Escape + Explore: Yosemite — “A Whole lotta Up”

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We have been off the grid for almost two weeks now, busy getting married, backpacking in Yosemite Valley, and ignoring the Internet. It has been wonderful, and we suggest that everyone gives it a go sometime. Now that we are back to the “grind” and “real life,” as everyone loves to remind you when you return from your honeymoon, we thought it would be fitting to share some pics from our trip since it was one of the most magical experiences of our lives.

Until you get into the backcountry, Yosemite feels a lot Disneyland so it is really important to break away from the snack stands, grab a bear can, and venture up. Tour buses, tour guides and tourists in silk blouses and track suits have the run of the valley floor. This arrangement dates all the way back to 1855 when James Hutchings organized and ushered the first group of oglers into the untouched valley after it was stumbled upon by the non-indigenous Mariposa Battalion, led by James D. Savage, in 1851. We are also technically tourists, exploiting the valley and disturbing the balance of its natural state, but our trip to Yosemite felt more like going to church, or Mecca, to worship and to reflect. Nature, after all, is our religion, and we have the utmost respect for her bountiful beauty.

As we drove from Fish Camp — a Pesce/Gill good luck omen — into the park and through the Wawona Tunnel, we were immediately greeted with a freshly minted rainbow reaching across the famous Tunnel View vista. In the background, you can see Yosemite Valley, the beast El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and a teeny tiny bit of Half Dome. Super casual. In the words of Lafayette Bunnell, one of the first white men to encounter Yosemite, “I found my eyes in tears with emotion.” As we passed Camp 4, which served as a home base (and still does) for some of the most iconic climbers in American history and the Sierra Club — founded by John Muir in 1892 — we were reminded that something much larger than us transpired here. Modern man’s ever-evolving love affair with the outdoors is one of the the oldest stories in the book and we, in our mid-30s, have just gotten around to reading the CliffsNotes.

There are sooooo many different trails in this 1,169-square mile park, with totally different types of terrain and experiences, this is just one perspective from one point of view. Initially we had planned on going to Smith Peak, but Tioga Pass was closed and there was still tons of snow in that part of the park, so we just changed our course of action and happened to luck out at the first-come, first-served permit station in Yosemite Village. Once we collected our wilderness permit for lucky trail #68, the most popular route in all of Yosemite, we started the journey up the slick, glacier-carved granite slopes. The valley floor sits at about 4,800 feet and Half Dome, our final destination, sits at 8,848 feet. With our trusty Osprey packs (I carried the Ariel 75 in the Wheat colorway and loved it) and our Mountain Hardwear shells (I wore the Super Light Plasmic) we hit the ground running, well, more like crawling since our packs weighed a healthy 35-45 lbs. From the Happy Isles trailhead, we headed up the Mist Trail past Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. We were stoked that the weather was crappy because the trail was pretty much empty. During the holidays or any high-summer day, you can find yourself contending with hundreds of inexperienced visitors “hiking” up the wet steps with their iPads, small children and running sneakers. Très dangerous.

Like most backpackers, we spent out first night in Little Yosemite Valley aka”Grand Central Station” of the wilderness. We made a fire, cooked some dinner, and chatted up our neighbors about tips on navigating the park. In the morning we headed towards Sub Dome and successfully summited Half Dome. Words used to describe climbing the cables at Half Dome include “sketchy,” “wonky,” “janky,” “precarious,” and “suspect.” I would not advise trying to attempt this if you are even remotely out of shape or scared of dying. There are really helpful squirrels (assholes) that eat through the zippers of backpacks left on the Sub Dome, and they gorge on your snacks so you don’t have to lug them all the way back down. So thoughtful of them.

When we came back down from Half Dome, we grabbed our packs, which we had stored in a bear container at LYV and headed towards Moraine Dome, about two miles into the valley. We found a peaceful waterfall that was fed by the Merced River to set up camp and we stayed there for two nights. Our Sierra Designs Lightning 2 UL was perfect weighing in at 3 lbs 7 oz. and incredibly easy to set up thanks to the freestanding design. The gear closet on either side was key (as opposed to up front by the door) and we felt comfortable even though it was still a little chilly. The next day we hiked over and up and then down again to Merced lake. Fun fact: this is the only part of the valley that the glacier was not strong enough to carve out a “U” shape, so it is has retained the traditional “V” shape associated with typical valley terrain.

Eventually, when we started to run out of food, we made the trek back down to reality where we promptly ate two hot dogs and drank a fountain soda. All and all, we covered 26 miles and with almost 5,000 feet of elevation gained over the course of four days. We had some “special” run-ins with mule deers, gophers, Coral snakes and some squirrels, but no black bear sightings to report — except that one bear that ate a tourist (jkjk).

xx Jeanine a.k.a. “the fire boss”