After coming back into town after the second leg, examination of the options made it clear that we didn't have enough time left to do a meaningful portion of the JMT and still make our flight - we could certainly get back on and may have been able to make it to Mt. Whitney, but if the weather continued to be not helpful and/or the ever-increasing altitude hit us even harder, we'd be in trouble. The weather didn't look like it was getting better, and after Piute Pass, Muir Pass, and Bishop Pass, Ana was none too keen on taking on Kearsarge Pass or Forester Pass. We also didn't have the correct permit to take the short route up Mt. Whitney. We could stay in town and do day-hikes, but that would end up getting expensive in hotels and restaurants quickly, so we figured we'd go home early and do a little good old fashioned sitting on our butts.
We got new plane tickets out of Vegas, ditched our very expensive shuttle service (was previously going to pick us up at a trailhead and take us directly to the airport in Vegas), took a bus to a bigger town, rented the one car they had available for one-way use (a dinged-up and extremely unimpressive Chysler 200), and hit the road.
We had daylight, so we took a somewhat longer route to Vegas in order to see Death Valley.
We kept looking at the mountains as we passed them and thinking about how it was probably raining up there right now, and how it was not raining in the car.
I believe this expression to be the product of flooring it and getting virtually no acceleration out of the car.
Yep, looks dark up there.
Most of the pictures in this post were taken with our friend's camera, which is about five times bigger, heavier, and more expensive than our armored, waterproof adventure camera but takes much nicer pictures.
Overlooking Death Valley
The road down was extremely exciting, in a fairly terrifying way. The rental car's steering didn't seem to have a lot to do with which way the wheels were pointing and I went very slowly down oversteering and then correcting. The brakes started squeaking towards the end, too.
Pretty warm down there too.
Having never driven in the West roads like this were new to me. You could see cars literally miles away and drive towards them for minutes before passing.
We saw some Hyundai test cars outside a campground area. They had non-standard body panels and were obviously instrumented - probably stress-testing in the high-heat environment. Our friend (herself an engineer) asked what they were testing and they tried to tell us all the wires were for "communication" between cars which is a complete load of crap. If you don't want to get asked about your test mules, you probably shouldn't have huge wires coming out from under the hood while parked in a public place.
Also shortly after that it rained. On this trip it rained on us in Death Valley. I think that captures the frequency of rain on this trip well.
We'd never seen desert terrain like this before, we really felt the detour through Death Valley added a lot to the trip.
I pulled over at several ranger stations and visitor centers trying to buy a park pass (you're supposed to buy one when you drive through) but their terminals seemed to have lost connection and everything else was closed because it was getting late. Sorry guys! Also note I messed with their nonfunctional terminals in some serious heat.
There was a really nice sunset projecting colors on the clouds as we drove east towards Vegas. We drove in darkness for an hour or two before seeing the city lights. We also saw a thunderstorm in the distance, which lit the clouds up purple. Ana blamed alien technology based out of Area 51.
We stopped at an In-and-Out Burger since everyone we've ever met from the West Coast raves about them. While the buns were very fresh and tasty, as was the lettuce and other veggies, the consensus of our group was that we'd take a Five Guys over In-and-Out in most situations. It definitely beats the major chains and the staff was very friendly and efficient but the burger just didn't end up being that exciting.
From the restaurant we went to the hotel (we rented a room basically to hold our stuff and take showers, since it was a 6AM flight the next day), then returned the car at the airport and took the midnight hotel shuttle to the Las Vegas Strip.
Some members of the party were more excited about this than others.
We did some minor gambling and generally tourist-ed around for a couple of hours. Frankly, I thought to keep people interested slot machines had to give you fairly frequent minor wins but these just sucked down the $10 or so we were planning to waste without much pretense of being something other than throwing money away.
This was a pretty big change from the mountains. I was glad to have seen it but don't feel much like I need to go back soon. We eventually headed back to the hotel room and got less than an hour's sleep before heading to the airport, which made sleeping on the planes very easy indeed.
Overall, our planning for this trip was a little ambitious with respect to miles hiked at altitude, and the weather nailed us several times. We still had fun, saw a lot of things, and learned more about backpacking and our new gear. We ended up doing about 110-115 miles total in the mountains in nine days, with the average mileage being dragged down by our warm-up day and stopping short of Muir Pass to avoid the storm among other things. Our best day we did about 18 miles, and had several 15 mile days. We could definitely do more under ideal conditions but I wouldn't want to be held responsible for doing a lot more at the altitude without more time to acclimatize. The southern end of the JMT where you spend a lot of time in the 11,000-14,000 foot range we'd definitely need to plan on shorter distances. Anyway, that was our big adventure for the year. We enjoyed it and hope you enjoyed reading about it. As usual, the full picture set is on Flickr.