Peace in the (Yosemite) Valley

Rolling amber hills stretched out before us as we coasted through the desolate Southern California interior between Santa Barbara and Yosemite National Park. Daydreaming most of the drive, I awoke once to look out over the expanse and find a lonely farmhouse perched atop a mound about a mile off the highway. I wondered who lived there, what that life was like (so isolated from other people), and why it was vacant. Sadly we had no time to stop and explore and continued our drive through rural California where we eventually came upon mountainous areas.

The day wore on and eventually faded to evening. I clung desperately to my seat while Peyton sped around precarious corners along the mountainside approaching Yosemite. (Later I proved to be no better of a driver, swerving down winding roads in the coastal redwood forest so fast that both Daniel and Peyton nearly became sick.)

When we arrived at Hodgdon Meadows, dusk permeated the campground, and the dark clouds were only just beginning to release a steady drizzle. But it was pouring by the time we set up tents and moved our food into the bear locker. Luckily I was able to string a tarp over the picnic table while Daniel and Peyton started a fire underneath it. We sat under the tarp and ate our standard camp dinners of rice, beans, and canned meat while the flames fought back the cold, rainy night.

From the moment we began planning Yosemite, I knew I would have to visit again when I could devote more time to the park—maybe two weeks or more. Because of this, we planned Yosemite fairly loosely and deliberately avoided packing too much into our two days.

Hodgdon Meadow is located about 45 minutes out of the main valley, so we set out fairly early to find a ranger station. We got a couple of free maps and received advice on where to find boulders for a little climbing. Most of the problems in Yosemite are far too advanced for beginning and amateur climbers, but we decided just seeing the areas where so many climbers had cut their chops would be interesting. For those who haven’t climbed, a problem is a short climbing route on a boulder that typically ends 12 feet or so off the ground.

The road into the Valley wound around steep rock faces, between towering redwoods, and through dark, narrow tunnels. When El Cap, Cathedral, Sentinel Dome, and Half Dome came into view, the feeling was similar to being star-struck. We gazed in awe at the massive monoliths surrounding us as we drove to Camp Four, a famous hangout and bouldering location for some of the world’s greatest climbers. For a couple of hours we explored the small area and clambered up whatever boulder problems we could. Peyton eventually gave up on the rocks and climbed a tree instead. After scarfing down packed lunches, we set out for a new location. During a long search marked by discussions of which tree was the biggest we had ever seen, we came upon some climbable problems in the Half Dome Village area and spent another hour scrambling around the rocks.

Finding problems on our level was difficult, but our real challenge of the day was finding showers. At that point our last ones were at the Grand Canyon, about five days previous. Obviously there were no showers in the Mojave Desert, and unfortunately neither our Santa Barbara campground nor our Yosemite campground offered showers either. So we decided to try our luck in Half Dome Village. However, we arrived at the shower house to discover the door only opened with a code. Luckily a man saw me trying numbers at random, assumed I had just forgotten the code, and told me the correct numbers. Thus five days become zero and we no longer repelled any living thing within a ten foot radius.

For a solid end to the day, we drove to Glacier Point to experience the iconic view of Half Dome and watch the sunset. Sadly thick clouds shrouded Half Dome for all but a moment of our time there, and a dense haze lay over the rest of the valley. But still, the overwhelming beauty of such a place cannot be dimmed by these mischances.

We began our second full day by driving nearly all the way back to where we had been the night before—blaring 90s country hits the whole time. The hike to Taft Point was short and traversed mud and snow, but it was rewarding. Lying on the sunbathed rocks overlooking the valley transpired to be a brilliant way to pass the morning into afternoon. While at the point, we noticed a small group of people lugging around ropes and other gear. We soon found out they were there to highline across a ravine featuring a near seventy foot drop. If you haven’t seen highlining before, it is basically the practice and art of a walking a slackline (like a tightrope but loose) very high off the ground.

When they started I curiously wandered over to join the crowd of onlookers. The first guy, the veteran of the group, walked across and back seemingly easily. However, the second guy was still learning, and I nervously watched him fall off the line several times. A girl who tried later had no better luck. They were all harnessed in when walking, but a feeling of panic pervaded anyway while someone was on the line. That panic exploded and encapsulated even the bystanders when the walker trembled and lurched from the line only to be saved by the harness.

As if that was not enough excitement, an elderly man asked me if I had seen any of the figures climbing El Capitan. I had not, so he let me borrow his binoculars. Lo and behold I watched three guys slowly making their way up the rock face, lugging bundles of gear beneath them. I no longer have a desire to highline, but as those climbers made progress on El Cap, a strong wave of envy overcame me. One day, I would very much like to conquer that climb.

After lazing around at the top of the valley, what could be better than lazing around in the meadow for a new perspective? We parked the truck off the road in front of El Cap and spent the rest of the day chilling in the meadow just taking in the sights and sounds around us. The monoliths staring down from either side, imposing their strength. The mighty redwoods with their contrasting green branches forming windbreaks to leave only a comfortable breeze. We found peace in Yosemite Valley.

Leaving that afternoon was difficult, but our next campsite was several miles out of the park. The next day promised the Pacific Ocean its storied coastal redwoods.

Road Trip Reads – Part 1

While driving across the country, flying, and sitting on buses, we all love a good book to capture our attention. During the road trip Peyton carried a mini New Testament bible, Daniel had a popular novel by a modern writer whose name escapes me, and I read Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidances as well as an installment to the Wheel of Time series. My reasoning for the bear book was practical as we would be spending 3 days in Alaskan bear country; I highly recommend this book—which was recommended to me—for anyone planning on doing the same. That said, we are always looking for new reading material for road trip and vacation down time. In this post I am sharing three books that I want to recommend to you for your next adventure. The first book is one that inspires me to be adventurous. The second is a book that personally connects me to nature. The last book is a wildcard book of any genre that I want to suggest. As you may have surmised from the title, this is the first post of a series. Several adventurous friends of mine have been kind enough to contribute three suggestions of their own that I will share with you over the next few weeks. For now, I hope something here will pique your interest, and I encourage you to give these books a shot.

Into the Wild is Jon Krakauer’s journalistic telling of how Chris McCandless met an untimely fate in Alaska after spending two wild and free years on the road. You have likely heard of this book or at least the 2007 Sean Penn film it inspired. Although heralded by some as the standard for a free spirited adventurer, Chris McCandless is denounced by many less-naive adventurers as an air-headed fool. While my personal opinion of McCandless falls somewhere in between, I find Krakauer’s account of the tale endlessly inspiring. McCandless’s personal writings—Krakauer includes several—encourage me to seek new adventures. As a whole, Into the Wild pulls a powerful desire to experience the unknown from deep in my soul. The story’s tragic end reminds me that risk is reality; understanding and preparing for risk keeps us alive through the more dangerous adventures if we learn from others. This book is a great read before, during, or after road trips as a source of inspiration to live fully. The main thing I took from this book: Life is a journey, not a destination.

Sometimes you just don’t have the time or energy to invest in a novel or long-form nonfiction. For these instances, I’d like to recommend any collection of short stories by Jack London. I recently began progressing through 25 selected shorts that are dense in substance, character, and scenery.  London skillfully narrates the history of the west while developing his characters, but more importantly, he weaves a visual and emotional connection to the environment and its interaction with people. Nature plays such a vast role in his stories that one can’t help but burn for adventure and exploration—to witness first-hand what London writes about. Though fictional, London’s writings captivate the mind, encourage introspection, and ultimately incite action in those of us who need to see more than a screen. “The Apostate” and “All Gold Canyon” are two examples of many short stories that are perfect for a quick read.

Lastly I suggest the book Eaarth by Bill McKibben. This work, though criticized for being overly cynical, highlights some of the key elements of climate change and how they affect us. McKibben argues that Earth the planet is dead, that due to a severe rise in global temperature Earth has been succeeded by a new planet: “Eaarth” (with two a’s). He claims that the effects of a carbonizing atmosphere are nearly irreversible and that “Eaarth” can never be completely reverted to its pre-industrial conditions. Based on rising carbon dioxide levels well above the stable 350 parts per million, McKibben’s science-backed predictions trumpet doom and destruction if change is not immediately manifested.  I realize this book sounds like a bit of a downer, and it is also important to note that McKibben is a writer/researcher (an excellent one), but not a scientist. Because he is not the direct source of the science and has a strong environmentalism background, his views are certain to contain a degree of subjectivity and bias to be carefully examined. However, I chose this book as my wildcard because it was the first book to connect me to environmentalism and truly inform me about climate change. It is an eye-opening read to anyone who will give it a chance. Please give it a chance.