Camping in the Eastern Sierra

By Forrest Smith -

The little one is nearly 20 months old and I’m feeling some guilt about not doing more outdoor adventure. We’ve done some hikes and some biking trips, but we’ve only managed one camping trip, and that was nearly a year ago.

So we set off, back to the Sierras. I miss having good mountains near our home, but at least we have within a five hour drive, some of the best mountains in North America.

We set off on a Friday, the start of our four day weekend. I had planned on getting an early start, but when packing for a camping trip that involves a toddler, things happen. Pretty soon, several hours have elapsed and you’re left scratching your head as to how you’re going to fit all of this stuff in your car. Because of the time spent packing, we didn’t make it to bed until 1:00 in the morning. An early start we would not have.

The drive up went pretty well. When spending that much time in the car with a little one, you expect some outbursts, but he did mostly well. We stopped for lunch and let him run around a bit. We continued on, arriving at our campsite around 3 in the afternoon. It rained. We drove into town and had pizza.

We all slept very well in our little backpacking tent that first night. It was a little disappointing to not do dinner at camp and have a fire and all that, but our camping trip was off to a great start regardless. Oh, and the mountains! Just to be in the presence of jagged snow-covered peaks.

To Throw Rocks in a Mountain Lake

A little boy, rocks, and a lake. It’s a great combination for a perfect afternoon. Now that the little guy is old enough to enjoy the wonders of a rock splashing into calm water, we decided we needed to find a couple of mountain lakes for him to practice his technique.

On Saturday, we woke up to beautifully blue skies. There was a light dusting of new snow the peaks around our campground. We enjoyed a slow breakfast and made our way up the Onion Valley as clouds started to form on the surrounding peaks. They wouldn’t materialize into anything too ominous (at least while we were out hiking), but they did add a dynamic quality as they swirled around the rugged, rocky peaks.

Our goal for this hike was Robinson Lake. It was a short hike at only 1.5 miles, but it was a pretty relentless 1,500 feet of elevation gain. The little guy walked for a pretty steep half-mile, making his way over rocks and huffing and puffing as he climbed.

Several weeks back, we had attempted to get little man into the backpack carrier. He wasn’t having it. I wasn’t sure if we would ever be successful in being able to carry him in the carrier, but now, understanding the difficulty involved, he was all for it. We loaded him up and he was content in riding along and letting me do all the work until we made it to the lake.

The lake was beautiful — sitting below jagged granite peaks in all directions. We introduced the little guy to the simple enjoyment of throwing a rock into a lake. We laughed and giggled with each ‘plop’ of a rock breaking the surface of the water.

Is a Zero Day Possible if you Haven’t been Backpacking?

The only issue with the hike to Robinson Lake, was one of my shoes. This caused some foot pain, and by the end of the day, I was limping and had a small bruise on my foot.

We had originally planned two nights of camping, and a night in a hotel for the final night. We had started thinking about camping all three nights but my foot was feeling pretty painful, so I figured a day of rest and looking for a new pair of shoes may be a good way to spend the day.

After checking into the hotel, we headed down to Sage and Summit, where they were very helpful in finding me a new shoe. I tried several pairs, but the clear winner was the Altra Lone Peak 2. It had a super-wide toe box, which seems to be exactly what I needed. I smile spread across my face the moment I put these shoes on. While I was doubting a hike on our final day before, the moment I stuck my feet into these shoes, I knew a hike on our final day was a possibility.

For some reason, by the time we made it back to the hotel room, we were pretty tired. We basically crashed out in the hotel room for the remainder of the day, watching tv and relaxing. It felt very much like a zero day (a day off while on a long-distance hike), except we haven’t been backpacking at all. I was having flashbacks to 2009, when on our Colorado Trail Hike we laid around all day watching NCIS reruns on the idiot box. I guess with a 20-month old child, we can’t really pull of a long backpacking trip, but we can we can still experience a zero day!

Saying Goodbye is Hard, But First, a Final Hike!

We had to head back to San Diego on Sunday, but not before a final hike! This time to Loch Leven Lake, just out of Bishop. While this trail rose 1,300 feet, the grade was pretty gradual and mellow — they even provided beautifully crafted granite stairs for a small section. The little one did great in the backpack carrier — he allowed me to carry him the entire way to the lake.


We made it to the lake, watching a small avalanche throw some boulders down the cliff opposite us as we wound around to the western edge of the lake and our lunch spot. We threw rocks in the lake, ate, and watched snowflakes drop to the ground — yeah, we saw a few snowflakes!

We stopped at a coffee shop in Bishop before embarking on the drive home. Snow-capped mountains out the window, coffee, and a worn out Outside magazine to flip through. That’s the way it should be.