Camping, Off-Roading

Winter Strikes Back

Day 8

Altitude: 7161 ft. Stoke level: 4 Temperature: 81-50 degrees Conditions: very windy, partly cloudy, storming late

When I woke up this morning at Jawbone Camp, it was quite a bit cooler than it had been the last couple of days. The wind had picked up, and I felt the weather shifting yet again. The summer is trying so hard to happen in the Eastern Sierra, but Old Man Winter just won’t let go. I needed reprovisioning and wanted a change of pace, (plus I desperately needed ice as I stated before) so I regretfully struck camp and made my way down to Bridgeport.

I stocked up on gas, ice, propane, a knit hat and gloves down in town. Fortunately my cooler stayed cool enough overnight that I didn’t have to throw out my perishables. I grabbed some fries and a Coke from the local burger stand, and made use of their wi-fi to finally upload the last week’s worth of posts to my blog. It really felt good to get my writings out there! I tried to link it to my Facebook which I  may or may not have succeeded in doing. Only time will tell, I didn’t have the time to mess with it all that much.

Today’s plan was to go about an hour south of Bridgeport to a popular off-road trail called Laurel Lakes. It was rated an ‘intermediate’ trail which made it iffy for something that The Beast could handle. Sometimes I can handle those trails and sometimes not. The main attraction was a fishing stream with camping sites about halfway up, with a lake up at the very top. In my guide it said that the top was generally snow-bound until mid-July, so I wasn’t expecting to get that far. Halfway up sounded good to me.

I drove south down Highway 395 which is kind of the mountain equivalent of the Pacific Coast Highway. It is beautiful the whole length of it, I had never been on this section before, however. It was a great drive, there was a vista point with a great view of Mono Lake I just had to stop and get a picture of.

You won’t get mono from Mono Lake, nor any fish either. The salinity is too high for almost all life to exist.

I stopped in the town of Lee Vining to get some tequila and wine. Bridgeport’s liquor and wine selection was a joke, but the little market there had the goods…the prices were astronomical though. Everything in the Eastern Sierra is super expensive since it is so far away from population centers.  Gas is over 4 dollars a gallon and propane is over seven bucks a can! Crazy even for California!

I followed my GPS coordinates to the start of the Laurel Lakes trail and noticed all kinds of vehicle traffic headed up that way. It being a Friday, all the weekend warriors come out to play and clog up everything. That’s why I hate to move camp on a Friday but it had to be done. I deflated my tires and proceeded up the trail. Right away I could tell this was going to be one of those gnarly trails that were more meant for Jeeps than the average stock 4×4. I got a bad feeling about it as The Beast lurched from one big rock to the next.

As I was stopped doing some vehicle adjustments, a friendly young couple and their dog headed down the mountain stopped to chat. They said that the road only got worse, and there was impassable snow at the very top blocking access to the lake. The guy was driving a full sized Chevy almost as big as my F-250. He reckoned that if he could get almost all the way up, I should have no problem getting up to the section I was wanting to get to. They warned me that just a little ways further was a couple of very tight switchbacks that might give me some trouble however.

I thanked them for their advice and proceeded upwards in 4-Low. Just as they said, a few hundred yards up further I ran into a super tight switchback with a very narrow trail full of nice suspension-snapping rocks. At first I thought I could do it, but after carefully lining up my truck to make the run, my gut told me to back off. I felt The Beast could handle it, but my instincts told me there was a good chance of damage if I went any further. If I had the money to fix something if it broke I would have tackled it, but it was too risky. I have to admit I chickened out.

Too much of a goat trail for The Beast. It got the best of us today.

Well, I am no stranger to having my plans ruined, so I descended the mountain. When I reached the bottom I scanned my guide for a viable alternative. It was starting to get close to the time in the afternoon where I like to make camp, so I had to think quickly. I decided on a trail rated easy called ‘Buttermilk Road’. It was about another half hour to the south about ten miles outside of the town of Bishop.

I quickly re-inflated my tires with my trusty Viair compressor and made tracks. During the thirty mile run, the landscape shifted from alpine to desert, it was quite a trip. It started looking more like Joshua Tree or Death Valley kind of terrain. The elevation dropped and it got a little warmer. This made me happy, I finally might get out of the cold!

I arrived to Buttermilk Road and was greeted by a wide, well-maintained off-road. It was a little too easy for my taste, but it was better than the goat trail of Laurel Lakes. It was super washboardy though, I had to let the air out of my tires yet again to have somewhat of a smooth ride. The scenery wasn’t as nice as it was up around Jawbone Camp, but it was still pretty cool. It actually reminded me a little bit of Joshua Tree with the cool rock formations I saw on the route.

Looking a little bit like the Mojave around here.

About halfway through the loop the road made, I saw a trail that looked like it might lead to a cool campsite. I followed it until I found somewhat of a decent place to stop for the night. It wasn’t Jawbone Camp quality, but it was a bit better than Dogtown. With not much daylight remaining, I decided it would do. I parked and set up my new hundred-dollar shade structure off the back of my truck. After I set up my camp chair, I sat down and proceeded to get comfortable with my bottle of tequila.

Almost immediately I realized I had chosen a poor campsite. The wind picked up and started knocking the hell out of my poor shade structure. Just when I thought I had it locked down, a giant gust of wind blew open my camper door that I thought was closed and ripped a hole in the shade structure. I cussed, got super pissed off and took the whole thing down. There was going to be no lounging around outside at this campsite this evening.

The winds started getting super wild as I sought protection in my camper. Clouds starting blowing overhead that really were looking nasty. I actually have a little bit of internet access up here so I checked the weather and found that yet another storm front was moving through dumping snow and high winds all over the Eastern Sierra. Where I was at outside of Bodie was below freezing and snowing! Thankfully I had the luck to move down here, I wouldn’t have wanted to get caught in that mess. It looked like we were still in for it here on the southern end of the storm however.

Ominous clouds at sunset.

Hellfire and damnation, it looked like another miserable night was at hand. I had tequila this time to numb the cold though! I was so pissed off however, and for the first time on this trip I felt fury. I can’t escape this piss-ant wind! It ripped a hole in my new shade structure and kept me from cooking any food. I had to settle for eating a couple of cold cheeseburgers, it really sucked.

As I am typing this around ten o’clock the wind is blowing with incredible force. My truck is rocking all around like a ship at sea. It’s only 52 degrees but the wind seeps in everywhere making it feel at least 10 degrees colder. So far I am resisting breaking out the propane heater, that thing burns through so much expensive propane that I’m really trying so much to ration.

It’s going to be another night in the icebox it seems. Thankfully I have this tequilla to keep me warm and a bunch of good stuff downloaded from Amazon Prime to keep me entertained. I also bought another off-road guide while I was in Bridgeport so maybe I can figure out some better camping options. This shit is just getting ridiculous. At least when the weather is bad it keeps my mind off of my problems.

A week into this expedition and I have yet to see any gold or fish, what the hell? I never expected winter to be pissing all over the place in this part of California. Over on the coast we were getting some nice weather, and generally the further you move inland the warmer it gets. The weather is supposed to get warmer the next few days so maybe this is winter’s last stand, I sure hope so. I’m far too broke and at the end of my rope to be dealing with this bullshit.

I know that there is a great camp somewhere with my name on it. There has to be some ups somewhere to balance out these downs I have been having, it is the way of the universe. I don’t have any other option to keep searching until I find my own personal Valhalla. Onwards and upwards I will go even if it breaks me!

Day 9

Altitude: 7161 ft. Stoke level: 8 Temperature: 84-38 degrees Conditions: calm, sunny

At long last, today the winds stopped almost completely. It was the perfect temperature as well, warm enough so I could lounge around all day in my boxers but not so hot that I had to turn on my swamp coolers. It did wonders for my stoke level as you can see!

My camp turned out to be an ok place once the winds died down. Since it is a Saturday and the aforementioned ‘weekend warriors’ are out and about everywhere, I decided to take another rest day. Incredibly, I actually have decent signal at this remote spot, so I spent the day having some much needed & appreciated conversations with my mom and dad. I also caught up on a bunch of internet stuff and downloaded a pile of new movies, shows and podcasts to keep me entertained for the non-connected future.

There’s not a lot to write about today other than the fact that this was the most comfortable day I’ve had so far this expedition. In fact, it might have been the most comfortable day I have had this whole year! I’m really liking the conditions of this area, this was what I was expecting out of this trip. It’s super cold right now at 2:38 AM, 41 degrees, but with my heater going it’s quite alright. The weather forecast for the upcoming week is highs in the 90’s and lows in the 50’s so that is going to add to the stoke meter for sure.

Right now the question is where I’m gonna go from here. I’ve been thinking about it all day, and I’ve decided to focus back on my gold panning. Since it refuses to get warm up north, I’m going to look into some gold panning sites on the other side of the Sierras from where I am at now. If that doesn’t pan out (pun intended, ha ha!) I’ll look into other good rockhounding places locally. Southern California has good tourmaline and other gemstones in abundance. I just want to get my hands in the dirt and pull out something of value.

At the very least I’ll get to see parts of California I’ve never experienced before. That’s really what this expediton is truly all about. You could spend a lifetime exploring this state and still not see all there is to see. As many gripes as I have about this state, it’s so beautiful all over. I’m grateful to be here despite all the complaining I do about the weather & stuff. I love the West, and I love feeling like I’m starring in my own personal western. 

The past is not far gone around here, and everyday I am reminded of the days of gunslingers, highwaymen, miners and adventurers of a by-gone era. I’ve often felt as if I was born 150 years too late, but I’m living a lifestyle right now that gives me a taste of what the old days were like. It’s pretty cool methinks!

Day 10

Altitude: 10283 ft. Stoke level: 3 Temperature: 91-32 degrees Conditions: calm, mostly sunny

Today was a day for the history books. I’ve never faced such extreme, gut-wrenching off-road conditions. For starters, I drank too much beer yesterday on an empty stomach and only got about 4 hours sleep. I was feeling super nasty, but I really wanted to hit the trail. I didn’t do anything the day before so I felt I should motivate myself.

The view heading down Buttermilk Road towards Bishop.

I had in mind this trail called Coyote Flat. The main feature I was interested in was this little high alpine lake that supposedly had decent fishing. It was an intermediate level trail which made me apprensive, but it sounded like a great destination so I was all in. Before I went up the trail I stopped for supplies in Bishop. I really liked the town, there was a laid back vibe and people were friendly. I was craving tacos so I stopped at a taqueria. I was suprised to see that they were allowing people to eat inside, with appropriate distance between tables of course.

After getting some tacos in me, I headed up to the trailhead. As it was a Sunday, a lot of people were heading out as I was going in. There was only one lane and it was pretty hairy getting around traffic. I got into it with one dude almost immediately. I was going uphill and had the right of way, but this guy laid into me as I passed him. He bitched that he had the right of way and I told him he was wrong. I was surprised by his reaction, as most off-roaders are pretty pleasant people.

So as I headed up the trail, I started getting a bad feeling. It was right at the level I was comfortable with driving. It had all the bad stuff I hate, tons of big sharp rocks and uneven ruts that I was close to flipping The Beast on. We were getting battered, gear was just flying everywhere. I didn’t listen to my gut, as I had already abandoned two previous trails due to conditions and I was determined to make this one work out for me.

An example of what I had to deal with. I barely made it up over these rocks and dragged bottom pretty badly.

I climbed and climbed for a couple of hours and finally made it to the plateau on top. The trail actually improved a bit up there, but it was still pretty gnarly. The views were incredible however. I began to feel better about things, like I had left the worst of the trail behind. Unfortunately, this would not be the case.

Epic views on top of Coyote Flat.

I got to where the turn-off was for the lake and headed that way. Immediately things got super rough. The rocks were bigger than ever and I was starting to get a little freaked out. It was definitely a trail for Jeeps and small off-road vehicles. The Beast kept lurching over boulders and dragging bottom with sickening sounds of scraping metal.

Ugly looking stuff to have to pick your way through.

At one point at wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have due to exhaustion and stress, and heard a WHAM come from the passenger side. I was stuck bad on something. I got out and I saw that I had bottomed out on this huge boulder on the right side. It was really bad. I couldn’t tell if I damaged the u-joint or tie rods on that side, but my running board was all bent up into the air. I had really messed up, and without a winch or high jack I might not be able to get out of this predicament. I basically had to gun it and rip myself off of the rock, damn the consequences. Fortunately it worked out, but my poor running board was all messed up.

The evil boulder.
The damage done.

When I cleared the boulder I stopped and checked out everything. I luckily only sustained only superficial damage, but I was in full panic mode. There was no way that I was going to go out the way I came in, so I had no choice but to keep going to this lake. As I picked my way through the miserable terrain, I started getting traffic behind me. A guy in a dune buggy told me that the lake was very close and I should be able to make it if I went very slow. Encouraged by this, I kept inching forward until I finally saw water ahead of me. There was one last bad hill to get down, but somehow I made it through.

I drove right up to the small body of water that I thought was the lake and stopped. I was shaking like a leaf from the adrenaline and exhaustion. My nerves were completely shot. As I started sorting out the mess in my camper, I saw the dune buggy from before rise over a hill and head in my direction. The guy rolled up and told me that this wasn’t the lake, it was actually a few hundred yards away and that’s where everyone was at. He had been worried when I hadn’t arrived and had come looking for me. I was very touched by his concern, but I was completely done for the day and didn’t wan’t to go a single foot further.

A lovely little campsite.
A view from the other direction. The lake I was looking for was right over that hill.

I was so tired that all I wanted to do was get comfortable, write this blog entry and go to bed. I was so worn out I couldn’t bring myself to even cook supper. I figure tomorrow I will go over there and see what the fishing is like. I just couldn’t deal with people tonight.

So there is actually another way out of this place. I asked the guy if it was easier going than the way in and he said he thought it was. There is no way in hell I’m going back the way I came though! To tell ya’ll the truth I am terrified of heading back out. There is only one other time I was in a comparable situation with The Beast. We made it through then and we’ll make it through again somehow. My guts are in knots thinking about what I’m going have to face on the way out. It should be easier because I am mostly going downhill, but my brakes are starting to squeak and act up a bit. This has me worried about controlling my descent over all these tire-busting, axle-breaking rocks.

I’m going to get some good sleep tonight, and hopefully with a clear head I can deal with this anxiety better. At least there seems to be a decent amount of traffic going in and out so if something bad happens I can get some assistance. I’ve only got about five hundred bucks to my name though, so if something breaks I’m going to be up shit creek without a paddle. I think that this will be the last intermediate trail I’ll tackle on this expedition. It’s just not worth the stress and anxiety, I already have enough problems to deal with.

I’m just going to have to see how she rolls. One thing for sure, I’m definitely going to get my fish on tomorrow! I’m going to do the best I can to enjoy these stunning views while I am here. I feel like I’ve earned that right for sure.

Day 11

Altitude: 7124 ft. Stoke level: 3.5  Temperature: 86-58 degrees Conditions: very windy, party cloudy

It was hard to come up with a stoke level for today. The first half of the day was a solid 0, but here at the end I’m at a 7. I figure I’ll split the difference and call it a 3.5.

Today was the day of the Great Descent. It was every bit as rough as I thought it would be. These past two days have been the most stressful time I have ever had behind the wheel anywhere at anytime. It was a living nightmare.

Things started out ok. It got down to 32 last night. It’s about what I expected being at 10,000 feet. Thankfully the winds were calm or it would have been miserable. As it was, the cold woke me up several times in the night. I was dressed in double layers and a sleeping bag rated to 4 below zero and it was still harsh on me. I got decent sleep and felt like I was better able to deal with things than the day before however.

The winds were blowing pretty good and it was looking like some weather was rolling in, so I decided to nix fishing for the day and just head on down the mountain. My anxiety levels were such that I just couldn’t relax up there knowing the hell I was going to have to go through on my way back down. I just wanted to get it over with. I at least wanted to see the lake before I left so I drove over to check it out. On the way over I took a picture of the last hill I had to come down for prosterity. I can’t believe I made it down through that treachery without tearing up something.

How in the hell did I get down this without getting smashed up? Pure skill and a little bit of luck saw me through somehow.
Funnel Lake. It was a pretty little lake, but not worth the misery I went through to get there.

Earlier as I was waking up, I saw a convoy of three pretty good size trucks with small trailers head out through the alternative exit. It gave me hope that if those guys could do it, maybe I wouldn’t have as much trouble as I did on the way in. I was right, but only by a little bit. It still was pretty hellish. I had to jump out of my truck probably ten times to scout out lines, but with a clearer head it went a bit better than I had feared it would go down.

Only slightly better than what I had to deal with on the way in.

I finally made it back to the main trail, and that’s when things really got rough. Going downhill through the obstacles was twice as hard as going up. I was at a 45 degree angle sideways a couple of times, and The Beast was at close as it could get to flipping as it could possibly get. I wouldn’t have flipped on the road, it would have been thousands of feet straight down. Having gravity work with you than against you is definitely not a good thing when you are navigating through terrain like that. I caught a pretty bad rock on my transfer case that left a scar, but nothing leaked or got loose. I was so lucky to get out because I took some bad licks to my undercarriage that would have crippled The Beast if I hadn’t been going so slow and steady down the mountain.

I did get some good pics going down at least. It was like I was up in an airplane. Most of the time one wrong move or bad bounce off a rock would have sent me over, but thank God for lower tire pressure to help me bounce over the bad stuff. My All-Terrain tires performed like warriors. When we got to the bottom of the mountain I hollered like I won the lottery, which in a way I had I guess. That’s the best part of getting through bad stuff, it sucks at the time, but when you emerge out of the other side you feel like Superman!

Nice view down the mountain.
Bishop from altitude. I was like looking down from a plane flying overhead.

When I finally got down to the bottom, I was worn out by all the intense stress and concentration I had put into the descent. I had been looking at my fishing guide, and found that there were some great trout spots up Highway 168 off of Bishop Creek. All I wanted to do was de-stess by a nice spot by the stream and salvage my day with some good ‘ol trout fishing.

I heard there were some pullouts right off the road to access the spots. Up north you can just stop, camp out and get your fish on, so that’s what I was hoping to do. There were some day use places full of fisherman, but it was illegal to camp anywhere there wasn’t a proper campsite. Of course with coronavirus all the campsites were closed, aggravating me to no end.

As it was getting late in the day I had to find somewhere to rest and recuperate from the last two days of hell, so I reluctantly had to return to my previous spot off of Buttermilk Road before it got too late in the day. The spot really wasn’t so bad, I really needed to reach out to some people and this spot had good phone and internet access so it worked out. I got to see a nice sunset so that was a bonus.

Good ‘ol Buttermilk Road sunset. It was good to be back somewhere warm at lower altitude.

There was an exciting message I received from my friend in Alaska telling me she had found a house-sitting opportunity for a month at her friend’s 140 acre homestead down in Kenai for me. It is the perfect opportunity for me to get up there and try to get into some kind of alternate employment situation, or at least make connections if this whole lodge thing falls through. The thing is that I need to be up there next week and I’ve got to get ahold of some more funds that I don’t have at the moment for car rentals, gas and groceries. It is a golden opportunity and I am wracking my exhausted mind at the moment trying to figure out how I can pull this off.

This sounds a lot better than my plan of just holing up here in the mountains for the next month waiting for a job that may or not fall through. I’ve got to try and figure this out in a couple of days and not spend anymore money going on useless side trips to nowhere that are wasting what little resources I have left. Hopefully by my next posting I’ll have something figured out. Maybe, just maybe, I can get this Alaska expediton going after all. A lot of things need to fall in place first before that happens. I’m not getting anywhere at this rate so maybe I can get this to work out! When opportunity knocks, you’ve got to answer the door! I’m going to try and make this happen, wish me luck.


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