. In the sense of being not enough, we’re not enough in that we aren’t needy enough or vulnerable enough. We’re not pretty enough or tall enough or skinny enough. We’re basically just not good enough.

Two years ago, I went on a backpacking trip with a group of men. I had only met two of those men in previous encounters but I still didn’t know them very well. I wanted to do this trip because I knew it would be a great adventure on a very scenic portion of the John Muir Trail and it would challenge me to bring my hiking to a higher level. I had never backpacked before this trip, so I did all that I could to research ahead of time, yet I also went prepared to learn some things by trial and error as I went along with it. I knew it wouldn’t be a cake walk, but I was up for the challenge.

Things didn’t go perfectly as there were some hiccups along the way. There were also places where I had to really pray and seek direction to discern which way to go. On the first day of the trek, I fell way behind from the group and ended up hiking solo. I thought I would eventually catch up to them at the first camping spot before sunset, but became very concerned as I noticed it getting darker and there was no sign of any of the guys. Just as I began to panic, I saw one of them hiking down the trail toward me. He said he was getting tired and had to slow down, so he turned around to check on me. This was one of the guys I had never met before the trip. I encouraged him to have a snack and rest for a bit.

It was getting dark fast and we knew we’d have to make a decision soon. We never caught up to the rest of the guys that evening, so we decided to stop and set up camp just off the trail. On the other side of the trail was a small open space with the remnants of a fire pit and the creek flowed nearby so we had access to water. Together, we set up our tents and later built a campfire for warmth while preparing dinner in his Jet Boil. I brought my own but left it at the trailhead in my car to save weight as my pack already weighed 40 pounds. I cringe to think of what would have happened had no one come back for me.

Many of my friends have had similar experiences on the trails and find themselves in the same boat, feeling like they are too much and yet not enough. Whatever that invisible wall is that’s causing so many of us to not connect needs to come down. Yes, we love the outdoors. Yes, we are adventurers who believe we can succeed at whatever we set our minds to. Yes, we love climbing big mountains. Yes, we can trek along in the wilderness for five days or more carrying our homes on our backs. Yes, we are pretty darn fierce.

Yet, we’re the ones who know how to live happily with plenty and with little. We delight in the simple things in life. You don’t have to go out and buy us a $50 bouquet. A wildflower that you picked out of the ground means just as much, if not more. We love just as fiercely as we pursue the trails we venture onto. We never give up on our mountains. We will never give up on you.

It’s okay to date a girl who climbs mountains.

~J

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

I posted a silly picture on Instagram that was taken when my friends and I were grocery shopping during our weekend getaway in Mammoth. In the produce section, I noticed a bright yellow sign in front of the bananas that said, “Pick me I’m single.” Being the creative person that I am, I came up with this crazy idea of posing in front of the sign as if it were a dating ad. It was all fun and games and my friends tend to bring that out in me. We even had the produce attendant cracking up as the silliness was contagious.

Shortly after we left that section, I went to grab a couple of 1-gallon jugs of water. Of course, the ones I wanted were on the top shelf. Not only that, they were at the very back of the top shelf. I was able to grab one jug, but struggled with the second one for about a minute. I was determined to get that jug of water and was about to climb on the shelf (I like climbing stuff) when I felt someone behind me. My normal reaction is to move away because of personal space preferences, but this time, I stood my ground.

Next, I heard a man’s voice asking if I needed help, so I turned around and sheepishly said yes. The man reached up and grabbed the jug with no problem at all and I thanked him for the assistance. Normally, I would have just said I was okay and didn’t need any help, even though I clearly did. I let myself be vulnerable for once and it was all good.

People often ask where all the “cowboys” have gone and I am guilty of having posed that question myself. The reality is that they haven’t gone anywhere. They are all around us. We just have to open our eyes and hearts to appreciate the decency of a kind gesture. I’m learning and growing. In the words of Steve Harvey, “God ain’t through with me yet!”

Check back for more tales from my weekend in Mammoth including a walk through a tufa wonderland, my battle with AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and a journey into a volcanic crater!

Happy trails!

~J

Mid-Week Wanderlust: Corral Canyon and Jim Morrison’s Cave

We had seen the incredible rock formations along the Backbone Trail during last year’s 67-mile section series. This time, we made it a point to go and explore Corral Canyon in Malibu and take a side trip to the Jim Morrison cave. We had the perfect weather; it was neither too hot or cold. Of course, you don’t want to be on those rocks on a hot day as the heat reflects off the rocks and makes it miserable. We had a small group and that made it easy for us to stay together and take time to help each other up and down the rocks. There were some additional rock formations we spotted from afar that we will go and explore on a future adventure.

Sensational Santa Barbara Series: Gaviota Wind Caves

In Part 2 of our Sensational Santa Barbara Series, we once again went to Gaviota State Park just north of Santa Barbara, CA to explore the Gaviota Wind Caves. The caves are located on the western half of the park and we did our hike as a one-way car shuttle to shave off some mileage and elevation gain. To reach our destination, we hiked on a variety of trails including the Yucca Trail, Hollister Trail, Beach to Backcountry Trail, Woodland Trail, Trespass Trail and Tunnel View Trail. At just over 7 miles and a mere 1,000 feet of elevation gain, we had ourselves quite an adventure and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

Sensational Santa Barbara Series ~ Gaviota Peak and Hot Springs

We’re teaming up with the Calabasas Day Hikers to do a new series of hikes in the Santa Barbara coastal range. In this first hike of the series, we took the longer, scenic route to Gaviota Peak and Gaviota Hot Springs. Our hike leader, Paul Taylor, led us up to two lookout points which provided incredible sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

After that, we took a steep, rocky trail up past a cool cave and then on to Gaviota Peak where we enjoyed a lunch and some more views. Our last stop of the day was Gaviota Hot Springs where we soaked our tired feet. It was an excellent way to cap off a spectacular day of adventure. Can’t wait for the next hike in the series coming up in two weeks!

Hiking the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge

The Goat Canyon Trestle bridge, located in Carrizo Gorge near Jacumba, CA is the largest curved wooden trestle bridge in the world. We started our hike at the trailhead off the dirt road next to the De Anza Springs (clothing optional) resort. The hike was on a relatively flat trail that followed a railroad track all the way to the bridge. A few people in our group rode their bikes while the rest of us hiked. This was a 16-mile out and back trail in a remote location and it is not recommended to hike or bike alone. Round up a few friends, go out there and have a fabulous time on this epic adventure!