Backpacking in the Sierras: Mammoth Lakes

This past weekend, I went backpacking in the Eastern Sierras, a much anticipated trip among me and some friends. After 2 intense weeks of work travel, I was feeling super burnt out, and even contemplated ditching this trip to stay home. I’m SO glad I got my butt up and chose to go – being out in nature away from all civilization left my spirits completely rejuvenated, although it left my body felt a bit destroyed by the end 😛

This trip had a lot of firsts for me: first time backpacking AND camping. I’ve been dying to do both for the longest time but was waiting to go with experienced friends to learn the ropes. Everything fell into place when Julia and Rahul planned this trip. They were so organized with sending packing lists and having tents/sleeping bags/food/gear for everyone; they were the absolute perfect people to backpack with for the first time and I couldn’t be more grateful for all their organization.

The rest of the group consisted of Vijay, his girlfriend, and James (a friend of Julia’s who I met last year at Thanksgiving), and so we had a pretty tight knit group for the weekend. 🙂 I have a LOT of amazing photos and things to share so let’s get to it:

Friday: Packing + drive to Tahoe

I flew in late Thursday night from Chicago, and so Friday was a bit of a mad dash: laundry, working from home, packing, running around the city to buy gear…somehow it all came together just in time for Julia and Rahul to pick me up in the evening.

Housing in Mammoth Lakes was pretty expensive, and so we decided to stay at Julia’s family’s cabin in Tahoe for the night. The 4-hour drive flew by since we had so much to catch up on.

Vijay and his girlfriend met us at the cabin around midnight, and we all passed out right away since we had an early morning the next day.

Saturday: Hectic morning + 8 mile hike to Thousand Island Lake

We were up by 8am Saturday morning to take one last shower and basically repack our backpacks to redistribute all the communal gear and food. The morning felt a bit hectic. We got a later start than we planned, and I even needed to stop at a camping store to rent a new sleeping bag since I completely underestimated the temperature there…backpacking is definitely a true test of organization!

We drove another 2 hours to the park entrance, took a bus to the trail head, and finally around 2pm we were good to go. After a LOT of logistics it was so nice to finally smell the fresh air and get to enjoy everything ahead.

The “before” group picture 🙂

The Sierras really are something something special. The trail itself was the perfect mix of shaded and exposed so we could enjoy the high elevation views while keeping cool (we were at 10,000+ ft!). I was super into the untouched and un-crowded feeling of the trail, and was honestly just so grateful to be there.

The hike to our camp spot was 8 miles, almost completely uphill – this was the hardest day of the three. I was surprised by how comfortable my backpack felt, despite carrying 30+ pounds. I rented a 65L Osprey backpack and it felt SO much lighter and supportive than my cheap backpack I’ve been using for years. I will definitely be investing in an Osprey!

Despite grinding away with the uphill and heat, time completely flew by. James and I led the pack (we joked I was the “general” and he was the “lieutenant”). We sang songs, laughed and joked around, talked about life…

I learned how to use a water filter, a nifty device we used to drink the fresh water from creeks and lakes.

The last mile or so was the hardest – it was the steepest and we were dying to make it to camp before sunset.

The cool thing about Thousand Island Lake (one the Mammoth Lakes and our ultimate destination) was that you walk and walk…and turn the corner and the big beautiful lake just hits you in the face. No lead up or anything. It was quite a sight. 🙂

Casual photoshoot 🙂

We walked a little further to find a good campsite. We pitched our tents, changed into some warmer clothes, boiled some water for our freeze dried dinners (which were actually pretty yummy!), and enjoyed our food while watching the sunset.

After a looong day, we were pretty quick to huddle up in our warm tents and call it a night. I also learned that there’s really not much to do after the sun sets while camping, and so we were in bed by 9pm 😛

Sunday: Entire day at the lake + off trail hike

Rahul and I were up first, bright and early at 6:30am. We enjoyed the sunrise together – there was one large mountain across the lake that reflected an orange glow and it was an incredible sight.

One by one, the others joined us. We chose another part of the lake to have breakfast: instant coffee, oatmeal, and PB&J’s. The lake in the bright daylight was a completely different sight from the evening before: so big, blue and clear. There were no other people around us; it was so surreal being completely apart from civilization.

Another interesting thing I learned about camping: time goes SO slowly. But in a good way; I wish more days felt like this! It was so relaxing to have absolutely nothing to do. Every time we checked the clock, I was surprised by how “early” the day felt. I think being disconnected from the world via no cell service had something to do with it. We all agreed that by 9am, it felt like we already went through an entire day, ha.

We had nothing on the agenda for Sunday. We played some cards in the morning.

Then, we spent some time at the lake. When the sun was straight above us, it was actually nice and warm (~70 degrees). The lake was still pretty cold, and so we rotated between diving in the water, laying on the grass, running around, doing yoga…it was so refreshing and made me feel like a kid again.

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After taking a nap, Rahul, James and I went out for a late-afternoon hike. Oh how good it felt to explore without our big backpacks! Rahul led us through some fun off-trail paths; we climbed rocks, chilled by creeks, a perfect afternoon adventure.

On this mini-hike, I realized why I felt so happy to be with this group. Backpacking is definitely not for everyone – it’s dirty, difficult, but so worth it to make it to a destination like Mammoth Lakes and to see all the beauty along the way. Why I loved these friends so much was that I felt like we were all better versions of ourselves out there in nature. I felt more relaxed, patient, grateful for little things like a warm meal or coming across a fresh creek…Rahul and I agreed that if money, stability, or chance of death or dismemberment weren’t a factor, we’d both happily be park rangers. 🙂

Some freeze-dried chili mac n’ cheese for dinner. My favorite meal yet! We enjoyed our meals over one last sunset together, before calling another early night.

Monday: Hike back + drive back

Another early start to the day. We had a quick breakfast, and then packed up our campsite until we “left no trace.” Then we were off on the same 8-mile hike from the way up.

Physically, it was a lot easier this time around. Our packs were lighter since we ate all the food, and the trail was net downhill on the way back. Mentally however, I was a bit exhausted and was ready for this hike to be over 😛

And just like that, we were back! Our “after” group shot :).

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We changed our clothes and headed back to our cars for the 6 hour drive to SF. Most of it looked like this.

For being such a fun and relaxing weekend, it also felt so hard core and accomplished! This trip definitely sparked a fire in my heart to go on more backpacking adventures in California and across the country. Something about being in nature and completely unplugging is good for the soul, and sharing it with these amazing friends made it that much more rejuvenating. ❤


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