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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Camping in Yosemite

Sorry for the crummy video and audio quality.
If you want a good copy of it, post and let me know.

Camping 08

I feel an obligation to record my camping weekend on my cycling blog, because as I spent the weekend in the Yosemite wilderness, my cycling companions were torturing their bodies on the Death Ride, in the Sierras. (135 miles and 5 mountain passes) I would have loved to have been with them, but on the other hand would not have missed the backpacking for anything.

The men from Cornerstone Baptist Church set out on Wed - 7/9/08 into the Yosemite back country. We entered the park on Hwy 120, obtained our bear canisters from the ranger station and made our way to the Yosemite Creek trail head.

Tracy, Tim, Pastor, Tony, Tony, and I. Yes Tony and Tony created some difficulty. However, if you needed a lot of fire wood, or twice as much water from the creek – you sent Tony.

The first adventure took place in the parking lot as we began to unload our packs. It poured rain. Our expectations of upper 90 degree highs were quickly washed away. We were blessed with that rain however, as it was to have been the hottest day of the trip, and the clouds and showers definitely cooled our hike. We don’t get rain in the Bay Area summer, so it was a somewhat welcome sight.

The second adventure was personal. Our first creek crossing came several minutes after embarkation. I watched Pastor and Tracy cautiously, but nimbly step through the matrix of dry stones and emerge on the opposite side of the creek. Though neither of them will admit to it, one of them managed to wet one key stone near the middle of the creek. I take some measure of pride in almost never falling during our many hikes and backpacking adventures. I have a gift of sure footedness handed down from my dad, who likewise, I have never seen thrown off his feet. This day my pride was left dripping wet, as was my camera, map, bottom 6” of my pack, and all of me up to my hips. That wet rock had my number. From then on, all of the company would pause to watch as Scott crossed the creeks. Not wishing me well, but rather quietly and eagerly waiting for the rocks to score again. Well they didn’t. I won, but it wasn’t a shut out on that trip.

We moved rather slowly the first afternoon, and afternoon soon turned into evening. We missed a turn in the trail somewhere around 8:00 and I confidently pushed on following dim trail markings for the next 15 – 20 minutes. The trail markings were typical granite face markings where stones will be stacked 5-6 high to indicate the trail direction. We had left the wooded path rather suddenly and found ourselves traversing a fairly clear face of granite. As the “trail” began to turn into moderate rock climbing, I acquiesced to my concerned companions and succumbed to the brutally humbling need to turn back and re-discover the (other) trail. (I’m still convinced we were on a trail, which if it hadn’t killed us, would have brought us out much sooner, in approximately the same place.) Once discovered by Pastor, we made reasonably good time on the (other) trail over the many facets of the huge rock – largely moved by adrenaline and the fear of being forced to spend the night on that unforgiving surface.

At nightfall we were finally reacquainted with the forest and the small creek we were anticipating. I did not fall in. We bivouacked nearby the stream in an ant hill laden glen, content with anything softer than the granite we had just been pounding.

Morning brought sore everything. We had been hiking on Tuesdays for months previous in preparation for this event, but the packs introduced a new element to the routine. We commiserated around the fire over freeze dried meals and dried fruit. I think each of us was uncertain of our commitment to 4 days on the trail.

We passed time that morning with a hatched throwing contest. I’m not exactly sure why the hatchet came along – Indians? But, no matter, we managed to massage usefulness out of it by hurling it at inanimate objects. Poor trees. Actually the ones worst off were the ones directly behind the target tree, and I’m sure I saw the large boulder several yards back wince a few times. Poor hatchet.

Tony Sr. was a concern. He woke with the balance of the migraine that he had been nursing quietly the evening before. He ate little and spoke less. As we moved out of camp to head for the next campsite, he assured us he was good for the trek. He was. But, not under those conditions. The last 2 miles of the 2nd day’s journey were covered by three of us taking turns carrying 2 packs. Within yards of the finish, Tony blessed the nearby flora with the sum total of his day’s nourishment. Poor bush.

While Tony slept that afternoon, the rest of us debated the possibility of carrying him and our water supply out of the forest on a forced march ahead of a growing wild fire. The thin 6500 ft air was slowly being tainted by wafts of smoke, and presently by the whack of helicopter blades. Within a few hundred feet of our campsite, a California Fire Helicopter began dipping his Helibucket into Yosemite Creek and flying directly overhead beyond the ridge and then rapidly returning. Round trips took less than 5 minutes. A reconnaissance team was assembled, and before it could be deployed Tracy covered much of the ground between the campsite and Yosemite Falls, met a park ranger, was convinced not to jump over the falls to safety, returned to camp, and convinced the rest of us that the park ranger was unconcerned and so now was he. We feigned belief and later also resolved to hold our ground since the helicopter had ceased its crossings. The smoke from that fire and many others, however, was to remain in the valley for the duration of the adventure.

That evening, despite fatigue and sore feet, we managed the 3 mile round trip to Yosemite falls. (Tony stayed behind and rested some more)

Only at this point did I finally remember why I do this to myself. 4 grown men and a teenager stumbled over small inadequate words as we attempted to express our awe of the massive grandeur laid before us as we peered 3,000 feet over Yosemite Falls into the chasm of Yosemite Valley. We tried to capture the awe with clicks from digital cameras and poor quality video clips. It can’t be done. Only by enduring the miles, bearing the bruises, picking the iron oxide packets from the freeze dried meals, and then finally stepping up to the edge of the abyss, can anyone truly appreciate that amazing view.

Day 3 found Tony in far better condition, and before mid day, stumbling over words with the rest of us at the top of the falls again. Phone calls to home were made possible at this point, thanks to the cell phone tower in the valley, and we stumbled some more.

We moved along the ridge of the valley for a short time on the way to find a place to camp for the third night. Many more breathtaking vistas greeted us as we traveled. Possibly so much so that for the second time, I missed the trail. Again, I was pursuing the mysterious piles of rocks. We moved well out onto a slope of decomposing granite before realizing that we had again been duped. Reconnaissance missions were assigned and within a few minutes the call was heard that a trail was found – on the opposite side of the ridge. This time we didn’t back track to regain the trail, we merely traveled straight up and over the ridge and found a smooth shaded trail running along the top of the crest- as discovered by Pastor. How long we had been off the trail, and where exactly we missed it remains a mystery. Some day I will return, as I really need to know. My aspirations of woodsman status having been destroyed, I walked in silence for the next few miles and nearly fell in a creek.

That creek proved a good location to eat lunch – for the mosquitoes. We shared space with the swarms while re-filling our water supplies, then moved up the trail to rest and eat our own lunch.

Our next campsite proved an easy hike from there, and we again set up our tents, broke out the Rook cards and made ourselves comfortable for the afternoon. This was a good day for Tony, so we all decided to round off the day with a journey to the top of “nearby” North dome.

Again came the Awe. However, this time it was not at the scenery, but rather at the fact that I was the one that managed to decipher the trail to the top of the dome. We were all initially deceived by the first granite expanse that we came upon, but many of us were soon suspicious of the dome shaped mountain still off in the distance. I was confident that off in the distance was our goal and not under our feet, and set out to find the way down – and then back up. I cautiously began to follow yet another ribbon of sparsely situated stacks of stones. I was within steps of giving up and resigning to having “seen” North Dome, but not having been there, when I saw the unmistakable Iron trail markers up ahead. With great charisma I returned and announced to the contented mob that we were not yet finished with our days ramble. A vote was taken and North Dome was invaded.

North Dome is conveniently situated directly across from the famous megalith – Half dome. With nothing now in between us and this monument to the divine finger of God but thin alpine air, we again mumbled small inadequate words.

We more stumbled than walked back to our campsite, and managed dinner, a Louis L’Amour short story, and a chapter from Patrick McManus’ A Fine and Pleasant Misery.

Sleep was required. Sleep was slow in coming – for me at least. The balance of my company drifted immediately to sleep on this final night in the wild. I for once lay awake – just long enough to hear it. It didn’t come silently or deftly, rather it came crashing through the underbrush and smashed pell mell into the creek below our camp. Sorry folks. Deer don’t do that, and neither do chipmunks. (The next morning we found the creek nearly emptied of water and dispersed along the trail leading up toward our camp.) I lay in my sleeping bag clutching my now open Leatherman – heart pounding. I listened for several minutes as the beast roamed the perimeter of our campsite. Just about the time that my heart rate finally dipped below the century mark, the tromping began again. This time it was moving rapidly toward MY TENT. I sprung to the tent flap and promptly blinded myself with my flashlight. I opened the flap and shone the light directly into the eyes of the approaching animal. It was a Bear. I’m confident. But I’m not sure. I promptly yelled out to the rest of the troops to let them know that we were under attack. The enemy fled.

My fearless fighting force rose to the occasion, with the exception of Tony, Tony, Tim, and Tracy. Pastor stirred just long enough to shine his flashlight out into the night and then drift back off to sleep. I was alone with the enemy. For the next hour I listened as they planned their attack. I soon learned, after blinding myself once more, that there were deer in their force also. We did battle over the next hour. Me with my light sabre, and them with their siege.

Eventually reason returned to my tent and we discussed the possibilities. I could sit up in my tent, or even worse, out near the fire, and get mauled by a bear. Or, I could lay down in my tent, wishing I was asleep and get mauled by the bear. Or, I could just go to sleep and get mauled by the bear. All of the options ended with me inside a bear. Then there was always the possibility that I wouldn’t get eaten. In which case the previous option would serve me best in the morning. I finally slept.

The next morning I woke up and was thankfully not gracing the digestive tract of a large mammal. We knew the final journey was going to take us up nearly 1000 feet in about 3 miles, so we ate quickly and broke camp. We moved up the trail with deliberation, but intentionally very slow. For about a half mile, near the end of our passage, pastor and I shared the burden of Tony’s pack one more time. Several more creeks were traversed, and several groups of backpackers passed us going into the park. It was Saturday after all.

We emerged from the forest up onto the road at around 10:30am. Tracy and I made it to the road first, where I realized that my truck was not where it was supposed to be. Or, rather, that the trail we had taken did not bring us to the place that we had left my truck 4 days prior. On Wednesday we had split up the 2 vehicles, one at each trail head. Unfamiliar with the roads in that part of the park, and suffering at the mercy of the same map that left us wandering twice on exposed granite faces, we had to guess where the trail head was, and parked at the most reasonable place possible. This ended up being about a mile and a half shy of the actual trail head. Had we kept driving on Wednesday, we would have found the obvious parking area fully equipped with a small restroom (wilderness style) and bear boxes. I was about to begin a jog down the highway to retrieve my truck, when a lady and her son took pity on me and delivered me to my truck. We loaded the team up into the truck and proceeded toward the other vehicle at Yosemite Creek.

On the way there we were able to view from the road the dozens of square miles that we had just circumnavigated. We were all overcome with awe at the immensity of the vast expanse, which we had touched but a mere fraction of, and also at the immensity of the journey that we had all just been a part of. To many, our experience was, shall I say, a walk in the park. For far more, however, we experienced something they will never approach. Our epic journey ended back at the ranger station on Hwy 120, but the experiences shared on that journey will tie the men of our church together far into the future.

We will do it again and again. Poor Wives.


  1. wow u should write childrens stories

  2. What an excellent summary of our trip. I am sure to do you an injustice in attempting this post! But, let's see if a 40 year old has fading memories (some intentional, like the lighter in the fire!) of the weekend. Wednesday: It is amazing how fast the trail disapears when you lean on your own understanding. So, why did the trusting souls follow me into a "trail" created by water run off? Like I've been here before guys! I believe I observe some spiritual lessons here: lean not on yourself, depend on the brethren, and take care of one another, and PRAY hard!
    Thursday: Carrying Tony's pack on the flat makes you feel like a real man; to bad Saturday's up hill lift was humility 101. Oh, how could I fail to mention that our hearts were beating faster and louder than the chopper blades? Forget the fear of bears keeping me awake; I was looking for skipping flames coming over the ridge to eat me in my sleep!- sleep?
    Friday: My, what a breakfast of rice can do for Tony Sr. Guys, he eats nothing but white rice next year! No MRE's. The beautiful views lifted all our spirits on this day, and provided the needed incentive to keep going. These views (Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Overlook, North Dome) will never be forgotten by those who see them in first person. God reminds us of our finite nature in such creation. Scott, the rest of us on Friday night were far, far gone to see or hear your "bear."
    Saturday: A day to smell like a man and come home to victimize the family! How good is a soft bed- the one I am neglecting at this insomniac hour!

  3. This is actually, Jan---Mom This sparked some more thoughts. I bet you're surprised about that!!

    First--Yeah!! for Tony--what a trooper.
    As I have thought on your adventure, I see so many spiritual truths. As I thought about you and I think P.Snow carrying Tony's backpack, I thought how too, in the Christian life we are to bear one another's burdens. As I thought on that, I realized the reason that is, is that we are to be like Christ--He bore our burden of sin on the cross for us. Not only that but He will bear our daily burdens of grief, disappointment, weariness, or whatever. He told us to come unto Him and He would give us rest. (Matt. 11:28)

    I think also of the beautiful view you were rewarded with. That came only after you toiled to reach the point where that view was possible to be seen. You did not just step out of your vehicle and what do you know--there it was. You labored to get there and I would imagine it made the view that much sweeter, and made all the climbing and all you went through worth the effort. I could not help but think of how God wants to to come to Him daily reading and studying His Word to catch a view of Him in all His beauty. He wants so very much for us to see Him for who He is and love Him for who He is. Jer. 29:13,14a "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord." Am I willing to take extra time searching God's Word to see Him? Am I willing to willingly suffer trials and hardships, and take that as an opportunity to run to Jesus, so He can teach me precious truths from His Word, as He gives strength and comfort?
    I will never see the view that Scott and Co. saw, because I am not willing to climb that far, be inconvienced that much, or take that much time to put myself through that. Likewise, many will not see the incredible view of God that He so desires for each one of His children to have of Him as they search His Word, because they are not willing to take the time or put themselves in a position of inconvience. May I long to see God in all His beauty.
    Psalm 27:4 (KJV)
    4 One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.

    Thanks for the illustrations.
    Love and prayer,

  4. Thank you both for the spiritual parallels.
    My strength is not drawing those parallels, however, I am indebted to you who see them and can verbalize them.