Camping can be the greatest expression of free will, personal independence, innate ability, and resourcefulness possible today in our industrialized, urbanized existence.

Anne LaBastille
Cowgirl camping in the desert section of the PCT in Southern California.
“Cowgirl” camping in the desert section of the PCT in Southern California.

I met Ted Adamski on the John Muir Trail in 2012. He is an ultramarathoner, clocking elite finishing times in the Western States, Leadville 100 and The Fellsman, a race near his home in the UK that he’s run over forty times (and me, exactly once)

Ali was excited to tell me of her new camping experience as I meet her at Van Dusen road near Big Bear Lake to join her for some 200 miles on the final stages of her thru-hike – “cowgirl camping,” camping under the stars, no tent necessary.

I look aghast, images of rattlers and scorpions slithering into my sleeping bag for warmth. She smiles knowingly, whilst memories of seeing photos of snake bite victims during my visits to South Africa, who were visited by these cuddly reptiles in just these situations, swirl round my head. 

Mike's Place was deserted when we got there, but he left plenty of water and a spot to camp under a full moon.
Mike’s Place was deserted when we got there, but he left plenty of water and a spot to camp under a full moon.

That first day was a long one for me, 18 miles to Arraste Trail Camp where we share my small two-man tent, the one I use when running a two-day mountain marathon with my son. Big on convenience, sturdy for Scottish weather, but not a space I’d deem comfortable. Cozy? A more ‘fitting’ term might be cramped, but we are safe and sound.

The following day takes us along Mission Creek, a physically challenging route of up and downs, something I love. I am born for this, but nowhere near as ready for it as is Ali. I am so glad that she is taking pictures as the beauty of the region is overpowering and difficult to comprehend. As the day begins to draw to an end, we are tired but happy and eager to find somewhere to pitch the tent, keen not to be too late as sundown at these elevations brings intense cold. We pass several sites down by the creek but the dead trees surrounding, weakened by fire, do not invite.

Finally near the path there is a flat spot that is exposed but offers a great view across the peaks we have just passed. But, horror upon horrors, my tent pegs will not penetrate the packed soil and the guy-lines are not suitable for stones. There is only one solution – cowgirl camp, of course!

The view from our sleeping bags. We had to sleep in a wide spot on the trail.
The view from our sleeping bags. We had to sleep in a wide spot on the trail.

And what an experience, climbing into the sleeping bag at 6pm and watching the stars come out as Ali types her blog. Then we talk and whoop with delight as shooting stars fall all about us. It is difficult to sleep through a full 12 hours and I wake often to a canopy of stars, its light throwing a shadow around the surrounding hills. It’s magical, its relaxing, it makes one feel alive.

The best part is in the fall there are no snakes! It’s far too cold for them to even think about leaving their burrows. Needless-to-say, each and every night from then on was under the stars, the tent staying safely in my backpack.

If you haven’t tried it, do so. I will be working out if it is possible in the rather damper condition of the UK when I return and I imagine Ali will offer a full update!

Ted Adamski received the trail name "Terrible Ted" on the John Muir Trail.
Ted Adamski received the trail name “Terrible Ted” on the John Muir Trail.


  1. Pingback:Post PCT gear wrap up. | blissful hiker

  2. Great to get a different perspective . . . .he’s hooked! It’s so important to be OPEN to new stuff . . . .especially when you are experienced and set in your ways. Alison, what did you learn from him????

    • alison young

      Ted was one of my “buoys” last April when the kaka really hit the fan. Richard, my mother Joyce and my brother Andrew were also part of that tiny elite force who listened for hours as I navigated some rough waters, guiding me with care and expertise. Ted possesses something that does not come naturally to me – an ability to shake things off. There’s always a hill to run up or a mountain to dream about climbing to put a smile on one’s face – and for him – a funny little spring in his step. Ted can be a bit of a drag sometimes on this blissful hiker who whittles her pack to the bare minimum and pushes right through anxiety and fear, but I will never forget how he just plowed ahead after Idyllwild, right around that rock fall, not pausing for a second before he grabbed hold of the rope and gracefully shimmied past. I learn from him how to move on and believe in myself.

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