As we lay in our sleeping bags replaying the events of the day and lamenting the fact we had only made it four arduous miles, of the 10 we had planned, we began to strategize for the following morning and frankly for the remainder of the trip. With our finish time constraint, we knew, considering our pace, we were not going to make Yosemite Valley via foot by Saturday. Tuoloumne Meadows, or the Cathedral Lake trailhead (where we had stashed a twelve pack of beer in the icy flowing creek), and a hitch into the valley for our truck became the plan. We we’re settled with that plan until we woke that morning. Paul just by chance took his phone off airplane mode and discovered we had “4G”… literally in the middle of nowhere. So rather than using our Delorme to check the “local” weather, he pulled it up on his phone. This was an unexpected blessing. What we discovered was that another storm front was moving in two days sooner than we originally had seen, so our window of “survivable” (for this group) weather had shrunk considerably. We figured if we were sleeping a little cold at night, the others had to surely be cold as well. The chance of becoming wetter and colder, on top of having to get to, and ascend and descend an 11,000 ft pass into the valley at Lyle Creek, that last we saw had a considerable amount of snow was for our group (half of which were novices) just plain stupid. While we carry a Delorme for emergencies, we would rather not have to use it, and/or create an opportunity to use it…if ya get my drift. Consistent and regular postholing is exhausting and often dangerous. Twice whilst postholing, I had gotten my foot “stuck” under a limb, but was able to react appropriately to dislodge it without injury. The depth and volume of snow for this area, should not have been such a problem for us, even with a bit of sun. The problem was the fact that most of this snow accumulated in March/April (doubling what had fallen this far) and did not have all “winter” to compact properly, thereby allowing us to walk on it without sinking so deep and often. Thus being only 10 miles from Agnew Meadows, and 16 miles from Tuoloumne (that included Donahue pass), we tucked our tail between our legs and opted for a retreat to Agnew Meadows. When the early morning alarms went off, and everyone was packed up, we unveiled our new plan. Surprisingly our new plan was met with a sigh of relief. Turns out, everyone was colder and more tired than they had let on, as well as a little anxious about going over Donahue Pass (11,056 ft) in these snowy conditions, but they trusted our judgement and experience implicitly enough to continue had we not decided to adjust our plan. Thus with a hearty ,”Hi! Ho!”, and without breakfast or coffee, we made a tactical retreat, and advanced to the rear, from whence we came, two days prior.
Just as we left, we ran into a group of PCT’rs who were continuing northbound. We had met Randy, and a South African gentleman (trail name – Saint Bernard) earlier in the week at the Mammoth Brewing Company. Joyous greetings were shared. We explained our predicament, and they all nodded with understanding. We wished each other safe travels, and were on our respective ways before the snow threatened to soften.
For our group, once we sounded “retreat”, it was like horses to the barn. Collectively we had never moved so fast.
Our plan was to get as far as we could, and hike out to the 4 miles to the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge the next morning, before it began to rain too hard.
Holy Crap! We were on fire. We went 6 miles before we stopped for a break, and that only took us a little over 4 hours…snow and all! The “gravity” of downhill is wonderful.
Energized and hydrated we saddled up again.
One more (long) uphill, a few more”snow fields”, and a final sketchy hillside snow traverse and it was onto the switchbacks down to Agnew Meadows.
Our asses were dragging, and so we’re our feet, but we were all highly motivated. Not even a face plant or two into the snow and/or the dusty trail, nor a slip and fall during a minor creek crossing (resulting in near full soakage) could stop us… thankfully.
Soon the patches of snow began to “thin”. As we stomped through them, we left a trail of “snow donuts”.
Miraculously, we marched the 10 miles to Agnew Meadows in 8.5 hours! Paul and I had every intention of spending the night at Agnew Meadows, but the rest of the crew had been talking about Mexican food and margaritas, so they wanted to “charge” up the road and get our cars. They were done! So in Agnew Meadows as we lay atop the bear lockers, it was decided that the youngest and strongest legs would start up the road to the retrieve cars. The rest of us would move to the picnic table strategically placed next to the road (Postpile Rd) and rest for at least another hour and/or hope a car or truck (from the workers at Red’s Meadow area) would come by and we could “Yogi” a ride for at least one of us and our packs. We had decided that Kimberly would be the one to go up with our gear, as she had taken the hardest fall of the trip and had bruises and scratches to prove it. Not more than 5 minutes after our son and his girlfriend headed up the road, a truck coming from Red’s Meadow area approached. I leapt (at least it felt like I had) from the picnic table we were now lounging upon and flagged the truck down. I motioned towards Kimberly saying that one of our group was injured, and asked if it was at all possible to give her (and maybe our gear) a ride to the Mammoth Lodge. Meanwhile, Kimberly was doing a great job looking miserable and in pain. The driver asked, “Well, what about the rest of you? Don’t you want a ride too?” Could this really be happening? Stunned that we would be so lucky, I stuttered that if they were offering, we would gladly take a ride up the hill. The driver responded that they had some work to finish up, but could take us all in about 20 minutes, if that was “okay” with us. ‘Take all the time you need, we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon’, I told them. With that, we hailed our son and his girlfriend back, and then promptly laid on the side of the road, soaking up the warmth of the asphault and intermittent sun.
Once the truck returned, Kimberly hobbled to the cab of the truck, and the rest of us piled into the bed. As luck would have it, 2 miles before we reached the Lodge, it began to rain.
We started to laugh and couldn’t help but admire the irony, in that it was only fitting that just as we started this adventure…in the rain, so should we end it…in the rain.