A Quick Trip To Yosemite…

Usually, I’ll stay at a tent cabin if I’m alone or at a motel if I’m with Her Majesty. But a few years ago, the number of tent cabins and lodge rooms were reduced and prices shot up (that’s a tirade for a different time, maybe). It also means finding a place in the park on short notice is much more difficult. So I figured I’d grab a campsite. I haven’t camped since, what?, Boy Scouts?, 1960ish. If I were ever to do some of the hikes I’d like done, I’m going to have to back pack. So, maybe I should get my feet wet.

There are a number of campsites that are First Come, First Served basis in the park. Specifically:

Camp 4 in the Valley.*
Tamarack Flat*
White Wolf
Porcupine Flat
Yosemite Creek*
Tuolumne Meadows
Bridalveil Creek

Those marked with an asterisk are not recommended for RVs or Trailers.

According to some reading, I was given the impression that space would be available mid week if I arrived before noon. Well, coming from Bullhead City, AZ, that wasn’t going to happen, but I did arrive at the east gate around 1:30 PM. I asked at the Tioga Pass entrance if there were places left and was given a terse, “No” and then was offered a list of places to camp outside the park.

I pulled off to the side to look at the list and, of course, there’s no cell service, so that was pointless. I am a firm believer that if three people tell you that you are sick, lay down. With that motto in mind, I decide to find two more places that said the campsites are full before I gave up.

I stopped by Tuolumne Meadows and they said, No, they’re full, but they don’t know about the other camp sites because they’re run by the park service. Really? Then who are you? We’re DNC they say. Ah…Okay, so I run over the ranger station down the road about a mile. There were people and RVs littering the entry way, but they didn’t seem to be “in line”, so I just walked in. I was just about to ask if there were campsites available when I saw the sign slowing all the sites and they were all full EXCEPT Yosemite Creek which said, “Space Available”…Great! I was actually hoping for that site.

They say, just go to the campground, find a site and you’ll have about 30 minutes to pay the fees. It’s self service. The ranger said there were about 30 spaces available. I may have misunderstood that. I think what he meant was there are 30 sites altogether and some of those were still available. But never the less, I boogied out there immediately and it took all of an hour to get to it (I didn’t think it was that far).

I arrived at the turnoff to Yosemite Creek campground (way past “Yosemite Creek Picnic” area) at about 2:30. I had my eye on that site in the first place because of a hike I have been considering. This site could be a nice jumping off point if you want to hike DOWN to the top of Yosemite Falls then walk down the trail to the valley (more on that in another post). By staying here or having some one drive you here, you could save about 2 ½ miles. The trailhead is up at Tioga Road. You can’t park here in the campsite as just a hiker. It is reserved for campers. Anyway, I wanted to camp here to see if it would work for the hike or to see what it would be like to drive it.

The road to the campsite runs almost 5 miles before you find the first of the campsites (4.8 miles). Shortly after you get on the road (maybe, 200 feet), there is a sign that says, “Rough Road.” Well, opinions vary. The road leading up to the sign indisputably a “rough road”, the road to Hetch Hetchy is a rough road. To me, a “rough road” is a road with pot holes filled in with asphalt so the going is rough and uneven. THIS road had numerous open pot holes and seldom had just one pot hole all by itself. Usually there were two or three together making it virtually impossible to miss. These were not oopsy doopsy pot holes; these were like bomb craters. Be advised! If you take this road in a mid-sized or larger truck or car, when you leave you WILL need a wheel alignment. If you come through in a smaller car (I came through in a Prius), when you leave you will need a new car.

Camp Site (sm)Never the less, I arrived without incident. I got set up in no time. I have a small “two-man” tent (that’s what the box said, but it didn’t mean two men my size). I rolled out the yoga mat and sleeping bag and discovered my large Ice Chest didn’t fit in the bear-safe storage locker. Bummer. So I put as much ice as I could with most of the main perishables (milk, veggie packs, etc) in the small ice chest. I then tied a knot in the bag with the remaining ice, put it in the large ice chest and tipped it on its side and it fit fine that way.

The next morning I got up and went out to Olmstead Point to get some images of the strata. But, I was almost immediately distracted by a Jeffrey Pine growing out of the rock. This kind of tree grows, predominantly, along the Sierra Nevada between the 5000 and 10,000 foot level (depending on the latitude). It can, jeffrey-pine-at-olmstead-cropoccasionally be found in western Nevada (near Tahoe) and southwestern Oregon and even as far south as the northern part of Baja California. Contrary to what you may think, it wasn’t named after me. It was named after John Jeffrey, the botanist that first documented the tree. The trees can reach 80 to 130 feet in height, but I find the stunted trees the most interesting. The tree is probably best known for being portrayed in an Ansel Adams photograph. That tree was at the top of Sentinel Dome. It died in 1976 due to drought, but remained standing until August of 2003.

half-dome-with-climberIn a post a while back (see Half Dome and its Shape). I talked about exfoliation shaping the face of Half Dome. It has “joints” that tend to cause perpendicular sheets of rock to drop off of the face. This image from the cover of National Geographic Magazine (May 2011) shows rock climber Alex Honnold in a stunning pose as he stands on what is clearly a “sheet” of granite that will eventually drop off of the face.

More characteristic of domes and granite is the joints run along with the perimeter and the exfoliation is more like unpeeling an onion. This is quite clear in the back country. The next shot illustrates this with the strata obvious on both sides of the road exposed by cutting through the dome to create Tioga Road.

This layering is more obvious in the following image as it shows the strata more vividly. See the little rivulets above the exposed strata showing how the rain from a few days earlier began cutting into the dirt. Also, quite clear is the water seepage coming from between the sheets of rock. It makes it more understandable how the freeze-thaw cycle might loosen the sheets to aid in exfoliation.

strata-at-roadsideOn this trip, I also wanted to see the level of Hetch Hetchy. When I was there last summer, it was fullest I’ve ever seen it. Given there was drought going on, I thought it was kind of strange. Not “conspiracy-theory” strange just a bit unexpected. Well, it’s still pretty full, maybe down about 5 or 6 feet from capacity.

I guess that’s why they call it a “reservoir”…because it is held in reserve.

I also planned to visit the Yosemite Museum. They have paintings and drawings on display from some early Yosemite artists. I wanted to see the works of two artists in particular. Thomas Ayres, made the first drawings of any kind of Yosemite. He was hired by James Hutchings to accompany himself and 3 others in June of 1855. Also on display would be works of Albert Biernstadt whose massive canvas oils were, sometimes, as large as 5 feet tall.

There was only one piece of work of each of the artists, but other artists displayed were Thomas Hill, Chris Jorgenson, other notables of the early history of Yosemite.

I also looked into the Yosemite Reference Library, visited the Mariposa Museum and Mariposa Library as possible resources for future blog posts

strata-with-seepageThat evening, I saw a presentation by Ron Kauk called “Return to Balance: A Climber’s Journey.” This was an hour long film photographed by Sterling Johnston, known for his videos in and around Yosemite. In this one, Ron Kauk waxes philosophical about where his rock climbing has taken him. I’m not a climber nor am I much interested in becoming one. However, I was intrigued by a documentary I saw just a couple months ago called Valley Uprising which chronicled the evolution of Rock Climbing as a sport and which got its start in Yosemite in the late 50s. Ron was one of the “second wave” of climbers that came along in the 70s. When I saw the program list the presentation at the Yosemite Theatre, I recognized Ron’s name from the documentary and wanted to make a point of seeing it.

After that, it was back to camp. I didn’t sleep to well the night before. That thin “yoga” mat didn’t insulate my 200++ lbs from the hard ground below. So I wimped out and slept in the car the second night. That worked, but kind of killed my experiment about back packing…hmmmm…what to do.

Oh, an update. I purchased the book, Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Charles R. “Butch” Farabee, Jr. (Puma Press, First Ed, 4th Printing, 3rd Revision, 2007). I saw the book at the store for the last couple of trips and though I was intrigued, a bit, I thought the idea of the book was kind of morbid, so I took a pass. A few things changed my mind. First of all, it had some stats I needed for a previous post and couldn’t find reliably on line.

half-dome-over-the-edgeSecondly, I’ve always been curious if anyone has ever driven off the cliff up at Glacier Point. There is a stunning view of Half Dome as you round a hairpin turn and are immediately confronted with another one. As you can see, there is no guardrail. But, surprisingly, no one has taken the plunge.

What finally convinced me, though, was that I spent a moment at the store and read some of the introduction. The goal was not to be morbid at all. It was about safety. It concentrates on traumatic deaths; “accidents”, vehicular, wagon (it goes back to 1851), waterfalls, rockslides, or just plain bonehead maneuvers. It attempts to show the how most of these could have been avoided. Ghiglieri had written a similar book about the Grand Canyon (Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon). I also ran across some interesting historical factoids.

Anyway, I bought it. It has been very informative. In a previous article, I speculated that the number of deaths in Yosemite is about 20 per year. That was based on some “loose” numbers from various reports. According to this book, the average number of deaths from any cause in the last 5 recorded years (2008-2012) was 15.8. With about 4,000,000 visitors per year, that means the likelihood of dieing while at the park is 253,165 to 1 (not 200000 to 1). So, bonehead maneuvers or not, Yosemite is a pretty safe place to be.