Yosemite was one of the stops we were looking forward to the most. It seems that nearly everyone you ask says Yosemite is their favorite national park. Additionally, we had been planning our hike of the infamous half-dome cable route for months.
Days 58 – 61
September 29 – October 2, 2014
Miles 6753 – 7298
Early Monday morning I picked Jon up from the San Jose airport and we headed to Yosemite. Yosemite National Park is one that we had been looking forward to for a while, having obtained a permit to hike Half Dome (more about that later). The drive to Yosemite from San Jose was fairly dull. We stopped twice to buy groceries and supplies.
Yosemite is a large park (over 700,000 acres) but the 7 square mile Yosemite Valley is where 90% of all tourists visit. Yosemite Valley is home to the most popular features of the park, as well as numerous campsites and lodging. We drove straight through the park to the valley and arrived at 6pm, just as the campsite office was closing. It was lucky that we had made a campsite reservation for Lower Pines, because no walk in sites were available. After setting up camp we cooked a dinner of spaghetti with meat sauce. We forewent a campfire and went to bed early to be well rested for the next day.
Tuesday was the day of our permits to hike Half Dome. Half Dome is a granite peak which rises almost 5,000 feet out of the Yosemite Valley floor. It is named half dome for its curved-dome like back side and steep front face which look like a sphere chopped in half. In order to hike Half Dome the National Park Service has installed cables up the steepest 400 feet of the dome. To preserve Half Dome, only 200 people may climb on the cables each day and permits are issued in advance by lottery (you can read about it here).
The Half Dome hike was by far the most challenging hike Jon and I have ever attempted. The hike itself is an out and back trail totaling approximately 18 miles (including the walk from our campsite). 18 miles is the most we have ever hiked in a day. In addition to that, there is a vertical climb and decent of 5000 feet. Being such a long hike, we each carried 4 liters of water, lunch, snacks, gear for the cables, and headlamps. We woke before daybreak and walked from our camp to the trailhead as soon as it got light outside. The hike starts on a paved trail, but it was steep and we were soon taking off our extra layers of clothing. The weather for our hike was perfect, some of the best of the trip. The trail split several times and you have the option to take steep switchbacks or walk on a longer but flatter route. We picked the steeper switchbacks as they passed by two waterfalls. We hiked past Vernal Falls first. From the base of Vernal Falls steep carved granite stairs take you straight up to the top of the falls.
Steep switchbacks lead to the top of Nevada Falls as well. From the top of Nevada Falls the trail continues to climb steadily but isn’t as steep as it is near the falls. The trail eventually curves around and you start to hike up the ridge adjacent to Half Dome. Before rising above the tree-line we stopped to eat lunch. Just below the base of the dome is another set of extremely steep switchbacks and carved stairs, at the top of which is the cable route.
The cable route, and even the switchbacks leading to it, are scary. Climbing Half Dome is definitely one of the most harrowing trips we have been on. The cable route consists of two parallel cables about 3 feet apart. Climbers going both up and down the dome must share the cables. To climb the cables, Jon and I both had gloves as did most hikers. Additionally, we brought our climbing harnesses and quickdraws so that we could attach ourselves to the cables, something only a few other people did. Climbing the cables actually wasn’t nearly as hard as it looks. It is very tiring on your arms as you keep pulling yourself along.
Reaching the top of Half Dome was the best moment of Yosemite. The top flattens out and everyone who has made it is happy. When I left the cables I yelled ‘I made it’ to which I got a round of applause from several other hikers sitting nearby. The flat area of Half Dome is surprisingly large and there is a lot of space to walk around. Jon and I took in the views from several faces daring to get close to the edge for some photos. We also found a secluded spot (part way down the other side of the dome) to have a snack.
The hike down the cables was scary too. I found that walking backwards, similar to rappelling was much easier but Jon preferred to walk down facing forward like most people did. The hike down the switchbacks went quickly but we could feel our knees wearing a bit by then. As we traced our route back down, we decided to take the longer but less steep path to preserve our legs. When we were about 3 miles from the trailhead the sun was starting to set. At about 2 miles from the trailhead we had to switch on our headlamps. Exhausted we made it to the park shuttle around 8:15pm, a full 13 hours after our hike had started. Too tired to cook at camp, we ate some snacks and went to bed.
Waking up the next morning wasn’t very fun; stiff and sore. We packed up camp and decided to take it easy by driving to some of the park’s other features. We took photos from the valley of Half Dome and El Capitan. We even took some time to spot miniscule climbers against the face of El Capitain.
We had wanted to hike to Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in America, but were disappointed to find out that it was dried up for the year and not flowing so we skipped that hike. Following a suggestion in our guidebook we drove to the Tunnel View Overlook to take photographs at what is considered the most photographed vista in the world.
We drove on to Glacier Point. Glacier Point is another tall peak in Yosemite, but is accessed by car with only a half mile hike needed to get to the view point. I actually preferred the Glacier Point View, but only because it allowed me to look at Half Dome.
On the way down we made a quick stop at Bridalveil Falls. The walk to the falls overlook is short, but the falls can also be seen from the parking lot. We were there during the right time to see a rainbow in the falls.
After Bridalveil Falls we drove to Housekeeping Camp for the night. Housekeeping Camp was a very unique camping experience. Jon stayed there with his family when he was 10 years old. Each site consists of a three-walled structure with real beds and mattresses in it. Each structure has a small mostly inclosed patio with a picnic table, separated from the beds by a curtain. The patio and beds are covered with a canvas ceiling. Just outside of the patio is a fire ring. Also very exciting for us was that Housekeeping Camp has a shower house. Jon and I set up camp, showered, and then made a meal of faux Shepard’s pie (mashed potatoes and ground beef) and pasta. We made a great campfire and split a bottle of Yosemite labeled wine that we found in the campstore.
One rule of camping in Yosemite is that all food must be stored in a food locker. Food is not even permitted in locked cars. Each campsite has food lockers to use. That night Jon woke me up because he heard a loud scratching noise against the food locker. Needless to say, bear or not, every little bump in the night had us on edge after that and we woke each up several more times to listen to the animal like noises outside.
Thursday was our last day in Yosemite. We had to pack up our camp first, but then decided to take the time and visit Mariposa Grove. Mariposa Grove is at the south entrance to Yosemite and is one of 3 groves of giant sequoias in the park. We parked a few miles away and took a free park shuttle to the grove. We decided to skip the official tour (which costed $26) and instead walk to a few of the more famous trees. We walked to Grizzly Giant Tree which was very cool, and has a larger diameter than ‘Big Tree’ in Redwood. Unfortunately fire damage to the tree caused it to lose a lot of its height. We also walked to California Drive Through Tree, a tree that was once cut to allow cars to drive through it. The opening remains and we walked through the tree.
Leaving Yellowstone we drove to Lodi. We had decided to stay in Lodi only because of its location mid-way between Yosemite and our next destination of Sonoma. Lodi wasn’t much, but we did stumble on a restaurant that we enjoyed called the Dancing Fox Winery. Jon had 3 big fish tacos which he describes as ‘not the best in the world but a lot of food’. I had a salad that was really great (but I did have to ask for walnuts as they were somehow left off).