Saturday, July 29, 2006

Back in the Land of the Softies

Yosemite Tramp, Chapter 8

Vernal Fall
Originally uploaded by RobFargo.
Having made our way back down Half-Dome, we rested for only a moment before heading back down to the valley floor. There was a cheerful spirit while we packed up camp, having just played the crescendo of the trip's little symphony. I, for one, was ready to return to the land of the Softies.

Frankly, I just really wanted a shower.

We miss calculated, in part, the number of lunch items we would need for the second half of the trip. We only had two cliff bars a piece - not quite enough calories for another four mile hike. Considering that we were heading mostly down hill, it didn't seem to be too much of a problem.

The route down took us down Nevada Falls and it's lower half, Vernal Falls. We were immediately surrounded by Softies, heading up to the top of the falls, or further, to the top of Half-dome. Again, we picked out those who would make it and those who would give up. Even though we felt a little under supplied for the hike, we were always surprised by the hikers heading to the top with only a small bottle of water, mostly empty due to poor rationing.

Both sets of falls were quite beautiful. They lacked the majesty of Yosemite falls, but they made up for it in volume. Both rushed down to the valley with amazing forth, and spilled out of their usual beds. The hike down past Nevada Falls was lined by a half-mile of stone steps, making for uncomfortable climbing, with little shade in the noon sun. The hike past Vernal Falls was a different story.

The trail next to Vernal falls splits into a foot path and a horse trail. It turns out that the horse trail would be preferable to those who did not what to get soaked head to foot. The foot path is, for a large portion, just narrow set of rock stairs along side a cliff face, overlooking the water fall. The spray from the deluge is tremendous, soaking all hikers in an instant. A good thirty minutes of this leaves one drenched. The name "Mist Trail" seems like an understatement.

One of the other down sides of hiking this particular trail has to do with the softies. They have a tendency to be very heads-down hikers, so careful with their footing that they are oblivious to people coming down. This is particularly annoying when the people in question are carrying heavy packs and have limited maneuverability when it comes to dodging clueless hikers.

Once we passed through the drenching section of the trail, and were much closer to reaching the bottom, I was feeling particularly excited about leaving the back country. I found myself whistling, talking quite loudly about the impracticality of the softies, and passing people left and right as if I was a small sports car (albeit with a heavy load strapped to the top). I may have even skipped a little bit.

We happily made it down to the valley floor by about three in the afternoon. We made our way over to Curry Village, the part of the park with showers, a camp store and beer. Picking up a celebratory meal, and more Fat Tire, we prepared for our last night camping in Yosemite.

Overall, the camp experience in Yosemite was much different then last backcountry trip in Glacier National Park[1] in the summer of 2005. That trip involved a straight, six day hike through the backcountry. Once we were two days in, there was always at least a two day hike to get back out. It required much more from us, since we had no choice but to push on, pain or no pain. Yosemite, on the other hand, safety and soft life was always a short hike away. We were never really more than four miles away from civilization.

While this closeness existed, we never let it change our backcountry experiences. It still felt like we were far away from everything and everyone. It was only more relaxing to know that if there was trouble, it was not going to be a terrible thing to get out of. I, for one, felt more relaxed and safe. In Glacier, once we passed that two day mark, and our party members knees[2] began to go, I was always a little nervous. Nervous about injury, nervous about food and water, nervous about bears. Just nervous, really.

Without all this nervousness, coupled with my overly relaxed personality after spending two months in Europe, Yosemite felt like more of a vacation than a hardcore test of endurance.

Still, I had a fantastic time in both parks, and am looking forward to the next ridiculous camp adventure, as sold to me and other hapless campers by Rob.

[1] Which, admittedly, I haven't really written about. It was pre-vagabond time. It does get mentioned here and here, as well as in some of the other Yosemite chapters.

[2] Why is always knees? Why not a finger, or an ear? It seems like those little hinges are always causing all the problems for the rest of the team.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Yosemite Tramp, Chapter 7

Three-thirty am. We woke to the deep darkness of a moonless, early morning. The stars were thick, dense, bright, and beautiful. The campground was quietly sleeping around us, as we crept out to the trail.

After the previous night's bear incident, we were all a little jumpy. Any noise, any twig snap, any strange crunching sound and flashlights flicked through the woods, landing briefly in the holes of blackness, only find them empty. With only one muffled cry of "eyes", the hike proceeded without animal incident.

Sunrise Over Cloud's Rest
The goal was to make the top of the mountain by sunrise. Given that we really only had about an hour after we left camp to make the nearly four mile hike, we didn't quite achieve this goal. Enjoying the sunrise on the side of the mountain, was still worth while. The way the rays of light descend over the range certainly reminded me that this amazing universe of random creation has some fantastic structures.

We arrived at the last quarter of the trail at about six in the morning. The surprising thing was that we were not the first group there. A group of hikers had woke left from the valley floor at midnight. They had hiked eight miles before most people in the valley had eaten breakfast. That, and they still had to hike back down to the bottom.

That last quarter of the trail is the hardest part. Of that group of four hikers, only one had the courage to take the top of the mountain. You see, it involves hiking up over eight hundred feet of elevation, with a very steep grade, using a pair of steel cables as hand-holds.

We sat for a few minutes and stared at those cables.

Half Dome cables
Originally uploaded by RobFargo.
We had come a long way for this, though. The climb had been the goal of the trip, the intended highlight, the true challenge of the week. There was no going back without conquering those cables.

At the bottom of the cables sits a pile of leather gloves for climbers to use. While climbing Half-Dome is a challenge, it still draws an amazing volume of traffic. That's the other main reason that we left so early. We didn't want to be dealing with traffic on those cables.

I grabbed a pair of gloves, grabbed the cables and started climbing. I had no desire to be stuck, frozen due to heights or the feeling of being exposed on the side of what was almost a cliff face. It turned out that I had less a fear of those things, and more a fear of tiring out. Climbing with the cables was nearly all arms. So I just kept going, with few pauses or breaks. I would climb from rest point to rest point[1], pause for a moment, tell myself I was doing good, and head for the next one. One by one, all the way to the top, in under twenty minutes.

This left me at the top, alone, waiting for the rest of my crew. I waited a good ten minutes at the top, wondering, listening for their arrival. I later learned that they had worked incredible hard to make that top. Rob followed up the rear, acting as a drill sergeant to get Jen and Liza to the top.

Halfdome, Conquered
On this particular climb, Liza and Jen are my heroes. Both of them were really in no condition to climb that mountain. Jen, with her bum knee, and Liza, with a back that had gone south of cheese, were in a lot of pain. Yet, climb they did and they reached the top.

We stayed up on the top for a about a half hour. Not long, given the difficult of getting to the top, but I, for one, was more nervous about the way down. I was right, in part, as the climb down took quite a bit longer then the way up. It's a lot more difficult finding footing when climbing down backwards (but there's no choice in the matter, there's really no way to go down forwards). It was more tiring as well, given that one is constantly lowering oneself to the then next foothold, solely with arm strength. I was very happy to reach the bottom.

We were buoyant, happy, cheerful, and practically floating down the mountain back to camp. It was only eight in the morning, and we were already passing throngs of hikers make their way to the top. People were surprised to see us already heading back. Knowing what we knew about the climb we all spent our hike back down picking out those who could and couldn't make it to the top[2].

We were back to camp by nine in the morning. We still had the hike to the valley floor ahead of us, but at that point we were still bubbling with the thrill of our accomplishment. Nothing beats the feeling of conquering a challenge.

[1] These were two-by-fours laid between the cable poles.

[2] I know, we're bastards. But I really felt like we had earned it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Short Hike

Yosemite Tramp, Chapter 6

After such a long day, we woke up surprisingly late (~7:30 - oh, so late as camp sleep goes) in the morning, and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. We packed up and shuffled off early by nine.

Fortunately, having pushed on so much the day before, we didn't have very far to hike in the morning. Our destination was the Little Yosemite Valley, nestled in a shoulder between Half Dome, Cloud's Rest, and Liberty Peak. We were only about two miles away, so our hike time was short.

The Little Yosemite campground is just that: an actual campground. There were bear boxes, camp sites, and, most importantly, compost toilets. All the comforts of home.

The plan for the next day involved climbing up Half Dome early enough to see the sunrise from the top. We were pretty much left with a day to ourselves. Much cribbage was played, feet were soaked in the river, and naps were had. General laziness was the order of the day.

Leaving, really, not much to write about during that particular day. We ate dinner and went to bed at eight, looking forward to a three AM wake-up call for the eight mile hike in the morning. A quiet end to a quiet day.

...Until I heard some rustling outside the tent. It sounded like Rob had heard it as well, since he sat up to spy what was going on in our campsite. The only thing he said about it was "bear," loudly.

"Bear!" Pause. "Bear! Bear! Bear!. Ho Bear! Get! Hey, everybody there's a bear over here!"

I've never heard the word bear spoken so many times, nor about anything other than bears in the circus[1]. This was, however about the bear that was eating out of Jen's pack, three feet away from the ladies tent. Three feet. Just eating pack, minding his own business. Three feet away.

He just looked up from the pack at all the yelling with a distinctly questioning look on his face. Who, me? He looked a little surprised and a bit guilty, like a four hundred pound five year old with his face covered in chocolate. He dropped his head with shame and lumbered off through the campsite. He then spied another pack, poked his nose in it, looked up and said "how about this one?"

Not the kind of thing Rob was looking for, so he throws things at it. Throws things! At the four hundred pound bear. Did I mention the four hundred pounds? It's a bear! A big, fucking four hundred pound bear!

Well, it turns out that the park rangers recommend this sort of thing. Yell at them and through small items at them. They take the hint[2] and will usually leave. Although, I would have appreciated Rob not throwing my shoes at the bear, but I appreciated the fact that he kept his cool and got rid of the bear.

Looking back on it I'm a little angry that I didn't have my camera.

[1] Also know as the Russian Ballet. But I digress.

[2] Unlike unwanted house guests, gypsies, or Rocky Mountain Squirrels

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Strange Exercises


For anyone who's been following this blog, I've been slowly catching up with the dailies of the Yosemite Trip. It's been a slow process, given that work and my social calendar has been preventing me from writing as much as I would like.

Alright, I admit it. I just can't seem to figure out from what part of the day I can take the time.

One thing that has been a strange and new exercise for me has been trying to write accurate descriptions from what has become older memory. I've also been writing in installments, making for a more detailed (but still relatively short) travel work. This chapter style has been rather enjoyable, keeping the subjects very small and easy to manage.

The reflection on the events, from the vantage point of weeks rather than hours, allows for the inclusion of things that may have seemed less significant at the time come to fruit. It has allowed for more honesty, as well. I have been able to examine the happenings and for a more rational opinion. There are also things that seemed more significant at the time, but really were just blown out of proportion due to exhaustion[1].

But the daily writing has suffered. I miss it. I feel that to get it back I need to quit my job and go back on the road. Fortunately, people tell me "don't quit your day job."

Thanks, critics, for keeping me gainfully employed.

[1] The other possibility being that I was still affecting some remnant "softiness."

It was widely thought that softiness was a switch: one is either a softie or not (referred to in the scientific literature as "hardcore"). Recent studies have shown that this is not the case. Studies of people being shown photos of situations (hotels versus campgrounds, for example) that should only trigger certain brain locations for softies, tended to have gradations of firing.

These gradations also changed as the subjects were directly exposed to softie or hardcore environments. The more recent the exposure to a soft or a hard environment, the shift more towards one end of the spectrum or another.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Splitting Up is Hard to Do

Yosemite Tramp, Chapter 5

We had a new plan for the day. With a bum knee, we needed to somehow make it an easy day for Jen. We had seen Four Mile Trail from the other side of the valley. It looked worse than Yosemite falls; a veritable switchback nightmare. After much discussion it was decided that the best route to take back up into the mountains was via bus.

Having missed the ticket window the night before, Rob decided to start the day out by running to the Lodge. This was a good two miles from the backpacker camp. At first glance, this might seem like a good idea: last minute tickets require action to obtain. As it turns out, this was a little detrimental. You see, the tickets for the bus cost twenty dollars a pop. It was a tour bus, complete with little bits of information, and full of softies.

Rob and I decided that it would be best[1] if we hiked up the Four Mile trail. We got everything sorted out by mid-morning, and parted ways with the ladies at the bus.

It turned out that we needed to cross the Valley on foot to get to Four Mile Trail. With all the melt and run off, the river running through it was flooded. Incredibly flooded. We had to walk through a good three hundred yards of icy water. Stupidly, we chose to do this in sandals. Keeping those wool socks on might have been a better idea.

The weird thing about softies is that they take pictures of this sort of thing. "Look at the guys hiking through the water with those heavy packs! Jeez, they're real serious over there. Make sure to get me in the picture with them, ma!" The frozen feet, on my part, froze my sense of humor as well. I sort of broke, and double pumped the bird at some grandma[2].

I hope she got that photo.

We hiked up the trail pretty quickly after that. It turned out to be an easier hike, in terms of grade and number of switchbacks. The heat and our pace made it exhausting, though. We really pushed - minimal breaks and high speed walking. We were probably racing that bus.

We hit the top, only to find a visitor center, complete with concession stand. This was mildly disturbing, considering the hike it took to get there, but I suppose people could drive there. They need a destination, beyond a spectacular view.

The Face of Half Dome
Originally uploaded by pschwarz.
We reunited with Jen and Liza (who had, during the day, my camera - she took one of the best pictures of Half dome out of my set), had a sandwich and pushed on.

We still had a few miles to go to get out of the day-hiker zone where we could camp. We hiked along the beautiful Panoramic trail, which passed by a large water fall, and had views of Half Dome along the whole trail. Sloping down along a ridge line, it also provided fantastic views of the valley floor below.

We pushed on about as far as we possibly could that night (another three miles), collapsing at the first (and only) campsite we could find.

It was a bloody long day.

[1] I.E. we were cheap bastards.

[2] Ok, so it was actually aimed at Rob. The grandma in question simply got in the way of a misdirected double-pumping.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth

Rhythm and Booms
Originally uploaded by alumroot.
Flickr is great. Any event or holiday, one can find a great photo for it. No one needs to take their one pictures any longer. It's the one stop memory shop.

Of course, if we all just quit taking pictures, who would be out there creating those memories?

Oh, the great conundrums...