This was my very first time here in Mammoth Lakes, a town in Mono County, California. I always thought it was just another ski town during the winter season; however, it has lots of activities to offer from hiking, camping, biking, fishing, and a lot more stuff to do during the summer time. Winter was about to start when we had our Mammoth trip on the last weekend of October.
Ronald Dalla Tor, our main leader, reserved our hiking permits three months ahead of the scheduled event with 3H Family (Hiking for Health and Happiness) as co-coordinators. The week of the trip, the weather shows that it was going to rain. Fine, I thought it would just be light rain. I brought my waterproof jacket, extra layers, a poncho, and I am all set. My backpack was lighter than the two times I have previously used it. Bee, my Chevy Camaro was ready to go.
I wanted to get more familiar with the surrounding areas of Mammoth Lakes that I took the Friday off before the event. I saw my buddy Gerardo Perez’s name on the event page list of joining backpackers. He agreed on doing a road trip with me.
Before picking up Gerardo in Covina, CA, I had to go back home twice after I drove more than a couple miles because I forgot the two very essential things on this trip, my wallet and a jacket. I guess I was too excited for this trip. Our road trip started after 9 am on a rainy Friday morning. We took the 210, the 15, and the 395 Highways heading up north.
Before reaching Mammoth Lakes, we stop first at the Crowley Hot Springs which was right off Benton Crossing Road from highway 395 before reaching the airport. There are three pools; two large muddy ones that can fit 5 to 10 people, and one small clear one that can fit just 1 person. These pools can be reached by walking on a long elevated wooden pathway which later turned into a stoned pathway for 5 minutes. The place was amazingly serene with snowed covered mountains as our backdrop. We took a dip in each one of the pools. The water feels like you are in a Jacuzzi hot tub without the massaging jets. The weather was perfect, sometimes drizzling, but that does not matter. We even felt warm sitting outside the pools as steam rises. We did not want to leave, but there were other sites to visit.
First, we had to check in the Travelodge Hotel and leave our bags behind. We then headed up towards Devil’s Postpile National Monument and Rainbow Falls but when we reached the Minaret Vista Entrance Station at 9,176 feet in elevation, it was blocked and closed due to the slippery and icy of Postpile Road and Minaret Summit Road. We went up the Lookout Point Road to check the area above at Minaret Vista with an elevation of 9,265 feet and we could not see anything on the horizon which was covered by fog and very windy. It felt really cold when we stepped out of the car. So we headed back down to Mammoth Mountain ski area and took a few pictures and ran back to my car when the rain started pouring in with sleet hitting our faces. We stopped by a Pizza restaurant near our hotel and ate dinner, had drinks, and watched a baseball game. At the same time, we informed Ronald and Ricardo the weather conditions in the area. We got a response from them telling us they would continue the plan and we still have to meet at our meeting place tomorrow at the Minaret Vista Station. To top it off, I also forgot to bring my winter gloves. I asked anyone who was joining the event through Facebook to bring extra gloves. Thankfully, my message was received and acknowledged. We got back to the hotel and call it a night.
Saturday came and we got ready with our backpacks and placed them in Bee’s trunk. I got out of the hotel and saw Bee frozen stiff. I started her up and she’s fine and dandy. All she needed was the ice from her windshield and windows be defrosted. We checked out of the hotel and had breakfast at Carl’s Jr. We later got a message from Melevy Sorto that she and the other backpackers in her van arrived at the Minaret Vista and that Ronald nor Ricardo Cruz and Maglory Maza (3H Family) was not there yet. So they decided to eat breakfast near Mammoth Mountain. We met them there a few minutes later, after Gerardo and I were done with breakfast.
We got back to the Minaret Vista Station to see if our coordinators arrived. The road was still closed. So we headed up the Minaret Vista and took some pictures that we could not do the day before. The weather was perfect that day. I then got a text from Melevy that the coordinators are at the station entrance. So we got back down. The Ranger informed us if the weather conditions are bad, that it is their policy to close Agnew Meadows Trailhead for overnight parking. She also told us that it was our responsibility to check their website for current information regarding the Trailhead. However, we were told that we could park overnight near the station. They would also open the gate to shuttle ourselves down to and from the Trailhead, but we were warned that the gate would be locked on Sunday and that we had to walk 3 miles back up to where we parked our cars. After driving several hours all the way here, knowing how tough 3H hikers are, we decided to “bite the bullet”, deal with it, and go ahead with the plan.
Ronald’s brothers, Sergio and Nelson came with us on this backpacking trip. A total of 22 hikers joined the event. Sergio shuttled the hikers down to Agnew Meadows Trailhead with his 4×4 truck. We got an exhilarating ride out of it, bouncing on dirt road, splashing a pool of muddy water that washed the entire windshield. There was a tree in front of us that we thought we were going to hit after that splash but Sergio T. was used to doing this. We arrived at the Trailhead until Sergio T., as the last person, had to leave his truck near the station, and hike the 3 miles down. Luckily, he hitched a ride closer to the Trailhead.
We took our first group pictures at Agnew Meadows. My friend Mireya Arellano gave me extra snow gloves, which really helped. With our heavy backpacks, and Ronald leading the way, we started our hike around 10 am on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that later connects to the John Muir Trail (JMT). We crossed logs and a bridge above a stream, walked across waterfalls, hiked along the side of the lakes such as Shadow Lake, and another bridge to cross Garnet Lake. The weather was so bright and perfect. The views were amazing. Some areas are covered with snow. As I told some of my hiking friends, this is just like what Ian Malcolm said in The Lost World movie. Oooh, Ahhh, that’s how it always starts. We knew it was going to rain on Sunday. We just did not know how bad it was going to be.
It was 7 miles to hike towards our campsite which was right beside Garnet Lake. As we got close, we walked down on a snowed covered hill. Our hiking poles helped a lot getting down. At that moment, we did not use our micro spikes because the area was not slippery.
We arrived at our campsite shocked that the area was so wet that some of us tried to find better spots even on top of boulders. It was getting dark that most of us set their tents on and or near the rocks. We saw dark clouds hovering above. I did not have enough water to boil. I had to get some from the lake and filter it, but it was so dark that I said to myself that I would do it the next day. I almost just had a banana for dinner, but luckily Gerardo invited me to his tent to share some of his food with me. He had boiled water and I used that for my cup of noodles. The wind was picking up really bad and had to call it a night and sleep.
At 10 pm, the rain started pouring. I rested for a while, but could not sleep at all. As the night went on, the wind blew hard with heavy rain as if we were being hit by hail. It probably was. We were just lucky that there were no tents blown away. In the middle of the night, once the rain stopped for a couple of minutes, I had to go out of my tent several times just to pee. It was so cold outside that my legs started shaking and at the same time, my face was being hit by sleet. Although my tent says it is waterproof, water started seeping inside. My sleeping bag and pad started to get wet and so did part of my clothes. Gerardo came to me saying that his tent got soaked by a stream of water coming from the boulder above. He saw that my tent is just for one person only and I told him that my next door neighbor, Richard Hernandez’s tent, is a much bigger one and my tent is already wet inside. Richard gladly shared his tent with him. At 5 am the next day, I sat up with my eyes closed and feeling cold. By 6 am, the wind still blowing hard, but the rain was not that heavy. We started to pack up our stuff, including our tents, even though they are wet, which made it more heavier, into our backpacks. Everyone saw me shivering and thought I might get hypothermia. My poncho got ripped and I was soaking wet. Luckily, Sergio Cruz had an extra poncho that was more durable than the one I had. It felt really good and my shivering diminished. As I stepped out away from our campsite, I could see a waterfall flowing over the boulders in a different direction. We were so lucky that did not flow towards our tents.
The whole group decided not to continue the original plan to loop around Thousand Island Lake due to the full-blown storm that was upon us. Instead, we head back from where we came from. We were skeptical too coming back in the snowed area that we passed the day before. We did not have breakfast to start of the day. We just want to head back right away. Some of us used the micro spikes this time around to prevent us from slipping. We used the snow and melted in our mouths to hydrate ourselves.
The waterfalls that we crossed the day before, was much bigger now, due to the rain, that we had to find another way around it or even get soaked. We saw one small lake that was frozen. Streams were flowing along the trails. The water was above our knees walking along Shadow Lake. There was one area of the trail that we were right beside a roaring rapid river. It was very scary.
One thing that surprised me though on this backpacking trip was that my friend Hector Martinez did pretty well hiking in the wilderness. He was one of the guys in front of the pack.
Meanwhile, the group at the back of the pack, Mireya was not feeling well with altitude sickness which she was already feeling the night before. She fell down and got soaked in a puddle of water and snow. Sergio C., Dora Cruz, and Richard immediately helped her by getting her dried up with a new shirt and an emergency blanket and stayed with her while Dora made her soup to keep her warm. Ronald carried her backpack during the hike back.
Nelson Dalla Tor, led the first group back to Agnew Meadows Trailhead. Letty Rios informed Maglory that Ramon Ortega, Jesse Ignacio, and I will continue hiking back up another 3 miles to the Minaret Vista Station and will meet them back in town on a parking lot that they both knew. The road was covered in snow all the way, but was safe to walk through without wearing micro spikes. Snow was still falling hard with some strong winds and the 3 miles felt really long. Poor Bee was covered in snow when we arrived at the station. I almost thought that we were going to spend another night there since we do not have snow chains.
Meanwhile, as another group was closing in at Agnew Meadows Trailhead, Melevy slipped and fell in the water while crossing the log bridge. She also got wet and quickly warmed up to avoid hypothermia.
Back at the Minaret Vista Station, I borrowed a shirt from Ramon as my other clothes in the backpack were wet. I changed my wet clothes and turned on Bee’s heater and kept warm. Minutes later, Ramon told me that they would start driving back to town. I was hesitant at first, but followed their van at a distant while driving slowly. Luckily, we passed a snow plowing truck twice, which made our drive down the road safer. We arrived at the designated parking lot. Letty offered me to borrow a pink baby blanket to keep me warm while they head out to the restaurant and eat. I waited for Gerardo 2 hours later until Ronald’s van parked right beside me. I thanked Ronald for the great weekend trip as Gerardo and I started our road trip back home.
While on the road, Gerardo informed me that the gate of the station was unlocked for Sergio T. to shuttle the last group that included Mireya, back up to the parking lot. The 3 cars had trouble coming down Minaret Vista Station. The lead van slid to the side of the road and got stuck in the snow, but it all worked fine in the end and got out of that messy situation. We stopped by at Bishop, CA to eat and continued our conversation at Denny’s. I did one stop over at a rest stop, dropped Gerardo in Covina, CA and got back home safe in Sylmar, CA at 2 am.
It was a crazy and fun adventure weekend, despite the extreme weather conditions. This ranks at the top of my the scariest adventure list that includes skydiving and Rattlesnake Peak hike. 22 Backpackers survived that day and this crazy adventure would forever be implanted in our memories. Thanks to Ronald Dalla Tor and his brothers, Sergio and Nelson for organizing and leading the hike on this event. Thanks to the 3H Family for making this trip enjoyable and safe. Thanks to Jesse of his YouTube videos and pictures that captured our memories. Thanks to the rest of the Backpackers for sharing your pictures. We hope to do this again and complete the loop in the summer time next year.
YouTube Videos: Part 1 and 2