Category Archives: National Parks

YOSEMITE SUMMER: Olmsted Point and the High Sierra

This and several upcoming blog posts are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

Saturday, June 27

In my prior outing at Olmsted Point where Yosemite Conservancy maintains a telescope so visitors can observe the Half Dome hikers who make the last 200 yards of their ascent on a pair of steel cables, I did not wear my Lawrence of Arabia headgear. The result was sunburn of my ears to the point they felt like Crispy Critters. I did not repeat the mistake today.

Western shore of Tenaya Lake

Western shore of Tenaya Lake

As has become my routine, I ate my breakfast at the west end of Tenaya Lake. Waterfalls are wonderful, but no scenery beats this pristine alpine lake set among massive granite domes and mountainsides. It’s my favorite way to start a summer’s day, particularly when the bugs aren’t biting.

On to Olmsted Point. I enjoyed lots of interaction today. Most visitors burst out laughing when, looking through the telescope, they identify the tiny stick-like figures making their way up the steel cables of Half Dome. Some have made the hike recently or many years before. Others shake their heads, incredulous that people would put their physical safety at risk just to say they had reached the top.

iPhone pictures 256

Telescope at Olmsted Point

Visitors who had just come to the High Sierra from Yosemite Valley are amazed at the cooler temperatures. The thermostat had hit 105 degrees in the valley just the other day, while highs have remained in the mid-70s in the High Sierra. Along with the lower temperatures come light breezes in Tuolumne Meadows and occasional gusts at Olmsted Point.

I remained at Olmsted a half hour beyond my normal shift. I then went to the Visitors Center to turn in visitors’ donations. After a quick lunch I headed to the Park Rangers’ laundry facility on Bug Camp Road. That chore affords me the opportunity to scribble these notes and call home. Ah, the rewards of keeping up with my domestic chores!

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YOSEMITE SUMMER: Knowing One’s Limits

This and several upcoming blog posts are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

Friday, June 26

I worked at the Visitors Center today. Before leaving the campground, I met a Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hiker taking a break from the PCT. He was concerned about a group member who had not caught up with his group. He said the man had had a hard time with the Half Dome hike (as would most mortals). He planned to contact a ranger for help.

That sparked a conversation about understanding one’s limits. It ended up being the theme of the day. I told him I limit my hikes to day hikes. He said, “Yeah, I could tell by your Holiday Inn tent.”

My

My “Holiday Inn” tent

I had never heard that one before. I’m camping in an REI Kingdom 4 tent that has over six feet of headroom. No claustrophobia for me.

The Visitors Center day consisted mainly of visitors who had only a few hours to see “all the sights.” That won’t work for a 1200 square mile park, but most seemed happy with the options of Tuolumne Meadows, Dog Lake, Tuolumne Grove, or Tenaya Lake.

On another occasion, my high school French allowed me to stumble through directions to several French guests. They were very polite and appreciated my efforts.

A Junior Ranger – nine years old – proudly told me about his title. He hoped to get his parents in line – do a little hiking and demonstrate an appreciation of Yosemite – a true National Park Service acolyte.

Around 2 p.m., a very exhausted backpacker, Arturo, trudged up the hill to my booth and asked me about the bus to Yosemite Valley. His 65-pound pack was much too heavy for his adventure, which had begun at Glacier Point two days earlier. He was ready to go home and his spirits deflated further when I told him the next bus for the valley would not arrive until 7pm.He had just missed the 1:15.

He thought about taking the shuttle bus to the store one mile away but decided instead to sit and rest. After closing my station at 4pm, I gave him a ride to “Downtown Tuolumne,” a canvas and steel frame structure that houses a small general store, a post office, and a fast-food concession. Arturo bought a beverage to restore his electrolytes. I bought a cup of soft-serve ice cream to satisfy my sweet tooth.

We sat down for 45 minutes and talked about family. He was born in Colombia, but now lives in Ventura County, California. He has a son and a daughter, both now adults. I smiled when he told me his daughter’s name is Vanessa. I told him my daughter shares the same name. Ah, the coincidences of life.

Arturo reiterated that he had taken on too much, but said he has many great photographs. Whether he will backpack again, I’m not sure, but he made the great effort.

Like me, he is in his 60’s. Each day we learn that age poses its limitations, but we will have made the great effort, knowing that failure to do so would leave us thinking “What if?” the remainder of our lives. I could remain home with my feet propped up, watching TV and waiting for life’s end in relative comfort. But, like Arturo, I have stepped out my front door and have seen many wonders of the world, taking day-long hikes to see nature’s beauty unavailable to those who do not step out on the trail. I have no regrets.

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YOSEMITE SUMMER: Three Great Hikes

This and several upcoming blog posts are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

Mono Pass Trail

Mono Pass Trail

Monday, June 22

With confidence comes great hiking. The greatest reward for volunteering is the ability to explore this park on an extended basis. So, over a three-day period, I planned three of my favorite hikes: Mono Pass, Dog Lake, and Gaylor Lakes. The first is an 8-mile hike to an ancient trading route used by the tribes on either side of the Sierra Nevada. My blisters still required frequent attention to the moleskin, but I enjoyed the pleasant weather and cobalt blue skies. I took many photos along the way and passed a half dozen other hikers. I engaged in a friendly chat with two hikers from San Francisco. One hiker from Santa Barbara told me he had tired out the day before but his wife had told him to spend at least another day on the trails before returning home. What’s up with that?

I made the return hike to my car with pretty good speed, ready for a hot shower before another cold night. The moleskin held up well, but I decided to limit my next day’s hike to a short one.

Tuesday, June 23

Me at Dog Lake

Me at Dog Lake

I slept until 8:00, not easy to do when dawn breaks at 5:30. I took my time preparing for the day, but reached the Lembert Dome parking lot by 10:00. Then it was up the trail to Dog Lake. This is just a three-hour hike, but the “up” was longer than I remembered. I’d say it accounted for 70% of the trail. But the effort was well worth it, to an often-disregarded lake blessed with dragon flies (and, apparently for that reason, a welcome dearth of mosquitoes). Subalpine forest surrounds much of the lake but mountains of red metamorphic rock beckon to the east.

Dog Lake Vista

Dog Lake Vista

Two San Diego women had already reached the lake when I arrived. We talked about sports (the Chargers’ quarterback, NC State alum Philip Rivers) and books. They seemed excited to discuss my two historical novels. Hopefully, they will explore them on line. I took their photo on their smart phone and they returned the favor with my photo on my iPhone. We went our separate ways as I explored the shoreline. I ran into them again as we somehow reached the parking lot around the same time. We exchanged waves as I returned to camp to gather a change of clothes for a shower. I lazed around the rest of the day.

Wednesday, June 24

Cyndi agreed to join me on one of my favorite hikes, Gaylor Lakes. All of the work is in the first section of the hike. The hike begins at the Tioga Pass eastern entrance with a half-mile, 500-foot elevation gain ascent. That will certainly clear out your lungs. The view from the ridge is well worth the effort. Dana Meadows, Mount Dana, and Mount Gibbs spread out before you to the south. The Cathedral Range lies to the west. Two alpine lakes lie on the north side of the ridge only a quarter mile descent away. The hiking along the lakes is easy, with very little up and down.

088

Gaylor Lakes (from earlier year)

We did not begin the hike until about 11am, but there was absolutely no reason to hurry. Cyndi reached the ridge effortlessly while I huffed and puffed behind her. We took our time circumnavigating the crystal-clear alpine lakes and occasionally were rewarded with glimpses of trout. We then proceeded up several stretches of granite until we reached an outcropping that overlooked Tioga and Ellery Lakes, among others, as well as Tioga Road. We ate lunch and relaxed before making the return trip. My only regret is that I left my iPhone in the car. That just means that if I want pictures, I’ll have to return with my phone sometime in the next three weeks. It’s well worth a second effort.

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