How one backpacking trip in the Eastern Sierras taught me everything I needed to know about camping in mosquito country.
“They’re voracious little bastards, aren’t they?” I ask as I smash one into my forehead.
“Yeah, they sure are.” Lynne replies, seemingly unperturbed.
They’re buzzing around my ears, going up my nose, biting me on the back of my neck… Slapping myself all over trying to assuage the attack, I’m encased in a dark cloud of micro warplanes armed with needles. Each one a tiny package of discontent and disease.
Lynne hikes on as I wage war with my greatest foe: Mosquitoes.
The nasty little creatures love me. If there is a mosquito in the area, I will attract it.
A couple summers ago, Lynne and I took to the trails and backpacked the North Lake South Lake Loop in the Eastern Sierras.
At 55 miles long, almost 9,500 feet of vertical gain, and most of the trail being at an elevation between 8,500 and 11,000 feet, the North Lake South Lake Loop is not for the faint of heart.
But it is worth every. dang. step. I promise.
If you’re planning on visiting the Eastern Sierras during mosquito season – which is pretty much any time it’s not below freezing – here’s how to create a blood-buffet for my most loathed adversary (and how to avoid it).
Run from them.
It rained for a good portion of the first day that we were out on the trail. The rain tends to keep the mosquitoes in hiding, so I hadn’t realized how dense the skeeter population was at that time in the mountains.
It wasn’t until the second day that we really got to know the area’s most populous lifeform.
We hike a short distance on the second days and dropped into Hutchinson Meadow fairly early in the afternoon. This area is absolutely gorgeous; lush grasses, plenty of fresh water, towering trees and large boulders, all surrounded by craggy peaks.
All things that mosquitoes enjoy too (maybe minus the craggy peaks).
So when the kamikaze skeeters started dive-bombing me in Hutchinson Meadow, I made the only logical decision there was to make.
Not easy with 40 extra pounds on your back, but desperation will make you do silly things.
In my crazed frenzy, I flailed, slapped, and nearly whacked myself in the face with my trekking poles.
While thrashing about, I disturbed grass and bushes alongside the trail.
Do you know where mosquitoes hang out when they’re not viciously attacking their prey? IN THE GRASS AND BUSHES.
My erratic movements stirred up hundreds more of the little creeps.
And the menacing mass of mosquitoes FOLLOWED ME down the trail.
(I gained more followers that day than I’ll ever have on social media… sigh.)
There was no escape.
My recommendation: If you get accosted by mosquitoes, don’t panic. Mosquitoes seek you out by following the carbon dioxide you exhale. Freaking out will only increase your respiration rate, making you an easier target.
Avoid disturbing the plants on the sides of the trail as mosquitoes will often hang out there when they’re not annoying some poor creature.
Be aware of your surroundings. If there is a lot of water (especially still water, like puddles and lakes) and plant life, then you’re likely to encounter a large number of mosquitoes. If the conditions are dry, rocky, or if the water is swiftly moving, you’re less likely to deal with a dense population of skeeters.
Wear very little clothing.
Sun’s out buns out…
What can I say? I like the sun on my skin. We got lucky and mostly enjoyed sunny weather during this trip, which meant shorts and tank tops were my chosen attire.
You know what mosquitoes like?
Especially exposed skin.
I am also a runner and I own a lot of running clothing. It generally crosses over well for backpacking. However, these garments tend to have a tight fit and very little fabric.
Did you know that mosquitoes can bite through thin layers of spandex and lycra?
When the hostile mosquito mass attacked me, I put on every article of clothing I brought with me.
EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
Even with several layers of long pants on, they were still biting me through my clothes. Also, clothing does not stop them from going in your ears, nose and mouth. Hiding in the tent was the only way to avoid orificial invasion.
My recommendation: Wear loose-fitting, full-length clothing. Mosquitoes are attracted to darker colors, so choosing lighter colored fabric may be beneficial. A netted hat can make life much more tolerable as well. If you have the funds, invest in mosquito-proof clothing. Or, if it’s hot and you just can’t stand the thought of wearing clothes, grab one of these sexy full-body mosquito suits.
Don’t use bug spray.
I use all natural, biodegradable and environmentally friendly products whenever possible.
This especially holds true for anything I put on my skin. In general, I dislike DEET and choose not to use it.
I don’t want to put that shit on my SKIN.
So when the ruthless onslaught of flying hypodermic needles started piercing my hide, I pulled out my bottle of all natural repellent.
It’s a mixture of various essential oils.
And I used to believe that it worked….
I sprayed myself all over, expecting relief.
I sprayed more.
Still no difference.
I keep spraying until the bottle is near-empty. It’s dripping down my arms and legs. Strong aromas of lemongrass, tea tree, and clove wafting with the light breeze.
I can still feel little needle-mouths stabbing me everywhere.
“LYNNE!? DO YOU HAVE BUG SPRAY?!”
She pulled out an oily little bottle of 99 percent DEET. Groaning, but desperate, I applied it to my arms, legs, face, neck… I even put it on on my scalp where my hair was parted. I would have submerged my whole body in it, given the option. Because that shit works that well.
While the mosquitoes were still buzzing around me, they were not biting me nearly as much. I say as much because you are not supposed to apply it directly onto your clothing or under your clothes. Two recommendations that I ultimately ignored on this trip.
My recommendation: Buy the damn DEET. Put it on. Enjoy not being eaten alive. If you must try the all-natural route, bring DEET along as a backup. For added protection, use a long lasting insect repellent spray that is made for pre-treating you clothing and gear prior to your trip.
I also recently discovered the Thermacell electronic DEET-free insect repeller. I have not tried it yet so I can not speak to its efficacy, but it sounds promising. I will update this blog once I get a chance to use it.
It will be okay.
It takes a little bit of planning, and maybe a few additional purchases, but I can guarantee your trip into the Eastern Sierras (or any mosquitoey area) will be much more comfortable if you follow at least a couple of my recommendations.
So put on some DEET and a sexy mesh mosquito suit, sit back, and enjoy the beauty around you. Because you can. And because you won’t be suffering from West Nile. Or Chikungunya. Or some other horrible mosquito-borne disease.
Be safe out there.