Knocking Back Cocktails in the High Sierra

Hike up to 9,000', set up camp, and put on your best suit or dress and enjoy a chilled cocktail.
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Hike up to 9,000', set up camp, and put on your best suit or dress and enjoy a chilled cocktail.

Waking up with a hangover at 9,000' with mosquitos circling my sleeping bag was definitely not the best I've ever felt in the mountains. But throwing back freshly chilled cocktail after cocktail in a suit against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevadas certainly was.

Let me rewind about 15 hours.

I was admiring my white bowler hat. I had actually gotten it up the trail unharmed - 7 miles and 2,000' gain in altitude - under the hood of my pack. The box was pretty mangled, but the hat was pristine. I laid it out on my sleeping bag and proceeded to my cane. When I bought it for this trip, I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to get it up the mountain. When I started packing, however, I realized my ice axe loop was perfect for it. But I also realized every time I dumped my pack, I was going to scuff it. As much I badly wanted the cane's dog head shining against the sun behind me on the hike up, I opted to wrap it in a hiking sock. Then I pulled out my three piece suit, cravat, spats, suspenders, and cufflinks.

I'd led this trip the past 4 years. This year, our fifth and final year, was intended to be the most extravagant yet. With prior years' themes of A Masked Ball and Gatsby seeing men in tuxedos and women in gowns and 5 inch heels, the bar was high. How to set it higher?

Victorians.

While I was pretty happy with the authenticity and quality of the outfit I had compiled, when Deborah walked out in a dress given full Victorian volume by the crinoline underneath, with her parasol spinning, it was pretty clear who this year's winner was. In fairness, when I threw out the seemingly impossible challenge of getting a crinoline up the mountain, I pretty much knew Deb was going to nail it.

Megan, on her first backpacking trip ever, waltzed out of her tent in her red velvet dress with her backpack slung over her back. There was a marmot loose in camp who had already chewed up one girl's sock and shoe, and she was not about to lose a shoulder strap.

A fallen giant redwood made a perfect frame for the solar-powered holiday lights and globes that Amanda had added to our annual tradition. At the base of the trunk was our bear box which made a convenient bar for all the Nalgene bottles full homemade cocktails that gave me my glorious hangover. Next to the Nalgene bottles was a large plastic bottle of ice that we chopped throughout the evening to throw in our cocktail shaker. Our first year, we didn't think to bring ice. In addition to resulting in warm cocktails, you don't get that satisfying clink when you shake them. Ahh...

After the compulsory glass of champagne (beware, corks fly like rockets at altitude), we grabbed several Nalgene bottles, our plastic champagne coupes, and the camera and tripod, and made our way over to the lake. We took turns posing in various positions and groups. The favorite pose, three year running, is "Rich & Bored," which invariably looks like the cover of Vanity Fair.

As it got dark, we made our way back to camp to drink our remaining cocktails while listening to Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Dancing was a little awkward and dusty, but we tried.

When we hit our self-imposed 10pm curfew, Jen, this year's trip leader and honorary bartender, shut off the music and announced "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here!" Ok, she actually just shut off the music. We threw back our last few cocktails and people trickled off to bed. I briefly toyed with the idea of my 3rd skinny dip that day, and opted instead to simply crash out under the stars. In my drunken state, I still remembered the femme fatale marmot - cute and devious as hell. So I threw all my clothes and gear in my tent and got in my bag. I vaguely recall having my spats and shirt unbuttoned for me in preparation for the failed skinny dip (those sneaky Victorian women!!!), which is well enough. Spat buttons are hard enough to manage sober.

And so I woke up to the swarm of mosquitos circling my face at 5:30am with a nasty hangover. I peered over at my tent and sighed in relief that the marmot had not randomly decided to chew threw my tent to get my bowler hat. (I once found one in the hood of my car eating the carbon fiber lining.)

In what has become part of the annual tradition, we'll be meeting later this week to watch cheesy horror movies (the Zombeavers theme song is now part of our playlist). And I can't wait to watch hear the group's commentating of Sharknado 3.

When I was shopping for this trip, I was feeling a little guilty at spending money on things like a bowler hat and cane, until I came to a realization. Sure you can hang art on your walls. Or you can hang life experiences. I prefer the latter. And the cane will pair nicely with a well-used ice axe or polo mallet. Or both.

My friends asked me if this is really the last Cocktails. It's been a great five years. Beautiful scenery, great people, delicious cocktails, haute couture. What more could you ask for, really? It's been an incredible time, but for now, I'm hanging up my hat and cane (with my ice axe). But who knows what the future holds? One year someone saw me across the lake in my white suit and asked if it was a wedding party. I said no, we did it just because. But maybe someday the right girl will insist I bring the hat and cane up the mountains one last time...