Monday, April 30, 2012

Escape to Yosemite

Out of all of our trips, visiting Yosemite in California has to be one of my all time favorite vacation spots. It is perfect for a romantic trip together, for a group of friends, and especially for a family. I went here more times than I can count as a child, right before our wedding to celebrate the next step we were about to take, and this trip - as a goodbye to the state we love. 

Ed and I have a scant 8 weeks left in California (*cry*), and have put a number of places on our to do list. Yosemite is a place that has been special to me since I was a child, and Ed has always had a similar love for this valley. The only time we've gone there together was for Ed's "bachelor party" before our wedding, and we've always been eager to go back. 

So, imagine our happiness when our friend Sarah mentioned to us a Groupon she had bought that would allow four people to stay for 2 nights just outside the park gates for only $199. We were thrilled to be invited and soon planned a weekend escape. 

We left after work and, after stopping for a very tasty dinner at the Yosemite Bug - a youth hostel that boasts excellent food, we arrived at the Yosemite View Lodge. Now, we'd seen not so great reviews of the place, so expectations were low, but it was excellent! A newly remodeled room, right on the river. 

Even better, 20 minutes away was the valley floor and an adventure. 
We all had an ambitious plan - to head up Yosemite Falls. Sarah's plan was more ambitious than the rest of ours- after she got to the top of the falls, she was planning to keep going for a full 19 mile loop (spoiler: she did an awesome job!). The rest of us were planning more of a hike :). 

Ed, unsurprisingly, got a bit restless, so we sent him to run up ahead until the viewpoint. That left Rachel and me to hike at our (well, my) pace. I always struggle with altitude and I was feeling that, plus the lack of running recently, so to say I was struggling a bit would be a more than fair assessment. 

Still, we made good gains, and with them, excellent views! It was also fun to get to know a brand new person and exchange stories, something I love about going on the trails.

We got to our viewpoint, but no Ed. We figured he missed it (it was off to the side a bit), but took our time soaking in half dome before we moved ahead. 

Finally, we found him! He'd run even further up, and was on his way back to find us :). 

We went down a short side trail and were graced with a our first awe inspiring view of the upper falls. 

And, after a very quick spine tingling view over the ledge, down the lower falls as well. 

Even though I've probably visited this park upwards of 8 times, I'd never done this hike before, and seeing the falls and the park from this perspective was very special.

I especially enjoyed looking way down at the lower falls viewing bridge. Up until this trip, that was about as close as I got to these falls. 

After a few more (maybe 20..) pictures (aren't you glad I just chose my favorites? This could have been a much longer blog post), we continued our way up the trail. 

The trail got a bit more technical from here on out, and my less than stellar fitness, but the heat reflecting off the rocks made this a definite upward battle. 

Finally, after many, many, (many) switchbacks, we reached a trail sign that told us we were almost there!

This little guy was up there too, to congratulate us on reaching the top. 

And, to share this view with us (from the overlook point). 

We took a seat on the rocks and had a quick snack before we headed to our ultimate goal, Yosemite Point, where we'd have our real lunch.

Now that we'd taken a rest, it was time to cross the river at the top off the falls. 

The water was raging, and it made us all so nervous to see these three young men who were apparently testing the falls (we saw them putting devices in them). However, it just looked so precarious. One slip and....

We left them to continue their work and headed up the other side of the trail. 

Here's where things got a little more interesting....we hit snow! It was about 80 on our hike, but the previous weekend had dumped buckets all over the Sierras, so we got the best of both worlds. I even got to try something I'd only seen in running movies - putting snow in my hat to keep me cool! It was very fun (and refreshing). 

It didn't seem too deep until my foot went slightly off the packed trail and I went in up to my knee. We got off pretty lucky since Sarah shared that in the backcountry she had snow almost up to her waist!!

But, when we arrived at the point, it was all worth it. The 3 hours it took us to climb just over 4 miles, the switchbacks, the slippery rocks. 

This place always reminds my of my Poppa (my Mom's Dad) who I never knew well, because he passed away from Alzheimers when I was in 4th grade (and contracted the condition when I was very young). I never really knew him as my mom did, but she shared so  many stories about what a wonderful man he was, and how I'm like him, in that he loved taking pictures as well. He used to take any visitors to his home in Moraga (in the East Bay) on day trips to Yosemite, he loved it so much. When ever we visited my Nana, she would have his photographs on display, and many of them were of Yosemite. I even have a picture he took of Yosemite Falls up in our apartment. When I'm here, I feel like I get to know him just a little bit more. 

After posing with the best half of a dome there is, we settled down for lunch.  Ed found us a perfect place, down a little bit on a nice protected flat area of rock and sand all our own. 

We spent at least 30 minutes there. Hard to believe just 24 hours earlier we were all at work, on a regular day, and now we were here. 

However, soon Ed and I were ready to head back down. Rachel wasn't done soaking the view in, so we left her and, after one last view over the point, we headed back to the trail. 

Looking down, it made me appreciate those switchbacks we'd climbed earlier. 

There were so many streams of snowmelt we were crossing, it gave constant opportunities to keep cool. 

As I'd feared, though, the way down was slow. I, to put it bluntly, suck on slippery, technical downhill, and that was about all there was. 

Luckily, about halfway down, we came up with a system that drastically sped up our descent. I found that if I put one hand on Ed's shoulder and used him as a "crutch," I could go down the trail at almost normal pace! Note to self - get some of those trekking poles. I think they'd help me immensely. I also vowed on the way down to work on core work, since I'm pretty certain that'd help my stability. 

It was definitely mentally tough going downhill, but the views made it pretty well worth some rests.

We even got to enjoy some beautiful rainbows in the fall mist. 

About halfway down, we ran out of water and that, combined with the never ending switchbacks, meant that we were so ready to be done. 

And we were, 6 hours and 44 minutes later, we were off the falls trails and back to our start. We blissfully gulped down water from a drinking fountain near the trailhead, and then headed to our meeting place, the Awahnee. 

Unfortunately, it was another mile and a half or so of walking. Fortunately, it made our arrival all the more sweet. 

Sarah, who had run 19 miles, had arrived first, and was awaiting our arrival. Rachel arrived about 25 minutes after us, and soon we were all relaxing as we took in the views from the patio area. 

Ed and I decided that the perfect thing to rehydrate after that long hike would be some ice cold beers, and some ice cream, so that's exactly what we had. 

As we descended from the bus (that we thankfully rode back to the car - we were done, mileage wise), we got to take in one last look at the two stars of the day. Basking in the soft evening light, they looked so permanent, so eternal.

And while they never really change all that much, I had gotten to see a whole new side of them that day. 

And for that? I am very thankful. 

Saturday, April 07, 2012

A Walk in the (Woodside) Woods

(You can read about the amazing meal we had after the hike on my other blog)

While I'm not back to regular running quite yet (this week I'm aiming for about 20 miles or so, total, and keep increasing by week until I'm back to 40ish miles a week), I wanted to get out on those trails, and my family happily obliged. 

Weather Saturday was quite wet and stormy, but, once that storm blew through, we were in for a treat - prefect 60 degree weather and crisp blue skies made it the perfect day to be outside. 

Ed went out earlier to get in a 10 miler, while my sister and I had a leisurely start from my apartment around 10:30am. We got to Woodside a little after 11 and headed off onto Bear Gulch trail, wondering how long it would be before Ed came tearing down the trails. 

Answer? Not long. He was surprised he met up with us so close to the trail head, and I had to explain we'd gotten a bit lost on our way up. 

Kortney almost immediately tried to play an April Fools Day joke on him. She had easily got me earlier by telling me she hit a car in our parking lot when she arrived that morning, which I totally bought. Ed, not so gullible. 

After a little over a mile, we happened into this beautiful redwood grove. 

And took a few minutes to take pictures. 

Ed, with his super vision spotted this shy but cute salamander as he traveled through the bushes. 

After another mile or so, we reached a dryer area (fewer redwoods), and entered into beautiful oak trees.

And then? We'd reached it. Our wonderful meadow and the halfway point. Kort was very excited to have gone over 2 miles, since she usually isn't one for a lot of hiking. 

The scenery was, simply put, spectacular. I'm thankful Arizona has many blue skies, since it is something that I love. Of course, the 60 degree temps we had to match were ideal. 

We decided that this was the perfect time to break into the delicious chocolate chip cookies I'd made that morning. Kortney was especially excited about them.

Kort and I took a break here, while Ed went out for an extra mile. There was a perfect bench to sit on and soak in the view.

Once Ed returned, we went on our way. 

Ed suggested that we head out the other way to make our hike a loop. It's always fun to go onto a brand new trail, and this one was pretty, in a very different way from the scenery we had on the way up. 

We saw some beautiful blooming plants, reminding us of how lovely the spring is in the bay area. 

As we passed through a eucalyptus grove, the trees creaked above our heads in the winds. 

As we headed down the trail, we took in some beautiful views of the bay. The weather was beautiful everywhere. 

We made one last stop to check out a very old and very big tree. 

And just a little further down, there were our cars, just as we'd left them. What a beautiful way to spend April 1st.