Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. – John Muir
This summer, I’ve gone on a couple of weekend trips to Yosemite National Park with the C2J crew, first to climb Half Dome, and then to backpack to Young Lakes. Both trips were rejuvenating and challenging, but more importantly they turned out to be fun and memorable adventures. Read on for a breakdown of my summer 2015 Yosemite experience!
- 14.2 miles round trip via Mist Trail
- Elevation: 8,842 feet
- Elevation gain 4,800 feet
- 12 miles round trip via Young Lakes Trail
- Elevation: 9,850 feet
- Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
The hike to the top of Half Dome was pretty strenuous, mainly because of the length and elevation gain. We started around 5 am and passed by beautiful waterfalls, jagged stone steps, tree-lined trails, and more granite pathways before arriving at the infamous cables that led to the top of Half Dome.
The steel cables and wooden beams drilled into the rock supported would-be Half Dome conquerors as they made the final trek on the slippery granite to the summit. While the path never gets completely vertical, some points definitely felt close, and we’d heard enough stories about people slipping off that we were extra careful during our ascent.
At the top, the views were breathtaking. We went during a perfectly sunny day, so we could see all the peaks and valleys in the park below. The crew spent around 40 minutes eating, resting, taking pictures, and enjoying the scenery.
Our hike to Young Lakes was strenuous in a different way. We’d spent the night before at a backpacker’s camp in Tuolumne Meadows, so on the day of the hike we lugged all our camping equipment (plus bear canisters) in our backpacks for the trip to the lake.
While the elevation gain wasn’t nearly as high as the Half Dome hike, we were carrying 30+ pounds of gear and the air near the top was pretty thin. The hike itself was a bit more standard – trees, dirt/gravel/granite paths, and a small stream.
When we arrived at our destination at Lower Young Lake, we were spellbound by the mirror-like finish of the lake reflecting the sky and mountains overhead. An added bonus – the entire lake was large enough that even with other backpackers in the area, we didn’t see another face during the rest of our stay. This became our lake.
Setbacks (That Turned Out Alright)
On our drive to Yosemite, we stopped at the In N Out in Livermore for dinner. What was supposed to be a quick pit stop turned into quite the adventure. As we pulled out from the parking lot, we noticed the tire pressure light on. After parking to double check, we found a screw lodged in the rear right tire, which was visibly flat. By now it was getting late and all the local tire shops had closed for the night, so we bit the bullet, re-filled the flat tire with air, and drove to a Motel 6.
We brought our sleeping bags, air mattress, an ukulele, and some wine, and our motel “camping” experience turned out to be a ton of fun. Bright and early the next morning, we got the tire patched up (for ~$10), enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Denica’s, and made it to Yosemite without a hitch. I have a feeling this will become one of those stories we’ll tell in the future – “remember that one time we camped at the Motel 6?”
Thankfully there were no flat tire incidents during our trip to Young Lakes. In fact, the entire hike up to the lake happened without any setbacks. But once we got to the top, trouble began to brew and manifested itself as a rain shower that quickly turned into a hailstorm. As the rain began to fall we ran from the shoreline to the nearby trees, trying in vain to set up a tarp as water poured from the sky.
After fumbling for a bit, we got the tarp up just as the hail started to fall. The tarp itself wasn’t very big, and the four of us managed to squeeze under it in seated positions. As I sat and watched tiny hail balls accumulate on the floor, I realized how comical of a situation we were in. And like any setback, this too did pass. The storm clouds went by after 15 minutes, and we quickly set up camp, cooked some hot soup, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
Our Half Dome camping experience takes the cake for most unique. You can’t beat camping out in a motel in Livermore, then staying at an old campground/RV park on the outskirts of Yosemite. I’d say for this trip, camping wasn’t supposed to be the highlight – our one-day hurrah to the top of Half Dome was the main attraction, so I didn’t mind the arrangements. Plus there was plenty of good food, which included our usual camping staple carne asada burritos.
Backcountry camping next to a beautiful lake was the highlight of our Young Lakes trip, so naturally the camping experience was pretty awesome, despite the initial rain and hailstorm. Gone were the crowded campgrounds filled with people. We were surrounded by trees, rocks, wildlife, and no other humans in sight. We also brought in a ton of food and had a feast. In addition to our standard carne asada (2 pounds), we also brought bell peppers, onions, avocados (to make guacamole), salsa, bacon, eggs, and miso soup packets. We dined like kings (and queen).
Yosemite has got to be one of the prettiest places in the world. It’s not surprising to me that generations of writers, photographers, and environmentalists have expressed a similar combination of awestruck reverence for the park. Personally, getting out into nature puts me in a sort of zone, where I can take in all the sensory information without having to worry about deadlines, social expectations, or day-to-day problems.
It’s an opportunity to be entirely in the present, while at the same time challenging myself physically and mentally in a beautiful environment. Throw in time well spent with good friends and there’s no doubt that my Half Dome and Young Lakes trips will be summer highlights.
Once again, I have to give a shout out to the awesome crew – Inspector Luke for leading the charge, Meditating Mike for providing the ukulele backing tracks, and Queen/Robin Vicki for being a fierce royal. Here’s to more trips to come!