With a 7:30 a.m. departure, we make good time, rolling through Fresno at 10:30. We hooked up with Erik at the Bubbs Creek/Roads End trailhead just east of Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon at 1 p.m. We backtrack in Erik's SUV on 180 back down to the valley floor, across Academy Ave. and back up 168 (Tollhouse Road), passing the resort communities of Shaver Lake and Huntington Lake.
168 becomes Kaiser Pass Road at Huntington Lake and then the real driving begins -- 19 miles on a single lane road with lots of blind turns, cliff drop-offs and no guardrails. After picking up our wilderness permit at the High Sierra Ranger Station (they were kind enough to leave it out for us, since we were running late) we arrive at Lake Edison's Vermilion Valley Resort at 6:40, thoroughly rattled, but just 40 minutes behind target.
They should really call the Kaiser Pass Road the Messiah Road. No road in the nation has probably caused more people to utter ''JesusCHRIST!!!'' more often. It is not the worst road I've ever driven, but it is without a doubt the worst paved road.
Vermilion Valley Resort is a backcountry crossroads and resupply depot -- a funkier-than-you'd-care-to-believe collection of dusty tent-cabins and ramshackle trailers that could make Tom's Place look downright cosmopolitan. Nevertheless, we were relieved to get there in time for dinner and anxious to see what lay ahead.
I'd considered using this ''rest'' day to knock off the remaining 1.4 mile gap between JMT 1 and 2. But unless we took the VVR ferry across the lake in both directions, closing the 1.4 mile gap would entail taking the morning ferry to Mono Creek and walking back around Lake Edison, for a total of 11+ miles. We opt to sit it out at Vermilion, acclimate at least partially at 7,643 feet and read, mentally steeling ourselves for what comes first thing tomorrow with Bear Ridge. The pet raven, ''Jimmy,'' is a foul-tempered menace. It's a wonder half the staff aren't missing fingers. While we lounge, Erik is across the lake at Mono Creek shooting panoramas. Rather than have an 11-mile ''rest'' day, he used a cell phone to call the ferry operator and charter a non-scheduled return trip to the resort.