A Solo Road Trip Through the Eastern Sierra, on 35mm Film

Documenting the best car camping route from Yosemite National Park to Mammoth Lakes, California

A Solo Road Trip Through the Eastern Sierra, on 35mm Film


Andrew M. Upchurch


Andrew M. Upchurch


Nikon F3, Pentax 6x7


Kodak Portra 160 and Medium Format Portra 800

Andrew Upchurch is a film photographer living and working in Yosemite National Park as a hiking guide for the Yosemite Mountaineering School.

On a recent weekend I set a course for the Eastern Sierras, leaving behind my homebase of Yosemite National Park. I needed a change of scenery, and a bit of rest and relaxation, and the comforting confines of Convict Lake would do nicely. From the road the still-frozen lakes in Yosemite’s High Country captured my gaze, and have held it for days. The elevated area possesses beauty to rival even El Capitan and Half Dome. Only 16 miles into the drive and its healing touch began to work its magic.

I arrived at the Convict Lake Campground late in the day after taking my time on the drive—I had no time restriction other than sunset. After reserving a last-minute campsite I headed to the lake to watch the day-ending alpenglow on the mountains above it. That night, in my preferred manner, I opted for cowboy camping. I love sleeping under the stars. The air is fresher, the gentle breeze feels spacious, and I never actually feel the need to sleep. Why use a tent if the weather is clear and comfortable? Just stare at the stars until sleep takes you. I felt alone, yet content.


Morning followed with a quick and simple breakfast of instant oatmeal and a cup of aeropress coffee. I took it slow and easy—this weekend it was rest I was after, not the Type II fun I often seek out. I find experiencing both hardcore weekends and more mellow car-camping types creates a helpful balance.

Breakfast yielded to a leisurely, yet stunningly beautiful walk around Convict Lake. Surprisingly, the usually relaxed stroll ended up a bit more aggressive than expected. About halfway through, a boardwalk normally used to cross a mountain stream that flows into the lake had been swept away, exposing a 50 foot or so section. Record snowmelt from the previous winter was to blame, no doubt. I was lucky to have chosen to wear my Chaco sandals that day–the perfect piece of footwear for wadding through the icy, yet remarkably refreshing, knee-deep alpine snowmelt that flowed strong across where the boardwalk usually stood.


Next up was Hot Creek Geologic Site, and wouldn’t be missed for the world. Where Hot Creek flows through the canyon, so do natural hot springs, boiling up from miles underground. It’s remarkably photogenic—a perfectly sinuous line formed by a river descending from magnificent mountain peaks in the distance, steam rising from the hot springs.

I heard a rattlesnake somewhere very close and retreated immediately, adrenaline shooting through me, heart rate rising rapidly. I was fine of course, but it seemed wise to allow nature its space when it was kind enough to warn me of its unease. I took the cue and set out, back on the road, knowing I would be back soon enough.


Published 08-23-2017