My good friend in Philadelphia, Gene Dykes, asked me if I would like to join him and his daughter Hilary on a running trip in Yosemite. I have never paid money for a organized running trip before but I also have never been to Yosemite and wanted to experience the park the best way possible. The trip exceeded my expectations.
Paul and I left New Mexico and headed to Flagstaff on July 4th. We had planned to park in the National Forest overnight but found all forest access closed due to fires. We found a quiet spot on Lake Mary Rd. near a trail head where rain softly lulled us to sleep.
Up early in the morning, we drove to the next town Williams. Williams is a gateway to the Grand Canyon and is a cool historic looking town. There is a train that runs from the town to the Grand Canyon. Many hotel, motels, and places to stay. Route 66 shops, restaurants and places dating back to early 1900’s.
We drove west on I-40 and did one bypass on Historic Route 66 going through Peach Springs, Valentine etc. Sounds nicer than the actual places but a good diversion and quiet road. Next up on I-40 was the Mojave Desert where temperatures reached 108 degrees, according to the van thermometer. In Bakersfield, CA. we took 65 which had less traffic but was probably slower. There was oil drilling at first but then the farms began to line the roadside.
We booked a night stay at Millerton Lake S.P. near Fresno. The place was still a little busy after the 4th of July weekend and pretty hot until the sun went down. I took an evening dip in the lake and had a proper swim in the morning before heading to Yosemite.
Aspire Running Adventures is the group that organized my trip. I met up with everyone at a cool place called Flying Spur which you had to go through the park to get to. It is an old property that John Muir once had a cabin on. The owners were gracious to have us all park there. After a meet and greet and a yummy salmon dinner, we talked about our itinerary. There were a few people who wanted to get up before dawn and run to El Capitan to watch the sun rise. Of course Gene was game so Hilary and I said yes too. That meant getting up at 2 am!!!
Day 1 of running: Big Oak Flat to Porcupine Creek
So I did not sleep much. I said good-bye to Paul who would have his own adventure, and got into a van taking us to the trailhead. Trent, Nick (our photographer ) and Frederic (a very fast runner)started running ahead of us. It was completely dark and mostly wooded. We had our lights to guide the way and had a goal of reaching the top of El Capitan by sunrise. It was all up, up, up and Gene was starting to fall behind. Hilary and I decided to keep going and we made it there to see the sun cresting in the distance. Gene arrived not to long after and we all had a good break up top. The rest of the day we enjoyed a slower pace taking in views at Eagle Peak, dipping in Yosemite creek, and heading out to North Dome. The day was long, beautiful, exhausting, stimulating, all at the same time. How alive do you feel in the wilderness and in nature? I feel truly alive.
After getting back to our new camp at Tioga Lake, we set up our tents, swam, ate dinner and went to bed early. I slept well because I basically passed right out.
Day 2: Lakes Basin
Not so early of a start today. A smaller group opted to do the whole run. Frederic and Brittany lead the way but those speedies soon dropped us. Gene, Hilary, Shaun, Kara and I went a bit slower. I loved the water and views of this loop. Shaun and I tried to out run the swarms of mosquitos in the woods. We took a break and let the others catch up. I decided to go off on my own in order to get to the lakes earlier. After a hard switch back climb in intense heat, I had a memorable swim by myself(and the dragonflies) with mountain tops, clouds and nobody around. Magnificent! I ate my lunch and was finishing up when the group came by. Yeah! We all enjoyed the rest of the lakes and a pretty easy downhill to finish off the day.
Day 3: Cloudsrest
I did not sleep well at all. My nose was stuffy, Brittany makes loud mattress noises, and Gene snores. Not much I could do and we had another early start in the dark. I managed to get moving and stayed with Hilary, Brittany, Frederic, and Nick for the beginning of the day. Nick took a lot of gorgeous photos as we went off trail to climb Tresidder Peak and watch the sun rise on Cathedral Peak.
It was actually fun scrambling to get to the highest view points. Hilary and I climbed down together and met back up with Gene on a pretty meadow area of the trail. There were a variety of trails on this particular day. We headed into the woods and then near the bottom it opened up with lots of water ways by Sunrise Creek and scratchy shrubs. My legs got cut up a bit on those. We met up with Brittany and Shaun and ran to a trail intersection where we would head up to Cloud’s Rest. We rested, filled up our water bottles and had a bite to eat. Brittany lead the way and Shaun and I followed behind. Gene and Hilary came after us. It was a hard climb and at some points when looking up, you thought “I am going up there???” But again, it was beautiful with gorgeous views of Half Dome and the surrounding area. When you actually reached the summit it was full of people who came from another direction (easier I presume). This was probably my favorite view spot of the trip. Getting close to the edge was tempting but very scary. Lunch at the top and then mostly a down hill with Shaun running along side me. Tenaya Lake beckoned at the finish and I jumped in to clean off all the dirt, dust, and sweat of the day.
On arriving to base camp, I was surprised to see Paul parked there. He had an ordeal and decided to camp at Tioga Lake. It was much cooler there and we even had a short hail storm, rain and a huge double rainbow over the lake. After a dinner of ? I gave up my tent to Trent and slept soundly in the van that night.
Day 4: Vogelsang Pass to the Valley
I wasn’t surprised when everyone wanted to get an early start today. The whole group unanimously agreed that it was going to be a hot, long day and we should get out there asap. In the dark we headed out on the Pacific Crest trail toward the Vogelsang Pass. It intersected with the John Muir trail for about .7 of a mile then turned onto Rafferty Creek Trail. Hilary, Gene, Jess and I made our way up to Vogelsang Lake. It was a beautiful morning with marmots and critters enjoying the daybreak. I went ahead and spent some time trailing Jess. We saw Nick, Brittany and Frederic at the top of Vogelsang Peak. This was pretty much the end of climbing for the day. We headed down into wooded areas and stayed close to the Lewis Creek where the pleasing sound of gurgling water filled your ears. We had plenty of places to fill up our bottles. Jess and I met up with Jeff and Theresa who wanted to stop for lunch at Merced Lake. I continued on by myself while searching for a good spot to take a dip. The water is pretty fast and the current can be dangerous. Nick ran by and we spotted a good place. I stopped and Frederic and Nick carried on. It was nice to submerge in the cool water, eat my lunch and be still for a bit. Brittany found me and we decided to carry on together. It was a good thing because we needed support getting through a fire burned area that was super hot and had no shade. Once through that we went on a hunt for water and ended up taking a break near the top of Nevada Fall. Cooled off we headed down the steep, slippery and harsh stone steps all the way to the bottom of the Mist Trail. We stopped and took a few more photos by Vernal Falls. We ran into so many tourists at this point it was strange and sort of out of place in this wild kingdom. But nevertheless, Brittany and I flew by so many people heading down toward our goal of finishing the day. One mistake was passing our last turn and we ended up doing a bit more running, jumping into the river and finally heading toward the crew at Upper Pines Camp Ground. Tacos, beer and margaritas were on the menu for dinner (Too bad I was doing dry July). As a group we decided to go back to our base camp at Tioga where it is much cooler for the night. The ride took a long time though and by the end I felt car sick. Thankfully I just had to climb into our camper van and nod off.
Initially the next morning, Paul and I signed up to do volunteer work in the park. It was cancelled because of the heat. After breakfast and saying goodbyes to everyone, we headed east. We decided to stop in Bishop for some chille cheese bread at the famous Erick Schat’s bakery.
Bustling town with lots of tourists. We did a quick grocery store stop and continued on. We drove 6 North to Ely then onto 50 where we pulled over on BLM land in Utah. Quiet night with a small sliver of a moon in the sky. There was some smoke from fires in the air which got worse as we traveled on the next day.
We stopped at the welcome center in Grand Junction which was pleasant. Paul and I were amazed at the long line of cars at the Chic-a-fill drive thru, Crazy!!! We had to take an alternative route on 92 through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP. It was a windy road with no hardly any barriers and a big drop off. We stopped and checked out the views more than once. Wow! Fabulous.
After driving through Gunnison we went south on 114 to connect with 285 S. We took another byway to go through the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. I went to the Mt. Blanca fudge company for a chocolate shake while Paul filled up with gas. Quirky owners but friendly enough to me. I also got a vanilla orange coke for extra caffeine. The drive down 285 was pretty and also uneventful as far as traffic. We made it back by dinner time and Evan even had some leftovers for us. Our home felt cozy and welcoming.