Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Yosemite! Oct. 15th-21st

Wednesday, Oct. 15th
Into the Park
We sleep horribly because the wind is howling all night, and at some point early morning a sprinkler goes off next to our tent.  When we finally get up, the wind is still blasting. I start the day with a flat tire, and proceed to pull out not 1 but 10 goatheads, any of which could have caused the problem. (Danny's side note: a goathead is a spiky part of the fruit of a plant in the Caltrop family.)
We start pedaling through a beautiful winding canyon dotted with sagebrush. Unfortunately the shoulder isn't great, and the gusts of wind are so fierce that it's hard to pedal straight.  Several times we have to stop because we've almost gotten knocked off our bikes. As we consider getting a ride rather than struggling to bike in these conditions, a construction truck stops to see if we need help.  Soon after, a policeman stops and offers to give us a lift. More time in Yosemite and less time on this road? We accept. The policeman is also named Danny and is super friendly.  He tells us about his family, the farm and ranch land that he takes care of when he's not working this job, the local wildlife and geology. Before we know it we're admiring Mono Lake at the foot of Tioga Pass.
Before heading up the pass we stop at a well known restaurant hidden inside of a Mobil gas station.  Here we enjoy a roasted veggie sandwich, vegetarian chili with cheese over fries and salad.  Everything is incredibly tasty!
Stomachs uncomfortably full, we begin to climb our highest pass yet.  In front of us are stark granite cliffs, jagged against the sky.
Slowly we pass a mountain clearly shaped by an enormous glacier. All around are small streams dripping their way through the dry landscape, and in the distance a beautiful waterfall. We pass some photographers doing work for; take a look at their site!
As we near the top of the pass, we look back and can see the gorge we've been climbing through and row after row of deserty mountains stretching to the horizon.  Quite the sight.
The road levels out and we reach the Tioga entrance station. We're officially in Yosemite at 9,945ft!

It's really cold, so we layer up and make our descent to Tuolumne Meadows, where we get a wilderness permit for our backpacking trip!

Thursday, Oct. 16th
Tuolumne Meadows to Evelyn Lake
We convert bikes to backpacks, then hide our biking stuff in the forest and head out on the trail. The trail we start off on parallels the road and the Tuolumne River, which is super low but still glossy and beautiful. After a bit we turn right onto the John Muir Trail and break out of the forest into a giant meadow. This trail is clearly worn by many feet. It's amazing to think of all the people who have walked here, many of our friends among them. (Danny's side note: and me just over two years ago!) The meadow is filled with golden grasses and a small muddy river.  On either side of us are granite cliffs that seem to get taller as we walk. We can't continue on this trail; it would take us out of the park.  Instead we turn right and hike up into a forest of lodgepole pines. We're pleasantly surprised to find a small stream where we stop to have lunch.
Afterwards we continue to hike up through the forest until we break out into a meadow dotted with small granite boulders and trees. Slowly we make our way into the alpine zone and reach a saddle with a breathtaking view. Behind us is a train of mountains that looks like a series of ocean waves made from granite. Next to these, in sharp contrast, are sheer, dark grey cliffs.  Closer to us are jumbled cliffs that turn into a blocky ridge connecting to our saddle. Ahead is Evelyn Lake, clear and blue.
In the meadow by the lake, mountain bluebirds are playing, their wings flashing bright blue in the sun.  Above us is a small rainbow, although curiously, no rain is in sight. We camp on a small ridge where we watch the sunset illuminate the sky in pastel hues of pink, orange, and yellow.

Friday, Oct. 17th
Evelyn Lake to Merced Lake
We pack up and head down into the valley we enjoyed from our perch last night. Soon we're upon another clear alpine lake and stop to get water. A bit further on we reach Vogelsang Alpine Camp. Now it's a ghost town, but I can imagine how busy it must be in the summer.  There are little cabins, restrooms, and platforms for large stationary tents. I didn't know such places existed!
We continue past and up towards Vogelsang Pass. We pass some huge boulders and find one that looks fun to climb.  There are big chunks of crystal that stick out from the rocks and make great holds. We play around on it for a bit.

Continuing to hike, we evaluate whether we'll be able to go up Vogelsang Peak.  It seems like there's a good route! We drop our packs and scramble up. There's a bit of a trail here and there, but mostly we just find our own way. We're at the top in no time, elevation 11,493 ft. The view is just spectacular. Looking SE there's a mountain so clearly carved by a glacier you can imagine how it must have looked. Now there's a series of 6 lakes, each at a slightly lower elevation than the last. To the west we can see Half Dome, looking like a shiny bald head among the other more jumbled ridge lines. To the north is the same series of granite peaks we saw yesterday, row after row, streaked and striated.  It's quite a sight. We linger for a while, enjoying the view, then head down and have lunch.
In the early afternoon, our trail takes us up and over the mountain saddle and then down into the valley of Lewis Creek.  We follow this creek all the way to Merced Lake, dropping 4,000+ ft. in elevation. Slowly the forest changes from primarily lodgepole to limber pines, red firs, and the occasional cluster of golden aspens. We enjoy watching Lewis Creek pour over granite slabs and dance around boulders. By the lake we walk into a quite grove of giant white firs and jeffrey pines. My legs are quite sore, but it's been an incredible day.
We camp on a ridge overlooking the lake.  As we eat dinner the sun sets between the trees in a blaze of purple and pink.

Saturday, Oct. 18th
Merced Lake to Half Dome
The sun is just rising over the mountains as we head out. This morning we're in a world of granite.  The river pools and waterfalls down granite slabs to our left, we hike along granite slabs, our path is lined with granite boulders, and all around us rise smooth granite cliffs streaked in white and black. Our trail winds up, down, and around the Merced river. At points we walk away from the granite and onto sandy paths through the forest. We pass countless waterfalls, even if we can't see them we hear them, the water dancing its way through the maze of granite. It's a perfect morning, not a cloud in the sky.
After a bit we enter an area recently burned by a fire caused by a lightning strike. The trees stand tall and black. Many have fallen. Stepping off the trail puts us in ash up to our ankles. It's a strange landscape. The only signs of life that we detect are some baby green ferns making their way up through the ash, a couple of woodpeckers, and some massive sugar pine cones.  We find one that's ~50cm long! Here we meet Frank and Mona, two Germans backpacking through the park. We hike with them for a bit and enjoy chatting.
Around lunch, we part ways and stop by a creek where we eat some food, wash our things, and enjoy the warm sun. When we begin our ascent to Half Dome, my legs start to burn.  All the biking and hiking without much rest is taking its toll.  Danny takes some of my stuff, and we continue. Partway up the Half Dome trail we do some scouting and find a perfect spot for our tent: perched on the side of Yosemite Valley. The enormous smooth granite cliffs forming the valley are like nothing I've ever seen before. From here we can see all the landmarks, Half Dome, El Cap, the Three Brothers, and Clouds Rest. Impressive to say the least. Everything except water and layers left behind, we scramble up the rest of the trail. Up top there are no more trees, and we begin to climb large granite steps. The final part of the ascent involves going up two cables, now down for the season. We're not sure about going up, but then we start talking to a climber who has just come down.  In an extremely generous gesture he gives me a new sling and carabiner to attach to the cables so that I'll be safe while climbing.  How incredibly nice! I'm so grateful.
Walking up, the granite is grippier than I expected, but there's still a bit of a climb and I have to take a few breaks on the way up. All the effort is worth it.  Up top it's only me and Danny watching the sun begin to set over the valley. Absolutely magical.
As we head down, the sun casts Half Dome's monstrous shadow on the ridge and backlights it with yellow and orange streaks.  Back at the tent eating dinner, we watch the stars and Milky Way slowly emerge.

Sunday, Oct. 19th
Half Dome to Sunrise
Before leaving in the morning we take a few moments to enjoy our amazing location on the edge of the valley. It's incredible to watch birds swoop and soar over the granite abyss. It warms up as the sun rises and we begin to hike, first down off the Half Dome trail, then a stop to get water by the John Muir Trail, then up and up and up. We slowly climb about 3,000 ft of elevation. At first we walk through coniferous forest, then we emerge back into a landscape of granite, mountain laurel, and buckthorn with scattered trees. Rising before us are immense granite pinnacles, but we walk past them to get to Cloud's Rest at almost 10,000 ft. It's been quiet all morning- we've only glimpsed one other person- so it's a surprise when we get to the top there's a bunch of other people there. They all walked from Tenaya Lake, the much shorter, easier route. They're being rather loud and obnoxious, but I don't care because the view is incredible. Ahead of us is Yosemite Valley, looking even grander than it did this morning (if possible). We have a great view of Half Dome, with the top of Sentinel Dome peeking out just above it. Behind us is Little Yosemite Valley and the swath of  burned forest we walked through yesterday. The backdrop to all of this is those iconic, jagged granite peaks. We stay for a while, enjoying, reading, and painting.

Early afternoon, we decide that it's time to continue, so we hike back down into the rolling hills of the alpine, staying around 9,000 ft for the rest of the day. Late afternoon we reach Sunrise Lakes, gorgeous clear lakes perfectly reflecting the sky. From here we hike out into an expanse of meadow.  It takes us a while to find a place to camp because the meadow grasses have determinedly advanced in among the trees.  The sun sets pink over the granite hills.

Monday, Oct. 20th
Sunrise to Tenaya Lake
Cathedral Peak
There's frost on the tent when we wake up, but slowly the sun warms us up.  A short hike brings us up over Cathedral Pass and from there we evaluate how best to climb Cathedral Peak. Leaving our packs by the trail, we set off. After the first ridge we pick up what appears to be a trail. Closer to the top we see a sign that the 'trail' we were on is an unofficial one. Since so many climbers come here, they're trying to establish one permanent trail and reduce erosion.  From then on we try to follow the path marked by carabiners. As we climb up I admire the layered rock faces that form the jagged peaks of Cathedral. We make it to the ridge and realize that a climb to the top would require some rock climbing gear, or just be really sketchy. We decide not to attempt it. The view from here is more than enough to please me. On both sides are beautiful deep blue lakes, their waters rippling in the wind. Ahead are several smooth granite domes poking up from the forest. But right now, what's really cool are the clouds. They've been blown into layered orbs and circles so that they look sort of like UFOs. We also see some large, puffy storm like clouds rolling over the horizon, which make us decide that it's time to be on our way.
Off the peak, we have lunch then hike out. Thankfully, it's mostly downhill, and the few groups of people we meet assure us that the weather should remain fair. Late afternoon we're reunited with our bikes. Yay! We repack our things and ride down the road to Tenaya Lake. I do a painting as the sun sets.  A mountain lights up pink in the distance.

Tuesday, Oct. 21st
Our day starts off poorly with a ranger citing us for camping out of bounds.  We're not sure how we're supposed to bike the road if our bikes are not allowed to be parked on the road overnight, nor are they allowed to be taken into the wilderness. We do our best to forget our frustration with rule-following officials and enjoy the ride down the Tioga Road.  At first there are lots of ups and downs, but after 25 miles or so we begin an incredible descent that brings us right into Yosemite Valley.  Even though we're still in the park, we feel completely removed from the wilderness.  There are cars, people, and buildings everywhere.  The village includes a post office, store, gallery, restaurants, hotels, a court, and a jail! We eat some delicious pizza then meet up with my friend Chad who I met biking cross-country in college.  Currently, he has an awesome deal working for IT in the park and has generously offered to let us stay at his place.  It's so great to see him! We use the afternoon to run some errands, we finally sent our bear cans off in the mail!!, then spend the evening chatting and  making delicious food.  Chad is working on an awesome app for climbers.  Currently it only has info for Yosemite, but he's hoping to expand it to include many other areas.  From what I can tell, it's way more useful than mountain project. (Danny's side note: Mountain Project is a popular online resource and app for rock climbing.)
We're sleeping warm and inside tonight.

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