Yosemite Day 3 of 5

To our loyal followers, our apologies for the delay in posting the final story of our epic trip to Yosemite. Summer vacation crept up on us pretty quick. With kids out of school things have been busy. Not to mention the Arizona heat blasting the trails halting the backpacking season for the Valley. Without traveling a few hours there are a few months a year that just don’t work well in the desert!

The summer is winding down, the kids are back in school, and the packs will be hitting the trails in no time. There is some exciting news on the horizon as well; be on the look out for further updates. The Backpacking Journal has a HUGE trip in the works!

Now back to Yosemite. Day 3 was unexpected to say the least. The previous day’s summit of Half Dome took a toll on a few of the 6Pack. As the night wound down after day twos hike, we made a group decision that we would alter our original plan of getting to Glacier point and spend a day near camp. Internally I think we were all disappointed, but we all knew it was the right choice. If we were gonna stick together as a team we needed to spend a day healing and relaxing. In hind sight, this was our first multiple day trip so we were hitting uncharted territory, and you learn as you go in backpacking.

After spending the early parts of the morning sleeping in the mood around camp was sluggish, the silent forest was filled with sounds of the running river and moans of us getting out of our tents. Every muscle was tight, each step took a bit more effort, and menial tasks like pumping water seemed challenging. As the morning sun filled the camp site we took our time eating, getting dressed, and discussing a plan for a short hike to explore the area. It was decided a short hike further up the trail in the direction of Lake Merced was the perfect plan. We would start as a group, but if someone wanted to head back it was a straight shot to camp. Think of it as a self paced stroll through the woods.

As we pushed deeper into the canyon we were immersed into an area filled with destruction. There were signs of massive snow, avalanche, flood, and rock slide damage. The majority of the trees were down; the ones that remained were hanging on with little to no chance of survival. It was sad to see such a beautiful area turned inside out, but at the same time the power it must have took to create such an environment was somewhat humbling. The canyon walls were filled with waterfalls catching rays of the sunshine and were easily spotted because of such a thin tree cover. As we began to pass the dead area, the trail quickly changed. The tree cover was gone and the trail started cutting through the granite walls, wrapping in a switchback like fashion.

This is when we came across our first “cascade” style water fall. The best way to describe this would be to imagine a giant granite washboard with thousands of gallons of water rushing down creating a massive amount of power and sound. The fall came to an end in a perfect swimming pool. While a few pushed on up the trail a couple of us took a quick dip in the pool to check out the water. It was COLD! About 45 degrees cold; enough to make your skin instantly tighten and your lungs gasp for air. It was a quick stop, but we left with every intention of hitting this spot on the way back to camp later.

From here the trail gained a few hundred feet of elevation and eventually the Wicked Witch called it a day. We went over a few safety items, and she started heading down. We were going to press on and meet back with her at camp. We followed the trail for another mile or so until we came to a perfect spot for lunch, another cascade. This one was larger, stronger, and louder. Just above the fall was an out-cove that reached the edges of the flowing river with shade trees and smooth flat rocks to lay on. It was shaping up to be an amazing “rest” day.

After some lunch and a quick cat nap by a few of the 6pack we wanted to head up just a little further to see over the next hill. After pushing up the hill we saw what was on the other side, the other side of a hill! We called it quits for the day and started our way down. On our way back we were in for a surprise. Doc and Slimms were taking the lead while FallGal followed close behind and Chuck & Chick strolled in the back. As we were coming up to the first cascade that we came to in the beginning of the day Doc and I hear FalGall shouting something. She ran across Wicked Witch taking a nap just off the side of the trail under a shade tree. It truly was a perfect spot, but we were pretty happy that someone saw her. Getting back to camp without her there waiting for us would have caused some chaos!

We made claim to the base of the cascade and decided it was time to get a swim in, and some R&R. This turned out to be one of the trips highlights and we were so happy that our plans changed, if it were not for that, we would have never found this place. Although the falls were not perfectly smooth, they were smooth enough to make a great slide. Each time climbing a little higher, the slide would get a little faster! We swam for a minute or so at a time; that was about all we could handle at such a cold temperature. We sun bathed on the rocks, had some laughs, and then headed back to camp.

Camp was filled with more relaxing. FallGal and myself set up the hammock. Some decided to nap while others were filling water bottles, washing clothes, making dinner, and doing other chores for the day. We had 2 more bear sightings today as well. The first was a pretty good sized bear that was strolling through the perimeter of camp. We had to scare it away as it was pretty brave and very curious. The other was a cub, could not have been much more than a year old across the other side of the river. The bear scoped out camp from a distance and then took off up the mountain side. As the sun was making it to the edges of the horizon we made dinner and talked about our plan for the 4th and last night of the trip as we would be leaving the 5th day. Because of the area we were in and the limited camping zones we decided the best course of action was to pick a new route and head down to the valley floor. From there we would set up camp in a backpackers camp site. We were feeling much better by the end of the night. The day hike worked all the stiffness out of our muscles, we got some good food in us, and the pace was so relaxing our mental edge was coming back. Unlike the other 2 nights where we passed out immediately, we all stayed up talking from tent to tent for an hour or so, laughing and reminiscing of the trip already nearing an end.

Since this blog is really all about showing the stories of backpacking through the eyes of beginners, I think it is important to touch on a valuable lesson we learned here. It is necessary to have a well thought out plan, but it is even more necessary to know when a better plan is to change your plans. If we as a group would have let our pride get in the way and continued to push on, our trip may have ended a day early with people not able to finish. Sometimes that unexpected detour can make for one of your best adventures!

Here is a slide show of day 3!

Yosemite Day 3 of 5 from The Backpacking Journal on Vimeo.

Keep an eye out in a few days for day 4 of the trip…RAIN is in the forecast!

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Missing Yosemite…

It’s been a month since my first steps were taken in Yosemite and I miss being there everyday. During my first week back, I must have looked through all of the pictures that were taken at least 10 times during the day. If a picture is worth a thousand words, these pictures added up to one heck of a novel. The build up to Yosemite was a bit nerve racking as each day closer passed by. I had just gotten new shoes a week before and they were untested for this trip. Five days…an estimated 40 miles…feet and toes still mending from prior trips…I was scared and I wasn’t afraid to let it be known. The unknown is our biggest fear and if we let our minds wander too far in, we keep ourselves a slave to that fear.

First sighting of El Cap

Day one was an early morning! Up and out of the hotel…into the van…off to Yosemite. The drive seemed quick as I was silently anxious to be there already. I wanted to get the start over with and a few miles on my shoes. I figured then, I would feel less apprehensive. Upon driving in and seeing El Cap, all the fears I had were gone; vanished with the dawn as the sun was rising over the granite walls. I had in those first few moments discovered my heaven!

Waiting to start was excruciating. We had to get permits and we did a little shopping, which seemed to take way too long. After all the formalities were taken care of, we jumped back in the van and went to park. The lot was up against this beautiful “wall” of stone. My breath was taken away yet again and we had only been there a few hours and had yet to hike 100 feet. After some group pics, the packs were strapped on and it was time to get started! My pack was about 37ish pounds which is too heavy for me but I was managing fine. The day was filled with amazing views as we hiked up the Mist trail. The mist created by Vernal Falls produces lovely rainbows in the sun and provides a very welcomed cooling effect while hiking up. The stairs get slick so steps were carefully taken. I was the first of the group to get to the top of the falls…can’t help myself sometimes. The trek up to Nevada Falls was more of the same stairs yet very different scenery. The falls were still awesome to watch while hiking up. We ended up on a bit of a detour to camp but the views couldn’t be beat. No matter how tired I felt that day, the awe inspiring views, especially of Half Dome in the distance ended up being enough fuel to keep me going. All uncertainty in myself was gone. Camp was welcoming, minus all the mosquitoes, and I slept fantastic with sugar plum thoughts of day 2 ahead.

My inspiration…

Day 2 was by far the day I was looking forward to the most. Our trek up to the summit of Half Dome started early, but not as early as was planned. I believe we were going to try to see the sunrise from the top of Half Dome but the tiring day before had us sleeping in longer than expected. The trail is not hard but can be exhausting. By the time we got to where we could get a clear view of the summit, I was drained. But once I came around one bend in the trail, I could see it through the trees. I stopped, clapped my hands and yelled “yes”! I took a moment to snap a pic and then was off to the races. I made it up to a clearing before the trail up the grueling stairs begins. I had been so excited I didn’t realize I had left the rest of the group behind by about 5 minutes. I was amped to say the least and the 360 degree view of “everything” as far as the eye could see was phenomenal! Beautiful, inspiring, glorious…I took a breather and snapped some more pictures! My legs were shaky and we all needed a break before we tackled the stairs up. These were brutal! Once this part was done, a much needed break was necessary. Jittery legs and 400 feet of climbing left had gotten the best of me while sitting there gazing out and up at the cables. After everything, I was again, scared. There was about 15 minutes of debate inside me as to whether I was gonna go up. I wavered back and forth. My final decision was to go to the bottom of the cables, gloves on, look up, and go if it seemed “not so bad after all”. So that is what I did and our trek up began. It was intense and I was nervous…but through it all, I looked around quite a bit when we took breaks. I slipped a few times and my heart about stopped. The natural steps you encounter going up seem gigantic…the cables are slack in some places or feel as if they are touching the ground in others…it’s kind of a messy way to climb up I’m guessing. But once I got to the top, I knew the choice I made was the right one. If I hadn’t gone up, I would have regretted it the rest of my life…even if my life ended while up there or coming back down. I sat on the edge, took some pictures looking down of course. It was incredible. Half Dome was my favorite part of the trip hands down. Just so thrilling and I felt so alive being up there. I was in a state of numbness the whole way back to camp.

The view looking up the cascade

Day 3 would be a chill day! I won’t go into details about day 3 just yet but it was definitely a relaxing and fun one. It was peaceful, secluded, and the scenery was gorgeous as one would expect. I suggest getting off the touristy trails and finding some time to enjoy nature on its own. We ended up on a short hike to the Bunnell Cascades just outside of Little Yosemite Valley. If you ever camp in the area, a visit to the cascades is a definite must do. The day was spent relaxing, enjoying the water and the lovely views of the granite rock walls. We all were well rested after day 3 and day 4 was our hike back down to the Valley.

Day 4 was yet another early morning. I’ve learned waking up before the sun is just how it is anymore. Packing up camp was bittersweet. I didn’t want to go and wasn’t that happy we were heading back to the Valley just yet. The hike was just backtracking what we had already done. I lived up to my name on this day as I fell about 10 feet down the trail. I hurt my left ankle, right wrist, and most of all my pride. It’s not easy to stop falling once you start when you are going downhill. While the weight of my pack caused me to keep falling, the pack ended up cushioning my fall tremendously. It was quite rocky where I fell and I probably could have injured myself far worse. I got quite emotional and mad at myself. The rest of the hike back down was a slow one for me…I was lost in thought, cautious of my ankle, and sad we were ending the hiking already. I will keep day 4 details under wraps for now but it did rain that afternoon. We had luckily gotten camp set up in time to not have to do it while it was dark and rainy.

We made it and DONE!!

Day 5 was a bit silly. Our plan was to “hike’ to Lower Yosemite Falls and from there, decide if we wanted to go all the way up. We had no clue what it was like so we prepared for the worst. It was comical to say the least when we discovered it was but a short walk to get to the Lower Falls. While a sight to see for sure, it made the end of the trip very anticlimactic. While slightly disappointed, I was physically done even though my heart and mind wanted more more more. The trip was beyond words and I learned so much about myself while out there!! The group did a wonderful job. I was proud of everyone. There were highs and lows on the trip but so is life…we were experiencing new things, new feelings, new obstacles…to think it would be a walk in the park, would have been absolutely naive. I know I can not wait to go back. I can not wait for our next adventure. I will forever cherish my time there. I know this might sound a bit dramatic but I fell in love on that trip, with not only the land but myself.

Yosemite Day 2 of 5

In 1865 it was stated that Half Dome was “Perfectly Inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot.” The Backpack 6Pack disagrees!

The morning started out early as we knew today was going to be a long one.  We had a 2 mile stroll ahead of us just to get to the base of the Half Dome Trail. From there, close to a 4 mile intense climb hitting 8,842 feet covering just under 3000 feet of elevation gain. Between us and the summit, a class 3 climb assisted by 400 feet of steel cables. Before the day was over we would add 11 more miles to our trip.

On the flip side, we had set up a base camp and we were going light today! Our research showed there is no water along the way and it is recommended that each hiker should carry 1 gallon of water. We each carried a day pack containing water, lunch, and snacks with the intention of eating lunch at the summit.

As the accent began, we started to wrap around the base of Half Dome on a fairly well maintained path. The trees are thick and the intermittent sounds of a stream or waterfall rippled in the distance.  Occasionally the morning sun would break through the trees and show signs of the hot day approaching.  Although the trail camouflages it well, there is a steady and steep climb involved. As the tree line starts to break, we found ourselves glancing at branches instead of trunks until eventually there is not much more than tree tops in our view. As we made our last wrap around the base of the Sub Dome, the horizon filled with amazing panoramic views of the entire valley we just climbed up from. Snow covered peaks, flowing water falls, and vibrant green valley floors cause yet again another moment of sensory overload.  Looking back, it is difficult to put the experience into words and the pictures really do not capture the beauty of the powerful landscape.

After taking a few minutes to soak up the view (catch our breath), we continued on to the base of the Sub Dome. This is where the fun begins. We later found out this is where the Ranger would normally be stationed and without a permit you cannot go any further.

***Tip*** To anyone thinking of checking out the view and not climbing the cables, I would consider a different hike. If you were allowed to access the top of the Sub Dome then it would be worth it, but being stopped at the base really limits your view from a 360 to about 180 degrees.

Artfully crafted steps lead us up an extremely steep narrow set of switchbacks. This is really when Half Dome starts separating the men from the boys. At this point we are fully exposed above the tree line; the temperatures are hitting 90+ F and not only do the legs begin to burn, but the lungs can feel each step as we near 9000 feet. Popping up over the top of the switchbacks the cables make their first “up close” appearance. Speaking only for myself, I am not one to be easily intimidated, scared, etc. I am somewhat of an adrenaline junky and have tried a lot of things in my life, but this was intense. Taking a seat on the top of the Sub Dome and looking at the cables from about 100 yards away, they appear to be vertical. Vertical in such a way I believe my only words were “Wow”. Unfortunately that shock factor got the best of one of us. Chick Norris made everyone aware coming into this trip the cables may not be in her future. Never getting much above 5 feet tall I think she has a slight animosity to all things not vertically challenged. With so much work and effort put into preparing for this trip specifically for the cables, there were a few emotional moments when the decision was made to stay below while we completed the summit. When it was all said and done I commend her for recognizing her limits and not placing herself as well as the rest of the 6Pack in a potential rescue situation.

***Tip*** If you are a little overwhelmed by the first glance of the cables don’t give up just yet. Walk all the way to the start of the cables and then take another look. They are nowhere near as steep as they look. Although this approach did not work for Chick, it did work for The FallGall and it may work for you.

After resting our legs and lungs for a few minutes we began our accent. The girls were slightly nervous at this point so it was decided, I would take the lead to “show them the way” and Chuck would take the rear; I suppose giving the illusion that he would stop them from falling to their demise. We used the wooden slats as break points on the way up. I would climb a couple slats up (each one being about 15-30 feet apart), then wait for the rest of the pack to climb up. This turned out to be a little to much “hang” time for Doc. After having a few moments to look around and soak in the dangers involved she said she had enough waiting around and had to go. Passing by me on the left she made a break for the summit and never looked back. Continuing our pace up to the top we finally made it about 20 minutes later.

How does one describe the top of Half Dome? The best I can come up with would be endless. It truly does capture the sense of a never ending horizon, somewhat similar to being on a boat in the middle of the ocean. No obstructions, no limits; it is truly breathtaking. We found a spot to take a seat and eat our lunch. Peanut butter and jelly never tasted so good! The heat however started to take its toll. With no shade to be found on the desolate summit, comparable to being on the moon, temps soared to triple digits. We took a few minutes for some pictures and began our way back down the cables in search of shade.

Coming down the cables was, in my opinion, much easier than going up. However we apparently chose the wrong time to head down. A younger teenage climber with his father was about 1/3rd the way down and got a little nervous. What should have taken about 15 minutes took close to 45 minutes. At one point my feet were falling asleep from standing at such a steep angle and not moving so I began passing people. Once I passed the scared climber I was able to speed up the pace and could nearly jog down the rest of the way. The gloves really come into play on your way down.

***Tip*** BRING GLOVES! I used “mechanic gloves” that you can get for a few dollars at any auto or hardware store and they worked great.

Chuck and Chick had already began their trek down the Sub Dome. The rest of us regrouped and then quickly separated descending down the narrow stairs in search of shade. Once in the shade, just after the last set of stairs, we all enjoyed a nice 30 minute break. We had some snacks, observed a very curious coyote, and then headed for camp.

The hike down caused some separation in the group for sure. We found going up, that it is fairly simple to speed up or slow down the pace as a group. But going down, it is often easier to just go at your own pace and meet at the bottom. We stuck in groups just in case there was an emergency, but down we went. Along the way we heard talk of some bears on the trail, and then there they were! Two beautiful brown colored Black Bears. They had zero fear of us or the other hikers along the trail. The smaller, most likely female bear, was very curious however. Looking around, staring down the trail, even facing our direction as if she was going to walk over and say hi. The bears hung around for a while. This essentially stopped traffic on the trail so there was a decently large group both above and below the bears. Twice we had to make some noises to encourage the bear to continue off the trail when she was getting a little too brave. At no point in time did I feel threatened or nervous, but the thought of their power never escaped me. After taking a few pics and nudging them along their way, we continued our hike down. Once we made it to the bottom of the Half Dome Trail we were greeted by 2 rangers. The first being a ranger asking if we came from Half Dome and if we had a permit, the other was part of the Bear Tracking Team (or something along those lines). After showing our permit and talking with the ranger about the normal procedures I discussed up above we brought up the bear sighting.  The ranger that was part of the bear team was extremely excited and his passion for his job was immediately apparent. When I told him we had photos and handed him the iPhone, he spent about 10 minutes flipping back and forth through the images zooming and talking about the types of tags and why they were colored a certain way etc. It was really interesting, and they were very nice.

Once the pack was back together we finished our hike with a 2 mile stroll back to camp. The rest of the day was spent cooking dinner, doing some laundry, and just relaxing. By the end of the evening it was apparent that we were no longer all 100% and it was decided that we were going to alter our original route and come up with a new plan. The miles were adding up fast and our bodies were feeling the abuse.  Ultimately, we decided to stick around at base camp 1 more day and do another day hike for day 3. This would give everyone the flexibility of hiking as much or as little as they wanted as well as one more day of not carrying the full pack weight.

The decision to cut part of the planned trip out was somewhat deflating at first, but keep a look out for the day 3 trip report to find out why it became one of the highlights for the whole trip!

Here is a slide show of our second day in Yosemite! (YouTube has become very restrictive on mobile phone access. If you get an error that the video is not available from a mobile device try the Vimeo video link below)

Yosemite Day 2 of 5 from The Backpacking Journal on Vimeo.

48 Hours to go!

Wow is about all I can say! The bags are packed and ready to go, all that is left now is to watch the clock slowly tick by.

We will be flying out to San Jose at O’Dark Thirty Thursday morning and will have most of the day to kill from there. We are staying at the “halfway” point to Yosemite in Merced and from what I can tell it is a pretty small town. We spent some time yesterday looking around for some things we could do during our travel day and I think we may have come up with a pretty good idea if everything goes smoothly.

First we will be stopping at the REI near the airport to pick up some of the things we cant bring on the plane (fuel, matches, etc.). From there we may stop at J. Lohr, a winery in San Jose that offers free tastings. After hitting the winery we will make the 2 hour trek to Merced. If we are still feeling adventurous and have some time to kill we may go check out the Hilmar Cheese factory, they offer free tours and tastings!

Yesterday we posted a video about what to pack for a 5 day trip, today there is a video attached that discusses what we decided to bring for food on our trip. The majority of the food was homemade and then dehydrated, on the trail you just add hot water and in a few minutes you have a delicious meal! The biggest challenges with food for a 5 day trip in Yosemite is the bear canister. It is not really practical to have 1 per person as they are heavy, bulky, and expensive. However it is not really practical to pack 5 days of food for 2 people in 1 either. We did manage to get it all in there, but we still have a couple things that will need to somehow smash their way in there once we get to CA.

I hope you enjoy the video and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel!

3 Days and Packing!

I cant believe the time has come to pack! Time is getting so short before the trip it worked out for me to get my stuff packed this weekend. At this point I could leave today an be ready to roll, but I have to stick it out for a few more days.

When we first started thinking about actually doing this backpacking stuff (as opposed to just talking about it). We did what I would guess most curious future backpackers do….try to figure out how you can live out of a backpack for an extended period of time. What gear, how much gear, what size pack, etc.

There is a ton of information out there, but oddly it can be very tailored to specific “styles” of backpacking. Things like Ultralight, mountaineer expeditions, etc. Finding specific examples of just the “every day” type of backpacking is a little harder to come by. Thus, The Backpacking Journal was born. A place for beginners to find the information they really need to get them started.

Here is a video that goes over exactly what I will be packing for this 5 day trip. The details of the trip that should matter (to compare for future plans) are as follows:

Yosemite California
Average Elevation 4000-8000 feet
Approximate Mileage 40
June 1st-5th
6 total people broken into 3 two man teams

As for the gear, most of it is not “the best”, we chose gear on several different points. Primarily being the usefulness of the item, then cost and weight came into factor. Generally speaking the gear we purchased was in our opinion, the best bang for the buck.

Enjoy!

There will be a video tomorrow with information about packing 5 days of of food for 2 people.

6 Days

The anticipation is building! The weather is looking like it will be prefect, all the necessary documents and permits have been printed. The packing check list has been looked over and checked twice.

Checked off one of the items of my list already. Our pup Melman is staying at “grandpas” house during the trip and he needs a way to get outside while my dad is at work. All the dog doors in the store for a dog his size are several hundred dollars and we only need it for 5 days. With $20 at Home Depot and a couple power tools out of my garage we now have a nice little door for him! It may not be the prettiest, or the most energy efficient but I think it will work just fine.

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1 Week To Go!

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7 days and counting, WOW! The 6Pack has been fairly quiet this month as our focus changed from future planning and training to trip preparations, but we are still going strong. This month has been filled with last minute gear changes, food dehydrating, and a constant check on the weather patterns as we close in on the trip.

***Side Note***
On behalf of The Backpacking Journal I would like to congratulate Jessica Simms DVM “Doc”. She graduated from Vet School this month and the name Doc is no longer just a nick name, but a well deserved title for 21 years of school. I am sure the WoofPack will sleep soundly knowing that we have a professional in the mix on future trips.

It is crazy to think that all this planning is falling into place and in 7 short days we will be flying out to begin a journey of a life time. 20 years of dreaming, hundreds of hours of planning and countless miles of training will culminate into 5 short days of absolute freedom. No stress of alarm clocks, rush hour traffic, emails, text messages. The 6 of us will have an opportunity to truly escape from our hectic lives and get a dose of the world and life in which we are more suited for.

This last weekend we had a group “meeting”. Partially just an excuse to sit back and have a cold beer, but more importantly to finalize our plans for the trip. We had a walk through of the route from start to finish. Discussed bail out points along the way if our plans were to eager and fatigue gets the best of us. However, probably the most important part, we also worked out our emergency plan. Although it feels like we are pros with as much preparations that have been done for this trip, when it really comes down to it we are nothing but greenhorn rookies. Having a solid “oh-shit plan” Will not only give us a piece of mind now, but it will also allow for everyone to act a little more calm and rational should an emergency present itself along the way.

FallGal and I will be spending This weekend finishing up the food for the trip and then packing our bags. My plan is to have everything ready to go out the door by Sunday night. 4am on Thursday is gonna come quick!

SOOOOO EXCITED!!!!!!