I spent an amazing four day weekend in June Lake recently, celebrating at a bachelorette party for one of my best friends. We did many super fun things – beer at June Lake Brewing, swimming in June Lake, dancing to Lizzo, barbecuing, etc. A huge highlight was a short but hard hike up to the incredible Fern Lake.
The trail to Fern Lake is only 3.2 miles, but it gains around 1,500 feet of elevation. It’s really steep – apparently the trail builders didn’t believe in switch backs. I think there’s only a couple on the whole trail! There are also a few short sections that are closer to scrambling than hiking. It’s also at altitude, starting above 7,000 feet and topping out around 8,900 feet. The trail is rated as difficult – which I agree with. Everyone in our group struggled at some point, but we took it slow with lots of breaks and we made it to the top.
We parked at the Yost Creek/Fern Lake Trailhead – even on a beautiful Saturday during a busy weekend there was plenty of parking. The trail was easy to find and we headed up Yost Creek Trail, which would eventually fork into Fern Lake Trail. The trail starts climbing immediately through an aspen grove. It was really mosquito-y through this part, but there were also fields of mariposa lilies, which was incredible.
After about half a mile, we were out of the mosquitos and aspens, and the trails started to have incredible views of the surrounding mountains, the green valley below us, and waterfalls off in the distance. At about one mile into the hike, the Yost Creek Trail heads east and crosses Fern Creek – which was raging and basically a waterfall when we were there. The Fern Lake Trail is the right fork and heads steeply up. While the whole route is a steep climb, this next ~0.25 mile section is the steepest, loosest and most technical. It’s also exposed and hot.
Eventually, the trail flattens out for a bit and we got back in the cool shade of the trails. This flat section (less than 0.2 miles) is a nice respite from the mostly relentless climb, but we weren’t totally done climbing yet (despite what the well-meaning but entire wrong trail runner we encountered told us). After another ~0.1 miles of climbing, Fern Lake came into view.
It was totally worth the work to get there! We shared summit beers & snacks and a few of us jumped in the very cold lake before heading back down the trail. The descent was much easier physically than the climb up, but it required a lot of mental energy since it was dusty and rocky. We all slipped a few times, but luckily no one got hurt. Before we knew it, we were back at the car. (Click here for my Strava route for just the downhill. I forgot to turn on my watch for the trip up.) We made a beeline for June Lake Brewing for hard earned Hawaiian food from Ohana’s 395 and delicious IPAs (This summer, I’m loving June Lake Brewing’s Changing of the Guard IPA). This trail is incredible, and I’d highly recommend it to in shape hikers who have experience with steep, sandy climbs.
It’s no secret that Fall is an amazing time to be in Truckee-Tahoe – it’s definitely my favorite season, and it’s almost here. The trails are less crowded, the weather ranges from stormy (Yay! It’s finally raining.) to hot & sunny (Yay! A little bit more summer.), and the general feel of the locals is just more relaxed. Over the years, I’ve posted a lot of my recommendations for the fall, so I thought I’d do a round up of previous fall favorites, and add some bonus new suggestions as well.
Sierra Fall Essentials: Here’s a round up of some of my favorite products to help me get through the variable weather of fall in the Sierra.
Bonus Favorites: An ultra-light, packable wind shell, like the Patagonia Houdini is perfect for cooler morning runs or to stick in your bike pack for a chilly downhill after a sweaty climb. It’s water resistant, so it will even keep you dry for a little bit in the event of a surprise rainstorm.
A mid-weight vest is the perfect fall layering piece. You can wear it under a raincoat or over a flannel, and your arms will be free while your core is warm. I think springing for a down version, like the Marmot Aruna is so worth it, for quality, packability, and warmth. The Aruna is a high quality – I own the vest and the jacket version and I love them both.
Fall In Yosemite Valley: Fall is my favorite time to visit Yosemite – check out these photos of Yosemite Valley to see why!
Whiskey Pumpkin Bread Recipe: Nothing says fall like pumpkin, and this pumpkin bread recipe with a kick of whiskey is just about perfect, if I do say so myself.
Round the Lake Beer Tour: You’ll need a designated driver for this one, but check out my loop from Truckee, around the lake, and back, hitting up breweries and craft beer spots along the way. I just updated it for fall of 2018, so check out the new version!
Favorite Fall Activities:
And here are some of my favorite things to do in Tahoe and the Sierra in the fall: Go mountain biking. Often, we’ll get an early snowstorm that melts out and gets the trails in perfect condition. My favorite trails to ride in the fall are the Donner Lake Rim Trail to Wendin Canyon and Sawtooth Trail in Truckee, Mills Peak in Graeagle, and the Corral Trail Network in South Lake Tahoe. Jump in the lake one last time. Often, the water is still warm enough for a quick swim in September and October. Or you could head to nearby hot springs, like Grover Hot Springs State Park in Markleeville or Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport. Get in shape for snowboard season with some trail running. I like to get a few more trips up and down Donner Peak before the snow falls in Truckee. In South Lake Tahoe, Powerline Trail is my preferred trail running location. Go on a road trip to the coast. Alright, that might be cheating for favorite Tahoe fall activities, but the California coast in the fall is amazing too! I especially likeSanta Cruz, Point Reyes, Mendocino, and the North Coast during this time of year.
June Lake, a small town north of Mammoth Lakes off of Highway 395 is one of my favorite places in the Eastern Sierra. It’s a tiny bit off the beaten path and often overshadowed by nearby Mammoth. Which often means it’s not nearly as crowded as other, more popular spots.
Take a Scenic Drive June Lake is located on the June Lake loop (Highway 158), a u-shaped road connected to 395. I’d driven by June Lake Loop probably a dozen times before I finally took the scenic detour – and it’s worth it, even if you’re just driving through. While it’s pretty either direction, I’d recommend turning in at the north end and driving south. This is the entrance further away from the town of June Lake, but your views will be more dramatic. The towering Sierra peaks are hardly noticeable from 395, but dominate the sky only a couple of miles in. There’s a reason that they call it “The Switzerland of California.” If you’re there in October, the loop has some of the best fall colors in the Eastern Sierra. Along the way, you’ll pass the lakes this area is famous for – Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake, and, finally June Lake. The town of June Lake is situated between Gull and June lakes. The exit back to 395 is just a few minutes past town. Note: Highway 158 sometimes closes in the winter, so while there is access to June Lake, you can’t drive the full loop.
Lodging There are all kinds of options for lodging in the June Lake area – from camping to resorts to vacation rentals. I’ve had two great experiences at the Oh! Ridge Campground and I’d highly recommend it. It has running water, flush toilets and easy access to a great beach on June Lake. I’ve also stayed at the June Lake Campground, which has convenient access to town, but it was really loud the one time I’ve stayed there. Reversed Creek Campground is very close to town, and Silver Lake Campground has great access to Silver Lake. While I’ve never stayed at any of the hotels or resorts, I’ve heard really good things about the Double Eagle Resort. There are also old school style cabins and lodges, like Fern Creek Lodge, which dates back to 1927. I’ve also stayed at a couple of vacation rentals in town, and there are plenty to choose from – I prefer VRBO for rural places like June Lake.
Eats June Lake doesn’t have a ton of dining options, which isn’t surprising in a small town. However, it does have my all time favorite food truck, Ohanas 395. Ohanas is a fresh twist on classic Hawaiian food crafted with care and generous on the portion sizes. Greyson and I usually split two dishes – one regular and one small and that’s typically plenty. I love the Kahuna Chips – Hawaiian style nachos on kettle chips topped with kalua pork or huli huli chicken, sesame cabbage slaw, jack cheese, pepperoncinis and homemade bbq sauce. Their kalua pork is so good that it was better than any I got on the Big Island in June!
Another fun place to eat is the Tiger Bar & Cafe. It’s pretty typical pub food – heavy on the burgers and fries, light on the veggies, but good, if not good for you. Tiger Bar is historic – it was established in 1932, and it supposedly has California Liquor License #2 and is the longest legally operating bar in California.
Beer June Lake is home to my favorite brewery in the Eastern Sierra – June Lake Brewing. I write in more detail about what makes the beer and the brewery so great in my June Lake Brewing post here.
This area is also getting famous for it’s awesome June Lake Autumn Beer Festival. I went in 2016, and it definitely wasn’t your typical local beer festival. It’s put on by the June Lake Brewery crew, who moved to June Lake from the San Diego area and still have a ton of connections down there. While my local favorites (Mammoth Brewing Company, Mountain Rambler, etc.) were there, there were also a ton of farther flung breweries, many that I tried for the first time, like Pizza Port and Alpine Brewing Company. If you want to go, start planning early as tickets are very limited and in high demand – they sold out in early February for the 2018 festival happening on September 29th. If you happen to be in the area, sometimes there are extra tickets are available at the door. This is my favorite beer fest that I’ve been to – lots of beers, small enough that it’s not overwhelming, and a beautiful location and time of year.
Activities There’s tons of stuff to do in the June Lake area, whether you stay in the loop or venture out a little farther. What there is to do in June Lake varies according to the season, but there’s something awesome all throughout the year.
In town, you’ve obviously got the lakes. For swimming, I like June Lake Beach, which is sandy with room to spread out and the water is clear and refreshing. Gull Lake has a nice picnic area and playground, and is great for a family picnic. June Lake is at 7,600 feet so the lakes are pretty cold, but definitely swimmable in July, August, and September.
The whole loop is well known as a popular fishing area. While you can fish in all of the lakes, Silver Lake is known for the best shore fishing, June Lake for early season catches, Gull Lake for bait fishing, and Grant Lake for trolling. Nearby, Rush Creek and Lee Vining Creek are typical fly fishing spots.
Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park usually opens between late May and late June, and it’s a convenient trip into the park from June Lake via this route. The drive is gorgeous, but steep and exposed, and it gets you into the much less crowded high, east side of the park. From this side, you’ll have easy access to Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake, Olmstead Point and all the typical Yosemite summer activities, like hiking, climbing, paddling, swimming, etc. There are far fewer services in this side of the park compared to the Valley, so plan ahead for food and water, gas, sunscreen, bug spray, and any other accessories you might need. Tioga Pass is usually closed by late October.
June Lake is home to a ton of hiking trails, though many are difficult to the steep elevation changes. Fern Lake trail is one of those short and steep trails, gaining 1,600 feet in just 1.75 miles to the lake one way. Once you make it though, the fishing is supposed to be amazing. On the easier side of things is the 2 mile Gull Lake Loop Trail. It’s right in town and doesn’t have much elevation change – perfect for kids or anyone who wants an easier hike. The Parker Lake Trail is a good middle ground. It’s 3.6 miles round trip with 650 feet of climbing, and you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous lake at the end. Some friends have used this as an easy backpacking destination, and they said it’s great for newbies or if your time is limited and just want an easy overnight.
I also have to plug the June Lake Triathlon – it’s my favorite race I’ve ever done. It’s got a small town, local feel, but it’s still incredibly well organized and the field is big enough that you never feel like you’re out there on your own. The course is challenging, and so beautiful that you get distracted from your suffering. The whole town seems to get involved, whether they are volunteering at the event or on the road cheering you on. They offer sprint, olympic, and half iron distance races, as well as aquabike and relay opportunities- plus Mammoth Brewing Company beer and a home cooked meal at the finish line.
If you’re visiting in the winter, there are still plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. June Mountain Ski Area is basically right in town, and though it’s owned by Mammoth Mountain, it still has a small town feel. If backcountry skiing or riding is your thing, there are guided tours available from Sierra Mountain Guides and through June Mountain. For non-adrenaline junkies, there is snowshoeing and cross country skiing nearby as well.
If you enjoy the outdoors, you’ll find something to do in June Lake. I hope you check out this awesome hidden gem, and enjoy it as much as I do!
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about bouldering in the Happy Boulders, and I said that I’d write up the second part of our bouldering trip in Bishop, California. Well, better late than never – here it is – bouldering in the Buttermilks.
If you’ve ever seen pictures representing bouldering in California, it was probably one of two places, Joshua Tree National Park or the Buttermilks in Bishop, California.
“The scenic and awe-inspiring Buttermilk Country has long been one of California’s premier bouldering destinations with a long history of ground-breaking ascents and some of the proudest, boldest, and most aesthetic lines in the world. These massive glacial erratic boulders sit in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada under an impressive backdrop of high peaks just a mere four miles to the west. Granite-like quartz monzonite makes up the boulders featuring sweeping blank faces, polished patina crimps/plates and sharp slopers and edges.
Buttermilks bouldering is BIG, literally. Some of the larger stones rival the largest erratics known anywhere. Many problems here feature reachy standing or jumping starts with huge moves, so on many routes you’ll soon find your feet well above a height you’d want to drop off. Don’t leave any pads at home because alot of the classics top out at 20+ feet, luckily most of the landings are flat and uniformed. Before you hop on a boulder scout the down-climb first, as many require some techy down-climbing and/or a big jump to the ground.”
These highball, glacial erratics are iconic in the world of bouldering, with world famous problems ranging from V0 all the way up to V14+. One incredibly highball route, The Process on Grandpa Peabody, was featured in Reel Rock 10’s High and Mighty.
The Buttermilks are a fun area with a ton of different problems, but warning – they tend to be on the more difficult side. I flailed around unsuccessfully on most of the V1s, and the V0s seem harder than in other places.
In addition to world class climbing, the Buttermilks are worth visiting just for the views. The day we visited this fall was foggy and cold, but the mountains occasionally peeked out.
If you have any interest in bouldering, the Buttermilks is a place to put on your must climb list. At my current beginner skill level, I prefer bouldering in the Happy Boulders, but I love going to the Buttermilks at least once while I’m in Bishop. They’ve got an amazing vibe full of world class climbers, and it’s inspiring to be around.
How to Get There: The Buttermilk bouldering area is easy to find. Head west on Highway 168 from Bishop, and turn right on Buttermilk Road. There are designated parking areas on the right about 3.5 miles up Buttermilk Road, near the boulders .
Where to Stay: There’s camping at Pleasant Valley & the primitive Pit Campgrounds, as well as free camping before and after the Buttermilks main area. Bishop also has a hostel,The Hostel California, that I hear is pretty cool, though I’ve never stayed there.
A long time ago (like 2010!), I took a “Yay, you’re done with grad school” trip to Mammoth Lakes, California. We had planned to go mountain biking, but it had been a good winter and the vast majority of trails were still snow covered. We still managed to find things to do, including my first trip to Yosemite and my first trip to Mammoth Brewing Company. At the time, it was just the front room of a warehouse and the tastings were free. I fell in love with their delicious beer and friendly staff. Now they’ve moved to an amazing location with food, outdoor seating, and a great view, but they still brew awesome beer and are staffed by friendly, knowledgeable locals. Their tastings aren’t free anymore, but they’re cheap and the growler fills are still an amazing deal!
Mammoth Brewing Company offers two different sampler choices – their “regulars” and their “seasonals”. They always have something I like in their seasonal selections, so I think it’s usually worth going for both sampler options. Since their seasonal offerings change so often, I’m only going to review their regulars below. All descriptions via Mammoth Brewing Company website, unless otherwise obvious.
Golden Trout Pilsner (4.25/5)
Native to Sierra Nevada mountain waters, the elusive golden trout is a brilliantly colored prize for any fisherman. Grassy and crisp like a Sierra stream, this pilsner pours as gold and vibrant as the fish it’s named for. A Sierra-born beer worthy to be named for a Sierra-born fish. Vienna malts give Golden Trout a full body and flavor, while Saaz hops take it downstream to a softer, more floral place. Pairs well with Sierra sunshine.
Paranoids Pale Ale (3.25/5)
Paranoids is named after a double black diamond ski run on Mammoth Mountain; the slope is flat… only on a 40 degree angle! This is a classic American pale ale, featuring a piney citrus hop nose, a full malt body and a clean bitter finish.
Real McCoy Amber Ale (3.75/5)
A Mammoth Brewing Company original inspired by another original, the man himself: Dave McCoy, founder of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. Pilsner malt, dark Munich malts and Palisade hops combine to produce a smooth, velvety malt character and a balanced hop finish.
Double Nut Brown (4/5)This is basically the only brown I’ve ever really enjoyed, and I love it!
Few things satisfy like crawling out of a tent for a cup of coffee warmed over a fire in the Sierra wilderness, but Double Nut* Brown comes close. Its deep nutty flavor and mild sweetness begs you to stay cozily flannel-pajama-clad all day. Wake up and smell the beer. Double Nut Brown strikes a perfect balance between coffee, chocolate, roasty flavor and a clean finish, making it very flavorful and drinkable.
*No nuts were harmed or used in making this beer!
Wild Sierra Farmhouse Ale (2.5/5)
The Sierra spring is alive in this brew. Our twist on the Belgian farmhouse ales of the Wallonia region, we flavor this beer using local Piñon Pine needles to create a refreshing farmhouse saison. Wild Sierra is brewed with Pilsner malt, Rye malt, Vienna malt, lightly kilned Crystal malts and fermented using a blend of Belgian ale and Saison yeasts.
Epic IPA (4.5/5)
Fearless and bold, our Epic IPA earns its name vanquishing hops at a rate of no less than two pounds per barrel. And yet, this heroic outlaw still achieves a noble balance of clean bitterness, smooth malt, and citrusy hops, making it the perfect sidekick for your next wilderness tale. Not for the feeble-hearted, Epic IPA charges valiantly at your taste buds. Two pounds of Horizon, Citra, and Amarillo hops gave their lives for the greater good in each barrel of this gallantly balanced American IPA.
IPA 395 (4.5/5)This is probably Greyson’s favorite beer of all time. I love it too, just not as much as he does! It’s got the flavors of the Eastern Sierra – juniper and sage. Just smelling it is enough to transport me there. My recommendation is to drink it as cold as possible, preferably cooled in a snowbank or mountain stream.
It’s 5 o’clock Friday and your pilgrimage begins. Echoing the route of past adventurers, you press upward into the altitude. This is Highway 395. A celebration of the finest road trip in California, IPA 395 showcases mountain juniper and local sage, hand-picked from the 395 corridor. Brewed to evoke the spirit of a High Desert rainstorm, IPA 395 compliments wild Great Basin Sagebrush and juniper berries with sweet ESB and crystal malts and, of course, plenty of Centennial hops.
I needed to be down in Bishop, California for work last week, so Greyson and I decided to go down on Saturday and make a weekend of it. Not that we ever need an excuse to go to Bishop, but the American Alpine Club was hosting a stop of the Craggin Classic there during that weekend. We were excited to check it out.We took our time driving down on Saturday, stopping to check out the fall colors and expansive views whenever we felt the urge – like the Mono Lake lookout.
Coming over Conway Summit (north of Mammoth Lakes) I spotted a huge bird flying parallel to our car. It landed in a tree a few hundred feet off of the road, and we were able to pull over on the side of the road and check it out. I had my binoculars, and Greyson had his longest lens so we were able to see it pretty clearly. We debated whether it was a juvenile golden or bald eagle, and finally settled on juvenile bald eagle (with help from instagram). He or she was quite content to hang out in the tree, so we watched it for quite awhile before moving on.
Photo by Greyson Howard.
We pulled up in Mammoth Lakes for lunch, beer sampler and growler fill at Mammoth Brewing Company. I’ll have to do a full review of Mammoth one of these days, but they’ve recently started serving food. I had a brussels sprouts salad and some of Greyson’s black currant, arugula, goat cheese, gruyere, and balsamic flatbread pizza and both were to die for.
Greyson re-stakes the tent in a windstorm, during a previous Pleasant Valley Campground experience.
One of the best reasons to camp at Pleasant Valley Campground is its proximity to the Happy Boulders.
Bishop, California is a bouldering mecca, and people come from all over the world to climb in the area. There are several well-known areas, and the Happy Boulders are arguably the most beginner-friendly. Not to say that there’s not a bunch of challenging routes for the hard core, but I was able to find lots of routes to play around on that fit my VB-V0 skill level.
“The Happy Boulders offer highly concentrated world-class volcanic bouldering with hundreds of worthy problems ranging from simple to impossible.
Long shadowed by the more well-known and publicized Buttermilks, more and more climbers are realizing the potential inside the Happy Boulders canyon. Most first-time visitors will be overwhelmed by the amount of projects they just gathered and will find themselves making time to return. Some say at the Happies your muscles will fail first, whereas in the Buttermilks its usually your skin that will be your reason for leaving. Regardless, it’s nice to have the options so close. Visitors experiencing Bishop in the colder months can find shelter and warmer temps here rather than the exposed and wind-swept Buttermilks.”
The parking lot was fuller than I’ve ever seen it before, as the crisp November days make for awesome climbing. We were a little worried about the crowds as we hiked up the loose, kitty litter gravel to the boulders, but once we arrived we saw that most of the people there were crowded at a couple of classic routes.
Photo by Greyson Howard
These routes are far above my pay grade, but it was fun to watch people climb them. The best was when the girl pictured above made the route look easy after two muscled, shirtless climber bros failed on it! I have no idea what routes or boulders I actually climbed (next time we’ll remember to bring the book!), but I had a blast. Everything I climbed was easy in the scheme of things, but I did challenge myself a few times. Greyson claims that I fist pumped and said “Yes!” when I got to the top of a particularly challenging route, but I’m not sure if I believe him.
One of the many cool things about Bishop is that it’s packed with truly awesome climbers to watch and learn from. I’ve said it before, but while mountain biking is number one in my heart and will likely stay there, the people I’ve met climbing and bouldering are the best. They are friendly, outgoing, encouraging and really just want you to send it!
Another great thing about Bishop in general and specifically the Happy Boulders is the literally hundreds of routes within a short walking distance. When we got tired of working on a problem, or our feet and fingers needed a break, we just packed up and walked 10 – 100 yards until another boulder caught our eye. We also hiked to the top of the Happy Boulders area for the first time and caught an awesome view.
I’m pretty out of shape for climbing (especially finger toughness), so we called it a day during the afternoon and drove into town. We had to stop by Mountain Rambler for a beer and lunch. I had the Phainopepla Black IPA (phainopepla is a type of silky fly catcher, FYI), Greyson got the Sky Pilot Pale Ale, and we split a Picture Puzzler Session IPA. The chef was testing out a beer fondue recipe which we got to sample, along with some beer caramels. I hope they’re both on the menu soon.
Bishop is a must-visit destination for climbers of any levels and I’d highly recommend the Happy Boulders as a place to start. They’re easy to get to, have something for every level of climbing, and a great scene. When you’re there, be sure to stick to the paths, stay out of the plants, and pack out your garbage. “Crush the problem, not the plants!”
Check back next week, and I’ll be writing about the other place we bouldered, the Buttermilks!
How to Get There: The Happy Boulders Trail is located on Chalk Bluff Road north of Bishop. There’s a gravel parking area with an interpretive sign and a trail marker directing you where to go.
Where to Stay: There’s camping at the nearby Pleasant Valley & the primitive Pit Campgrounds. Bishop also has a hostel, The Hostel California, that I hear is pretty cool, though I’ve never stayed there.
This weekend, Greyson and I were in Mammoth Lakes, California. We were mainly there for mountain biking, but there are so many awesome things to do in the area, it’s definitely a worthwhile summer trip. Mammoth Lakes is a decent sized (pop. 8,000) town in Mono County in the Eastern Sierra. It’s about three hours from Tahoe, five hours from LA and the Bay area. There’s a ton of vacation rentals in town, which I’ve used pretty much every time I’ve stayed there, as well as hotels/motels, and camping in and out of town. There’s a bunch of great restaurants, bars, hikes, and outdoor activities, among other things. Here are a few of my favorites.
Ride the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain: Even if you have no interest in mountain biking, you can still ride the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain for some scenic hiking. Two kids can ride for free with every paying adult! If you do want to go mountain biking at Mammoth Mountain, check out my Mammoth Mountain Biking guide here.
Mammoth Brewing Company: This was the first brewery I visited in the Sierra, and it probably remains my favorite. The first time I visited, the “tasting room” was just a small area in a big warehouse that housed the brewing equipment, and the woman working the taps poured us more free tastes than we could drink, and we walked away with a growler filled on the cheap. Over the years, they made improvements to the tasting room, and started charging (a very cheap fee!) for tastings.
Last year, Mammoth Brewing Company moved into a beautiful new location, and, as of our visit this weekend, they are now serving food. They also have an outdoor seating area and a place to hang backpacks for through hikers. The brewery offers tasting flights of their Originals and their Seasonals for a very reasonable $7 each, and you can get pints, pitchers and growlers to go. My favorites to get on draft at the brewery are Golden Trout Pilsner and Epic IPA. Those are actually two that you can get in bottles and cans in stores, but they taste so much better on draft!
Local hikes: There are a ton of great day hikes around Mammoth Lakes, and it’s a popular stopping place along the John Muir Trail. The Mammoth Lakes Trail System has more than 300 miles of trails. There are trails for every ability level, from an easy nature stroll to rugged trails with 6,000 feet of climbing. Mammoth Lakes is at elevation, so if you’re not used to that, be prepared for an extra challenge and be sure to drink lots of water. You can also use Mammoth Lakes as a jumping off point for multi-day backpacking trip.
Day Trip to Mono Lake: One of the best things about Mammoth is its proximity to other great Sierra destinations. It’s only about a half hour drive to Mono Lake – the unique alkaline lake that inspired massive conservation efforts in the 90s. The weird chemistry going on at Mono Lake has led to amazing formations – tufa towers being among the most iconic.
There’s also interesting bird watching, as it’s an important stop for many migratory birds. Check out the Mono Lake Committee’s website for more information, including guided hikes and tours.
Visit the Restaurants: Here are just a few of my favorite places to eat and drink in Mammoth Lakes.
We camped within walking distance of the festival, and tried dozens of amazing beers. This year’s performers include Jonny Lang, Jelly Bread, and Robert Cray. This is the 20th Anniversary of the festival, and tickets often sell out – so if you’re interested in attending, get them sooner rather than later.
I have been waiting for Mountain Rambler Brewery to open for almost as long as I have been visiting Bishop! As awesome as Bishop, California is (and it is incredibly great), they had been lacking a great place to get a beer, a delicious meal, and hangout with friends after a day outside.
Mountain Rambler had its grand opening in early February, and it was already super popular by the time we visited in March. We ended up going there twice in two days, and it always had a good crowd. The brewery has high ceilings, and a light, airy feel, and the walls are covered with Eastern Sierra inspired art and photography. I heard a rumor that the bars and some of the tables were constructed from reclaimed bristlecone pine wood, giving Mountain Rambler a very Eastern Sierra feel.
We tried three of the beers while we were there – Peaklet Porter, Pale Ale First Release and Extra Pale First Release. Mountain Rambler offers very generous half pints, which we went with for sampling, and I went back for seconds (over the course of two days) of the Porter and the Pale Ale. We also had the polenta tots with delicious pesto aioli. Whether you’re staying in Bishop for a longer climbing trip or just passing through, a visit to Mountain Rambler Brewery should definitely be on your 395 bucket list!
When driving back from the Eastern Sierra this weekend, Greyson and I finally got to try the new-ish brewery in June Lake – June Lake Brewing.
We sampled both tasting flights the brewery offered, and the awesome owner threw in samples of the other two beers on tap so we could have the full experience. Here’s what I tried (all descriptions from June Lake Brewing website):
Deer Beer Brown Ale (3/5): Having a love for traditional English Browns we used UK Fuggles and UK Goldings hops coupled with 2-Row Pale, Crystal 15 and Chocolate malts to craft this beauty. By doubling the amount of Fuggles and Goldings recommended for the original style we introduced a slightly higher hop flavor (read Westcoast style) to the traditional English Brown, and complimented the hoppyness with the additional of Chocolate malt. With an ABV of 5.8%, an IBU of of 24 and an SRM of 21, Deer Beer Brown is smooth, refreshing and packed with character.
Alper’s Trout Pale Ale (3.5/5): Working with Tim Alpers, father of the famed Eastern Sierra Alpers Trout, we put together a well rounded grain bill comprised of 2-Row Pilsner, 2-Row Pale, Munich, Crystal 15 and White Wheat malts to compliment the heavy additions of Cascade, CTZ, Mt. Hood, and Crystal hops. This beer weighs in around 5.8% ABV with 35 IBUs and a light 6.6 SRM color profile. Combined with our phenomenal water, the primarily Pilsner malt grain bill provides a nice, slightly creamy mouth feel, with the strong citrus notes compliments of the Cascade and CTZ hops. In the finish hints of spicy can be found from the Crystal and Mt. Hood aroma hop additions after the boil during the whirlpooling process.
SmoKin Porter (4/5): Brewed and named in honor of TestPilot 001 Jeff Kramer the SmoKin Porter is a full bodied robust porter exhibiting a mildly smoky character complimented by a generous helping of CTZ hops for bittering and Mt. Hood hops for flavor and aroma. With an ABV of 7.2%, a bitterness of 51 IBUs and a deep dark SRM of 32, the SmoKin Porter drinks remarkably smooth for such a dark colored beer. With skills that rival Kramer’s own, the SmoKin Porter is a delicious choice for any occasion.
Hutte Double IPA (4.5/5): Working with our Brewfather and a number of our brewer friends we developed this Goliath of a beer. Think big Westcoast style DIPA with a massive hop bill that includes Cascade, Millenium, CTZ, Ella and Nugget, countered by an even larger malt bill comprised of 2-Row Pale, Carapils and Crystal 15. Oh yeah and throw in 66lbs of dry hopped Cascade, Ella and Armarillo for a citrusy, orangy finish that accentuates the overall super hoppy goodness. Though light in color at 9 SRM, Hutte makes up for it in flavor and body with 9.5% ABV and 120 IBUs of palate crushing awesomeness!
This beer was my far away favorite, and reminded me of a couple of the beers I really liked at Crux. When we told the owner that, she said that she was super flattered, as Crux is one of her and her husband’s favorite breweries!
Silver Lake Saison (3/5): You’ve spoken, and we’ve listened… This is our lightest beer in color, flavor, alcohol and palate… But never ones to fully capitulate to other’s opinions we utilized a fruity/spicy Belgium Farm House Saison Ale (BFHSA) yeast as opposed to our standard California Ale yeast to keep it foot! Combining equal parts 2-Row Pale and 2-Row Pilsner with some White Wheat and Munich malts, we ended up with a light refreshing BFHSA that is lightly hopped with Cascade, Columbus/Tomahawk/Zues, Crystal, Ella and Mt. Hood. Perfect for a long day at the downhill park, and/or a hot day in the sun, the Silver Lake Saison
Rock-N-Dirt Milk Stout (3/5): We love Mammoth Rock n’ Dirt so of course we wanted to make a collaboration beer with them to express our deepest feelings and gratitude. You may ask how a heavy equipment and excavation company can collaborate on a beer, well all we can tell you is that it’s got real dirt in it and that’s how you can tell it’s authentic (*does not actually contain dirt, we just think that sounds good). The combination of 2-Row Pale, Carapils, Chocolate and Crystal 75 malts creates the perfect backbone for the conservative Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus and Mt. Hood hop profile. Brewed with English Ale yeast as opposed to our standard California Ale yeast, this brew has a smooth, slightly sweet finish.
Archimedes Red Ale (3/5): RIP Tyson Archimedes Montrucchio. Gone, but certainly not forgotten we brewed this kickass Red Ale for our fallen friend Tyson. As a tribute to the intensity with which he lived life we packed this beer with a sh*t ton of love and respect. From a grain bill comprised of 2-Row Pale, Crystal 75, Munich, Victory (that’s where the biscuityness comes from), and Chocolate malts, to a hop profile of Cascade and Mt. Hood, we didn’t pull any punches on this one. As a full bodied Red Ale that isn’t over the top, the Archimedes Red is our TCB go to beer, and is a constant reminder that we all need to be thankful for each new day with our friends and family. La Familia Por Vida!
8140 IPA (4/5): 8140 ain’t our altitude folks so don’t go telling our friends at Mammoth Brewing Company they aren’t the highest brewery in California. The 8140 Black IPA was brewed in homage to the eight thousand one hundred and forty square feet of sheet rock we had to hang in our brewery. As the ring leaders of the monumental task we naturally asked our supreme friends Jonathan Widen and Dave Thomas from Premier Painting Plus what kind of beer they wanted and naturally they said BLACK. So before you sits a Black IPA with an ingredient list as ominous as the color (basically it has more ingredients than will fit on the page). So enjoy the black hoppy goodness and avoid hanging drywall at all costs!
ESBzar (3/5): Rest In Powder BZ! We hand crafted this traditional Extra Special Bitter to honor our fallen friend Larry “BZ” Miller, without whom it would have been very difficult to open our brewery. Utilizing ESB as our base malt (think English style malt similar to Marris Otter) we combined Crystal 15 malt with Golding and Fuggle hops to provide the perfect base for the WLP 002 English Ale Yeast to do it’s yeasty magic and create this full bodied, subtly hopped 7% ABV 32 IBU beauty. If big hop forward beers aren’t necessarily your thing, the ESBzar may be your new go to fermulation.
Not So Hoppy Holiday Ale (3/5): Picture Santa crying…. Taking a step away from our hop forward roots we crafted this recipe with the help of our Brew Father to highlight the tastyness of holiday spices. Utilizing cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, nutmeg, fresh orange zest, grains of paradise and amazing awesome sauce we concocted this wickedly good holiday mix. With an IBU of 19 and 5.7% ABV, this crimson beauty can be sessioned all night without fear of praising the porcelain thrown. Spicy, malty, goodness.
I really liked this brewery – it’s in a really cool space and Sarah the owner was super friendly, not only giving us a couple of free tastings, but offering mountain bike suggestions in the area. The brewery doesn’t do food, but there is an AMAZING Hawaiian food truck parked outside – Ohanas395. You can order at the truck, and they’ll deliver your food in the brewery. Try the Big Kahuna Fries!
If you’re road tripping up or down 395, June Lake Brewing is worth taking the scenic route on the June Lakes loop!
This weekend I set my feet on my highest ever point: 11,760 at Kearsarge Pass in Kings Canyon National Park.
The Kearsarge Pass trail is a popular re-supply route for Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail through hikers. The trail wanders uphill through the John Muir Wilderness on the way to Kings Canyon National Park with sweeping vistas of the high Sierra in every direction. The trailhead begins at the Onion Valley campground about 15 miles outside of Independence, California in the Eastern Sierra. To get to Onion Valley Campground, head towards Independence (about 42 miles south of Bishop) on Highway 395. Once in Independence, turn onto West Market Street, which quickly turns into Onion Valley Road. There are several campgrounds along Onion Valley Road or you could stay in Independence, as there is non-campground parking near the trailhead. We stayed in one of the walk-in camping spots at Onion Valley Campground, which makes for an easy and convenient early start. Note: Onion Valley Campground is high (above 9,000 feet!) – so pack accordingly. You’ll want more warm layers than the temperature in much lower, hotter Independence seems to indicate.
The entire Kearsage Pass trail is a steady climb from about 9,200 feet up to a maximum of 11,760 feet at the top of Kearsarge Pass over 4.8 miles. While the trail is never extremely steep, be aware that you are at high elevation. The going is much more difficult than a steeper, lower elevation climb. I live at 6,200 feet and I was really feeling the difficulty when I got about 10,500. Be prepared to go more slowly and take lots of breaks, especially if you are new to high elevation hiking. We hiked the 4.8 miles and climbed just over 2,500 feet with a moving time of 2:05:40, however our elapsed time was 3:20:20 which means we took nearly 1:15 in breaks across the nearly 5 miles.
Kearsarge Pass trail closely passes several gorgeous alpine lakes, with Flower and Gilbert Lakes close enough for a refreshing dip or quick fishing pit stop. Warning: these lakes can be extremely mosquito-y! We were chased off before doing more than dipping our toes in, but there were a number of other hikers and fishermen that braved the swarms (probably armed with bug spray). The stunning views of the hike begin almost immediately, and we were frequently stopping to admire the vistas and take pictures.
The whole trail is incredibly well built and maintained. There aren’t too many tripping hazards and the switchbacks are gradual, allowing you to soak in your surroundings and concentrate less on your feet. The rocks surrounding the trail and making up the nearby peaks are interesting enough to catch the eye of the geology inclined in your group. You’ll see a bunch of California’s state rock, serpentine (hint: it’s the greasy looking, greenish one). I’d also recommend bringing along a field guide with a good wildflower section (like the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada or Wildflowers of California). We saw at least a dozen different varieties of wildflowers during our hike.
The trail climbs at a fairly steady 500 feet per mile, and I started really feeling the exertion of hiking at high altitude at about 2.5 miles and 10,500 feet. Luckily, the gorgeous views help distract from the hard work.
At about 4 miles, you’ll come to your last couple switch backs and the end is in sight! You might see people up at the top of the pass that seem very far away, but the final push wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. There are only a couple of switch backs, and you’ll mostly be headed straight toward your goal. The vistas are even more incredible in this section. Keep your eyes out for a very steep summit to the south that only gets more interesting as the trail climbs higher.
When you finally reach the top of Kearsarge Pass, take your time to soak in the views and rest for the trip back down. Check out these amazing views!
At the pass, you’ll enter Kings Canyon National Park, and could continue your hike onto the John Muir Trail and down to Kearsarge and Bullfrog Lakes, and even further to connect with the Pacific Crest Trail. We decided the top of Kearsarge Pass was enough of a climb for us. Unfortunately, I had a user-related Strava malfunction on our trip down, so I’m not sure how long it took. I paused Strava when we stopped to check out one of the lakes. Mosquito swarms descended, and, in the panic of our escape, I forgot to re-start it! It took us about an hour to do the first 2.4 miles, and I imagine the second half took about the same time. So we’ll say the descent took about 2 hours.
This was a difficult and rewarding hikes with some of the best views I’ve encountered in the Sierra. If you are looking for a high Sierra hike or backpacking trip (permits needed) that’s challenging but completely doable for an in-shape individual, I would highly recommend the Kearsarge Pass trail.
Length: 4.8 miles to the top, 9.6 round trip
Elevation: 2,500 feet of elevation gain
Duration: ~5:20 total, for reasonably in-shape hikers that live at 6,500 feet
And here are two more photos, just because I like them: