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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Bowen's first Sierra backcountry camping trip

I don't know where the tradition of "summer camp" for kids come from. As far as I can tell, none of the summer camps I see from Facebook posts actually involve real camping. So when Arturo suggested a real backcountry trip in the Sierra with real camping with Bowen, I of course agreed. We asked Bowen: "2 days or 3 days?" He said, "3 days!"

The location Arturo picked was Hieser and Bull Run Lakes, a trip he had done with other kids before. We left on Sunday morning, stopped in Stockton to picked up a camping bowl, fire starting equipment, and a trowel, and then stopped in Angel Camp for lunch. We arrived at the Mosquito Lakes trailhead at 2:00pm and repacked our backpacks, consolidating all the food into bear canisters, and then started walking.


The weather was warm despite recent rainfall, but Arturo told us we would still see snow. Bowen was happy to find it in the middle of summer, and could not help poking away at it with Arturo's hiking stick.
The hike from the trail head to Heiser Lake was short, not even 3 miles. But the last stretch was an uphill and Bowen hadn't been walking a lot for a while, so we took it at a low pace.
Thunderhead clouds slowly grew ahead of us, however, so towards the end, we had to cajole Bowen into moving a little faster so that we wouldn't be setting up tents in the rain. In the end, we arrived a good half hour before the thunderstorm started, so we had plenty of time to set up our tents and get in before it showed up. "Camping is so fun," said Bowen. "It's so quiet!"
After the storm was over (and we did get to hear thunder and see lighting flashes from inside the tent), Bowen was hungry. He had to wait a bit, however, as Arturo had discovered a leak in his sleeping pad. It took a long time for him to find the leak, but fortunately he multi-tasked, firing up his stove and then starting a campfire in between sessions of patching and debugging.
The purpose of the campfire, of course, was to roast marshmallows, which Bowen happily did, after which we did some star gazing before retiring to bed. Arturo discovered that despite his fixes his mattress was still leaking, and while I thought I had packed more patches, I couldn't find them in the dark.

In the light of the morning I found my patch kit for the mattress and gave them to Arturo. It was a very comfortable morning, and by the time breakfast was over I was removing all the layers. We descended back to the intersection with Bull Run Lake, and walked towards it.
This was a true wilderness experience --- all through the day we would only see 2 other people. We'd had Heiser Lake to ourselves the night before and Arturo had told us that Bull Run Lake was heavily used, so we tempered our expectations.

At lunch, Bowen saw a bear, but neither Arturo nor I were fast enough to see it! Despite the forecast of no rain, we saw thunderheads building against once more, but were quite confident that we would get to Bull Run Lake before it actually rained.
To our surprised, we arrived at Bull Run Lake in sunshine, but Bowen was so tired that he plopped down next to our backpacks while we scouted the area for a good campsite. Having found a very nice one, we talked Bowen into coming along while we put together the tents. It was sunny and warm, and so I suggested we swim before it rained and we changed our minds.
Arturo tried wading in on the shallows, but I knew that it was a mistake. With mountain lakes, you should just jump right in so you don't get a chance for the cold water to change your mind. That's what I did, and after Bowen saw me do it, he followed suit. Well, once the 5-year-old performed the feat, there was no way for Arturo to back out, so he went for a swim too.

In fact, Bowen wanted to do it twice, so I ended up jumping into the lake three times, and Arturo had to do it twice too. As we were finished with our shivering I noticed ripples on the lake surface. The rain was coming! We hurriedly dressed, hung up our swim suit, and got into our tents. The rain was short, only about 15 minutes, after which we went for a walk around the lake to verify that yes, we had the place to ourselves.
When we were done with our walk, it was still early, so Bowen and Arturo played cards while I read a little bit. Then a thunderstorm blew through. This one went on for about an hour, after which Bowen declared he was hungry, and we made dinner. The wood that we had piled up for the campfire had gotten wet, so it took Arturo two tries to start it, but he eventually got a nice fire going and Bowen roasted more marshmallows.

Our last day of hiking was the toughest one. We'd discovered that Arturo's map was wrong about distance and elevation (it must have been made by the Italian members of National Geographic), and it'd be significantly longer than what Arturo had expected.
We said goodbye to Bull Run lake and started the descent. Past the intersection with the highway 4 trail, the trail started descending rapidly and steeply. At the bottom near the river crossings we encountered 2 separate parties heading up to Bull Run Lake. Each was composed of 6 girls and several adult supervisors (some of which were men) but there wasn't a single boy amongst them.
We had lunch after the last river crossing, and finished the gentle climb which turned out to be better than the descent. After that, we hit the parking lot and then headed along the trail to mosquito lake, which would have added 2 miles to the hike if we all were headed straight for the car. But Arturo had a better idea, which was to beat off the trail to the road, whereupon he would run to the car and pick us up. The weather was very warm, so we were glad not to have to do a full 2 more miles: Bowen was already quite tired and was walking slower than his usual skip-and-hop pace. The hike up to the road was actually quite steep, but we made it and soon Arturo picked us up and we headed off to JoMa's Artisan Ice Cream shop for much needed ice cream.
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