No Boots? No Problem!

A few weeks ago, I was on my way north toward the Sierra for the fifth time this summer. I’ve organized what I’m calling the Summer Sierra Series, which is a series of some of my favorite hikes in the Sierra geared toward people who can cover a great deal of distance and elevation, but not necessarily speed.

Group shot at Agnew Meadows

Group shot at Agnew Meadows

I had gotten so used to being left behind on hikes with groups and always the last one to finish that I had decided to hike on my own for a while. I spent the last two years making adventure trips to the Sierra, sometimes on my own, sometimes with company, but I had come to love hiking and camping solo.

Earlier this year, I was promoted to assistant organizer of a hiking and adventure group. I decided to organize hikes tailored to suit people like me. People who can do big hikes, but need extra time to accomplish the task. I led my first hike in early March in the San Gabriel Mountains and then came up with the idea for the Summer Sierra Series.

Thousand Island Lake

Thousand Island Lake

We started our hikes in Mammoth, California with a day hike to Thousand Island Lake. From there, we moved further south along the Highway 395 to the next hikes in the series. It was on my way to the fourth hike, the Big Pine Lakes, that I had to utilize a little improvisation. I didn’t leave LA until around 8pm that Friday night because I had just started my new job at one of the studios in Burbank and didn’t leave work until 6pm that evening. I had to go home first and pick up a few things, put gas in the car and then I was able to begin the 3-1/2 hour drive to Lone Pine where I was staying.

About an hour out of LA and as I was approaching Palmdale, the last stretch of civilization before heading into the Mojave Desert, I realized I had forgotten to pack a very important accessory, my socks. I was going to have to make a stop in Palmdale and pick up a pair as there was no way I could hike 15 miles in those boots without socks.

Boots? I couldn’t remember grabbing my boots and then it dawned on me that I also left the boots behind, along with my trekking poles. I was so concerned with making sure I had all my camera equipment packed (because that’s more important to me, obviously) that I completely forgot the rest of my gear. I couldn’t believe my absent-mindedness.

While the trekking poles were optional, there was absolutely no way I could hike without boots. The only other pair of shoes I brought were the flip flops I wore at the moment. I had already driven too far from LA to turn around, go home and get the boots, socks and poles. If I had gone back home, I would have stayed there and would have only been able to sleep a few hours before getting up to hit the road at like 3am to get to the trailhead on time. That was not going to happen. It was 9pm, and I knew the outdoor sporting goods stores were all closed at that hour.

I first considered Target, and then remembered I had seen hiking boots in Wal Mart a while back when I was shopping in the store. I knew there had to be a Wal Mart in Palmdale, so I plugged it into the GPS on my phone and it led me to the nearest one, only a few minutes away. I used to love shopping in Wal Mart years ago, but now the experience just frustrates me. It’s usually too crowded and you can never just go in there, find what you need and leave. The times when you’re in the biggest hurry is when you end up in the longest line. Shopping at Wal Mart is just not the adventure it once was for me.

The boots were fairly easy to find in the store, but they were only available in men’s. I knew I couldn’t walk out of that store without a pair of boots. I tried on a couple of pairs (without socks on) and landed on the Ozark Trail Men’s Bump Toe Hiking Boot. I wasn’t familiar with the brand as I do my boot shopping at REI and Adventure 16 and normally go for the higher quality boots like Vasque, Lowa and Scarpa. I also usually read and compare reviews on boots, but reviews didn’t matter at this point. They could have all had terrible reviews, but I still had to leave that store with a pair of boots.

The Ozark Trail Men’s Bump Toe Hiking Boot was pretty comfortable for a cheap pair of boots (I paid $24 for them) so they are the ones I purchased, plus the random thick pair of socks I bought along with them. I knew I was breaking one of the cardinal rules of hiking by breaking in a brand new pair of boots on a 15-mile hike, but I really had no other choice, so I crossed my fingers and just did it.

Ozark Trail Men's Bump Toe Hiking Boots on my feet

Ozark Trail Men’s Bump Toe Hiking Boots on my feet

The boots faired very well, actually. I could definitely feel the jagged rocks beneath the soles as these were not the Vibram soles I’m accustomed to. However, for a cheap pair of boots, they were pretty comfy. I barely noticed the one little hot spot on my big toe while trekking past the beautiful turquoise colored Lakes 1-3, but by the time we reached Lake 5 and took a swim, I decided to take my friend up on her offer for some moleskin, just to be on the safe side. We still had about 7 miles to go and I didn’t want to have any issues. At the end of the day, my feet were in good shape and did fine.

I wanted to share this story not so much as a product review, but as a way to encourage people out there who may be interested in hiking, but using lack of funds for a decent pair of hiking boots as an excuse to not get out there. You don’t have to go to the stores that carry expensive name brands and spend a small fortune on your first pair of hiking boots. A cheap pair will serve you well, initially. My first pair of hiking boots was a cheap pair that I bought from Sports Authority. They were only a few dollars more than I paid for the Ozark Trail boots from Wal Mart.

So if you’re one of those people using this as an excuse to not hike, go down to the local Wal Mart or your discount store of choice and get yourself a pair of boots. The longer you put it off, the more you’ll be missing out on some of the most spectacular adventures like the ones in the pictures below.

Hike on!

Hiking the North Fork of Big Pine Creek

Hiking the North Fork of Big Pine Creek

At First Lake

First Lake

Temple Crag

Temple Crag

Fifth Lake

Fifth Lake

Overlooking Fourth Lake

Overlooking Fourth Lake

The Art of Doing

I’m a dreamer and I like to encourage others to dream. Dreaming is good. Well, it’s good until you get so caught up in dreaming that it begins to take the place of actually DOING something. What I mean by DOING is putting forth the physical effort necessary to see to it that what worked out so perfectly in your dream will come to fruition.

There are a lot of things floating around on the canvas of my mind, ranging from things I know I need to do, to things I really want to do, to things I’ve started but haven’t finished. For instance, I went on a desert trek in Israel a couple of months ago, volunteered at a youth camp, and toured the Holy Land. I took lots of pictures and recorded videos of the trek and the tour, but haven’t touched any of it. I know it’s going to make a great episode, or series of episodes (I haven’t decided) for the web series…

…if I could just bring myself to do it.

So what’s the holdup?

Well…I also have a ton of video footage to edit from a weekend adventure in the Anza-Borrego Desert here in California. I went there the week after I returned from Israel and had a blast. We caravanned on dirt roads while hanging out of the sunroof of an SUV, explored some really cool slot canyons, went spelunking in mud caves where it was pitch dark, and witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets I had ever seen from the top of a peak above some other freaking amazing slot canyons. This would make a really awesome episode as well…

…if I could just put some action to all of that dreaming.

I also have an upcoming trip this weekend to a breathtaking lake in the Sierras where I’ll be filming another episode of the web series. I’ve got to write a script to break it up into segments like a show because I want this one done right. I’m organizing and leading a group for this hike, so I need to get a lot of things coordinated and I have a limited amount of time to do it.

And I still have the Israel trip and Anza-Borrego unfinished. I also have to do laundry and pack for the upcoming trip. I need to go to REI and pick up some last-minute camping stuff. I need to make sure I remember to pack all my winter clothing to sleep in because it’s going to be in the 30’s at night and I just can’t go out there and freeze. I need to be sure to provide my group with all the information they need regarding this weekend’s trip.

Yet I still need to do those episodes that are waiting in the wings. See what procrastination does? It makes us look busy, like we have so much on our plate, when all we need is proper planning. A good, well though-out schedule will surely solve my problem with ease. But then there’s the issue of keeping up with the schedule. The act of DOING.

Perhaps I should call it the ART of doing. After all, it takes great skill to successfully balance multiple tasks and see them through to completion.

The antidote for procrastination is accountability. Now that I’ve opened up about these things, I’m obligated to fulfill my role of the artist, so to speak, and see these dreams materialize.

I wonder what sort of a tale I will find myself in while taking on this mountain?

Is It A Mirage?

Ansel Adams WildernessIt all started that morning at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center as our group waited to board the bus that would take us to the trailhead. I saw a nice ranger standing by and asked her to verify some information on the hike I wanted to do, which was slightly different from the group’s goals. I told the lady that I was going to Thousand Island Lake and inquired about the River Trail, which was the route recommended in my guidebook, “50 Classic Day Hikes of the Eastern Sierra,” by Devon Fredericksen and Reed Harvey. I wasn’t quite prepared for her response.

Oh, you’re going to Thousand Lake? That’s a tough one. You shouldn’t take the River Trail, that’s steep. You need to take the High Trail. It will be more gradual.

I was perplexed.

But the guidebook I have suggests taking the River Trail. It’s supposed to be 14 miles round trip and can be done as a day hike.

She remained adamant.

I don’t know what guidebook you’re reading. That’s going to be really tough.

She then took out a map and showed me the trail from Agnew Meadows, which was the starting point, all the while trying to encourage me to take the High Trail, which was about two miles longer, but supposedly more scenic. I didn’t have my own map of the area and the store where I could have purchased one wasn’t open yet, so I stuck with my original intent to follow the advice of the guidebook and take the River Trail. I admit, after the ranger’s reaction, I felt some apprehension.

The sign at the trailhead.

The sign at the trailhead.

About a mile or so into the hike, I was off and on my way to Thousand Island Lake. Since the guidebook stated that this was a popular trail and that the lake had been nicknamed “Thousand People Lake,” I figured I wouldn’t be alone. Yet, for the most part, I was. It didn’t bother me much, though. I often prefer solitude when trekking in the backcountry, although it is nice to have a partner sometimes.

The trail gradually ascended, never straying far front the San Joaquin River tumbling down below. At one point, the trail got really close to the river and I took a slight detour to check out a cascading waterfall.

San Joaquin River waterfall

San Joaquin River waterfall cascade.

Shortly after I returned to the trail, I met a group of backpackers coming toward me, each carrying packs that appeared to weigh at least 50 pounds apiece. We greeted each other and, of course, they asked where I was headed.

I’m going to Thousand Island Lake.

I braced for the reaction.

Oh, wow. That’s quite a slog. You’ve got a ways to go and it’s a trudge from here.

I tried my best to appear unfazed.

Well, I’m used to long day hikes. I’ve hiked twenty-two miles in a day before.

Their eyes widened.

Wow, you must be a serious mountain woman!

I bid the backpackers a good day and they sent me off with well-wishes as I was on my way again. Shortly after that, the same thing happened. Backpackers coming down the trail were once again astounded that I was going to Thousand Island Lake as a day hike, as if they didn’t believe it could be done. I assumed that they were on their way back from the lake.

Is that where you guys are coming from?

The backpackers looked amazed.

No, we were at Garnet Lake. That’s a little bit closer.

As we parted ways, I began to question the path I was on and thought that maybe I should change my goal to Garnet Lake, which, as the backpackers said, was closer. I reasoned that a lake is a lake and they all probably look the same anyway. Maybe I didn’t fully understand the description in the guidebook, although I studied it at least 100 times before setting out. Maybe the book was wrong.

I set a time and decided that no matter where I was at when that time came upon me, I would turn around. This was an unfamiliar trail to me and I didn’t want to get so far in that I couldn’t make it out at a reasonable hour. I also didn’t want to miss the group who were hiking the same mileage on a different trail, but at a faster pace than me. I wanted to make it back to the Adventure Center around the same time because we were to have dinner that evening in town.

No end in sight.

No end in sight.

The trail continued to climb and I found myself in a forest. Not too long before that, I had emerged from a short section of forest and reached a clearing that I thought would finally provide clear views of my goal. But it just led me to another forest. While I was grateful for the shade, the trail became a constant uphill slog and I realized that what one of the backpackers said was right. I took a break to snap a few shots of flowers just off the trail. It was hard to silence the doubts as they consumed me like a giant wave.

Anderson's Thistle

Anderson’s Thistle

I began to think in my heart that I had failed and was going to have to go back as my turnaround time closed in on me. I thought to myself that if I could just see where I was going, I would have hope and be motivated to stay the course. But the arduous climb continued and the scenery around me wasn’t changing. All I saw were trees. I never saw a lake, not even Garnet Lake, which was supposed to be closer. The climb seemed no longer worth it, so I just wanted to stop and go back the way I had come, back to what was familiar.

After this clearing the path became dim.

Beyond this clearing the path grew dim.

A little less than an hour before my turnaround time, I saw what appeared to be two day hikers coming down the trail toward me. They weren’t carrying big heavy packs. At this point, I just wanted confirmation that I should turn back because I had already prepared myself for the disappointment. I greeted the couple and asked if I was getting close to Thousand Island Lake. They gave me the most encouraging news I had heard all day. I was about a couple of miles away from a pass and once I reached the pass, the lake would be right there, just on the other side of it. I thanked the couple and pressed on.

Even with the affirmation, I still had doubts as I trekked through the somewhat dense forest. I contemplated turning around for fear that it was getting too late. For some reason, the altitude really affected me on this hike and I was troubled that I didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the pass. I couldn’t see beyond the trees.

Twenty minutes before my turnaround time, I was about to throw in the towel. Then, I realized that I owed it to myself to at least continue until 1pm, which was the time I had set. Certainly, I could hang in there for twenty more minutes, despite the seemingly endless slog.

The first views of Mt. Banner.

The first views of Mt. Banner.

Exactly twenty minutes later, I was blessed with one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. Mt. Banner came into view just beyond a small pass, and shortly after that, the most beautiful, sparkling lake glistened before me. It wasn’t a mirage. It was real. I could finally see it, touch it, taste it. All of the doubts that tried to kill my dream, my vision of this wonder, were at once silenced for good. My goal had been validated by what my faith and action produced.

What sort of tale did I find myself in?

Just because the circumstances conflict with your inner vision, what you know to be true, it doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong path. You may have naysayers telling you what can’t be done, but you have to realize that people often speak from what they know based on their own experiences and background.

Those backpackers who provided their input, the ones who almost discouraged me from going on–they were carrying 50-pound packs and they may not have been regular hikers, so of course they were going to see my goal as a slog and an impossible feat. I hike consistently and am used to long day hikes, so I’m well-acquainted with my strengths and abilities. I’m also aware of my limitations. However, I knew in my heart that I could do this.

Thousand Island Lake.

Thousand Island Lake

Had I given up, I would have missed out on one of the most beautiful treasures of the Sierra. I would have done all of that work for nothing. It was a nice hike and there were some really cool sights along the way, but the money shot was the lake, and also the return route as I decided to take the scenic High Trail on the way back.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times where it’s in your best interest to turn around, such as when you’re in imminent danger as I was on a previous hike to Cloudripper Peak. Sometimes in life there is danger on the path and you have to turn around, not to give up, but to reconfigure the approach to your goal and try again.

Even if that is the case, the theme remains the same: Never Give Up. Never let anyone or anything talk you out of your goal. Never let yourself or your own doubts talk you out of your goal. You can either be your own worst enemy or your biggest cheerleader.

Maybe you’ve been praying for something over the years and nothing is changing, as if you’re in that forest I was in where I couldn’t see where my path was leading me to. Perhaps everything around you contradicts the very thing you’ve been praying, hoping, wishing endlessly for. Don’t stop because even though it may not feel like it, you are ever closer to your dream come true.

Never give up then, for that is just the place and time when the tide will turn.

~Harriet Beecher Stowe

An Unfair Exchange?

San G PeakI haven’t shared this story with many people, but I think this is a story that needs to be told because it might help somebody who’s struggling with a decision, feeling like they’re being pulled in different directions.

Last summer, I was a hiking fool. I felt greater than ever before and I was on fire. So when the opportunity came for me to climb Mt. Whitney with a friend and some of his co-workers, I jumped on it. I was feeling kind of bummed from the year before when I led my own group to Mt. Whitney and ended up not summiting due to a rookie mistake regarding my camera. (See prior post.)

Not long after I committed to this climb, I received a call from a casting agency that I had previously worked with asking if I would be available to do a commercial shoot as a hand double for a celebrity spokesmodel representing a major cosmetics company. Of course, they wanted me available on the dates I was planning to be at Mt. Whitney.

Reluctantly, I told them I was available, knowing there was the possibility of the dates getting bumped or the shoot getting canceled altogether. I kept my fingers crossed and told my friend leading the Mt. Whitney trip that I might have to cancel on the trip due to work.

Within days of the possible shoot, I hadn’t heard anything from the agency, so I told my friend that it was most likely a no-go on the commercial and that I was committed to the trip. Since permits are required to climb Mt. Whitney, I wanted to give my friend ample notice of my cancellation to give him enough time to find a replacement.

The evening before the proposed commercial shoot, which was a day before we were to leave for Mt. Whitney, I received a call from the agency asking me to report to set the next morning. I was torn because I was looking forward to climbing Mt. Whitney with my friend and his co-workers. I also knew that the commercial shoot was a great opportunity. What to do?

Commercial Shoot 2

Commercial Shoot Day 2

I almost turned down the shoot, citing plans already established, but I knew that would have been very bad. I realized I was already committed to the shoot because I had previously told them I was available on the dates they quoted. Never mind that they called me at the last minute to confirm.  That’s Hollywood for you.

I called my friend to tell him I couldn’t go to Mt. Whitney and, as expected, he was very disappointed. Because of the late notice, he was unable to find a replacement for me, so his permit went to waste. I offered to pay him for the cost of the permit as I really wanted to make the situation right. I was disappointed in myself for letting him down, and I was equally disappointed that I wasn’t going to climb Mt. Whitney.

Commercial Shoot 1

Commercial Shoot Day 3

The last day of the shoot, I was approached by the hair stylist to the spokesmodel I hand doubled for. She remembered me from the previous shoot I did with them 2-1/2 years prior. She asked for my number so that she could pass it on and keep me in the loop for other opportunities with this celebrity. I gave her my number, but took it with a grain of salt because I know how things can fall through for various reasons.

Some time after the shoot wrapped and things returned to normal again, I found myself facing scary thing, a weekend without plans. One evening, I had a sudden desire to take a trip to the Sierra. I remembered a hike that I had wanted to do in the Horseshoe Meadow area to a place called Chicken Spring Lake. I packed my bags and hit the road on Friday morning. I had no reservations anywhere, just a tent and some gear.

Campsite

Cottonwood Pass Campground

I knew I could probably nab a campsite at the walk-in campground at the Cottonwood Pass trailhead, so I took the chance and it paid off. The next morning, when I unzipped the door of my tent, the first thing I saw when I looked outside was three familiar faces at a nearby picnic table enjoying breakfast together. I was initially shocked to see them, but then realized they were with a group that was to hike Mt. Whitney the next day.

My friends were surprised and excited to see me. I explained what I was doing there and told them what had happened with my failed plan to climb Whitney with my other friend. That was when they mentioned that a person in their group wasn’t going to be able to climb, due to a knee issue, and had a permit available.  They encouraged me to take the permit.

I was unsure if I was ready to take on Mt. Whitney on such short notice.  It was the furthest thing from my plans that weekend.  However, I was prepared for the most part, and anything I didn’t have could be easily acquired in Lone Pine.  I went on my planned hike to Chicken Spring Lake and mulled it over.  When I returned to the campground, I told my friends I would take the permit to climb Mt. Whitney the next day.

CS Lake 2

Chicken Spring Lake

I climbed the mountain and did it in 4 hours less time than my first trip in 2011.  All of the circumstances came together to create the right opportunity.  The entire month of July, I climbed big mountains.  The first weekend, I climbed Mt. Baldy (10,064 ft.)  Then I climbed Mt. San Gorgonio (11,503 ft) and the next weekend, I climbed a fourteener, White Mountain (14,252 ft.)  The following weekend, it was Mt. Whitney.

Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney Summit – elev. 14,508 ft

Because I had spent so much time at high altitudes, my body was well acclimated and ready to take on Whitney.  Perhaps if I had attempted Mt. Whitney during the time of the commercial, I wouldn’t have been in such good shape, or I might have had to cancel my trip to White Mountain since the climbs would have been only within two days of each other.  It could be a number of reasons.

Looking back, I realized that if I had canceled on the commercial shoot, I would not be in the position I’m in today.  Because of the connection I made with the spokesmodel’s hair stylist who asked for my number, I am now the stand-in double for the model/actress on her popular TV talk show.  I have been able to gain valuable experience on camera, learn the inner workings of production and interact with the various celebrities that come through the doors every day.

This past year has been amazing and the best is yet to come.  The experience I’ve gained from working on the show has given me the inspiration and skills to produce and host the web series version of this blog.  (By the way, you can click the “Episodes” tab to view the videos.)

I heard someone say, “Opportunity doesn’t knock.  Instead it stands by silently, and normally goes unnoticed because at first it seems like an unfair exchange.”  I was bummed when I got the call for the commercial and asked to be available for the dates I was going to climb Mt. Whitney.  You have to be a climber in order to understand why I was torn about it.  If they had asked for my availability on any other dates, I would have been ecstatic, but I really had my heart set on climbing Mt. Whitney and, at the time, didn’t foresee any other opportunity to do it that summer.

The chance that I thought I was giving up was given back to me and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  Maybe you’ve missed an opportunity or traded in an opportunity for something else that seems like an unfair exchange.  Don’t be moved by what it looks like on the surface.  You may not see what lies far beyond where you are currently standing, but just trust the path in front of you.  Your steps will be made clearer as you move forward.  I know this to be true because I’m walking this journey right now.

Hike on!

Picture This: Another Epic Adventure

SONY DSCNext week I’m setting off on my first ever backpacking trip. In addition to the excitement of being the only damsel amongst five men, I’m looking forward to the many photographic opportunities this trek through my beloved Sierra will provide. As an avid photographer, of course I want to be sure to maximize every one of those opportunities. Because of that, my biggest concern, other than sub-freezing temps at night, is ensuring that my camera maintains its power over the course of this 6-day adventure.

I had an experience a couple of years ago that I don’t care to repeat.  I guess you could call it a “rookie” mistake.  I had just bought my Sony Alpha NEX C-3 and had set out to climb Mt. Whitney.  This would have been my second summit of the mountain had I chosen to go all the way.  I made it to Trail Camp, which is about the halfway point to the summit, and took out my shiny new camera in anticipation of capturing the breathtaking sunrise.

SONY DSCI flipped the switch to turn the camera on, but nothing happened.  For a split second, I thought it was broken, but it didn’t take long for me to realize the camera worked perfectly.  The reason it didn’t turn on was because there was no battery in it.  I left it charging in the hotel room in Lone Pine.  I was so bummed about it that I didn’t summit Mt. Whitney that day.  My experience was completely ruined.

Ever since that day, I have made sure that my camera has had the battery in it before I walk out the door.  I also now have a spare battery, which has come in handy on a couple of occasions.  For my backpacking trip, I am contemplating whether or not it will be necessary to buy a third battery.

I’ve decided that the best way to stretch out the use of my equipment is to use my Sony as the primary camera for photos and video, and my iPhone as a backup.  And yes, the footage gathered on this adventure will be included in an episode of “Tales of the Trails.”

Sony on the Go Portable Charger two Pack c

A few months ago, I purchased a Sony charger set from Costco.  The package contains a Li-ion Polymer Battery and also a 2800mAh pocket charger.  The Polymer battery can charge two devices at a time as it has two USB ports, and it provides up to 4 full charges of a smartphone.  The pocket one provides one full smartphone charge and weighs almost nothing, so it’s perfect for backpacking.  The other one is a little heavier, but I don’t foresee a problem in packing that one along as well.

I’ve noticed that my iPhone takes just as good video as my camera, so it would be very efficient to use as a backup.  I’m sure that once I start putting it all together in post-production, you won’t be able to tell the difference between what was shot with the phone or the camera.  We’ll just have to see.  Creativity is an adventure in itself.

I’m looking forward to what sort of tales await on this new trail!  🙂