It was finally time. Friday morning, the twenty-ninth of July, bags packed, I was once again northward bound, anxious to cross the Mojave Desert as quickly possible and reach the welcoming embrace of the Owens Valley. One hundred twelve miles of open road, where solar farms are sprouting fields of gleaming sun-chasing panels from the parched soil, before one gets to the first real attraction on this long journey, Red Rock Canyon State Park. The striated crimson cliffs always catapult my thoughts forward to the stark beauty unfolding ahead. My first and only stop today was in Lone Pine, to load up on carbs by devouring a large bowl of very traditional spaghetti and meatballs at a restaurant I otherwise avoid. North of Lone Pine, a thunderstorm clashed with the high crests of the Eastern Sierras, and I began the oft-repeated ritual of driving north on Highway 395 with my infrared camera in my lap, ready to pull over and capture the scene, even if it means making a u-turn at the next opportunity and extending my trip by a mile or two.
The first order of business after I arrived at the Mammoth Mountain Inn and checked in was a group meeting in which our instructors, Brian and Phil, made sure that we were properly geared up and had not forgotten any of the essential items for the trip. Phil, the trip leader, also broke the news that the trail we’d thought we’d hike had been made too treacherous to navigate by a recent rock fall, and we’d be switching to ‘plan C,’ venturing into the Hoover Wilderness instead. I took one last look at the custom topo map I’d ordered for the trip, and, having carried my fully-laden backpack to the meeting, was thankful for any reduction in its weight, no matter how insignificant. After a quick dinner, it was time to put anxiousness aside and get some sleep, as I’d need every bit of energy and every bit of exercise and training I’d gone through to carry my heavy pack into the wilderness.