I decided to retrieve most of my resupply buckets for a canceled PCT hike, and it happened that I was also able to drop off a PCT hiker that I met three years ago at her new starting point of Kennedy Meadows. Intrepid flew into Las Vegas, and after a day of rest, we ventured off on a direct path to Kennedy Meadows (South). This entailed going through Death Valley in the heat of summer, so I decided to make the journey as early in the day as possible. We left at 6 am in the morning, traveling through Red Rock Canyon, Pahrump, and then down into the south end of Death Valley. This allowed us to see the lowest point in the USA, 262 feet below sea level, at Badwater Basin.
There were several significant climbs in order to get out of Death Valley. This put us into the Owens Valley leading us to the curvy windy mountain road up to 6000 ft elevation to Kennedy Meadows (South) (KMS). Here, we had lunch at Grumpy Bears and wished Intrepid goodbye. We picked up the KMS resupply bucket and headed off to Independence, CA where we had the second resupply bucket left at the Courthouse Motel. We spent the night there, then traveled north to Bishop for breakfast at a Dutch Bakery, then took a short bypass to Mammoth, stopping at the Minarets Overlook. We crossed over Sonora Pass, a VERY tortuous, windy road (even worse than the road to KMS) in order to reach a Resort and Packstation, but ALSO named Kennedy Meadows, which I term Kennedy Meadows North (KMN). After retrieving our third resupply bucket and having lunch, we learned that there were no cabins available there, and the campgrounds were entirely full. We were prepared to camp but realized that this was not the place to camp. Off we drove, eventually making it to Mariposa, CA by the afternoon. While driving to Mariposa, I pointed out a cloud of smoke rising in the distance, noting that it was a forest fire, but we thought nothing of it. The hotels in Mariposa were mostly full and hyper-expensive, but we didn’t have much of a choice once we found a room.
In the morning, we wake up to learn that the forest fire is real, and that they shut down the roads to the south end of the park, as well as the Wawona Hotel where we were going to spend the first night, as well as the Mariposa Grove. The hotel reservation was automatically canceled, and we had no choice but to find something else to do for a day, knowing that we could definitely NOT enter the park. We drove to Merced, found a cheap hotel, and decided to get up very early the next day to have a full day in Yosemite National Park. The morning drive to the park was glorious, going through the very narrow V-shaped valley of the Merced River, and then entering the broad glacial carved valley of the Park. What we didn’t realize was that the forest fire smoke had engulfed Yosemite Valley and that we were unable to see anything. We did numerous stops, visited the Park center, and then checked into our cabin at Curry Village. Meanwhile, we were oblivious to our surroundings. That evening, some of the smoke temporarily cleared, offering a view of Half Dome and Glacier Point. Wow!
The next day, we checked out of Curry Village, and took a hike up the Mist Trail (the actual name of the trail) to Vernal Falls. We then checked into hotel #2, the Yosemite Valley Lodge, across from the infamous camp 4.
The next morning, we did a relaxed departure, spending time admiring El Capitan, and checking out the climbing routes up the face. We did not see any climbers on the rock. It was very hazy again. We departed the park by driving over Tioga Pass. This afforded views back into the Valley, including Half Dome. The views were quite clear from high up on Tioga Pass. We drove all the way to Tonopah, NV where we spent the night at Tonopah Station, a historical hotel but otherwise a real dive. It was an easy drive back home the next day, stopping only at the Area 51 Alien Center.
The trip was wonderful and relaxing. I was able to get in a little bit of walking, and Betsy and I were able to go places and see things that we’d never seen before. Because of the forest fire and visibility issues, the trip definitely whetted our appetite to return. The trip to the Valley from North Las Vegas would take about 7 hours of driving, easily done in a day if the passes were open from snow. A day later, we again watched the movie of Free Solo with Alex Honnold climbing the Freerider route up El Capitan without a rope or any protection. Being there gave us the perspective to realize what an awesome feat he actually accomplished.