- Buyer's Guide
Takibi Time in Death Valley with Snow Peak
I’ll admit, when I think of “adventure”, my first three thoughts aren’t Toledo tourists in brightly colored Hawaiian shirts, an assault of flashing neon lights, and slot machines loudly screaming with whirrs and beeps. But every grand story has a humble beginning. I’m not sure if this was necessarily humble, per say. But it was logistically necessary. Myself and a collection of writers from around the country had flown into the city of Las Vegas. The gambling capital of the world would act as our centralized launching off point for what would soon become the complete lack of civilization, but with an excess of humanity. The opposite of Vegas. I took a sip of coffee from my Snow Peak titanium mug, as we listen to Todd’s safety and emergency briefing.
Cell phone signals have ceased hours ago. Heading west, the city vanished in our rear-view mirrors. The view out the bug-smattered windshield aims towards the open desert. Desperate to keep their speed at 75mph, the hum of treaded tires on the four brightly colored Jeep Wranglers is lulling us all into a warm sleepy bliss. The droning is broken by some static over the radios, “Black knight checking in” … “Bumblebee, bzzz bzzz” … “Turquoise dream, ahh yeah”… “Golden eagle, cawww cawww”. Todd and Meredith, from the overlanding outfit Four Points Adventures, are leading the pack of rainbow-colored Wrangler misfits to an unknown mysterious destination. Somewhere in Death Valley. I lucked out and was placed in the bright yellow Bumblebee, with Amy May from JAM Collective (the wonderful team who organized this thing) and Rain Noe from Core77. The voice of our fearless leader, Todd, comes through our radio, “We’re approaching Area 51 here shortly. We’re going to see some aliens. Follow me and pull in up ahead”. My right eyebrow in the shape of a curious question mark, Rain slowly pulls off the deserted highway into a dusty lot.
Surrounded by nothing but open sky and a vast arid landscape, there’s an alien-themed gas station… with an alien-themed restaurant attached… with a (legal) alien-themed brothel attached to that. We’re casually told that we won’t see another gas station or paved road again. Now, listen. I like food. Hell, I enjoy it. And I was promised great food. Having been on a JAM trip before, I trust them. But my growling stomach is suspiciously doubtful of these promises from the friendly sirens of JAM. This whole trip was created for Snow Peak, to highlight their brand new Takibi Fire & Grill, which we would gather around and eat from. So… by my calculations… we had roughly 5.7 lifetimes before we’d finalize our day’s adventures, get off the road, set up camp, get the fire hot enough to grill on, prepare the food, cook the food, and then finally officially be eating dinner. I remained optimistic. But I grabbed some peanuts to quiet my pessimistic stomach.
One hand on the wheel, one hand on my camera, 55mph looking through my viewfinder at the off-road sandy track that responds like driving on icy snow, my unnamed rear passenger is sweating and writhing with nerves, but forcing a smile through her gritted teeth. Worth it. Continuing down the road, aiming towards the lead Land Cruiser which is only visible every few seconds through the sand cloud pushing up. I try to make the desert shrubbery fly past Bumblebee at a speed of which my passengers just barely approve of. Todd’s vehicle ahead abruptly makes a sharp right turn, kicking up a massive sand tail to the left and as we enter the sharp corner, and through the dust, they reveal themselves. The towering sand dunes. The sand dunes in Death Valley that have been silently laughing at me and haunting me for years. But that’s a story for another day (or you can read it here: Part 1 and Part 2).
First one out of the neon yellow Jeep, the driver’s side door made a thud behind me as Rain and Amy gathered their things. A magnetic force was pulling me to the peak of the dune. Or maybe it was a UFO tractor beam? Maybe. Let’s go with probably. Trudging up the dune, the grainy wind gnashed at me, discovering any square inch of skin left uncovered. Momentarily breaking free from my trance, I turn back to look at my fellow adventurers. I take a breath, gain some clarity, pause and wait for my friends to join. We quietly take in the views while the wind soars by our group up in the sky. A small but notable personal achievement for me. I reach into my Arc’teryx jacket for my peanuts, but they were gone. Is it Takibi Time yet? No. Not yet.
“Let’s air these tires down, this next leg will be technical,” Todd says through his confident devilish grin. We’re starting off in Death Valley, crawling over a mountain range and through deep slot canyons to eventually end at our base camp, in the heart of the Panamint Valley. Through the Jeep’s tinted glass, golden sunbeams warm our chilled veins we’re experiencing thanks to the ‘drop-offs’ and the claustrophobia-inducing rocky walls.
I look up into the rear-view to ensure Amy is wearing her nervous smile. Check. Finally, the walls open up into a wide yellow basin bathed in the setting sun’s brutality. A bit farther down the path and we land upon our home for the next two days, a remote campsite operated by a wildly interesting gentleman who runs Eastern Sierra Observatory. Guiding our rigs into the primitive grounds, which have beautifully been set up already, it’s a dramatic contrast from our day’s surroundings and previous night in the city of sin.
Folks, I’m a titanium addict. I’m also a massive fan of the Japanese brand Snow Peak and their elegantly simple, functional products. So walking into this campsite was quite possibly my ultimate gear fantasy. Snow Peak had outfitted the entire experience; tents, cots, sleeping bags, camp chairs, knives, cutting boards, drinking vessels, pots, pans, utensils… and of course, the star of the show… the Takibi Fire & Grill.
In fact, there were several of these, all set up. We had previously been briefed on the product and the concept behind it… but witnessing our natural instinctual response to these fire pits really solidified its truth. Humans naturally gather to these places, even when they’re not lit. As the last light of the day hovered, the fires were still yet to be started, and here we were, drinking and reveling in the day’s highlights, around an empty steel pit. Why is this? Snow Peak refers to this as “Takibi Time” and I was ready for it.
But there was another delay, quietly ensuring my growling stomach that we would be fed soon. The JAM folks broke us up into teams and prepared a little contest for us. Who could get their fire started with the materials provided, who could make the best kebabs with the ingredients available, and who could make the best cocktail with the selection of liquor at hand.
Using a bit of cunning… and maybe even a little cheating (debatable), my team member Matt Bean (Editor in chief at Sunset Magazine) and I won the contest. Many more cocktails were enjoyed and laughs were had as the fires burned away into the night, providing us with warm, visual entertainment, and a natural place for us to gather until countless tiny stars filled the sky and expansive dreams filled our little minds in our little tents.
Khrrrshhtt “We’re rollin rollin,” Todd’s digitized voice comes over the radios. We’re up early and heading to another slot canyon, about an hour’s drive from base camp. Fighter jets rip by our convoy of Jeeps, so close that you can see the helmets of the pilots. Todd somehow has every crevice of this martian landscape memorized and leads us there without a map or GPS. Later, I would talk with him about what the landscape inside his mind must look like. We laughed about this abstract concept.
Slow on our approach over some rocky trails, we’ve parked at the “trailhead”, unmarked due to some recent flash flooding. I grab my Osprey Manta backpack (in black) loaded with a full hydration bladder and another bottle of water, as we’re planning for a few hours in direct sun. My hiking boots leaving imprints in the soft silty run-off of the trail, each step comes with a little voice in the back of my head, slowly getting louder, “Is it Takibi Time yet?” I’m not even hungry, but I’m already longing for the crackling fire.
The day is done and we watch our last Panamint Valley sunset over the mountains out in the distance, casting an orange pink gloss over our base camp home. Boots popped off, bourbon whiskey in my mug, steaks are hitting the grill. This is precisely what it’s all about. Since the dawn of time, this dance of magic fire is what built and created safety, community, culture, and civilization as we know it. And while it’s “just” a fire pit, it creates the natural pull for us to be out in the majesty of nature, leave our lives behind, escape reality for just a little while, and tap into our own humanity. With old friends and new friends that feel like old ones.
It’s Takibi Time.