My Top 30 Adventures of 2020

The grand finale of our 27-day John Muir Trail hike on Cloud’s Rest, overlooking Half Dome. We finished our hike the next day in Yosemite Valley.

It was the best of years, it was the worst of years. Like everybody, my 2020 did not go as planned. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in 15 years of traveling, it’s that plans are nothing; planning is everything. No matter how drastically plans derail, the key to moving forward is to keep making them. Here are 30 photos from my favorite adventures of 2020.

Best New Rig: Roxanne. I’ve been wanting a highway machine/ stealth camper and this 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan is the best pavement queen I’ve ever had. Don’t worry, I still have the RV! You’ll see him below.
Best Ski Day: skiing fourteen inches of fresh off the ridge at Taos, New Mexico with Walli.
Best Social Distancing: Domelands Wilderness. In the heart of quarantine, I radically tightened my travel radius, but still managed to go hiking every day and log half a dozen completely self-supported backpacking trips within a 3-hour drive of my homebase.
Best New Obscure Skillset: Swimming across the Kern River, floating our backpacks in trash bags so we could explore a little-seen corner of the Domelands Wilderness. In two weeks out there, we only saw one person at a distance. Now that’s quarantining.
Best New Ridge: Stegosaurus Ridge in the Domelands Wilderness
Best New Boulder: Balanced Ball Rock AKA ball-crazy Vida’s favorite rock in the Domelands Wilderness. Bart Dome in the background.
Best Emergency Evac: On our third multiday trip into the Domelands Wilderness Vida ran into a barbed wire fence and tore a nasty gash in her upper right leg. To keep it clean, we put her in a backpack and I carried her out. Dan packed out all our gear. We both called our 35-pound packs training weight for the JMT. After 5 stitches and $500 at the emergency vet, she was fine. I’m thankful that the first dog I’ve had to carry out of the wilderness was my smallest.
Best Quarantine Project: We built three patios and three raised garden beds with automatic drip irrigation in my backyard.
Best Artifact: Half an obsidian spearhead found in the Golden Trout Wilderness. This area burned in the devastating Sequoia Complex Fire in September 2020.
Best Big Tree Backpack: We made a loop from the Golden Trout Wilderness to the Upper Thule River Sequoia Grove. This grove burned in the Sequoia Complex Fire in September 2020.
Best Foreshadowing: Backpacking through a 20 year old burn in Sequoia National Monument. This area burned again in the Sequoia Complex Fire in 2020.
Best Temporary Dog: I’ve always wanted to try fostering a dog and had the best possible experience hosting Mr. Eddie Spaghetti for three weeks before he went to his perfect home. He arrived skinny and scared and left a completely different dog. Vida wanted to keep him but two dogs is really the perfect number.
Best Makeover: We also used our quarantine time to renovate our 1990 Toyota camper Jerry Odyssey Americano. We rebuilt his smashed bumper, installed LED tail lights, resealed the windows, fiberglassed a bunch of his holes and painted the outside with exterior house paint. Happy 30th, Jerry!
Best Clown Camper: Jerry Odyssey Americano!
Best Holiday Weekend Plan B: We aborted our 4th of July plans in the Sawtooth Wilderness because the trailhead was way too busy. We ended up backpacking in the next mountain range over in the White Clouds Wilderness. We only saw one mule train all weekend and heard no fireworks. My still gun-shy D.O.G. is now 12.5 and still hiking.
Best Sunrise: The first rays hitting me and Langley Peak, on top of Mount Whitney on day 3 of our 27-day backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail. We started south of Whitney and hiked 270 miles north to Yosemite Valley.
Best Resupply: Three of our friends met us at the Onion Valley Trailhead a week into our JMT with a resupply of food for the next leg of the trip. They also brought our dogs and all the fixings for homemade campfire pizza. I’ve never felt so full.
Best Side Mission: An overnight side loop off the JMT up to the Minarets.
Best JMT Campsite: Waking up to Mount Banner and Thousand Island Lake
Best Adventure Buddies: Aloha and Oola on day 26 of our trek, still besties. Dan hiked north for another week on the Pacific Crest Trail, intending to hike to Oregon but he was derailed by widespread fires in the Sierras.
Best Post-JMT Plan: After finishing the JMT I cooled my heels on a 4 day whitewater rafting trip down the Salmon River in Idaho. After hiking a long-distance trail, re-entry to civilization can be brutal. I much prefer river world to the real world.
Best New Black Diamond Backpacking Loop: Brooke said she’d follow me anywhere so we did a 4-day 25-mile loop in the Steens Mountains, connecting Big Indian Gorge to Little Blitzen Gorge by scrambling up a class 3-4 headwall and lowering our packs and Vida down a cliff band. Mission accomplished, in style.
Best New Montana Summit: Trapper Peak, highest point in the Bitterroot Range.
Best New Oregon Summit: Paulina Peak overlooking the Big Obsidian Flow and Paulina Lakes
Best New National Park Summit: Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley.
Best Backyard Summit: Bohna Peak in Sequoia National Forest, CA
Best Coyote Sign
Best International Trip of 2020: Wading across the Rio Grande to touch Mexico.
Best New Year’s Surprise: Waking up to nearly two feet of snow in Big Bend National Park. Not many people can say they’ve skied Texas!

Onwards and upwards! Stay tuned for more miles and more summits in 2021!

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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7 Responses to My Top 30 Adventures of 2020

  1. Pit says:

    Re plans and planning: sure you are right that one has to adapt to the circumstances. We had to cancel our two long trips [to Ireland in May and to Germany in August], and then we stayed at home for quite some time, until we decided we could not be holed up all the time, and we started with day trips to nearby state parks, and later extended them with overnight stays in cabins. That way social distancing was easy. Even later, we tried out RV-ing, and liked that so much, that we’re now thinking of getting our own.
    Looks like even at over 70 we cab still adapt. 😉
    Take care, and stay healthy,

    • I vote yes on the RV Pit! Keep it small, keep it simple. There’s no better feeling than traveling the world and getting to sleep in your own bed every night!

      • Pit says:

        I agree re “one’s own bed”, but … that won’t go with “keep it small” as Mary and I want a king-size bed. 😉 But thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

  2. sarah e bates says:

    I love you and your book. .. and definitely your dogs too. Picked up your book in Moab when it first came out. Please keep posting. I am living vicariously through you. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Sarah! At Back of Beyond? I love that shop! That was the first place I saw my book on the shelf when it first came out and I was so tickled. Did you get a signed copy? I always stop in and sign the copies they have in stock when I’m in Moab.

  3. ramblingranger says:

    Wow! What a fabulous year you have had!

  4. Dallas Crow says:

    Glad to see that you are posting again. The photos are great!

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