Tuesday, October 23, 2012


It doesn't seem like I do much "local" travel. Most of my trips require a flight of several hours duration, and then, upon arrival, usually several more hours of driving. My trip to Yosemite National Park was no different. Although, our flight departed at a civilized hour of 8am; I typically fly out much earlier…

So, up at 5am, out the door by 5:30am, drop the car off at the parking lot and in the terminal just a bit after 6am. Board the plane by 7:30am, and away we went…

We landed in San Francisco (SFO), and after collecting our luggage, had the most annoying time getting our rental car. There had to be at least 100 people in line ahead of us. WTF Hertz? This took forever (not literally), and set us back by about an hour. After finally getting our rental Altima, we hit the road for the 4+hr journey across California.

If you add it all up, it was about 12-13hrs of traveling by the time we finally rolled in to the Yosemite Lodge. We celebrated by grabbing some food and going to bed early. And so ended Thursday.

Friday morning we got up, got breakfast, and laid siege to the one of the local meadows to take some sunrise photos. The sun rising over the ridge, just off to the side of Half-Dome was amazing. There was a huge oak tree that had the light shining through, and the grass in the meadow was also great to add in some foreground contrast.

After we had enough sunrise pics, it was off to the visitor's center to get some information on where to go and what to do. To be honest, I was very unprepared for this trip, despite planning it several months ago. I hadn't really done any research in to where the good hikes were, or what some of the "must see" areas would be. We bought a good map at the visitor's center, and were advised to check out the view at Glacier Point and to also do the 5 mile hike out to Taft Point, and up to the peak at Sentinel Dome.

On the drive out to Glacier Point, we stopped off at Tunnel View, a scenic vista just after, well, you guessed it, a tunnel. This view point offered one of the classic views of the Yosemite valley with both El Captain and Half Dome in the scene. The only thing missing was the waterfall, which at this time of the year, is dried up.

From Tunnel View
Further out to Glacier Point, the scenery just kept getting better and better. From an elevation of about 7,200ft, we were afforded a stunning panoramic view of the Yosemite valley. Photos just can't do this area justice. We "oohed" and "aaaahed" for a while, and then headed back to the trailhead to get some dirt underneath our shoes.

View from Glacier Point
Setting out to Taft Point (7,800 ft), we were once again granted a great view of the valley, but when we got to the top of Sentinel Dome (8,123 ft), we were blown away. Almost literally, as the wind was fierce, but also figuratively as the view here was unobstructed and 360-degrees. Again, I don't think it's possible to capture the feeling of how massive this park is, but trust me when I say that the view from Sentinel Dome was awesome.

That point is Taft Point. People go there and point to things.
A photographer (not me), taking in the scene from atop Sentinel Dome.
Back to the car, we made our way back down to the valley floor (around 4000 ft), got some sunset photos, and also grabbed some grub. Side note, while the food was adequate, this certainly wasn't a culinary endeavor.

Saturday, we scored some more "sunrise in the meadow" photos and then actually had some plans.

Jean had signed us up for a photography course/walk through the local Ansel Adams gallery. Dubbed the "In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams" program, this 4-hr session started with a viewing of some original Ansel Adams prints (valued at tens of thousands of dollars each), a discussion of lighting and composition, and then we headed out to actually do some shooting. Our instructor/guide was excellent, and I hope this was one more step towards becoming a better photographer, for both Jean, and myself. We spent some more time in the valley and meadows applying our new found knowledge, and the started planning our attack for Sunday.

With a park this big (nearly 1,200 square miles), and only a few days to explore, we had to pick and choose what to do. We decided on taking a drive up to Tioga Pass, as the weather was still good, to see some of the other views, specifically the view from Olmsted Point, and also to hike up to Mount Hoffman, of which John Muir was quoted as saying:

Ramble to the summit of Mt. Hoffman, eleven thousand feet high, the highest point in life's journey my feet have yet touched. And what glorious landscapes are about me, new plants, new animals, new crystals, and multitudes of new mountains far higher than Hoffman, towering in glorious array along the axis of the range, serene, majestic, snow-laden, sundrenched, vast domes and ridges shining below them, forests, lakes, and meadows in the hollows, the pure blue bell-flower sky brooding them all, --a glory day of admission into a new realm of wonders as if Nature had wooingly whispered, "Come higher."

Olmsted Point
I had been to Yosemite once before, perhaps 15yrs ago. I don't remember much about my visit. It was essentially a drive-by, on my way from one national mountain bike event (a NORBA national at Mammoth mountain) to another (Park City, UT, I think). I drove through with a couple of other bike industry guys, but didn't really do any exploring. The one thing I do remember, was an incredible view of granite peaks as far as the eye could see, and the back side of Half-Dome, something that, to this day, I think is a geological superstar. That view was from Olmsted Point (8,400 ft). On Sunday, the weather cooperated, by giving some clouds to an otherwise sunny sky. It was another impressive panoramic vista, and it rekindled my fascination with this national park. Little did I know, that this view was about to be crushed.

Hike up to May Lake.
One of the things Jean and I struggle with, when visiting places like this, is do we spend time doing epic hikes (10 miles or huge elevation gains), or do we focus on shorter hikes, thereby giving us time to also drive to other spots and do more exploring? We typically choose the latter, as we want to see all that we can see. The hike that we had chosen, up to May Lake and then up to Mount Hoffman was only 6 miles, but with a trailhead elevation of 8,000ft and a peak elevation of nearly 11,000ft, it was something that our sea-level legs and lungs would have to step up for.  Honestly, the views, which just kept getting better and better, made the hike almost seem effortless.

May Lake in the foreground, Mount Hoffman looming in the background.
May Lake (9270 ft) is a great little spot that also has some cabins which visitors can hike out to. From May Lake, there is an unofficial, but exceedingly well marked, trail to the top of Mount Hoffman. Side note, to any of my BMX friends reading this, I repeatedly call this Mat Hoffman…

Anyway, Mount Hoffman is described as the "geographical center of Yosemite National Park," and I'd rank this as one of the best hikes Jean and I have ever done. Heading up, the bight yellow brush offered excellent contrast to the stark grey granite. The views back down to the lake were amazing, and then, at the top…

As for the difficulty of the hike, we thought it was pretty easy. We just needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and neither one of us were really effected by the elevation, nor elevation that we has to ascend. The last hundred yards or so, to the actual peak, were a different story. It was part bouldering, part rock scramble, part puzzle-work as you had to use hands and feet going from boulder to boulder to boulder. There was also the sheer drop of probably 1,000ft off the north side that you had to consider.

I don't think a single photo can capture to feeling of vastness from the top. It's almost overwhelming. It's powerful, beautiful and awe-inspiring.

After shooting photo after photo after photo, which again, will never do the view justice, it was time to make our descent.  We got back to the car, grabbed our food out of the food locker, which you're required to use so that bears don't break into the cars), and made our way back to the valley floor and our lodge. The dramatic clouds that we had encountered along our hike continued to coalesce, and it looked like some "weather" was heading our way. By the following morning, there was snow at the higher elevations (i.e., where we had been the day before), and some of the roads were closed. Can you say good timing?

It's kind of interesting to think about the temperature ranges that we experienced. On one hike, the temp was in the 80's, it was sunny, dry and relatively hot. A few days later, it was in the 30's, cold, rainy and a bit snowy. Needless to say, we didn't pack light because we were prepared for both extremes.

Monday was our last day in the park, and we had to balance a desire to get more great photos with the storm clouds and snowy peaks alongside the knowledge that the road conditions in the park can change at any moment, and tire chains could have become mandatory. As Hertz did not supply tire chains, we had to start making our way to San Francisco.

It was hard to leave without getting more pics though, and perhaps we pushed our luck a bit. It worked out though, as the rain never turned to snow at the lower elevations, and we were able to make it out without a problem.

The drive from Yosemite National Park, through Merced, and into San Francisco was a bummer. We left the natural splendor and drove through vast stretches of barren landscape, broken only briefly by cities whose only reason for existence appeared to be to provide a zip code for yet another Best Buy/Target/Wal*Mart/Kohl's/Ross/Staples/Generic Big Box Store. The gave way to the suburbs of the SF Bay area, and then ended with the concrete parking lot known as The 101. Yeah, traffic.

We did find some excellent Thai food though, which was the food highlight of the trip. If you're ever in South San Francisco, be sure to look for the White Elephant.

Anyway, it's back to reality now, and back to work. And, time to start thinking about the next trip. In the meantime, I've got MANY more photos to go through... expect another posting soon!

1 comment:

Jay C said...

Thanks for the write up and photos. Trying to figure out a trip for next year and his has always been on my list.