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Yosemite National Park

I’ll be honest, the first time I ever saw the word “Yosemite” or heard about it was after an installation of Windows XP in the early 2000’s.  Basically, part of the sample images included with every user account was a picture of Yosemite.   This, combined with references to Yosemite over the years in many hiking blogs and articles, I finally decided to wiki the name and I was sold. I decided that the next time I go to the US, Yosemite was a priority in terms of places to go.

Getting there

With the whole ‘environmental consciousness’ coming into effect (that and price), I followed the Park recommendation to take public transport to Yosemite.

In hindsight however, I would say screw that and hire a car, especially if you’re planning to visit outside of Summer.  A car would have offered far greater flexibility and ability (see my moonlight snow-shoeing paragraph below) to do and see more stuff in the area.

Using public transport, you basically find a way to Merced, California, (for me, it was an Amtrak bus and train), then take the Yosemite Area Regional Transport System (YARTS) bus to the Yosemite Valley.  The YARTS bus stops at pretty much all the accommodation options in the valley, which for me was the Curry Village.

Accommodation

Named after David and Jennie Curry, the Curry Village was opened to provide visitors to Yosemite “a good bed and clean napkin with every meal” for just $3 a day.”  Today, this means a night in a unheated tent for around $40 USD a night, no meal included, but you can get paper napkins! 😛

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Just as I was going to book the Curry Village for 5 nights, I noticed that the DNC – the Delaware North Company, which is the company which runs the tourism in the Park was offering a deal on season ski passes for Badger Pass, the ski area located in Yosemite.  Though they normally sell for $449, due to the delayed start in the snow season (even though the west coast was being bombarded with snow, California, which is in drought hardly got any), it was on sale for $179.00.

Season pass holds not only get unlimited access to Badger Pass, but they also get free accommodation in a unheated tent at the Curry Village!  As I was going to stay for 5 nights anyway ($200.00), I could make a small saving by buying a season pass!

The only catch is that the deals associated with the season pass is only valid when Badger Pass is open… With hardly any snow and with my arrival in mid-March, (closure of Badger Pass is usually end of March), the season might be closed and I would have to pay $200.00 on top of the $179.00…

Luckily for me, the season was open when I arrived!  However, I later learned that the snow season ended on the 17th March – 2 days after I left!

Accommodation in a unheated tent was the cheapest option available in Yosemite at the time.  You can splurge a little and get a tent with a small gas heater, or in the summer, you can go one cheaper and stay at the Housekeeping Camp nearby.

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Unheated tent with your very own bear-proof locker!

Secured with a padlock, inside the tent were two beds with bedding, blankets, towels, a small shelf and safety deposit box.   Outside is a bear-proof locker for food etc.

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Everything you need, including 4 blankets!

Overnight temperatures at Yosemite during my visit was around 0’C, dropping as low as -4’C from what I remember.  As I was packing light, I only had my 1 Season sleeping bag with an extreme rating of 10’C and comfort rating of 23’C.  So the first night, even though I had three blankets on top of me, I was still pretty damn cold!  I ended up sleeping with my thermals on, socks, down vest and balaclava as well as another blanket!  This combination made it much better for the remaining 4 nights!

Common room area at the Curry Village - free WiFi and a place to charge your phone.
Common room area at the Curry Village – free WiFi and a place to charge your phone.

Bears in the park

Now I know a lot of visitors to Australia who comment on the smorgasbord of dangerous wildlife which can kill unsuspecting tourists (a summary can be found here… written by a guy who can’t spell http://www.cracked.com/funny-5997-the-animals-that-make-australia-deathtrap-it-is/).  Upon my arrival to Yosemite, I was faced with an overload of information regarding bears in the park, what to do if you see one, how and what to store in bear lockers etc.

To be honest, I was pretty alarmed! I mean, the video at the Curry Village reception showed bears ripping open car doors (http://cheynelempe.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/life-in-yosemite.html) for a few crumbs in between the cushions of a baby seat!  To me, the message was clear.   Any food? Put it in the bear locker.  Any objects which have come into contact with food?  Put it in the bear locker.  Rubbish such as wrappers?  Put it in the bear locker. Anything with a scent; toiletries, wet wipes, etc.  Put it in the bear locker.  Water bottles?  You get the idea, put it in the bear locker!

It got my thinking however, where’s my bear locker to sleep in?? Seriously, I’m in a unheated, canvas tent for crying out loud and I smell like my toiletries after a shower and my dirty clothes give off a scent.  And I carried food in my bag..?  And I used my Leatherman to open my can of spaghetti…

Luckily, there are no grizzly bears in Yosemite and whilst there are around 300 known black bears, there has never been a fatality nor a major attack in Yosemite according to the National Parks Service so at least that made me sleep better at night!

Hiking trails

Arriving on the Sunday afternoon and leaving on Friday morning gave me a heap of time to relax and check out much of the valley area.  As I didn’t have all my gear with me, overnight hikes would have been a bit of a chore, so I was mainly interested in day hikes.  A really good website to read up on the various trails is YosemiteHikes.com.

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The first stop after arriving at the Curry Village was to head to the Rangers Office, located at Stop 5 on the free Yosemite Valley Shuttle Bus route to get information on current trail conditions.  The shuttle arrives at each stop every half hour and was pretty good at arriving on time.  At each stop, a sign basically states the arrival time of the first shuttle (eg. 8:20am) and therefore you can assume that shuttles arrive at 20 minutes past the hour or 10 minutes to the hour… So when a group of Germans asked me if I know when the next shuttle was arriving, I asked them, how long had they been waiting.  Their reply was “Around 28 minutes!” in a slightly annoyed voice… So I just told them.. “Well I guess the next shuttle will be arrive in two minutes then?”… Sure enough, within 5 minutes, the next shuttle arrived… Trust the system guys! 😛

Anyway, back to the trails… with snow still present at the top of the valley, Half Dome (which requires a ticket, drawn from a ballot), El Capitan and Glacier Point via the Four Mile Trail was not accessible.

However, I could still make the trip to Lower Yosemite Falls, Upper Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Point, Nevada Falls, about 2/3 or the Four Mile Trail and of course, the Valley Floor Loop to get a ground view of El Capitan.  My plan of attack in the week was to start off with Lower Yosemite Falls and Nevada Falls on Sunday and Monday, respectively.  Head up to Yosemite Point via Upper Yosemite Falls on the Tuesday, the Four Mile Trail and the Valley Floor Loop on Wednesday, then go for a morning of snowboarding at Badger Pass and an evening snow shoeing on Thursday, before leaving Friday morning.

With my Everest Base Camp trek just over a month away, I figured that my time in Yosemite would be the bulk of my ‘training’.  Therefore, I made the decision to carry my main pack for all of my hikes in Yosemite, loaded up to around 12kg for some resistance.

Lower Yosemite Falls

With the afternoon settling in and after getting the information I wanted from the Rangers, went for a quick stroll to Lower Yosemite Falls approximately 30 minutes away.  Nothing too strenuous here, but the path does offer a spectacular view of Yosemite Falls especially with the snow at full melt!

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View of Yosemite Falls from Lower Yosemite Falls trail
Nevada Falls

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With a small shower in the morning, I headed to Stop 16 for the 8.7km round trip to Nevada Falls and back (altitude gain, 610m).  The first kilometre or so is a nice paved road running parallel to the Merced River, before you hit chain of a dozen or so switchbacks as you rise up to Clark Point.  From Clark point, it’s downhill until you get to a split in the path, with a detour to Vernal Fall (well worth it!).  Otherwise, continue along the trail, following the sound of crashing water until you hit Nevada Falls!

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View from Clark Point
Nevada Falls
Nevada Falls
Top of Nevada Falls
Top of Nevada Falls

Though they say it takes around 5-6hrs to complete, I ended up making the return trip in just under 4.5hrs, including plenty of time to take photos.

Luckily for my, the morning showers passed by around 11am and the rest of the day was spectacular, even warm.

Upper Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Point

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The next morning was an earlier start to get to the top of Yosemite Falls and onwards to Yosemite Point.  With the skies clear, it was also a pretty chilly start, but I figured it couldn’t be that cold as Dan, the only other person waiting at the bus stop was only wearing a fleece and shorts and carrying a shopping bag with a bottle of water (in the mean time, I’m wearing my full pack for some added resistance for a day hike…) with a down vest, jumper and long pants 😛

Anyway, the shuttle bus rocks up and it’s full of an entire school group.  Luckily, the both of us were able to squeeze on board.  Looks like the shuttle is running express to the trail head!  Being very helpful, the bus driver let the two of us off first so we could get ahead of the school group.

Eager to get ahead of the pack (and probably walking at his normal pace), we pretty much blitzed our way to the top of Yosemite Falls, stopping at Colombia Rock and a few other places along the way to take photos.

Columbia Rock
Columbia Rock

This is one of the ‘problems’ with Yosemite.  At the end of every switchback, you just want to stop and admire the views.  Some people however, don’t stop and still want to admire the views as I was informed by the guy at the Curry Village Grocery Store.  That same guy went onto immediately recommend a book, “Death in Yosemite”: “Walk and then stop to admire the beauty!” cautioned the guy… “Don’t be another statistic!”…

A book recommended to me at the Curry Village Grocery Store!
A book recommended to me at the Curry Village Grocery Store!

At the top of the falls, you get a great view of the entire valley – afterall, from the trailhead to the top is an elevation gain of 823m! From here, Dan and I headed off in different directions – Dan was keen to make it out to the top of El Capitan and back that day, whilst I had set myself a slightly easier target of continuing for approximately 1 mile to Yosemite Point.

View of Yosemite Falls on the way up to the top
View of Yosemite Falls on the way up to the top
Looking down into the valley from the top of Yosemite Falls
Looking down into the valley from the top of Yosemite Falls

If you ever make the hike up to Upper Yosemite Falls, do yourself a favour and continue upwards (another 125m up) and onwards to Yosemite Point.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Snow still lingering at the top...
Snow still lingering at the top…
What a view!
What a view!
From Yosemite Point
From Yosemite Point

All in all, the walk to Yosemite Point and back took around 6.5 hours for the 15km round trip.  If you come to Yosemite on a day trip and want to do a hike, definitely consider doing this trail!

Four Mile Trail and the Valley Floor Loop

Looking for another reasonably long day hike, I was recommended the Four Mile Trail by the Rangers, although they cautioned that it was partially closed.  Therefore I decided to combine it with a walk out to the base of El Capitan.

For some of the better views of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls, this is the track to walk.  Along the way up, I passed this huge continent of Chinese students absolutely battling their way up the hill…  One of them was carrying his laptop out in front of him watching a movie!?

20 minutes after passing this group and around 4km in, the trail was closed due to rockfalls so I had to turn back around, but I must say that the views on the way up were definitely worth it!

El Capitan from the Four Mile Trail
El Capitan from the Four Mile Trail
Half Dome from the Four Mile Trail
Half Dome from the Four Mile Trail
From the Valley Floor Loop
From the Valley Floor Loop

Heading back to the Valley Floor and reconnecting to the Valley Floor Loop, I continued to walk onto the base of El Capitan.  Even though it’s an easy walk, it’s also a pretty plain walk.  If I had to do it again, I would either reschedule and go here in a morning run, hire a bike or hop on a guided sightseeing tour ($25) bus.  Either way, the money spent would be worth it in my opinion!

Basically, I walked from the Four Mile Trail head to El Capitan Bridge then to Ribbon Creek.  turned around and walked all the way back to Yosemite Lodge to take the shuttle back to the Curry Village.  All in all, it was around 8km and 2.5hrs.

Now it’s not to say that you shouldn’t walk around the Valley as they areas around the Yosemite Lodge and Visitors Centre provide some of the better views of Half Dome and surroundings.  But if you need to get down to El Capitan, do yourself a favour and rent a bike.

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Badger Pass Ski Area

To start my final full day in Yosemite, I decided to head up to Badger Pass using the free Badger Pass Shuttle, departing from the Curry Village at 8:05am.

Tunnel through the granite rock to get to Badger Pass
Tunnel through the granite rock to get to Badger Pass

Arriving around 1.5hrs later, I figured I would get the 2:00pm bus back, as the ski area is pretty small.  With a discount on snowboard hire with my annual pass, I had to check it out!

Not very big at all!
Not very big at all!

A couple of hours (as in 2, max 3) is all you need to do all the runs at Badger Pass, especially if there’s not a lot of people.  Though there was a school group there at the time, I had the mountain mostly to myself, along with a group of a dozen Spanish tourists.  Run No.3 was definitely my favourite!

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The weather up there was typically Californian.  Bright, warm sunshine and no wind at all!  If I do return to Yosemite any time soon, it would be probably in summer and therefore I would very much be unlikely to return to Badger Pass.  If you’re in the area and want to spend a few hours on the snow however and if the season is still going, it is a very cheap way to do so however.

Lapping up the California weather.
Lapping up the California weather.

Full moon snow shoe walk

After returning back to the Valley Floor and grabbing dinner, it was back up to Badgers Pass again for a full moon guided snow shoe walk! The full moon guided snow shoe work is run by the guys at Delaware North and is booked at the tour desk at the Yosemite Lodge.  Again, as it is outside summer, all the other tour desks are shut, so you have to take the shuttle over to the Lodge to make your booking.

All tour desks are closed except for the one at Yosemite Lodge outside of the Summer season
All tour desks are closed except for the one at Yosemite Lodge outside of the Summer season

Having never snow shoed before, I was really keen on trying it for the first time, especially at night under the moon light!  With the tour departing the office at Badger Pass, it is up to you to figure out a way of getting up there – no form of transportation is organised.  Unfortunately, the Badger Pass Shuttle only runs trips up to the mountain in the morning and the last shuttle departs Badger Pass at 4pm in the afternoon, so I was faced with an issue here, being without my own vehicle.

Exhausting all possibilities; hitching a ride up with the tour guide and back…. not allowed due to liability, staying up at Badgers Pass after snowboarding and wait 3 hours until the tour starts and hope for a lift back… not allowed as they get everyone off the area when they shut.. I was left with trying to find a ride up.

After some negotiation with the people at the tour desk, they agreed to ask the other people who book onto the same tour group if they would consider taking another person up and back with them.  Having booked this on Monday, it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that a couple said yes!  Thanks so much again Deng and Michelle for the ride up, you guys are awesome!  Trust some fellow Aussie’s to stretch out a hand when in need!  As our tour started a 6:30pm, we headed up around 5:30pm – just in time to catch the sun setting in the valley.

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It was quite funny, as earlier that day when taking a chairlift at Badger Pass, I was chatting to one of the teachers with the school group.  I told him about my plight to get a ride up to Badger Pass that evening and my solution in getting a ride with some Australians.  He told me: “Oh, that doesn’t surprise me at all.  You know, I’ve done a lot of back country backpacking over the past 20 years and a lot of the times on the way back, I try and hitch a ride with a car coming down the mountain.  Each time, it’s always an Australian or New Zealander or a British person who pulls over.  I don’t know… Maybe all of us American’s think of hitchhikers as serial killers out to get people… Good to hear you found a lift though!”

So after arriving at Badger Pass that evening, we were kitted out with our snow shoes… warned to emphasise any steps we take backwards to prevent falling over and marched out to the snow.

Getting our snow shoes!
Getting our snow shoes!

After around 10 minutes, our eyes were pretty well adjusted to the moon light and although it was a few days until an actual full moon, you could actually see for ages.

The Big Dipper
The Big Dipper
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Thanks Deng and Michelle! Legends!

 

 

 

 

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Throughout the tour, the guide pointed out constellations as well as different types of trees and formations.  He would ask a few questions here any there (“Can anyone tell me what tree this is?” etc.) and this one guy always kept answering with the right answer… So when the guide asked another question (maybe his 4th), and no one answered,  I couldn’t help myself so I replied “I’m waiting for that guy to answer and he seems to know all the answers”…   Even though it was dark, I could still see the biggest evil eye being directed at me! 😛

Wasn't too strenuous...
Wasn’t too strenuous…

All in all, it was a pretty cool way to spend $19.00 and spend 2 hours.  If you plan to do it at night, be sure to rug up and wear some waterproof footwear (or canvas shoes with plastic zip-lock bags wrapped around your socks :P).

Food in the valley

In my previous post, I noted that I brought in some bananas, beef jerky, Chunky Soup and canned pasta and some trail mix to Yosemite.  Whilst the prices in the valley are a little more expensive than a supermarket, they are by no means a rip off.

There are several places where you can buy groceries with the Curry Village Gifts/Groceries store being the closest to me.  Inside, they also have an urn for hot water and a microwave (although I couldn’t be bothered heating up the Chunky Soup and Pasta as I didn’t want to clean up afterwards… 😛

Outside of the summer, the restaurants and cafes at the Curry Village are only open on some days.  It wasn’t really clear to me what days, but the days I was there, they were all closed.  Instead, if you wanted to buy a meal, I had the option of going to the four-star Ahwahnee Hotel or the food court option at the Yosemite Lodge.  I ended up going here two nights and the meals were definitely filling (think again, American portions).

Other than that, it was the aforementioned Chunky Soup (the hamburger flavour is interesting…) with bread (fresh bread can be bought from the Grocery Store, as with fresh fruit such as bananas, muesli and granola bars (Cliff Bars are awesome), drinks, milk etc), or canned spaghetti with bread, peanut butter sandwiches and wraps, beef jerky wraps (really good!), plenty of milk and bananas.  I definitely did not go hungry!

 If you’re going to San Francisco

If you’re going to San Francisco in the morning like I was that Friday, you pretty much want to get the first YARTS bus out of Yosemite to Merced.  During March, this was schedule for 9:32am, arriving in Merced at 12:27pm.  From where, it’s a train to Emeryville, the closest Amtrak rail station to San Francisco and then a coach across the Bay into San Fran.  The final coach is directly linked to the train service, so even though the train may be running late (mine was late by half an hour), the coach will be there waiting!

Welcome to Emeryville, California!
Welcome to Emeryville, California!

All in all, my 5 nights in Yosemite was the most relaxing time on my trip so far.  You’re in a completely different world when you stay there – the air, noises, people… If you want to hang out with a bunch of people, there are plenty of places to do so, or if you just want to sit back and take it in, there’s definitely enough room to find your own spot, outside of the peak summer season anyway.

There are also enough shops in the area to keep you busy for a few days, these include the Ansel Adams Gallery which is well worth the visit and the Mountaineering Shop.

The next time I come back here, I’ll do the following differently:

  1. I’m going to hire a car and drive there
  2. I’ll buy all my food in Yosemite
  3. I’ll probably come back here in Summer and try and get a permit to hike up the Half Dome.

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Some links:

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