After years of Bobby hearing about my horseback riding adventures in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana he decided that he wanted to join me on a horseback adventure through the wilderness. We looked at a variety of options including riding in Yellowstone, the Sierras, or doing the same trip I’d already done in the Bob. We decided to go with the Sierras trip for several reasons. Firstly it was the most affordable of the trips we were looking at. Secondly, in order to get from the airport to our rendezvous point we would get to drive through Yosemite, a National Park that Bobby and I are both eager to visit! Lastly, this particular trip provides us with the opportunity to climb the tallest peak in the continental United States, Mount Whitney (elev. 14,505 ft).
We booked the trip through the Rock Creek Pack Station, it is a seven day trek through the Golden Trout and Sequoia National Park Wildernesses. We flew into Fresno and after picking up our Honda rental car we were on our way! The googlemaps directions that we had printed out before leaving home estimated our drive time at three hours and 45 minutes. We would soon learn that this was greatly underestimated…
We stopped just outside Yosemite for a quick bite to eat.
Thus far the car trip had been going well, our rental car had a jack to hook up our Ipod and we had been jamming along. Bobby insisted on driving the entire way (which I really didn’t mind!).
Upon reaching the Yosemite border we were required to pay a toll of $20. We happily handed over the cash and received a map and some information about the area. Our goal was to reach and cross the Tioga Pass, one of the only roads that crosses the Sierras. As we drove through Yosemite we felt like little kids on Christmas morning with our eyes wide and jaws dropped in wonder and awe! The beauty we were viewing was overpowering and for the first time we really understood how John Muir could be infused with an unending passion for the protection of these beautiful places our world has to offer.
However, as we descended into the valley itself and into the tourist hub of the National Park, the beauty of nature was somehow belittled by the amount of traffic and overuse of the park that we saw. We couldn’t help but wonder if this wasn’t what John Muir had in mind… Navigating through the heart of the valley proved to be a challenge with the amount of tourist busses, pedestrians, and the car traffic.
We decided to park the car amongst the gads of others and began hiking towards Yosemite Falls. We soon found ourselves at a beach swarming with families, tubers, and swimmers. We took some quick pictures and headed back into the car to continue on our journey to Tioga Pass.
As we finally approached Tioga Pass fear began to creep into both of our hearts. Being native Minnesotans and used to flat land with an occasional hill the sight of a true, windy, mountain pass with long drop-offs on one side was truly terrifying. We both took deep breaths and hunkered down to begin our trek through the pass.
After successfully crossing the pass it began to get darker and dinner time was rapidly approaching, however, restaurants were few and far between and we were anxious to get to our lodging for the night. The three hour and 45 minute mark of the journey had long ago passed, tensions in the car were rising… Night time descended and we couldn’t find the resort where we had reserved a small one room cabin. We tried calling to get directions and they were closed. Fear of not finding the destination and extreme hunger soon caused several spats amongst Bobby and I. We both knew that we had to find our destination soon or we didn’t know what we were going to do. Seven hours after we left the Fresno airport we finally found the resort.
It was 8:00 p.m. by the time we arrived and the resort was completely shut down. A short note with our name on it had been left for us on the door of the office simply stating, “The key is in Cabin #6.” We made our way there and entered the smallest cabin we had ever seen. A single room with a wood burning stove, two full beds, a small kitchenette, and no bathroom…
We were paying about $130 for the most rustic of sleeping arrangements and were none too pleased. We felt rather awkward being there considering we hadn’t yet paid and were unsure how we would considering we were planning on leaving at 5:00 a.m. the next morning. We hiked to the bathroom desperate to take a shower before heading into the wilderness for seven days and were lucky enough to meet an employee, Ben, along the way! We arranged payment of the bill that was owed and then canceled the reservation we had made for our last night there. We canceled for several reasons; mainly because the conditions were rough and overly priced and also because we didn’t want to have to repeat that lengthy journey. We decided we would search for alternative routes back to Fresno once we emerged from the wilderness. We also asked Ben for directions to the spot we were to meet our guides the following morning, Cottonwood Pass. Unfortunately, he had no idea where it was… He told us to head south towards Mount Whitney (at least three hours away) and that we might stop along the way and see if anybody more local to that area might know. We were stressed and angry, this resort had been recommended by the pack stations website and we were confused as to why they would have us stay there if it wasn’t anywhere close to the meeting place. We discovered later that almost all of their pack trips do meet very close to that resort, just not the one we were on (this was never mentioned by anybody while we were planning/booking the trip grrrrr).
After our somewhat disappointing conversation with Ben, we showered and headed back to the cabin to munch on a dinner of granola bars. We set an alarm for 4:45 a.m. and settled in for bed rather hungry and a little worried about how we would find the meeting place in the morning with no clear directions and an unknown distance away…
We set off the next morning at 5:00 a.m. for the elusive Cottonwood Pass unsure of our route, hungry, and anxious about our low fuel and the unknown distance to the next gas station. We found a gas station quickly and some stress was eased. Inside a single employee was working who would be best described as a “Mountain Man”. He had a full beard, very wrinkly skin from years in the sun, and was just a little bit dirty. As Bobby fueled up I went inside and asked if he knew where Cottonwood Pass was. And he did! Finally, somebody who had at least heard of it! He wasn’t exactly sure where it was but gave me a rough estimate on the amount of time it would take to get there (about 3.5 hours) and that we were heading in the right direction! He gave us the name of the town it was situated near, Lone Pine. We got something to eat and set off feeling much better about the whole situation!
As Lone Pine and 8:00 (our scheduled meet time) grew nearer I decided to call the pack station phone number I had brought along to see if they could provide me with directions. Somebody answered immediately, gave me precise directions, and ensured me that if we were late it was no big deal and not to worry about it!
We reached Lone Pine and followed the directions we had been given to a rather dicy mountain road with lots of switchbacks and signs saying that fallen rocks were only picked up between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.. Bobby was taking it easy through the blind switchbacks, worrying about the engine overheating or the breaks going out and having me constantly watching for fallen/falling rocks. Apparently we were taking it too slow for some other drivers who whipped past us impatiently.
We arrived at Cottonwood Pass 1/2 an hour late and the last to arrive but we were there! Our journey to Cottonwood Pass had finally come to an end. Now for the real adventure to begin.