Day1 - 2
Arrive at Las Vegas*, meet the team and check-in to hotel. At dusk we will return to the center and stroll along the Strip (main street) with all the famous hotels, casinos, shops and dancing fountains. Vegas is best at night, in a blaze of lights, when the bawdy city awakens.
*It's possible to arrive at Vegas earlier and spend more time there, visit a casino or a show, or take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon
Day2 - 3
Death Valley awaits us. It will surely be hot today. We will cross the entire Nevada desert, drive down the Artist's Drive with colored rocks (volcanic and sedimentary formations) and stop at the lowest point in the US - Bad Water.
The drive is long, at least 8 hours without taking stops into consideration. So we need to start early. Over this day the nature will change from barren sands to ancient pines. By evening we'll reach the Sierra Nevada mountain range. In the distance we shall see Mt. Whitney, the highest point of contiguous USA.
Lunch and dinner on the road. We stop for the night at a camping near Big Pine* (no shower).
*All overnight locations may change depending on the circumstances
Day3 - 4
Early morning, breakfast and packing for the hike. All unnecessary clothes can be left in the car. However, all things that have a smell (food, toiletries) will have to be separated and left in a special box. These lands are home of the brown bear, who has a keen sense of smell and cunning curiosity. To break into a smelly car is an entertainment for the bears, but an insurance case for us. So, all that can attract animals must be taken out of the vehicle.
At about 11 am we start the hike. Our goal - 7 turquoise lakes, the lower of which are located in the forest zone, the upper - on a moraine. This is a two days route that will allow us to acclimatize and get used to trekking in the wilderness. On the first day we should reach the second or third lake (about 12km/7,5 miles). On the next day - complete the circle and return back to the car (13 – 16 km/8 - 10 miles).
At first we hike on a sunlit path, it will be hot. Then we cross a stream and enter a shady forest, where it is cooler. The path follows a stream where we can bath (if you like icy water). We set up camp between lakes 2 and 3 with a great view of Temple Crag - an attraction for climbers. Cooking on gas, wood fires are prohibited. If the weather is dry, we can sleep without a tent, under the stars. The Milky Way is clearly visible, and the brightest stars are Vega, Deneb, Altair.
Day4 - 5
We complete the ring. Reach the Fifth lake, circle the Fourth. If we have time, we can also climb up to the 6th and 7th lakes. And then we return to the car.
Drive to Bishop and stop at a motel. Dinner in town. There are many places for various tastes and budgets.
Day5 - 6
There's a great cafe for breakfast with magnificent sandwiches, all kinds of cakes, bakery products and sweets. It's also possible to buy local delicacies there, like jams and honey.
Today we'll go North following Highway 395, passing small wild towns and Sierra Nevada views on the left. Then we get to Mono Lake. Around the lake you'll see tufa - unique limestone formations that have developed from interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. Mono is home to several species of rodents and a favorite vacation spot for migrating birds. The lake has a unique kind of shrimp in it, which used to make a significant part of the local tribes' diet.
Afterwards we will visit Bodie. Today it is a ghost town, forever abandoned by gold miners, but once it was a thriving settlement. All the buildings are left in what is called "arrested decay" - preserved, but not restored.
From Bodie we head to Bridgeport. There is a sport-bar where we can have local beer and burgers. We camp nearby at the picturesque Twin Lakes (shower, but no camp fires).
Day6 - 7
We begin our second and hardest circular route. Our goal for today - ascend to an alpine lake, which we called "Bear Lake". In 2014 we actually met a bear on the shores of this lake. Perhaps this time we'll also be lucky to see one... from a distance...
The route starts at the scenic Twin Lakes, where we leave the car. It will be a busy day, so it is better to leave as early as possible. First, a good trail climbs up from the lakes. It will lead us into the Horse Creek valley. The lower part of the valley is a nice stretch with a good path following the creek among the huge Pinus ponderosa (pine species). Then we climb a steep moraine slope and eventually take a sharp right and after a long ascend come to a camping spot by the lake. By the way, this path is exactly the one that is described in Jack Kerouac's "Dharma Bums", and we'll even see the stone under which Ray and Japhy slept.
Camp and overnight at the lake. Altitude is approximately 3000 meters, cooking on gas only.
Day7 - 8
After breakfast we descend back to the path and continue to the Horse Creek pass. It will take us couple of hours to reach via talus with residual snowfields. From the pass we can see the other side of the rugged Sawtooth Range, Whorl Mountain, Spiller Creek valley.
After a brief rest and snack we continue on our way up to the Matterhorn pass. This will be the highest point of our circular route - about 3 400 m (11 100 ft). Climbing a scree slope and traversing the southern slope of Matterhorn with a descend into the canyon of the same name. There is still one pass to go for today - Burro. A trail will bring us there.
Approaching the Piute canyon and overnight in the upper Slide canyon. Cooking on gas.
Day8 - 9
Early in the morning we cross Mule Pass, go by several picturesque mountain lakes and come into the Robinson Creek valley. We follow the creek to descend back to Twin Lakes. Night in the campground with shower. It's possible to have dinner in the local restaurant (open till 8 pm).
Day9 - 10
Reserve* day in case of bad weather or an unexpected delay.
* If we save the reserve day, we can use it to go to Yosemite Valley.
Day10 - 11
We start early (not later than 9 am). Stop for breakfast at the Lee Vining Mobile gas station. Then drive to Sawmill Campground, repack and begin our approach of Mt. Conness 3 873m/12 589 ft.
The first part of the approach follows a trail along a creek. Then we take to the right, leave the path and begin a backcountry ascend. Here we might see deer and traces of bears. After a steep climb across a moraine (scree) we will reach a small plateau surrounded by cliffs on three sides. The plateau offers beautiful views of the valley we came from, and the setting sun colors the surrounding cliffs in unusual pink shades.
We spend the night on the plateau near a small lake (or a bit farther, by a larger lake). All water here should be boiled, and drinking water must brought with us. Cooking on gas stove.
Day11 - 12
Climbing Mt. Conness (3873m/ 12,589 ft). We leave everything at the camp and go light, taking with us only a snack and water. The first part of the way is a fairly steep climb up the scree slope. Fortunately, there is always some sort of trail to follow. After reaching a ridge we are in for a surprise - a huge plateau, in the middle of which there's a rock pimple - the top of Mt. Conness. To get to the summit we'll have to overcome some fear of heights and scramble a little. There are great views of the surrounding valleys and lakes from the top.
Descend to the camp, have some tea and continue down to the car at Sawmill Campground, and camp there (wood fires are allowed, but no shower).
Day12 - 13
A long day. We need to pass over the mountains and reach the ocean. About 8 hours drive. The road lies through the forests of Yosemite, dry hills and moist wine regions to the foggy Pacific Ocean coast.
We stop at a camping. If we arrive early enough, we can drive to a beach.
Day13 - 14
We can either go for a hike or choose a more relaxed pastime on a beach, and watch the sunset from Point Reyes lighthouse. It is easy to see sea lions around here.
Night in the same camping.
Day14 - 15
Moving to San Francisco. We will drive over the famous Golden Gate bridge and stop to take photos from one of the best viewing locations - Fort Baker. Then we will visit Fisherman's Wharf with its numerous fish restaurants and markets. This is a favorite location of sea lions. If time permits, we can also ride on the legendary tram through the city center.
Departure home from San Francisco*
*or drive back to Las Vegas, 11-12 hours, will require an overnight (not included on the cost of trip), departure home is possible on the evening of August 6.