Yosemite Trip, Nov 2006

As many of my friends know, this is one of my favorite places to vacation. For me it is the perfect blend of natural wilderness and the comforts of civilization. Here you can go on day hikes through vistas of unparalleled scenery, with no evidence of the outside world other than your fellow hikers (and not even them, on some trails) - then come back to a comfortable hotel room with a TV (which I don't use much), wireless internet in the lobby (which I use too much), and decent dining selections (as long as you're willing to pay top dollar for them.) I've been going at least once a year since '87.

I'll be staying at the Lodge, which consists of a cluster of buildings at the base of Yosemite Falls. The Lodge for me is a happy medium between the Curry Village tents and the Ahwahnee Hotel, the latter being a great place to hang out, but the rooms are ridiculously overpriced - although I admit, I hope to stay there once at some point, just for the experience. Everything in the valley is minutes from everything else either by car or shuttle. Here's a general overview for those not familiar:

 

This will be the first time being there by myself the whole time - I'm sure it will still be fun. However it is a little bit of a gamble going this late in the season, since it could rain the whole time. Of course the possibility of snow is intriguing... And I've got some great playlists created on the iPod - lots of Pat Metheny style jazz and other soulful tunes - that should go really well with my hikes through the forests.


Sunday

Got here around 4PM (which was nice as it was still light out, so I got the great views of the valley coming in) and checked in. Unpacked, settled in, wandered around a little bit. Got some pasta from the food court, whose selections' flavor btw comes from their use of only the finest cardboard, and free-range monosodium glutamates. (That's one downside about Yosemite - very hard to find decent food other than at the Ahwahnee Hotel restaurant, and at the restaurant here at the Lodge which is only open for dinner.) The Lodge's wireless was down, but they said I could use the wireless at the Ahwahnee, so I'll do that in the morning. Without the access to the internet though, being here alone makes me feel a little detached...

Last time I was here I had a primo room on the outskirts of the compound, if you will, with a balcony on the end of the building which was a perfect location for sneaking a prohibited cigar. This time my room is on the ground floor and not so secluded but I'm sure I can still enjoy a stogie on the back porch, should the mood strike.

It's 1:00 right now and I'm going to bed - want to get an early start on my first day, so setting the alarm for 6. This may be optimistic...


Monday

Alarm went off at 6, I got up at 8:30. Grabbed a bite at the food court - eggs, sausage, and toast... wasn't too bad, harder to screw up breakfast I guess, but still the "toast" was soggy.  Headed over to the Ahwahnee to get online - the Ahwahnee is a great place to hang out in the courtyard and read or write while ordering drinks/mochas, so if the weather cooperates I hope to do some of that while I'm here. Some pix of the courtyard:

You will often see kids running around on the lawn, and I have hucked many a frisbee there myself.

Here's one of the many lounging areas inside:

 

Now, ordinarily one takes a shuttle to the different places within the valley, but since it's the off-season they aren't running as often, so decided to drive. (I know that is worse for the air quality, but I am a selfish bastard.) Worked out well - hardly any traffic and plenty of parking wherever I went. (For reference, takes about 5 minutes to drive from the Lodge end of the valley to the Ahwahnee end, and about 15-20 min by shuttle.)

So anyway at the Ahwahnee I walked up to the concierge, said I was a guest at the Lodge, their wireless was down, and they said I could use it here. The concierge says "Their *wireless* is down?"... While I tried to figure out whether I needed to explain to her what "wireless" was, she went on to say "Well it would be nice if they told *us* they were sending people over here". Oh, I realized, she knew what wireless was, she was just being snooty (or is it snotty?) In an attempt to smooth things over between the two hotels, I suggested "Well maybe they thought it was standard policy..." But before she gives me the go-ahead to use theirs, she first calls the Lodge to confirm their wireless is down, and to chew them out for not "letting us know so we're not blindsided". I then notice her $200 haircut/highlights and Nordstrom-style outfit, and have a second realization: She wasn't going to let those low-life second-class citizens at the Lodge forget what the pecking order is here. So she gets off the phone and hands me a sheet of paper with the network password. That's it. In a perfect world I would have said either A) "Did you not believe me?", or B) "Must be hard to get any real work done when you're blindsided with requests that require you to pick an entire sheet of paper up off the desk and physically hand it to someone." Although I'm of course not a B) type of person, I *was* close to saying A) - but my laziness won out over my desire to have some fun with her.

For the record, this was an anomaly: The service people at the Ahwahnee have always been very courteous, even when it was known I was not a guest there.

So, my internet fix satiated for the time being, I drove back to my room, and packed up to go hiking. It's mid 40's down here, so basically you dress for skiing - light layers.  That worked out well, as I was comfortable the whole time I was out. For my first day I decided to hike to Vernal Falls, which is the first waterfall on the trail that eventually leads to Half Dome and the back country. It's not too strenuous - about 3 hours, moderate elevation gain - the goal being to make sure I could do a longer hike in the following days, so this was a dry run to make sure I had the right clothing options and amount of food and water, plus make sure my recently repaired knee wasn't going to give me any trouble.  And since this was my first full day I'd still be acclimating to the altitude (the valley floor is 4000', the hiking I wanted to eventually do would get me up to 8000'). 

I drove to the trailhead (again, hardly anybody on the roads even though it was about 11AM now), and started walking. Man, it felt good! It was crisp and overcast, I could smell some food cooking over in the campgrounds as I passed them, and all was still and quiet. I got to Vernal fairly quickly and with no physical issues, so decided to go a little farther so I could loop back a different way, for variety. (Went up the Mist Trail, back down the John Muir trail, the latter being longer but less steep - one note of interest that I never knew until now was that the Muir Trail back from Vernal Falls climbs enough before it starts back down to actually equal the elevation gain of going on to Nevada Falls.) Other than my calves and hams tightening up a little bit on the way down (and I think that was more because I hadn't taken any breaks other than 10 minutes to eat a PB&J sandwich), I felt great. One snag I ran into was my iPod was frozen (figuratively - wasn't that cold) when I went to put it on to listen to some tunes for the easy trek downhill. :-(  Fixed it by attaching to a power source later.

After getting back to my car I was feeling hungry for some french bread and cheese (actually a hot meal would've been ideal but as I've said, pickings are slim here), so stopped by the general store and not only found some Colombo and Tillamook but also a great sweatshirt, oh and a particular style of Aidell's chicken and turkey sausage that I can never find in Sac (so I'll bring it back for use later). Got back to the room, had a feast of bread/cheese/pears, took a shower, and hit the town baby! Whoo hoo! Yeah, not really. First, there is no town to hit, per se... Second, although I wasn't sore (per se, if you will), my energy level was about where it used to be after an *all day* hike, not a 4 hour one. Oh well, it's a bitch getting older. So what I really did was lay in bed and watch some TV - got up a little later to make myself a mocha and cruise around the Lodge area - verified there was no internet yet - thought about going to the lounge for a cocktail but wasn't really *craving* one per se, if you will, what have you... so decided to keep it healthy for now. (Note my cigars have not been touched yet either.)

By now I'm used to being here by myself. Of course part of that is getting my internet fix in at the Ahwahnee. And yes, I realize the irony of having to be plugged in with all that natural beauty around me, and yes I know that when normal people walk through the lobby full of people like me clicking away on their laptops, their reaction is:


Tuesday

This time I was a little more realistic and set the alarm for 7... still got up at 8:30.  Don't judge me - I'm on vacation.

Now, it had started raining yesterday just as I drove back to the Lodge parking lot from my hike. (I had rain gear with me on my hike, so that would've been all right if it had started earlier.) And it rained steadily from then until about 3 AM this morning.  I'm playing the whole itinerary thing by ear, so if it were to rain all day today I'd deal. I decided to get a real breakfast today so headed to the Ahwahnee. As I walk out to the parking lot I see nothing but blue sky. Cool! I also see several groups of people standing around looking in the direction of the Falls. I look up, and instead of it being dry as a bone like it's been since I got here (understandably for this time of year), they are flowing at a pretty good clip:

(Actually I didn't snap this until a couple hours later - it was about twice this flow earlier in the AM.)

 

On the way to the Ahwahnee I drove past a meadow that the sun was steaming the rainfall off of:

After checking email (still no internet at the Lodge), I got a *delicious* omelet with some of the freshest and tastiest bell peppers I've had since the Bell Pepper Festival I attended once in Salinas. Actually that doesn't exist, but I wish.

After breakfast I gear up for another hike. This time I'm going to check out a trail I never knew existed until the last time I was up here, and noticed it while on a tour of the valley floor. It's in an area of the park I've never explored but always wanted to (you see it from the other side of the valley, where most of the hiking is, and as we all know, a lot of hiking is seeing an interesting area and saying "Ooo! I wanna go over there!", much like Rodney Dangerfield's character does in that sailing scene from Caddyshack.) And this time I'll bring my camera (ordinarily I wouldn't because it's a big heavy clunker, but this will be a shorter hike so I don't need to pack in as much water.)

I drive up to the trailhead, park, and walk up to the entrance of the trail. I then notice something I hadn't before: According to the signpost this trail requires a wilderness permit, which I don't have. I decided to hike up to the first destination listed (Inspiration Point, 1.3 miles).  If I got busted by a ranger I'd just take it like a man.  I didn't get busted, in fact I didn't see another soul the whole hour up or half hour back. But even if I had been nicked by a ranger, this view would have been more than compensation:

Click here for full res version (trust me it's worth it)

So that is from the western end of the southern rim of the valley, looking east. That's Bridalveil Fall in the center, and Half Dome way at the other end of the valley. The cool thing about this view is that unlike a lot of trails you don't have to hike for hours to see it, since the trailhead I drove to is already 1500' or so above the valley floor.

Came across one tree with some unusual growth:


"It's *not* a tumah..."

This trail is not quite like the more well-traveled trails at the east end of the valley - not as well-defined/maintained, more underbrush, more gloomy since it's on the south face - and even more so today because the fog was rolling in as I climbed. In fact, that plus the complete absence of other people, and the quietness of being away from the populated end of the valley, made it kind of spooky. I started thinking about Grizzly Man, and how he was et by a bear that was desperate because it was past time to hibernate and he hadn't found enough to eat yet, and I think it's about that time of the season right now. With no other people on the trail, I figured there's a greater chance of bears and mountain lions. At least I had this just in case:

...which you may not think would be much use against a bear, but I figured if I saw one I would pull it and say in my best Christopher Walken impersonation: "Hey... bear... if you don't go 'way... I'm gonna stab ya... and it's *gonna* hurt......  Now gimme more cowbell!" Which would mean nothing to the bear probably unless he's seen any Walken movies but it would be some fun stuff to say, and make a good story if I survived, yo. 

Plus, worst case scenario I had these:

But happily no bears (or even mountain lions, or wolves, or rabid squirrels) were harmed in the making of this blog. (I did see a coyote yesterday, but I was in my car so judged him to be no threat. Oh, lots of mule deer walking around too, but that's normal. Hey, don't laugh at the mule deer - the only human death by animal that's ever happened in the valley was from a deer - someone got too close to a buck, buck got spooked, next thing you know, antler through the heart.) Anyway, I was expecting a good view from Inspiration Point but it turned out to be neither inspirational, nor all that pointy in fact. There might have been a better view if it weren't for the fog that developed during the time I was climbing.

So, I get back, shower, and hit the Lounge to see if they had any good appetizers. Was really craving a hot meal, but couldn't stomach the food court fare, and although there is the restaurant next to the food court and lounge (like I say, other than the Ahwahnee the only place with decent food), I didn't want a full course meal. So I looked at the lounge menu and was set on the chicken with garlic mashed potatoes, but my server warned me that the potatoes weren't looking too good.  I would've gone with the white bean soup, but there was no bread available. (Soup without bread... as if.) The server, who appeared willing to help guide me through all this, thought highly of the chicken and pesto wrap, so I ordered that, with a glass of red. I pick up a book I'd brought and started reading - about 60 seconds later I see her out of the corner of my eye coming over... knowing my food couldn't be ready yet, I thought it was just the place setting... but then she sets down the wrap. Ah crap, it's a *cold* appetizer - the reason it came so fast was she just got it out of the fridge, and had obviously been prepared lord knows how long ago. I was thinking it would be like a gyro, i.e. hot. I should have asked for something else, but instead decided to give it a try. Even worse than I expected. So that was a disaster, but I did get in a nice conversation with the server later, who is one of those rock climbers who live in tents at Camp 4 all year round. (Camp 4 is famous for having developed a lot of the rock climbing technology used all over the world.) She confirmed that it was remarkable to see Yosemite Falls flowing at all this time of year.

So, got a mocha to go and cruised the grounds for a while, then settled in for the night. I think the Kings game tomorrow is on ESPN so I should be able to watch it in the Lounge (which is also kind of a sports bar.) Since it'll be my last night I'll probably order a Makers Mark Manhattan (at least they have good bourbon there, since they are also the bar for the restaurant next door.)  I will *not* be ordering the chicken and pesto wrap. Actually I might even have a meal at the restaurant before the game.

Tomorrow I also plan on doing my longest hike: as far as possible up the Snow Creek Trail... more on that tomorrow.


Wednesday

After sleeping in till 8:30 again and a leisurely breakfast, I headed out for the Snow Creek trail, which is one I've never done but have been itching to for a long time. The trailhead is in Tenaya Canyon, about a mile past Mirror Lake - it goes up the east end of the north rim (directly across from Half Dome), and once at the top you can cross over to North Dome (above the Ahwahnee) and/or loop across the north rim to Yosemite Falls, and back down that trail. The total distance and elevation gain for the loop is about the same as the trek to Half Dome, but Snow Creek has steeper sections. So the loop is an all day hike, like Half Dome. But I knew I wasn't going to be able to do the loop this time around, for several reasons:

  1. I'd be pushing it to get the whole thing in during daylight, with the limited amount this time of year.
  2. It's a very long trail to do by myself - could be screwed if I turned an ankle or something.
  3. Just can't get up early enough. Don't know why, but been having trouble getting a good night's sleep - think the bed in my room might be too soft...

But, I wanted to at least explore it a little bit - maybe go as far as North Dome (i.e., the whole ascent up but then back down the same way, as opposed to continuing across the rim and down the Yos Falls trail.) 

 Unfortunately I failed to get very far for the following reasons:

  1. Dawdled too long this morning.
  2. Turned out Snow Creek was also marked with a "permit required" sign.
  3. Mosquitoes.

(Man, I am just full of excuses aren't I?)

Like with the trail yesterday, I still went up for a while but I was very anxious - partly feeling guilty for breaking the park rules, partly because it's in bear habitat on a trail that, like yesterday's trail, prob has no other humans on it (it's not a popular trail even in the busy season, so certainly not with the park dead like it is now.) Yes, I had the buck knife and the bandaids but... well, hopefully you get the picture:

So I ended up turning around soon after the climb started, once I got into the sunlit areas because turns out that's where the 'skitos were waiting to ambush me. Had not anticipated that, what with the cold weather so had no repellent with me. But it was so nice today I bet it was mid 60's in the sun, so yep, 'skitos were still an issue.

But, it was a good 4 mile hike from where I parked to the Snow Creek trailhead, so I still got a lot of walking in, just mostly on level ground.  The temp varied often depending on whether I was in the shade and how close I was to the river - lowest being mid 40s, I'd guess. But not a cloud in the sky... just an awesome day.

Afterwards I was really craving a cheeseburger - but a *good* one so I'd have to go to the Ahwahnee. It was about 3 when I got there so the restaurant was closed, but I remembered getting a burger once from the hotel bar menu. Turned out they didn't have burgers but I got some great chili, chased by a Sierra Nevada. Since today is my last full day I celebrated with a Manhattan for dessert.

Went back at the Lodge, after stopping at the general store and picking up a book on Yosemite day hikes, and was just heading out to watch the Kings game at the Lounge when my room phone rang:

"Hello?"
"Is this Mr. Boom?"
"Yes..."
"Hi this is Kathy, I'm the concierge at the Ahwahnee..."

My immediate thought was "Oh crap!! She read my blog and I'm busted for my smack talk on the wireless thing!" Then I thought "Wait, I haven't uploaded that entry yet, so...  I'm busted for using their wireless too much!" Then I thought "No, that doesn't make any sense either".  Then I thought "OMG! She knows I went into the wilderness without a permit! But how?!!! Devil Woman!" Then I thought "Ah hell, that's probably not it either - but I'm busted for something, here it comes..." (Look how guilty my hiking without a permit has made me.) So she goes on to say:

"Someone just turned in your billfold."

Wow... Must have fallen out of my pocket when I was at the bar, or later when I was on the couch (in the picture above, by the fireplace) while I was online. She was even nice enough to offer me a glass of wine at the Vintners Expo that was going on there. Bottom line though is I was lucky it was found and turned in, and that I hadn't been a wiseass to her the other day about the wireless (not that I wouldn't have still got my cash and credit cards back, but it would've been a bit awkward). Of course I'm still leaving up what I wrote about her in Monday's entry, and I'm sure the karma from doing so will come back to bite me someday. 

But I was able to still see most of the Kings game (which was a good one, and they won), while sipping a mocha by the fireplace in the Lounge.

Tonight I checked into getting a wilderness permit - turns out you only need one for overnight stays, not day hikes. Would have been nice if the signs had mentioned that... Oh well, I know for next time. 

Just finished having a cigar on the patio, and doing some pre-packing for the departure tomorrow. What a great time of year to have been here! 


To learn more about Yosemite, visit www.yosemitepark.com