Every January Nancy and I make the trek to Yosemite National Park to participate in the Chef’s Holidays. It’s an annual event where the park brings in gourmet chefs to do cooking demonstrations and cook meals that are out of this world. We’ve been going for about 10 years.
Every year we know there is a chance we will hit inclement weather. We rent a minivan from Enterprise Rent-a-Car and get tire chains in the hopes that we don’t need to use them. Even in 2005, the last El Niño winter, we didn’t have to drive through snow or ice. This year our luck was up. The time in Yosemite was the ecstasy; the travel too and from was the agony.
We left San Diego on Monday the 18th knowing that a series of fronts were taking aim on most of California. We had been told that the week would be very rainy and we feared our time in Yosemite would be spent looking out the window at the rain. We did hit rain, at times heavy, going through Los Angeles, but nothing we couldn’t handle. As is our tradition we stayed overnight at the Marriott Courtyard in Bakersfield. Once in Bakersfield we found that there was a slow leak in one of the van’s tires. Enterprise directed us to a Firestone in Fresno. As we were sweating the weather we got to sit at the Firestone dealer for the better part of an hour as we found out that both front tires were worn and needed replacing (in fairness, Enterprise paid for the new tires and has given us a 15% discount on our next rental to compensate us for the pain of being in Fresno for nearly an hour).
We hit rain most of the rest of the way, and the snow began almost as soon as we got inside the park on Tuesday afternoon. It’s been about 18 years since I’ve driven in the snow, but this wasn’t bad. We felt lucky to get there when we did.
Wednesday, our first full day in the park, found the snow hitting full force. It seems the weather forecasts were right about the precipitation but wrong about the temperature. We did some hiking on the valley floor as we kept brushing snow off our jackets. It was wonderful to see.
Thursday was mostly snow free in the morning but not the afternoon. Since we planned to leave on Friday morning, this was more than a little concerning. The temperature was just around freezing which made the snow wet and heavy. It made for beautiful photographs but strained the trees.
Friday morning we learned that the park was closed. All the snow not only blocked the roads, but weighed down the trees enough to cause multiple road closures by fallen branches and trunks. Nobody was coming in or out of Yosemite by any route. By mid morning we learned that we should learn something by 12:30 PM; later it was moved to 1:30 PM. Shortly before 1:00 PM we learned that there was a window: between 1PM and 3PM escorted caravans could leave the park. That started a frenzy where we (and dozens of other guests of the Ahwahnee) needed to pack, check out, dig out our cars, put on chains, and get to the staging area. We were able to do this only with the cooperation and hard work of the Ahwahnee staff. We got out of the park at about 2:30PM.
We got out, got to Bakersfield that night, and home tonight. It was a wild ride, but we are grateful for all the people who made it possible. We hope next year is boring.
By the way, Nancy took some great pictures. You can see them here.