Vermilion Valley Resort
Exactly 0 miles. Cumulative: 87.6 miles.
This was the lowest altitude I’d slept at so far (7,700 feet), and the air was warm, and I’d spent most of the night outside of the sleeping bag. I didn’t get out of the tent until 7:00 a.m., which was pretty lat for me as these things went. I probably would have stayed asleep a little longer, but once the sun comes up, it’s hard to stay asleep in a bright orange tent.
I didn’t have anything to do until the “Hiker’s Water Taxi” came across Lake Thomas A. Edison, which was supposed to be 9:45 a.m., so I took my time packing up and making breakfast. It’s possible to hike in to VVR, but it’s a 5-mile walk, and, well, I was tired of walking for awhile. A boat ride sounded good.
My friend Tyler ambled down the trail as I was cleaning up, so we hung out and talked while we waited for the ferry to arrive. After five days of walking, doing nothing but sitting around was hard. Time passed slowly.
You can hear the ferry coming across the lake, and it arrives at the Mono Creek landing with the blast of an air horn. Suddenly there were hikers everywhere.
We waited for the hikers getting back to the trail to get off the ferry, then we got on. We waited about 15 minutes, then, with another blast from the air horn, we (me and five other hikers) were off across Lake Thomas A. Edison.
The ferry trip takes about twenty minutes to half an hour, so I was at VVR by 10:15, enjoying that (famous) first free beer, a Firestone IPA. On the ride over, the driver boasted that they had the best selection of craft beer in Fresno County. I’m not sure that’s completely true, but there were some mighty fine beer choices in the cooler.
So we checked in and got the services and pricing rundown from Jim, the guy who runs the place. Hikers can sleep in the hiker tent cabins (on a real bed, even) for free for one night. You’re also welcome to pitch a tent for free in a small area near the resort. Showers are $6, and you can do your laundry for $6 a load.
Jim said they still had a few rooms available if anyone wanted one. That intrigued me, so I asked how much that would cost. Everyone I’d met kept telling me how expensive the place was, so I was asking as more of a curiosity. But it was still their early season, so when he said $85, I took it. And – bonus – with the room came a shower.
A bit on VVR prices
Despite what everyone was telling me, I didn’t find the place excessively expensive, at least not by Los Angeles standards. Beers were $4 or so. Meals were between $10 and $15 for breakfast and lunch with dinners about $15 to $25. The items in the store were priced fairly, considering that they have to bring everything they sell 70 miles up from Fresno along the somewhat treacherous, curvy, single-lane Tollhouse Road.
Also worth mentioning, the electricity for the place comes from a gas generator that runs from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. I’m not sure what the cost is to run something like that, but it can’t be cheap.
Anyway, after we checked in, we all headed into the restaurant for some real food.
Packer’s Special — Country-fried steak and sausage gravy, three eggs, a homemade biscuit, potatoes, bacon, orange juice, and a bottomless cup of coffee. It was the best breakfast I’ve ever had.
Then, two hours later, I had lunch.
Vermilion Signature Burger, fries, and a bottle of Moose Drool Brown Ale.
I spent the rest of the day doing low stress activities. I took a shower. I did laundry. Funny thing about the laundry. Because I didn’t have very much in the way of clean clothes, I had nothing to wear while I cleaned those clothes. So I walked around in my raincoat with a towel around my waist for a few hours.
The rest of the day …
I talked with other hikers. We talked trail conditions, the gear we used, crazy things we’d seen, other hikers we’d met. This is when I learned about Tuna Helper‘s bid to set a PCT speed record. There was also talk of a hiker who wore different wedding dresses along the trail. He’d wear an old wedding dress for a certain amount of distance depending on how much you paid him. You’d get a picture of course. Somehow we missed each other on the trail. I would have enjoyed seeing that.
I found the small store at VVR to be surprisingly well-stocked. I bought a new pair of socks, and a pair of Pony slip-ons for wearing around the camp. In his Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, Andrew Skurka advises against camp shoes. He presented a good argument against them, so I didn’t bring any. But I found it would have been a nice luxury to take off the hiking shoes during the few hours of camp time. The slip-ons weren’t that heavy, and I don’t regret the purchase or carrying them for the next seven days.
I also bought a bunch of food, like Peanut M&Ms (like a lot of them, and I was glad for it in the days to come) and that bag of Fritos I’d been thinking about since the day before (I ate the whole bag that afternoon), as well as a few other things I needed. My quest for a lighter had come to and end at last (I picked up a trusty orange Bic lighter), but they were out of poop shovels.
There were two other hikers there who’d busted their poop shovels as well, so that’s a thing that happens. Be careful out there. And speaking of poop, I used the flush toilets as much as I possibly could.
I also mailed myself a bunch of things that I was carrying I didn’t really need. Like my coffee cup. Considering that I ate breakfast after a few hours of hiking, I just used my Guyout squishy bowl (highly recommended!) as a coffee cup. I just didn’t need a separate cup for coffee. I also sent home the sections of the book I’d already hiked, my back-up supply of AquaMira (I did have some trepidation about this, but the stuff does last for a long time), and some other random stuff. Sending a package back from VVR is a bit pricey. On top of the postage, they charge a handling fee. Mine was $10, which seems like a lot, but they’re trucking my package down a road 70 miles to the post office. I didn’t like paying it, but I understood it.
One of the downsides of VVR is that there’s no cell coverage at the camp. You can make calls using their satellite phone, but it’s expensive. The phone calls are charged by the minute, which can add up fast. When I called the wife, I got her voicemail, which was probably good so I didn’t talk for too long.
Tip: Turns out if you take a short walk down to the boat landing you can pick up a signal from the cell tower on top of the nearby dam.
Until it was time for dinner, I spent the rest of the day lounging around, reading. I found a slim volume published by Cicerone called The John Muir Trail: Through the Californian Sierra Nevada by Alan Castle. While it didn’t really give me any information on the John Muir Trail I didn’t get from my trusty guide, it had a European perspective on American hiking which I found interesting.
I also scrounged the Hiker Barrels, a pair of free-for-all trading depots just outside the main building. Hikers throw stuff they don’t want into the barrels they think other hikers may need or want. Food, gear, books, maps, socks, and all sorts of other random detritus end up in there. I found a few empty Ziploc-style bags that were like gold to me. Oh, and a package of spam.
Fried chicken with mashed potatoes and a bottle of Stone Pale Ale.
After dinner the sun went down and I went to my room to turn in. I tried getting to sleep at 8:00, but it just wasn’t happening. So I read a stray copy of MAD Magazine that was in the room until the lights shut off at 10:00.