Sunday, August 30, 2009

Yosemite National Park

Ever since my acceptance into the Mazamas Advanced Rock class, I had been looking forward to their trip down to Yosemite National Park. While I had no plans of big wall climbing in this cathedral of rock climbing, I relished the chance to practice my newly learned trad lead climbing skills on the world famous granite.

Then in July I stumbled and landed on my left thumb. The injury was not serious, but damaging enough to curtail my climbing plans. So instead I planned to climb with my feet and explore by hiking and backpacking.

Our class set up base camp at a campground overlooking Saddlebag Lake on a pass at an elevation of 10000 feet. For you Oregonians out there, that is like camping at the base of Mt. Hood's crater. Even though it was just outside of Yosemite's Tioga Pass entrance, it offered more peace than the car camping options inside the national park in a beautiful alpine setting.

While my colleagues were out climbing, I took a handful of hikes. My first was was to the top of Mount Hoffman, near the geographic center of the park. I also took a short hike amongst the Giant Sequoias in the Tuolumne Grove. Then went down to Yosemite Valley and braved the crowds and explored some of the meadows. On the way out of the valley I stopped at Tunnel View and understood why this place is known as the 'Incomprehensible Valley'.

The highlight of the trip was three day backpacking trip from Tuolumne Meadows down to Yosemite Valley. Monday morning I was dropped off near the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, elevation 8600 feet. With my wilderness permit and bear canister loaded in my backpack, I headed down the Muir trail and then headed south along Rafferty Creek. After gradually gaining altitude I found myself at the Vogelsang High Serria Camp. As I ate lunch at Fletcher Lake I soaked in this glorious high alpine setting. It got even better as I hiked past Vogelsang Lake and then up to Vogelsang Pass (elevation 10600 feet). My breath was taken away as I rounded the corner and saw the water tumbling down the from Gallson Lake. Below me was the Lewis Creek Valley. As I descended down this valley the creek would slide down slabs of granite. In the distance grand granite domes rose above me. My final mile was a pleasant walk through the shaded forest to the backpacker's campground at Merced Lake. Here I found a flush toilet (such a luxury) and friendly companions that invited me to join their campfire.

Tuesday morning I broke camp and followed the Merced River to Echo Valley. At the trail junction I was startled when a cinnamon colored bear crossed my path. It was not that big, so I paused a looked for mama bear. After awhile it appear that this bear was out solo so I pressed onward. Above me I heard the woodpeckers pecking out insects from the bark, a reminder of home. I gained some altitude and soon found myself above the Merced River valley. Here I was looking down into the Lost Valley, dominated by the impressive granite dome of Bunnell Point. I rejoined the John Muir trail and set up camp at a trail jucntion with good water access. I loaded up my fanny pack and started up the trail to Clouds Rest. The view of Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley got better as I rounded each switchback. Then the big surprise of the day, a hiker that was descending the trail recognized my voice. It was Chris Bibro, a fellow Mazama, who was backpacking with his girlfriend. Chris told me the view from Clouds Rest was spectacular and he was not kidding. At 9926 feet elevation, I was looking down on Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley. Not far away I could see Mount Hoffman plus I could make out the route that had brought me here. After lingering at the summit for some time I descended down to my campsite to rest for my day three.

Tuesday morning I broke camp and headed down the John Muir trail to the Half Dome trail junction. I read that bears were active in this area, so I left my backpack behind, separating my stove and bear canister. Gradually the trees thinned out and I found myself at the base of Half Dome's Cable Route. This is the famous final 400 feet via two cables strung between poles that rest in holes drilled in the steep granite face. As I ascended I got into a rhythm with my arms doing most of the work pulling myself up. The time I spent climbing on granite at City of Rocks gave me the confidence to trust that my feet would hold. The view was worth every step of the way. My efforts to get up here early paid off as I did not have to deal with too large of a crowd as I descended. Downclimbing involved communicating with those who were ascending as the space between the cables is too narrow for two people.

Back down at the trail junction I discovered that chipmunks had gotten into my backpack. I found one of my chemical hand warmers 20 feet from the backpack. Better them than bears. I descended down into Yosemite Valley, enjoying the view of Nevada Falls. During this trip I had seen some incredible sights, but none were as welcome as my car waiting for me at the trailhead.

But this was not the last chapter of this backpacking adventure. The Big Meadows fire had broken out in the National Park, closing a critical road for my return to Saddlebag Lake. A drive that should have taken 2 hours lasted 4.5 hours. When I finally made it back to home base all had retired for the night and the last of the campfire embers were fading.

When my time in Yosemite had ended, I drove north to Truckee to visit my cousin Eric and his family. We had a wonderful picnic dinner at Donner Lake and then later I got to read bedtime stories to his girls. The next morning I packed up one last time and drove home.

You can see more photos at this link.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Neahkahnie Mountain

While I would prefer to be in the mountains than on the beach, my summer would not be complete without a visit to the Oregon Coast.  For some time I have been itching to return to Neahkahnie Mountain, which would give me both my mountain and beach fix.

Our group departed from the Hillsboro area Sunday afternoon, our destination was Oswald West State Park. One member of our group was from Germany and this was his first time seeing the Pacific Ocean.  Seeing numerous surfers headed towards the beach only seemed to add to his excitement.

We paused at the Devils Cauldron to soak in the view of Smugglers Cover and Cape Falcon.  From here the trail started to climb in earnest.  I had forgotten how magnificent the Sikta Spruce trees are along this hike.  In some places they were growing in so close that the sun was blocked out.

The translation of Neahkahnie is place of the gods, which seems a fitting name for this viewpoint.  Looking south towards Nehalem Bay with the surf crashing along the beach is certainly a view fit for the gods.

After a leisurely dinner and dessert on the summit, we descending back to the Short Sand beach.  I was hoping to catch the sunset, but a narrow band of clouds on the horizon had the sun disappearing ahead of schedule.  While we did not witness the sun as it set, we did catch the surfers gliding back to shore.  That was thrilling enough for our German friend.  Welcome to Oregon...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Portland Bridge Pedal

Late Saturday Night I made a last minute decision and registered for the Providence Bridge Pedal.  Less than 10 hours later I joined 18000 cyclists who jumped at the chance to ride their bikes over the bridges of Portland.  It was quite a spectacle.  I saw Portland Mayor Sam Adams handing out bike maps.  I also saw petitioners gathering signatures to get a recall of Mayor Adams on the ballot.

I choose the shorter route which covered six bridges.  It was a weird feeling to ride down the off ramp and find myself biking on the highway.  The view from the Marquam Bridge, which is part of Interstate 5, was worth the price of admission.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Olympic Peninsula Trip

Once again the spell of the Olympic Peninsula beckoned and I heeded its call.  This time I drove up to Camp Parsons for their Friday Night Campfire.  The mountains were hidden by a thick layer of clouds as I drove along Highway 101.  I made it just in time for the campfire.  It was so nostalgic to participate in the songs and traditions at camp.  It was even better hanging out with Anne and Anton Kramer and their family.  I even got to eat some of Jack's birthday cake and listen to Monica tell me about her backpacking trip to Lena Lake.  I had such a nice time I forgot my toothbrush there.

Heading back south on Saturday I turned off Highway 101 at Hoodsport and entered Olympic National Park at Staircase.  My plan was to hike up to Wagonwheel Lake.  And just in case one missed this warning about the difficulty of this hike...

...the National Park Service posted a second sign.

Most of the time I hike with groups.  From time to time I need to hike by myself, so I'm not distracted by the conversations or responsibilities.  The way things have been going I needed some solitude to sort out my thoughts.  I needed an opportunity to watch the lichen flutter in the breeze, to observe how wisps of clouds playfully dance in the air, and notice how a Grouse carefully inches down a fallen log.

After reaching the egg shaped Wagonwheel Lake I could not resist checking out an unmaintained trail that led from the lake to a point 700 feet above the lake.  I found the trail, took a compass bearing, and headed upward.  Upon arrival at that point I was treated to a brief view of Saint Peter's Gate, Mt. Washington, Mt. Ellinor, Copper Mountain, and some of the Sawtooth Range.  Then the clouds returned.  It occurred to me that perhaps sometimes we live in the clouds, unable to see the big picture.  Then forces greater than ourselves, on their schedule, clear out the fog and provide a moment of clarity.  That though gave me a sense of peace as I ate my lunch, surrounded by clouds.