camping along the mojave road

Another entry in my #MojaveRoad series because I’m too lazy to write it all down at once (original article here).

One thing I really dug about this trip was how free form the whole thing was. It reminded me a lot of sailing in the sense that with all that self sufficiency comes freedom. We planned on two nights near the Colorado River to meet up and start but after that it was an open road: think Thelma & Louise minus the ending.

Big Bend of the Colorado

Since I was coming from Mammoth and my buddy from San Diego, we met up near the starting point of the Mojave Road at the Big Bend of the Colorado, a Nevada state park with camping situated on the Colorado River.

20170508_094652
We got to hang out in the river for a bit before mid day when we all got heat sickness.

It’s not a terrible campground, but it’s definitely a utility locale. It was expensive, bland, and you could hear engine brakes from the nearby highway. Oddly far from most businesses it was still unfortunately suburban at the same time. The bathrooms were clean and it’s super close to the start of the Mojave Road so there’s that.

IMG_20170508_161611939_HDR
My friend and I trying not to die from the heat and doing some route planning at Big Bend of the Colorado, Nevada State Park.

Mid Hills Campground

Our handy dandy (and extremely over detailed) Mojave Road guide mentioned numerous camping sites but they all had one thing in common: no camping signs.

20170510_105612
This sign or several like it can be found at every location mentioned by the guide as “a good place to camp.”

We actually found a really cool place on our own but there was a huge pile of dead squirrels on it. Who brought the carnage? Beats me. I was fine with staying there and just parking a truck on top of the gore: out of sight, out of mind. My friend’s wife was a voice of reason however and we moved on. And lucky we did, because we found our way to Mid Hills Campground. With potable water, firepits, a picnic table, and a 5,000 foot elevation to keep things cool it was a great idea for the $12 nightly fee.

Mid Hills is also roughly smack-dab in the middle of the Mojave Road and easily accessible in one night from the Colorado River in a day provided you aren’t stopping to smell every non existent flower.

IMG_20170509_174033377
Dinner at Mid Hills campground, somewhere in the desert at 5,000 feet: note the juniper trees in the background.
IMG_20170509_190433417_HDR
My buddy and his son, Mid Hills Campground. It really was a welcome break from the lowland desert valley.

From Mid Hills, we shot back onto the Mojave Road and quickly realized that we were probably okay on gasoline. It should be noted that probably being okay whilst in the middle of bum-fuck-egypt means you’re not really okay.

So we made a pit stop in Baker, California. I hope I do not offend any of Baker’s 745 residents by saying that there wasn’t much going on. And although it took us out of the wilderness a bit, there are practical matters to attend to (like ice and fuel), and additionally if the original Mojave Road pioneers had a Taco Bell up in Baker you can bet your ass they would have hit it up.

bakerlol
Baker has ice, fuel, a Taco Bell, motel, two auto shops, and other travel stuff.

Fast forward maybe 100 miles from Baker, back on the Mojave Road: a couple of river crossings, a dry lake bed you can do donuts in, and the rock travel monument thing. We made it! We’re done, at least to where most people stop as the road technically continues on for another 11 miles.

Afton Canyon Campground, California

For most people Afton Canyon represents the end (or the beginning, if headed west-to-east) of the line, and as such the Afton Canyon Campground is a perfect spot to hang your filthy sun hat. Tables with awnings, potable water, and non-horrible toilets make this place functionally cool but the nearly constant rumble of freight trains and amazing scenery make it more than that.

anton
Afton Canyon Campground is a bit like being on Mars in the best way possible. The constant freight trains, the desolation, and the scenery makes the place pretty amazing.

The problem of course is that it’s eight million degrees there so unless you enjoy dying slowly of hyperthermia I think you’ll make your time here brief. Perhaps in the winter it’s a very different story: I checked the forecast for tomorrow (June 27) and it’s 109f.

As a final note, remember that the desert is weird. The alpine forests tend to have a mountaineer-ish vibe, and beaches have a chilled out vibe. Deserts just have a weird vibe. I’ve lived on the Sea of Cortez (including the summer), Vegas, Phoenix, and Southern California: I’m familiar with deserts. There’s a certain kind of person who arrives at these hells-on-earth and sees them as a paradise. I can appreciate the desert for what it is but that’s a far cry from wanting to exist there long term.

Keep your wits about you. Someone killed all those squirrels and left their piled up corpses in the middle of an otherwise nice camping area. Could it have happened up here in Mammoth or down in San Diego? Maybe, but it didn’t. It happened on the Mojave Road and that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Advertisements

maps for the mammoth / june / eastern sierra (mono/inyo/yosemite)

I looked at my rather beefy selection of local maps and thought it might help some others figure out what they could use. For reference, here’s a link to the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center.

For anyone looking to explore the area a bit via their computer, check out CalTopo if you haven’t before. CalTopo also gives you some awesome route planning options and you can print out your maps from home (for free).

Have fun and be safe!

two trucks in two days

The entire social media presence of Mammoth Lakes is on the “buy sell trade“. Someone stole your fishing pole? Need a place to rent? Heard a weird noise? It all goes there.

So I’m sitting on the couch doing my EMT+W homework and Charlotte hands me her phone and says, “You see this?”

2QlhTxQ.png
Yep, that’s stuck.

So some realities start to collide:

a) I’m on a search and rescue team, with the sole desire to help people who are in various shades of screwed.

b) I’m literally sitting there studying how to help people (medically, but the point stands).

c) I have a gassed up off road rig with a big winch on the front and a bunch of recovery gear sitting in the driveway, backed in.

So I call the dude up. We make plans to meet in 15 minutes and I text another buddy of mine from Mono SAR who’s got a likewise dope 4×4 set up.

Mind you, Friday morning there was another guy posting about he got stuck out at Lake Crowley which I handled myself before work with just a simple tow strap. But for this big ass Ford Expedition it required nearly 25,000 pounds of pull power.

c5yKVJa
Off course it had to be getting dark, full of mosquitoes, thick mud, and cold water. Of course.

Two winches, two snatch blocks, me revving my engine to keep the electricity going, and the stuck Ford with street tires in 4L. We popped the guy out, told him we hoped he had a better time in the Sierras, and to hit us up anytime he’s got problems.

Honestly it’s really nice to be a position to help people. I feel like not only do you get a chance to come to someone’s aid when they’re in a tough spot, but doing it for free with a cheerful attitude can really spread some positivity in this world.

It’s fairly well known that our country is quite polarized politically and ideologically these days. Half the people in that shot above probably voted for Trump, the other half hate his guts. There are ties that bind us only if we form and tighten those accords. Lincoln famously said, “We must not be enemies, but friends.” Not only do we need to keep from loathing one another, but we must also purposefully reach out and be kind.

So I’d ask of you the same thing I’d ask of myself: try to help folks out in whatever way you can. Not for money or notoriety but from the simple truth that living in a world where we are kind and helpful to each other is the only kind of world we want to live in.

laurel lakes road

I sometimes refer to Mammoth as “outdoor Disneyland”. Minus surfing, the Eastern Sierras has nearly iconic status for anything set in the wilderness. Racing down snow covered mountains, climbing up ice shoots, fishing in gurgling creeks, and mountain biking through beautiful forests: you could do it all in the same day if you had enough time.

So today for lunch we headed over to one of the nation’s best skate parks here in town, then hit the dirt roads cutting through Sherwin Creek Campground and made a left towards Laurel Lakes.

Laurel Lakes Road apparently has earned a designation as a “dangerous road”, and fair enough: if you don’t have a fairly decent vehicle and skills to match you very well may end up dead. In fact, the latest fatality was about two years ago.

laureldrop
Yep, miss a turn or slide out and it’s a loooonnnnnnggggg way down.

Fortunately for me and the kiddos, we we had a nice drama free time. In fact, I only drove up halfway yesterday by myself and traversed the rest on foot to get a sense of what was going on. Satisfied it was within my and my truck’s ability range, I thought it would make a great lunch stop.

laureltruck
There are worse places in the world.

An advantage to going places that are a pain in the ass to get too is that there’s less folks there and the people who do make it happen tend to be more experienced and thus more responsible. There was barely any trash and minus some tree-trunk carvings from local kids it was in perfect condition.

laurelcreek
Fire ring past the giant “don’t drive through here” boulders, creek behind the kids.

I’m not sure of the camping restrictions up there, but there are some tastefully laid out fire rings. If you get up there, please be responsible and treat the place with the respect it deserves.

This is also the road you can take to Bloody Mountain, although we stopped before the final switchback sets: there is still too much snow.

If you have a couple of hours to kill, a high clearance 4×4, off road tires, and a locking dif or two, head on up. Alternatively you could mountain bike or hike the one-way ~4 miles: there’s little traffic on this route and it’s pretty easy to see folks coming ahead.

laureltrashbag
It matters.

As a final note, the first thing I set up these days for any kind of backcountry stop is a trash bag. Not only do you have a quick spot to toss your own things, but having a big bag around makes you more likely to pick up existing trash that someone else didn’t address.

lots of sar training this spring

Every since joining the Mono County SAR team, I’ve been working closely with existing members and my 2017 cohort. In no particular order, here are the various skills we’ve been dialing in:

  • Ice and snow anchor use and placement. Flukes, pickets, and snow bollards.
  • Rock pro anchor use and placement (climber speak for “protection”). This is for 20 kilonewton (2.4 ton) rescue loads, typically consisting of at least two sets of three independent banks of protection. You should be able to hang a Honda Civic off our rescue rigs.
sarchopper
Rescue teams being able to radio a chopper in loaded with a paramedic and hoist should make you feel better about paying your state taxes.
  • Running top speed and jumping down Bluejay, landing on our back traveling head first, sliding to our doom. No worries, just use that ice axe and self arrest without piercing your femoral artery.
  • Helicopter insertion and patient hauling, courtesy of the awesome H40 crew at CHP’s Central Division. Popping smoke grenades, grabbing the hooks without getting zapped, rotor wash everywhere, and giving your patient a fastpass ride: it’s hard to not get stoked when you see that work out smoothly.
littercarry
San Diego Mountain Rescue, performing a litter carry. I’m in the back there somewhere.
  • Tracking training (which is nearly an art form), complete with sage-on-the-hill trackers who will track people in the woods just for fun and to see if they can. One guy on our team has a sandbox of sorts at his front door and asks everyone to leave an impression so he can keep seeing different tracks.
  • Blood borne pathogens and what they mean to a first responder. Want to catch some hep c? What about working on patient A, then going over to patient B without changing out your gloves, spreading whatever goo patient A has on patient B?
  • Radio training, to include all repeaters and frequencies used by air crews, law enforcement, and municipalities throughout the county.
  • Mountain navigation, chasing down small markers scribbled on small pieces of wood across a forest and scree field. As a Navy trained sailor with a USCG captain’s license, I had to work hard for this practical and written test.

Nevermind the examinations, gear signoffs, medical provider qualifications, immunizations, pack signoff, and take home tests.

And we’re not even close to halfway done with training at this point. Really it’s just enough to turn our 2017 cohort into a field effective team for the summer.

loadedup
The back of my truck is in go-mode for the summer. Pack, uniform, “maybe” gear. Even spare undies.

Then there are the self-study sessions groups of students will do for practicing various skills, typically high angle rope work and patient care.

July marks the typical beginning of rescue season. Right now the Lakes Basin is pretty inaccessible because of snow, PCT thru-hikers are skipping the High Sierra (my backyard), and major campgrounds are scheduled to only be open for two months this year.

So even though the backcountry is pretty treacherous right now, road closures and applaudable risk analysis have kept most folks from getting into trouble. That said, the sheriff could be getting ready to hit the call-out button right now.

*As a rule, I will not and cannot discuss any particulars of search and rescue operations that approach the realms of patient privacy and law enforcement. 

getting out of mud, or : the hi-lift is more than just a 4×4 ornament

Buzzing around town today we rolled north into the 4×4 trails past Shady Rest. There’s some neat stuff over there: nothing super technical but it’s gorgeous and has been effectively off limits due to snow for the last six months.

For 20 minutes we bounced around the gorgeous trees, the FZJ-80’s OME suspension laughing off anything we hit. I saw some water ahead: no big deal.

The ground got soft, and we sank in like a stone to a dead stop. Hub deep on the driver’s side: both tires. The stereo kept pumping but I instantly knew it was un-stucking time.

stuck
Literally deep mud and figuratively deep shit.

We had no cell reception so I couldn’t call anyone, but what kind of self respecting off road enthusiast needs to call help just to get unstuck? I had a Warn M8000 winch (up front), straps, an axe, and a Hi-Lift. Missing were my traction pads and shovel, and really I should always have a shovel.

I of course considered winching: it’s a big powerful piece of gear. But I wanted to go backwards because the next 100 feet was more super soft mud and ten feet behind the truck was solid ground. Going further with just me and the family with no cell service seemed a little risky. I’m a coward: sue me.

winchinghmm
Winch cable out, but respooled and staying as a heavy/expensive hood ornament for the day.

My plan was to basically jack up the wheels that were spinning in mud and get something under them that could grip a bit. Right next to the truck were a bunch of downed smaller trees and branches: perfect. Out comes the axe to shape things for what I’m needing.

chopchop
Yeah, I keep a sharp axe in my truck. I’ll show it to any guy who wants to date my daughters in the future.

To lift tires out of the muck with a Hi-Lift you need:

  • A platform to put under the jack. Like snowshoes, you need to spread the surface area out otherwise the jack will just get pushed down into the mud. I carry a huge piece of 2 1/2″ thick 1’x1′ and it’s been working great.
  • A Hi-Lift wheel attachment or aftermarket bumpers. “Modern” vehicles have laughable bumpers that in no way can support the weight of a vehicle and as such the Hi-Lift will simply rip it off.
  • A Hi-Lift. Especially if you have a lift kit and/or oversized tires you’re going to need an insane amount of jack height. With the wheel attachment this might not be so bad, as you’ll keep the suspension compressed as you lift up (I think).

Once you’ve got the hole the tire was in exposed, jam some crap in there. Rocks, (already downed) trees, (already downed) branches, traction pads, etc. A note on traction pads: I have some and have used them a few times. Get bright orange because they tend to get really smashed down into the mud/snow and can be almost impossible to see and are quite tough to retrieve. If you can find some natural stuff and don’t hurt anything, I’d vote for that. Save the traction pads for when you don’t have a gazillion downed limbs laying around.

hilifttrees
Lowering down, logs/branches jammed in, and now we’re driving on the shrubbery.

It definitely looked bad, out there hacking up wood with an axe and jamming them into a muddy hole to be driven on, but I don’t really see any actual environmental impact aside from the heart palpitations I may have some put some Green Peace observers through.

frontoo
Did the same thing to the front end for good measure.

And the end result is rather boring but you can see below, out the vehicle goes without much issue. I had my center dif locked and was in 4L, for any off road dorks reading this.

Some lessons I learned:

  • Bring your gloves. I had left mine in another bag, and especially when working with the winch it becomes almost necessary. My nitrile gloves were a poor excuse.
  • Lube the Hi-Lift. More.
  • When working the Hi-Lift, you need to put your back into a bit and, while not jerking it about, make sure you’re powerfully going all the way and all the way down. It took me a while to master the descent until I understood that.
  • Consider putting an old t shirt, some cardboard, or really anything sacrificial between your Hi-Lift and whatever point it’s contacting otherwise it will chip powder coating and paint.

Don’t view getting stuck as the end of the world. It’s like having a somewhat empty kitchen: you’re not going to die, and it’s a great time to experiment with what you’ve got. You’ll learn a lot and provided you don’t get hurt and make the situation worse it can be down right enjoyable.

off road shower

Another entry in my #MojaveRoad series because I’m too lazy to write it all down at once (original article here).

It’s not fancy, it’s not sophisticated, and it really only works best in warm and windless conditions. But if you’re looking for a simple shower, consider this.

4x4shower
Don’t drop the soap.

They key ingredients of this is (obviously) straightforward.

First, you need a way to get a solar shower up in the air. A big stick I had ontop of the roof basket worked great, the tail end strapped down with a bungie. A folded up camp chair, a shovel, or a hi-lift would work great too.

You want something other than dirt to stand on, but lucky for you I’m sure you carry a piece of wood for putting under a jack so that works just great.

Try to anticipate your showering if you’re using a solar shower: deciding to shower “now” means cold water. Deciding you want to shower later in the day means warm water.

Flatter sun showers work better to strap down on a roof rack (prior to your shower) than my smaller/ligher version pictured. I’m still not sold on the idea of strapping a full shower to the rook basket while bouncing around driving in technical terrain as I think it’s a great way to rip/thrash/bounce the bag to death. But on flat roads or stopped, it’s a great idea.

overlanding(?) the mojave road

I’ll be adding little snippets about my experiences on the Mojave Road which you can find via my handy #MojaveRoad tag.

Shortly after I fell in love with my 1994 Land Cruiser, I read up on “overlanding”. Subcultures have their own vocabulary, partially to convey meaning and partially for identification. Sometimes hilarity ensues such as this gem:

I spent two years cruising in Mexico.

When sailors toss this gem around, it means one thing. To a gay man in a nightclub, it means something entirely different.

So in four-wheel-drive circles (or ‘wheelin), “overlanding” basically means really long drives across varying terrain whilst being self sufficient and probably sleeping in a tent of some type.

milezero
Sitting (literally) at mile zero, me and my buddy’s truck.

The Mojave Road is roughly 160 miles long (counting detours and shenanigans). I stumbled across it when looking for “overland routes” on Google one day, and realized that it:

  1. Did not seem insanely technical. You need to know how to drive off road, but you don’t need to be happy making 5 miles a day via winching and swimming (ala Camel Trophy).
  2. Was relatively close by. Starting in Laughlin, NV I left Mammoth Lakes and was having a beer at our campground right after sunset.

So I called up one of my likely-as-poor-a-decision-maker-as-myself buddies and asked if he wanted to do it with me. Less than 10 seconds later came the affirmative, so we made plans in early spring of 2017 to tackle it later that May.

It was a pretty cool six days and five nights out of my and my kids’ lives doing this trip and rather than try to summarize it all here I think I’ll break it into pieces. Click on my cool #MojaveRoad hashtag (once I’ve written more than this one).

travmonument
The “traveler’s monument” is a basically a pile of rocks in the middle of hell.

For now it’s good to be home, it’s good to knock out some laundry, and it’s good to not have rivers/trains/winds howling in the air all night long. I’m back to the peace of tranquility of bears and snowstorms here in Mammoth Lakes, CA.

the 2017 spring melt

It’s our first year living in Mammoth, and we’ve had one hell of a winter. Over fifty feet of snow fell, and I literally shoveled that entire amount from my driveway and probably a third from my roof (the rest melted / or shed by itself). I still don’t want to write about the 16/17 winter because I’m always looking over my shoulder that it’s not done. In fact there’s ~6″ of snow forecast for this weekend, in May. Just a few days ago I got high centered in snow, again. Rumors persist that the mountain will stay open for ski and snowboard operations all year, and Tioga Pass may not open at all.

Above are shots from roughly the same vantage point of Mammoth Creek Park. On the left is late April, on the right is 1.5 weeks later in early May. So while winter may not be done yet the melt is certainly happening. Barring rain or some freakish event, when snow falls December-February it’s basically not going anywhere unless you physically remove it. By about the third week in April though the sun is high enough in the sky that it starts cooking the snow off fast enough that you can safely put the shovels away. Well, maybe leave one out for the steps.

byebyeigloo
The remnants of our no-kidding igloo from December. 

The animals are also going bonkers. In winter, you have two main issues: snow and ice. The bugs, bears, plants, and all other forms of life vanish and you get winter all up in your grill.

Just last night I was in my truck when the neighborhood asshole big fat black bear rolled down the street like a stoner text messaging, not paying a damn bit of attention to what was ahead of him. In this case: me. About two car lengths away I spotted him, he spotted me, and we both darted in opposite directions. I came back armed with bear spray and bravado but the 8,000 calorie a day consumer had vanished.

There’s a bird trying to peck a hole into my house this morning. I put some more siding over there, and now he/she has moved to another target. I throw wood chips at it.

Funny enough though there hasn’t been much mud: just look at how bone-dry that park picture is above with the amount of snow that melted into it so quickly. The soil seems to accept water really well and flat meadows are the exception not the rule up here in the Eastern Sierras. So the water is either flowing like crazy somewhere or filling something up. You’re either flooded or dry, as most likely you’re on an incline of some sort.

I would definitely caution any would-be homeowners to look seriously at localized flooding. If you can’t clearly see how the water would drain, it probably won’t. And I mean a lot of water. Like thousands of gallons a day sort of water.

Another would-be homeowner tip: ensure the front of your house faces south. Seriously. The sun is god’s show shovel and it never gets tendinitis or a sore back.

easter
If you can see asphalt anywhere, it’s spring. Lyra is standing on our “yard”, down there somewhere.

And with that, all eyes are on for summer. Sure, there are snowflakes that will still fall this year but instead of looking at a massive wall of snow outside my window, all that’s between me and nature is the window screen, with the sounds and smells of the Eastern Sierra coming through.

It really is a privilege to live here and even with the bears, ice, woodpeckers, voluminous amounts of snow, and soon-to-be forest fires of the summer, I’m happy to live here.