Mountain Summer at Tawonga

I’ve heard it said that college years can be the some of the most formative years. With my life as an example, I’d say that to be true, and this summer definitely epitomized that.

I ended up working at Camp Tawonga as a bunk counselor, and am pleased with my decision. Tawonga is a place that your dream about when you’re not there, and then hardly believe its existence when you are there and its beauty touches you. Never have I lived, visited or worked somewhere where the people are so interesting and caring and make up such a strong community. This is augmented by Tawonga’s location in a beautiful Sierra Nevada valley just twenty minutes from the Hetch Hetchy and West gates of Yosemite National Park. Finally, all of this energy gets focused so positively in giving the 1200 children who go to camp the experience of the lifetime. Its hard work when your working, which is a lot, but Tawonga truly is a magical place.

Camp Tawonga

I put on a new hat at Tawonga this summer as a counselor instead of a maintenance worker and it was a really good fit for me. From the get go, I loved the necessity of tireless work, constant creativity, and working more with my mind than my hands like I did the previous summer. Kids are fascinating in that they are nearly mirrors to those they are with, so to get them to have a good time, it was essential that I was going all out and enjoying things. Taking this job marked a big step for me in beginning a more selfless path. It felt gratifying to be doing work that benefited those beyond myself and to truly live the motto “The kids come first.” I’ve never set aside my needs as much as I did this summer, and while it was often a struggle, I persevered, was better for it and learned a lot from it.

I’m not selfless saint yet however. My most enjoyable parts of camp were my days off. I had originally intended to blog about each individual adventure but the time ran out so here they all are.

I’ve always dreamed off being one of those  guys who can just pick up and go on adventures and really do what he loves to do. This summer was the first time I was really able to do that. Having Yosemite nearby, and a group of incredible people as colleagues, every day off was both epic and enjoyable.

On my first day off, I went with a group of close friends and did Cloud’s Rest, a 15 mile hike to an incredible viewpoint on a massive piece of granite that evaded me due to snow last summer. It was a magnificent entrance to the summer and the epic adventures to come.

Cloud’s Rest

Next, I went with my close friends Benny and Stefan for a conquest of Mt. Dana, the second highest peak in Yosemite, standing tall at 13,061 ft (3.981m). We camped at Ellery Lake under a beautiful blanket of stars before climbed the 3 miles and 3,000 ft of climbing up the next day. The big rock scrambling led us to amazing views of Mono Lake, more big mountains, and a lot of Yosemite. After that we had a great lunch at Whoa Nelly Deli, swam in June Lake, went to some hot springs and camped again under the stars. It was a huge success and really felt right, like I was getting up and going off to do what I wanted to do.

The Crew at Mt. Dana Summit

My next day off was again with Benny, this time just the two of us. Little exceeded it in scope of epicness. After international dinner at camp (a smorgasbord of food from across the globe prepared by staff members) we set out to camp on the Eastern Sierra, wrecking the toilets at Tenaya Lake along the way (spicy food!). Our plan was to climb Mt. Conness, the third highest peak in the park, and we had a cool half cross-country route to do it. When we got to our favorite campsite, a little dirt road just about 395 with pullouts to sleep in, the sky was covered in clouds and there was lightning, maybe twice a minute. There was no thunder so we went to sleep. We woke up to rain so moved under a pinion pine tree for shelter, waking up under beautiful sunshine. The sun inspired us and put the spirit of adventure in our hearts, but by the time we got packed up in the car it was pouring rain. We ended up driving south to Rock Creek, where we were told we would see wild flowers (Benny is an avid naturalist). We went on an epic hike up to Mono Pass (+12,000ft) seeing so many different ranges of land, and so much different weather. Then we went to the hot springs, then went to camp.

Eastern Sierra – or the moon?

A few later was Conness attempt to, this time it was Noah, Steven, Stefan, Ari and myself. We had no map or compass. We started off the day with a dunk in Mono Lake which was gross, so we then got in Tioga Lake to the joy of 30 Korean tourists with cameras. The hike took us through a beautiful valley with a waterfall and wild flowers up some serious scrambling to our self-named Evolution Peak. We then swam in Listerine Lake for its green color. We finished the day with burgers and a sleepover back at camp.

Discovered! Listerine Lake

The final adventure was the most epic. Ari, Benny and I got off work at 6, ate dinner then drove to Sonora with two wilderness leaders Biebs and Devo for some climbing. It was my first time on real rock in 5 years, and what an epic night to do it. The approach included the bumpiest, car killing dirt road ever and then a fatty uphill hike in the 80 degree nighttime weather. We were climbing at The Grotto, named because it is an enclosed area of great climbing. The moon was full, the coyotes were howling, and there were bats. The climbing was excellent and it felt so good to climb and conquer a 5.9 toproped. We got back to camp at 3:30, ptfo’ed in Ari’s TP then woke up, drove to Toulomne Meadows and tackled the rocky Cathedral Peak Benny and Ari beasted up the face in glorious free-solo splendor, while I scrambled along the back We took an epic photoshoot (like always), dunked in Tenaya Lake after giving rides to two older men then had a beer and ping pong night at the local resort.

Casual mountain climbing

The summer was one of adventure, discovery and beauty. I won’t soon forget the friends I made, sights I saw, and will never lose the momentum that I’ve picked up from learning how to pick up and go.

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