Here in California the glorious winter rains have finally returned. It’s been quite some time since we’ve had any cold, wet weather that’s perfect for getting cozy and hunkering down inside. Part of me definitely misses being able to go out and get my nature fix, but it’s not all bad. Lately I’ve been spending my time reflecting on the past year and recognizing all the great outdoor adventures. In particular, a few memories stand out. These are the highlights from my 2015 explorations.

Finding Comfort in Solitude, Desolation Wilderness

backpacking yosemite national park halfdome lovetocamp

[ Desolation Wilderness, CA ]

In June I embarked on my first solo trip to the Desolation Wilderness. My goal was to see if I could keep myself happy and entertained for a few days without my usual partners. After passing a popular destination a few miles from the trailhead, I would not see another soul until I returned. If you are seeking solitude at the most visited wilderness area per acre in the country, it helps to plan a mid-week trip to a less popular section.

I spent my time exploring new territory, soaking in the gorgeous views, cooling off in a brisk lake, reading at night in my tent, and doing lots of trout fishing. Having a whole lake full of rainbow and brook trout to myself in such a beautiful setting was a dream come true. Fresh, wild trout is extra delicious when eaten lake side watching a west coast sunset. Trust me on this. I even caught my first cutthroat trout, a much rarer fish than the common rainbow and brook trout.

Epics Views & Bear Sightings, Yosemite National Park

backpacking yosemite national park halfdome lovetocamp

[ Sentinel Dome Trail, Yosemite National Park, CA ]

In July I was able to swing not one, but two trips to the promised land: Yosemite National Park. The first trip resulted in one of the most scenic camping spots I’ve ever reached. It was flat granite near Tuolumne Peak that plunged down into the Cathedral Creek drainage. We had unobstructed, magnificent views of neighboring peaks to the North and West. It was one of those classic, epic views you find in Yosemite.

The second trip presented me with my first wild black bear sightings after 7 years of looking. There was one little guy by the Tioga Road and then there was an adult meandering down the river in Tuolumne Meadows. Three of us watched as it startled a group of folks doing morning yoga on a gravel bank. We observed that bear for quite some time and I was all smiles. I know bears are actually quite common in the park but I just never happened upon them. Now I finally feel complete!

Finding My Limits, Desolation Wilderness

desolation wilderness backpacking lake azure lovetocamp

[ Lake Azure, Desolation Wilderness, CA ]

In August I made another solo trip to the Desolation Wilderness and pushed myself to the edge of my bushwhacking and rock scrambling abilities. I kept getting cliffed and ultimately decided to turn back before reaching my intended destination. Perhaps if I was not backpacking solo or carrying a large pack I would have pressed on.

But it was a victory to push myself physically, find my limits (without going over them!), and take in some amazing views. Being on that edge is quite exhilarating, but you have to er on the side of safety when traveling alone – and even more so when you have a pregnant wife waiting at home. I know I made the right choice.

Wild Alaska, Kenai Peninsula

[ Kasilof River drift boat fishing, Ninilchick, AK ]

In September I left California and took on the Kenai Peninsula. Yes, the one in Alaska. I remember the tides being ridiculously strong, the otherwordly blue water of the Kasilof River (from glacial silt), and the commonness of bald eagles. However, if a single moment stands out, it’s climbing down to the Ninilchick River and seeing my first salmon spawning in the shallows. It was nature doing its thing, just like on National Geographic. We saw plenty more salmon, but just like that Yosemite bear you never forget the first one.

So as I sit here writing this post while listening to the rain fall, I am grateful. I am grateful for the amazing experiences of the past year and for the life sustaining rain that we sorely need. Here’s to deep snow pack, full reservoirs, and new outdoor adventures in 2016!

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