Adventures in hiking…

Archive for October, 2014

Yosemite – A National Treasure That Will Capture Your Soul

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Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.   John MuirThe Yosemite (1912)

Thank you Abraham Lincoln for signing the Yosemite Grant Act in 1864.  This laid the foundation for others to preserve the beauty and sanctity of Yosemite National Park, which was established in 1872.

I think Yosemite is the crown jewel of the Sierras.  It is a land of majesty, iconic mountains, with ancient forests, waterfalls and endless vistas.  In Yosemite Valley one can experience the four seasons. In spring, the melting snow makes the water burst from the mountains with a roaring thunder that resonates in your bones.   In summer, the ground floor of the valley is bustling with flowers and tourists seeking views of Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and the Mist Trail.   Fall in the valley provides a glorious display of the deciduous flora in its fullness. Winter is a quieter time where you can take leisurely strolls while catching glimpses of snow-capped peaks in the distance.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

John Muir captured the essence of this land through his writings.   After visiting the park  a couple of times,  I read My First Summer in the Sierra and The Yosemite.  Walking through Tuolumne Meadows, dipping my feet in the Merced River and experiencing the enveloping mist of Nevada Falls – this is where he walked.  Awakening to the sun cresting behind Cathedral, drifting through the moraine fields near Lembert Dome and listening to the gurgling Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River are but a few memories that I will take with me.  It is a respite that you will cherish long after you go home.  While at work, my mind drifts to thepanorama of the Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir and how it must have looked 100 years ago before they built the O’Shaughnessy Dam.

I see the Almighty’s  handiwork in the granite sentinels surrounding the valley.  They beckon me to venture higher and explore further the miles of trails.  Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge from the roar and dust and weary, nervous, wasting work of the lowlands, in which one gains the advantages of both solitude and society. Nowhere will you find more company of a soothing peace-be-still kind.  – John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938)

I am blessed to live within a day’s drive of Yosemite.  If you ever make it to California, this should be the first stop on your list of destinations.  Venture into the valley, wade in the Merced River and drive the Tioga Road where the views at Olmsted Point will make you want to linger.   Stroll down to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and notice the Steller’s Jays as they follow you along the path, flitting from tree to tree.   Savor the waving blue lupines hanging on the edge of a precipice near Yosemite Falls.  Is it strange to fall in love with a place?  Spend some time here and you may come away with a desire to write poetry. 🙂

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.  John MuirOur National Parks, (1901)

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On the John Muir Trail, Yosemite

 

I’m thankful for John Muir and the love he held for The Yosemite.  He was a true visionary who inspired others to cherish and become good stewards of this national treasure.  Come see for yourself and experience this gem.


I Always Get Blisters When I Hike – What Can I Do?

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No, really I always get blisters on multi-day hikes.  I’ve tried different shoes, socks, band-aids, tape, lubricants, on and on… I have managed to reduce the number of blisters, just can’t get away from the heel.  It must be a result of my days as a tap dancer.   Here are some suggestions to help you reduce the occurrence of your blisters using a common sense approach.

Let’s talk about what a blister is.  In the hiking realm, it is your skin reacting to heat and abrasion.  If the rubbing and heat continues along with some moisture, the damaged skin forms a small pocket of fluid under the first few layers of skin.  This fluid is your body reacting and trying to protect the skin underneath it.  Rarely do blisters form quickly.  Usually, you will start to get a hot spot.  Detected early enough, you may be able to prevent the mega-blister.

Thru-hikers have gotten blisters every where you can imagine, but most are on the heel, toes and balls of the feet.  As a hiker, if you put enough miles in and have prolonged periods of flat terrain or downhill – you will get a hot spot or blister.  Calluses are usually the result of a hotspot or blister in the same location.

Here are some tips to reduce the number of blisters:

– Pick your shoes wisely.  The heel should be snug, not loose.  Your feet will swell so you need a little extra room in the toe-box.  Don’t wear the new pair of boots on your week-long backcountry trip.  Break them in on some day hikes first.  If you have bunions, talk to a healthcare professional to see additional considerations when choosing shoes.

– Socks.  I wear a synthetic liner with good quality wool socks.  The liners wick away sweat and the wool socks provide some cushioning.  I’ve also used the synthetic socks with toes to cut down on the toe blisters with some success.

– Take a break after a few hours of hiking, remove your shoes, socks and air those feet out.  Bonus:  Stop near water and dip those puppies in there.  Awesome!    Use this opportunity to check for hot spots.  Keep some moleskin in your first aid kit and apply it to those spots.  It may prevent a full-fledged blister.

– When crossing streams, recommend you change out your non-waterproof boots for river shoes or sandals.  Hiking in wet socks and shoes is asking for trouble.

First aid for blisters:

– There are different types of blisters.  If you see blood, keep an eye and use some Neosporin to ward off infection.

– Don’t pop blisters unless they are too painful.   The fluid is protecting the skin underneath and may keep it from bleeding.  If you have to pop it, use a sterilized needle or safety-pin.  Hold the needle under a flame to sterilize.   You can actually run thread through the blister so the fluid drains out.  I have done this as a last resort and don’t recommend it unless you have the blister from Hades.  Again, use an antibiotic ointment.

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No blog about blisters would be complete without real pics. I ran thread through this Godzilla size blister to help it drain. Yuck.

– In your first aid kit, keep moleskin, scissors, waterproof medical tape (duct tape will work) and even a needle and thread.  Use moleskin for smaller blisters.

– For your heels, you can apply duct tape to keep a hot spot from developing into a blister.  I wrap duct tape around my hiking poles; you can peel off what you need.    You can use a lubricant like Mueller Lube-Stickª for Runners Skin Barrier – 0.6 oz Stick – Each # 420206N . It helps to cut down on abrasion.

Oh, I really wasn’t a tap dancer, but I can hike like a billy-goat.  Do you have some tips for keeping the blisters away?  Please share them.DSC_0089


Yosemite – Frozen Lower Cathedral Lake

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Sometimes there are not enough words to describe Yosemite.  It is a land of enchantment, meaning one will fall in love with it. Today, we had another opportunity to venture out near the Tioga Road and explore.   We actually stayed in a hotel in Bishop and drove in to the park through the east gate.    I am jealous of fellow blogger http://califraven.wordpress.com/ who lives nearby.  Her blog is refreshing and provides a neat perspective on this beautiful area.

It was a chilly 19 degrees F when we pulled into Tuolumne Meadows.  Our plan was to hike up to Lower Cathedral Lake and poke around.  No one else was silly enough to hike this early but we were prepared.  Bundled up with a couple of layers, we hit the trail crunching through the old snow.  The snow was from a storm last November.   Unfortunately, it has been a light snow year in the Sierras.  It was New Years Day 2012 and a great way to start the year.

After 20 minutes of hiking through snow, we had to peel off a layer of clothing.  Funny, because the temps were still in the low 20’s.  As long as we were walking, it was warm.  Stop for too long and the cold sets in.  We hit the main junction going up to Cathedral and the elevation change was around 600-700 ft. per mile.  In the spring/summer, this is a very popular trail.

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As we ascended, the silence of the forest enveloped us.  Sometimes the only sounds were my labored breathing and crunch of the snow under my feet.  As the sun broke through the clouds, it began to warm up some.  A Steller’s Jay followed us, watching us from a distance.  They are curious birds and like to observe humans.

The trail comes to a junction where the JMT keeps straight and the path to Lower Cathedral Lake breaks right.   There were multiple frozen streams to cross and it was difficult to follow the trail.  While it was a low snow year up here, the temperatures are still below freezing each night.  The creeks appeared to be frozen instantly in time.  It was an amazing sight to see.

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A creek that appears to have frozen instantly

I so wanted to slide down the frozen creek, but wisdom prevailed.  We picked our way around the icy streams and managed to follow the trail where it emerged in a meadow.  By following the frozen streams, we made it to the lake.  A strange sound emanated from the shore.  It sounded like humpback whales clicking and groaning.   It was an awesome experience.  By now, the temps were around 40 and the sun was out.  The granite slabs that surrounded the shore were flat and warm.

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The sound of the ice shifting was amazing.

We observed a few brave (if not foolish) souls venturing out on the lake about a half mile away.  We had lunch and took plenty of pics and listened to the sounds of the ice as it shifted and bumped against the granite shore.   I imagined how the glaciers of long ago formed this area.  This wonderful landscape has a way of capturing your soul.  For me, it reminded me that places like this were created for our enjoyment.  I wanted to linger, but knew that the days were short and the trip down could be slippery.  Some spots were steep with ice that melted and refroze.

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Cathedral Peak from the frozen shore of Lower Cathedral Lake.

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It looks like we are right on the water, but actually 8-10 ft. above on a granite slab.

The wooded area near the lake looked the same from the shoreline.  Fortunately, I set a waypoint  on the GPS and used it to follow our course in reverse.  We came across a few more people and pointed them in the direction of the lake.  The descent was a little challenging as we tried to keep our balance.  After this trip, I would get us some microspikes that slip over the boots.  Found some good ones here:  Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System

This hike was quite the adventure.  If you have the opportunity to make it to Yosemite in the winter, see if the Tioga Road is open.  The trek to Lower Cathedral Lake is one that you shouldn’t pass up.  It’s not far from the Tuolumne Visitor Center which is closed during the winter.  You can park along the road.  Bonus:  If you enter through the east gate on (Tioga Road)  in the winter, you don’t pay the $20 park fee because no one staffs the entrance gate.  Round trip on Lower Cathedral Lake trail is approximately 7-8 miles from the trailhead.

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How to Win the War on Mosquitoes When Hiking

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Camping near a stream is great. Notice the head-net and long sleeves?

Hike in the backcountry long enough and you will understand the saying “I’m being eaten alive”.  Eaten by mosquitoes that is.  Some of the most beautiful vistas in the U.S. are also the most infested by those pests.  Actually, you may find mosquitoes anywhere there is an abundance of water and mild-hot temperatures.  From sea level to over 10,000 ft. they will find you.  While the risk of West Nile and chikungunya viruses is there, those illnesses will not kill you.  Chiki-what?  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chikungunya  To my knowledge, yellow fever and malaria aren’t that common in America.

I remember the time we met a family near Devil’s Postpile, on the John Muir Trail.  They had passed through Lyle Canyon and bore the bites of many, many mosquitoes.  It was a bit scary to see their skin covered in itchy, red bumps.  They all had shorts, short sleeve shirts and no headnets. Ok, I could end this blog on bugs right here.   One could probably eliminate 75% of bug bites by wearing a headnet, long sleeves and long pants.

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Thousand Island Lake on the JMT. Beautiful, yet heavily infested with mosquitoes in the spring, summer.

Do some research on why mosquitoes in particular are attracted to humans and you will see that it has to do with our movement, carbon dioxide that we exhale, body odor and body chemistry.  According to one researcher  “One in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitoes,” reports Jerry Butler, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Florida.  That might explain why some are eaten alive and others barely get bitten.  When hiking, it’s hard to avoid the attractants mentioned above.

However, any good mosquito abatement plan has multiple layers.   This will even work for other bugs like gnats and flies.  Let’s start with your clothing.  When on an extended trip in the backcountry, less is better.  The less weight you carry, the better off you will be.  Make your clothes count.  Bring convertible pants that zip off at the knees and long sleeve shirts that can be rolled up and fastened.  Layer your top with a t-shirt that wicks sweat.  I’ve been bitten by mosquitos through a t-shirt, so layering may help.

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So many mosquitoes that we had to eat in our tents. 😦

Prior to your trip, consider treating your clothing with a bug repellant like Permethrin.  It works amazingly well and may last for 5 or 6 washings.  It dries within a few hours and is not known to irritate the skin.  It is highly toxic to cats, so be aware and apply outside or in a well ventilated area.  In my opinion, Permethrin is more effective than spray on repellents and less of an irritant. It is effective on most other bugs including ticks and flies.   This is a good brand that I use: Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray, 24-Ounce

Do spray on repellents work?  I believe they do, but will only last for so long.  If you sweat, it tends to wash away the repellant.  It also can get into your eyes and on your food.  We carry it, but use it sparingly.  DEET is still a common chemical and very effective, but in higher concentrations it can melt plastic like sunglasses and synthetic clothing.   Scary, huh?  Here is a lotion that works very well, but be careful around the eyes: 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion, 2-Ounce

When camping, mosquitoes are the worst, especially if you are near water.  Set up your tent quickly and zip the screen closed.   Wind is your friend when it comes to these insects.   It’s harder for them to fly and find their prey.  Set up your tent where there is a breeze if possible.   Many a camper has pitched their tent near a beautiful lake or stream and are forced to eat dinner inside their tent because of the swarms.  At night, minimize the use of bright lights or use the red lens if your lamp is equipped with one.

This might seem a bit extreme, but when nature calls and you are in an infested area, it may be a good idea to put some bug repellant on your backside.  You are an easy target during this time and it might prevent you from toppling over because you were swatting them.

The $5 I spent on our head nets was probably the best money spent.  You can even run your hydration tube underneath the net.   The nets are not fashionable, but it’s only a matter of time before someone invents some that are.  When not in buggy areas, I usually roll mine up and over my trail hat.  I can pull it down when they start to bite.  This inexpensive one has served us well: Coleman Insect Head Net

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I never said rolling the head net over the hat was stylish. Nevada Falls, Yosemite.

Some last thoughts.  According to the same researcher mentioned above, female mosquitoes do the biting.  They need your blood to fertilize their eggs.  Supposedly there are new inventions coming to aid in the battle including pills and wearable patches.  I’ll try anything once – as long as it’s safe.   So friends, don’t let those Culicidae  keep you from venturing into the backcountry – hike on!  Any ideas for repelling mosquitoes?  Please mention them in your comments.


Trapped! Wildfire in Yosemite Part II

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Wildfire in Yosemite – Photo Credit – Michael Frye/AP

This is the second half of a two-part story.  Part I is here: https://thelatebloomerhiker.com/2014/10/03/wildfire-in-yosemite-part-i/

No time to panic here, first find out where we are at and then determine our options.  Getting the GPS and our map, we determined that we were about three or four miles east of Little Yosemite Valley and the Merced River.  It was hard to tell how far we were from the actual fire at this point, but knew that it was generally to our east around Babcock or Merced Lake.   Our options were limited because the other paths out were both uphill which would slow us down.  We just descended 800 ft. and there sure was a lot of timber fuel back there.  Our only real choice was to head west.

We picked up the pace  when the first chopper flew in front of us – about 1/2 mile or so.   It had a bucket hanging underneath.  Well, at least the calvary was arriving.   As we came across a saddle, we saw a horrifying sight.  The fire was crossing a canyon to our left and climbing the mountain.  Was it moving east or south?  It was hard to tell.   At this point, we kept going but discussed what we would do if we were boxed in by fire.   One option was to find rocky terrain  or a meadow with little or no fuel.   Another was to find a creek or body of water, but the nearest was the Merced River.

A few minutes later, another helicopter was circling less than a mile away.  We heard a loudspeaker but were unable to make out what they were saying.   Two more mule deer ran across the trail about fifty feet behind us.  They were heading in a northerly direction.  The helicopter was making concentric circles and came within 500 feet of us.  This time we clearly heard the loudspeaker as it blared: “There is a wildfire burning to the east and heading this direction.  Make your way to Little Yosemite Valley immediately!”

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Helicopter rescue on Half Dome, Sep 2014. Photo credit AP.

We were around 30-40 minutest from the rally point.  Would they evacuate us from there?   We kept pushing and noticed that smoke was starting to appear in front of us.    Up ahead there was a clearing with a person.  As we got closer it became apparent that it was two people.  One was laying down and the other was frantically waving at us.  It was a woman waving and a guy was laying down.  I asked what happened and she said they were running when he collapsed.  I checked for a pulse and breathing and found both.  He seemed to have passed out, but it was hard to tell if he had suffered a heart attack.  He started to come around and we propped his head up on the pack.  He was delirious and then I noticed that he wasn’t sweating.  I asked the woman if she had any water to give him and she told me they ran out about an hour ago.  At this point I guessed that he was suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke.  I gave him a small amount of water and moved him into the shade of a big lodgepole pine.

I told my wife and brother to continue on to Little Yosemite Valley and that I would stay behind with these two.  I gave them our GPS coordinates to pass to the rescue personnel.    I also activated my SPOT GPS locator.  I told the woman to gradually give her friend some water and I would attempt to signal the helicopter.   It was still making circles making announcements but did not see us.  Getting my signal mirror out, I started aiming at the chopper.  One, two-three times.  Wait…..one, two-three.  After 10-15 minutes the pilot turned in our direction and descended.   I immediately laid down on my back with my hands extending out – the international signal for distress-“need medical attention”    The clearing was large enough for them to land.  A rescue crewman jumped out and checked out the downed hiker.   We helped carry him to the helicopter in a stretcher and there was enough room for all of us.

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Half Dome from the “other side”.

Lifting off, I had a brief flashback from my time as a naval aircrewman going through survival training.   Only this time, I was the one being rescued.  Flying by Half Dome,  you could see a crowd of people waiting to be rescued.  We landed in a staging area near the Ahwahnee Hotel where the hiker was taken by ambulance to the medical center.  We would later find out that he suffered from heat stroke but would recover.  Now, concerned for my family, I tried to find out what they were doing to evacuate the people in Little Yosemite Valley.   Within minutes, another helicopter landed and four people emerged.  I asked one of them where they came from.  They said that they were picked up in Little Yosemite Valley and that there were over 50 people left.  I prayed again for my family’s safety and another chopper landed with four more people.  You could see the smoke plumes from behind Half Dome as they went straight up to about 9-10,000 ft. and then blew in a westerly direction.

The landing zone for the helicopters was cordoned off by the park rangers, so I dropped my pack and waited as close as possible to the boundary.  Several more landed and finally by wife and brother emerged.   Hugging them both,  the first thing out of my brothers’ mouth was “Where can we get a hamburger?”  Yep, that’s how it ends.

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While this story was fiction, a wildfire caused by lightning did occur in Yosemite National Park east of Half Dome in September 2014.   The “Meadow Fire” consumed almost 5,000 acres and took several weeks to contain.  Over 100 hikers were evacuated from Half Dome and the area around Little Yosemite Valley.   The National Park Service led an orderly evacuation.  Fire is one of many hazards that one can encounter in the backcountry.  Always let someone know where you will be hiking and discuss events like flash floods, lightning and fire.

 


Wildfire in Yosemite – Part I

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Wildfire in Yosemite – Photo Credit – Jeffrey Trust via Reuters

We were finishing up a section hike of the John Muir Trail in early September.  The trip from Mammoth into Yosemite was filled with the most amazing views.  In Devil’s Postpile Campground, it was nice to gather around the fire to talk about our upcoming adventure.  During our hike, we observed that most of the terrain around the JMT was pristine.  There was an area near Devil’s Postpile that had recently burned.  It was apparently caused by lightning.  The weather was perfect as we skirted thunderstorms for the past couple of days.  Late August or Early September is a good time to do backcountry in the Sierras.  Much later and the chance of snow really increases.   The mosquitoes are not as bad and stream crossings are usually a bit easier.   We met some southbound hikers before Donohue Pass that mentioned how they were pummeled by a storm, hail and all.   Noticed the first bit of snow at Donohue and made the transition from Ansel Adams Wilderness to Yosemite NP. The trek through Lyle Canyon was at a fast pace as the storm seemed to be on our heels.    For most of the week, we went without a campfire since the USFS had a ban in place.

We passed through Tuolumne Meadows and enjoyed some non-dehydrated food.  Next was a glorious day spent near Lower Cathedral Lake where we made camp near the shore.  What a magical place.  The thunder continued to rumble around us through late afternoon,  but it never rained.  The next day we pressed on for 11-12 miles.   We were fortunate enough to nab a site with decent views of Half Dome which appeared a couple of miles away.  In Yosemite, below 9,000 ft. campfires were still allowed.   We gathered up loose firewood and proceeded to make a nice fire.  The site we picked already had a fire pit and we reinforced the edge with some additional rocks.

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Along the JMT

Before dusk, we went down to the creek to filter some water.  The water flow here was poor and the mosquitoes were swarming.  I pumped my water filter faster than ever before while swatting those pesky critters.  All week, we evaded them and wore long sleeves and our head-nets.  Tonight, I was bitten more while filtering than the previous six nights combined.  Oh well, we needed the water for dinner and some extra to put out the campfire.

After dinner, we noticed the skies had clouded up a bit.  We were spared from the rain one more night.   I thought about a previous camping trip where the rain serenaded me to sleep.  Next to a rushing stream, a light rain is the perfect sleep machine.  Sometime during the night, we did hear thunder as well as see the lightning as it lit up our tents.  It sounded like it was 10-15 miles away.  Our site was in a good spot and not in a flash flood prone area.

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Approaching Half Dome from the east

By dawn, the far away storm had subsided.  We noticed the campers above us had packed up early.  They were going to Half Dome.  We ate a light breakfast, packed up and were on our way to finish our trip.  Today would be approximately 7 miles as we would pass the dome, Little Yosemite Valley, Nevada and Vernal Falls.

As we got back on the trail, we passed a small group heading back from a 3 day stay at one of the High Sierra Camps.  They were chatting how “glamping” was the way to go.  Glamping or glamour-camping is luxury camping.  You stay in a yurt, or cabin and receive room service or have your meals prepared for you.  Hmm, sounds nice after all.  At this point, we started talking about real food again.  While it had only been a few days since the cheeseburger in Tuolumne Meadows, the idea of fast-food still sounded good.

Eventually, we emerged from the canopy with Half Dome to our west and Vogelsang Peak to our east.  Suddenly, there was a thrashing sound to our left and a group of 4-5 deer bolted out of the forest in front of us.  What the heck?  Then we saw why they were running.  A white billowing cloud covered half of the horizon to the east.  Was it a cumulus cloud – or smoke?   The three of us stopped to get a better look.  Within a few minutes, it started snowing.  Except this was not regular snow, it was ash.  Now it hit us – forest fire!

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Wildfire near Half Dome, Yosemite NP. Photo Credit – Michael Frye/AP

Next: Trapped!  Wildfire in Yosemite – Part II