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Eastern Sierra Trip 2009

Day 1 of 10

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Friday, June 26th
Drive to Swall Institute

Most of my Sierra trips are on the order of 4-5 days. But it turned out to be hard to schedule two separate trips so I decided on one long trip this summer. I love exploring, trying new things, so instead of sticking to favorites Sequoia/Kings Canyon or Tuolumne Meadows, I decided on the eastern Sierra, which I haven't spent much time exploring.

It's a relatively long drive to get there, meaning we'd get there relatively late on a Friday. Securing a reservation for a weekend campsite less than a month away (I was planning this in early June) would be a daunting task, and trying to get a first-come, first-served site on a Friday night would be a risky proposition. I was unconcerned, figuring we could easily find a motel or something in Mammoth Lakes or Bishop.

Jean found something much nicer in the Swall Institute, a beautiful 1250 square foot house for rent in the hills near Bishop. That was our destination on this Friday. After some last minute packing, we were finally on our way around noon from the Bay Area. Despite my checklist, I forgot to pack the kid's backpacks (small packs just big enough for their small Camelbaks). It was too late to turn back, so we used the Sidekick to find the closest REI sort of on the way, in Stockton.

The REI in Stockton is a very nice two-story store, and we found a couple of REI Stoke 9 packs which work quite well as child day hike packs. They're small and narrow. A bit on the long side for small kids, but even our 3 year old was fine with it. They provide more room so the kids can carry their own water, snacks, jackets, and even small toys.

After our brief detour, we got back on the road. We stopped at Gico Valley Farms just before Escalon, then got gas in Oakdale, the last major town on Highway 120. After entering Yosemite, I did something I've never done before while driving my car. I ran over a squirrel. It's not my fault! He just ran out across the road from the left. I slowed down, but to no avail. Ugh. Believe it or not, while I hadn't done this before while driving, I have run over a squirrel before while riding my bicycle. It wasn't my fault then, either. Really. I get a bit skittish now whenever I see them poking their heads out in front of me while I'm riding.

This is the earliest in the year I've ever driven through Tuolumne Meadows, and it was beautiful to see the lush green meadow. Unfortunately we didn't have time to stop. Besides, the store was already closed (it closes at 5pm at this time of year). So we kept going. But I was encouraged to see that there wasn't much snow remaining at the "lower" elevations, which meant that our hiking options would be better. Oh, and despite the fact things were just starting to open up for the season, there were still lots of cars lining the road at Tuolumne Meadows (it was a beautiful early summer Friday, after all).

We drove toward Tioga Pass, past Mount Dana. Every time I look at it I marvel at the fact that we were once on top of that mountain. If you haven't hiked it yet, you should. It's worth it.

We stopped in Mammoth Lakes for dinner, then continued south along beautiful Highway 395 to the Swall Institute (near Tom's Place).


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