I carpooled with Jane & Justin in my Explorer. In reading Secor, I was worried about the road past Scotty Spring but Steve Eckert and the posted road report on Climber.org made me confident that the road would not be a problem.
We woke up Saturday morning to a beautiful spring day in the Sierra. Cool temperatures, light breeze, and the sun was shining, just a perfect day for climbing. We got a late start since we were just planning on hiking in today.
The road report is accurate. We camped at ARMS 03 and started our drive up the road. I have 4wd but I didn't put it on. We made in to the end of the first main switch back (ARMS05) with no problem. Most passenger vehicles with reasonable clearance can make it to this point. Right after this switch back is a short section with loose pumice stones where I turned on the 4wd. We made it past ARMS07 when the car started to lose power and smoke started rising from under the hood. Not a good sign. My first thought was the car was low on water. We stopped the car. Jane looked underneath the car she noticed a small fire on both the grass under the car and on some engine wires. An even worse sign.
We quickly put out the first and tried to regroup. We all wanted to go on but we realized that would be risky even if the car would start again. My next concern was just getting the car down the road. I was fairly certain AAA would not tow for free. Luckily, we were able to get the car back down the road and on to 395.
To make a long story short, we were able to find a mechanic in Lone Pine. It seems there are no mechanics in Independence, at least on a Saturday. We took the car to Lindsey Automotive. I highly recommend the shop. They looked at the car quickly and didn't charge me for either their time or the transmission fluid they put into the car. (They are off the main street on Washington, phone 760 876-4789.)
The assessment, a shot transmission. The owner was willing to rent us his Explorer and also willing to fix the transmission, but that would take a week. We declined both offers and risked a drive home to LA. I was concerned but we made it.
A disappointing weekend but it could have been much worse.
Postscript: I went car shopping and bought a new Toyota Highlander with 4wd. It has reasonable clearance and should be able to handle moderate 4wd. Maybe Mt Perkins next year?