Thanks to our good friends Sandy and Steve (aka. Scout ), we were able to head up to Mammoth and scout out the on-site logistics for this week’s upcoming adventure, without having to stealth camp on USFS land. It just so happens that it was their week in their partnership house in Mammoth, so a warm bed and excellent company was a welcomed bonus in the days preceding this adventure. We now had four days to iron out the wrinkles in our plan. If any one of the wrinkles could not be straightened out, we would have to shift into Plan B, C or D.
Wrinkle #1: In order to make this work, and for our son, and the girls to get back to work in time, we have to be done by Saturday, which means for optimal efficiency we have to have a “get-a-way” car parked in Yosemite Valley. This requires that Hwy 120 (Tioga rd.) be open for vehicular travel. Currently it is NOT! But it is supposed to open the morning before we start our trip…as long as no weather event or boulders decide to migrate and park themselves on the road.
Wrinkle #2: Our son’s “two-day” FedEx shipping of his new Big Agnes – Lost Ranger 15 sleeping bag most likely will NOT arrive in time, as apparently “two-day shipping” means two business days (M-F), and per FedEx they’re “sorry’ (not sorry) that we didn’t read the “fine print”.
Wrinkle #3: SNOW, and more snow possibly on the way.
Wrinkle #4: Our plan has us starting from Agnew Meadows, however, the road (Postpile Rd.) from the Minaret Vista entrance station down to Agnew Meadows (as well as Red’s Meadow) is still closed for the winter. During planning, we had already factored that in and added (you guessed it) 2 more miles to our first day, as we planned on parking our car along side the 203, or more preferably being dropped off at the entrance kiosk at Minaret Vista Pass and walking down the road for the 2 miles to the trail head at Agnew Meadows. Here in lies the problem. When we arrived in Mammoth we decided to drive up to Minaret Vista, before heading to the house, in order to at least check on the snow level at the pass. The problem we discovered was that you can’t get there by vehicle. The road is closed…not fully plowed.
We then dropped into the Forest Service office in Mammoth, and learned that it’s only a mile uphill to the kiosk from the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge, and actually 3 miles from there to Agnew Meadows, not two. But wait there’s more! The road from Minaret Vista (Postpile Rd.) is closed! Not just due to winter conditions but due to road damage that they are in the process of repairing, of which they have no time-line for when it will be done, or when the road will be opened. Grrr. While there, we were able to talk to the area Ranger, who told us based on the pictures she’s seen, she wouldn’t advise us walking the road…but she never said we couldn’t. So, the next day we decide to see it for ourselves, before we make any adjustments to our starting location, or trip as a whole.
Bright and “early” we are up and out of the house, with a slight detour to Mammoth Mountaineering Supply (my favorite all-season gear shop in Mammoth) for a new day pack for me, and to check on options to possible solutions to Wrinkle #2. Turns out they have a comparable sleeping bag to buy or even rent, and we can do it as late as Monday by 7pm. With my new Black Diamond – Dawn Patrol 25 pack (will A-frame carry my skis and helmet too for snow excursions), we are off to do a road survey…with a chance of thunder showers. We are pleased to report that the hullabaloo about the road condition/damage, at least from the pass to the turn-off to Agnew Meadows, was perfectly safe and mostly intact.
It was a pleasant walk, especially without having to worry about any traffic. It was, as my friend Sandy said, “Our own private Idaho “. Half-way down the road, a truck approached from behind. It was the Ranger. We held our breath and tried to look invisible, fully expecting to be turned around. A nod and a wave, and down the road the Ranger continued. “So I guess that’s tacit approval”, Paul announced triumphantly.
We continued to the trailhead as in the distance the clouds began to build and darken, ever so slightly. Soon two hikers with heavily laden packs appeared trudging up the road in our direction. I asked them if they were coming off the JMT or the PCT. They looked at each other befuddled, and replied, “No, we just came from Thousand Island lake”. We asked them about the conditions and specifically about the snow. They said they post-holed quite a bit, did not have micro-spikes, and wished they had snow shoes. We told them of our plans, to which they replied, “Good Luck”, in a less than encouraging manner. We took their information under consideration, and continued to the trailhead.
A quick survey of the trailhead found it in an alarmingly fallow, untrampled state. Last we hiked this trail in 2014 the tread was clear of debris and obvious signs of significant use were clearly visible. Hmmm, might this, and the “snow report” be another wrinkle? I guess we will find out, as one man’s mountain is another man’s mole hill (and visa-versa, of course).
As we make our way back up the road and to our car, it begins to rain.
The rain turns to hail. Thunder rolls, and streaks of lightning flash almost too close for comfort. Soon, blue sky is above us, and we give a shout out to Mother Nature for keeping it “real”. Wrinkle #4, all ironed out. Three more wrinkles and two more days to straighten things out.