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!

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.