*SEE PHOTOS BELOW*
Back by popular demand, the Strangecation blog team, Ashley Sackerman and Chris Bell, report from the wilds of Sequoia where they hiked nearly a dozen miles to check out Bearpaw High Sierra Camp. Their exclusive report for Along for the Ride starts now:
"I got a hydration pack from Amazon today and organic bug spray! I'm so excited!"
"Umm, you know that we're not going up to Sequoia for another two weeks, right?" I responded to Ashley (the fairer half of Strangecation).
Little did I know that I would be the one who would become over-zealous in my preparation for our stay at the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp in Sequoia National Park. We really didn't have much to go on, as there weren't all that many photos on the website for what can only be described as a "Glamp," short for a glamorous camp.
I had originally wanted to go camping and hadn't been up to Sequoia in years. Since the park is within four hours of Los Angeles, I figured the trip could be easily made over a long weekend. I remembered the Wuksachi Lodge when I saw it on the Park's website; then there was something called the Bearpaw Camp. The brief description made it clear that the camp could only be reached by hiking along an 11.5 mile trail. It was truly remote and therefore mysterious, and I felt our next "Strangecation" blog was falling into place.
We spent the night prior to our excursion in a cheap motel, as the camp recommended getting an early start on the hike. The next morning, the drive into the main entrance of Sequoia National Park, leading to the main campground of Lodgepole, was truly awe inspiring. We wound our way up to approximately 6500 feet along the hairpin turns of the General Sherman Highway, mesmerized by both the granite dome-peaked canyons and the immense presence of the Sequoias as we neared the Giant Forest.
It felt prehistoric and I could barely wait to begin our hike! But first we had to secure a free wilderness permit from the ranger station at Lodgepole and drive to the trail head at Crescent Meadow.
I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that the Bearpaw Camp would provide everything we would need. In my disbelief, as we shuffled anything that had a scent into bear-proof lockers at the trail head, I packed extra layers for both myself and Ashley. This lead to Ashley, whom I had poked fun at two weeks earlier for her over eagerness in preparing for this trip, carrying just her few well thought out necessities, while I needlessly heaved a fifty-pound pack over my shoulders. This would almost prove to be my downfall as both Ashley and I learned just how far 11.5 miles is.
We began the trek in high spirits and the views were incredible.
We started from the edge of the Giant Forest and eventually meandered out to a vista overlooking the Sierras and leading into a trail that followed a mountain ridge.
This path would continue, weaving in and out of the forest to steep ridges, constantly leaving us breathless from both the views and the challenge of the hike itself. Whether pointing out natural wonders to each other, zoning out to our iPods or simply walking in silence, the High Sierra Trail is what makes the Bearpaw Camp so magical.
We encountered weary scouts nearing the ends of their journey, fit hikers equipped with climbing poles, and friendly faces along the way who aided our psyche by telling us we were almost there. Now, I'm not gonna lie to you. The hike was rigorous and took us approximately six hours to complete. Of course, we took a fairly casual pace and had lunch at a waterfall and numerous breaks along the way, but you should be reasonably fit to attempt this journey.
As our feet became heavier and our stops more frequent, we finally approached the final mile marker stating that Bearpaw was just a few tenths of a mile away. My pack was heavy and my feet were at their breaking point, but there it was. Bearpaw High Sierra Camp!
We entered the main structure of the small compound composed of a ranger station, mess hall, showers and tents. Chris and Ari, two friendly faces who worked at the camp, greeted us and informed us that they would be cooking for us that night.
The pair, who appeared to be in their mid-twenties, helped us settle in, pick out our tent and gave us the greatest news of the day: we still had an hour left before dinner to shower!
We quickly unloaded our gear into our "tent," which was really a canvas cabin.
The sight of an actual bed, linens and towels was barely overshadowed by the incredible view out our front door.
It was peculiar that this much "luxury" had been hauled all the way out here, as we later learned that the Bearpaw Camp is only open three months a year due to being snowed in the remainder of the time.
Ashley and I headed to the shower house, which was heated by a wood furnace, and our aches and soreness from our long hike quickly washed away.
The facility has private showers, a real restroom with an actual toilet (not just a port-a-potty).
While these may seem like fairly common amenities, when you consider that almost everything at the site is brought in by mule pack weekly, it truly is astonishing what creature comforts are made available to weary travelers.
Feeling refreshed after our showers, and remarkably recharged to boot, Ashley and I joined the other adventurers who had chosen Bearpaw as their vacation.
We met two sisters, from Marin, CA and New Jersey, who meet up regularly for excursions like this, and I was impressed that they not only kept pace with us on the trek home the next day, but also came better prepared than us to the camp itself. While I jammed my pack with needless extra clothes and jackets, these ladies brought tequila and wine. They taught us that tequila is great to bring hiking because you can drink it at room temperature and it mixes well with the powdered lemonade that was strangely abundant in the galley. Until dinner was served, we shot the breeze with the sisters and the only other camper/guest, Norm, a late middle-aged day trader who professed he is on his laptop in the morning and then hikes in the afternoon.
This was not hot dogs over a struggling fire and s'mores; this was a full-on gourmet meal featuring grilled chicken, pasta au gratin, salad and even a dessert of apple crisp with home made whipped cream!
Not having to prepare our own food and being waited on was certainly not taken for granted by us or any of the other campers, and with no dishes to do, we played cards, drank hot chocolate and watched the sunset over the crest of the Sierras as only handfuls of people get to do each year. We learned that for some hikers much fitter than we, Bearpaw is only a stopping point on the High Sierra Trail that eventually makes it's way to Mount Whitney, another fifty miles away!
As we headed off to our bunks, we passed the other guests peering out of their tents enjoying the oncoming show of stars. We lit the old fashioned oil lamp in our tent, reflected on this private treasure and drifted snugly off to sleep in our surprisingly comfortable beds.
I had truly forgotten my day job out here, too tired to raise my eyelids, and too content to be concerned with anything other than the home style breakfast that awaited me in the morning. Certainly not the 11.5 mile return hike we had the next day.
For more information and reservations please visit the Sequoia National Park Website.