Ballooning & Big Pine Creek

The one and only Desert Peach.

Ever have one of those this is the best week ever weeks? Recently I swear I was living the dream so hard. First, the Butlers came to visit for the 4th along with Shannon and Andrea, starting the bestness, then the balloon happened. My co-worker Grub (known to weave semi-questionable tales) has been talking about his balloon The Desert Peach forever, almost making it sound like a dream. So when he told me they were going to launch the peach and that I should come I just had to go, even though I had to be there at 6AM! You have to launch early because that is when the earth is quiet and the winds are calmest; by afternoon the earth wakes up and makes all kinds of crazy energy in the air. The winds were so wild the night before and I awoke not knowing if it would even happen, but luckily it was calm and lovely so I drove north of my work to a random old ranch in a field, where the balloon was. I honestly just intended to help crew and launch the thing, figuring my fear of flying wouldn’t allow me in the balloon, if I even was invited. And I was invited and magically chosen to go up in the air in a goddamnmuthafuggin hot air balloon!

Laying out the parachute

My heart and stomach were ready to jump out of my body yet Kenny, Drew and I stood in the little basket, prior to lift off and I couldn’t contain my happiness and excitement. Our ground crew let go of the basket and the balloon gently started to rise from the earth into the sky as the crew below got smaller and smaller. The ascent was a bit nerve-racking and the balloon started to sway side to side as our pilot Drew tried to find the right altitude for our preferred direction. It’s crazy how there are all these layers of wind going in different directions as you go up and he tried to NOT go west over the Sierra or south over Mono Lake. Thankfully we found our sweet spot and got to float around up there, so peacefully, except for the occasional necessary noisy burst of flame that kept us afloat. We set a record that day for the highest the balloon has been, over 10K ft of altitude, lifting off from around 6K above sea level.

I tried to eventually stop taking pictures and just enjoy the experience of being in a balloon. Drew communicated with the crew below via walkie-talkie because they had to meet us with the truck, where ever we ended up landing. There really is no control on where you end up, other than some maneuvers of lifting up the top flaps of the balloon and giving it more gas/flame to make you go up and down. This could have terrified me but I felt strangely safe and in good hands. You could see all the jack rabbits running below, wondering WTF that colorful blob and loud noise was above. We even saw what could have been crop circles (random double circle with no entry/exit point), no big surprise since the aliens love Mono Lake.

Close to lift off

We started to make our way down and there were 3 typical types of landing that could occur: a bounce, a bounce and tip over or a hard drop. We bounced around, sometimes in a big bush but mostly in grasses and had a perfect landing on a road that our crew was easily able to arrive at. The whole experience was magical and I felt high afterwards for the rest of the day. It’s tradition to have champaign after the ride and historically some passengers even carried bottles in the basket, just incase you landed on private property and angered the owners. A bottle was said to diffuse the situation. Also, the lip on the bottle was perfect to hang over the side of the basket with a rope, alerting people that you were French and classy. We went to Mono Inn and had champaign on the patio around 9AM. I got my crew coozie and now drink from it often with fondness! Thank you Eastern Sierra Drifters!

That’s Conway Ranch and our tiny cars
Balloon shadow
People, I’m in the basket!
Squeeeeeeezing the air out
The peach is back in her bag!

After the balloon ride I was heading south to Big Pine to meet Adriana for a couple nights of camping on Big Pine Creek. I booked Upper Sage Flat, to mix it up a bit from last year but should have booked Big Pine Creek instead… a little more central and scenic. I got there a couple hours before she did and was still high from ballooning. I walked the length of the creek and back down the road to find her setting up camp. We snacked and chatted into the late evening. The following morning we woke up and ate a ton of breakfast in prep for the big hike we were going to do up the north fork of Big Pine Creek. This is where Todd and I hiked last summer so I was excited to show Adriana the powder blue lakes and definitely go swimming in them this time around. I even lugged my tube in my backpack so I could float around. HOWEVER, we took a wrong turn and ended up going up the south fork route and by the time I realized this, we were so off from our proper turn that it was senseless to go back. SO we went on to Brainerd Lake instead of Lakes 1,2,3,4,&5 and it was really steep but a good workout and full of wild flowers.

Adriana is like, so high.

We reached the bench that seemed never ending and it was then that the water started to be all around us which meant a million mosquitos… and I forgot the bug spray. So the concept was to just keep moving, fast so they couldn’t land on me which didn’t really work but seemed like a good plan anyways. I got to a rock that wasn’t so buggy and waited for her to arrive and to lunch. A single other hiker advised us that the lake was still over a mile away and we’d pass a series of ponds before getting there. We finally made it, after what felt like forever, and fought the mosquitos for a quick dip in the water. I waded in up to my neck and the bottom of the lake was very mushy-muddy. I started to lift my feet out of the mud…. felt something on my feet and lifted my foot out of the water to find it covered IN DISGUSTING GREENISH-YELLOW, TINY LEECHES UP TO MY ANKLES! I started to scream and freak out and tried to get them off but they were stuck on there like tiny blood-sucking boogers. After far too long, I finally got them all off and we laughed and laughed about the whole thing, now that it was over. We then made our way back to the car and clocked in a 13 mile r/t hike. I felt accomplished yet drained and laid down in my tent for a bit once we got back to camp, while Adriana drove down the hill for phone reception and to get some provisions. We stayed up until 1 AM, burning the last of our firewood, talking and watching the shooting stars.

Willow Lake from the safe rock
Brainerd Lake at last!
Oh deer in the pretty flowers on the way back down…

The next day on our way back home, we hiked to Loch Leven in the Sabrina Lakes Basin out of Bishop; another lovely yet strenuous hike, laced with wildflowers. This was a failed attempt to hike to Blue Lake that again, I took a wrong turn and started at the wrong trailhead. Not a terrible mistake, since I ended up there the next week anyways. The urge to swim was not as strong, post leeches.

What NOT a morning person looks like
Hiking in our pajamas, we DGAF!
Not contemplating life at Loch Leven.


Possibly contemplating life…

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