Friday, June 30, 2006

Yosemite: Hell on Feet and Bear Magic

It’s hard to believe that its almost been a whole week since my last trip and I am just now posting about it! Maybe if Blogger could learn to play nice, I’d be writing away.

Last weekend I visited my favorite place in the world, Yosemite National Park. If there is a prettier place, it’s on another planet.

After catching a flight to Fresno, California, grabbing a rental car and driving a few miles, I found myself again surrounded my the surreal scenery of huge mountains, granite monoliths, enormous waterfalls, and mind boggling Giant Sequoias. Everything is on a grand scale here. And grand scale equals grand adventures!

Any length of time is never enough when it comes to Yosemite, in my opinion. However, this trip really was a short one, yet we packed in so much of the park that it was almost fulfilling. The only thing I wish I could have spent more time savoring was a walk through the grove of Sequoias.

We were able to taste all the other flavors of the park....the rushing Merced River, a drive up through the high Sierras to Tioga Pass, time in the mists of drenching waterfalls, low sunlight kissing the faces of granite giants, breathless views from high above, Glacier Point early in the morning, and a merciless hike. Most importantly, I discovered that I still have it...Bear Magic, that is! There were two sightings on this trip...a lone bear foraging in a lush meadow and a mother bear and two cubs that had just crossed the winding road. The best part? This time I have the proof of my bear magic! Yay! And though these pics may be a touch blurry, they are the greatest pictures ever, providing proof of my bear magnetism!

If you are actually reading this, you may have noticed that I mentioned a merciless hike. Let me just call that an understatement and rename it Hell on Feet! (And knees, and calf muscles, thighs, and lungs). Near the top of my List of Things to Do Before I Die has been...Hike Half Dome. I am both pleased and displeased to announce that I am both successful and a failure. Let me explain the ambiguity...

To say that hiking Half Dome is a challenge is another of those understatements. To me, Half Dome is THE challenge. Being a person who is not particularly fond of the thought of falling to my death from great heights and knowing that it is possibility on this trail is enough to keep me nervous. The word on spectacular, unrivaled views and the toughness of making the climb to achieve the view was enough to make me play mind tug-of-war with myself and decided that yes, I do want to make that summit.

The monster known as Half Dome looms over 8,000 ft. above Yosemite Valley. To make its summit you must hike a strenuous trail 8 miles that climbs 4,800 ft. (That’s quite a lot, folks!) You start out hiking up a rock staircase to the top of Vernal Fall, which drenches you despite this section of the trail’s gentle name, Mist Trail. Then it's up, up, up another set of rock steps to the top of Nevada Fall. The hike becomes drier, thus hotter here as you continue to ascend up hills and switchbacks and more rock steps and ascend more and more. Complete exhaustion overtook me as we passed the Half Dome-2 Miles sign. (Damn sign sucked what life was left in me right out, as I just knew we were about a mile from the top!) I continued anyway despite the fact that I was having horrendous views of what was ahead of me. What was so horrendous ahead of me, you ask? After climbing up more switchbacks and climbing steeply uphill, you come to an intimidating set of rock stair switchbacks carved into the back of Half Dome. (Yay! I was finally standing on Half Dome’s back!) These steps were sandy (therefore slippery) and narrow and steep and you are completely rails, no nothing to keep you from falling to your death if you should slip and not be able to catch yourself. I was experiencing severe vertigo from the wide open, bottomless views that completely surrounded me and nothing but the sky overhead. I could hardly take any photos here as I was terrified to look at anything but my unstable feet that were supporting my too-shaky knees. I wanted to cry. I felt as if I would never be able to come back down. I saw a dark cloud in the sky and secretly began to pray for a thunderstorm so that I would have an excuse to turn back without feeling like I was a failure. I had come this far and there was no turning back. Not after all that climbing I did!

I prayed even harder for the storm. The worst was still ahead of me and I was beginning to see it...the notorious, terrifying (for a person like me!) cables and they were getting closer all the time. These cables are necessary to pull yourself up the open, steep granite face. The cables are 400ft. in length yet have an elevation gain of 900ft! They say that it is a 45 degree pitch (which is steep enough) but I call some serious BS on this estimation. I may not be an engineer, but it appeared to be about 60 degrees to me. (Of course, my fear of sliding down a granite mountain and free falling into Yosemite Valley may cause a slight exaggeration.)

There was a quiet distant rumble of thunder. I smiled to myself. Best Friend and Slot Canyon Boy agreed that it would be better to head back down since standing on pure granite, holding onto metal cables isn’t the brightest idea during a lightning producing storm.

“Darn it! We were so close! If it weren’t for that darn thunder, we’d be headed up those cables right now.” I say aloud to Best Friend, while praising the Lord silently in my head, “Thank you God, thank you!”

One by one we each confessed that none of us really wanted to do it. We each doubted our ability...with Best Friend’s injured knee, my near anxiety attack, and Slot Canyon Boy’s confession of shakiness and vertigo.

I thought I would hate myself. I thought I had committed the unforgivable hiking sin, chickening out. But the truth is I am very proud of myself to have made it as far as I did. Climbing as steeply as we did is no easy feat. Neither was facing my fear of falling. I hiked 16 strenuous miles total with aggressive elevation change. And I did stand on Half Dome (just not its summit). I even passed a snake on the trail. And even though I didn’t want to, I would have climbed those cables had it not begun to thunder. (Seriously, not a good idea!!)

After making it back to the valley floor, we later met a Yosemite Ranger. Best Friend approached the ranger and told him where we had made it to before turning around and asked him how far away we were from the top. He told us we were well under ½ mile. That made me feel both victorious and unvictorious at the same time. Then the ranger added, “You did the right thing climbing down before a storm. No one is ever supposed to be on top when a storm is on the horizon. I have witnessed some electrocutions from lightning strikes over the years and it isn’t pretty. They were completely blown apart.” I again felt good about myself.

About 30 minutes later, I had my first bear encounter in the park. I then felt victorious.

Just one last word....If any of you should ever be talking to me about something that should be relatively easy to accomplish and decide to use the expression, “Oh, it’s all downhill from here!”please step back as I might smack you silly. Try hiking 4,800 ft. downhill for 8 miles and you’ll never think downhill is easy again.

View into beautiful Yosemite Valley. El Capitan is on the left, Bridal Veil Fall on the right and Half Dome in the back center.

Views of the Sierra Nevada while traveling along Tioga Road.

The first of many, many stairs I would climb. Vernal Fall's spray made water flow down the steps like a waterfall in itself.

In this pic. you can see just how much climbing was involved in this hike as you can see the valley and the two waterfalls we climbed past all the way to Half Dome on the left.

Awww!What a cute cub! See I told you I have Bear Magic!

Here was big mama. We were close enough to read her ear tag.

Dread was really setting in as we reached this point of the trail. Don't you think that this side view of Half Dome resembles Mt. Crumpit where the Grinch lives?

The back side of Half Dome...Just to see how far I actually made it, I was almost to the top of the hump on your right. (The stair switchbacks) and the left hump is where the cables are.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hiking the slots, Part 2, The Photos!

It seems that the Devil has at last released his mighty grip on Blogger and allowed me to post pictures from this weekend's hikes through the slot canyons. My previous post describes the fun we had. (So don't be a slacker and only look at the photos, check out my written account, too! ;)

Slot Canyon Boy stands beside the entrance to Peek-a-Boo Canyon. It was a high, slick, and scary scramble for short chicks like me.

But how beautiful it was once you made it inside!

Slot Canyon Boy in the very slot that he introduced us to.

Me traveling through the twisted, narrow walls.

Taking a pic with the self-timer before we scrambled back out of Peek-a-Boo Canyon.

Best Friend posing by the swirling slickrock walls. Ain't she pretty?

Making our way around the twists and turns was somewhat of a maze. Can you see OG and SCB?

Me and BF squeezing through the dark, tight passage of Spooky Canyon.

The beautiful and cool Lower Calf Creek Falls. What a relief to be there after hiking the hot sandy trails of Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Hiking the slots

Okay, again Blogger really hates me. Why oh why can I not post pictures??? I will post as soon as Satan releases his grip on Blogger and allows me to again share pictures with my blog buddies. Until then, here is the written account of my weekend...

This adventure I just had in southern Utah was quite a contrast in temperature from the cool, damp Washington trip. “Cool” and “damp” are foreign words in the red Utah desert, but “beautiful”, “awesome”, “amazing”, and “inspiring” are words that were often uttered between Best Friend, Slot Canyon Boy (who also joined us), and myself during this weekend trip.

Scenic Highway 12 leads through the heart of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and took us to our hiking grounds. It was just as beautiful as I remembered it two years ago.

After camping out a night in Escalante, we had an early rise and drove down the long and bumpy Hole in the Rock Road to the trail head of Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Canyons. These two canyons are slot canyons, which are just the way they sound...extremely narrow, twisting canyons... just a slot through towering walls. I was very excited because I have wanted to hike a slot canyon and take photos of their striated, twisting walls with rays of light barely making their way through casting a glow down the tight passage ever since I saw pictures of them in Backpacker, National Geographic Adventure, and Outdoor Photographer Magazines.

To get to the first of the slots, Peek-a-Boo, we had to first descend a steep trail and hike a while. Finally, we came to the entrance. To enter this canyon, you must first have to climb into it. It proved very difficult for me, not being as tall as Best Friend and Slot Canyon Boy. I am quite sure that I wouldn’t have made it in if it weren’t for their help with making my way up the smooth slickrock walls. I busted up my knees, but I made it! And I’m so glad that I did because it was so beautiful in there. The walls were twisted and swirled with color. It was incredible to say the least. Luckily, I did not have as a difficult time exiting as I did entering the slot.

We hiked another half mile down a dry wash to Spooky Canyon. There was no climbing into Spooky, but maneuvering around was trickier than Peek-a-Boo as it was way tighter and more narrow. In fact, it was so narrow that backpacks must be taken off to squeeze through and so little sunlight made it through to the bottom that it was quite dark in there, hence, the name Spooky Canyon.

Both of the slot canyons were what I was hoping for and I am so happy that we were able to make this hike. It was well worth my busted up, bloody knees.

After our hike through the slots we headed back down the highway and stopped off at Calf Creek Falls Recreation Area. Two years ago, Best Friend, Goofball, and I hiked the six sandy and hot miles through the desert to the oasis of Lower Calf Creek Falls. It was so beautiful then that we thought we would give it another go. The three miles leading to the falls seemed longer and hotter than I had remembered and I began drinking my third liter of water before it was over. I was not disappointed as we finally reached the oasis and the shade of the cliff from which Calf Creek Falls spill. The pool of water is the coldest water I have ever touched. I honestly can’t see how there are no icebergs floating around in there! I got in it and wet myself and relaxed in the shade. Then I got in it again and re-wetted myself before finishing up the last three miles back to the car. I stayed much cooler on the way back, but was completely dry before I made it to the car.

I had so much fun and am looking forward to our next adventure. I loved it all from sleeping beneath a sky full of twinkling stars to squeezing through the impossibly narrow slots to refreshing my feet in water so cold that my toes were numb.

I would recommend this trip to anyone who has plenty of water, is not afraid of climbing up tall slick rock, can handle the sun beating down on you, is not claustrophobic, and doesn’t mind treading miles of loose sand.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Washington Trip Photos...

Blogger is once again my friend. So now I some pics from my Washington trip!

Here's a pic of me taking a picture of me in a reflection in the Space Needle in Seattle. You can see the skyline of the city behind me.

Marymere Falls.

One of the many tide pools I saw. They were full of all kinds of sea life.

Beautiful sunset over the Pacific on Ruby Beach.

Starfish! This was my most exciting discovery.

Best Friend hiking along the bridge to a waterfall.

Me taking a break from wading. The water was COLD!

Beautiful blue glacial Lake Crescent.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wonderful Washington

Got home less than a week ago from an adventure in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. It’s been very hard to find the time to finally share the trip with all you bloggers as I have been very busy, but finally I am getting the chance to share. I have to begin by saying that the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Amazing is probably an even better word.

This trip began in an extraordinary way. Best Friend and I would have were beginning to have doubts as to whether we would be able to fly into Seattle for this trip, as all the flights from Salt Lake to Seattle were over booked for days. We even got on a standby list to fly into Vancouver, British Columbia. It seemed that the car rental and border crossing would be way too time consuming if we had chosen that route. We didn’t want to waste any precious vacation time trying to come back into our own country. It seemed nearly hopeless until we discovered a flight into Bellingham, Washington, north of Seattle. There were several seats open on this flight. It seemed to be the solution we were searching for to get us in the Seattle area.

Not only was the flight into Bellingham the answer, but it was quite an event! This was the inaugural flight from Salt Lake to Bellingham. And it was a big deal for Bellingham because it with its connection to Salt Lake, there would be connections to everywhere in the entire country and international. There was a rolling out of the red carpet and a buffet reception for us, the first passengers to fly into Bellingham from Salt Lake! The news crew was there. I am almost famous, as I was the second passenger to step off the plane. I made the newspaper! Check it out...

After our special arrival into the beautiful and friendly state of Washington (Seriously, I have never met so many nice and helpful people anywhere else), we grabbed up the last rental car. We looked like Canadian tourists as our license plates were British Columbia.

After a nice ferry ride to connect us with Port Townsend on the peninsula, we started our journey through some of the most wonderful scenery. We worked our way all the way to Port Angeles, the gateway to fantastic Olympic National Park. We camped just outside of Port Angeles.

We began the next day bright and early and ventures along the Scenic Dungeness Loop. We checked out some of the tide pools remaining, but quickly disappearing in Dungeness Bay as high tide began to roll in. We then began our journey into the diverse Olympic National Park.

This park is unbelievable! It consists of high snow-capped mountains, two rainforests (The Hoh Rainforest is breathtaking), waterfalls, glacial lakes, and the Pacific shoreline. Unfortunately our view from the mountains was clouded, but I hear it’s an awesome view from Hurricane Ridge on a clear day. We drove by turquoise blue Crescent Lake and hiked to Marymere Falls. The forest here was thick with ferns, mosses, and enormous Red Cedars. Still, its density was nothing compared to the vegetation of the Hoh Rainforest. The trees were so thickly covered in mosses, lichen, and ferns that they were fuzzy and shaggy. We were lucky enough to catch a wonderful golden-orange sunset over the sea on Olympic’s Ruby Beach. Ruby Beach is known for its sea stacks (large rock formations standing on the beach and the sea). It was very pretty to watch the sun setting over the Pacific with the cliffs and sea stacks silhouetted against the colorful sky.

Outside of the park, we took a trip out to Cape Flattery, the northwestern most point in the continental United States. That was very cool for me as it as both the furthest north AND west I have ever been. That spot also was the farthest I have ever been from my home in Georgia. The hike out to the cape was very scenic and the views from the cliffs at the end of the point of the Pacific and the lighthouse was awesome. The hike was well worth it even though it was all uphill on the return back.

I found nearly everything I was looking for in Washington...good clam chowder, waterfalls, mountains, misty weather, starfish, tide pools, lighthouses, ferries, the fish market, Space Needle views, and beautiful rainforests.

But where was the Sasquatch?

(By the way, Blogger really hates me now and is refusing to allow me to upload photos. Hopefully, this problem will subside and I'll post some Washington pics. soon. Sorry!)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Home Again...

It feels great to be back home again. No, I’m not back in Georgia, but rather “home” in Utah with my “family”. It’s been over a year since I have been in Utah yet I feel as if I never left. I do truly feel at home.

I have to brag right now. For some of you, this may not be as big of a deal, but for me it was. Using my flight benefits from Best Friend, I was able to fly first class...that’s right...FIRST CLASS all the way to Salt Lake. ($50) Originally, I was supposed to be on a flight into Newark, NJ. However, there were severe thunderstorms in Atlanta the night before I was to leave and the airport was backed up with delays and rerouting flights for well over three hours! Everything was screwed up Saturday when I got there. I was worried that I would even be able to take off at all that day. (Since I have to fly standby) The Newark flight was overbooked so I was given a flight to Laguardia in New York instead. After chatting with Best Friend, she looked up a better flight for me that had many open seats. The chances weren’t too good for me getting a seat to Laguardia, so I took Best Friend’s advice and talked with an agent about getting me on a flight to Baltimore and then out to Salt Lake. Not only did I get a seat, but I got a first class seat From Atlanta to Baltimore AND a first class seat from Baltimore to Salt Lake. I saw the Chesapeake Bay from the air and flew over Lake Michigan. It was a nice day and I could see a lot. (Yes, I also had window seats in first class!) My flight arrived early, too. Me having good luck with flights? I couldn’t believe it!

Then I went to baggage claim after making it to Salt Lake and found out that my suitcase full of clothes went to New York City without me. I would be without my clothes for the night! Oh well, as long as my clothes were having fun, I shouldn’t complain. I hoped maybe they would take some fashion tips from all the other clothing in New York and come back a bit more stylish. When I went to the airport to gather my lost luggage, I had to wait. It seems my suitcase was sent back to Atlanta and had to wait for its flight to Salt Lake. My poor suitcase’s flight was delayed an hour, but it was a loving reunion when I finally saw it and scooped it off the carousel. Seems like my suitcase had a little vacation of its own. And I guess my clothes weren’t cool enough to hang out on Madison Avenue in New York. They came back looking just the same.

Best Friend and I will begin the first of our adventures on Wednesday as we head off to Seattle. We are on a standby list to fly in there. Last night, there were plenty of seats available, but not today. We are looking into other options right now. We might even fly into Portland, Or instead. Either way, we are going to Seattle! And I am going to walk along the Pacific shore in Olympic National Park and find pretty tide pools full of starfish!

Right now, I’m sitting on the front porch looking off at the mountain range lightly dusted with snow in places and enjoying the humidity-free evening air. Yeah, it’s good to be back home.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Leaving on a jet plane...

All my bags are packed; I’m ready to go…

It was quite a challenge to get everything I needed for two months in order. I still feel like I am forgetting something. Maybe I am, but whatever it is I’ll just have to buy in Utah. I don’t think my suitcases could hold much more! I'd take a pic to prove it, but I don't think I can dig out either of my digital cameras! In fact, in what bag did I even pack them in? hmmm....

My flight to Utah leaves tomorrow, June 3, at 12:45 p.m. I have to fly into Newark, NJ first and then take a 5 hour flight from there to Salt Lake. I should arrive at 8:16 pm. Talk about a long day! With all that air time, I could be in London! I guess that’s the downside of flying stand-by. But you know what? I’m not complaining about it. I am lucky enough to have a flight attendant for a best friend and am being hooked up with incredibly sweet deals. We most likely will be relying on some of those sweet deals for our adventures throughout the summer. I am thankful for it.

I will be posting throughout the summer and checking email. I will try to post at least once a week, hopefully more. It all depends on whether or not I can catch a signal with my wireless card on the laptop. If there’s no signal then I will have to rely on—gasp!—a landline access for posting! That will make it not as easy or fast. Plus I really don’t want to tie up Best Friend’s phone line, so I’ll have to write really late at night! All of you out there in Bloggy Land, please keep your fingers crossed for me that I will catch a wireless signal! ;) I am looking forward to sharing all my fun through my blog.

We (Best Friend and I) have added even more to our adventure agenda. (as if we didn’t have enough planned already!) Some major fun is about to be had and some great experiences will be added to my life story. I have never loved my life more nor been more thankful for it. This trip is only the beginning of good things to come. I can feel it.

This summer is such an escape for me. This is for the free spirit in me who hardly ever wins out over responsible Outdoorsy Girl. This is for the dreamer in me whose mind constantly meanders through beautiful places.

I am wondering is it a really a good idea that I have only purchased a one-way ticket? Will I ever want to come back?

So this is really it! It’s time for me to go. The planning is over. I have said my goodbyes to family and friends. I am packed. I am ready.

And so tomorrow I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again…