Monthly Archives: July 2011

Yosemite day 3: Tuolumne Grove and thunderstorms

Showing off their guns

Tuesday was our final day enjoying Yosemite, but we didn’t expect it to be. Everyone slept in that morning and we had a lazy breakfast before heading out around noon to Tuolumne Grove about 15 minutes away.

Sequoias

Tuolumne Grove is home to some of California’s famous Giant Sequoias. It’s not as famous as Yosemite’s other grove of Sequoias, Mariposa Grove. It’s also not as crowded. There were only a few other people in the grove that afternoon.

Tunnel Tree

The hike down the grove (yeah, down) is only a mile. Once in the grove you can follow several paths through the grove. The paths lead you around the trees and placards with information about the Giant Sequoias. Since I’m a nerd and find the very old trees fascinating, I read all the placards. And then I quoted them to my cousins as #treefacts.

Junior, Rene and Sean atop a dead Sequoia

By the time we ended our tour of Tuolumne Grove, the weather had changed. It was cooler and clouds were starting to move in. We had a chilly lunch at the picnic tables and then returned to the campsite.

Roasting Marshmellows

Dinner back at Hodgdon Meadows was simple (hot dogs cooked on skewers; s’mores) and we got things cleaned up and ready to head out to the Starry, Starry Night free program 15 minutes away. Even though it was cloudy, we hoped the clouds would clear up. I was really looking forward to this program. I did something similar with my family when we visited the Grand Canyon in the early 90s.

Sadly, we never left the campground. It started to rain around 8, a little before we originally planned to leave for the starry night program. The rain never let up. Everyone rushed in to the tents and hoped they would keep out the rain.

How we kept our bags and clothes dry

They didn’t. Instead, we started to pack up our clothes up in case water seeped in to the tents. Everything was placed in sleeping bags. Adrian and Alexis put away their tent (which they had abandoned the previous night when their inflatable mattress deflated for the second time; they slept in the Durango). Along with De’Shaun and Jen, they were the first ones to abandon the tents for the cars.

Lori Tries To Fight The Leaks In Our Tent During The Thunderstorm

Lori, Sean and I (who shared a tent) listened to the heavy rain, watched the flashes of lightning and listened to the thunder. Lori kept worrying about rain seeping in and never sat down. I chilled on the air mattress even though water was already starting to drip in through the seams. We moved the mattress slightly and moved anything we didn’t want to get wet away from the edges.

Over the night, water seeped in to the tent

Lori then went to Nancy, Vanny, Valerie and Junior’s tent to hang out with them. They had some snacks and acted scared of the rain, until they noticed that they wouldn’t be able to sleep in the tents because was water was seeping in.We heard Rene yell that there was a river running through his tent and a lot of scrambling outside.

Yeah, that made it tough to sleep in the tent

Everyone abandoned the tents for the cars. Sean and I stayed. I knew I wouldn’t sleep in a crowded SUV. The tent was cold, and the thunder and lightning was scary, but I was still relatively dry. I even slept a little. Sean wasn’t so lucky and got dripped on a little more later in the night. My cousins joked that we were like the old couple in Titanic cuddling on their bunk as the deck flooded, resigned to their fate. At least we didn’t get washed away or had the tent collapse on us.

The Campsite Is Soaked.  Time To Go Home.

When we awoke the next morning, it was still raining, but the campsite was no longer full of puddles. Everything was wet, including our firewood. If we were better prepared for the rain, we may have been able to salvage the trip. A couple of umbrellas and emergency ponchos weren’t enough. Junior sadly delivered the news that we’d be packing everything up and heading home a day early.

“Besides, we won’t be able to do much today as all the trails will be wet,” he reasoned.

The Campsite Is Soaked.  Time To Go Home.

We worked quickly to get food, clothes and supplies packed. We placed the muddy and wet tents in Junior’s car since there was a plastic cover in the back. Everyone was freezing (it was in the 40s) when we finally checked out and began the trip home. We warmed up in the cars although some us were still in wet clothes.

El Capitan shrouded in clouds

Although we were all bummed about being rained out, the rain and clouds gave us some more breathtaking views as we drove home.

Bridalveil Fall

I’d love to return to Yosemite. There’s so much to see and do that even a 4 day trip would not have been enough. It’s easy to see why it was the first National Park and why you have to plan ahead for reservations. Next time, I’ll prepare for the rain, especially if we go early in the summer.

Several of the photos in this post and the previous Yosemite posts were taken by Sean, my sister Lori or cousin Vanessa. If you’d like to see any more of the photos, just click on any photo and it’ll take you to the Flickr set. Enjoy.

Yosemite trip day 2: Nevada Falls hike

Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap

The hike to Nevada Falls was definitely the highlight of the trip even though our Lucky 13 group got split up.

The plan for Monday was to get up by 6 am and have breakfast and be ready to leave for our hike by 8 am. That didn’t happen. It takes a while to get 13 people dressed, fed and ready for a day hike. Also, bear boxes make eating and cleaning everything up a big production.

Our Options

We left the campsite around 10 am in all three cars. Before the trip, we agreed we’d do a day hike to Nevada Falls. It’s a popular hike, but not nearly as popular as Half Dome. Some of the campers in our group wanted to do Half Dome, but we lagged in getting permits until they were no longer available. Half Dome is a challenging hike (18 miles roundtrip, 4,800 feet of elevation climb) and we knew not everyone in the group would want to do hike it. Nevada Falls, with its 6-mile roundtrip and 2,800 feet ascent, seemed much more manageable for a group of mixed fitness and hiking experience. The night before we agreed to take the shorter Mist Trail up to Nevada Falls (about 1 mile shorter roundtrip) rather than the John Muir Trail (JMT). I was okay with the decision, but would have preferred the switchbacks of the latter.

Getting in some stretches before a day of hiking

By the time we arrived in Yosemite Valley, parked, took the free shuttle to the trailhead at Happy Isles, stretched and all went to the bathroom it was past 11:30. I was getting antsy and annoying my fellow campers.

Yosemite crew

I just wanted to get up to Nevada Falls early. It was already warm and sunny, with highs projected to get up to the 80s. It’s great weather, but I prefer to work out when it’s cooler and darker. Thankfully, a lot of the trails were shaded.

Merced River

From the beginning of the hike, I set out from the rest of the group. Sean followed close behind me as we hiked up the first leg to the Vernal Falls footbridge (~1 mile, 400 feet elevation climb). This first leg is paved, steep and quite crowded. It was a bit frustrating to walk around slower hikers, kids and tourists amazed by a dumb squirrel on a boulder. We stopped a few times to take some pictures of the Merced River and the view as we ascended.

The group with Liberty Cap and Mt Broderick in the background

Soon, we were ahead of the other campers except for Adrian, De’Shaun and their girlfriends. We all paused at the footbridge to take in the sights and enjoy the cool air and mist rising from the river. Just beyond the footbridge, we encountered a fork. The two trail markers showed the same destinations with slightly different mileage. Rather than wait for the rest of the campers, we chose the longer route. I later found out that if I would have led my small group to left, we would have ascended via the crowded and popular Mist Trail.

Pack of mules coming down the John Muir Trail

Our hike was fun an uneventful (except when I dropped our PB&J sandwiches on the trail… we ate them anyway, they were just a little grainy). Adrian said he felt we made it up to the top rather quick because I was pushing the pace. I had my Garmin watch on and tracked mileage which helped us mentally. I could tell the others, “We’ve done a mile! Only two more to go.” We stopped to catch our breath, take pictures of the sights and eat. We all had plenty of water and had no problem staying hydrated. The JMT wasn’t too crowded, but it was stinky with lots of mule droppings in the early part. We didn’t see many people but heard several languages. We joked that Yosemite was like Disneyland, an international draw (with lots of lines and crowds too!).

Half Dome, Mt Broderick and Liberty Cap

After about an hour and a half, we made it up to the top of Nevada Falls. We admired the scenery of the falls, Half Dome in the distance, Mt Broderick and neighboring Liberty Cap. To cool down, we dipped our legs in the cold water for the ice bath effect. We re-applied sunblock and ate more of our snacks. I’m wary of heights, so I kept my distance from the open ledges. When I did try and look down at the water crashing down over the falls from the ledge with the rails, I got dizzy. Yeah, I’m a weenie.

Jen and De'Shaun

We waited atop Nevada Falls for an hour for the rest of the group to show. Even if they had ascended the other trail, we all had the same destination. They never showed so we began our descent via the Mist Trail. At the top of the trail, we encountered Rene and Vero.

We Saw Rene As We Prepared To Make Our Way Down The Mist Trail

They told us that they split from Lori, Vanny, Valerie, Nancy and Junior who took up the JMT. We chatted before continuing down the Mist trail. Unfortunately, Rene and Vero didn’t warn us that the trail was tough, steep and very technical. At least we saw another beautiful waterfall.

Looking down at the Mist Trail

The Mist Trail takes you closer along the Merced River and the two falls, hence it’s name. In the early summer the river is quite full and you get drenched with mist as you hike near the falls. The Mist Trail is very crowded; one of my friends described it as the 405 at rush hour.

Heading Down The Mist Trail

At several points we stopped and pulled to the side let hikers pass us on their way up. Although the trail is shorter, it’s tougher since it’s crowded, narrow, steep and rocky. There were points when each of us almost slipped on the rocks and the guys complained about knee pain. Needless to say, we took our time coming down.

Vernal Falls and the Mist Trail

We took a short break at the top of Vernal Falls, which was crowded with lots of hikers taking breaks and enjoying the sunshine. Then we continued down the wet steps and hoped we didn’t slip. There’s parts of the trail that have handrails and others where it’s just steps (of varying heights) and a ledge overlooking the rough waters of the Merced. I’m not sure we could enjoy the views since we were so busy looking down at our steps. We put our cameras away so they wouldn’t get ruined by the water.

Post hike pic. Tired, hungry and probably a little stinky.

Four hours after we began, we made it down to Yosemite Valley. In the last mile or so, some of us ran down the trail just to get it over with. We took the shuttle (which almost ran me over) back to our car where we dug in to salty snacks. It took us longer than expected to get back to Hodgdon Meadows due to Yosemite Valley gridlock. Once at the campsite we took “showers” in the woods and made cheeseburgers for dinner.

The other half of our group didn’t arrive for a few hours. They had a good time too and returned with stories to tell.

Atop Nevada Falls (where they met up with Vero and Rene)

They hiked up together

Backpacks

Yosemite camping trip: Day 1

Vanny and Junior first proposed the idea of a cousins’ trip to Yosemite. We’d all been camping as a group; the previous time being in 2006. Everyone was interested. Seven of us cousins were in. Adding plus ones, the group quickly doubled.

Junior, Vanny’s boyfriend, took the lead in organizing the trip. He reserved two sites at Hodgdon Meadows campground as soon as reservations opened up. He seemed a little bummed, because he wanted to get campsites in Yosemite Valley rather than at the northwest edge of the park (a 45 minute drive away). I was happy. Our campsites were numbers 30 and 31.

By March, we were ironing out some details. At least we tried to. Discussions over food and transportation (who’s going to drive?) quickly devolved into shouting matches. It wasn’t that we were mad at each other, that’s just the way we communicate.

Up until two weeks before departure, we were still finalizing the group. A few people backed out due to work and other obligations. Soon we were down to 13 (four people are missing from the group above).

Lucky 13.

***

We met up in Hacienda Heights at my mom’s house early Sunday morning. Call time was 4 am, but we didn’t get cars loaded, burritos made, and cars fueled until shortly before 6. We had a long road trip and wanted to get started before it got too warm. We split up in to 3 trucks/SUVs loaded down with camping equipment and coolers filled with food:

Cholos 101 – Junior, Vanny, Lori and Valerie
Mocos 414 – Nancy, Rene, Vero, Sean and me
Pimps on a Mission – Adrian, Alexis, De’Shaun and Jen

And we were off. The road trip was uneventful. Vero, Sean and I played Scrabble as we drove through various Central Valley towns. I won. We made a couple of pit stops. As we got to Yosemite, I brought out the bacon-flavored potato chips another cousin had brought with her after her post-college graduation European tour. They were delicious.

Around 1 or 2, we arrived to Yosemite National Park. We stopped in Wawona to go to the visitor’s center. Afterward, we drove in to gridlocked Yosemite Valley, home to iconic views of El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. We all gasped as soon as these breathtaking monuments came in to view. I love Ansel Adams’ Yosemite landscapes, but they’re poor substitutions for the real thing. Like good tourists, Vero, Nancy and Sean snapped photos of the breathtaking granite formations. I sat in my middle seat, tired, grumpy and jealous that I could barely see much.

We hung out in Yosemite Valley for half an hour before reading the visitor’s guide and realizing we could buy ice and fire wood at the gas station in Crane Flat, only 8 miles from our campground.

We drove to Hodgdon Meadows and set up camp. As soon as the tents were up and food was unloaded we made dinner (spaghetti). It was the perfect way to carb load for our 6+ mile hike the next day to Nevada Falls.