On the Road with Desert Dog

On Thanksgiving weekend, my boyfriend Bill and I took Cody on his first ever camping trip. From the moment we started packing up the car the night before, Cody was filled to the brim with excitement over what his new adventure had in store. He had no idea where we were going, but he knew we were going somewhere, and that was all it took. The next day, we were off to Death Valley for a weekend of camping and hiking with friends. Although this wasn’t my first visit to Death Valley, each experience is unique and special, and I was happy to share this one with Bill and Cody.

We weren’t sure how Cody was going to do on his first road trip, so Bill covered up the two large ice chests on the back seat with a comfy towel so he could relax and still be able to see the open road in front of us. First, he wanted to sit on my lap, but Bill nudged him to the back seat and he laid down on his towel. He looked so cute on his makeshift bed.

Death Valley is quite a drive from Long Beach. We decided to take the scenic route and drove in via the 190 from Olancha in the Eastern Sierra. It was a bit of a longer way in for us, but being that it was the more scenic route, we didn’t mind the extra time on the road. Plus, we got to see some of our beloved Eastern Sierra.

Upon our entrance into Death Valley, we stopped at our first vista point, Father Crowley Overlook. Bill, Cody and I got out to take a look and were instantly captivated by the majestic sight before us. I thought it looked like a mini grand canyon. Little did I know, we would see other places in Death Valley that were even more similar to the Grand Canyon. Cody was just as excited as Bill and I were.

Death Valley is on record as the hottest, driest and lowest place on Earth. The hottest rating doesn’t apply in November, though. However, the climate is so arid that it’s very important to stay hydrated, even if the cooler temperatures don’t make you “feel” thirsty. Bill and I made sure to bring plenty of water for ourselves and for little Cody.

I had been using this new Bubi Bottle and Bowl on some of my walks around town with Cody and was anxious to use them at Death Valley. Made from BPA Free Silicone, the Bubi bottle is ideal for kids, pets, work, travel, sports and adventures of all sorts. It was the perfect gear combo for our trip to Death Valley.

I’m so used to carrying plastic bottles of water on my adventures and they get to be pretty cumbersome after a while. When I’m out on the hiking trails, especially when doing long distance hikes, I drink a lot of water, and water sources along the trail are not always available. Carrying back empty bottles are quite a pain. Hydration bladders are more convenient, but they are hard to clean, as are the plastic 1-liter bottles. The Bubi Bottle is so soft and flexible that it can be cleaned inside-out.

When Cody and I took a break, I pulled out the Bubi Bottle and had a drink for myself, then attached his bowl to the top, unscrewed it and poured him some water. He gladly drank it as he was super thirsty from being exposed to such a dry climate. He loves his bowl so much. It wasn’t super warm or cold during the day, so we were fine drinking the water at air temperature. Since it cooled down overnight, the water had enough of a chill to keep us refreshed.

After we downed all the water, I scrunched the Bubi Bottle down, collapsed Cody’s cute little matching bowl and stuffed them into Bill’s pack. Even when the bottle was completely full, nothing spilled or leaked into the pack. The Bubi Bottle’s puncture-resistance withstood the beating that we gave it. I’m looking forward to using this bottle and bowl on future adventures. It’s so lightweight and portable that sometimes I forget I’m carrying it…until it’s time for a drink of water.

Cody enjoyed his first road trip/camping trip. There were so many sights and smells that he loved to explore and we had fun watching him. The smiles on his face were priceless. Cody did have a little scare the last night of our camping trip. He was sitting with Bill on a picnic bench near the campfire and a coyote approached. Neither of us saw it, but Cody did, and he freaked out and tried to go after it. Cody is a little dog, but very strong. It took Bill quite a bit of effort to restrain him. Thankfully, the coyote ran off into the night and we were all able to breathe a sigh of relief, but we remained on alert the rest of our time there.

On the drive home, we took a different route than the way we came in and stopped at the Trona Pinnacles, an area that sparked my curiosity a few years ago when passing through on the way to Death Valley. The Trona Pinnacles consist of an area of tufa formations, similar to those at Mono Lake near Mammoth Lakes, CA.

You have to drive five miles on a fairly well-graded dirt road to get to the Pinnacles. Then you arrive at the official entrance. Beyond that, you can drive in a loop around the Pinnacles or take the hiking trail and walk among them. There is a map posted at the entrance so you can easily familiarize yourself with the layout.

Bill drove us around, then we stopped for a break and had lunch. After walking around the Pinnacles and doing a bit of rock climbing, Bill, Cody and I headed home. What a fun weekend.

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Kearsarge Pass and a Tale of Overcoming

Last weekend, I accomplished a great achievement and hiked to Kearsarge Pass via the Onion Valley Trailhead. This wasn’t my first time up to the pass, but it’s a big victory to me because it was my first hike above 11,000 feet in almost three years. I had hiked to this pass several times, but this was the most special for me because it was a comeback of sorts.

The group’s goal was to hike to Bullfrog Lake and back, but my goal was to just do the pass, which was quite a feat by itself. I backpacked the Rae Lakes Loop a few years ago, so I didn’t feel I was missing much of the backcountry scenery. My thing was, I didn’t want to tire myself out by having to go over Kearsarge Pass twice. Since the group went beyond the pass, I took my time on the way back and stopped at Heart Lake, then revisited Flower Lake and one of the waterfalls.

The group at the trailhead.

Wild onion.

A gorgeous waterfall just off the trail before Gilbert Lake.

Gilbert Lake.

While listening to my boots grinding rock and dirt underfoot, I couldn’t help but remember lying in that hospital bed, having been diagnosed with a DVT (deep vein thrombosis), frightened, thinking the worst and wondering if I’d ever hike again. The whole situation came out of nowhere.

Just a couple of weeks prior to my hospitalization, I was a healthy (albeit overweight) 38-year-old going about my adventures, traipsing across the Sierra, leading and inspiring others along the way. Then, I got blindsided and taken out of commission. I couldn’t even finish the last hike of the Sierra series I was leading, and that devastated me because I was really looking forward to closing out the series on a new peak that I had never reached before, Cirque Peak.

Flower Lake.

Heart Lake.

After a brief hiatus, I did start hiking again, but it wasn’t the same as before. I stayed away from high altitude hikes and did hikes that were closer to home and at a lower elevation. It took me a while to work up to doing long distance hikes again. I eventually began dabbling into the high altitude hikes, but only on occasion. The highest elevation I attained post-DVT was Mt. San Jacinto at 10,834 feet.

The final stretch to Kearsarge Pass.

Looking toward Bullfrog Lake and the Kearsarge Lakes from Kearsarge Pass.

The popular rock column at Kearsarge Pass.

A marmot taking in the scenery at Kearsarge Pass.

Looking down at Big Pothole Lake from Kearsarge Pass.

Last year, I mustered the courage to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in Europe, which was another big milestone. That gave me the confidence I needed to start pushing again. Gradually, I’ve made my way back to high altitude hiking and I’m feeling pretty good. I’d like to climb Mt. Whitney again, although I’m not sure I have another Whitney in me. Only time, coupled with a season of training, will tell. For the time being, I’ll continue enjoying the great outdoors while reconditioning my body to do what it was made to do. In the near future, I’d like to go and hike to Cirque Peak since the DVT stopped me in 2015.

Kearsarge Pass “summit” selfie.

Sometimes, we get blindsided and are tempted to give up on ourselves. In those dark and uncertain times, we have to look back and remind ourselves of why we started our journey to begin with. It’s always harder to restart something than it is to begin in the first place. The resistance feels even greater. But we have to show that resistance that we are more determined than it is. We have to stand strong and not let fear or trepidation intimidate us. We are more than conquerors.

Hike on!

~J

OptOutside Hike: Skeleton Canyon

The day after Thanksgiving, my friends and I drove out to Mecca Hills, CA to participate in REI’s OptOutside campaign. Since it was such a far drive, we decided to make a weekend out of it. Our first hike of the weekend was suggested by my dear friend Ava and took us through the narrow walls of Skeleton Canyon. We didn’t find any skeletons out there, but had a spook of a time!

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

Trekking in the Negev Desert

Back in April, I was blessed to organize and lead a trip to the beautiful country of Israel to go on a multi-day trek across the Negev Desert with a youth group.

Seffi leads the charge.

Seffi leads the charge.

Led by our guide, Seffi, we trekked across poritions of the Spice Route, one of the main trade routes of the ancient world that connected the Roman Empire with Asia. It crossed the Arabian and the Negev deserts through Petra, the Nabatean capital and continued to Gaza port on the Mediterranean shore. The Spice Route derives its name from the exotic spices like Frankenscene and Myrrh, that were traded there by the Nabateans. The Nabateans, the Desert Masters, ruled the entire region for about 1000 years. They built along the Spice Route service stations to the caravans, inns, water storage facilities, forts and a complete road system.

Seffi gives us a brief history lesson.

Seffi gives us a brief history lesson.

Seffi, a man of the desert, knew the terrain forwards and backwards and provided us a wealth of information ranging from the topography, to its historical roots and educated us on the plant and animal life. We Americans weren’t used to seeing free-range camels and were in total awe, but to Seffi, it was just another day at the office.

At times, the trail was pretty steep.

At times, the trail was pretty steep.

During our four days of camping in the desert, we only utilized shelter the first night where we stayed in a bedouin camp. The remainder of our time out there, we literally slept under the stars in nothing more than our sleeping bags. My Marmot Pinnacle 15 down sleeping bag served me well as the nights were fairly cool. I was very accustomed to camping, but before this trip I had never slept out in the open, only in a tent. It was quite an experience.

Campfire tales.

Campfire tales.

When camping under the stars, you don't miss men on camels passing under the moon.

When camping under the stars, you don’t miss men on camels passing under the moon.

These photos are from the second through fourth days at camp. I didn’t take any pics on the first day at the bedouin camp at their request.

Seffi knew how to keep the camels calm.

Seffi knew how to keep the camels calm.

We hiked down to a swimming hole that was popular with the locals.

We hiked down to a swimming hole that was popular with the locals.

A man sitting between the rocks meditating.

A man sitting between the rocks meditating.

We stopped to get water from a well and were joined by a herd of camels that had the same idea.

We stopped to get water from a well and were joined by a herd of camels that had the same idea.

Some of the ruins we explored on the way back.

Some of the ruins we explored on the way back.

Anza-Borrego Desert Adventure Part 1 – The Slot

This is the first part of our series of adventures in the Anza Borrego Desert. On this first day of the adventure, we caravaned from our campground at Borrego Springs and explored a narrow slot canyon that featured some extraordinary geological formations, such as a huge balanced rock and a cave.

 

For more information on hiking The Slot, visit hikespeak.com.

To find out how you can join a domestic or international adventure with 1000 Treks, please click on the following link: 1000Treks.

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