Sunday, November 26, 2017

Camping and Hiking in Big Pine: Our First Summer Trip up the 395

Camping was always sort of an afterthought for us, but when we finally camped for the first time in Big Pine in September, we fell in love with it right away.  We've gone a handful of times since, and within a few weeks of this first camping trip, we've already taken it to the next level by getting into backpacking.  Why haven't we done this sooner?!  Taking the time to camp out has been a really nice way to unplug for the weekend and relax while still learning and experimenting all of the time.  It's great having no screen in sight to keep us up and no alarms to set for the morning.   Wes loves building fires, new contraptions, and sleeping in the cold...I also found out that he loves foraging for sticks even more than any other human being I know.  I am the opposite, but somehow it still works: I love putting out the fires, getting back to the basics (cooking and passing the time simply), and snuggling up in our double-person sleeping bag...and letting Wes gather the sticks.

We had just gotten back from doing the Salkantay Trek in Peru, where we hiked with a group from camp site to camp site for four days.  It was a great introduction to spending time off the grid, and we both wanted to do more of that.  So as we planned our visit to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in Big Pine, we decided to book a cheap campsite rather than a hotel room.  Might have been a little bit rash at the time, since all we owned was a basic Coleman tent lying around and two camping chairs...we didn't really own anything else related to camping.  But Wes said that he'd gladly figure out all of those logistics - the techy stuff and brand research that I can't bear to bother with.  All I had to do was to plan our excursions and hikes, which was more than fine with me.  Things felt super last-minute, but aside from a few broken eggs and forgetting to bring a bottle opener, we survived in the end!

Baker Creek Campground in Big Pine was where we ended up.  This was a good choice for us first-timers, since it was just a little bit off the main road with convenience stores right there.  Despite this, Big Pine is an extremely small town, so camping here still felt really quaint and secluded.  Our campsite was tucked into the trees against some rocks, right next to a running creek.  There were only two other groups camping there.  It was also nice that there was a picnic table, a fire pit, and a bathroom.

Baker Creek Campground was literally five minutes away from Coppertop Barbecue, our favorite BBQ pitstop on the familiar route to Mammoth (rated #1 on Yelp two years ago!).  We were pretty set on going there for our meals, but on the night before the trip, we decided: f*ck it, we're cooking.  So after work, we hit up an REI to buy a pocket rocket, fuel, and a compact cook-set designed for camping.  Then, we stopped into Walmart (conveniently located in the same plaza), where we ended up buying a knockoff Yeti ice chest and loading up a shopping cart with tons of food to cook.  Probably too much.  We weren't even sure if we were going to make a campfire, but then we saw that Walmart had firewood, so...there was the answer to that question.  We were on a total shopping spree, buying everything from ice packs to deli meat to bananas.  It was sort of exhilarating.  I felt like a chicken with its head cut off, bouncing around from aisle to aisle and wondering if we were going to forget anything.

By the time we were ready to leave, Wes had obtained sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camping pillows, a camping stove, fire starter supplies, and a camping lamp.  I'm glad that one of us had the patience to do the research and the initiative to not only purchase what we needed, but also to find these things for good prices.  Plus, he purposefully got stuff that was potentially good for backpacking too - so everything was ultra light-weight and cold-weather-proof.  I guess Wes always knew that we'd take this camping thing a bit further.

Also, we were total camp-cooking noobies, but we realized that it's pretty much exactly the same as cooking at home, with the exception of throwing foil parcels of food into the fire.  It was really the clean-up that's more difficult, especially after dark.

Wes was a total natural with getting the fire going, filtering water, and doing all of that survival business.  We were obviously having way too much fun with the novelty of it all, seeing that I have a ton of photos (of the most normal camping objects) to commemorate our first camping trip together!

The hike that we did on Saturday was also sooo awesome--probably my favorite hike to date.  We went to the Big Pine Lakes on Saturday and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest on Sunday.  It was like 100 degrees at Baker Creek during the day, but we were able to escape to higher elevations.  We have a billion photos from both Big Pine Lakes and the Ancient Bristlecones, but pictures don't even do these places justice.
On the way to Big Pine, we made our usual stop at the Alabama Hills Cafe.  It was great as always.  This time, we got free cookies because they accidentally gave me hash browns instead of home fries - how sweet is that!!

And then we overshot Big Pine a little bit just to have the best frozen yogurt ever in Bishop, because this yogurt is worth the 15-minute detour and it was a hundred degrees.  Plus, maybe we were just mentally preparing ourselves to start really camping, haha.

There isn't much in Big Pine, but it's definitely the launch pad for some breathtaking hiking trails in the Sierras to the West and the famous Ancient Bristlecones to the East.  We took advantage of both!

So I guess this is the "big pine"?

We now have a lightweight backpacking tent, but at that time we used this traditional one.  It felt luxuriously spacious in there!

Two-person sleeping bag.  It's a good way to stay warm!  I need to use Wes as my personal space heater on cold nights.

Pillows that deflate down into the size of your fist.

Blowing up our sleeping pads and trying not to get lightheaded.  Lots of small quick puffs vs. long drawn-out exhales?  Either way, very convenient.

So we discovered that our picnic table was under an apple tree.  Cute, but the apples didn't taste that amazing.

Also picked up a disposable tablecloth from the store in Bishop - it's so cheesy, but it adds so much character to camp!

On our first night, we made these trout filets.  It was funny because Wes got the skin perfectly crispy and everything looked great, until we cut it open to see that the inside was still raw.  Back on the pan they went!  We weren't used to how strong the flame was on the pocket rocket and stuff.

Eek but we did cheat a little... we had to get a cup of chili from Coppertop BBQ because: how can we be 5 minutes away and NOT go there?

We got up the next morning and made some sandwiches for lunch, and ate a simple breakfast.  It was really nice to wake up with the sun, I think Wes got a little hot in the sleeping bag at night but I was really happy.

We did the North Fork of the Big Pine Lakes Trail to the lower lakes (Lakes 1 - 3).  It was indescribably beautiful!

After 4.8 miles of hiking, we reached First Lake (the first of seven, of which we only saw three) and stopped to eat lunch.

Separately packed tomatoes mean no soggy buns!

Second Lake!  Definitely the most photogenic one, with Temple Crag looming in the background.  Just around the corner from the first lake.


We debated whether we should head to the third lake, as it was starting to get late, but we decided to just do it.  The scenery was beautiful the whole way, with the granite cliffs all around us and lots of trees.  We took a water break by sticking the Sawyer water filter into a small waterfall - that was pretty neat!  It started drizzling by the time we made it to the lake, so we stayed only for a few minutes and then headed down.

Here's Third Lake!

Whew, that was long.  While we were driving back to camp along the highway, we saw a rainbow!

Back at camp, we immediately got to cooking our dinner for the night.  Trout was yesterday, sausages today!  We even brought a bottle of beer with us to cook them in - just had to borrow a bottle opener from the nearest campers though. Oops.

Dinner was so good, we polished off all of these sausages, and all of those vegetables, and all of the potatoes...and even a small salad.  We brought a ton of food, man.  Ah.. those potatoes were super memorable - I liked how the fire essentially burned the seasoning (Old Bay) onto the potato skins.

We slept really well that night, after sitting by the fire, looking through our photos from the day, and rinsing out all of our dirty dishes with filtered creek water.

Woke up the next morning and tried this dry shampoo thing... it was a little weird.

While I was spraying my head with aerosol, Wes was excitedly taking these photos of a praying mantis that he found - he held the stick in one hand and the camera in the other.  I wish I had a photo of him doing that balancing act!

So these eggs survived in our ice chest for 200 miles on the road and two nights in the cooler...

...only to be spilled when somehow the pan fell over from being balanced on the pocket-rocket!  *facepalm* (no photographic evidence of the disaster)

So we had bananas and Kind Bars for breakfast instead.  At least we didn't have to wash any dishes.

Then we packed everything up and went to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest!  I posted about it separately here.  We had so much fun on this very first camping experience together.  Luckily, we don't have to always drive so far to camp - the Angeles National Forest is right in our backyard and filled with campsites.  I've got to make a blog post about that too...

And after hiking in the Ancient Bristlecones, we finally treated ourselves to two combo platters from Coppertop Barbecue.  Hey, we deserved a pat on the back for having not burned down the campground and for not living off protein bars and ramen noodles for the past two days!  We just can't (and won't) pass this place up when we're in the area.  Until next time, which will be soon enough.


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