August 3, 2014
The John Muir Trail (JMT), 220 miles from California’s Yosemite Valley to Mt Whitney, is one of the great through hikes, world renowned for its amazing scenery and great weather – mostly sunny days, maybe the possibility of brief afternoon thundershower, but generally clear dry air that produces those bluebird skies. Nowhere does the guide book mention that huge monsoon systems can sit on the Sierras in late summer resulting in days of gloomy gray skies and hazy views.
Worse than gray weather, however, are forest fires. When we arrived at Yosemite Valley yesterday around noon the valley was cloaked in a dingy haze, smoke from the El Portal Fire. Despite the less than ideal conditions the valley was packed with summer visitors.
We joined the crowd, starting with brunch at the Ahwahnee Lodge, an all you can eat buffet perfect before 27 days on the trail. The food was plentiful and reasonably good for a buffet if pricy at $45 per person. The dining room is rustic yet elegant with cathedral ceilings that really are as high as a cathedral charmingly supported by tree trunk beams.
The afternoon was gray and humid, more like a typical day in Shenandoah than what we were expecting in the Sierras. Not the prettiest views in the valley; the low light does not do these majestic granite bluffs justice.
After we picked up our permit at the Wilderness Center in Yosemite Village we took the shuttle bus over to the backpacker campground near Curry Village. The bus passes several large campgrounds with campers from around the world jammed into small spaces under the pines.
Set at the back of the North Pines Campground the backpacker campground feels more open with generously spaced sites compared to other campgrounds. Adequate and reasonably clean composting toilets. Drinking water is available at the bathrooms of the North Pines Campground.
Curry Village is a camping residence comprised of white cabin-style tents crammed together in an organized grid pattern. Dinner is a choice of pizza or cafeteria fare with more than adequate seating in their vast dining room. Although Yosemite Valley does a good job of handling the crowds, the congested atmosphere just reinforces the need to get out on the trail. I have to admit, however, that it was nice to enjoy an ice cream cone on the walk back to camp.
Rained a little during the night but the fly was nearly dry by morning.