Left work yesterday as planned and beat the Phoenix rush hour. I even had a half hour to visit with the family and say goodbye. Christine was at the house so was able to say goodbye to everyone.
Leaving home at 2:00 was great. I was across town in less than an hour; it took more than two the last time I drove this way. Even better was getting to Victorville early enough to have a sit down dinner.
This morning got up with alarm, showered, Grand Slammed breakfast, and was driving up Hwy395 by 6:00am. I again beat the rush hour not needing to pass a single car on the two lane no-pass section of 395; made excellent time, arriving in Lone Pine around 8:30. I definitely nailed the drive this time.
After gas and a potty break found the Whitey Portal Hostel and dropped off my change of clothes box. One block down the road I saw two hitchhikers with packs so pulled over and asked where they were going. Paul, hiking from Cottonwood to South Lake, was in Lone Pine for a resupply and needed a ride back to Onion Valley. Katie just completed the JMT and needed one to Yosemite. We were all heading the same direction so I offered a ride. Katie said she knew they would get a ride, “Hikers have good karma.” Made the detour to Onion Valley and dropped off Paul; my last time there was 1990. Katie said she’d go with me into Mammoth, and hang with me rather than find another ride if I could drive into Reds Meadow. The ranger said I needed to take the shuttle so Katie said goodbye and started looking for another ride.
I bought a shuttle ticket; a guaranteed seat with tidy 3 hour wait. Lovely; no wonder Katie went looking for another ride to Yosemite. Got in line anyway and 15 minutes later scored a no-show’s empty seat and was on my way. The bus wove the switchbacks down Minaret Road while the driver called out points of interest. There aren’t many except for a few views of Banner, Ritter, and the Minarets. The ride was a nice break from driving and about an hour later the bus arrived at Red’s Meadow Resort. Fortunately it sat at the stop for 10-15 minutes; and I had enough time to drop off my resupply and re-board without waiting. In a little under two hours I was in the car heading back to the highway.
The drive from Mammoth to Yosemite took little more than an hour, and then another 90 minutes for the drive to the Valley. The drive through the park is quite scenic, in places spectacular, yet I had zero recollection. True, it’s been 25 years, but I usually have pretty good memory of these things. And since I am not yet ready to accept advancing age as an excuse, the reason I remembered nothing must be that Nancy and I were riding in a shuttle from South Lake Tahoe and not driving. For if I’d been driving the panicked screams “watch where you’re going!” “look out!” “keep your eyes on the road!” and the sarcastic “do you want me to drive?” would have locked all this beauty deep into memory.
Of course by riding in a shuttle I also had no recollection of the valley traffic. What are all these people doing here?
My first objective in the valley was the Wilderness Center. Katie had told me that people were lining up at 2:00am when she got her permit and I wanted to test that to make sure I would get up early enough tomorrow. I parked in a massive parking lot and walked over. I got to the WC a few minutes before closing and asked the ranger about getting a walk-up permit. She wouldn’t corroborate Katie, but said that this morning the first 6 parties wanted JMT permits. She said I could try my luck to be first in line tomorrow and if that failed wait until 10:00am when there would likely be some no-show permits available, or I could take a JMT permit now and hike to Little Yosemite Valley for the night. I wasn’t ready to start then so morning it is; decided to get up at 4:00 and hope to be among the first in line.
I walked back to the car and drove over to Curry Village. Checked in, found my tent, unloaded my stuff, locked up, and then did an orientation driving around to find to easiest way back to the Wilderness Center. After a few circles I decided I could find my way in the dark and the best parking was the grocery store. Then it was back to the tent and off on foot to find Happy Isles and the start of the JMT.
The walk to Happy Isles took maybe 20 minutes, but after crossing the bridge I turned left, completely ignoring the masses of people coming in from the right, and walked another mile before the epiphany I had gone the wrong way. I turned back and was shortly threading through crowds of people that given their pasted looks were probably returning from Half Dome. I found the trailhead sign then headed back.
Dinner was a burger and three Mammoth Epic IPAs. I mention this only because the beer was good. I was back at the tent before 9:00, set the alarm, scribbled in the journal, and went to bed.
I woke up about 1:30 to a light scratching sound. For a moment I thought that a squirrel or other small animal was trying to get into the tent, but re-entering consciousness decided it was likely rain, confirmed a few minutes later on a quick bathroom run. It rained continuously until about 1:00pm.
The alarm went off at 4:00am, too damn early if you ask me, but wanting first crack at a permit got up and made my way over to the Wilderness Center. I was first, and first for a long time. I variously sat and lay on the bench on the porch of the WC from 4:30 until about 6:45 when a second party showed up. By the 7:30 opening there were at least 10 parties, maybe 25 people, waiting to get in.
The ranger opened the door right on time. Everyone piled inside and we listened for 10 minutes as the ranger read the “riot act” or more precisely the rules regarding bear canisters, rules regarding where to/not to camp, and wilderness bathroom rules, etc. She then proceeded to issue permits. She recognized me and prepared a JMT permit.
After breakfast and a shower I packed up everything I wouldn’t need for the hike, put it in the car, and drove to Tuolumne.
The Hiker’s Bus pick up wasn’t until 2:15 so I had time to burn. Went to the visitor center, got gas, wandered the mountaineering store, and then drove to the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center and parked. It was still raining so I donned the poncho and walked to the grocery store and grill, ate lunch and waited. The bus arrived on time, and I had my run of a 50 passenger bus. It was an enjoyable ride, the driver detailing 20 years of hikes in and about Yosemite.
I was back at Curry Village about 4:00. I called home and left a message that everything went according to plan, I started hiking tomorrow. Then I dropped off the poncho and went for a walk back to the JMT trailhead and on to the bridge crossing viewpoint of Vernal Falls. I wish I had brought my camera. It was still a nice way to finish the afternoon.
For dinner I enjoyed some Mammoth Golden Trout Pilsners. Two for two now; they make good beer. Then early to bed; I plan to be up at 4:00, hiking by 5:00 to beat the crowd up Half Dome and the hot hike out of the valley.