Team name: Sierra Bound
Team Sierra Bound will traverse the more unknown corners of the Sierra Nevada, from giant sequoia forests to glacial lakes, looping the entire mountain range.
Gear that got them through
When Tepui Tents picked Liz and I to be part of this summer’s Endless Adventure, we were ecstatic. Liz had just been accepted into a university out of state, and the goal was to throw one hell of a going-away party…through the Sierra Nevada wilderness. We had two weeks (that’s all the vacation time I could muster) to scrape the surface of the mighty Sierra Nevada, roughly 24,370 square miles of mountain wilderness goodness (which we technically only traveled 2000 miles of), and our goal was simple: visit places we had never been. If you’re planning your own trip, you may want to do things differently (for example, we skipped places like Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park because we had been there before). But we KNOW Yosemite, we KNOW Sequoia, but what about North Fork, the literal center of California? Or Onion Valley, the small campsite surrounded by aspens and bristle cone pine, and over 9500 feet in elevation? These are some of the many, more unknown gems of the Sierra Nevada.
So on to our list, a more ‘off-the-beaten-path’ itinerary.
First Stop: Kern River
Coming from Southern California, we were trying to avoid really long stretches of driving and made an effort to have a stop every 4 hours or so. We had one night here at the nastiest, smelliest campsite of the whole trip. Due to a hefty snow season, the Kern River was running dangerously full and fast, the campsite was VERY full, and unfortunately for us we were downwind of the vault toilets, and ooo-boy that stank was blowing through our tent throughout the night.
Second Stop: Sequoia National Forest/Kings Canyon
The largest trees in the world by mass? Yes please! We took a quick stroll through the Trail of 100 Giants (no need to get fancy, it’s all paved so you can rock yo’ flip flops) on our way to Kings Canyon.
I hadn’t even realized I had booked a campsite in Kings Canyon National Park proper until we rolled in. If I had known I most definitely would have stayed two nights here. We had incredible cliff-side views in Sunset Campground and that place seriously lived up to its name, the sunset was nothing short of spectacular. Here we busted out our lightweight and versatile Primus cookware and made a meal for kings, sloppy joes over Hawaiian rolls. XD
Fourth Stop: Sierra National Forest
Here we were truly in the heart of California, just south of Yosemite National Park. This area has been devastated by the bark beetle, and while driving the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway, the damage was evident as we passed miles and miles of dead and/or fallen trees. Though the deeper we drove into the byway, the fuller the forests became, and soon we were rolling past scenic overlooks, 300+ foot trees, and mountain meadows.
Fifth Stop: Tahoe National Forest
Following a road that snaked along the North Yuba River, we were surrounded by thick forests that eventually gave way to the Sierra Buttes, and our home for a few days was at its base, Sardine Lake. Walking distance from camp was a lodge that had a BAR on a DOCK with stunning views of the Buttes reflecting in lower Sardine Lake. We ordered Sierra Nevada beer (it seemed fitting) and drank as the sun set behind the mountains.
The critters seemed to be out in abundance out here. River otters, raccoons, squirrels, possibly a porcupine (we still aren’t exactly sure what we saw) and snakes. We had our first run-in with a snake that was casually making it’s way across our campsite, and I was super grateful for being elevated in our Tepui tent. “Should we warn the neighbors? It’s heading their way.” … “Nah.”
There are also some amazing trails for moderate offroading in the area, and don’t forget to stop at Basset’s for breakfast! We actually almost got trapped here for a few days. Running low on gas, we figured we could fuel up in Sierra City, but the town’s power had been out for a few days and the gas pumps with it. My tank claimed I had about 40 miles left and the closet town (that may or may not of had power) was 30 minutes away. Instead of taking the risk and hitting the road, we decided to stay put, which was heavily rewarded the next morning when the power came back on, yay!
Sixth Stop: Lassen Volcano National Park
Driving into the park from the south entrance really took our breath away. We were nearing the end of July and snow still crested the summits, rivers and waterfalls were flowing freely down the mountains, and many of the lakes were still frozen over! We had less than 24 hours to take this place in before we moved on to Mammoth, and to be perfectly honest, that was too much time.
Let me explain. We were exhausted, hitting the halfway point of our trip, and coming to Lassen was our first real BAD experience with bugs. The mosquitoes, gnats and ants were relentless, and there was no amount of DEET spray and coils that would keep these guys away. We tried to enjoy lunch on the shores of Manzanita Lake but were attacked by an angry colony of ants. When we returned to camp THOUSANDS of gnats had made residence on our tent and we were quite literally breathing them in. And then there’s the mosquitoes, don’t even get me started. I wasn’t able to stand in one place for more than a few seconds without getting attacked, despite the layers of repellent that coated my skin!
We wanted to enjoy Lassen but we just didn’t have the opportunity or time (or energy) to do it right. If I had the chance to go again, I would stay in the south end of the park, take my time, and bring more bug spray.
Seventh Stop: Mammoth Lakes
We spent a considerable amount of time in Mammoth. While we had been relatively ‘unplugged’ throughout the trip, we really needed to plug-in and check in with family and friends (“Yes! We’re still alive!”). We camped 20 minutes south of Mammoth at East Fork, an incredibly charming site covered with fir trees, bristlecone pine and aspens. A river snaked through the south end of the campground and the rushing sound lulled us to sleep at night. East Fork is also near the entrance of Little Lakes Valley Trail, a short trail, but a must-see for anyone traveling through the Sierra. Mammoth is incredibly photogenic, and we were constantly using our Midland radios to help better orchestrate photo shoots from a distance. From Devils Postpile National Monument, Mono Lake, the surrounding hot springs and beyond, there isn’t a shortage of things to do there.
Eighth Stop: John Muir Wilderness
My favorite stop? Second favorite stop? I’m not sure how to categorize the John Muir Wilderness but what we thought was going to be a more barren area (especially since by this point we were less than 4 hours from Southern California) surprised us with majestic mountain peaks, rushing waterfalls and so much…green. We were at about 9500 feet at a campsite called Onion Valley (there were no onions to be seen as far as I could tell) and I was embarrassingly suffering from a minor bout of altitude sickness. Onion Valley also serves as a trailhead for Kearsage Pass, and backcountry hikers flow in and out of the camp every day.
Ninth Stop: Alabama Hills
It was 102 degrees. We were dying.
While Alabama Hills isn’t technically in the Sierra Nevada, it most definitely has one of the best views of it. Resting right at the base of Mount Whitney, Alabama Hills has become a bit of a trendy spot for insta-goers, but for good reason. Spring is really the best time to go, with the mountains covered in snow and cooler temperatures in the valley. Even with the hot valley temps we were experiencing in early August, there was still spots of snow left on the mountains and it made for some seriously stellar views.