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I departed Austin around noon on a Friday in August. I had with me my gear, a reservation for both a motel in Bishop, California and a campground in Yosemite National Park, and a wilderness permit secured several months before which was supposed to enable me to stroll from the Happy Isles trail head in Yosemite, through wilderness areas in national forests and two other national parks, and arrive at the summit of Mt. Whitney, 211 miles to the south. In addition, I had secured a promise from my brother to meet me at the Bishop motel, follow me to Whitney Portal to drop my truck off, then ferry me to Yosemite.
I had been planning the trip for a couple of years, and had spent the previous year acquiring gear, maps and knowledge that afforded me the least likelihood of a premature exit from the trail. During the drive out west, I kept going over trip and equipment details and fighting off the nagging feeling I had forgotten something. (Something I’m sure every backpacker deals with.)
This was probably the first time I’d driven to El Paso since they’d increased the speed limits; I was surprised to find even though I had left late (around noon) I still got plenty of miles in that day. I spent the night in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The next day I made a logistical mistake; owing to my dislike of Interstate driving (with a capital “I”) I tried a shortcut from southwestern New Mexico to eastern Arizona. It *looked* like a shortcut on the map, but ended up going pretty slowly, so I probably lost some time there. I made it to Boulder Dam by sunset, after a brief security check to make sure I wasn’t going to blow it up. It was the first time I’d been there since I was a kid in the 1960’s, and it actually looks pretty cool—a monument to 1930’s WPA engineering and retro design.
Anyway, I spent that night in a motel in Vegas-didn’t feel like gambling, so I was pretty out of place there. Left early the next morning, past Nellis AFB and bombing range, and then across Death Valley. I had last visited there in 1986 when it was a mere “National Monument”. I had enjoyed that time there, but that had been in October, with highs in the 90s. Average Death Valley high temperatures are around 115 degree in August, and when I passed through they had been experiencing unusually hot days, even for them, with highs over 120 degrees. Driving through at 9:00 a.m. I didn’t need a thermometer to tell me the temperature was already well over 100 degrees. After a few hours, I was on 395 heading up the east side of the Sierra Nevada. I took a quick detour at Lone Pine to the Whitney Portal trail head and parking area, so I’d know what to expect and not have any unexpected surprises. It was actually pretty well packed, and I made a note of where the “overflow” parking was.
I continued on up the highway to Bishop, found my hotel, and my brother showed up a few hours later. I treated him to a nice steak dinner at a local restaurant, figuring I might not have another good meal for quite some time.
We got up the next morning and drove to Yosemite, stopping at a gas station/grill at the turnoff near Mono Lake for a pretty good cheeseburger.Got to the Crane Flat campground, where I’d already reserved a camping spot, later that afternoon. I spent the evening sorting out my gear and food, and we ran down to some bear boxes at Tuolumne Meadows to stash some stuff I wouldn’t need for the first two days of the trip.
Continue reading JMT prelude; Day 1-3