Five Frames in Camp Mather with my Yashica 124G and Portra 160

One of the more unique things about Bay Area life is that many Bay Area cities have their own ‘cabin in the woods’ programs in the summer. San Francisco has Camp Mather, Oakland has Feather River Camp, Berkeley has two camps at Tuolumne River and at Echo Lake, San Jose has one near Groveland.

Camping in the Sierras is a tradition in this region. The camps all work similarly: the recs and parks departments of those cities manage and operate these camps, which are also excellent places for youths to work summer jobs as they get free board and an hourly rate comparable to working in a restaurant. For outdoorsy youths it certainly seems like a dream, and I wish I had such a thing open to me as a teen. The camps are open to residents and non-residents, though non-residents will tend to pay a little more. The cities also have subsidized programs for lower income residents, and may also run special weeks for the elderly, for families, or for disabled children.

San Francisco’s Camp Mather seems to be one of the most competitive ones to apply to. There’s a lottery, and if you win it you get to go. On a whim, I applied to a lottery for a 3 person cabin and got it for late August. I went with my wife, and a friend.

The cabin was a reasonable size, with only space for a double and a single bed and a chest of drawers. Mosquito nets all over the windows and doors. Clean bathrooms and toilets a short (1 min) walk way. The camp was very well set up, with good facilities. There was a swimming pool and a gorgeous lake. There are activities for adults and children every single day and evening. There are on-site naturalists who have daily morning and evening walks to nearby spots. We went on one such walk, and found it fun and helpful: they knew the trails that were not widely known, and they’d each had decades of experience in that particular spot of Stanislaus National Forest (where Camp Mather is located) and the parts of Yosemite National Park that are near.

What you can expect: Hetch-Hetchy, the reservoir that provides water to San Francisco, is a short drive away and is gorgeous. Almost as gorgeous as parts of Yosemite National Park, but with far fewer tourists. Plan for a whole day in Yosemite Valley, which is easily accessible, if you haven’t been. The kitchen can provide a packed lunch (various sandwiches and fruit) for your days out of camp. A coworker said ‘Camp Mather is the only place where I can leave my children and have them entertained from morning to night, while I also get to do fun things on my own or with my spouse, and I just have my kids on a walkie-talkie and everyone has fun’.

Indeed, that was the vibe of the whole place. On the evenings we were there, adult programs included ‘wine and paint night in the barn’ and ‘walk to see the superbloom of a giant flower’. Oh, there are also tennis courts, and lots of ping pong tables. Food was also good, and it’s nice to be in an outdoorsy environment without having to manage your food supply!

Overall, I’m a fan.

a scan of a color negative of a medium format photo. photo is of the Yosemite peaks from tunnel view, showing the peaks in the background and some trees in the foreground View of the famous Yosemite peaks from Tunnel View. a scan of a color negative of a medium format photo. photo is a butterfly-like insect on a plant Going out to spend time in nature is just a wondrous gift. a scan of a color negative of a medium format photo. photo is of a wooden cabin with the number 96 in the foreground, and trees in the background Our little cabin that was home for a few nights. a scan of a color negative of a medium format photo. photo is of a bench set among some trees and cabins Every cabin has a bench like this in front of it. It's a good place to have a snack or just sit, as the cabin doesn't have much of a seating area. a scan of a color negative of a medium format photo. photo is of a waterfall in yosemite Yosemite in the summer is extremely crowded. If you only have a day you might only be able to see the car-accessible spots in and around Yosemite Valley. But it is still wonderful. This is a photo of Lower Yosemite Falls. Not pictured: the hundreds of people below it.

All photos taken with Yashica Mat 124G, Kodak Portra 160, self-developed in Bellini C41 kit, and scanned on Fuji Frontier.

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Adrianna Tan @skinnylatte
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