Monday, February 9, 2015

Yosemite Bound - Lee Vining to Yosemite Valley

August 2, 2014

There are three shuttles that run to Yosemite every day; however only one of them go all the way to Yosemite Valley. The remaining two terminate at Tuolumne Meadows. So in reality we could have slept at least an hour longer but since we decided to stop at Tuolumne first, we were up at 6:20 a.m. and ready to check out just before 7:00 a.m. We grabbed coffee and chai latte and some pumpkin bread at the Latte da Coffee Cafe, which was adjacent to the El Moo Motel and headed to the YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) shuttle stop about a block away.

Shuttle to Yosemite Valley

The shuttle ride was pleasant, offering great views of the mountainous terrain. After 40 minutes we arrived at Tuolumne Meadows. We had just enough time to visit the Grill and walk a mile to the visitor center to buy and mail some postcards before we had to return to the shuttle stop.

The air was not too hazy but we could smell smoke in the air. Normally I would associate this scent with a pleasant bonfire and roasted sausages. This bonfire however was burning on 3400 acres and 1400 firefighters were tending to it. We were saddened by the loss of such a vast area of beautiful forest but we were also happy that the fire did not mean any change in our plan as it was burning in an area not directly affecting the JMT.

Half Dome

The next YARTS bus was supposed to arrive at 10:15 a.m. When there was no sign of it at 10:25 we started to worry that we might have missed it somehow. Luckily for us it was just running late. Once again the ride was smooth and the views were getting even better. Behind us was a couple returning to their vehicle parked in the Valley. They got stuck in a stormy weather and after several days of heavy rain they gave up and left the trail about 70 miles short of Whitney. It was sunny and close to 100 degrees. It was hard to imagine any prolonged period of rain.

Once we got our permits, which was an easy task involving a fifteen minute chat with a friendly ranger at the Yosemite Valley Ranger Station, we hurried to secure our spot at the backpackers camp. There was plenty of space when we arrived. There is no potable water at the backpacker camp but nearest source is only about 5 minutes away at the Pines Campground.

Backpackers Campground

Yosemite Valley has a great shuttle system. Not only you can take YARTS to the Valley, you can then take the smaller shuttle buses to get around the Valley. These shuttles run a one hour loop, hop on and off at your leisure, and they are completely free. When our headquarters was set up for the night, we took advantage of this shuttle system and returned to the village for lunch and sight seeing.

Then we took the shuttle all around the Valley and then yet continued back to stop # 6 which was perfect for sunset photos. A view of Half Dome across an open meadow that lured us for a pre-dusk stroll. We made a few step on a bridge over a peacefully flowing Merced River when Dave pointed across the water.


Finally a bear. Yosemite Valley is known for its bears and I was looking to catch a sight of one ever since we arrived. The bear made it to the bridge but when he saw us, he continued further downstream where he crossed over. I'm positive he would have used the bridge if it wasn't for us standing on it.

Our first Yosemite bear sighting

Washington has a healthy population of black bears but most of times you see them stationed in a berry field far away from the trail. This one we saw from up close and it was active, walking around and swimming. It was a neat experience.

The evening brought pinking color to the sky as the sun set behind the curtain of smoke. The air quality in the Valley was good, I hardly could detect any smoke in the air. I was happy about it. Even though the fire did not directly threatened the trail, the smoke could easily make our hike unpleasant.

Smoky Sunset

Speaking of a hike, we were so excited, we found it hard to fall asleep that night. I'm sure the hot humid evening did not help either. We were ready for some fresh mountain air.

Tomorrow we set out for our journey and I will face one of my biggest fears.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Yosemite Bound - Seattle to Lee Vining

AUGUST 1, 2014

The thought of another thru hike was lingering on our minds for quite a while. Ever since we completed the 93 miles Wonderland Loop in August of 2012 we had our hearts set on a longer, bigger adventure. We just loved being out there exploring places where your usual weekend warrior does not have the time to set foot on and experiencing the nature in more solitude then hikes closer to civilization can offer.

John Muir Trail seemed to have what we were looking for. Amazing scenery, plenty of sunshine, and its length of 211 miles (+ few extra miles to walk back to civilization from the sumit of Mt. Whitney) was a nice step up from the 9 day thru hike of Wonderland yet it was not a completely overwhelming number.

Seattle Light Rail Station

Dave was in charge of transportation. We briefly considered driving to Yosemite or Lone Pine and use local transportation to shuttle ourselves between the trailheads. The advantage would be that we could stop at interesting places along the way but after quick reality check we realized that we didn't have enough vacation time for any extra stops and quite frankly a 17-hours drive home after completing a three-week walking trip was not that alluring either. In the end we decided to take a flight from Seattle where we live to Reno, and from there hop on a bus operated by East Sierra Transit (ESTA) to Lee Vining, small town along Hwy 395 with a connection shuttle to the Yosemite Valley. Taking this way we arrived to Lee Vining in mid afternoon and since the Yosemite shuttle YARTS run only in the morning, we spent the night in this quite interesting little town.

Waiting for ESTA bus at Reno Airport

ESTA bus to Lee Vining

We chose the El Mono motel mainly because the good price and positive reviews. It was a simple accommodation but the room was cozy and clean and for a thru hiker really a luxury. We were little groggy after the hours of traveling but we summoned our energy and set out to check the town out.

Room at El Mono Motel

Lee Vining is located close to Mono Lake, large shallow saline soda lake formed more then 760,000 years ago that is known for its beautiful tufa towers. Tufa is a variety of limestone and the tufa columns are usually associated with saline lakes. The main tufa viewing area was at the other side of the lake, 8 miles out of town but the marina, which was about 2 miles away provided just as spectacular views.

Dave walking towards Mono Lake

Sunset at Mono Lake

Sunset at Mono Lake
Tomorrow we will arrive at Yosemite Valley and have our first California bear encounter.

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