After visiting friends in Phoenix, San Diego, and Los Angeles (thanks Katie, Becca, & Isaac!), we headed up Highway 1 for some views of Big Sur. It was gorgeous that night, and we found a great spot near Pebble Beach to camp on a cliff overlooking the ocean. When we woke up, we couldn’t see a thing. After speaking to a local, we learned that when it’s warm inland, there is a marine fog that obscures large portions of the coast. So we ended up only getting brief glimpses of the beauty of Big Sur. We plan to come back sometime in the fall, and hope for better weather.
We grabbed lunch in Monterey, and then headed to the San Francisco Airport to pick up one of Jake’s friends, who was joining us while we hiked in Yosemite. We got some In-N-Out along the way, and camped a few hours closer to Yosemite. The next morning we arrived at the park in time to try and get walk-up Half Dome permits. We were lucky enough to get the last ones for the following day (a certain number are reserved for walk-ups). We prepped our gear and headed to the backpacker camp, where we met 2 friendly solo hikers about our age.
We headed out, climbing steeply up to Vernal Falls, then on towards Half Dome.
We dropped off our big packs at camp, showed our permits to the ranger, and headed up to climb Half Dome!
Intimidating, especially after you’ve already backpacked for a good portion of the day.
The photo below is crooked because it’s really hard to wrap your legs around a wobbly metal pole that you really hope will hold your weight, and then attempt to take a photo with one hand, all while precariously perched on top of a very steep rocky incline. Haha. But honestly, the way up wasn’t as bad as I thought. The way down, however… But we’ll get to that.
We were surprised to learn that there was a wedding taking place on top of Half Dome! They had the whole shebang- champagne, heels, a photographer AND videographer… Now that’s dedication!
Needless to say, the view from the top was awesome.
Okay, so the view was definitely worth the climb. However, the way down was just plain scary. Don’t worry Mom, I won’t be doing this one again anytime soon. You basically lower yourself with the cables, hoping you don’t slip and crash into the people below you. Half Dome is not for the faint of heart.
Back down to camp!
Now this, our first night on the trail, was our most eventful by far. A ranger wandered by midafternoon, carrying a paintball gun. He told us there was frequent bear activity in this area, and we should definitely be on the lookout. We took this with a grain of salt, all of us having heard bear reports before with no sightings.
We rested till dinner time, and started to cook our backpacker meals. All of a sudden one of the guys looked up and said, “Bear!” We all stood up, and standing just outside of camp was a large black bear. It was staring rather aggressively at Jake, who immediately grabbed his camera. The bear just looked at him for a bit, then took a few running steps toward him before stopping. Needless to say, we were all a bit freaked out. The rangers had warned us that some of the bears had learned to fake-charge people, so they would drop their food and fun, but it was still an adrenaline-filled few seconds. The guys started yelling and throwing rocks, and the bear finally loped off into the woods.
Looking at Jake’s photos, we realized that the bear had a tag on its ear, which most likely means it has become habitually aggressive and they are tracking its activity. After a negative interaction with a bear, you file a report and turn it in at the nearest ranger station. We also learned that some bears in Yosemite have learned to recognize the NPS uniforms, and will run from rangers.
We were on high alert for the rest of the night, especially since about an hour later, when we were all snuggled into our tents, a different bear walked THROUGH OUR CAMP. No joke. I was surprised that it was so quiet, because it was not a small bear. We yelled and threw rocks, and then tried to get some sleep, but I’m pretty sure we all dreamed of bears that night.
We left the next morning, warily watching for bears. We didn’t see many people until we got close to the High Sierra Camp, which is a permanent tent camp for people who just want to carry day packs and having lodging and meals set up for them. Sounds nice, but pricey. We’ll stick to our backpacker meals for now.
Despite the swarms of mosquitoes, Cathedral Lake was a picturesque spot to camp for the night.
The next day we had a lot of uphill. We climbed up to a stream, then an alpine lake.
This was one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. I wish we’d had a little more time to enjoy it, but we had to press on to get over the pass by nightfall.
We camped just over the pass, and it was pretty chilly because we were at a high elevation. The sunset was pretty, though!
The trail continued on past several large lakes. We made a slight detour to camp at Lake Ediza. Jake had camped here on a previous trip, and I have to admit I thought it was the prettiest lake we visited. The bugs were pretty bad here too, but we were pretty tired so we were okay with just cooking dinner and heading to bed.
The following day was a long, hot hike through dense forest. We checked out Devil’s Postpile National Monument, before finally ending at Red’s Meadow, a popular backpacking resupply stop. Although they were out of pie (noooooooo!), a huge burger hit the spot after a long day on the trail.
Unfortunately we were unable to continue the trail due to some injuries. Despite our best intentions, after Reds Meadow it becomes very hard logistically to get back to civilization, and we knew the already challenging trail would only get harder from here. As hard as it was to decide to stop hiking, we wanted to come back and complete the trail when we were all happy and healthy. So, we headed to Yosemite to see the sights before heading back to San Francisco.
We visited the giant Sequoias. It’s hard to capture their scale, because they’re just so big!
We went to see Half Dome from a distance. In the course of our first day, we climbed all the way from the valley floor up to the top of the rounded dome. Whew!
Another bear story… We were camping on a forest road near the park. In the middle of the night, Jake and I awoke to an odd metallic popping sound. He shined his headlight over to the nearby car, and there was a bear sitting on the hood! Jake scared it off, but the next morning we could see evidence of the bear trying to get into the car. Yikes! If you’re anywhere near Yosemite, keep your wits about you…
From what we saw, the JMT lives up to expectations. It was tough, but the views and diversity of landscape is worth it. I’ll be returning sometime soon to do more of the trail.
For more details about the trip such as daily mileage and elevation, you’ll have to wait for Jake’s blog post about planning for the JMT.
Next, on to San Francisco!