Lassen Volcanic – A National Park Forgotten

After fighting traffic jams of rented RVs in Yosemite, we were ready to get away from the crowds.  DO NOT GO TO YOSEMITE IN AUGUST!!!  We had learned a valuable lesson and the smoke was choking us out anyhow.  Leaving a few days early, we headed northward and decided to use our extra few days to check out the lesser-visited Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California.  The drive in was through beautiful forest and we were so happy to just not be in a cloud of smoke anymore.  This was a terrible year for wildfires and it had affected our trip greatly.  We found an awesome campground just outside the park and set up for a relaxing afternoon.  Our Prius (Rock Crawler) was packed full of fun toys to keep us entertained while camping, from slack lines to hammocks we were well stocked with fun.

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In the morning we drove into Lassen Volcanic National Park.  There were very few people, but a few of the major attractions were closed because of the amount of snow still covering the paths.  We saw a random geyser on the way in and could smell sulfur in the air.  The views were insane and we were relieved to see that the hike up Lassen Volcano was open despite there being snow taller than me around the parking lot.  The hike was steep and relatively empty when we started.

Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcano
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
The top of Lassen Volcano

At the top there was still tons and tons of snow.  We looked into the crater and saw some adventurous snowboarding ladies whom were about to ride all the way down Lassen Volcano after hiking to the top.

Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Zach looking EPIC!
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Still snow after summer!

Seriously, don’t come here.  Lassen Volcanic National Park is terrible and there are bears that eat Europeans and have learned how to open RV doors.

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Mt. Shasta and NorCal Hippies

We ended up in Mt Shasta early.  After climbing around Bishop, we made our way through to Yosemite National Park which we were super excited about.  However, once in the park we realized that all our plans had to be thrown out the window because the Yosemite Valley was full of smoke from nearby forest fires.

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Smoky views on day 2

We spent two nights camping and doing what we could (not much so we caught up on some work) but then decided to cut our loses and head for northern California where hopefully the air would be cleaner.  The drive was beautiful and we covered some new territory that we had been looking forward to for a long time.  In the shadows of Mount Shasta we drove around looking for free camping.  We were hoping to find a spot at the free campground near Crystal Lake but they were all full.  Finding space would become a battle for the next few days with everyone on the west coast traveling through on their eclipse-bound road trips.  We were doing the same so couldn’t be too mad, so we jumped in the amazing lake and felt instantly better.

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Castle Lake, Mt Shasta

Refreshed, we drove a few miles away into the forest where there was lots of free dispersed camping.  We found a nice spot near a river with lots of grimy hippy kids.  These were like the people we are used to seeing sleeping on the beach in Ocean Beach, San Diego, so we weren’t too bothered by them.  After being there only a few minutes a Forest Service ranger pulled into the area and about 10 of the hippie bums casually walked off into the woods, warning us as they went that the cops were here.  Eventually the ranger came and walked through our camp, telling us to we might want to camp elsewhere.  We didn’t find anyone threatening and kept to ourselves as did they.  Our only complaint was that their drum circle that lasted til 2am.  They were actually really good musicians, we just weren’t into it at the time.  This was our introduction to Mt Shasta Norcal hippies.

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Our free camping spot

The next day we payed for a campground with showers and laundry and enjoyed Lake Siskiyou by renting a stand-up paddleboard for the first time ever.  Mt Shasta was beautiful in the background and we hoped to come back later to hike the mountain.

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Lake Siskiyou
Mt Shasta
Zach is waaaaay out there SUPing!
Mt Shasta
SUP selfie!
Mt Shasta
Mt Shasta

On our last day in the area we hiked the McCloud River Trail, an easy, scenic hike which takes you by three different waterfalls, each with its own swimming hole and cliff jumps.  We didn’t end up getting in because the cold mountain water was just too frigid!  We couldn’t do it.  It was great just to stick our feet in and admire the powerful waterfalls.

Mt Shasta McCloud River Upper Falls
Upper Falls, McCloud River
Mt Shasta
Middle Falls, McCloud River
McCloud River Mt Shasta
Lower Falls, McCloud River

McCloud river Mt Shasta

Bishop Bouldering and L.A.’s Reservoir

The eastern Sierras offer an abundance of outdoor activities and climbing was our main goal for this leg of the trip. Bishop bouldering and climbing is some of the best in the world, and the town was a great home base for exploring the area.  We Couchsurfed with a very nice guy named Doug who showed us around town then left for work for four days.  It was very generous of him to let us take over his house for that time.  Gotta love Couchsurfing!  Having just climbed Mt. Whitney, Doug’s house was a perfect place for us to rest our tired bones.  I set up my solar panel out back and we made nice meals.  Life was grand.

Before leaving on his work adventure hauling oil from the Nevada desert to Long Beach in southern California, Doug drove us around the small town telling us interesting facts.  He told us about the Lone Pine earthquake around the turn of the 19th century that left the whole valley to the south 30 feet lower.  He also told us about how Bishop could never expand because of the fact that all the land around the town is owned by Los Angeles County.  Great amounts of water flow in from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the spring and summer, accumulating in the lakes and rivers around Bishop.  This water is collected and diverted into aqueducts that carry it more than 250 miles to the dry metropolis of L.A.  It seemed wrong to us, but what do we know.

After Doug left for work we drove north towards Mammoth and checked out a few hot springs near the Mammoth Airport.  First we found Wild Willy’s, which was awesome at first but then a van full of adolescent French kids interrupted our scenic soak.  But there were more springs down the road and we found a cool group of people at Hilltop Hotsprings, a small pool with an amazing view.  Everyone soon left except a guy who owned a ski shop in Mammoth Lakes.  We talked about forest fires, as one had ignited nearby.  He explained his idea to drop giant fireproof tarps over the fires to extinguish them.  Sure, dude.

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Wild Willy’s Hot Spring near Mammoth Lakes, California

Wild Willy's Hot Spring mammoth lakesWild Willy's Hot Spring mammoth lakes

Wild Willy's Hot Spring mammoth lakes
Gorgeous, gorgeous eastern Sierras!

Wild Willy's Hot Spring mammoth lakes

On our second day in Bishop we headed back towards the north looking for a recommended climbing crag called Clark Canyon.  We got off road for a long time then realized we went the wrong way in.  Around the other side of the hills the road got bad and we took our rock-crawling Prius to its offroading limits.  The area was remote and probably a lot prettier before recent wildfires had blackened most of the trees.  Just when I though we could go no further, about six miles and an hour through dirt, we came to the parking spot and geared up.  The rock was fun volcanic tuff and we climbed a few routes.  Several ways up I found some sketchy bolts and had to downclimb, but in general the area was great and we soon found ourselves worn out and headed home.

For our third day we headed to the famous Happy Boulders near Bishop.  Bishop bouldering is extremely hot in the summer, so we got out there around 8 to avoid the heat and quickly found lots of fun rocks.  There were hundreds, if not thousands of problems and we hung out for a few hours sending a few popular routes such as Heavenly Path, a great rock with a scary 20+ foot top out.   We wore ourselves out early again and relaxed through the hot afternoon, making dinner and catching up on some TV shows.  It sure was great having our own house.

Bouldering Bishop Heavenly Path
Yay Happy Boulders! The is Heavenly Path Boulder
Heavenly Path Boulder
On Top of Heavenly Path Boulder, Happy Boulders, Bishop, California

Our last day in town we wanted to do some more climbing but all the spots around Bishop had some kind of issues, so we got up in the dark and drove south to try to tackle more routes in the Alabama Hills area near Lone Pine.  We wanted to send the Shark Fin rock around sunrise to capture the classic picture of the climb with Mt. Whitney in the background.  It was a fun climb and we got the perfect shot.  Afterwards we went to the Tall Wall near the Meat Loaf Campsite.  This was my first 100+ foot lead climb– super nerve racking but the adrenaline was well worth it.  We climbed a little more nearby then went and found a fun chimney but it was nearing 100 degrees and we were tired so we hit up the Pizza Factory lunch buffet in Lone Pine and drove home to nap.  We were finally feeling safer climbing and it was great.  If only we had a few more months to bum around the States we might actually be good!  But this would not be the trip that we became climbing pros, Alex Honnold your title is safe for now.

Climbing Shark Fin Rock in Lone Pine, Californai
Carrie on the Shark Fin, Mt. Whitney in the distance!
Climbing Shark Fin Rock in Alabama Hills, California
Zach up on the edge of Shark Fin Rock
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We love rocks!

Enjoy reading about bouldering Bishop? Stay tuned for tales of our adventures in Yosemite, Northern California, Oregon for the eclipse, and back to Black Rock City for the infamous Burning Man!

 

Hiking Mt. Whitney, TO THE TOP!!!

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The view UP from Whitney Portal

We had been trying to get a permit for hiking Mt. Whitney for years.  This year we finally won the lottery and got the chance to hike to the highest point in the lower 48 states.  We picked up the permit the day before at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center then drove up to Whitney Portal where we would camp for the night.  It was an amazing campground with huge boulders and even bigger rock walls.  The area was always full, but a nearby stream of icy mountain water blocked out the sounds of other people.  We packed our big backpacks, ready to wake up early and adventure upwards.

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The morning came fast; the adrenaline had already kicked in making for anxious sleep.  We packed everything we wouldn’t be carrying into the car then, after putting our extra food into a bear box, we started hiking Mt. Whitney Trail.  There were lots of hikers, mainly very friendly people.  The trail wove its way up a steep canyon and eventually leveled out to high lakes with constantly flowing water.  There were many creek crossings where we had to rock-hop through deep, streaming water.  We were especially glad for our trekking poles at those times!  Soon we were among the snow piles, still melting from the hard winter.  We saw chipmunks and very fat marmots, waiting to score a snack off an abandoned backpack.  It was only six miles to Trail Camp at 12,000 feet so we made it around 1pm, the summit above us and cold lake beside us.  We set up our tent and got water to filter.  With our boots off we spent the afternoon lounging, hydrating, and reading.  We felt strong and had great feelings about making it to the top.

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Energy Gu Cheers!

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At Trail Camp

The alarm went off at 5 and we were out at 5:30.  Dawn was already creeping over the horizon, so we left our headlamps at Trail Camp and started up the infamous 99 Switchbacks. There was running water over some of the paths and when you took your feet from the water to the rocks your feet would become instant ice-skates. Good thing it wasn’t any colder.  We wore hats and gloves; it was cold but the air was still and since we were well trained we powered up the switchbacks as I sang “99 Beers On The Wall…” in my head, to surprising accuracy. We thought the name “99 Switchbacks” was a joke.  Nope, there are really 99 of them.  Hikers going up were in all shapes, mostly doing pretty well, but a few seemed to be struggling with altitude sickness. We finished the ‘backs and entered another area called the Pinnacles, I think. This was the stage where you merge with the John Muir Trail hikers to summit for the finish of their weeks-long adventure. The trail zig-zagged behind the peaks with some amazing views of the inner Sierras and nice drop-offs to the opposite side toward camp. Carrie thought that it looked like an ancient castle, long worn down by weather. The final section was up the back of the peak, sometimes jumping rocks and following a new path near the end as the old was still snowpacked. Up, up, up until finally around 9:30am, the peak of the Stone House, more than 100 years old, inched over the horizon and then the world was below us and a cliff of nightmares and we had made it!!!!!!! 14, 496 feet, the highest peak in the lower 48 states!  Everyone was overjoyed, we kissed and sat near the edge and soaked in the moment. We signed our names in the register with everyone else and didn’t linger, it was a long way down. Hiking Mt. Whitney sure isn’t the easiest thing we’ve ever done.

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Sunrise view from the 99 Switchbacks
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Going through The Pinnacles
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Looking west over the John Muir Trail into Sequoia National Park
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We made it!

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Back at Trail Camp we packed our tent and were out of there by 1pm.  The way down was easy but we took it slow, avoiding injury.  We felt accomplished, the world was ours!  Since we were done hiking Mt. Whitney we needed a new mountain to conquer.  Any ideas?

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Enjoying some flowers on our way down

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Enjoy our post about hiking Mt. Whitney?  Check out our other posts from backpacking in California HERE and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject

A New Adventure, Day 1: San Diego to Creel

We woke up at the crack of dawn without getting much sleep because we were so excited to finally put our backpacks back on and do some adventuring!

I feel like I’m finally doing what I am meant to do again!  It’s been a long year and half of helping other people travel (my job is Assistant Manager at a hostel), feeling a little bit more bored by the routine of it every day.  I’m happiest when I have a light pack on my back and a plane ticket in my hand!

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There is now a pedestrian bridge (Cross Border Express) from the San Diego side of the border into the Tijuana International Airport.  The cost is $15 per person, but it’s super convenient as opposed to crossing on foot and having to take a Mexican taxi to the airport. I slip in and out of sleep on the flight from Tijuana to Chihuahua, catching glimpses of the turquoise-blue passage over the Sea of Cortez, then dry, craggy, cardboard-brown mountains jutting violently out of the flat, barren desert.

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Chihuahua at first glance seems like the Wild West of Mexico.  Lots of men wearing owboy hats and giant belt buckles, very few gringos.  We had  to use an ATM to withdraw pesos because there was not even a “casa de cambio” in the airport.

Chihuahua is close to Juarez and the landscape reminded me of the scary, violent scenes from “Sicario” as we rode into town on a taxi.  I think it’s much safer, although not very touristy.  Our friend from here warned us to stay in the main tourist town of the Copper Canyon (Cañon del Cobre), Creel, and not spend any nights in the small villages, as that’s where we could get kidnapped.  Creepy.

Our taxi quickly dropped us off at the office of Autotransportes Turisticos de Noroeste.  The ticket saleslady said something about our trip being slow but our Spanish was not up to par enough to understand why at that moment.  On the bus, the city ended quickly and we rolled through open desert with mountains in the near distance.  About an hour outside the city at the first toll plaza we saw the protest.  People and trucks were blocking the highway in both directions.  Apparently the price of fuel had been raised 20% overnight and everyone was mad.  We had to wait about an hour before they let our bus through.  The bus was slow and we had to wait at another roadblock; the mountains got bigger and trees started replacing the cacti as we got higher.  It looked a lot like northern Arizona.

After roughly seven hours (should have only taken 4.5) we rolled into Creel, a cold and sleepy town after dark.  Hotel Temescal was welcoming and warm, with super-cute Chihuahua pups to play with!  Some authentic food at Restaurante Veronica was exactly what we needed.  Zach got “El Norteño”, a cast-iron skilled of beef, cheese, and veggies, a traditional local dish.

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Hueso, the cutest little Chihuahua in Chihuahua!

We dropped into bed early, happy to have made it through our first big travel day and ready for more adventures!

Hiking San Jacinto and Idyllwild, California

From our campsite we looked down over the dusty towns of the Inland Empire, imagining their residents choking in the thick layer of smog that was ever present.  But the air on the mountain was clean and as the sun set over the desert below, the stars shown brightly down on the lights of the towns, like scars strewn across the desolate landscape.  We went to bed early as we sometimes do when camping, not having brought firewood and wanting to wake early to hike the peak.  We left the cover off the tent so we could fall asleep under the stars in the brisk mountain air.  Peaceful dreams came fast.  In the morning we would be hiking San Jacinto, one of the tallest peaks in Southern California

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We stayed at the Marion Mountain Campground.  There were only a few other people staying there, all quiet and keeping to themselves.  We picked site number 8 because it overlooked the valley.  It wasn’t a very shady spot and didn’t have trees for our hammock, but the view was worth it.

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We made some breakfast in the morning and decided NOT to go on the 12 mile round trip hiking San Jacinto Peak to the summit.  The weather man was predicting possibilities of rain and being caught on a giant mountain in a thunderstorm is not one of our favorite things to do.  So we went to the ranger station in Idyllwild town and they recommended the Deer Springs Trail to Suicide Rock, a more manageable hike to some white rocks overlooking town.

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The hike was moderate and peaceful, with only us on the trail.  Lizards of various sizes ran away as we made our way upwards, there were also birds and chipmunks scurrying about.  Once at the top there was indeed a few perfect places to off yourself.

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I climbed to the highest rock over looking the biggest drop and looked down on the town of Idyllwild, hidden beneath me in the pines.  The iconic Tahquitz Rock was across the valley.  We ate some snacks and took some Go-Pro shots.  We started back down with a lot of morning left and were down the hill before noon, glad that we didn’t do the big hike.

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The Idyllwild town monument

Our car took us back to town where we grabbed some tasty sandwiches at Idyllwild Bake Shop & Brew.  There were lots of interesting people walking around; climbers, outdoors people, Asian tourists, old hippies.  We checked out a few of the smalls stores.  They had few customers but very friendly shopkeepers.  We especially liked the pet shop where the owner told us that Idyllwild was the most dog-friendly town in America and gave us a magnet of Mayor Max, the golden retriever.   We were tired from hiking and wanted to take our boots off, so we headed back to camp and relaxed for the rest of the day.  The city life had destroyed our connection with nature, so we were happy to take it back for a day.

Enjoy reading about hiking San Jacinto Peak?  Click HERE to read about our epic hike up Mt Whitney in central California!

The Cost of Our Cross-Country Move

Toledo, Ohio to San Diego, California

6 Days

2461 miles

Gas: $398.11

Tolls: $25.80

Food/Beverages: $245.85

Accommodations: Free!

Grand Total: $669.76

We didn’t exactly live like paupers during this road trip.  We Couchsurfed everywhere of course, but we also splurged on quite a few meals out and quite a few brewery stops in Colorado.  It was a mini vacation!  Still, I think the fact that we spent so little proves something…

Do it.