The White Mountains 2012: Day 7

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I’m sure I’ve caught many of you off guard by posting Day 7 of my trip long after wrapping things up with Day 6. I don’t have any photos or videos to share from this day, but I do have a story that you might find interesting. It deals with human nature, both good and bad.

For the full story, I’ll take you back to the evening of Day 6.

I had just finished taking my final photo for this trip — a seven minute exposure of the roots of a fallen Bristlecone Pine. I felt a sense of accomplishment as I turned the locking knob on my cable release, and heard the shutter click shut one last time.

I wish I could say this is how all of my photo trips end — but my sense of  accomplishment that evening stood in contrast to the sentiment I’ve felt on previous shooting trips. Often times the end of my trips are marked by a familiar moment. I find myself alone in the wilderness, uncertain of the images I’ve captured thus far, and lacking the motivation to search for my next photo.

In January of this year, I stood beside my camera on a deserted salt flat somewhere in Death Valley. The relentless wind made photography difficult, and the light that evening was far from ideal. It was a half hour until sunset, and I was already doing the mental math for my drive home. I came to the realization that I was done. I was worn out, and I had no desire to capture any more images.

On day 6 of my trip to the White Mountains, I felt refreshed, invigorated  and in overall good spirits. I think much of this can be attributed to having a clear sense of goals, and doing my best to achieve them.

I returned to my car under the last trace of twilight, and took a few minutes to arrange my gear for the ride home the next morning. It was a pleasant evening, and I looked forward to one last night under the stars at high elevation.

The drive from the Patriarch Grove to Grand View Campground takes just over an hour. It felt more like a routine commute home from work, rather than a drive through the mountain wilderness.

I pulled into the campground just after 9:30PM and turned off my headlights as a courtesy to other campers. The last thing I wanted to do was blind a bunch of people sitting around a fire. The combination of my parking lights and daytime running lights provided plenty of visibility on the narrow campground road.

When I arrived nearly a week ago, I didn’t spend much time scoping out the campground. I found one that looked good, then set up camp. As it turns out, I had one of the best sites. There was a 40 foot tree-lined drive that turned a sharp right turn, then terminated at a wonderfully shady campsite. There was a picnic table I could use to load film, a fire pit, and a nice flat space between a few trees to pitch my tent.

This small camp site served as home for the past week, and I was truly fortunate to find such a great spot without any effort.

The campground was avery active that evening. Most of the sites were taken, and the otherwise dark campground came alive with countless camp fires. I later learned that the Perseid meteor shower was that weekend.

I rounded a corner, then pulled into the tree lined driveway that led to my campsite. I paused for a moment — What was going on?

A van was parked in my parking spot, and a family of 3 was enjoying dinner at my picnic table. My campsite had been poached. Despite my tent, and a few articles of mine on the picnic table, they decided it was okay to move right in.

I turned on my headlights, then parked my car in the only space available — next to the minivan, and mere feet away from the picnic table. They had removed all of my belongings from the table and placed them on the ground.

Despite the bright headlights that could only be matched by those of an alien abduction, the family didn’t seem bothered by my presence.

I got out of my car and was eventually approached by a woman in her late 40’s.

“Oh, is this your campsite?” She said.

“Yes.” I was at a loss of word. It was beyond me how this group felt so entitled that they thought it was justifiable to move right in to someone else’s campsite.

“I hope we aren’t imposing, but we really wanted one with a fire ring.”

“So you thought it was a good idea to steal my campsite?”

“Is this a problem?” She seemed surprised.

“Let’s say I walked into your house one day, put my stuff on your dining room table, then said I was moving in because I wanted a house with a fire place. Would you be okay with that?”

The woman was quiet for a moment, then responded “We’re only going to be here one night.”

I was shocked by the whole situation, and I would never dream of doing such a thing to someone else. There have been times when I’ve offered to share my camp site with people who arrived late at a very remote campground, only to find it filled to capacity. I’m very easy to get along with, but I have little patience for those that impose themselves on others. There is a big difference between me offering to share a site, and a group of people deciding it was okay to play a game of campground “Risk”.

There was little I could do to kick this family out in the middle of the night with an otherwise filled campground. Believe me — I wanted to — but I also wanted it to be morning so I could leave. The experience left a very bad taste in my mouth.

I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. I awoke every couple hours, looked at my clock then, tried to get some more rest. It was 3AM when I decided it was time to get up.

I wasn’t especially quiet as I broke down my tent in the dark. Needless to say, I had an early start — far earlier than I would have otherwise planned. Despite the incident with the unwelcome campsite guests, it was a very pleasant trip and I looked forward to dropping my film at the lab to see the results of my hard work.

Upon exiting the campground, White Mountain road drops quickly in elevation as it winds its way toward a broad saddle where it joins route 168. I turned right, then continued west toward the small town of Big Pine. This road winds its way though a narrow canyon, even becoming a one-way road for a short distance.

Morning had arrived, and the Sierra Crest was illuminated by the first light of dawn. These mountains stood as an imposing, impenetrable wall on the other side of Owens Valley. I rolled down my windows and enjoyed the crisp mountain air.

As I rounded a curve in the road, two pedestrians came into view. They stood facing me in the opposing lane, waving their arms in distress. They were two clean cut young men in their early 20’s — dressed only in t-shirts, shorts and regular shoes. There was no car to be found, and they were still nearly 10 miles from Big Pine.

I slowed down as I approached them, then came to a stop in the middle of the road. There was no shoulder on the right side.

“Thanks for stopping” One of them said. “Our car broke down around midnight, and we’ve been walking all night.” One of them held a one gallon water bottle with only a bit of water left.

I surveyed the situation. Why would anyone leave their car, and walk for 6 hours through the middle of the night?

“What kind of car do you drive?” I asked.

“It’s a Hyundai Elantra — 2005”

“What happened to your car?”

“We’re not sure, but it started running really rough, and it was leaking oil like crazy. I had just taken it in for an oil change.”

“And you broke down at midnight?”

“Yeah, we stayed with our car for a while, but there was no one else on the road all night. There was no cell signal, so we decided to walk to Big Pine. We didn’t realize how far away it was.”

“Where are you guys from?”


“And where were you heading?”

“We were heading to Sequoia for a camping trip.”

I pulled my car off the road, and onto the narrow left shoulder. Clearly they made some bad decisions. If you have a car full of camping gear, the worst thing you can do is abandon it in the middle of the night, and try to hike to a “nearby” town on foot.

“Well, at least you had some water with you.” I said, gesturing toward the one gallon jug of water.

“Oh, we got that from some guy we flagged down around 2AM. He was heading east. He didn’t want to give us a ride, but he gave us some water. There were several other cars, but no one else stopped. You’re the first person we’ve seen all night heading west on this road.”

“So what do you guys need?” I asked.

“If we could get a ride to Big Pine, we’d greatly appreciate it.”

“My truck is a bit cramped right now, but I can make some room.” That was an understatement. The passenger seat, and rear seat were completely filled with my camping gear. I put my truck in park, then cleared off the passenger seat. “Just a heads up, I don’t have any seats in the back. One of you is going to have to sit on the floor.”

“That’s the least of our worries. We really appreciate your help. I don’t think we could have walked much further.”

I cleared some space in the back, then let them both in. I could see the sense of relief on their faces as we made our way down the mountain. We continued our discussion on the way to Big Pine. I told them about the horrible family that poached my campsite the night before, and they helped brainstorm several very creative ways to deal with the situation.

I dropped them off at a Shell Station in Big Pine, and they sincerely thanked me for stopping to offer help. I was at the end of my journey, but they were just getting started. They walked to a nearby diner, and I watched as they were seated at a large window seat. They gave me a wave through the restaurant window as I pulled out of the gas station and hit the road once more.

I must admit, it’s tough to ignore the timing between the tremendously rude family, and the two guys who needed help early the next morning.

On a closing note, I’d like to thank those of you who have followed my blog and have supported me over the past few years. I’m leaving for my next trip in the near future, and I can guarantee you one thing — this trip is going to be totally different than anything I’ve done in the past. I look forward to sharing my experiences, my photos, and taking you guys along for the ride!

14 Responses to “The White Mountains 2012: Day 7”

  1. bob Says:

    great story Ben, your a great guy, you dont know who you might meet, it could have been somebody that wanted to rob you, but it was a great gesture on your part.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I think it’s best to trust your instinct when it comes to these situations. These guys checked out fine with me, but just like you’re saying — you never know!

  2. Nick Says:

    Ben, Really enjoyed reading your story. I found it quite interesting. Nice of you to help the guys out as well. I know we sometimes have second thoughts on doing something like that, and probably for good reasons. I had a similar incounter last year in the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness Area of Upper MI. The guys I helped out were very happy to have some help getting to a phone after over a day of waiting with there broken car.
    I look forward to reading and seeing video of your next photo trip! Good stuff Ben!

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I think it’s always important to size up the situation, and trust your gust instinct. Their story checked out with me and there weren’t any red flags, so I was happy to help. I’m glad you were able to help those people in MI as well. For anyone in a bad situation like that, it must be a tremendous relief to find someone that’s willing to help.

  3. Steve Says:

    To the first part of your story – what the heck is wrong with people????? I can’t imagine someone doing that, it’s beyond rude. Never in all my years of camping have I had someone do that. Just wow…

    To the second part, way to go 🙂 Glad you were able to help those guys. Sounds like they didn’t get their oil filter screwed on properly!

  4. Karl Says:

    Amazing. And I thought leaving a folding camp chair at my site was enough of a message to poachers. (Since I generally sleep in the back of my 4Runner.) Grandview does sometime attract some strange characters. Mostly it’s nearly empty.

    Good for you for helping those guys. It can be hard to make that decision in this day and age as they say.

    We never did hear about how you managed to kill a box of 8×10 Ektar. Ouch.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      The box of film was lost due to water damage. I typically store my film in a dry bag that’s stored inside my thermal electric cooler. After opening a new box of Ektar and loading a single sheet, I failed to return the box to the dry bag. I was in a hurry, and figured I’d get back to it. Somehow the cooler was disconnected, and some ice on the cooling unit melted. The water was sucked up into the box, and even into the paper wrapper.

      While loading film on this trip, I noticed that the film sheets were ever so slightly sticking together at the bottom. I sacrificed a sheet of film, and pulled it out into the light. I could see that the bottom inch of the film was discolored from the water damage. The shot I took on the film turned out okay, but needless to say, I no longer trust the film so I tossed the box.

  5. Rick Lanning Says:

    Did I hear in one of your videos you were thinking about shooting DSLR? Really???!!! I hope I was just imagining that.
    Great stuff by the way

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I will be adding a DSLR to my lineup, but it will be mostly for video. It’ll also give me the ability to take photos on days that are not friendly for large format — days with excessive wind, or those times when I’m scouting for shots and I don’t have my setup with me. It’ll also allow me to experiment with some different types of photography that aren’t possible with LF.

      With the future of color LF photography hanging in the balance, I think it’s more important than ever for me to continue to shoot 8×10 as long as possible. There’s no digital substitute that rivals the quality of 8×10 film — but the DSLR setup will make a heck of an awesome point and shoot. 🙂

  6. Laura Says:

    You are amazingly restrained. I probably would have started removing their equipment and placing it on the ground just as they had removed mine. Ecstatically looking forward to the next trip!!

    • Ben Horne Says:

      There were certainly many other things I could have done to deal with the situation, but I was tired, and looked forward to returning home the next day. Had this occurred earlier on in my trip, I’m pretty sure I would have told them to pack up camp and find somewhere else to go.

  7. Oliver Says:

    Life has a funny way to make it interesting, just when you think you hit a good groove, it changes just like that. I know we talked about this when you I see you in the shop but reading it again, it is still unbelievable. I honestly would not know what to do in such a situation. But you handled it very well I have to say. Karma will get them back. And kudos on helping the two guys.
    As always great series and thanks for sharing your adventures. See you in the shop. Take it easy!

  8. Klaus Says:

    A few weeks ago I got stuck behind a fallen tree in a remote part of redwoods state park and had to hike four miles up the gravel road in pouring rain to the paved road. Luckily a park ranger picked me up there. I vividly remember the sense of relieve when the ranger slowed down next to me, rolling down the window and asking if I needed any help. Well done, buddy!

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