Saturday, September 26, 2009


After an uneventful flight from New Zealand to San Francisco we had a slow drive out of the city and up into Yosemite. We managed to find a good Mexican place in Oakdale - so Aaron was happy to get his first fix of Mexican food. We arrived in the dark and the next morning we set off up the road to Glacier Point to get our first glimpses of the famous Yosemite landmarks. From Glacier Point you get great views of Half Dome.

Half Dome taken from Glacier Point

We then set off slowly up the hill to Sentinel Dome and on to Taft Point where we could see El Capitan. It wasn't very warm when we left New Zealand and the heat and altitude in Yosemite were a bit of a shock to the system. So we spent the first couple of days in Yosemite acclimatising and getting over jet lag with the aim of eventually walking up Half Dome.

El Capitan in the shade in the morning

We drove up to Tuolomne Meadows several times. Although there are less iconic views up here compared to Yosemite Valley, in many ways we preferred it and it was just as spectacular.

Tenaya Lake from the Tuolomne Road

We did a couple of short walks to get in some altitude training up in the Tuolomne Meadows area. The first one we did was walking to Dog Lake and Lembert Dome looking down on the meadow. Then later in the week we walked out to Cathedral Lake with views of Cathedral Peak and Echo Peak. The latter walk we did with Steve Woodhull, a friend of Aaron's who came to meet us and hang out for a few days as he had been working a couple of hours away and had never been to Yosemite either.

Tuolumne Meadows looking towards Lembert Dome

Cathedral Lake with Cathedral Peak behind

Although it was hot in the valley (~30C) it was much more pleasant up higher and we were very lucky with the weather all week as it was clear blue skies and not even the slightest threat of thunderstorms which are quite common in summer and often prevent you from walking up on to the granite domes as they become slippy, not to mention getting hit by lightning.

Yosemite also has several big stands of the very large sequoia trees (related to the redwood). These are the largest trees in the world by volume. These trees were in fact one of the reasons that Yosemite was first made in to a National Park. The early tourists cut tunnels in to several different trees to create a tourist attraction.

A very large sequoia - supposedly the wood in one tree is equivalent to one acre of pine!! But it takes several hundred/thousand years to grow.

Steve and Aaron in the sequoia tunnel tree.

Despite the hundreds of signs to make sure you used bear lockers for your food and "speeding kills bears" along the roads, we never saw a single one. Supposedly we just missed one on a walk to the bottom of Bridalveil falls. We did see lots of squirrels, chipmunks and quite a few birds and dear. Sometimes you looked around the forest and the whole ground seemed to be alive with squirrels and chipmunks.

One of the many grey squirrels

On the last day we were finally feeling good about walking in the heat and altitude, so we figured we were as ready as we would ever be to attempt walking up Half Dome. The walk is 26 km and 1480 m climb and takes around 10-12 hours. We set off at 7 am in the cool morning and headed up the Mist Track past Vernal and Nevada Falls. This is a steady climb up many steps. Then the walk levels off for a good distance before steadily climbing again, with a final very steep climb right at the top as you climb up the granite domes. The last 100 m is up a series of cables with the odd wooden step across. The problem is that they put the cables in the same place every year and the rock has become rather smooth and slippy.

The cables up the last part of Half Dome

Helen climbing the cables on Half Dome

There were quite a few people and there were a few traffic hold ups on the way up and down the cables as there isn't a huge amount of room to pass, especially when everyone is wearing backpacks. We were climbing it in the low season, so I can't imagine the queues in the middle of summer.

We all made it to the top and had some amazing views back down the Yosemite Valley and up towards the Sierra's to the east. We were all starting to suffer a little on the walk back down as we got tired and our feet got sore. We had taken 3 litres of water and several sports drinks, but Aaron and Steve ran out as it was pretty hot and dry. Luckily a guy offered to filter us some water from the Merced River, so we topped up half way down.

Aaron and Helen on top of Half Dome

It was a very enjoyable week in Yosemite. We managed to see many of the sights and do many of the one day/short walks. It was also great to catch up with Steve.

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