|Date Visited: August 5, 2011|
|Check current conditions: Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (800.MAMMOTH/800.626.6684)|
Because our family enjoyed our brief 2-night stay in Mammoth last summer during our historic Highway 395 road trip, Jeff and I decided to return again this summer with the kids and dog for a longer 6-day and 5-night vacation. We chose August, however, since so many Mammoth-area attractions were closed due to heavy snows when we visited last June.
Near the top of our list this time around (right behind Devil’s Postpile), was a scenic gondola ride up Mammoth Mountain — dogs are allowed. Because Mammoth was just coming off a severe thunder storm (with gondola closures), we planned our ride for the middle of our vacation week.
Passengers pay for tickets and catch the gondola at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center located at the base of the ski area. The scenic ride is about 15 minutes long, and accommodates both foot-travellers and mountain bikers (who ride with their bikes). Unlike the Palm Springs Tramway, individual parties and riders get to enjoy their own car. And unlike the shuttle ride to Devil’s Postpile, dogs do NOT have to be muzzled.
At $80 for our family of four (including a decent lunch up top), the gondola wasn’t cheap. But the kids seemed to enjoy the scenic ride, and Jeff and I were thrilled to get to explore the 11,053 foot-high summit area without having to make the 3100 foot-high climb up the main hiking trail.
The gondola drops you off in an enclosed building at the top of the mountain (although you can get off and explore the McCoy Station located mid-way up the mountain). Immediately after exiting the gondola area, you can proceed to the Top of the Sierra Interpretive Center, the Top of the Sierra Cafe, or downstairs and out on to the mountain.
There was still quite a bit of snow on top of the mountain, as well as up the entire side of the mountain underneath the gondola. While the kids didn’t care to play in snow, Holly Puppy spent a good deal of time romping, rolling and playing in every patch of snow she came across. Word of warning — it can get quite breezy up top, so bring layers if you tend to get cold. I remained in shorts and a tank top most of the time, but our kids threw on Arctic gear once up top and still complained of the cold.
Definintely give yourself time to fully explore as much of the mountain top as possible. The extensive 360 degree views are simply stunning.
When planning this trip, Jeff and I initially intended to just ride the gondola one-way up the mountain (there is no one-way discount) and do the 5-mile hike down the mountain via the main Mammoth Mountain Trail. Our kids are used to 5 to 6 mile hikes — although they grumble and complain big time — and we thought the experience of hiking down from a summit would be a cool one for them.
However, once up in town, Jeff and I read up on the Mammoth Mountain Trail a bit more and decided against making the kids do the 5-mile hike down. We had not realized at all that the trail is marked as strenuous, or that it made a 3100-foot descent down to the base. If it had just been Jeff, Holly Puppy and I, we would have done the hike. But, our kids have never hiked anything remotely close to that elevation descent — and they’ve never experienced high altitude.
So, we decided to make the gondola ride a round-trip one for the whole family.
While the kids complained of cold and boredom and waiting inside the warm interpretive center, Jeff, Holly Puppy and I made the short walk out to explore the trailhead of the hiking system. We were surprised at how rocky, slippery (from small rocks) and exposed the Mammoth Mountain Trail is — at least the part of the trail that we could still see from the top of the montain.
So, although I still think the 5-mile hike down might be a cool experience for our next summertime parents-only trip up to Mammoth, Jeff and I both agree that there are far more interesting, less-exposed, summit-reaching trails we will probably climb during our next visit without the kids.
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