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Yosemite National Park, CA

Saturday, September 8, 2012

   On Saturday we left the Vasona Lake County Park and headed east toward Yosemite, passing through areas of farmland and citrus groves. Along the way we stocked up on supplies at a supermarket and a Walmart. We also stopped to grab lunch at an In-N-Out. As early evening approached we entered the park and got our first glimpse of the valley, El Capitan, and Half Dome. We stopped at Tunnel View to catch the sunset before heading over to find the Cozy Bear Cottages in Yosemite West.

At our cottage, we unpacked the food and put Ezra to bed. After checking in with Carol and Neal (Cozy Bear owners), we planned the next day’s hike and learned that all three of us had received Half Dome climbing permits.

Here is a map of the park.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

                               On Sunday we headed down into the Yosemite Valley and parked at the Camp 4 camping/climbing area. Along the way, we noticed a few signs regarding the Huntavirus outbreak that had been in the news the previous week. In the parking lot we saw a “bear trap” – a metal cylinder with a door, presumably for capturing problem bears. Camp 4 is a well-known staging area for climbers preparing to ascend various routes on El Capitan and the surrounding big walls.

Yosemite Falls is supposed to be spectacular when the Yosemite Creek is running. Unfortunately, the water level was very low while we were in the park, and Yosemite Falls weren’t running at all. The hike was very strenuous and hot, and featured many switchbacks on the lower section. After eating lunch near an overlook over the valley, we continued further up to a second overlook with a great view of Half Dome. Back at Camp 4, we checked out the famous Camp 4 Boulder.  On the way back to the cottages, we stopped in a field across the road from El Capitan.  Here we found several visitors hanging out in lawn chairs using telescopes or binoculars to watch big wall climbers ascending El Cap.  Big wall climbers take 3-5 days to ascend the giant 3000ft walls, depending on the route.  They sleep on portaledges, essentially hanging tents that can be secured to the wall.

In the afternoon, we stopped at the Yosemite Valley Supermarket to pick up a few supplies. We cooked dinner back at the cottage, Tom checked out sunset at Inspiration Point, and we all turned in early for our Half Dome hike the next day.

Lodging: Cozy Bear Cottages (Yosemite West)

Monday, September 10, 2012

On Monday we got an early start (approx 5:00am) in anticipation of a long day hiking Half Dome. We were on the trail – with plenty of other hikers – by 6:30am. The first section of the trail passes the “staircase” waterfalls of XXX and XXX. Here we were lucky that the Merced river levels were high enough to form the waterfalls, although not at their peak magnitude. Along the way we climbed several long staircases that seemed to never end, especially with Ezra on my back. Eventually we gained some elevation and ended up hiking around the back side of Half Dome through the Little Yosemite Valley. The terrain involved pines and firs, along with some open fields. Soon we arrived at a checkpoint where an iPad-equipped ranger verified that our climbing permits were in order. We continued on and up through denser forest, gaining additional elevation. Finally, we arrived at the base of the Subdome, where we ate lunch. The hike up to the Saddle was rocky and exposed but offered expansive and impressive views. As the Saddle approached we started to make out climbers the size of ants, inching their way up the fixed cables to the broad summit. At the Saddle, Beth Ann determined that the climb was probably not for her given the exposure and height, and Ezra would be safer waiting it out, too. Tom and I put on our gardening gloves, I put on my climbing harness and sling, we snapped a few photos, and off we went. The climb itself involves gripping metal cables while lunging between horizontal 2x4s that offer relative stability and safety. I used my sling to clip into the fixed cable, but I had to unclip (and thus become briefly unprotected) at each fixed vertical support. In hindsight, it would have been safer to use two slings to ensure 100% protection. We passed a bunch of people and eventually topped out. On the summit, we took in the views of the valley and surrounding peaks, including Cloud’s Rest to the northeast. On the way down, we got stuck behind two women who were moving glacially slow. Back at the Saddle, we rejoined Beth Ann and Ezra, who was having a fantastic time interacting with other hikers (except when he had to get a big poopy diaper changed). At the base of the Subdome, we said our goodbyes to Tom, who headed off at a quick clip to grab his rental car and cross the park to Lee Vining in anticipation of hiking Cloud’s Rest the next day. Beth Ann, Ezra, and I got back to the car around 6:30pm after a long, hot 14 mile slog. Ezra had been a trooper and never complained. Back at Cozy Bear Cottages, we switched over to a 1BR condo underneath the main house, since we had adjusted our travel plans at the last minute to skip Curry Village camping.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tom hiked Cloud’s Rest and drove back to San Francisco for his flight home. Marc, BA, and Ezra woke up early and drove to Glacier Point. Here, we were treated to beautiful views of the sunrise over Yosemite Valley. BA snapped photos while Marc attempted to cook breakfast and coffee using the whisperlite. After Glacier Point, we headed south to Mariposa Sequoia Grove. The grove was crowded. We hiked for several hours on meandering trails between giant, towering trees, including the Twins, Fallen Grove, and the Grizzly Giant. We ate lunch in a peaceful part of the grove. Beth Ann carried Ezra for a while to give Marc a break. After leaving the grove we drove back to Glacier Point to view the sunset. First we hiked 15 minutes to take in dusk views looking west toward El Capitan. Then we returned to join the crowds at Glacier Point. Marc tried and failed to cook dinner; he made hot cocoa instead. Ezra ran around energetically screaming. Beth Ann snapped lots of photos of the sun setting over Half Dome and the valley.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

While getting ready in the morning Ezra knocked over a bar stool, separating the seat from the legs. We felt terrible about it and left a note for Carol and Neal to bill us; we never heard from them, though. Then we packed up and drove up Big Oak Flat Rd to Tioga Rd. Tioga Rd traverses the park from west to east and is often closed into the summer depending on snow levels. The road was windy with beautiful views.

We hiked out to Cloud’s Rest (9926 ft), which is 1000 ft higher than Half Dome. This is a classic 14.4 mile round-trip hike that includes a narrow traverse between relatively steep drop-offs that reaches 5 ft across. At the Cloud’s Rest summit, we took in beautiful panaramic views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley, as well as the Sawtooth Ridge and Matterhorn Peak in the north to Mt Ritter and Banner Peak in the southeast. Climbers were visible ascending Half Dome like ants. On the way back we ran into a group of backpackers doing a 5-day 55-mile loop in the Cathedral Range area – a great idea for a future trip.

After completing the hike, we drove through Tuolumne Meadows and exited the park at Lee Vining. Lee Vining is the eastern entry point for Yosemite. It also overlooks Mono Lake, a large, shallow desert lake. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salt to accumulate in the lake. In addition, the lake is notable for its exposed tufa formations. In Lee Vining we had dinner at Bodie Mike’s – a mediocre BBQ restaurant – and crashed at the Lake View motor lodge. Ezra slept in his peapod tent.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

We spent our final day in Yosemite exploring the Tuolumne Meadows area. I had toyed with hiking up to Cathedral Lakes but given our long trek to Cloud’s Rest we opted for a less rigorous day. We cooked breakfast near Lembert Dome (John Baptiste Lembert was a homesteader in Tuolumne Meadows in 1865). Ezra and I walked up a broad ramp in front of the dome to get our bearings. Afterward we headed to the Visitor Center to grab a Ranger Tour of the Tuolumne Meadows. We learned about the flora, fauna, geology, and history of the Meadows area. Following the walk we banged out a short hike to the summit of Lembert Dome. Getting to the true summit required a bit of scrambling on steep rock, so BA and Ezra waited just below while I ascended. Great views of Cathedral Range and surrounding peaks. Finally, we said goodbye to Yosemite and headed back out through Lee Vining toward Lake Tahoe. Not before stopping to fill up the rental car with $5.00/gallon gas!

Our drive north and west to Lake Tahoe was uneventful. We crossed into Nevada and approached Lake Tahoe from the east. We drove up and over a mountain pass on Rt 207, passed the Heavenly ski resort, and came down into Stateline. Stateline is interesting because there are casinos lining the road right up to the California border. Back in California we drove through touristy, resorty South Lake Tahoe before arriving at Camp Richardson. Camp Richardson is a laidback family resort and campground surrounded by tall trees on the lakefront. Here we checked into our rustic cabin, complete with a pack-and-play for Ezra and a small kitchenette.

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