yosemite part 4: half dome

Hi hi! This was an epic hike. So epic that it requires a permit to hike it. Mitch and I knew we were awarded the permit several months before the trip and we were sooooo excited! If you ever want to hike Half Dome, make sure you apply for a permit before hand! Or you can try for a walk up permit at the ranger station the day of but you won’t be able to start as early. It is up to you! Let’s go!

Since hiking Half Dome is almost 18 miles round trip, Mitch and I woke up at 3:30 AM to checkout of Half Dome Village and drive to the trailhead. Once we arrived, we ate oats with peanut butter by headlamp and gathered up our things. We hit The Mist Trail a bit before 5 AM, hiking the first three miles in the dark. This section of the hike was paved and very hilly. In the dark, it seemed like the hills would go on forever and once we would make it to the top of one, there was another one to climb. We also were not hiking leisurely because we wanted to beat most of the other hikers up there to avoid having lots of people on the cables (more of that fun to come later!). Anyway, the trail is called “The Mist Trail” because the mist from Vernal Falls covers stairs that lead up to the falls and around it. Once we made it there, we took our time navigating the steps and walkways before reaching the top. It is just a bit unsettling to be able to hear a powerful waterfall and not see it. A little reminder that nature is powerful and can be unforgiving at times. Mitch and I continued on our way to Nevada Falls, climbing even more as the trail continued.

By the time we made it to the top of Nevada Falls, the sun was starting to come out and we decided to take a break and snack. It was pretty neat to be able to see how far we had come that morning! After relaxing a bit, we started the second leg of the hike through relatively flat Little Yosemite Valley, giving our legs a bit of a reprieve from the first round of climbing. We soaked in the coolness of the valley and the clear morning sky. A mini breather in this rigorous hike! Though it did not last long since the trail picked back up again, loaded with switchbacks.

 Sub Dome hiding part of Half Dome. We were at the tip of the second peak!
Sub Dome hiding part of Half Dome. We were at the tip of the second peak!

This part of the hike to Sub Dome was pretty brutal. There had to have been at least two dozen switchbacks during this segment. It. Was. Rough. It was a relief to make it to Sub Dome after all the climbing only to be greeted with more granite steps and a mini scramble. The excitement was high though! We were within reach of the Half Dome cables to make the climb to the top! At the base of the cables, there was a pile of gloves that had been left behind and Mitch and I just found ones that fit. We were thankfully the only people on the cables on our climb up!

The cables are a lot more vertical than they look in pictures. It was scary and exciting to climb them and when we made it to the top, we were rewarded with awesome views. It was a clear sky and not super cloudy, what a win-win!

Mitch and I hung out at the top, snacking on Snickers bars and trying to take everything in. Thankfully, not a lot of people were at the top and it was pretty peaceful minus the bit of wind. We wandered around surveying the top of the dome. We eventually asked a stranger to take our favorite picture of the hike, where we looked tiny standing out on a ledge, peering down into Yosemite Valley.

 So. So ridiculous.
So. So ridiculous.

How crazy is that ledge! It thankfully isn’t as scary getting out there as I imagined and the picture was totally worth it!

Now. The hike back was the next big task. We relaxed our legs a bit and started to come back down the cables which were busy now! The people climbing down clung to the cable on the left while people climbing up held on to the cable on the right. As we were heading down, a woman going up actually pulled a stake out of the holder and I had to grab it and push it back in for her. This was terrifying and it felt like life was moving in slow motion. But I am still here so everything is okay! (Note to future Half Dome hikers: please pull the cable back, not UP! Ha!)

 Going backwards on the way down. The quad burn was real!
Going backwards on the way down. The quad burn was real!

Clouds were now coming out and our hike was shaded and colder than on the way up. Mitch and I took our time, trying to preserve our knees for eight miles downhill and did not rush. In the switchback area of the hike, we actually saw a bobcat which was pretty cool! Once we made it back to Little Yosemite Valley, we filled up our water bladders with the gravity filter and started to follow the John Muir Trail. We were pretty alone on the JMT even though it was the afternoon. I enjoyed hiking next to the Merced River, letting the calm flow through me since we had a lot of adrenaline pumping all morning. We eventually made it back to Nevada Falls and it was just beautiful.

The smoke had sadly come back since we were in the valley again but the falls were still beautiful. At this point in the hike, it seems like you are pretty close to the trailhead which is false! The JMT around Nevada Falls is steep paved switchbacks with barely any stairs. I would wager to say hiking downhill for eight miles is much worse than climbing that distance. Admittedly, I was getting quite annoyed with all of the switchbacks and going downhill that I ran the remaining mile to the trailhead and sat on a rock, and waited for Mitch. I was ready for it to be over!

Mitch and I walked back to our car, feeling pretty beat up. Our final stats for the day were 17.5 miles with over 5,000′ of climbing completed in 9 hours and 21 minutes. We were quite pleased with how we spent our last full day in Yosemite National Park. I hope you enjoyed our adventure as well!

yosemite part 3: cathedral lakes

The stories all start the same for hiking, as in, Mitch and I wake up early to be the first ones on the trail. Gotta beat the crowds, people! Really though. We parked on the shoulder of Tioga Road across from the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead. As Mitch was packing up the bear canister, I of course was observing the clouds and sunrise across Tuolumne Meadows. If you don’t know me, I deeply love clouds. I could watch them all day.

 Ugh. Pictures can't fully capture the beauty of this sunrise.
Ugh. Pictures can’t fully capture the beauty of this sunrise.

Since we chatted about clouds, we can now go back to the hiking story. We popped our bear canister in a food locker and we were on our way! We were still the only ones at the trailhead and I was pretty happy about that!

We started our ascent up the trail. Surrounded by lodgepole pines and mountain hemlock, we were shaded the majority of the hike. Everything was lush and beautiful. As we took our time hiking, we soaked in the silence of the woods and the clean air. Nothing is like mountain air. I wish I could bottle it up and take it home with me each time I leave moutains but that is another story. The switchbacks weren’t as bad as the previous hike but we could still feel a slight burning in our quads. We would stop occasionally to take a look at how far we had come, really admiring the elevation.

The entire hike to the split in the trail for the upper and lower lakes, we only saw a couple of backpackers. It is always fun to see where they are going and how long they have been out. Some of them had been out for over a week just hanging out in the wilderness! So amazing! Be friendly to fellow hikers, it is always fun to learn from them (if they are chatty of course)! At the split, we thought we were heading for the upper lake when we actually were on our way to the lower lake. The lower lake of course did not disappoint! The trail crossed a river, a rock fall area, and eventually made its way to a lush clearing.

A river wound its way through the meadow, making the ground soft and mushy (bring it on mud!). We had a good time going off trail and just hoping across the channels to make it to the lower lake.

The lower lake was so cool. It was essentially nestled in a big granite bowl and the granite happened to make the perfect place to rest and snack. Mitch and I reclined on the rock, watching the clouds roll by and listening to the water gently lap the granite shore. The amount of contentment that washed over me while we sat there was enormous and even writing this several months later, I can still feel how calm and happy I felt in that moment. The sun on my face. The gentle breeze. The wispy clouds. So so amazing.

After relaxing on the shore for a while, we decided to head to the upper lake. We backtracked along the trail and eventually made it to the spot where we were supposed to turn initially. Though going to the lower lake first was certainly the best in my opinion.

The upper lake was just as beautiful, presenting awesome views of Cathedral Peak. I spotted a rock that went out a little bit into the lake and decided that we had to go there. It was the perfect spot to dip our feet into the crystal clear water. But don’t be fooled. Just because it was sunny doesn’t mean the water was warm because it most certainly was chilly! It was totally worth it though because now we can say we put our feet in an alpine lake (later on this trip, Mitch jumped into one at 10,300′ which was way cooler than me just dipping my feet in).

We hung out for a bit just admiring the views and chatting with fellow hikers. Since it was getting close to the afternoon, we decided to head back down to the car. At this point, the trail was pretty crowded and noisy. It was nice to enjoy our morning solitude while it lasted.

Overall, the hike was pretty relaxing, totaling out to be around eight miles. It had to be an easy hiking day since we were moving to Yosemite Village tonight and hiking Half Dome the following morning. We were both pretty excited to head to YV because there were showers! It had been a couple days since we were clean! We really take for granted how nice showers are since we have them everyday. Go a couple days without one and it is one of the most amazing experiences. Try it. Clean has a whole new meaning.

 Half Dome Village sign feat. a clean Katie!
Half Dome Village sign feat. a clean Katie!

So. Half Dome Village is an interesting place. There’s camping, yurts, a lodge, a dining hall, a gift shop, and several other attractions in Yosemite Valley. We both thought it was an odd spectacle in the middle of the NP. The only reason we wanted to stay here was to be as close as possible to the Half Dome trailhead (other than getting the shower code). If you like peace and quiet, I would recommend that you don’t stay here since it was incredibly busy and everything was jammed together. Though we did see some very funny people there (imagine couples rolling massive suitcases through wood chips to get to their “fancy” yurt). On another note, it was very smokey down in the valley compared to our previous camping spot. You can see the smoke in the picture above. The wildfire smoke just settled here, especially if it wasn’t windy. We checked into our yurt and laughed since it was so expensive for essentially a tarp on top of a wooden frame.

 Inside our yurt.
Inside our yurt.

We organized our belongings, packed our bags for tomorrow, ate dinner, and showered. It was going to be an early night since we were waking up 3:30 AM to hike the first half of Half Dome in the dark. Cheerful from happy bellies, we hit the hay to prepare for our early morning.

yosemite part 2: cloud’s rest

Now. Cloud’s Rest was one of our favorite hikes in Yosemite. The amazing views and final climb on the exposed ridge line were just stunning. I highly recommend this hike due to the beauty of the hike and pretty low traffic in the morning. Our round trip hiking for the day was 14.5 miles and it was so worth it. Enjoy!

Mitch and I woke up early and arrived at the trail head around 6:30 AM. There was only one other car there when we arrived so we were pretty stoked. It is always peaceful to start hiking and just listen to the quiet woods around you.

The first two to three miles were the most difficult with lots of switchbacks. Large boulders as steps were the norm. Though it was worth it, we were greeted with beautiful views and surrounded by a pine forest.

We stopped to have a snack once the trail opened up to a rocky clearing. We lounged on rocks and explored the area a bit before taking off to finish the climb. The sun was starting to come out and it was thankfully a clear day. Hooray for no smoke!

The final climb of the trail was a crushed rock incline with limited shade. Once reaching the final ridge climb, the view down into Yosemite Valley was beautiful, we could even see Half Dome!

Hiking the ridge was very fun and a bit scary. These experiences always remind me of how nature is powerful and can be unforgiving, especially with the steep falls on either side of the ridge. The picture barely shows how steep it was!

Once we made it to the top, we hung out in the sun and soaked in the views. It was stunning! We could also see peregrine falcons riding thermal vents. I don’t know about you, but I was stoked to see them. I love birds of prey!

Overall, the final elevation was 9,931′ and we climbed over 2,000′ to get there. It was certainly worth it! P.S. looking back on these pictures makes us laugh at what we were wearing. Fashion is certainly not the most important thing to us while hiking! Regardless, still funny. After hanging out for a while, we hiked back down to our car before heading off to find our new campsite for the night.

We settled on Aspen Grove Campground in Inyo National Forest, which is first come first serve and ten miles outside of the Tioga Pass entrance. Like the name, the campsites are nestled into an aspen grove right next to a river. It was such a nice place to stay even though there weren’t any showers! Once picking a site, we set up camp since we would be staying at this campground for a couple days before moving to Yosemite Village. The day was rounded out by heading to visit Mono Lake in Lee Vining, reading, and journaling. Stay tuned for Yosemite Part 3!

yosemite part 1: north dome and may lake

Yosemite National Park has been on our list for a while and we were so excited to be able to go in 2017. It was a great trip filled with amazing views, memories, and hikes. I am happy to be able to share it with everyone and write about what we experienced each day. I hope our journey leaves you feeling inspired and excited to go on your own adventure and get outside!

Our first night was spent outside the park in Stanislaus National Forest at the Lost Claim Campground. The site was peaceful and right next to a river. Not a lot of traffic comes through since this campground only has 10 sites (a nice bonus compared to the much larger campgrounds in the national park). We arrived in the afternoon, pitched our tent, and then decided to have dinner in Groveland at a restaurant called The Iron Door Saloon. It certainly had a lot of character! There were dollar bills tacked to the ceiling, farm equipment hanging on the walls, and of course lots of taxidermy! We filled up on burgers and then went back to the campsite to relax a bit before our week of hiking began.

 Porcupine Creek Trail Head

We woke up early, packed up our camp, and drove to Porcupine Creek Trail Head to start our North Dome hike. We wanted to start off with a hike that wasn’t too difficult since we did not do a lot of training before we came out to California. Plus, we read a lot about North Dome and it had to be one of the hikes that we got in on our trip! The trail starts off in a pine forest and then leads to the first ridge of the hike!

Once we made it past the couple of ascents and descents in the pine forest, we hiked along the first granite ridge, eventually traversing down the side of the granite face to be able to reach the base of North Dome.

 The view of North Dome from the first granite ridge!
The view of North Dome from the first granite ridge!

We continued hiking, following a path worn into the rock and enjoying the feeling of the sun on our faces. It was a pretty warm day! The view from the top was stunning and we admired the mountains that were surrounding us. From the top of North Dome, you can take a look at Half Dome looming in the distance and also peek into Yosemite Valley. It was so smoky from the wildfires but we still enjoyed it!

We spent some time admiring the views and snacking (Snickers were the snack of the week) until we turned around to head back to our car. Along the way, we took a small detour to see Indian Arch and Mitch climbed up into it! At this point in the early afternoon, a lot of people were on the trail and it was not as peaceful as the hike up. We prefer to wake up early and get to trail heads when barely anyone is there to be able to fully enjoy the peace of the forest by ourselves. It is always a wonderful experience!

 Indian Arch

Once back to the trail head, we fired up our mini stove and had one of our Mountain House MREs for lunch. Mountain House is our go-to MRE brand while camping since we really like all of the different options and they never disappoint! After chatting over lunch (yay lasagna!) about the next hike, it was decided that we would hike to May Lake as a cool down. It would only be 2.5 miles round trip and it seemed like the perfect way to close out the day before finding our next campsite.

 May Lake, Yosemite National Park

In total, we hiked 12.4 miles on our first day. A perfect way to start our Yosemite adventure! Stay tuned for the next segment of our trip!