I’ve been traveling up the 395 Highway to the Eastern Sierra every year, since I was 3 months old. I feel just as at home on the shore of Silver Lake as I do on the beach at home in Huntington Beach, CA. For 22 years I’ve hiked, fished, and camped just about every where they will let me, and I like to think I’ve seen it all. Just like every other 22 year old, I can be wrong sometimes. I was recently gifted the opportunity to see the Mammoth Mountain and the June Lake Loop from a brand new perspective. Thanks to SkyTime Helicopter Tours, I discovered that as beautiful as the Eastern Sierra is from the ground, it is more remarkable from the sky.
When I arrived to the Mammoth/Yosemite airport, we were led to the hangar by the pilot who proceeded to run through the safety precautions of flying in a helicopter. Trey, our pilot, was quite impressive with his thousands of hours of flight time as well as state of the art equipment, which helped settle my nerves. Inside the helicopter I realized it was built for endless sightseeing. The entire front window is made of Plexiglas giving everyone in the helicopter unobstructed views during the entirety of our flight. Upon entering the helicopter you are given headphones that allow the pilot and the passengers in the helicopter to communicate with one another. The noise cancelling headphones drowned out roar of the blades allowing for my friends and I to truly experience this adventure together. As the helicopter left the ground I immediately began to feel like a bird in the sky. We could go anywhere, see anything, and hover over some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
We started our flight off heading towards the June Lake loop. The trip from the airport to June Lake was lined with more trees than anyone could possibly count. It was astonishing how knowledgeable the pilot was about the surrounding area. Within 2 minutes, we learned about the various volcanic activities near the Mammoth region and how it shaped the entire valley. The Pilot did not hesitate to tell us everything he knew while we flew over the vast landscape. I was so thankful he educated us as he answered questions that I didn’t even know I had! Once we made it June Lake I was blown away by the alpine views. From the ground the view is breathtaking, granite mountain peaks, whispering trees and fish flying out of the water; but from the air it gives you a whole new perspective. I could see the changes of color in the lake water from a deep navy blue to a dramatic teal. The boats that I would normally be fishing from now looked like toys on the water. I could see the entire June and Gull Lakes in one amazing shot. I was blown away by the view only a helicopter tour could give me, and this was just the start.
From June Lake we made our way over Rainbow Ridge and up to the infamous Minarets. I could not snap the shutter on my camera fast enough! The couple hundred shots I got did not do justice. On the way to the peak of the Minarets, the pilot showed us all of the small, remote lakes that most people just point to on a map. I could not believe how pristine the water and the surrounding area looked. The untouched crystal clear water, no boats, no people, just simplicity that only a handful have ever been lucky enough to see. The pilot named all the lakes and gave us as much time as we wanted to try and take in all of the wonderment. As we flew closer to the Minarets they grew in size right before our eyes.
The Minarets are strikingly powerful with a structure unlike any mountain I have ever seen. This mountain range in particular is very challenging, even for the most experienced mountaineer. Many people have been claimed by this harsh landscape trying to get a glimpse of its beauty. For a view that would take days to hike to, took us all of 20 minutes including all of the June Lake touring. Being that close to such an iconic piece of nature was marvelous, something I will never forget and something I would hope for everyone to see.
Following the Minarets, we flew over to Mammoth Mountain where we caught a view of the usually busy winter ski slopes and summer bike trails. From the sky you could also take in Rainbow Falls, Reds Meadows, and Devil’s Postpile. The helicopter gave us a perspective that made everything seem so small but at the same time opened my eyes to much more. There is only so much ground you can cover in a car and only so many sights you can see on a hike, but in that helicopter I was able to see things I never even knew existed!
As far as the eye can see there are granite peaks, peaceful valleys, and countless lakes all just as beautiful as the next. We saw bikers making their way down the backside of Mammoth, hikers on their way to the top of Rainbow Falls, and boats fishing on the lakes. Although I am sure they were enjoying their view, nothing compares to my bird’s eye view of the preserved wilderness.
I was left speechless more times than I could count, in fact I felt as if I held my breath the entire trip. Although we began the flight chatting in the headphones by the end the only noises heard were “oohs” and “ahs”. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I hope to be lucky enough to experience again.