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Smoke on the trail

August 1, 2013

An Eastern Sierra weekend like no other

It was a weekend we will never forget. 

If you hit the trails this past weekend, chances are you had an experience similar to ours. It began with collecting our permit at the Mammoth Forest Ranger Station.

As I walked through the door on my way to what should have been a routine hike, I could sense the collective madness—the concerns about the smoke looming over Mammoth, the questions about what trails were safe, the phones ringing non-stop, a distraught woman who had hit a mother duck by Twin Lakes.

The Forest Service staff was calm and collected as usual. I made it out unscathed and headed home to pack our gear for a quick jaunt to Pika Lake for the weekend to escape town and enjoy some, well, I was going to say fresh air and peace, but I suppose that was not the case. 

We headed out Friday evening and as soon as our feet hit the trailhead, a bright flash of lightning blinded us, followed by an unsettling clap of thunder.

It took only seconds for us to throw on our rain gear and cover our packs so we’d stay dry. As for the dogs, they were not so enthused.

The storm came with heavy rain, hail and lightning that was too close for comfort, especially with my fishing rod sticking out above my head, which is already over six feet above the ground.

It felt like I was asking for a jolt. It took seconds for the trails to flood.

We were walking up a river until we hit Barney Lake. The original plan was to go to Pika that night, but the storm settled over the pass and we weren’t comfortable making the climb with the heavy lightning we were experiencing.

The four of us, and two dogs, hunkered down at Barney for the night. We waited for the rain to break long enough to set up camp, which it finally did around sunset.

Not that it mattered too much because as the storm cleared, smoke from the nearby Aspen Fire began to pour into the valley and block out the last hour of sun. We were able to get a few photos of the smoky sky as the weather changed. 

On Saturday we awoke early and made it to Pika with ease, but the sun only graced us with its warmth for about an hour in the morning before the smoke and storms settled in once again.

It was unseasonably cold for July. We had to wear layers as we fished Pika and watched large chucks of hail hit the water. The sound of the hail hitting the water was amazing—music in nature.

We considered collecting it for icy cocktails, because you need to make the best of a situation, right?

The dark, stormy weather once again hung around until sunset, but we were happy that we at least got a moment to feel its warmth.

Has everyone seen the Sci-Fi movie “All Summer in a Day?”

The sun only comes out once every seven years and everyone runs to capture its rays on their skin. That was us. We took off layers and hiked around the lake until the sun set behind the mountains and the smoke from the Aspen Fire crept in.

Saturday night was cold, but hot soup and a warm mutt by my side made all the difference.

Sunday morning came early and we decided to take advantage of the sun and head back to Mammoth after some camp coffee. Sure enough, halfway home, sounds of thunder echoed behind us.

We made it out in front of the weather.

We thought we had it bad, but as we rolled into town, the smoke was thick, and worse than when we left. We assumed it was not from the VillageFest barbecue at the Village.

The decision of what to do next was easy: head home, close the windows, prep a big meal with a cold brew, and watch the Dodgers land another win on TV.

The smoke from the Aspen fire, about 30 miles away, engulfs Barney Lake and the surrounding area on July 27. Photo/Erin Hamimlton
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