Adventures in hiking…

Hikes in the Sierras

John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 6 – Cathedral to Half Dome

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The clouds would burst into color at sunset. Looking north from Lower Cathedral Lake.

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938)

The day at Lower Cathedral was most enjoyable.  While my brother determined that there were no brook or rainbow trout in this part of the lake, we enjoyed watching the sky as clouds would form and morph into a variety of shapes.  One could spend hours lying on their back watching the afternoon cumulus formations come and go.

Alas, we had a goal in mind.  Another 20 or so miles to go between today and tomorrow.  At 9,400 feet and heading into Yosemite Valley it is mostly downhill for us.  A climb out of Cathedral and up to Long Meadow and then our toes would be in for a beating.

As we neared Upper Cathedral, a sign detoured us away from the meadow near the lake.  Years of overuse and erosion had taken its’ toll on this area.  Am pretty sure you can camp here, but the JMT was rerouted a quarter-half mile to the east.

A neat thing about hiking is that depending on the direction you are going, the views can be drastically different.  Occasionally, we would look over our shoulders to catch a glimpse of where we have been.  Cathedral Peak and the upper lake were prominent as we climbed Cathedral Pass.  Farther to the north, we caught glimpses of Pettit Peak and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River.

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Upper Cathedral Lake, Cathedral Peak.

We entered Long Meadow and were rewarded with a nice respite of flatness and views of the surrounding peaks.  Man, the vistas just never stop here.  If you only have 2-3 days, I would recommend the area between Cathedral and Sunrise Camp. If you have 4-5 days, a loop including Merced and Vogelsang High Sierra Camp looks awesome.

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Long Meadow

A last climb and we would see the rest of the Cathedral Range including Vogelsang and Amelia Earhart Peaks.  We saw our first of what would be many mule trains around the Columbia Finger.  As they passed, we quietly watched and snapped some pics.  Most of the mules today were en route to one of the three local High Sierra camps including Sunrise, Merced and Vogelsang.  These beasts of burden carried between 150-200 lbs of cargo.  Sure footed, they followed their leader at a steady pace.  It’s cool that this is still the primary means of resupply for the remote camps.

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The first of many pack mule trains.

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Is this 1913 or 2013?

As we made our way south, the view of the Cathedral Range opened up.

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We stopped for lunch near Sunrise Camp and filtered some water.   During this backcountry trip, we typically carried two liters since there was plenty of water. As we passed through the meadow near Sunrise, we began a gradual descent through a burned area and saw Half Dome for the first time.  Entering a thickly wooded area, the downhill was steeper and the views diminished.  Several southbound hikers asked about available water.  It’s important to have maps that show the various creeks and streams.  While water was generally abundant, there were many areas where the vernal streams were dry.

Using an excerpt from the JMT guide that showed potential campsites, I started scanning for a suitable location.  I saw movement to my right and initially thought that it was another deer.  It was big and moving slowly.  Hey, a bear!  It was about 75-100 ft. away and rooting around a log.  Glancing over its’ shoulder at us, the bruin ignored us and continued to dig.  It appeared to be an old brown bear around 300 lbs.  We snapped a few photos and moved on.

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Blurry pic of a brown bear on the JMT/PCT. This was about 2 miles south of Half Dome.

Within 10 minutes, we located a site to camp with a view of Half Dome.  This was a busy area, mainly used by campers as a staging area for climbing the rock.  Most of the other campers were out of sight, but you could hear them as well as see the smoke from various campfires.

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This had been a long day and we had one last dinner on the trail.  We started a small fire and enjoyed the peacefulness.

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Sadly, tomorrow would be the end of our seven-day trek. I was getting used to this camping stuff, but looked forward to a real shower. Well, that and maybe a cheeseburger.

Links to a slide show of the hike:

Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

Part II http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7zHwNLPY6A


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 5 – Tuolumne to Lower Cathedral Lake

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Lower Lake Cathedral outlet is one of many that feed Tenaya Lake 1,300 ft. below.

“Going to the mountains is going home.”
― John Muir

On July 4th, we decided to take a pseudo-zero day and hike up to Lower Cathedral Lake where we would relax.  We passed by the Tuolumne Grill in the a.m. and got a wonderful bacon, egg and cheese biscuit.  A quick shuttle to the Cathedral trailhead and we began the relatively short 3.5 mile hike to Lower Cathedral Lake.  Short yes, easy no.  (I left out the part where I almost took out a tourist’ eye on the shuttle with my hiking pole.)  Lesson learned:  When getting on the shuttles/buses, wear your pack, don’t try to carry it.

This is probably the most popular trail with day hikers in the Tuolumne area.  As you near the lake you enter into a meadow and are in the shadow of Cathedral Peak.  There are several creeks feeding the lake.  Most day hikers stop on the eastern shore; we would continue on the north side of the lake and head west to the far end.   We were rewarded with a lakefront campsite and plenty of solitude.  Tip – get there early in the day for your choice of sites.

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After setting up our camp and eating lunch, we did chores.  My brother took one of his waterproof clothing bags and filtered some lake water.  Oila, a washing machine!   Dump the dirty water at least 100 ft. away from the lake and fill the bag with clean filtered water for rinsing.  It was labor intensive, but the clothes came out smelling clean.  We used  Dr. Bronner’s biodegradable Magic Soap and it was great.   I’ve used the peppermint soap in the past which can be used for bathing too.  A clothesline between two dead trees and we were set.  One biohazard Mary discovered was that the bees liked the aroma of the lavender soap on the clothes while they dried.   I had some insect bite/sting paste in my 1st aid kit that does wonders for those stings.  

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Enjoying the sunset on Lower Cathedral Lake.

At the far end of Lower Cathedral Lake, the water is warmer in the shallows of the shore.  No fish in this lake that we could see.  We ventured to the western edge where the lake’s outlet is and viewed Tenaya Lake 1,300 ft. below.   The flows from Cathedral are one of many that make their way to the glacier made Tenaya.   The Yosemite Indians actually called it Pywiack, meaning shining rock.  The white man renamed it Tenaya after the Indian chief who fled here from soldiers one spring.

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Sunset on Cathedral Peak

We would enjoy the remainder of our day at Lower Cathedral.  Our Independence Day celebration concluded with fireworks presented by God.  The sky to the west of the lake was most spectacular.  I highly recommend spending the night here.  Bring mosquito head nets and some bug repellant, as it can get a bit buggy.

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Now this is a 4th of July show.

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As the world turned during our peaceful night, the sun would greet us by silhouetting Cathedral. What a glorious place.

Tomorrow, we are determined to put in some mileage.  Tonight, we would sleep soundly in the quiet surroundings of another lake.

Links to a slide show of the hike:

Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

Part II http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7zHwNLPY6A

John says it best:  ….Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 438.


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 4 – Donahue Pass to Tuolumne Meadows

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Lyell Canyon

“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.”
― John Muir

This day should have been called “The Race to Tuolumne”.  It was July 3rd and we were trying to make it to the Tuolumne post office to retrieve our resupply package before it closed at 4. While a stop in Tuolumne Meadows would be nice, we didn’t want to spend the holiday on the 4th waiting around for a package.

Tuolumne Meadows is a great place to hang out, but a zero day around the Cathedral Lakes would be ideal.  Getting our usual late start, we were on the trail and looking forward to the flat paths of Lyell Canyon.  We had to drop around 500 ft. and enjoyed the relative shade of the pines as we followed the river.

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A pregnant doe grazing in the forest

We noticed a large deer grazing in the distance.  It was a pregnant doe who kept one eye on us, but wasn’t very concerned.  These creatures have few predators in Yosemite.

As the terrain flattened out, we picked up the pace and the sun was beaming down.  It was hot as the path meandered in and out of the forest.  To our left, Amelia Earhart Peak loomed over us.  We would see this ridge from another angle as the trail would do a horseshoe after Tuolumne.  Distant rumblings of early afternoon thunderstorms were behind  and to the west of us.  We passed an area where day hikers from Tuolumne had gathered around a nice area on the river.  The number of people increased as we closed in on Tioga Road.

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As we neared Tuolumne, the thunder was more frequent and louder.  A fairly close crack of thunder prompted us to spread out a bit as we picked up the pace.  Occasional large splatters of rain filtered down through the pines.  We crossed a couple of foot-bridges where the Lyell Fork neared the main branch of the Tuolumne River.  We emerged in the parking lot near the lodge and started walking down the road.  It was strange to be in civilization after days on the trail.

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A local worker from the Tuolumne Meadows store graciously gave us a ride to the post office.  As we pulled into the parking area, the scene was chaotic.  Tourists and hikers were like ants swarming around the store.  It took a few minutes to absorb the busy surroundings.  Near the road was a collection of picnic tables where thru-hikers lounged around.  A family sat at one of the tables listening to a PCT hiker expound on his trail life.   It was like storytime at the preschool.  Other hikers were going through their resupply packages.

We would get some refreshments and pick up our packages at the window.  The post office here was a small room with a window on the outside of the store.  The clerk was friendly and politely asked if we could open our packages over where the thru-hikers were.  We obliged, and noticed the grill.  The thought of  cheeseburgers and fries was too much.  We gave in to our cravings and enjoyed the greasy goodness.  Mmmmm.

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Tuolumne Store, Post Office, Grill. (photo credit-tahoewhitney.com)

We made our way to the backpackers camp.  It’s first come first serve and $5 per camper.  We found out how many hikers are moochers and “stealth camp”.  You know the ones who are too cheap to pay the fee.  Bathrooms are at a premium here – only one within walking distance of the camp and it was uber-busy.  Bring a flashlight, no electricity in these rustic restrooms.

At 8:00 p.m. a ranger hosts a campfire in the amphitheater near the backpacker’s camp. Ranger Sally provided an excellent presentation of Yosemite history and we learned a lot about owls.  We really enjoyed hanging out and laughing at other campers who participated in the campfire.

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One of 7 sunrises.

Even though Tuolumne Meadows was much lower in altitude than our previous campsites, it was the coolest night yet.  Temps dipped into the 40’s as we snuggled deep in our sleeping bags.  Tomorrow, we would head up to Cathedral and enjoy some downtime.

For a slideshow of the part 1 of the hike, you can go here:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 3 – Thousand Island Lake to Donahue Pass

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One of many marmots.

First half slideshow of our hike:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

The continuing story of our northbound JMT section hike…..

By day 3, we all had our trail legs.  You know what I mean, the steadiness that you get after a few days of stepping on, around and over stuff.  Backpacks have a way of changing your center of gravity.  Bend over a bit too far to smell those lupines and you’ll see how blue they really are.  The night at Thousand Island Lake was amazing.  The sound of the distant snow-fed waterfall created a peaceful nights’ rest.

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Floating islands at Island Pass.

At Thousand Island, it was a bit difficult to find a private place to do your business.  Sorry for bringing it up, but it’s just one of those things that you have to do.  One could write an entire blog about it, but I’ll spare you the details.  Let’s just say that sometimes you have to venture out to find that secluded spot and hope that the nearest trail is out of view.  It is arguably one of the most challenging yet natural chores in the backcountry.  Mosquitoes present a significant challenge with this, so you may need to apply some repellant where the “sun don’t shine”.  The cathole shovel, tp and antiseptic wipes are essential gear.  However, in a pinch so are a stick, leaves and some handfuls of dirt.  Let’s leave it at that.

We admired the view from our campsite and did the usual tasks.  Filtering water, making breakfast, tearing down camp and repacking those packs.  The last task was usually the biggest pain.  Packing around those bear canisters is like emptying a sardine can and then stuffing them back in.  The climb out of Thousand Island Lake was steady and hot.  The views over our shoulders of Banner Peak were ever-changing and dramatic.  As we rounded a ledge, a fat marmot sat perched on a rock and it looked like a good place to stop.  This is their territory and the scat is enough to prove it.    Pausing occasionally to catch our breath, we would hunch over to shift the weight of the pack and lean on our poles.  It was a funny sight for sure.  Island Pass was like something out of a movie.  Little archipelagos of grass seemingly floated around us.  Birds were abundant here as were so many varieties of flowers.   This area made me regret that we had to cover 10 miles today.

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We descended into an area near Wough Lake and heard rumblings of thunderstorms.  The skies to the north were menacing and I kept an eye on the direction it was moving.  We discussed what our plan would be for inclement weather, especially if caught out in the open.  Things like avoiding meadows, tall trees and shallow caves if lightning is nearby.  Lightning is a strange and dangerous occurrence and you should have a plan whether you are alone or hiking in a group.  In a group, it’s a good idea to spread out so a stray bolt doesn’t take everyone out.   If possible, find a clump of medium-sized trees for shelter.  The tallest and shortest trees are not advisable.   The position for protection is simple.  Sit on your backpack or sleeping pad with your two feet touching the ground or pad.  Don’t lay or stand up if possible.  If in a tent, do the same and don’t touch your tent frame.  Enough of the morbidity, you can do some research on hiking and lightning.  It is “enlightening”.

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We would cross several streams over single logs perched 6-8 feet above rushing streams and creeks.  It requires a sense of balance with a pack and if you are unsteady should consider having a mate take your pack across for you.  Something about a skinny log, sights and sounds of roaring water can unnerve almost anyone.

We passed through a canyon and ran into a large group from Tennessee.  They proceeded to tell us how they were pummeled by hail and rain for 1 1/2 hours.  I must say, God protected our little group because we avoided bad weather all week.  Either way, be prepared.  We started the steady climb up Donahue Pass and a 80% cloud cover made it much more comfortable as we were totally exposed.  The trail is well-defined and there are plenty of boulders to take breaks on.  We ran across a couple of SoBo’s (southbounders) who provided upcoming trail conditions.  We did the same.  It’s very common to briefly stop and chat to discuss weather, trail conditions and experiences.  People who are out here most often share our appreciation for the outdoors and generally are friendly with good attitudes.   While I still scratch my head when we come across solo female hikers, they are safer out here than in their urban neighborhoods.

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We would also run across a PCT thru-hiker who was disappointed that he wasn’t going to be able to walk 30 miles today.  Man, I thought we were doing good at 10 miles per day.

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Reaching the Pass, we would tread across the last remnants of snow fields and cross into Yosemite territory.

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The trail becomes a bit hard to follow on the north side of Donahue as you cross more snow.  Some cairns indicated the general direction.

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We quickly descended into the beginnings of Lyell Canyon.  The landscape, ever-changing was devoid of all but the hardiest of vegetation.  The hiking poles made the descent easier as we snaked our way down.  Forty five minutes later, we reached a wide creek and realized that we would have to ford it.  Two hundred feet downstream was a waterfall and cascade, so no crossing there.  We put on our water shoes and stepped in the cold creek that would become the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne.  Here, underneath the snow of Donahue Pass, the water was a chili 40-45 degrees.

_DSC0112  I crossed without incident, my wife mentioned that her feet were getting numb within 30-45 seconds.  When fording water, it’s best to unbuckle your pack in case you fall since it can absorb water and drag you under.   It took a bit to warm up from the creek as I imagined what it would have been like if there had been a heavy snow year.

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We would cross countless tributaries to this creek as we ventured further in the valley.   Some streams were cutting across the trail on a ledge that was five feet wide.  Rock hopping was common and we definitely got better at it.  We would also cross the creek twice more before finding a campsite.   At the last crossing, we did it in our hiking shoes.  My shoes, while excellent on the trail, were not waterproof.

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We made camp around 100 ft. from the water in a beautiful stand of pines within earshot of the cascades.  The sun was setting quickly as we ended a tough day on the trail.  Dinner was spicy beef stew.  We slept like hibernating bears.  Tomorrow, July 3rd would be a race to Tuolumne Post Office to retrieve our supplies.


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 2 – Rosalie Lake to Thousand Island Lake

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See a YouTube slide show of the first half of the hike here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

The first full day of hiking on the JMT was enjoyable but tough.  On any extended backcountry trip,  mileage is important.  It’s good to have a zero day planned in your itinerary just in case you are coming up short each day.  Our goal was to do 9-10 miles per day.  For a seasoned hiker,  easy enough – right?  Well let me tell you from experience,  pack weight is everything.  If your pack is heavy, your speed and distance drop.  Anyhow, I tend to err on the side of caution and bring a few extra things .  Bottom line is you will determine what you absolutely need because the extra weight will slow you down.

We would have a good breakfast of eggs and bacon before leaving Rosalie Lake. My brother would fish a bit and pull in a couple of rainbow trout.  As would be the norm for our week, we would break camp late and hit the trail by midmorning.  No need to rush out here, you just hike until you want to stop.  Yesterday’s climb of 1,800 ft  brought us up to our current altitude of 9,400.  Today, we would have a handful of SUDS (senseless ups/downs before going back up to around 10,000.

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There is water everywhere in this section of the JMT in July.  Brooks, streams, creeks, rivers, ponds, tarns, lakes – omigosh.  Even with minimum snow this year, this area has plenty in early summer. We would pass Shadow Lake,  which appeared to be approx. 1,000 meters  long and 300-400 m wide.  The views were really beginning to open up now.  As we passed to the south and west of Shadow Lake, we came upon Shadow Creek which we would follow for a few miles.  Its’ cascades were fast and amazing.  Something about fast-moving water just leaves you in awe.  The noise and the way the current flows around rocks and down the gullies is so cool.  Around every turn was another beautiful view.  We would see Banner Peak and Mt Ritter in the distance, both majestic in their own accord.

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We would leave the cascades of Shadow Creek and began a steady 1,400 foot climb into a canyon that seemed to have a dead-end.  The boulders and scree were large as we picked our way to the top of the canyon.  The wind really picked up and was gusting 20-30mph. It was starting to sprinkle a bit.  Nearing lunchtime, we found a tarn with a small stand of trees that offered some shelter.  Garnet Lake was below and in the distance, there were numerous dark cumulus clouds.  We need to keep an eye on those clouds.  One thing I’ve learned is to avoid peaks and passes during mid-day storms.  In the Sierras, summer afternoon thunderstorms are common, especially when it has been hot.  The heat wave that hit the Sierras created a recipe for strong storms.  We would have our lunch amidst the little trees while the wind buffeted us as we held our belongings.  We broke out the rain gear as intermittent sprinkles were pelting us.  Below on Garnet Lake, you could see whitecaps blowing across the lake.  There was some serious wind down there.

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The wind calmed a bit as we got back on the trail and descended to the lake.  We met a rider and his mule who said that his animal would not cross the log bridge across the Garnet Lake Outlet.  Another southbound hiker said earlier the winds around the lake were gusting between 40-50 mph.  Well, that will take your toupee’ off.  Filtering some water, we started a hot climb out of Garnet and topped out around 10,400 ft.  The afternoon sun and heat really saps the energy.  We prayed for some cloud cover and were rewarded with a nice forest covering before we descended to Ruby Lake. Quite a few nice campsites around this little lake, but we wanted to go a bit farther.  We use this Katadyn water filter, it is fantastic: Katadyn Vario Multi Flow Water Microfilter

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We were reaching the end of our hiking day as we neared Emerald Lake.  It was an awesome lake, but camping was prohibited between here and Thousand Island Lake to the northwest.  I scouted out some sites nearby, not realizing that it was still a no camping zone.  Dropping my pack at the top of a granite outcropping, I went back a few hundred yards to tell my wife and brother about the potential sites.  Another southbounder reminded them about the no-camping zones around these lakes.  Drat, I had found a nice spot with killer views.  Oh well, there is a side trail on the north side of Thousand Island, we will go there.  As I returned to retrieve my pack, I noticed a big fat marmot sniffing my pack.  Still a hundred yards away, I yelled but it ignored me.  For some reason I thought about the gophers in Caddyshack.  I started running up the granite slope and picked up a few rocks which I threw at the vermin.  He trotted off, fussing at me.  “Au revoir gopher”.

Fortunately, I made it to my pack before it was pillaged.  Lesson learned, don’t leave your pack alone for long – especially if there’s food in it.   The lake below was the best one yet.  We made our way west on a side trail and began looking for a site.  You have to hike another half mile or so and if you get there late, most of the good sites have been taken.  We did find a granite slab about 100 ft. from the lake and it was stellar.  If you hike the JMT, I highly recommend camping around Thousand Island Lake.  The mosquitoes were bad, but ourheadnets and long sleeves kept them at bay.  I imagine that there are less bloodsuckers in late Aug/early September.  To cut down on mosquitoes, we treated our stuff with Permethrin: Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray, 24-Ounce

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We were bushed and actually ate dinner in our tents.  The cool night air wafted through our tents.  Sleep would come quickly…..

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John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 1 – Devils Postpile to Rosalie Lake

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Link to YouTube slideshow:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

If you’ve ever camped near rushing water you may understand that it’s like taking a sleeping pill.   In the Sierras near Mammoth, the San Joaquin River is small as rivers go, but grows as it makes its way west.   It is born at Thousand Island Lake where we would camp on day 2.   As the San Joaquin descends into Devils Postpile, the cascades provide some character to the little river branch before it provides vital nourishment to the California Central Valley.

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We were awakened by the dawn light as it filtered through the trees in the campground.  Breakfast would be scrambled eggs and bacon.  Food is a priority for me in the backcountry.  I found out about these crystallized eggs and pre-cooked bacon from Backpackers magazine.  The eggs are real, in powdered form and when mixed with water – come to life when heat is applied.  These aren’t the old-school powdered eggs, they are the real deal.   The bacon is real and just reheated.  Put two checks in the protein box for today.   Only thing missing was toast, but that’s ok.  We would have to get our carbs from the pita bread and snack bars.

We packed up our site and headed toward the Devils Postpile Monument less than a half mile up the trail.  Afterward, we would hit the JMT and head north.  We would be one of the odd 10% of JMT hikers that go north.  It just worked out that way mainly for logistics.   Devils Postpile is an amazing display of a geologic formation of lava that cooled in long geometric columns.  Definitely worth a side visit.  We would run into a family that was hiking the JMT from north to south and they proceeded to tell us about the onslaught of mosquitos.  A couple of the younger women had 50 or 60 bites – on their arms.  Hmmm, either bug repellant wasn’t applied, or these are mosquitos from Hades.  They also told us how a bear tore into their non-food bags that were hanging from trees in Lyell Canyon.   I wasn’t fazed by these tales of woe, thanked them for the info and looked forward to meeting the challenge (and our dementors) head on.

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We made our way up the hill several hundred yards before I realized we were going south.  Oops, the morning sun was on my left – that’s not right.  I flipped my map around, apologized and asked everyone if they were warmed up yet.  I felt like Dr Lazarus in the movie Galaxy Quest, when he was reading his tricorder thingy backwards.    We found the JMT junction and crossed the San Joaquin on a nice footbridge.  My brother and I brought our DSLR cameras on this trip, the extra 2 pounds worth it since we knew about the vistas that lay ahead.  The trail wasted no time increasing elevation as we left the river and the mid-morning heat was on.  We peeled off a layer and unzipped the legs off our pants.  A bit of sunscreen and bug repellant and we were on our way.  Much of this area was devastated by a freak windstorm last year and required much trail maintenance to clear the blow-downs.   I was impressed at the amount of work done to restore the trail.  Kudos to the Forest Service employees and their army of volunteers.

Our packs were heavy with our full complement of food.  We would carry 2 liters of water and a spare .75 liter bottle.  Prior to hitting the trail, we would tank up – drinking as much as was comfortable.  Hydration is everything when you hike, especially when your body is working hard at altitude with a heavy load.   Pulling my Tom Harrison map out, I would occasionally check our position and compare the various landmarks.  Eventually, the JMT and PCT split and we would go left to follow the JMT toward a land of lakes.

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The trail was fairly steep at 400-500 ft per mile and came with an array of SUDS (senseless up-downs).  In a hikers’ mind, you should go up or down, not both.   We could hear the cascades of the river below and see waterfalls in the distance.   We cinched the shoulder harnesses and load balancers to bring the packs closer to our shoulders as the incline seemed relentless.   With a full pack, comfort is not really an option.  You shift the load from hips to shoulders and move the pain points around.  General rule is uphill-bring the load in close to your shoulders, downhill-shift it to your hips.  Always a good idea to play around with waist-shoulder-sternum-load balancer straps as you hike.  All good quality backpacks have those adjustments.  It takes practice to adjust those while holding hiking poles, sipping water and keeping your eye on the trail.

As the GPS altimeter continued to click up, I glanced again at the maps.  The Harrison maps have great detail, but man it was hard to make out those contour lines.  As we approached 10,000 ft later in the day, we realized that we should look for a camp near a water source.  That wouldn’t be too hard since there was water everywhere.  I knew enough to avoid ponds since their still waters are just breeding grounds for mosquitoes.  I had cut out select pages of the John Muir Trail: The essential guide to hiking America’s most famous trail, which listed elevation profiles and campsite coördinates along the JMT.  It is an invaluable guide and highly recommended.

The guide recommended an area near the Rosalie Lake outlet and it was spot on.  There was evidence of a previous camp close by a stream.  Too bad we couldn’t make use of the fire ring since there is a moratorium on campfires in the Inyo National Forest.

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The campsite was full of those big black carpenter ants.  They are pretty harmless from what I remember unless you get close to their colony.  They are persistent and get into everything that isn’t sealed up.  We learned to co-exist with these critters.  One thing, you can’t be afraid of bugs in the backcountry.  In the Sierras, most are harmless and bug repellant with 33% Deet works ok.  Be careful with the 100% Deet, it melts most plastics.  Another thing worth mentioning is that prior to our trip I sprayed our outer garments with Permethrin.  I’ve used this on the A.T. and it works great as most bugs will bounce off your clothes-especially ticks.  It also is effective for up to six washings.  It can be applied to your tent or tarp too.

Dinner was a Mountain Home Chicken & Mashed Potatoes.  It’s a good one, four stars.  We would wind down our day chatting about how hard the first day was.  I told everyone how well they did on the trail and that it would eventually get easier.  It didn’t get easier until the last day…

The mosquitos were definitely in charge here, but our headnets and long sleeves/pants kept them at bay.  As the night cooled and the breeze picked up, their numbers diminished.  The heat of the day was gone and the coolness of Rosalie Lake wafted over our campsite.  Temps would drop into the low 50’s at 9,500 ft.  The lake outlet was a babbling brook which made it so easy to sleep.  If at all possible, seek out those streams, they are nature’s sleep machine.

Late at night, we would see flashes of light through our tent.  Why do strange things happen late at night?  I was concerned about a forest fire, so I unzipped the tent to watch the sky.  To the south – southeast, it appeared to be fireworks.  It was only June 30th, but some town must have gotten an early start.  Maybe there was something going on in Mammoth Lakes.

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Gear we recommend:

shoes/boots –Five Ten Men’s Camp Four Hiking Shoe

hiking pants – Columbia Men’s Silver Ridge Cargo Short

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 0 – Devils Postpile

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The big day was here.  Anyone who has ever hiked in the Sierras can tell you the allure of these mountains.  The vistas are like fuel for the soul.  This trip was planned about six months ago.  We decided to do a south-north section hike of the JMT starting in the Mammoth Lakes area and ending up in Yosemite Valley.  90% of hikers do the north-south route and finish at Mt. Whitney.  While that fourteener is on the list, this trip was meant to enjoy a seven-day trek up the legendary trail.

My friend obtained the permit through the recreation.gov website ahead of time.  He couldn’t make it, but listed me as an alternate group leader which made picking up the permit easier.  I will not go into detail, but if you don’t need to climb Whitney or Half Dome, obtaining the permit is very easy online.  Overall, the fee for four people online was $26, which included a processing fee.  At the Wilderness Centers or ranger stations, it is around $5 per person.  There is no guarantee of trail availability for walk-ins, so plan accordingly.

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Campsite at Devils Postpile.

Since my friend could not make it, I asked my trusty hiking partner – aka my wife to go.  She reluctantly said yes!  We also asked my older brother who said that it was on his bucket list.  Early morning, June 29th we left suburban San Diego heading toward Mammoth Lakes.  Today was a hot one, with forecasts putting the temps between 100-110 degrees in the Owens Valley area.  Mammoth was projected to be in the 90’s. Whew!

We picked up our permit at the Mammoth Visitor Center and spoiled ourselves with a burger at a local tourist trap before heading to Mammoth Lakes Inn to catch the Reds Meadow Shuttle.  The shuttle was $7 and would drop us at our choice of campgrounds.  We chose to stay at Devils PostPile Campground.  At $14, it was a good bargain and had nice sites located close to the San Joaquin River.   We pitched our tents and settled in for a leisurely night before our first hiking day.  The camp has bathrooms, potable water, picnic tables and fire rings.  This was luxury camping to us compared to the rest of the week.  You can tent or RV camp.

We would try out our first dehydrated dinner at the camp.  It was an Alpineaire Black Bart Chili.  Yummm.  We hung out by the river, my brother trying his hand at fly fishing.  Discussing tomorrow’s itinerary, we would rest well with the sound of the cascading San Joaquin River 100 ft. away.

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Sun setting on the small San Joaquin River.

Temps are forecast to be in the 80’s tomorrow.  Hopefully, as we climb out the temps will drop between 3-5 degrees for each 1,000 ft.  Oh well, at least there is plenty of water up here.

Next:  Section Hike of the JMT – Day 1


Planning for a Section Hike of the John Muir Trail

jmt-logo3.5x3.5-11-08-07After much preparation, our section hike of the JMT commenced.  Our plan was to do a 60+ mile section from south-north.  We would start around Devils Postpile and finish in Yosemite Valley.  There are a lot of logistics that go into an extended backcountry trip.  From clothing, food, transportation – the options are numerous.

How much will it cost?  It will vary widely depending on your choices for transportation, gear and food.  Don’t go cheap on essential hiking gear.  You get what you pay for.  The $25 tent is not a good idea for a High Sierra backcountry trip.

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It started with choosing a time of year to do it.  In the Sierras, the previous winter has a lot of impact on trail conditions.  This year was a low snow year, so the streams were not very high.  Since there was less snow, that usually means less standing water so mosquitos should not be as bad.  Well, that’s debatable.  To some, any mosquitos are bad.  Ensure that you don’t have problems fording streams or walking across logs over rushing water.  Late June/early July worked for us.  I hear late August/early September is a good time.

Next choice was the distance to hike.  This is where you need to know what your limits are.  Can you hike 8-10 miles per day with a full pack at high altitude in 80 degree temps?  I can tell you as an avid day hiker, there is a lot of difference between hiking 10 miles with a daypack and with a 40 lb. pack.  It’s not pleasant to do a forced march just to make your mileage.

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Clothing was another choice.  What to wear?  Best advice I can give is to check blogs and user groups to see what others are doing.  Yahoo has a great JMT user group with relevant info.  Due to a forecast of high temps, we would take synthetic short and long sleeve shirts, convertible pants and rain/wind jackets.  Still, conditions in the Sierras vary widely, so an extra layer or two is a good idea.  Those light weight hiking shoes may not provide enough support on a multi-day hike with a full pack.  Test it out first.

Food was next.  Dehydrated meals are the easiest and they’ve come a long way.  Test some out ahead of time and read the reviews for each.  There is some amazing innovation in the area of crystallized eggs and pre-cooked bacon.  Ensure they you have plenty of snacks like energy bars, trail mix, beef sticks and fruits like apples.  My wife found healthy alternatives in the form of grass fed beef sticks and even some gluten free snacks.  It’s amazing how many calories you can burn in 6-8 hours of hiking, so do the math.  Bear canisters are mandatory in most areas on the JMT, so plan to rent or bring your own.

Transportation.  Since we were doing a section hike, we chose to leave our car in Mammoth Lakes, catch a shuttle to the trail and for the return leg, catch public transportation (YARTS) back to Mammoth.  It ended up working out great.  Have a backup plan in case you miss your ride.

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Research and planning was everything on this trip which helped make it successful.  I learned so much reading others’ blogs and experiences.

NEXT:  John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 0

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle


Yosemite in the Spring – Part III

Lower Yosemite Falls

Memorial Day weekend 2012 got off to a rough start for those in Yosemite.  A spring storm was in the forecast with snow above 5,000 ft. and temps dropping below freezing in the valley at night.  The original plan for us was to hike Yosemite Falls on Friday and leave Saturday.  My friends (the smart ones) decided to pack it up and head south after lunch.  I had other plans and wanted to get another hike in.  The thought of hiking in the snow alone was exciting.  Having arrived in the valley a few days prior, I got my first glances of Yosemite Falls.  Fed entirely by snowmelt, the dual falls were around their peak flow.

Clouds hugging Half Dome.

In the valley, temps were in the low 50s, perfect for hiking.  I packed enough food, snacks for an overnighter and hit the trail.  Today, I would give my new SPOT GPS messenger a try and do this one solo.  This is a well-traveled trail and I expected to run across a lot of people.

In the clouds on Yosemite Falls Trail.

The trail starts out fairly mild and changes to a moderate climb with about 60 short, steep switchbacks from the valley base of 4,000 ft.   Not much of a view at this level as the tree cover was about 90%.   My pace on the trail is slow and steady.  It usually helps to have my hiking partner (and love of my life) setting the pace for me.  Today, I would take more breaks and focused on making it to the top.  Passing 5,000 ft. the air quickly got colder and the wind picked up.  Within 30 minutes, the occasional flurry drifted through the trees.  Views of the valley below and Sentinel became more frequent.

Lupines near a ledge on the trail.

The flurries turned to small ice pellets and I broke out the jacket.  For some reason, I doubted the distance on the trail marker.  It seems like when you have to pick your way around rocks it adds another 10-20% to the length of a hike.  Another thing I noticed was how unprepared people are on the trail.  Many of them were in shorts, t-shirts with sandals or walking shoes.  Most didn’t carry enough water or were prepared for the snow that was now coming down at a steady pace.  I’m at the other end of the spectrum.  A daypack with almost a gallon of water, food, cold/wet weather gear, 1st aid kit, survival kit – I know overkill, but always prepared – never a Boy Scout.  Oh well, one day it will come in handy.  Actually, the heavier day pack is part preparation for the upcoming long distance hike.

The light snow continued as I broke out of the woods near the falls.  A deer near a fallen log, ignored me until I got within 20 ft. or so and magically disappeared.  It was quiet up here and noticed two other hikers making their way up to Yosemite Point.  The creek that supplied the falls was steadily flowing; crossing the bridge it would suddenly end into the abyss that makes Yosemite Falls.  I decided to continue another 8/10 mile to Yosemite Point.  The trail was very wet and hard to make out at times as it crossed the massive granite slabs.  Eventually, I would enter a section of a small forest and the snow was quietly drifting down through the pines.  A Stellar Jay was playing hide and seek with me as I made my way through the trees.  They seem to be comfortable around people, probably because of the food.  A spider web was dusted in snow as the peacefulness enveloped me.  Solo hiking in this area is simply cool.  Temps up here dropped about 16-18 degrees and it was a nice 34 degrees.

Spider web dusted with snow

Coming out of the woods, the sky opened up and the clouds were partially covering the valley.  3,000 ft. below, the complex of Yosemite Village seemed to sprawl over the lush green valley floor as the Merced River wound its way west.  I got up to the railing which was on the precipice hoping for a view of the falls, but was not able to from this angle. Venturing out, I took advantage of my camera remote and snapped a few silly shots.

Jumping Johnny

After hanging out for a while, I bundled up and started my way down.  The snow was starting to come down at a steady pace and changed into large, fluffy flakes.  By the time I reached the bridge at Yosemite Creek, it had a good dusting.  The trail was harder due to the wet, slippery granite chunks.  My 5-10 shoes clung to the wet rock like glue – these things are amazing.  They definitely are not waterproof, but are great for scrambling over wet rocks and scree.  My hiking poles were priceless too, helping me to “spider” down the trail.  Earlier, once the snow started, many hikers turned around and now the trail was empty.

Take your pick.

Descending, the snow would continue. Reaching 4,500 ft it changed over to a light rain.  I was glad, not wanting to try and make it out of the park on snowy roads.  Wanting to get home and see my wife, I started home –  a 7-8 hr. drive ahead of me.  I know, after hiking 11 miles, making a long drive is no fun.  Nothing a Red Bull or two couldn’t fix.  Making my way to San Diego County, I would cut left at Bakersfield and head east through the desert to avoid the LA traffic.  As dusk fell on Hwy 58, I found myself passing through a strong group of storm cells and the rain came down in torrents.  I can’t remember the last time seeing it rain this hard in California, but the Lord took care of me as I scooted through and went by Mojave.  The rest of the trip was uneventful and the energy drink did its job.

Yosemite Creek bridge

If you were to ask me which season is best in Yosemite, I would have to say all of them.  Each is different, all of them displaying the grandeur of a beautiful landscape.  If you do go to see the waterfalls in the spring, I would recommend between May 15-30, when they are at the full Monty.

Snow coming down near Yosemite Point.


Yosemite In The Spring – Part II

If you visit Yosemite enough, you learn where to go to escape the crowds.  There is certainly plenty to see and do in the valley for all ages.  For a change, head to the Tioga Road.   In the early spring, especially the afternoon, there are so many places with few people.   For sightseeing and some walkabouts, Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake and the Tuolumne Meadow combo makes for a good itinerary.  Our crew would take a break from hiking today and take in some of the sites.

Tenaya Lake from Olmstead Point

Located about 1 hr 15 min. north of the valley on Hwy 120, these sites offer cooler temps, spectacular views and a decent chance to view wildlife.  Our first stop at Olmsted Point was right around noon.  Most people hang out in the parking area where views of Half Dome and Clouds Rest make great post cards.  Few head down the path to the point where you can climb the granite slab and get the full monty.  At approximately 8,200 ft. the breeze is often stiff here, but one can take refuge behind some massive boulders and have a snack .  The marmots were present today and more than willing to steal your food if you ventured away.  They are always eating and they are some of the fattest creatures in Yosemite.  After scampering over the rocks, we looked to the east and saw our next destination – Tenaya Lake.

Tenaya Lake

Another 5-10 minutes and we stopped on the west side of Tenaya Lake and started walking along the shoreline.  The water level is fairly high due to recent snowmelt and is crystal clear.  Picnic tables, located right next to the water and the slabs make for great sunbathing spots.  At 50 deg on this late May day, it was a bit cool for that.  I’m not sure how fishing is on Tenaya, and I didn’t see any trout today.  Once again, the photo opportunities are many.  A couple of us mentioned how great a cabin would be on these shores.  I appreciated the pristine tree-lined banks and could have taken a nap right then.  The water can have a calming effect on you.

Tuolumne River and Cathedral Peak

The last stop was probably my favorite.  Tuolumne Meadows is an almost magical place.  As you leave your car and start walking down the rutted dirt road, the gophers pop up all around you.  They are curious and will often sneak glances from behind the boulders.  The streams and creeks that feed the Tuolumne River are abundant and criss -cross the meadow before joining their bigger brother.  As you cross the lively river, you can follow its slowly winding bank as it makes it way west.  Only 4-5 months ago, this was a mostly frozen body of water and seemed asleep.

Deer near Tuolumne River

We would make our way up to Soda Springs where gas bubbles were being released in small pools near the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail.   A collection of cabins, some belonging to the Sierra Club were not yet open for the season.  We sat around on chairs made of stumps and just took it all in.  So peaceful, all you could hear was the breeze through the pines  and the stellar jays as they skirted around us.   The herd of deer seemed to casually graze as we watched and made our way back down the trail.  Yeah, Tuolumne Meadows is definitely one of my favorite places to chill.

We are being watched….


Yosemite In The Spring – Part I

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Vernal Falls, May 2012

When my friend asked me to go camping in Yosemite this spring, it took about two seconds to say yes.  Each season in this place promises to provide a different perspective on the ever-changing landscape.  This was an opportunity to hang out with him and his family and do a few day hikes in the valley.  With the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, the campsites were full.  These things fill up quickly with all variety of campers.  From ultralight tents like mine, to tent-condos and vintage RVs, you will see them all.  Not one to enjoy being around throngs of people, I found the car camping experience in the Upper Pines Campground to be very decent.  Most people are good neighbors and obey the multitude of rules.  Other than the 0730 trash trucks, it was fairly peaceful.

Merced River & Vernal Falls

Pollen is abundant in the valley and the conifers were producing it in vast amounts.  Hay fever sufferers, beware – get your shots and/or bring your antihistamines with you.  Diligence with your food and toiletries is required while camping here as the vermin are quite adept at the snatch and grab, especially the ravens and squirrels.  My friends watched as a squirrel disappeared under a neighbors truck with the doors open;  the rascal emerged with food in a matter of seconds.  He went right for the boxed graham crackers, found the bag, eaten through the box and extracted his morsels before they knew what hit them.  I love animals, but thought back to what I would have done as a kid in this campground.  A sling shot would have been awesome.

At night, the muted roar of the Merced River beckoned me as I drifted off to sleep that first night.  Soon, I would venture out with my friends on a trek to Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail.  Having done this cardio extravaganza in the fall of 2010, I was excited to see the volume of water during the spring snow melt.  I read in the Backpackers magazine that 90% of hikers hike only 10% of the trails in Yosemite.  Well, I think that 99% of the visitors to Yosemite hang out in the valley and then go to Vernal Falls.  Crowds aside, the steady climb up to Vernal is rewarded with the drenching mist probably similar to Niagara.  The granite steps would give a stair-master competition.  The one thing that kept me going was the humility of having an old person pass me up on the steps.  At the top, the volume of water is near flood stage compared to the previous fall flow that I witnessed.

Nevada Falls

The trail continued up to Nevada where you cross the Merced and I was in awe of the speed of the water as it rushed through a shallow granite track into a 90 degree curve.  The sheer power of the current is amazing.  You get a respite from the incline and then start a steep ascent over the manmade steps.   This section of the trail is a testament to the trail builders over the years.  The huge slabs are cut and fit together like a puzzle.

Looking west from Nevada Falls.

Nevada Falls was busy, but there was plenty of room to spread out.  This cascade seems even more powerful than Vernal because the water is funneled through a crevice that is maybe 6-8 ft. across.   The roar and subsequent plunge is impressive.  Glacier Point fills the western vista and hawks lazily glided around the nearby Liberty Cap.  Even with all the people, it was peaceful to lay back and take it all in.

Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail

The walk down the John Muir Trail is always a treat.  As you progress down, you get quick showers from above and obtain postcard views of Half Dome, Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls.   This is a shared trail and we encountered a couple of riders on a mule and quarter horse.  It can get slippery as the sand covered rocks keep you alert as you try to prevent rolling your ankles.  We returned via the JMT to the Mist Trail down to the valley floor.

At just under 7 miles, this loop is a good workout, full of killer views.  Due to the crowds in the spring, I would recommend a late start – like after 1 or 2 in the afternoon.   The risk with an afternoon hike is the occasional thunderstorm. Most  people start up around 0900.  Half Dome bound hikers pass by this way and it’s worth the stop.

Wow

God certainly knew what he was doing when he created this place.  It’s best enjoyed with family and friends.


Yosemite in the Fall Part IV: The Mist Trail

Waterfalls have a special allure to us.  Not sure why, maybe it’s just the sheer display of power.  During this time of year in Yosemite, the volume of water is fairly low.  Still, recent rains provided life to Yosemite Falls, so there was hope that Vernal and Nevada would put on a show for us.

This hike started on the valley floor as we parked in the Day Use area and walked the relatively flat couple of miles to the Mist Trail.  We would pass the campgrounds where people were just waking up and cooking their breakfast.  The smell of bacon wafted on the air as we passed by.  I imagined a tall stack of pancakes with maple syrup and, oh I’m sorry this is a blog about hiking not food.  Hiking just makes me hungry.

Early morning is the best time to start a hike, it is a different experience.  The first part of the trail was asphalt and you got the feeling that you were in a municipal park somewhere.   It gradually became a steady incline.  You could hear the Merced River and occasionally get a peek at it as you make your way up.  We crossed a footbridge with our first good view of the river as it made its way down the canyon.  The sound of the water rushing over boulders was getting louder the closer we came to the falls.  The path became less structured and the effects of erosion were evident.  The sound intensity of the falls gradually increased as did the incline on the trail.

Soon, we could see slabs of rock carved out that was to be our path to the top.  It was like the stair-stepper from hell.  Often, you were almost crawling to get to the next slab.  The closer you got, the wetter the rocks were.  It was exciting and a bit disconcerting if you thought about what would happen if you would trip.  We paused to take some pics, now noticing the mist from the falls.  I imagine that at full flow, you would be drenched as you made your way through here.  The last set of steps would be a narrow path cut out of the cliff with a railing to hold on to.

Looking down the "steps" near Vernal Falls.

The area at the top of Vernal Falls has railings that will allow you to get within a few feet of the falls.  The precipitous drop looked radical.  Within a year, several more people would die here – being swept over the falls as they foolishly climbed over the railing.   The water actually wasn’t that deep near the falls, but boy was it swift.  We would have our lunch here as the ground squirrels bravely made their way to your feet for the crumbs.  Ever the mischievous one, I threw a few breadcrumbs at Mary’s feet to see how close they would get.

After lunch, we started making our way to Nevada Falls.  Most people would turn around here and head down.  We ran into a couple and the man asked us if we had something to fix his shoe.  I looked at his shoe, the bottom was flopping around like a beaver’s tail.  After laughing at his predicament, I gave him some rope and he secured the sole.  They took some souvenir pics with us and we continued up.  On the way up, we were passed by a group of young German guys.  The hike through the forest was peaceful with the leaves changing, the leaves bright green,yellow and orange.

Between Vernal and Nevada Falls in October.

We came to an opening and the falls popped into view.  Thinking that we were close, we noticed that the top of the falls were actually a couple of hundred feet higher.  The path there was another crawl over even steeper steps that required a break every 3-4 minutes.  Well, at least there were steps.

Nevada Falls

The top of Nevada Falls really opens up like one huge slab of granite with a river running through it.  There was a stiff breeze that would take your hat off.  The sound of the falls was intense, like mega white noise.  You had to yell to hear each other.

We spent some time checking out the area which we had to ourselves.  So the trick is get on the trail late in the day, by early noon most of the people were gone.  Of course in the summer with thunderstorms around the afternoon, this wouldn’t be a good plan.  We would cross the Merced River over a footbridge.  It took a little while to see where the trail picked up, but soon the John Muir Trail came into view.  It was a nice descent down to the valley floor.  A good 8 miles from where we parked and 1,900 ft. of elevation gain.  This combo is a good cardio workout with some excellent scenery.  But hey, where in Yosemite is the scenery not excellent?

Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap as seen from the John Muir Trail.

This hike would be the last on this trip to Yosemite.  Our goal is to be up here at least once during each of the four seasons.  The Sierras take on a different character during each.  Can you imagine snowshoeing to Sentinel Rock at night during a full moon?  I can!  Enjoy life friends, God has blessed you more than you could imagine.  Get out and see what He has created.


Yosemite in the Fall Part III: The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Oct 2010. J.Lowe

Similar view of Hetch Hetchy Valley from Surprise Pt. before the dam. Circa 1910, J.N. LeConte

The Hetch Hetchy Valley has been called a miniature version of Yosemite Valley.   That is until the Tuolumne River was blocked by the O’Shaughnessy Dam starting in 1915.     The battle between the city of San Francisco and the preservationists of the day – including John Muir would eventually be decided in part due to the great San Francisco earthquake. The rest was political.  The dam was actually completed in 1923 at a cost of 68 lives and would forever change the pristine landscape of this area.  Today, we would trek to the northern boundaries of the park to see if we could imagine what this area looked like before the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was created.  After you’ve hiked in the backcountry for any length of time, you find yourselves seeking the path less traveled.  To us, it’s worth driving the extra 30 or 40 miles to get away from the tourists.

To get to Hetch Hetchy, you must pass through an area named Mather that draws eccentric (hippies) people who camp and who knows what else.  The road is a maze with no clear directions and you get the sense that Janice Joplin is in one of the tents around here.  A little farther up, it became apparent that the reservoir is now under the protection of Homeland Security with controlled access.    We would obtain our day pass at the ranger station and wind our way down to the dam over a narrow mountain road  to the dam.  Nearby is a sign to the Poopenaut Valley Trail which descends to the Tuolumne River.  Who comes up with these names? Indians?  I would have died laughing if it was named Poopenutter.

The hike starts on the dam  where you have nice views of the reservoir and spillway below.  There are plaques that explain the history of the dam and all that blah blah tourist stuff.  The road on the dam continues into an old train tunnel which is lit by dim light bulbs every 100 ft. or so.  Due to the recent rains, or maybe it just leaks a lot, there was standing water and we puddle jumped our way through it.  We could see the light at the end of the tunnel, no longer was it a cliche’.  🙂

Into the tunnel....

The path out of the tunnel is fairly level  and wide with a steep drop into the reservoir.  We came upon some illegal crops growing off the path and took some pics.  Well, to us they looked like some type of cannabis, but were probably some variety of hemp.  It made for a good photo op to a couple of goobers like us.  Other flora included manzanita, the odd red-barked bush, monkey flower and  lupine. As the trail wound its way around we noticed that there were many streams that flowed over and under the trail into the reservoir.

Hemp? Cannabis? You decide

Parts of the trail passed over large slabs of granite and descended into areas of tall grasses and woods.  We stumbled upon our first mule deer of the day who watched us from a distance before darting into the cover.  We would take our lunch break on a rocky outcropping overlooking the water.  Compared to the Tioga Road, it was noticeably warmer in the Hetch-Hetchy.   The relatively lower altitudes and mostly sunny day reflecting off the granite made it almost hot.  We crossed an area that would normally be a steady, wide creek but the late season made it a series of small streams.  The water was cold and gurgled as it passed underground.

Looking out on the Hetch Hetchy.

As we neared the 1400 ft. Wapama Falls, we could hear it before we saw it.  Alas, we rounded a corner and saw it from about 1/4 mile away.  Up ahead we saw a guy taking a lunch break and the trail was blocked with yellow police ribbon.  A sign indicated that the footbridge had been swept away due to the recent heavy rains and snow melt.  We hesitated bypassing the sign but prudence dictated otherwise.  Usually park rangers close trails when an incident has occurred or the hazard is extreme.    The bridge was repaired and eight months later in June 2011, two hikers were swept to their deaths when they tried to cross the Wapama Falls bridges after a storm.  Water, even when shallow has the ability to sweep you off your feet.  Today, we would just have to admire the falls from a distance.

Wapama Falls

Wapama Falls bridges

This would be a short day hike for us, but it left us longing to come back here another time.  Perhaps, next time we will make it to Rancheria Falls, a 13 mile trip.


Yosemite in the Fall Part II: Land of Diversity

Tenaya Lake

What do you think of when “diversity” comes to mind?  Well, for me California and it’s not because of the people.  This blog isn’t a social commentary you know.  The real diversity here presents itself in the contrast of the landscape.  From the great Pacific Ocean to the Sierras, to the Mojave Desert.  The Golden State is truly a treasure.   Day two in Yosemite would take us a few miles north of the valley to an area less traveled during the fall.  After the previous days’ hike, my knee reminded me how important it was.  While hiking uphill is physically difficult – (cardio wise), going down can be brutal on the knees.  Today, we would head up to  the Tioga Road and stroll around.  Not a “zero” day of hiking, but close.

The Tuolumne Grove of Sequoias is a collection of approximately two dozen of the gentle giants on the western end of the Tioga Road near Crane Flat.  There are actually three sequoia groves in Yosemite, this one is the easiest to see.  These specimens usually grow at specific altitudes between 6,000-7,000 ft.  They are the largest living things on earth.  The coastal redwoods in California are taller, but the sequoias are more massive.    We just had to see the Dead Giant which was over 29 feet wide at the base with a tunnel that was cut through it in 1878.

"Dead Giant" in Tuolumne Grove of Sequoias

I didn’t realize until we started our walk to the grove that we would descend about 500 ft.  It was slow going, my knee testing my pain tolerance.  Man, would I be able to make it through the week with this knee?  I was determined to finish this one and hit the drugstore in Oakhurst for a remedy tonight.  Once we leveled out, the grove was peaceful and quiet.  The only sounds were the occasional woodpeckers.   Mary found one of the largest cones I ever saw.  Imagine this thing falling on your head from over 150 ft.

Now that's one big pine cone

The walk uphill was uneventful, the pain less – nothing a few motrin couldn’t deal with.  We had a picnic in the parking area and watched people come and go.  Most of the tourists were foreigners.  Funny how they were drawn to this awesome place too. I’ve since discovered that the adventurous Europeans love the American back country.  Where else can you “freely” roam?

We decided to head east on SR120, the Tioga Road.  The Park Service would be closing this road next week in preparation for winter. We expected to find crowds along the way, but were pleasantly surprised to run across no more than a few cars the rest of the day.  Olmstead Point with its wide open views was simply amazing.  Clouds Rest, was appropriately named as passing clouds brushed its’ summit.   Continuing to head east, we came up on a nearly vacant Tenaya Lake.  We parked at the east end to see if we could navigate around the lake and find a trail.  After a half mile or so,  we discovered the recent rains had swamped most of the shore.

Having a snack on a swamped picnic table.

Half Dome from Olmstead Pt.

 

The only sounds were the wind blowing through the conifers and the waves lapping the shore.  Driving to the west end of Tenaya, we made our way along the shore, hopping from slab to slab of granite, over boulders and through the bogs.  Hoping that we could reach the south shore, we were disappointed to find an area that would normally be accessible, under 2 feet of water.  The trail was in sight, but just out of reach.  It was in the 40’s and not wanting to get wet, we settled on exploring the shoreline.

On the shore of Tenaya Lake

All in all, a trip to Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Grove  in the fall are quiet getaways and decent places to picnic.  No crowds and a good place to explore.


Yosemite in the Fall Part I: A Day Hiker’s Dream

Near Nevada Falls

Yosemite is one of those places that should be on your bucket list.  Might as well add Yellowstone too.   This would be our first trip to the Sierras with a week full of day hikes.  The previous year we went to Sequoia National Park for a few days.   This area was unlike any other and we were in awe of the mammoth trees.

The trip up from San Diego through the Central Valley revealed one of the breadbaskets of this state.   The rich, flat land on the western side of the Sierras is not quite as scenic as the eastern side,  but still a welcome change from the drive through LA.   Not yet campers, we chose to stay outside the south entrance of the park in Oakhurst, a small mountain town.  The hotel was a quaint Best Western, complete with an in room mural of the most recognized views in the park.  Tacky, but cool because someone took the time to paint it. We mapped out a few day hikes ahead of time ranging from 5-10 miles per day.  Each day, we planned to head deeper into the park over the curvy, meandering state road 41 that passed through Yosemite.

Mural in the hotel room

Four Mile Trail

Our first hike would take us to the Four Mile Trail, a moderate hike from the Yosemite Valley floor to Glacier Point, with some of the best views in the park.  Starting out near the visitor center, we would park and catch the shuttle to within a half mile of the trailhead.  It was a brisk morning, in the low 40s.  The Merced River was lazily winding its way through the valley, the current fairly slow this time of the year.  We crossed over Swinging Bridge and began a casual stroll to the trailhead.

Timber is abundant throughout this trail and it takes awhile for the scenery to open up.  The first view of  upper Yosemite Falls was excellent.  Normally fairly dormant in the fall, a recent rainstorm produced decent flows.  It didn’t take long to encounter our first critters of the day, a couple of deer munching on the flora.  They almost ignored us as we made our way up the switchback.   In the summer, I’ve read that this is a crowded trail.  With the kids in school, we didn’t see many people today.   There seemed to be quite a few “blowdowns” on the way up, each a photo op as we scrambled over them.

One of many blowdowns

To the west, we could see Cathedral Rocks and the other side of El Capitan.   As the switchbacks headed east, we would receive a stiff, cool breeze.  On the westbound trek, it would get hot from the exertion.  We would peel layers off and put them back on all morning.

Passing Sentinel Rock, I thought about how great the view must be from up there.  Approaching 5,000 ft, the number of switchbacks increased as the altitude increased more rapidly.  The trees started to thin out and became larger.  What is really impressive about this trail is each turn reveals a new angle on the amazing scenery.  It is difficult not to stop and take pictures every 5 minutes.

Sentinel Rock

Half Dome came into view and the trail became narrow as we would wind around the trees.  I can see why they close this in the winter, some spots if covered with snow or ice would be fairly treacherous.  Nearing 7,000 ft. walking around the Ponderosa Pines, we felt pretty small.  Breaking out of the woods, we came out at Glacier Point, a popular destination with an awesome panorama.

At this point, we were just like any other tourist and took lots of pictures.  The views to the west of Vernal and Nevada Falls,  Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and the valley below were enjoyable.  We refilled our water and started the 4.7 miles back down.   Weird, the constant downhill made my boots feel small.   As a novice hiker, I didn’t realize that your feet swell the longer you are on the trail.  My toes starting banging against the front of the toebox.  What should have been an easy trip down, became a painful experience.  On top of that, an old knee injury reminded me that it was still there.

Before we leveled out in the valley, I was sidestepping my way down, looking like a landlocked crab.  Within a week, both of my big toenails were a shade of dark blue and would hang on for another six months before falling off.  By the time we reached the car, we had hiked over 10 miles and 6,400 ft. of elevation change.  All in all, a good way to start our Yosemite adventure.

10 miles later...

Lessons Learned:  1. Get hiking shoes at least one size larger.   2.  Use two hiking poles, it makes it easier on the knees going downhill.  3.  Fall is a great time to escape the crowds in Yosemite.