Words | Matt Thompson
Photos | Matt Thompson

Losing cell service, forgetting about wifi, remembering what it was like to live without nagging push notifications, retreating to a “simpler time” and escaping the technological chains we so deeply cling to…

Bring any of the above up at a dinner party and you’ll watch pupils dilate as everyone’s favorite getaway story comes pouring out of their soul like a stream of nostalgia surrounded by Joshua trees, white rapids, pines and evergreens.

So when, with less than two weeks to get time off work and plan, I received an invite to join a couple of my best friends on a backpacking trip to a lake I’d never heard of, I committed wholeheartedly. I’d been working long hours (something I regularly do willingly and goes hand-in-hand with loving what I do) and needed a break.

I had to force it upon myself.

No cell service, no driveable grocery stores and in fact, no access to my computer to put out last-minute “fires,” and no excess. We were backpacking into Chicken Spring Lake and had to carry what we needed. So, as it was my first time backpacking anywhere other than a local coffee shop, I took a trip to REI with Bryan and bought for my survival’s sake.

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Three days later on a Friday, we’re on our way.

Bryan, Oliver and I meet in Pasadena, CA, pile into my car and set off toward Chicken Spring Lake. We’d all checked the weather (independently) and had packed for a beautiful weekend of sunshine and lows in the 60’s. Three backpacks, three great friends and high hopes of a weekend in the mountains.

We take Route 395 into Lone Pine, CA and turn left on what looks like a road into a neighborhood that eventually leads us to Horseshoe Meadow Road and we start climbing.

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Winding mountain roads through towering pines, blood orange shadows reaching beyond the cliff’s edge and an energy of happiness emanating from within the car… it’s perfection.

When we arrive, the sun has long since set and I’m getting a warning on my gauge cluster. I’ve never heard the noise before and glance down to see a snowflake. “Wait… really? Are you serious?” I think. It’s an icy road warning as the temperature has suddenly dropped into the 30’s… the low 30’s. And as we park, we realize that the dew on everyone’s rear windows has frozen.

The drive-in campsite is a 1,330 ft lower elevation than tomorrow’s destination, I’m wearing shorts and Chuck Taylors and it’s freezing. We set up camp in record time, quickly rehydrate a dehydrated meal, toss on any extra layers we have and pile into the 4-man tent.

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At around 6:30am, the sun’s nudging us awake and after a quick breakfast, we take some time exploring the valley adjacent to the drive-in campground. Dew is still dangling from leaves, the wind is speaking to us through the trees and clouds are moving overhead as of late for their Friday meetings.

With nothing to remove me from the present moment, peace sets in.

We spend an hour or so enjoying our surroundings then collectively decide it’s time. The day’s beginning to warm up, so we pack up  camp, leave any nonessential food in the bear locker and set out for the lake. The loop is about eight and a half miles round-trip and gorgeous the entire way. With mountain range views that seem to go on forever punctuated by foxtail pines and patches of snow hiding in the shadows, I can’t stop staring.

We manage the uphill hike easily and as we reach the top of the trail to get our first glance at a little lake surrounded by a crescent moon of mountains, we can’t stop grinning.

It’s stunning.

Everywhere I look, there’s another opportunity to notice and appreciate nature’s magnificence.

The next day and a half are peppered with laughter, toothy grins, sausages cooked over a camp stove and Bulleit Rye as we focus on each moment and the conversations at hand. Free from the tethers that take us out of the present, time seems to move more slowly as we’re able to fully enjoy our brilliant environment.

As it comes time to head out, I don’t want to leave. I’ve reconnected with the natural world, am grounded and focused on what matters, and tangibly feel the power of detaching from all the external sources that drain my energy… I’m at peace.

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