Perhaps it was all the talk about good weather. Or maybe it was my luck in getting to the Tuolumne Meadows store 10 minutes before closing a few nights ago, thereby securing an ice cream, bag of Doritos and a cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale after a long day of walking. Whatever the reason, my weekend in the Yosemite Valley was not nearly as stress free as I had hoped, but at least it was an adventure.
The PCT coincides with the famous, 220-mile John Muir Trail through the high Sierra except for a small segment near Thousand Island Lake, the 8-mile segment up Mt Whitney, and a 24-mile stretch down into Yosemite Valley, one of the most popular national parks in the USA. Many PCTers, particularly those who climbed Whitney, establish base camp at Tuolumne and do the 24-mile hike down into the valley to finish the John Muir Trail. It’s known to be a very scenic section filled with the tremendous cascades, spires and domes that Yosemite is famous for.
On Saturday, after buying my food for the upcoming week and storing it in one of the bear lockers at Tuolumne campground, I packed a few days of food and set off down the John Muir for the valley. The trail was as scenic as advertised as it alternated between rocky forest and grassy meadow. I stopped for lunch just under Cathedral Peak, named for its towering spires.
Through the afternoon I took it slow, making lots of stops for rest and pictures. At about 5 PM, I took off my pack and noticed that my wallet and light meter were missing. After a double and triple check, I realized that I had left them somewhere, probably at the lunch spot. I stashed my pack behind a rock and, with a sigh, backtracked five miles to where I had lunch, asking everyone I encountered on the way about the wallet. I half-jogged the distance, only to find a bare log and no wallet or meter when I got there. Sadly, I turned around and trudged five miles back to my pack, getting there just before dark. Dinner was nasty over-sauced pad thai noodles and to top it off I had left my spork at Tuolumne so I whittled some chopsticks and ate in the near dark.
The next morning I was up at 5 AM and made a bee line towards the valley. The last 12 1/2 miles down to the valley were incredibly scenic and, after about 6 miles, incredibly crowded. The trail wound its way past Half Dome, Nevada Falls, and Vernal Falls, all made famous through Ansel Adams’ photography. To attest to the popularity of Half Dome, I passed 100 people in over a mile and a half before 9 AM. The beauty of Yosemite Valley brings all-comers out to the trail. For those of us who have been hiking for months, it’s quite entertaining to see how everyone else prepares for a day in the wilderness. The smell of perfumes and soaps is intoxicating. I saw one family hike up the Mist Trail wearing garbage bags! (The Mist Trail is named for the spray that a waterfall makes over the trail.) I got down to the valley floor at 10 AM and went straight to the visitor’s center. The ranger helped me call all the local ranger stations, but nobody had turned in my meter or wallet. I filed a report with the park service and left my cell number. Essentially penniless and without ID I walked out of the visitor’s center to think about what to do. I was excited to see there was an Ansel Adams gallery, so I walked inside. I was back out in 10 minutes, as the place was more of a gift shop and the music was way tacky. I phoned home (collect) and talked to Dad, who was sympathetic and offered up the good news that I had passed my pediatric specialist’s exam, which I was certain I had flunked. (The APTA’s computer must have malfunctioned.) Buoyed by the good news, I decided to head right back to Tuolumne, where there were other PCT hikers, rather than wander broke around Yosemite. Since I couldn’t take the shuttle ($8), I had to hitchhike the 70-something miles back up to Tuolumne. That’s right: it’s a 24-mile walk, but a 70+ mile car ride.
Thumb in the air once again and with a notebook paper sign that read “Tuolumne,” I waited. After about 15 minutes, I had a ride in the backseat of a Honda populated by two revved-up college age girls on their day off. Peace symbols filled the car and Sublime played on the stereo. I was quickly passed a bowl. “Do you know where Mariposa is?” they asked. I didn’t, and (cough, cough) told them I needed to get to 120 East. “Cool, no prob.” I was dumped off at where 120 East started and (cough, hack) waved goodbye. Thumb in the air again, I waited for the car that would take me the last 55 miles to Tuolumne. The intersection of 120 East and the road to the Yosemite Valley is the worst place ever to hitch. It’s in the middle of a gentle S-curve, there’s no shade, and 120 has no shoulder. Nonetheless, within 20 minutes I had a ride from the most improbable of vehicles, a BMW SUV! I rode up with a boy aged 4 and his father. They spoke Polish to each other most of the way and I grew increasingly aware of my hiker-funk smell in the clean air-conditioned SUV. After an hour (finally) I was back at Tuolumne and amongst my fellow stinky hiker pals again.
Mr. Parkay lent me $20 and I went to town on a double cheeseburger from the grill, an ice cream, and bought some pop tarts for breakfast. Later, it was mango margaritas from the Lee Vining Mobil Mart, which just happens to contain a gourmet deli called the Whoa Nellie Deli. Somebody got lobster taquitos and someone else a BBQ Santa Fe chicken sandwich. All this inside a Mobil convenience store! An eventful weekend behind me, I slept soundly.
So I’m still without wallet or meter. My hope is that somebody on the trail finds them and mails them to DC or turns them in to the park service. I trust other hikers so I’m going to wait a few weeks and see what turns up. In 6 1/2 days (150 trail miles) I’ll be in S. Lake Tahoe to meet Mom and Dad. I’m definitely looking forward to that.