High Sierra Sportsmobile Forum Meet June 18th-23rd 2014.
Last year one of the Forum members had shown interest in a small Thanksgiving run that fell through for both of us. Still interested in some kind of rendezvous, Ralleypanam (Robb) contacted me about doing some kind of run after the High Sierra snow melt receded enough where access the upper altitudes was possible. A couple of spots came to mind and I contacted Robb to plan a time & place. Mid June worked for both of us and Leavitt Lake seemed to stand out as a good choice. Normally by July the trail has been opened to the public except during the most snowy winter seasons. Being there has been drought conditions this last winter I figured the Lake would be open earlier in the season due to the low snow pack. In the past the Forest Service usually tries to open by Memorial Day or shortly after.
Normally I would try to pick a camping spot that members without four wheel drive can get to, but unfortunately the Leavitt trail can be a little rough and steep in places. For once this was going to be Forum 4×4 meeting even if it was only me and Robb attending. I put the word out in the meeting/trip report section of the Forum asking anybody interesting in attending were more than welcome. Several members planned to attend; more than I anticipated.
Just off CA-108 above Sonora, Leavitt is a high Sierra lake that rests above the 9000 foot altitude that I’ve been visiting for over a decade. Considered an Alpine setting, this spot is one of the most beautiful areas in the Sierra Nevada range IMO.
For more info see my Leavitt Lake post from 2010.
The Lake is a fantastic fishing spot as well as a trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail. It has become an annual event to camp or day fish the lake since before I bought my van in 2006. The roads through the area supply access to a number of dispersed camps and also makes for some easy mountain biking between the camps and beyond. There are a couple of other smaller lakes in the area that are within walking distance. At the lake itself, fires are permitted provided restrictions aren’t in place. There are no facilities or running water at the lake.
When accessing from 395, the city of Bridgeport is fairly close and supplies a limited variety of amenities before heading up the hill to Leavitt. Fuel at Bridgeport can be high priced but all types are available. From 108, Sierra Village has a small store or two and Zak’s has reasonably priced fuel and supplies diesel as well. Sonora on the western slope has the big box and major grocery stores.
After the final invitational post was sent out on the forum, once again I contacted my personal friends to see if any of them wanted to tag along. CellularSteve had just added a newbie to his family and wasn’t able to make it but CalClimber (Craig & Cindy) decided to go. My buddy Don from Merced was ready as usual and has camped with Craig and Cindy on several occasions so not everybody would be new acquaintances. I had also met the Oldbonesclimber clan (Paul & Tina) on a previous trip.
There was a little glitch on the dates. I guess the gate was opened on Memorial Day but it wasn’t the Forest Service that opened it. Because of this they re-closed the area. Pay back? Anyway a week or so before the planned date I got news that it was opened to the public. Whew! Why it hadn’t opened early during a drought was a bit suspicious to me but at least the trip was on.
As it would go, several members showed up.
Eric/Kristie/Sam/Sera (86Scotty) Kristie, Sam, and Sera were hiding in the back but I have more pictures to come.
Danh (danhtran1143) pictured on the right.
My buddy Don
The couple of days before leaving out I headed down to Merced to load up Don’s equipment. After leaving his house my front wheel started making noise. Great! Don’s wife has said it more than once… “your van always breaks down”. I think she has a Lego model of my van and sticks needles in it. Thankfully I got it fixed which only lengthened our departure by a day.
The weather in the valley was good and at least the temps were held at bay. I prefer that temps around home are below the 100 mark when leaving out to the mountains, but no matter what, the Sierra temps at Leavitt don’t usually creep above the upper 70’s at night even during the worse heat waves. California central valley temps were currently ranging from the upper 50’s at night and into the low 90’s during the day. I knew it would be cold up there and warned the members to prepare for cool evening temps.
With a late start, we made the pass as the sun was dimming.
Highway 108 is one of California’s gems.
On the trail it was obvious we were here at a good time of the year. It was hard to tell there was any kind of California drought.
Only a trickle.
There are three stream crossings, none of which would pose a problem but the crossing pictured above can be an issue during a flash flood or heavy rains that frequent the area.
We made it to the lake and found nobody there. I grabbed the spot I prefer to camp at but there are plenty of premium sites that offer some better views. The place I normally take has some good tree cover that doubles as a wind break. At this time of year I always plan for cooler temps which I always expected for Leavitt. The weather can swing abruptly up there. The week after the meet temperatures soared for a few days then was followed by front that brought in light snow to the region. But the weather was reasonable during our stay with one exception, the wind.
The party was in the van the first night. Don had bought a well-made tent last winter that stood up to the howling winds. Other than the sound of water, wind makes it easier for me to nap over those nights of dead silence, and the wind whipping through the trees made for a pleasant sleep. Oh and the alcohol helped too!
Don and his tent with the wind barriers around the propane fire in the background. Don knows not to get too close to the growling walls of the SMB. Me snore? Never!
The wind would be heavy throughout the entire trip only to let up on Monday the day we left out. I’ve been in some heavy winds at the lake but never the continuous barrage we were subjected to on this trip. At least the evening temps never fell below 40⁰.
A few morning pictures below:
It wasn’t long before some of the members rolled in. Ray and Jennifer were first to arrive. As we were talking with Ray, Paul and Tina drove in.
Paul and Tina.
Soon Eric and his clan came arrived from their cross country travel adventure and set up their camp.
We had a little get together that night at my camp which would end up being a nightly event. With wind barriers around camp and with my little propane fire as the only heat producer, we were able to stay somewhat comfortable protected from the wind chill. It would be a fairly short night for all who had arrived, but it was an enjoyable evening especially talking with Eric and hearing about his adventures he had with his family prior to the meet.
Here is Eric’s trip report:
The next day we visited Eric’s camp.
Sam, Sera, and Kristie with Don at the table.
The Lego man.
Don and Ray at Eric’s, the only camp with a table!
Sera, Kristie, and Jennifer coming back from a hike.
Craig and Cindy finally showed up.
Eric, Craig, and Cindy in a heavy discussion about how cold it was. Well I guess only Craig was cold by the looks of it
Paul and Ray facing the camera.
Several meeting and “bull-sessions” went on throughout the day but it wasn’t long before Eric and his family had to leave to their next destination. Too bad! Time was moving too quickly and I wished they could have stayed one more night. At least they had time to explore the area before leaving out.
Later that day Jack and Jackie came driving in with Danh right behind them.
Jack & Jackie’s cat.
Dinner with Craig and Cindy was a big hit. The pulled pork and slaw sandwiches were fantastic. Thanks Cindy! It did prep us for the evening.
Cindy, Danh, in front with Craig, Jack and Jackie in the background. Don’s on the right.
Adult beverages flowed that night around the fire that had yet to be lit up. Those little propane fires are nice but really suck up the gas so I waited until the air chilled before lighting it up.
Someone up there was blasting off fireworks. I do realize that there isn’t much to burn at that altitude but the thought of doing such a thing evades me. I mean why? Dumbasses for sure. But hell, we had our own light show going on, and it didn’t pollute!
Cindy had her own set of LED lights that lit up the night. An awesome display!
Robb and Jennifer pulled in late and joined us at the fire.
Jack showed some of the members (via a tablet) his replica of the Yosemite RR that happens to be the most impressive reconstruction model I’ve ever seen. Many of these places have been spots I’ve visited over my youth. Same for Don who grew up in Merced. There are several YouTube videos worth looking at.
One day I want to visit his display. Watching the videos and looking at the pictures I must admit it’s the most realistic display I’ve ever seen. Awesome Jack! Hard to believe how small those models are.
The get together was another hit and I really enjoyed the evening. Robb, Don and I stayed up a little late that night and used up all the propane while exercising our drinking hands.
Another night came to an end but the wind didn’t. At least nothing blew down.
In the morning Danh reported his engine hadn’t charged up his house on the trip up. So some of us went to take a look and Paul noticed Danh had a visitor during the night.
Hard to see but in the lower left of Danh’s window is what looks like a small bear paw. Not that there aren’t bears in the area, but I’ve never seen one up there. Imagine waking from a dead sleep to that face in the window
Checking out Danh’s van.
I had to go back to grab some propane so a trip to the store was in order but not before we stopped and grabbed a pizza with a pitcher of beer on the side at Mia’s. There was a bit of World Cup mania going on inside but not too crowded.
Mia’s is located in Cold Springs on the west slope and puts out great pizza, sandwiches, and Italian food. At times it can be packed when the locals along with people staying at the Pinecrest Lake resort and campers show up at the same time. It’s probably the best restaurant in the Pinecrest area. It’s a bit of a drive from Leavitt…but beer on tap is worth the trek.
After grabbing some propane at Zak’s and the electrical parts for Danh’s van (Zak’s is also the nearest NAPA parts store) in Sierra Village, we headed back to camp. On the way in we shot a few pics of the trail.
(Click on images to zoom up)
Back at the lake we drove up to Robb and Ray’s camp. The wind was still a factor.
Everybody was talking about the hikes they had done during the day and it sounded impressive. The only thing me and Don could talked about was how good the pizza and beer was.
We did get Danh’s electrical issue repaired before the evening rolled in. We had another meet up at my van, and there was a lot of laughing going on. Another great night.
Robb, Jennifer, Jackie and Jack.
Me, Paul, Tina and Danh.
Cindy, Craig and Ray.
Jennifer with a smile Robb with a soda…just kidding, a beer!
Ray and Robb. A standard San Francisco Giants fan.
We were havin Damn Good Times
At one point all the members showed up to hunker down behind the wind breaks. Yeah the wind never did seem to stop and neither did the fireworks. Those guys were blasting off mortar sized rockets. At least they stopped so everybody could get some sleep after the party was over. Definitely a night to remember.
Danh left out in the early morning hours. I wish he would have stayed around a little longer. I’m sure he’ll want to do another run one of these days. Don and I had our usual “Hair of the Dog” espresso blend during mid-morning to kick the hangover’s ass. It was now Sunday and most of the members were planning to head home. It was time for a group shot.
OK back to talkin about our rides.
No dog & cat fights.
Some members just kicked back.
After most of the members left out, Don and I took in a 4×4 run. Robb &Jennifer, and Ray & Jennifer stayed to do some more exploring and just kicking back to enjoy the area. We took off to once again see the other side of 108 which would be an eye opener for me and not really a good one.
I’ve written about the Wolf & Silver Creek run on my web site. I’m not going to go into much detail except to say that the Forest Service has closed several trails in the area. It’s still not a bad run but some of the places I used to camp at are now off limits.
A few pictures from the run:
There is a lot of “above tree line” terrain and luckily a few flowers were out.
I guess you could just pull off the trail to camp in a pinch.
The views are rewarding.
A few gorgeous views of meadows.
The sign said “Pride in America” like that was supposed to make me feel patriotic about the government closing public lands to us. As if re-routing the trail isn’t possible? Some of the trail closures made no sense at all, but a few like ones running through meadows did. I want to conserve our lands if need be. Yet you can’t tell me that trails can’t be routed around the meadows.
Some of the trails that had no places to camp at were left open.
This one ended in a dead end and was very narrow. We were forced into a multi point turn around.
Hum… what is 7 tons?
I think this might be a Marine camp. It was a really nice place place to boon dock at.
Well, I’m not 14,000 pounds yet!
We headed down towards the Marine Base at Pickle Meadows. Time was getting short and we wanted to get back to the lake before dark.
Another nice meadow which actually had some camping nearby.
We got back to camp before dark. Ray and Jennifer had cooked up a homemade pizza that was better than Mia’s. It was the last night around the fire and I was surprised that the propane tank was low again. But we kept the flame low and it lasted for the night…just like the wind.
In the morning we had a real breakfast…Sausage and Egg McMuffins with plenty of Espresso on hand.
Don cooked up the sausage and muffins while I took care of the eggs and espresso inside the van.
After breakfast we broke camp and prepared to head home. Finally the wind had almost completely quit. Yep, right as we were about to leave.
The rangers showed up and told us how they busted the guys shooting off fireworks. They also told us that they are closing off all the camping on the southeast part of the lake. Hum…they closed off the northwest section a few years back. I wonder how soon they will close off the northeast section leaving people with no camping at Leavitt?
There seems to be a push to close this area off to vehicle traffic due to the endangered species act. I’m not happy about this and plan to do what it takes to keep the trail open to camping and vehicle use. The chances of winning against the Government are slim and are reasons to visit these areas as much as possible before it’s closed. It will be a sad day when I can’t take friends and family members to see our wonderful backcountry that is supposed to be ours. For the thousands of acres that are not accessible to vehicle traffic, I don’t understand why the few spots that have been open since the 1940’s (or earlier) should be closed. The forest is vast and there is so much land reserved as non-vehicle use, I’m against most closures. The closure is not specific to this area but practically the entire Sierra Nevada range in Northern and Central California. But like fishermen and hunters, off roaders are considered a minority group, and not politically correct. I guess I should be happy for what I’ve seen in my lifetime. It’s time to contact the politicians who support keeping the backcountry open to vehicle traffic and tell them to introduce a common sense approach to accessing our public lands.
A last group shot before leaving out was in order.
Nice picture Jennifer.
Time to go.
That’s not wheel hop, Ray’s van is not moving in this picture.
Robb made it look easy.
Robb hauled out garbage left by some Jerks. Some people do care and is why much of the backcountry isn’t loaded with trash.
Unlocking the hubs…time to hit the highway.
After leaving out of the Leavitt trail we did take another trail located not too far away. For whatever reason I lost those pictures We had a good end to the trip but unfortunately some of us had to head home. Ray and Jennifer stayed another night but work was calling out to me in a voice I really didn’t want to hear. Argh. It’s always the worst part of any trip but there is always the next meet or adventure to look forward to.
This trip was a hit. It was great meeting people in person I’ve only typed at. It’s times like these that make life long friends. Other that the wind, the weather was great. But the wind did keep the mosquitos at bay so we did get some good out of it. I do wish the group could have stayed together a bit longer but I wouldn’t trade this excursion for anything. Thanks to all the members who showed up. We’ll have to do it again.
Please tread lightly, respect the backcountry, and other who occupy the trail.
Thanks for following AutoRamblings Sportsmobile 4×4 Adventures. Hope to see ya on the trail.
Dedicated to my long time friend Thomas (Wade) Cockrell who shared the same passions of fishing and backcountry adventures of the High Sierra’s.
Over the years we explored miles of remote areas while backpacking and camping above California’s Central Valley. He enjoyed the beauty of Sonora Pass and especially Waterhouse & Leavitt Lake.
He will be missed.