Backpacking at Chickenfoot Lake (Little Lakes Valley, California)
At 47, I was still a backpacking virgin. I was both excited and apprehensive about my first backpacking trip to Chickenfoot Lake in Little Lakes Valley, California. My guide, who doubled as my boyfriend, was a very brave man.
Although I had trailer camped with the masses numerous times, I had yet to pack in to a remote spot for some real camping. It’s all about the company you keep. And, these days this wandering ex-housewife was happily hanging out with a seasoned fly fishing backpacking boyfriend.
It was a fishing buddy who suggested our destination, proclaiming it to be an “easy” hike without sacrifice of beauty—or quality of fishing. [I’ll touch upon the whole “easy” thing in a bit.] Within days of the idea, the wilderness pass was reserved and we marked our calendars.
We would launch from the Mosquito Flat Trailhead at the base of California’s eastern Sierras, hike 3-1/2 miles through Little Lakes Valley, and set up camp wherever we felt like it for two nights next to Chickenfoot Lake.
I had a few concerns on this maiden backpacking voyage. Would my knees buckle under the weight of my [literally and figuratively] green backpack? Would the 10,000′ elevation make me nausea—or worse? Would my body reject the dehydrated processed food my guy insisted we bring? Would there be enough food? Would our relationship survive three shower-less days with little makeup?
Chickenfoot Lake Camping Itinerary
- Head north on Interstate 15 and [hopefully] arrive in the town of Bishop by dinner hour
- Pick up our wilderness pass at the White Mountain Ranger Station Visitor Center
- Rent a [mandatory] bear canister at Eastside Sports
- Pack our backpacks and bear canister
- Eat “killer” Chili Verde at Taqueria Las Palmas
- Savor one last shower and good night’s sleep in a real bed at Motel 6
- Drive to Mosquito Flat Trailhead (hint missed)
- Bury (2) Coors Light for consumption on Sunday
- Hike 3-1/2 miles, pick our tiny plot of wilderness, and set up camp
- Fish, nap, read, etc.
- Fish, nap, read—repeat as needed until sundown
- Early to rise, break down camp, and repack
- Return to Mosquito Flat Trailhead (with a serious case of PTMD—Post Traumatic Mosquito Disorder)
- Unbury and savor (2) Coors Lights
- Eat tasty hydrated food at Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ in Bishop
- Drive south on Interstate 15 to our respective homes (and hot showers)
The ranger station was closed, but our wilderness pass was right where they said it would be in a box near the front door. First task done.
I won’t lie. When I found out we were required to cram everything with a scent (i.e., food, toiletries, etc.) into a bear canister, my imagination went into overdrive. For the first time in my life, a loaded pistol had a calming effect on me.
Eastside Sports was our bear canister dealer. I instantly adored them when I read their mission statement:
“Eastside Sports is dedicated to creating an atmosphere in which happy, healthy and knowledgeable employees provide sustainable and quality products to a satisfied customer in the most environmentally benign manner possible, while providing a means for the owners and the employees to make a decent living and be an asset to the community.”
Well said…and, well done.
My chivalrous guy did his darnedest to take on as much of the load himself to up the odds of arriving at Chickenfoot Lake. After spreading out our stock of supplies on the hotel bed, he pondered, packed, and re-packed with admirable concentration. When he was done, he hoisted up his backpack, turned to me and said:
“Here. I want you to feel the weight of my love. Remember this when your pack starts to feel really heavy. ”
What a brilliant [and loving] man. In a constant state of gratitude that I wasn’t carrying his pack, I never once uttered a complaint about how heavy my pack was—on the way up OR back. [My guess was it weighed about 30 lbs, or approximately 28% of my body weight.]
My Backpack—The Deuter ACT Lite
A little bit about my new backpack—the Deuter Women’s ACT Lite 60+10 SL. We bonded. Here’s my extremely technical review (posted only here):
★★★★★ “I freaking love it!”
The Deuter Women’s ACT Lite 60+10 is uber-comfy, never chafing any skin or causing a single muscle ache on its maiden six hour round trip voyage. It sat perfectly on my hips, despite how narrow they are. Back support was excellent—and much appreciated. The main compartment is roomy and easily accessible from either the top or bottom of the pack, and there are plenty of pockets and slots for storing all shapes and sizes of stuff. Fashionably speaking, it’s super cute…a cheerful shade of apple green with a bright yellow lily on the top zipper. (When I get really serious about backpacking, this extra ounce will have to go.) All this for just $149.52 at Amazon.com.” | The Wandering Ex-Housewife
Chickenfoot Lake or Bust
The hike to Chickenfoot Lake left me breathless—a combination of a MODERATE hike with 30 extra pounds on my back and the breathtaking scenery.
Shortly after leaving the trailhead, you hit the first of six pristine “little” sapphire blue lakes. Next are a meandering babbling brook and lush marsh, surrounded by gnarled cedar trees and snow-capped mountains. It’s so picturesque, it almost feels virtual.
Chickenfoot Lake is the last of the lakes, about 3-1/2 miles in from the trailhead, just before Morgan Pass. I beg to differ with the “easy” classification. Definitely moderate and, because of the altitude, about all this moderately active woman could handle. The payoff was huge, however—seclusion and serenity. Almost unheard of on a Saturday anywhere in Southern California.
While my guy pitched his super lightweight two-person Big Agnes tent, tied up his two-person hammock, and set up the “kitchen,” I recovered and deeply appreciated his gallant heart.
I also pondered the food situation. I was worried. I have pretty significant food allergies‚ autolyzed yeast extract being the worst and coming hand-in-hand with a killer headache. It’s a common flavor enhancer in many processed foods—and apparently dehydrators love it. On our REI excursion, I hadn’t found much without it.
Once camp was all set up, we dove into lunch. My first bite of a dehydrated meal was Pad See You by Backpacker’s Pantry—and, I have to say, it was shockingly delicious. Dinner that night—White Bean Chicken Chili by Mountain House—not so much. With hindsight, I realized my body tried to warn me with each bite I forced down. In the middle of that first night, it made sure I listened. Twice my eyes shot open and I scrambled out of the tent, running as far from camp as I dared in a panic—I was certain bears love barf.
After a bland breakfast of Oats and Quinoa with Apples & Cinnamon, I was back on track.
On Saturday, we acquainted ourselves with each of the little lakes—Marsh, Heart, Box, Long, Little, and our very own Chickenfoot. The idyllic Heart Lake was my beloved.
The fishing had both of us chuckling—each of us hooked one on our first casts. It seems they were babies who didn’t know any better. While I drifted in and out of sleep, and the pages of my book, on the grassy shoreline, my boyfriend gently removed hooks and released no fewer than 40 tiny trout, possibly as many as 60. Little trout from little lakes—measuring anywhere from 2-1/2″ to 11,” most being in the 4″-6″ range.
Karma seemed to be attacking us in the form of mosquitos. They were plentiful and merciless—at times dampering our enjoyment.
The second of two dampers was our inability to have a campfire. While I fully understand the rationality behind this regulation, it totally detracted from our camping experience—no smoke to repel the mosquitos, no traditional (or lemon meringue) s’mores, no hypnotic crackling flames to stare at for hours with cocktails in hand.
Back to Civilization
Our departing gift way too early the next morning was a super moon like I’d never seen before—right outside our front “door.” A gift before the grueling hike out.
I packed out like a trooper, re-energized by fantasies of fresh fruit, an hour long shower, and a mosquito-less existence.
After two days of solitariness, the throngs of people at Erick Schat’s Bakkery were an affront to our senses, but that turkey sandwich on award-winning Shepherd’s bread made it all worth it.
I left with refreshed gratitude for hot showers, hydrated food, a place to store my stuff, and a bug-free home town. But, I mourned the loss of breathtaking beauty, simplicity, naps at-will, and time to read and fish to our hearts’ desires. I was also grateful that my guy and I shined, both individually and as a couple.
Note to self for the next backpacking excursion:
- Populate my TRAVEL: Into the Wild Pinterest board with ideas for next time
- Find healthy freeze dried backpacking food
- Cut my toenails short before hitting the trail
- Remember, it doesn’t matter how ugly it is, if it’s comfortable, wear it
- Bring three camera batteries
- Don’t forget the mosquito repellent and smoke bombs