High country with Andy

My brother Andrew was able to come out for a visit, mixing some travel for work with a chance to see Alina. I also wanted to take him on a much belated birthday camping trip. In the lead-up I had peppered him with ideas from, coastal hikes, to Mt Shasta, to Yosemite. In the end given some time constraints we chose Yosemite. The drive from the coast, through the foothills, and up into the mountains was mostly uneventful. There was a forecast for scattered thunderstorms up in the Sierra, which can be a big deal if you are on an exposed granite mount at 10,000 feet. But the clouds were puffy and seemed ok. We drove through the park, choosing to head North to the high country as Andy had visited the Valley with his Italian friends a couple years earlier. The plan was to hike the second highest mountain in Yosemite. Mt. Dana didn't require a long hike from the trailhead so it fit our compressed schedule.

Our plan was to find a campsite, do some day hiking, and then wake up early the following morning to hike Dana. I checked in at a ranger station to see what the developed campgrounds had available, but they were all in the middle of the park and we needed to be in the West side to be close to Mt. Dana. We ended up leaving the park on the Western entrance and going to Saddlebag Lake. We just missed out on the last developed campsite, and so plan B was to hike into the wilderness area, tents and gear on our back, and just find a spot in the back country. We hiked in and after awhile found a suitable spot on a granite patch jutting out into a lake. Finding the right spot meant balancing the cold, strong wind coming down from the peaks, staying out of the snow patches (yes still lots of snow in August) and trying to avoid the mosquitoes. Although we had two tents, I made a big mistake and left one set of tent poles in the car(!) Aargh. Attempts to jury rig the second tent failed. I could braved the mosquitoes and slept outside, but ominous grey clouds began to crowd the sky and dabbled us with the occasional raindrop. So we were going to have to double up in one tent. Each tent was a 3 person, but anyone who's ever been camping knows that the advertised capacity of a tent is some wild exaggeration that involves midgets. So needless to say it was snug. We ate our dinner and then went for a hike up a nearby peak. We had sped from sea level in San Francisco, up to elevation, done a lot of hiking, probably didn't drink as much water as we should have, and in the early evening hours both of us started to feel the effects of altitude sickness. I'm pretty used to it, pretty much my first day of any real elevation involves a headache, but the second and subsequent days I'm, usually fine. However after we settled in for the night the headache really ramped up to a level I hadn't felt since I was a kid and had some really bad migraines. Later Andrew told me that he too, had a really awful night being kept up by his own humdinger of a headache, the rain and occasional thunder that developed, and almost certainly my snoring.

We awoke to overcast skies and some sprinkling, luckily the hard rain seemed to have subsided for the time being. From our site at the North end of Saddlebag Lake we could actually see Mt. Dana in the distance, and the dark bottomed clouds that seemed to brush by its peak were not a good omen. We packed up our things, and hiked back out. We stopped for big breakfast at a local cabin and planned our day. Given our rough night and the prospect of rain and possibly lightening, we decided to change plans and do some other hikes inside the park.

Granite domes seem to be the icon most associated with Yosemite. We were far from the famous (and busy) half-dome, and El Capitan. But there are many domes that are sprinkled in the park and we stopped to hike Lembert Dome. The scale of some of these smaller domes is deceptive from the roadway. Only as you hike closer, and closer to you get an idea of how big they are. We hiked to the top, well very nearly the top. There was an eminently doable, but still quite treacherous section to the tippy top. Doable in that the path was just wide enough, and not so steep as to make it impassable. But treacherous in that if you did happen to slip and fall, and could not immediately catch yourself, you would roll off the edge and fall a few hundred feet to your death. My risk-reward calculator having been changed by Alina, meant it was a nonstarter for me, and I encouraged Andy to give it a pass as well, guilting him with the "uncle" card. The 360 degree views (20ft lower than the top) were stunning and we spent a decent amount of time up there looking around.

We did a couple of other hikes, totaling several miles; the last being a hike that climbed through a series of pretty steep switchbacks. That took the last of our energy and in the later afternoon we headed back to the car for the ride home.

Random 'best-of' pictures:

Del Valle state park

benecia lagoon 2003