As most of the Facebook posting world knows, President Obama and the First Family visited Yosemite National Park June 17th-19th, as did the rest of the park visiting public. Aside from a reported 20% increase in visitation so far this year with wait times just to enter the park as long as 2 hours, an historic presidential visit is bound to throw a wrench into the works of any well-planned 3 day trip to Half Dome. But who would think that trying to get away from the malee and into the backcountry would prove to be even more difficult than catching a cab during rush hour in NYC. Of course, all multi-day backpacking trips have to have something go wrong from the get go because that is just the way a trip into the wilderness rolls, but throw the leader of the free world into the mix and even more adventure awaits.
To start, our intrepid hikers’ plane arrived several hours late due to technical difficulties, resulting in a flight that didn’t get to San Francisco until 12:30am, the morning of the first day of the hike. They all had to be in Yosemite Valley by 7:30am that same day to meet me and pack up in order to catch an 8:30am shuttle to the Glacier Point/Illiouette Trailhead; the starting point of our hike to Illiouette Creek, then to Little Yosemite Valley, up Half Dome and out to Yosemite Valley via the Mist Trail over the course of 3 days. With a 3 hour drive from San Francisco – on a good day – we knew we would have some hikers that are going to be dog tired. But this was nobody’s fault, not even President Obama’s.
Needless to say, everyone made it to Half Dome Village (formerly known as Curry Village) in time to gather up their backpacking gear, pack up, fit packs and catch a shuttle as our route was not an out and back. After packing up the backpacks and making sure they fit just right, off we went to wait for the shuttle to take us to Yosemite Village to catch another shuttle to Glacier Point at 8:30am. Unbeknownst to most of the visiting Yosemite public and most importantly us, due to the President’s visit, the Yosemite Village shuttle route was altered and delayed, thus getting us to Yosemite Lodge at 8:40am, only to see the 8:30am bus we were supposed board, and that we had seats reserved, pulling out and leaving us in the low carbon exhaust with Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence ringing in my ears. Off to shuttle went to Glacier Point with dozens of happy visitors, using our empty seats as foot rests.
Now what? “Let’s get the 10:30am shuttle”, I say, knowing there really was no chance in he** since I tried a few days before to reserve that shuttle. Besides, the 10:30 am is when visitors are ready to burn off their 1,000 calorie breakfast by jumping on and off a bus to take a few photos in between the various “oohs” and “aahs.”. All seriousness aside, National Geographic had actually booked the entire shuttle since it was the organization that sponsored President Obama’s trip. That left only the shuttle departing at 1:30pm, which was already over booked and later than we wished to depart. I decided that we would drive up in our own vehicles instead (the guests having their own cars and then we would catch the shuttle on the last day when we got down into Yosemite Valley to then retrieve the vehicles at the end of the hike). Grand idea!
As they say, the best laid plans…driving to the trailhead soon became a moot point since the President was by this time giving a speech at Lower Yosemite Falls, thus closing the roads out of the Valley for the duration of his speech. While I would have enjoyed listening to his speech about climate change and how it is effecting our National Parks, a more nearer and dearer crisis at the moment was getting this trip off the ground. Now to plan C. Which “C” is for Cookie and that made us hungry so we ate and then had to walk 3 miles back to Half Dome Village. It was hotter than normal that day, making the unplanned jaunt back to the village a bit arduous. As we arrived close to the parking area, I spotted a ranger and asked when the road would reopen. While one of our hikers, we will call him Hiker Number One, and I spoke to the rangers for the latest scoop, another of the hikers (Hiker Number Two) was resting on a nearby fence. Next thing we know, she fainted. It wasn’t because she saw a bear or a national celebrity galavanting around, but, what we all think anyway, was due to a combination of factors including, exhaustion (she only got about 4 hours of sleep the night before), elevation, hypertension medication she was prescribed and a Diamox she took as she arrived at the park. An ambulance was called and the paramedics took her on board to check vitals and monitor her for about 20 minutes. When the emergency crews released her, we decided the show must go on – enter plan D for Doom. Time now had passed and our with our decision to carry on, we started our way up to Glacier Point. But this plan was aborted (again) when we found that the President had trumped us on that plan and was also making his way to Glacier Point with his entourage and thus, the road was closed.
By this point it had been a long day and it was about 3pm in the afternoon, which is late for any hike to start. We made a group decision to go back to the valley, rest up (after all, we had a long day of going absolutely nowhere) and spend the night in the backpackers camp – again. The next day, we hiked up to Little Yosemite Valley, made our way up Half Dome and back down – just as planned – no hiccups, no fainting, no closers, no Presidents, nothing. The perfect trip – eventually!
In conclusion, Just Roughin’ It Adventure Company again comes through with another memorable experience and trip of a lifetime brought to you in part by the POTUS Barak H. Obama!