Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Half Dome, 05/25/12

May 25, 2012: Today was opening day on Half Dome. The National Park takes down the cables each Colombus Day and puts them back up late May or early July depending on snow conditions. Today, May 25th, was opening day 2012. I hadn't planned on hiking Half Dome as part of this trip, but after summiting Clouds Rest the prior day the idea grew on me. The big question mark for the day would be the weather. The day prior I had it good for hiking Clouds Rest, 50 degrees, light winds and clear. The forecast today was a 60% chance of snow, 1-3 inches, a high of 30 degrees and 15-20 mph winds, oh and the chance of a thunderstorm after 11:00 am. I did not want to hike the polished granite of the Half Dome Cables when wet and or icy and getting hit by lightning didn't sound like much fun either. I went to sleep the prior night with a lot of questions about the weather and my sanity. I decided to wait until 0330 the day of the hike and see what the sky looked like.......
No need to wait for the alarm, I was already awake at 0330. I took a look around and to my joy, the sky was clear in all directions and there was no wind, lets do this. I did the morning chores but this time I had to break down my camp as quietly as possible, I am sure my neighbors were sick of me after two days of this. I moved my truck to the Half Dome Lot and started my trek at 0430. It was much colder this morning than yesterday, but it was nice uphill hiking weather. I didn't see anyone for a couple of hours, not until Little Yosemite Valley. The sky was still clear as day broke, a very good sign. I powered my way up to the Half Dome/JMT junction in two hours forty minutes. As I started to climb the hill to the sub dome, my quads clued into what I was doing and started to disagree with my plans. Time to take a little break to re-fuel. As I continued onward I noticed two things; one being no ranger to check permits, maybe they slept? The other was wispy, swirling clouds on the north side of Half Dome. One minute you could see it, the next it was enveloped. I watched this for a moment making sure these were not storm clouds aka lightning or rain/snow. I decided that it was safe to proceed and made my way slowly up the sub dome.
I arrived at the base of the cables at 0805 and had them all to myself. There were a couple of people meandering about at the top of the cables, but nobody was in my way going up. Could I possibly get up the cables with no interruptions sans the occasional photograph??? Later in the season there will be a pile of gloves people can pick though to save their hands from the cables, but being today was day one of the 2012 season, there were none. Lucky for me I had brought an extra older pair to use and its a good thing I did, the cables were freezing, even with gloves on, my finger tips were numb. I got into a steady rhythm and topped out on the summit of Half Dome at 0815. The wispy clouds made for great photos. I took as many as I could before the clouds engulfed the summit. It was very brisk on top and I took refuge in a ring of gigantic boulders but I was still chilly. I walked over to the southern section of the dome to have a look, then made my way back to the cables. I was able to make it down quickly and safely. Back at the sub dome I ran into about twenty five people. Most were overnighters from Little Yosemite Valley. The clouds had dissipated and the summit and cables of Half Dome were clear, made for great photos. I made it a point to get back into the trees before taking a needed twenty minute siesta. I was tired and my feet were getting tired. The building clouds blocked the suns rays and it got cold, time to go.
I made it to the top of Nevada Fall under darkening skies, at this point it started to snow. I could still see some of Liberty Cap, but Half Dome was shrouded in clouds. Glad I was headed down. Funny thing was, there were people heading up with the notion to climb Half Dome. I gave the first couple of people the advice to stay away from lightning prone granite with slick/wet footing. After the first few, I just smiled and told everyone good luck, have fun. I must have passed a dozen people wanting to climb Half Dome during a spring snowstorm between Nevada Fall and the trailhead.
I arrived back at my truck at 1245, good times. I made it over to Yosemite Village to grab a Teriyaki Turkey Burger with Sweet Potato Fries (super good), get some gifts and take a shower before the long drive back home. I accomplished my goals and drove out of the valley in a light snow, it was even accumulating at the Glacier Point turnoff, so pretty. I found out that the National Park closed Glacier Point Road and Tioga Pass, I made it out just in time. The drive home was nice and uneventful, I made the best of my unplanned Yosemite week, sometimes plan B is the better option, good times.
Swirling Clouds Engulf Half Dome

Heading Up

Mixed Views Into The Valley

Clouds Rest Through The Clouds

Yosemite Valley From The Summit

Mt. Lyell & Mt. McClure In The Distance

Looking At Half Dome From The Southern Part Of The Dome

Looking Up While Heading Down The Cables

View Of The Cables

Great Success :)

Whispy Clouds Help The Black & White Photo Stand Out

Close Up Of The Summit

Monday, May 28, 2012

Clouds Rest: 05/24/12

May 23, 2012: I took off a week of work to do some Sierra spring time backpacking and hiking. I was all packed up with my overnight gear and headed to Horseshoe Meadow to do some multi day peak bagging. As sometimes happens, mother nature altered these plans. Big winds were forecast in the high country, 50-70 MPH winds :(. On top of that was a large cold front coming in to drop temperatures 20-30 degrees below normal and bring in some snow. Middle Palisade, Joe Devel, Pickering, Langley would all have to wait. I didn't want to let the week off go without some kind of climb to I got out the maps and weather forecasts. My best bet would be the lower elevation Yosemite peaks such as Clouds Rest, North Dome and perhaps Half Dome. The winds wouldn't be as bad, 20-30 MPH and no snow until Friday afternoon. I had never climbed/hiked Clouds Rest so off to Yosemite I went, well almost. This was the Memorial Day holiday weekend in one of the most popular National Parks. I checked online and there were no campsites available in the entire park. Sleep in my truck you say, well, Yosemite has one of the strictest anti sleep in your vehicle enforcements around. So the plan was to drive up and hope for the best, a cancellation, no show or spot in one of the walk in campgrounds. Didn't have a good feeling in my gut about this, but it was my best option, so I packed up the truck and left into the unknown. 

The drive to Yosemite was a stressful but fast drive due to the uncertainty of where I would be sleeping tonight. If I was to day hike Clouds Rest from Happy Isles, I would need to start at dawn and get a good nights rest. I really didn't want to drive all the way to the valley floor, get shut out and drive the hour and a half back to Oakhurst or beyond and pay $100+ for a quick nap. I arrived at the south gate at 1500 and was immediately greeted with a big red sign saying "All Park Campgrounds Full". I proceeded with even less optimism and decided I would stop at all the sites to see if there were any cancellations. Wawona was first up and as advertised, full. I then drove to the valley floor and checked with Camp Four, no luck. Onward Curry Village to check out the "Pines" campgrounds. They were all full, nothing. Started to look grim and bleak. Thoughts of abandoning the entire trip started to creep into my psyche. I was told at Upper Pines to check with the main campground reservation office in Curry Village to see if their was anything last minute. I arrived at the office with my tail between my legs, what was I thinking, trying to get a campsite last minute Memorial Day week at the busiest National Park in the land. Took a deep breath and crossed my fingers. I was told by the lady at the office the same thing I had been told everywhere else, nothing available. Just as I was getting ready to call it quits a gentleman came out of the back and told me one site just opened up at Upper Pines. The site was for two nights. I excitedly took the spot, didn't really care where it was, a campsite was gold. I paid the fee and was off to set up my camp, good feelings quickly replaced the doom and gloom, I got extremely lucky :)  

Now I could turn my attention to the task at hand, our the task for tomorrow morning. Clouds Rest is a gigantic granite slab that towers over all of Yosemite Valley, even Half Dome. It is at elevation 9,926'. There are essentially two standard ways to climb it, the much easier version is to start at Tenaya Lake at roughly 8,000'. The other version is to start at Happy Isles, elevation 4,035'. I planned to do the latter, why not. I set up my camp aka home for the next few days and packed up my backpack for the morning. I then headed over to Yosemite Village to get some dinner. The village is a great place to hang out, lots of things to do; eat, shop, library, eat, shop, all that with a backdrop of Yosemite Falls one way and Half Dome the other, truly magical place. I had a Turkey & Bacon Club and an ice cream for dinner. Made it back to camp and hit the sack. Set the alarm for 0430, what a day. 
Alarm went off at 0430 and I eagerly made my way through the pre dawn chores: eat an oatmeal/peanut butter breakfast, change into hiking clothing, put on contacts and check campsite for potential bear problems. Once complete I was on my way from my campsite at 0530. The weather was great at this hour and would remain so all day, the high winds that were forecast never materialized. I did not have to use a headlamp as the early morning light from the east was sufficient. I made it up to Nevada Fall in good time and took my first break. I hadn't seen a single person so far, very unusual for such a busy trail but it made sense, the cables for Half Dome weren't due to go up until tomorrow, the calm before the storm in more than one way. Before too long I was at the Clouds Rest/JMT junction and made a left onto the trail. It climbed rather steeply for most of the duration to the summit. The views would become grander and grander the higher I climbed. I made it to the summit of Clouds Rest, elevation 9,926' at 10:25. The views were amazing in all directions. Half Dome looked great from this perspective. The skies were clear and I could see Mt. Lyell, Matterhorn Peak, Cathedral Peak, Mt. Clark, Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, Tenaya Canyon, Mt. Dana, Mt. Conness among others. I enjoyed my lunch with the beautiful scenery and weather, life is good.
After an hour on top I made my way back down the trail to my campsite. The trip ended up being 22.1 Miles with 6,000' of elevation gain. A good day in the mountains. I arrived back to camp at 1500 hours and had to make a decision about tomorrow's plans. The very latest weather forecast called for a 60% chance of snow at the 7797' level, the temperature was going to drop twenty plus degrees. It looked like the timing of the storm was for late morning. So my choices were Half Dome or Yosemite Falls to Snow Creek Falls with a side trip to North Dome. I decided to set my alarm for 0300 and see what the skies looked like, clear skies and I would go to Half Dome, cloudy skies and I would go to North Dome...........
First Light

Half Dome Through The Trees

Snow Plants

Yosemite Valley From Summit

Self Portait w/ Half Dome Backdrop

Half Dome

Matterhorn Peak & Tenaya Lake

Black & White Yosemite Valley

Half Dome, Liberty Cap & Nevada Falls

Yosemite Falls

Half Dome View From Upper Pines Camp

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mt. Whitney Loop, Mountaineers Route To Main Trail

May 8, 2102: Had a few days off and wanted to do a Sierra spring climb. Went over a bunch of ideas; Mt. Dade, Mt. Agassiz, Mt. Mallory but decided to day hike the Mountaineers Route on Mt. Whitney. Thought about an overnighter up to Iceberg Lake, but changed my mind to a day hike last minute. 

Headed to Whitney Portal Monday afternoon to get one nights rest before the climb. Got to the Portal and found it mostly void of people. I met one guy who was traveling cross country on his motorcycle and wanted to climb Mt. Whitney as his California stop, my kind of guy. Had my Subway dinner and bedded down at 1900 hours. I fell asleep fairly quickly. I was woken up abruptly an hour later by fierce winds. The flapping of the tent made for a restless night of sleep, at least I was getting that mountain oxygen into my system. The alarm sounds at 0300 and I gingerly packed up my gear, had a monster and pop tart for breakfast and was off on the trail. I scouted out the route to Lower Boy Scout Lake two weeks prior so doing it the headlamp this early morning was stress free. I made it to the lower lake at 0530. Last year when I did the Mountaineers Route it was all snow from here to the summit, well that was last year. The snow makes route finding a breeze, just straight up. I tried to pick out the best route to Upper Boy Scout Lake, but ended up to high up on the talus field. Instead of correcting my course I decided to visit the blue icefall that comes down from Girl Scout Lake. So magnificent blue, glad I checked it out. Problem now was getting back on route. Do I want to backtrack or bushwhack through some willows. I opted for the later and made it incident free. 

Made it to Upper Boy Scout Lake in good time and more importantly, I felt good. Two weeks prior I day hiked Whitney and was blasted by a headache at 14,000'. Though I was only at 11,300' so far, I felt good. The climb now was over slabs to the base of the cliff leading up to Iceberg Lake. Still no need for crampons. I decided to take the waterfall route up to Iceberg Lake. I had planned on getting water from the edge of the lake, but no luck, it was frozen solid, I even walked out on it a few feet and tried making a hole with my ice axe, nothing. So now it was plan B for water: make slushy snow water with my existing water and hoped it melted. Bummer. I had some lunch and geared up for the climb. Ice Axe, Crampons, Sunscreen, Helmet....Lets go. 

I decided to take the main chute from the beginning as opposed to the southern alternate start. The main chute looked like the better snow climb down low and I was right. The snow was beat up pretty bad from previous ascents and glissades from past climbers. It hasn't snowed in weeks so the snow was a mix of giant steps and icy glissade tracks. The snow was very firm which made the climb relatively fast. Three quarters up the chute I had to remove my crampons as the snow ended and the loose rock began. I tried to stay to the right of the chute where there is solid rock. Before too long I made it to the top of the chute and saw the grand Sierra view. Mt. Russell, Mt. Williamson, Mt. Barnard, Mt. Brewer to name a few. A few more feet west brought me to the final four hundred. It was a mix of rock and ice, pretty standard. The first few moves are the most difficult then a steady class three. I made steady progress a couple of hundred feet up before putting on crampons to finish off the remainder of the climb. It was a very icy snow and I was careful of my foot placements, always thinking about the consequences of a fall here. 

I topped out on Mt. Whitney for the eightieth time and for only the second time I had the summit all to myself. It was breezy and really cold so I hunkered down amongst the rocks for shelter and had some lunch. Great feeling to have finished the Mountaineers Route. I put out my Spot message to Judy letting her know I was safe and sound on the summit. I soaked in the views, I will never tire of the views. I always feel so small in the world and realize there is a far more powerful entity at work while in the mountains and the summit of Whitney without a soul around for miles really hits the spot. 

I had decided earlier to take the Main Trail back to Portal, a grand Whitney loop. I set off the for the five hour descent at 1230. Everything went as expected, the slope down from Trail Crest to Trail Camp was too icy to glissade so I plunge stepped it. And I am happy to report no Grouse sightings, even though I did hear them. Made it back to my truck safe and sound at 1730, a quick 13.5 hour hike. Great Day on Mt. Whitney.....till next time :) 

Stats: 14.2 Miles and 6500' of elevation gain


Alpine Glow

Waterfall Ice

First View Of Mt. Whitney

Feeling Good

Mt. Whitney

All Geared Up To Climb The Couloir

Looking Up About Halfway

Looking Back Down

View From The Notch

On The Summit, It Was Cold, But Worth It

Looking At Iceberg Lake, Where I Started The Couloir

Mt. Langley & Pinnacle Ridge

The Kaweahs

Coming Down The Main Trail

First Tree I Have Seen In Hours

Topo Map Of My Route