Dispatches from Into the Wild: The Eastern Sierras



By Michael J Whalen

Sitting outside the bakery with a mouthful of bagel and egg sandwich, I began to wonder if this was really happening. In the small town of Bishop, nestled underneath the spires of rock that make up the Eastern Sierras, the thirteen of us freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors sat two hundred ninety miles from campus on an adventure that would last no more than fifty two hours.

I took a sip of steaming coffee.

The last minute decision to go on this trip was made out of desperation. The quarter was starting to move fast, too fast, and my head had become cluttered. Like the others on the trip, I needed to slow down for a weekend and get some fresh air.

Ruby Lake

It was Saturday morning, and late Friday night we had pulled into Tioga Lake to set up camp with the cold biting us and the Milky Way distracting us. Up before sunrise, we jumped into our cars and set off for Mono Lake, three cars kicking up dust in the early morning like comet tails in the night. Wide-eyed watching the sun come up. Surprised that we were even awake and our hiking boots half-laced. Dreaming of bagel and egg sandwiches.

I had another sip of coffee.

Little did we know how much else the day had in store. We would drive into Lake Sabrina, Wil and Wright thinking instead the mountains were Torres del Paine or the Alps. Exploding reds and yellows of turning aspens whistled in the wind as Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” serenaded us. We would scarf down peanut butter-honey-Nutella tortillas in the dusty trailhead parking lot, licking the leftover deliciousness from our knuckles and stuffing bear canisters into our overnight packs.

Wright and Nick find peace in the Eastern Sierras

“Let’s go!” cried Max, the mad man behind this entire expedition. As we hit the trail, I rubbed excess sunscreen on my nose and lips. Granite slabs rising on either side of the trail, Lucy and Emily snapped frames with their beloved cameras while Bobby and Luke crafted stories one word at a time. In the last hanging rays of light we found ourselves halfway up Mt. Starr, our overnight packs far below, and the summit overhead. Trekking slow, the line of us inched up the slope of loose rock. We’d come hundreds of miles by car and a couple thousand vertical feet by foot, and now we were inching with all fours over the tops of kitchen table-sized boulders at the top. The ball of sun — so generous to us all day — splashed into the jagged horizon. Cold with the sunrise, peanut butter tortillas, cold with the sunset. We were wide-eyed at the summit, watching the sky turn orange to purple from a little rocky outcrop at 12,900 feet — pure stoke on every face.

The view from Mt. Starr

For the second night in a row we set up camp under the Milky Way’s arch, but that night we eat like kings and queens — freeze-dried Mountain House and Mary Jane’s. Telling stories to the sound of ravenous eating. Looking up at the stars. Surprised to be awake still.

Tomorrow we would see even more of these Sierras at Convict Lake and Yosemite Valley but for now it was time to tuck the bear canisters to bed and climb inside sleeping bags ourselves. It had started to feel like spring break in October, no one had told us we had class on Monday. Our group of thirteen strolled back to the cars, baked goods in hand, and I realized it was only Saturday.

Wil Burch and sun