Yosemite: Half Dome, Clouds Rest and Echo Valley

Another post from our June 2018 trip in Yosemite!

After many attempts, we finally secured a permit to climb half-dome and camp nearby.

We climbed out of the valley after work up the popular and ever overcrowded Mist Trail, which offers views of Vernal Falls and further up, Nevada Falls.

We set up camp right past Half Dome (the permit we got was called the walk through permit), so we would need to backtrack in the morning, but I was fine with that, as it was only an extra mile or so. I was just happy we weren’t camping at Little Yosemite Valley, which is a complete zoo, and definitely the most popular backcountry camping site in Yosemite.

I was still surprised by how many people were camping near where we were set up, and even more surprised by how many people were leaving their bear canisters just a few feet from their tent (I believe the rule is you’re supposed to store them 100ft away).

I imagined that in the morning all these people would get up early to climb Half Dome, and we would be in a line of people waiting to climb the cables.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when we woke up and everyone else was still soundly asleep as we broke down camp and headed for the famous peak.

The climb to the base of the cables wasn’t bad, but did take some energy out of us. At the cables, there was only one or two people on their way down, and nobody going up.

We found some discarded gloves and made our way. This is the second time I’ve climbed the cables, and somehow I completely forgot how scary it is. No wonder people die here. It’s very steep, and the wooden boards for stepping on are placed several steps apart, so you really have to trust the cables you’re hanging onto as you pull yourself up to the next step.

I was surprised by how uncomfortable John was feeling. Usually he’s the one to boldly scramble over things that make me quite uncomfortable, but this time, as I looked down at him, he grimaced and repeated “this is so stupid” over and over.

After 400ft of adrenaline filled climbing up the final ascent, we reached the summit and were surprised to see only two other couples. We snapped some quick pictures but decided not to linger so as to be able to follow the other people back down the cables.

There’s something reassuring about looking down and seeing another human being rather than a sheer drop. We encouraged each other down, and one of the couples took a celebratory picture as we congratulated each other on making it safely back down. They took our phone number and promised to share the picture with us when they got signal.

We then pushed onwards towards Clouds Rest. What I failed to take into consideration when planning this loop was how much climbing we would have to do to get to the top of Clouds Rest after having done Half Dome. We dragged ourselves slowly to the top.

The climb was well worth it— more worth it than half dome, we both agreed. We had a great view of where we had just come from and beyond. Many day hikers were milling around, having hiked from Tioga Pass. A marmot was also milling around looking for opportunities to share a meal.

We continued on to find a place to camp near Sunrise lake. We found a spot a mile or two before the official camping area along the John Muir Trail.

When I went off to go find a place to go to the bathroom, I found a mylar balloon wedged next to a tree. Sigh. Balloons wind up in really remote places when people let them go in civilization!

The next morning we got going and quickly hit Sunrise Lake. As we got closer, we got completely attacked by mosquitos. I don’t mean that there were a few buzzing around our head – I mean that there were clouds of them so thick you had to close your mouth and squint to try to run through them. I tried in the quickest manor to rip my headnet out from my backpack, but in the 5 seconds it took me to put my pack down and open it, I could see about 10 mosquitos sucking blood out of one of my arms.

We literally ran through the meadow to higher ground, and the mosquitos persisted for quite some time, but we finally managed to escape them. Somehow their bites were not bad- they weren’t even itchy.

We were trying to do a loop but at the same time, avoid the JMT as much as possible because we had plans of hiking from Tuolumne Meadows to the Valley on the JMT as a day-hike on another day off.

So we followed some trails to Merced Canyon, which was beautiful and desolate of people. Compared to how crowded Half Dome, Clouds Rest and the JMT were, these trails offered a ton of solitude.

In Echo Valley, there had been a fire somewhat recently, and the sun beat down on us through a lack of canopy. The wildflowers were thick and beautiful and the river was beautiful too.

We decided to make a push to get back to the Yosemite Valley rather than trying to stay in Little Yosemite Valley campsite.

When we reached Little Yosemite Valley, I was glad we made that choice because of how crowded it was. It was a tent city – with people acting like they could be as loud and obnoxious as they wanted while their neighbors were only a few feet away.

We hurried past and took the JMT for the last little leg back into the Valley (the other option besides the Mist Trail). This was significantly less crowded than the Mist Trail, yet had some great views of Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls.

We got back to the Valley go find that our bikes, which we had left chained to a bike rack, were missing! We speculated that they were returned to the bike rental company because typically people are only allowed to rent bikes for a day (we were renting them for a month).

We took the bus back to our campground and were thankful that we came back early so as to sort out the bike problem before our work shift the next day.

All in all this was a great trip with lots of rewarding views and challenging climbs!


Yosemite Valley North Rim East Bound Backpacking Trip

This trip took place when we were working in Yosemite Valley (June 2018).

As a part of our goal to hike every trail immediately surrounding Yosemite Valley during our month residency, we decided that the North Rim of the Valley was best attacked as one backpacking trip rather than having to hike in and out of the valley multiple times.

We told our friend Meredith, the Volunteer Ranger Camp Host about our plan of hitchhiking over to Old Big Oak Flats Trailhead after taking a 45 minute shuttle bus ride – all this after our morning shift at work, and she kindly volunteered to drive us all the way to the trailhead.  We are still eternally grateful for the ride.

Along the way we saw amazing views that we had been missing out on because of our lack of motorized transportation during our stay in the famous valley, including Bridle-veil Falls and the Great Central Valley.

Once we got to the trail we found ourselves in a recent burn area. The trail was lined with beautiful purple lupine flowers (which are nitrogen fixers) as a result.  Despite the lack of living trees, the area had plenty of streams for us to fill our bottles in.

We spent a number of hours trying to hike as far as possible into the evening and got to Ribbon Meadows where we were treated to a display of shooting star and white buttercup flowers and surprisingly few mosquitos.

After passing through the meadow we set up camp a few hundred feet off the trail up on a hill after passing a pretty large pile of bear scat/poop.  We went to sleep wearily.  John didn’t wear his earplugs so that he could hear the bear if it entered the area.

After waking up a to a loud cracking noise, John wandered around to see if a bear was nearby.  Finding no animal in sight, he went to check on the bear canister (for food storage) and found it undisturbed. Trying to find the tent in the dark, he spent the next 20 minutes stumbling around looking for it.

We woke up in the morning with no further incidents. When we got to the first water source of the day, we met Kenny and Andy who were from Maryland and on the same trip as us.

We went our separate ways and headed up to our first viewpoint of the Yosemite Valley, KP Peak which is actually on top of the famous rock face El Capitan.

On the top John couldn’t help but notice a sleeping bag barely hiding under a couple rocks.  He decided that because of the short length of the trip, his pack was empty enough to carry this cheap Coleman Brand sleeping bag for the rest of the trip.  After stuffing it in his Mariposa backpack, his pack was still not completely full.

On the way back to the trail from the view point we saw the guys from Maryland again.  They weren’t kidding when they said they were going on the same exact same trip as us.

Moving on we walked a little further to the next viewpoint: Eagle Peak.  Eagle peak had the best view we saw in the whole park! Again we saw Kenny and Andy and we decided that we would walk with them and chat along the way.

Further up the trail we went to the top of Yosemite Falls.  For those of you wishing to peer directly off a 2,500 foot cliff, there is a railing so you can do exactly that!  It certainly is an interesting way to look at the tallest waterfall in North America.

We continued down the trail towards Indian Canyon and soon found ourselves well off the trail. We were able to figure out where we were pretty easily using map and compass  because of the open landscape and traveled cross country to the trail further along.

Next we went to North Dome where we had an amazing view of Half Dome.

Afterwards we went up to the natural arch above the Dome which was also an incredible sight to see.  One of very few natural arches I’ve seen in my life.

Finally after 16 miles, we settled in at a campsite well off the trail near Snow Creek an area with a known “problem bear”. After we setup the tent we noticed a pile of bear scat within 15 feet of our tent.  We were really tired so went to sleep around 7pm and within an hour we heard something that sounded like artificial noises. I got up and looked around and noticed (since it was still light out) that there was a bear about 100 feet away from us.  I tried my best to scare it away by making a lot of noise and it wandered away slowly its legs bow legged.  It certainly wasn’t in a hurry to get away and looked like and old tired bear.  It look us a while to fall back asleep.

We woke up the next morning without incident and headed down Snow Creek Trail a long steep downhill.  By the time we got to the bottom we felt the extreme heat of the valley before heading off to work again.

Tetons: Paintbrush Canyon to Cascade Canyon

Before heading out on this 19 mile loop, we were advised that ice axes and maybe even crampons would be necessary for Paintbrush Divide, which is a high elevation pass that allows you to travel from Paintbrush Canyon over to Cascade Canyon.

Since we failed to pack this gear, we asked John’s mother if she could kindly send it to us in the mail, since we left those items behind. I’m sure this isn’t kind of phone calls most mothers are used to getting, but within a few days she had found an appropriate sized box and posted the items in the mail.

The morning of our hike, we got a fairly late start. I was a bit nervous about how long these 19 miles would take, but I was also glad to have been able to sleep in slightly for a change.

We got to the String Lake parking area and got moving up Paintbrush Canyon.

As we climbed, the miles went by faster than I had anticipated. We weren’t the only ones out, we kept leap frogging another girl who was hiking solo up the canyon. As we approached Holly Lake, got chatting and found out that her name was Erin, and she was a traveling nurse with some time off between jobs.

We crossed paths with a backcountry ranger, and asked him what the divide was like, and he told us there were a few “tricky moves” near the top. We wondered what that meant, but he told us we probably wouldn’t need our ice axes. I was glad to have mine anyway just in case.

Erin had no ice axe or crampons, and had also been told beforehand that she probably wouldn’t be able to make it to the pass without that gear, but decided she would just go as far as she could and turn back.

I told her if it made her feel more comfortable, we could walk in front of her, and make sure there were good footsteps in the snow, and she could always turn around when she felt uncomfortable.

As we climbed, there were patches of snow, but nothing like what I had expected. This was obviously a well traveled trail since each time the trail passed through a patch of snow, there were well defined, easy to follow footprints which made it absolutely unnecessary to wear crampons or take out the ice axe.

We had almost made it to the top when Erin said something along the lines of “we made it!” But, she spoke too soon. Right before the top of the divide was a very sketchy spot where there was a patch of snow that was practically vertical and there were rocks all around it, also practically vertical. Most of the rock was loose rock to make things more interesting.

John went first, scrambling across a few small but very sketchy crevasses where a wrong step on a loose rock could send you tumbling many feet down. Based on how nervous he was, I almost figured I wouldn’t be able to make it across, but with a whole lot of courage and knowing that if I were to freeze up at any point, I’d be done for, I made a butt slide followed by a few steps that were way too large for my comfort and way too unstable for my comfort. But I made it. Behind me, Erin took her turn, and I was very surprised by how easy she made it look. She had about 3 inches on me, and she must have been made of pure courage. She admitted that she wouldn’t have done that alone and thanked us for our company. We were thankful for hers as well.

We reached the divide and were on top of the world with stunning snow covered peaks in all directions. A few people were milling around up there, and we traded notes on the sketchiness of the climb we had just done.

From here, the decent into Cascade Canyon was a piece of cake, and absolutely covered in beautiful wildflowers. Our progress was slow since every few feet, one of us felt inclined to take a picture.

Just a short distance down, we hit Lake Solitude, which, ironically was the most crowded spot we had been all day. There were dozens of people sunbathing, picnicking, and even a volunteer ranger talking to folks. I couldn’t believe we saw a second park employee on the same trail.

While we joined the crowds to stop for a snack, John decided to take the opportunity to jump into the lake, letting out a quick yelp at the frigidness of the glacial lake. He plunged in a few more times just to make sure.

We traveled down the canyon with ease. Grand Teton loomed over us majestically and various flowers lined the sides of the trail. We often followed a stream which cascaded down the canyon, presumably giving its name, Cascade Canyon.

The number of people on this trail was astounding. We were right behind a big group and right in front of another group, but if we stopped, it seemed like another group would quickly catch up. There was no solitude to be found here. We swatted at horse flies, which seem to be ever present as the mosquitoes are slowly dying off, and the temperature slowly creeped up as we descended.

We quickened our pace as we got closer to the parking lot, and the miles seemed to drag on a bit as our legs started to fatigue. But, the trail continued in ease, and soon we were crossing the bridge back to the String Lake parking lot before trading information with our new friend and heading our separate ways.

Grand Teton: Death Canyon/ Granite Canyon Loop

I’ve been very bad about blogging about my hikes this past month in Yosemite – mostly for lack of time and lack of sleep (you all know how much I love my sleep). So, there’s a chance I’ll go back and blog about some of those hikes (we wound up covering about 150 miles of trail in Yosemite while we were there), but in the meantime I’m going to blog about our most recent hike in the Tetons.

John and I went to the wilderness permitting office in order to get a backpacking permit. We had a loop in mind that would go through Owl canyon and Webb Canyon, but the ranger convinced us that this route would be unsafe due to high stream crossings that could sweep us away. So, we asked her what the safest route would be given that we didn’t have our ice axes (we were told snow was abundant above 9,500ft).

The safest option, she told us, was Death Canyon. Sounded promising.

We got our permit and the next day after work we headed up Death Canyon.

The Canyon was beautiful. Full of wildflowers, and quite rocky. Since we didn’t start hiking until late afternoon, we got to hike through the evening, which is our favorite time to be out. This is when the animals start becoming active.

We parked at Granite Canyon trail head, and hiked past Phelps Lake and up into Death Canyon.

We saw several marmots scurrying around, some of which looked quite a bit smaller than the ones I was used to from the Sierras.

Then, from a hole in a rock right on the trail in front of us, the most adorable animal of all animals living in Grand Teton emerged, peered at us, and scuttled back into its hole, only to reemerge to take another look at us. This animal is called a pika. It’s in the rabbit family, but it looks more like a large and very rotund mouse with very round ears. It lives only in high elevation areas because it likes cooler temperatures. Climate change is threatening this species and pushing them further and further up into very limited habitat ranges.

This particular pika allowed me to get quite close to it and I snapped a few pictures.

We continued up the canyon into the camping zone that out permit allowed us to camp in, and found a spot to call home.

After we set up the tent and ate dinner while swatting at mosquitos, we moved our bear canister with all our food in it far away from us, and crawled into the tent.

John left the tent to go pee one last time when I heard him yell: “Whoooooa my god!!!!”

For a split second I thought he had seen a grizzly bear.

“I almost tripped over a porcupine!” He shouted.

I jumped out of the tent and ran over to where he was since after all these years, I had never actually seen a porcupine. It was much bigger than I had expected, and like all national park animals, not very afraid of us. It took an annoyed look at me, and it mades a few murmuring noises before shuffling off.

I was quite excited – making seen my first porcupine, a pika, several marmots and earlier in the day while I was working a fox had ran past me. There was certainly a lot of wildlife!

I was tired, and ready to sleep, so I closed my eyes and was just starting to doze off when John yelled right in my ear, causing me to jump and yell as well. I heard a rustle next to my head, and turned my headlamp on. There was the porcupine, right next to the tent, trying to make off with our trekking pole. Now I was annoyed.

I took everything that was outside the tent, and brought it in. I was groggy and just wanted to sleep.

I rolled over and fell asleep again. Maybe another hour passed, and once more the porcupine visited our tent. By this time, it was about 11pm, and I yelled at it loudly: “I just want to sleep!!! Leave us alone stupid porcupine!!”

John laughed, but I didn’t find it funny. “You’ll find it funny tomorrow.” He promised.

The porcupine must have noticed that there was nothing left for him to steal, and left us alone for the rest of the night.

I woke up tired. I decided that we could probably hike the rest of the loop in one day, and make it back to a bed indoors, which would hopefully mean a better night’s sleep. I figured it was probably less than 20 miles back to the car, and if we couldn’t hike that amount, then that would be a good test for another loop we were considering doing in a day that was probably slightly longer and harder.

We hiked up towards Fox Creek Pass, and the wild flowers were unbelievable. There were columbines everywhere- white, yellow and slightly purple ones, along with big purple lupines, darker blue larkspur and bright yellow asters of some sort.

But that wasn’t all, there were new flowers to be seen in each creek bed and each meadow that we passed. I was very excited when we saw a flower I had seen in our wildflower book called elephant head, which is a stalk with many little pinkish flowers on it that look just like little elephant heads.

The scenery wasn’t shabby either. As we climbed, we could see the pointy Tetons in the distance, and small patches of snow started to appear.

The trail was easy, and Fox Creek Pass was probably one of the easiest passes in the park. Almost no snow, and not a steep climb. Before we knew it we were on the other side, and passing Marion lake.

Heading down from here, we started passing quite a few day hikers. It turns out that there is an Aerial Tramway you can take that climbs more than 3,000 feet up from the valley floor, making the high country accessible to those who don’t want to hike uphill 3,000ft.

We headed down Granite Canyon, which I thought was less beautiful than Death Canyon. The miles went by much faster than I had even anticipated, and we were back at the car about 24 hours after we had left.

Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome

We’ve started our new gig collecting data for Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics beginning with a month in Yosemite. What can I say? It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. We are definitely some of the luckiest Research Assistants on the planet!

On our first day off we decided to head up the four mile trail, which, just to keep you on your toes, is actually closer to 5 miles in length. This trail leads you up several thousand feet out of Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point where arguably the best views of the valley are to be had. Along the way there are amazing views of Yosemite Falls and the granite faces that tower over the valley floor.

We also noticed many spring flowers blooming along the way. June is still very much spring at these higher elevations.

The climb was slow and steady, and we certainly didn’t have the trail all to ourselves. There were quite a few people hauling themselves thousands of feet up to this scenic point. Not that you have to hike; there’s a perfectly good road going to the top if you happen to have brought a vehicle with you. So once we hit Glacier Point, we joined the crowds of people near the parking lot taking pictures. We stopped in at the visitor’s center to purchase an ice cream cone and take a rest.

From there we decided to take the short trail to hit Sentinel Dome just a mile or two further up. From there the valley looked minuscule.

Soon we headed back down the way we came and intersected a ranger talk which included a lot of information about the history of Yosemite, which I found quite interesting. I learned that art played an important part in preserving Yosemite before photograph was available and convenient.

By the time we headed back down, my legs were pretty tired. As we descended back down into the valley, the temperature steadily increased and the mosquitoes welcomed us back to lower elevations.

The wildlife here is stupidly tame (there has been no hunting here for a very long time, and many animals now associate humans with food scraps). A squirrel peered over a rock to take a look at John.

We got back to our campsite by early evening, which is when the valley fills up with smoke from the multitude of campsites. Campfires are regulated, but you are allowed to have one from 5-10pm, so during those hours, the air quality deteriorates rapidly. By morning, the dust settles, the smoke drifts off and the large granite faces that tower over the valley floor are crisp and clear once again.