A major concern of the travels was how we’d get into Yosemite National Park.
There are often restrictions in Winter that cars must have snow chains, if not on the wheels then in the car and ready to be fitted. We had no snow chains and the rental terms explicitly forbade that they be fitted to the car.
After reading various threads online, none of which offered a solution, I came to the conclusion we’d be walking into Yosemite. However, I then came across the YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transport System) buses which offer a park and ride service into the park.
We drove from Napa down to the highway 140 into Yosemite (longer than going via highway 120 but meant we could park and ride) and parked in small town called Mariposa. Parking was free and we’d timed it perfectly as there are only 5 or 6 YARTS buses per day and there was one passing through 10 mins after we arrived.
I say we timed it perfectly, I was having a slight panic en route that we’d miss the bus and would have to wait 4 hours until the next one so was needlessly fretting as James suggested we make photo stops along the route.
The bus was $6 each for the 1.5hr journey into the heart of Yosemite and dropped us directly at Curry Village, our home for the next 3 days.
We had booked into the ‘heated tents’, which whilst slightly less luxurious than the Millican creek inn were very cosy in their own right. Except about 30 mins after we arrived our heater started making a weird groaning sound, which continued even when we turned it off, and Saj and Bansi assured us that theirs did not make. We told the front desk about it as we went for food that evening and it was all sorted by the time we returned to the tent (thank goodness as it was only just above freezing at night!)
After numerous warnings to be “BEAR AWARE” we locked all food, drink (even empty water bottles!) and smelly cosmetics in our bear locker outside the tents.
We had a very chilled first evening, there was only one option open to eat at curry village: the pizza patio, so pizza it was, and I entertained us (well mainly myself and embarrassed the others) by doing my best bear impressions over dinner.
We then moved to the cosy communal area for drinks and cards by the fire.
The next day we were up bright and early for something I’d been looking forward to all trip: SKIING!!!
The Yosemite ski area is called Badger pass and is about an hour on a free bus from Curry Village. It was actually the only road at that time that had snow chain restrictions, so we would have been fine driving the whole way into curry village, but it was fine as there were plenty of free shuttles around the valley and didn’t have to worry about getting snowed in if a storm suddenly came!
They had a fantastic offer on where for $50 you got a lift pass for the day, equipment hire, a lesson and also free ice skating and valley tour. Too much to fit in in a day but the skiing part alone was great value.
However….we’d banked on being able to hire ski-clothes as well as equipment. I mean Yosemite isn’t exactly a key skiing destination, therefore it’s more the sort of thing that people do for a day on their trip, rather than coming for specifically. Sad to say clothing hire was not available, meaning that we ended up rather soaking in jeans….shockingly even my waxy jeans did not repel the water from the ski-lift seats (all except smarty pants James this is who invested in some salapets in the ski shop for only $40, I’d seen them and just assumed they’d be about $200, so he was dry and happy…except having to cope with my moaning) 😉
The badger pass resort was small, with only about 8 runs, but it was still great fun and I was very glad to get some skiing in since I’m effectively missing winter! I only went for the first time in 2013 but totally loved it and managed to sneak in 3 (now 4!) trips in 2014.
The weather got worse as the day went on and about 2pm I decided to call it a day and retire into the restaurant to a warm cup of tea and to sit basically on the heater! James followed shortly after, and Saj and Bansi came in just in time to blast all their belongings under the hand-dryer before we caught the coach back to Curry Village.
Since Pizza Patio was once again the only option on offer for dinner, we decided to go wild and catch the shuttle to the nearby Ahwahnee hotel for dinner. Since I’d booked the accommodation a few months before I’d been getting regular emails about the 7 course ‘banebridge hall banquet’ at the Awhanee, a sort of reenactment of a Ye Olde English banquet.
We were warned by the woman at the curry village reception that one had to be very dressed up for this. Slightly disheveled after our day of skiing we opted for the hotel bar instead, where we had super-strength cocktails and tacos.
We were very intrigued by the banquet though, and en route to the bathrooms caught snippets of the action. I ended up inadvertently leading a party of the actors (all in full period dress) down the grand staircase and towards the banquet entrance, peeling off just in time to not end up in the ‘great hall’.
On the shuttle home we read one of the info leaflets, which informed us that the banquet and one night in the hotel cost in excess of $600!!! I would rather stick to tacos and cocktails and the heated tent than dressing up in ball gowns to listen to a town crier, but each to their own!
We also came to the conclusion that the British uber-politeness does not work in the states. Especially when ordering food. San and Bansi were attempting to get the tacos made vegetarian, without the pork and with extra beans. This appeared to cause a whole lot of confusion with the waitress due to us saying “would it be possible….” etc. I’ve now learnt that the direct approach is more understood, i.e “hold the pork. Extra beans” Done. Lots of Americans also seem to struggle to tune into the English accent, and you end up having to sheepishly say “a glass of wadddder please” just to be understood! 😃
Our final day in Yosemite was another active day, spent hiking around the valley. When we woke up it was blue skies and beautiful sunshine, and would have been perfect skiing weather, but we consoled ourselves that hiking in the weather the day before would be miserable and we wouldn’t have been able to see anything.
First we hiked up the John Muir trail towards the Nevada falls. This said it was only a couple of miles, but due to the winding path constantly snaking back on itself up the mountain side it took a good hour and a half to get up to a viewpoint of the falls. It was well worth it though, with stunning views the whole way up. We started down on the valley floor and if you’d have told us at the start that we’d be up in the snowy peaks by the end we would have laughed. But we made it. And rewarded ourselves with a wonderfully British picnic en route down: Boursin bagels with crisps at a lovely view point. I also ate a whole (little) bag of Reese’s mini peanut butter cups and as a result felt rather sick for most of the descent.
Not quite walked-out for the day, we decided to do another hike to Mirror Lake.
Now supposedly this should have been a brief 20 minute stroll along the valley floor from the shuttle stop. Take some lovely photos of half-dome reflected in the lake, and stroll back to the shuttle stop. Happy days.
Well…not quite. Early on in the walk you can choose whether to branch left along the road, or right along the trail. I would strongly advise going left. We of course went right.
The map showed a ‘mirror lake loop’ so we didn’t think it would be an issue which side we chose. When we got to the first sighting of the lake we realised that most people were on the other side as many drove the whole way up to the car park.
The lake was at super low levels, so it was really just a lake bed and then a river running through the middle. Bansi and James decided to be cavalier and run across the almost freezing river, whilst Saj and I decided to walk further to find the inevitable crossing point…right? Surely? We walked probably nearly 1km along the river to no avail, if anything it just seemed to get deeper and wider.
We decided to turn back and concluded that unless we wanted to walk the whole way back to the start and take the road we’d need to brave the river too. I took off my trainers and rolled up my leggings, but Saj just went for it in her welly-style boots. I say welly-style because they were only waterproof up to the ankles and then padded material above. Sad to say the river was at least calf deep.
When we got back to the crossing point there was absolutely no sign of Bansi and James. We shouted for them and eventually heard a shouted reply, which sounded as though it was coming from the far wall of the valley. Surely not, we thought, valleys do strange things to acoustics, but sure enough we could just about make out tiny Bansi and James shaped figures up on a rock by the valley wall. We shouted that we were going to cross the river, and that they should come back down, but by the time we’d crossed only Bansi arrived.
When we enquired about James she told us that he’d “come to find us”… but by trying to follow the river along and find the elusive crossing point that we’d been looking for. We knew that this was a fruitless task and that he’d have to walk for ages to find it, if it even did exist.
Eventually we managed to get hold of him (the wonders of phone service working in the middle of nowhere!) and told him to please come back!!
We waited at the lookout point above the valley, it was starting to get dusky, half-dome (we’d finally worked out which one it was after much debate) was now obscured by mist, and the whole thing had really gone quite wrong.
James was remarkably good spirited when he finally made it back from his failed rescue attempt, as were Saj and Bans with their soaking, freezing feet. About 2.5 hours after we’d arrived for our short stroll we finally made it out and back to the shuttle.
After some long, warm showers, we raided the curry village shop for dinner options for the evening. I ended up with avocados and prosciutto which I made little wraps with and some ‘snapeas’ pea-crisps….surprisingly tasty. We ate in the communal area and had drinks and played some more cards!
The next morning we were getting the YARTS shuttle out of the park at 9.30am so had time for a relaxed breakfast and to take some last pictures. It is just so beautiful there, it’s really hard to capture in a photo, especially on a iPhone! Part of it is the contrast between the close up scenery and the towering cliffs/waterfalls behind, and it’s really hard to properly show both in one shot.
It must have reached freezing in the night as the puddles were all iced over. As the sun rose all the trees started steaming. Bansi and I were certain that they were breathing and we were witnessing photosynthesis live. James said it was just the dew evaporating…hmmmm 😏
The YARTS bus was busier and slower on the way back and took about 2.5 hours to get back to Mariposa. We then picked up the car and drove back to SF to drop James off at the airport for his flight back to London for Christmas 😦 I couldn’t believe he was going already and how fast the week had passed!
I then drove up to the north of SF to fisherman’s wharf to drop Saj and Bansi back at their hostel. I had a surprisingly delicious ham and avocado sandwich made by the hostel as we watched the sunset over fort mason and the Golden Gate Bridge.
I needed fuel you see as I was beginning the epic drive down to Newport Beach (south of LA) that evening, where I would be spending Christmas at my friend Alec’s.
I had settled on Monterey as a stopping point for the night as it was a couple of hours south and it was already gone 5pm by the time I left SF.
The traffic out of SF was disgustingly slow and I made it to Monterey about 9. Very little to report from Monterey other than that I stayed in my FIRST DORM.
It met expectations in that it was a dreadful experience! I hadn’t realised that I’d have to make my own bed, which I know sounds spoilt but making up a top bunk whilst there’s someone trying to sleep on the bottom is harder than it sounds!
It was a room of 5, and 3 of the occupants were already in bed when I arrived at 9pm, where they remained when I departed at 8am the next day.
There was sleep talking. But worse than that there was a SNORER in the room. When it’s James (sorry!!) it is bearable as I can hit him (lightly) or push him over and the snoring stops. Sadly I didn’t think this would be acceptable dorm etiquette.
When I was still lying there awake past 1am – I’d tried listening to music but the snores resonated through the headphones at any quiet point (genuinely) – I resorted to going to the bathroom noisily, thus disturbing the snorer at which point I took the opportunity to say “please can you sleep on your side as your snoring is keeping me awake”.
She compliantly rolled over. And continued snoring.