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An Epic Paddle Boarding Adventure at 9,000 ft. - July at Tioga Lake

Paddle boarding and an icy barefoot trek at partially frozen Tioga Lake.

By: Alexandra Graziano + Save to a List

I had only been paddle boarding once before my friends suggested we take some boards out on the partially frozen Tioga Lake this past Fourth of July weekend. This experience easily blew any other SUP’ing experience out of the water. We had all escaped to Mammoth Lakes for the holiday in search of anything in the realm epic, off-the-grid adventures. We certainly got what we came for.

Being the biggest holiday weekend of the summer, Mammoth Lakes was teeming with adventure hungry enthusiasts. Looking to break away from the bustling mountain town, we loaded up the paddle boards and headed just south of the Yosemite gate to Tioga Lake. A few days before we wouldn’t have been able to make the trip as Tioga Pass had only just opened up after a particularly heavy, record-breaking winter season.

Paddle Boarding at 9,000 ft. Elevation

Nestled in the Inyo National Forest at just over 9,000 feet elevation, Tioga Lake was still surrounded by snow, grass only peaking out along a stream in the meadows on the farthest side. Though it was a comfortable 70+ degrees, at least a third of the glacial lake’s surface was still covered in ice. We hiked barefoot and bathing suit clad, down the rocky face that lead from the parking lot to the water’s edge, paddle boards in tow.

An Invigorating Dive into the Glacial Lake

Cruising around the lake, we tried our luck weaving between the sheets of slush and ice. In the center of the lake emerged one single rock just wide enough to double as a diving board. Naturally we had to take advantage. We paddled out, docked our boards on the rock and took turns diving into the icy water. I’d only felt this kind of breathtaking, muscle seizing shock once before, when diving into the glacial Joffre Lakes a few thousand more miles north in British Columbia. Equally as invigorating as borderline painful, upon impact with the crystal clear water, everything in my body immediately protested my decision and filled with euphoria all at once.

Walking on Water... Paddle Boards in Tow

We hung out in the warmth of the sun on the rock before taking off again to explore the far side of the lake. Navigating between sheets of ice, the channels often barely wide enough to fit our boards through, we made our way across to the only existing patch of green as far as the eye could find. After hanging out on the shore of the grassy meadows, we decided to cruise back to our cars, only to find the ice had shifted in the short time we’d spent, blocking our path. The channels we had originally passed through had disappeared as the ice melted together into one sheet stretching from one side of the lake to the other.

With no way through, we took the only other route we had… barefoot and with our paddle boards towed behind us, we stepped out onto the freezing icy shelf and crossed to the other side. I’ve never been a fan of water shoes, or really shoes in general, but in this moment, my toes frozen on impact, I would have traded just about anything for something to separate my skin from the ice. Thankfully it was a short trek and we were across, boards back in the water and feet rejoicing to be back on the boards.

We wrapped up the day with world famous fish tacos at the Mono Lake Mobile which doubles as a gas station, epic dinner spot, and live music venue, followed by a much deserved soak in the nearby hot springs. It was a paddle boarding experience that will be hard to beat to say the least!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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