SECRET SESSION // EASTERN SIERRA
Adventure in the Eastern Sierra sounds adventurous.
My mind flits from down jackets to majestic valleys to dense forest to camping stoves.
What if I were to tell you that there is a secret session each year that combines all of the images your overworked-city-brain could conjure about Yosemite and the greater Eastern Sierra?
It exists. And it’s a secret.
Once per year, people grinding away their lives in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Reno, Truckee and Tahoe journey to the rugged slopes between the brutal wilderness of western Nevada and the towering granite peaks of Yosemite.
There are no tickets, websites, social media posts or ways to learn about it. It’s word of mouth invite only.
Sounds exclusive, huh? It’s not really.
But it is controlled and limited to a mixed group of like-minded people bent on adventure, exposure to nature and travel. Each of us know 1 of the 2 hosts. They are the hub to all of us spokes converging each year. Some are professional skiers, life-long travelers, family men, blue-bloods, blue-collars, mothers, pilots, free-spirited kids, tech people or plain old city dwellers. It’s a mixed bag and nobody cares about these labels.
When I arrive, I (like everybody else) have to drive off road for a bit to reach the location. It’s raw. We have to be self-sufficient with water, food and activities. As with any journey into the wilderness, each person must experience their own version. This annual gathering is no exception as we’re left to our own devices to locate a place to set up our camp and pursue our own goals for the weekend.
I always opt to go as low-profile as possible keeping in mind that the nights in the Eastern Sierra can be quite cold. I pack what I need, not what I think I might want. That helps me stay focused on why I’m there each year: to enjoy the raw, pristine wilderness of Eastern California.
No matter where each of us opt to pitch our tarps, bivvies, Unimogs or vans we all want to be near the centerpiece: the natural hot springs. That’s also the location of the big feast.
Saturday is the big day. It’s the day when everybody is urged to go find their adventure. Groups loosely begin to form via mouth-cupped yells across tents and adventure vans: “Hey, are you rolling with us for a mountain bike ride?” or “We’re going climbing at 7am. If you have your gear, jump in. We’re driving into Yosemite.” We all know that we have to be back from our fun by 4pm with hearty appetites.
That’s when the lamb is served.
Each year 3 lambs are butchered and grilled using the traditional Argentinian gaucho method. The processing of the animals occurs offsite.
Early in the morning, before the lamb is removed from coarse burlap sacks, the fires begin their coal creation process. It’s thanks to the cracked, callused hands of the expert griller that has been handling the lamb for years at this event. He shall remain nameless and revered.
Before any of us can enjoy the feast of fresh lamb and potluck dishes, we must journey into the wilderness.
This year, I chose a solo adventure.
As people loaded bikes, rock climbing gear or fishing gear into trucks, I laced my shoes and went for a solo run through the rugged country stretching through the foothills. I’d stop from time to time to play my native american flute for a captive audience of manzanita, juniper and pine. The notes of my playing would echo off the granite and grizzled trunks of the surrounding flora. While some set cams into granite cracks or grinded tiny gears up steep single track trails, I ran through the wilderness recharging myself in a way that made the most sense to me at the time. It’s just what I needed, even though I wanted to hang with the rock climbing crew and high-five and whatnot.
As freeing and rejuvenating as this session is each year, I struggle after I arrive.
While the core of me yearns to connect again with the crew and share stories of adventures we’ve had over the previous 11 months, I find myself seeking solitary exploration. It’s counterintuitive and something with which I wrestle even months after I’ve returned to my daily life but it’s as if the city life has depleted my internal battery stores so effectively that when I get to the annual session, I feel as if I’ve nothing to give my fellow adventurers.
I need the time to tap into the wilderness – to recharge before I can bro-it-up with the crew. It’s frustrating and wildly fulfilling.
It’s life. The crew understands.
Here are some quick tips to a light and fulfilling session in the Eastern Sierra:
* Down socks – extremely warm, light and compact. These will reduce your need to have an extra set of socks or pants for sleeping. You’ll be so toasty.
* Shemagh – It’s versatility is unparalleled. Use it for sun cover on the exposed days and for neck/face wrap for the cool nights (hanging out or sleeping). It will reduce your need for a scarf or sunhat.
* Ramen & Dried Wakame bits – Horrible for your body, but glorious for a meal in the cold wilderness, these are light and can be stretched. Both are light and low profile and can be stretched into 2 portions by adding more water. It will reduce your need for ice chests or other devices to help keep food from spoiling. Also, the wakame are packed with solid nutrients.
* 550 Paracord – Strong and versatile. Use this for hanging wet clothes to dry, securing a tarp, stringing-up a hammock, etc. There are infinite uses for paracord. It is light, stores easily on the outside of the pack. (Pro-tip: swap your hiking or trail shoe laces for paracord so that you always have strong, versatile cordage in the event you need to get creative.)