Tag Archives: Nature

Camping in Yosemite for Idiots

If you want to camp inside Yosemite National Park, you must reserve a spot at one of the campgrounds beforehand*. You can reserve up to 5 months before your stay. For example, on the 15th of January, the permits for the reserve-only campsites during May 15-June 15 went live; nearly all sites filled up within minutes. May 18th was the weekend Brett and I wanted to camp in Yosemite. Unfortunately, up until 6 days ago, I had no concept of reserving plots of land to pitch a tent. Though I knew Yosemite is Yosemite, I didn’t quite understand the demand for staying overnight in the Park. On the ground. But it’s insane. Needless to say, 5 days before our trip we couldn’t reserve a spot in Yosemite.

*That left 3 options.

  1. Stay at a first-come, first-served campsite in Yosemite. Yosemite has 7 first-come, first served campgrounds, but they are open depending on the time in the season and the trail conditions. Mid-May, only one rush site is open: Camp 4. You have to be there in person at 8:30 a.m. to register to pitch your tent at Camp 4. According to the Yosemite website, a line is usually formed way before then. This is clearly not a viable option for someone going after work on Friday. Camp 4 is also the site of rock-climbers in Yosemite. As I figure, if you were too oblivious to make your reservation 5 months ago, chances are the rock-climbers will be more hard-core about camping at Camp 4 than you.
  2. Obtain a wilderness permit and stay in the wilderness. For people going on multi-day hikes, you can get a permit to sleep in the park overnight. It really depends what time in the season you go, but you can potentially stay where ever you hike to in the wilderness. There are some permits you can get ahead of time, and others that are first-come, first-served.
  3. Camp outside of Yosemite and drive in for day hikes. There are multiple campgrounds outside of Yosemite in neighboring towns like Groveland on the west border and Lee Vining on the east. They each have varying levels of amenities.

Which option did we choose? Ding ding ding! #3. Though Camp 4 would be an experience, neither of us wanted to risk being turned away. And as thrilled as I was at the thought of an overnight backpacking trip, I had never slept in a tent–ever. The decision was easy. We camped outside of Yosemite in neighboring Inyo State Forest. Though it was like staying in New Jersey when you’re on vacation to see New York City, Inyo State Forest was gorgeous by its own right and deserves a trip beyond “Cause we couldn’t get space in Yosemite.”

In Inyo State Forest, there are also campgrounds available for reservation. Others are first-come, first-served. I made a list of roughly 9 campgrounds with pros and cons and Brett chose one I labeled “Cushy. Running Water, Flush Toilet, Swimming Beach, Bear Locker.” So, we reserved at Oh Ridge, a campground on June Lake outside of the town Lee Vining. Reserving felt good because we wanted to ensure having a spot to collapse after a long day’s trek. The area is speckled in deep blue lakes and dense forest. I was particularly impressed by Mono Lake, a large lake that’s gone down with time revealing two crater-like islands in the middle. The sight looks extraterrestrial and sent shivers down my back. I wish I could have captured it better on camera to share with you.

Mono Lake

After Yosemite kicked our butts the first day, we arrived at Oh Ridge with enough time to pitch the tent and grill some sandwiches for dinner.

June Lake and our Campsite at Oh Ridge

If you’re like me and don’t own any camping equipment, you can rent some decent stuff from REI. If you live in the Bay Area, there’s also Sport Basement. We rented a tent and stove from Sports Basement and got sleeping bags from REI. I can’t remember the brands, but the tent was easy enough to construct, the stove worked with propane and the bags were soft and everything I’d want after a long day’s hike.  The whole camping thing was so simple I couldn’t believe it! However, we did have Brett’s car nearby to house extra items and did not have to make big decisions concerning weight.

Brett setting up the tent. I helped after taking this photo!

I saw a bear locker for the first time in my life.  You have to put all your food and anything with a scent inside the locker whenever you are not actively using it. Fruit? Toothpaste? Chapstick? Our bear prevention literature instructed us to stow it all.

I woke up to the birds chirping and sun roasting us like pigs in our tent.  I couldn’t believe that we were both alive and didn’t get attacked by bears in our sleep. Relishing my second chance at life, I jumped out the tent to check out the bear locker, get a start on breakfast and sort things out for the day.

We sipped hot tea and gazed at mirror still June Lake– nearly our own private view for the morning. Brett and I compared our bruises and pains. It turned out Brett’s legs hadn’t fared well from the 12 miler yesterday. He wasn’t able to sleep on his side due to the pain in his legs and he had to waddle instead of walk his normal gait. Those trekking poles I used had spared me from the worst of a grueling hike. True be told, I felt great!

First camping trip = Success!

As dazzling as our campsite was, we left Oh Ridge around 9 a.m. to get back to Yosemite and take on the big sights in the Valley. More about day 2 in an upcoming post. Have you camped in Yosemite? Or stayed in a neighboring town? Or took your chances at a first-come, first-served campground? Let me know! I’m especially interested to learn more about hikers who have used the wilderness permit in the park.

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Majestic Yosemite: A Hike in Tuolumne Meadows

Five hours outside of San Francisco in Friday afternoon traffic, Brett and I ended up in Groveland, CA for the night. We were out by 8 a.m. Saturday for the 30-minute drive to the west entrance of Yosemite National Park.  Before we left, the cook at the inn told us, “God had His way with that place, Yosemite. He had something to say.” As we neared the park, I realized what she meant. He had something to say indeed.

We drove east from the west entrance along Route 120 to the Tuolumne Meadows Campsite. The road squiggles through the woods and mountains cutting the park down the middle. Brett had a rough time keeping his eyes on the road because the sights were so incredible to see. We had to pull over on several occasions to gawk at various vista points.

Tenaya Lake in Yosemite.

Brett taking it in.

Brett gazing at Half-Dome.

At around 10 a.m., we were parked in the Lembert Dome Parking & Picnic Area lot and geared up to hike. The trail I mapped was ambitious, and in the end, we weren’t able to complete it. It would have been a nearly 16 mile loop from Tuolumne Meadows to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp and then over to the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail all the way back to Tuolmne Meadows Campground. I thought ending with the PCT would make the trek especially worth it and even before we decided to turn back, the thought of reaching those special trails motivated me to keep hiking through the 1,400 ft incline, the snow, mud and over river crossings like I’ve never seen them before. Here, the National Park Service recommends a similar 13.8 mile day hike from Tuolumne to Vogelsang and back without crossing over to catch the PCT back. Had I seen this particular write-up, we might have known this trail is labeled strenuous. We ended up turning back just shy of Vogelsang.

The first section of our hike included 2 miles of the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails!

Brett and I had this unnamed, but marked trail to ourselves. The trail to Vogelsang was marked by diamond shaped cuttings in nearby trees. We only saw one other hiker during the 12 miles we hiked. Yep, I just said TWELVE MILES! A NEW RECORD! The hike started at 8,600 FT with a steep rise which we later read was about 1,400 ft. At that point in the hike, I could feel the altitude change affecting my breathing. Eventually, we got used to it, but I was wary to climb too quickly and over-exert since I don’t have much experience at high altitudes. Even in Tibet, I don’t think I experienced such fast and extreme changes in altitude.

The threat of Black Bears in Yosemite was real and present as we saw their poop along the trail many times. Luckily every time we saw a large load, Brett hollered out “Woooooooo!” and terrified all wildlife within 3 miles. In fact, we did not see any wildlife along the nameless trail.

Throughout the hike, we were surrounded by snow capped mountains and blue sky. You can tell by the pictures, that the snow on this trail is still melting. This meant that there were more water crossings and several sections where we had to judge the strength of the snow piles. Here’s a typical crossing. You can see the trail continue on the other side.

You may have noticed something else in the photos…

Trekking Poles! Like I said in an earlier post, I bought all this backpacking equipment for my first trip in 2011 meaning I had a large credit with REI for future purchases. Last weekend, they had their big annual sale and so the time was right to snatch up a pair of poles. They ended up costing $10 with my credit. I later learned the investment was more than worth it for the sake of my legs.

That’s all for the first leg of our Yosemite adventure. Even though we didn’t complete what we set out to do, the Garden State Hiker has now hiked higher and farther than ever before! Stay tuned for camping and a hike in Yosemite Valley.

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My Secret Obsession with Pacific Crest Trail Travel Memoirs Part I

It became clear my passing interest might be an obsession when my friend Nicole saw me reading and asked, “What book are you reading?”

I shrugged saying, “Oh, it’s just this travelogue about a young woman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.”

“Oh Yeah,” Nicole said “I remember you were reading that last week. I read about that book online somewhere.”

“Well, actually this is a different book about another girl hiking thru-hiking the PCT.”

“So this is the second book you’re reading about the same trail??”

“Hm, no. The third—”

The cat’s out of the bag. I’ve gone from being someone who would have said “The pee see what?” to someone who can name several of the re-stock towns, trail-heads, the length, history and issues surrounding thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. And I’ve never seen it.

The Pacific Crest Trail goes from Mexico to Canada all along the west coast. Some people call it the Appalachian Trail of the west coast, but really it’s just another long-distance trail that people take on for the extreme challenge of it. It’s a commitment hiking the PCT. It takes around 3-5 months to complete. You need to prepare all your meals in advance and divide them into increments that you will collect along the way at post offices. Think about it; it’d be nearly impossible to hike with 5 months of food on your back.

So what, you say, is this Jersey raised young woman who has never hiked more than 8 miles and who has never even slept in a tent doing fantasizing about a 2,650 mile long trail on the other side of the country?

I’m sharing all this as a clue for the next hiking adventure I’m going to share with you… Stick around for Part II of the Garden State Hiker’s obsession with the PCT. I’ve got to get to sleep because tomorrow we will be hiking the PCT!!! Coming up I’ll also go into detail about the books I’ve been reading for those of you who want to read about intense hiking journeys. (A Blistered Kind of Love: One Couple’s Trial by Trail; Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail; The Trail Life: How I Loved it, Hated it, and Learned from it) Until then, I’ll be out on the trail.

Go, get your hike on.

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Jockey Hollow and We Saw a Bear

If you live in Morristown, NJ and you’ve never been to Jockey Hollow, you’re missing out on some great New Jersey hiking only 5 minutes from the town green. Our hike today was embarrassingly short; combining the entire lengths of the red and yellow trails, we hiked just under 3.5 miles, but the brief hike was packed with action. With 10 brook crossings, 3 bears, 5 reconstructed Revolutionary War huts and an apple orchard that once fed George Washington, Jockey Hollow, though easy on the legs, was vibrant in attraction.

We took the Yellow Grand Parade trail into the Red Primrose Brook trail and then hiked the rest of the Yellow trail back. The Primrose Brook trail is a 1 mile trail weaving in and across the brook 8 times. Most of the crossings were easy enough–I do think children could do it– but a few required more attention. Nellie had to be carried across two crossings and fell into the brook once when she misjudged a jump. We saw a more experienced hiker using a pole to help him cross over.

Meredith crossing the Primrose. Nellie later fell here.

After mastering the art of brook-crossing, we crossed Jockey Hollow Road to reach an information booth and the start of the Yellow Trail. Sara and Meredith had water, while I took out a sandwich from my pack. About twenty paces in from the head, while I’m stuffing my face with peanut butter and Nutella sandwich, we heard a rustling in the brush to our left. Meredith and Sara both yell, “Bear!” “No, three bears!” “Shea, get rid of that SANDWICH!” Grabbing at my backpack to dig out one of Nellie’s poop-bags to hid my sandwich in, I looked up and saw two black bear cubs climbing up a tall tree, one after the other. Below I could see branches and leaves shaking and moving about–the signs of a larger bear, but I feared making eye-contact. Instead, I snapped a picture of the second bear cub before Sara, Meredith, Petrified Nellie and I hurried on.

Here's the second black bear cub climbing after its sibling while Momma Bear stands at the base of the tree-- protecting them from us.

Shortly after, we arrived at Grand Parade Road where we dutifully warned an approaching family and Boy Scout troop of the black bears. The family was grateful for our warning. Two of the Boy Scout Leaders said “Cool, Bears. Let’s Go!” and rushed on in the direction we came from. Another laughed saying “No worries, we can out-run these boys.” A sensible leader in the group eventually re-directed the troop down Grand Parade Road instead of to the bear family. We bid them good-bye.

This hut, along with several others, was reconstructed to resemble huts in which the Continental Army would have stayed as they waited for the British Army. It’s interesting to imagine what it would have been like eating and sleeping in those bunks. Throughout Jockey Hollow, we read plaques and signs with historic information. We even learned about the Irishmen who served in the Revolutionary War.

Trivia: Wick Farm fed the Continental Army when they stayed in Morristown. Pictured--Apple Orchard

Jockey Hollow certainly wasn’t a rigorous hike. Granted, we only hiked the Red and Yellow trails which added up to be about 3 miles. I’d love to hike the 6.5 mile White Trail next time. That one promises New York City views and bigger brook crossings.

I’d recommend Jockey Hollow to history nerds and people looking for wildlife. Besides the bears, we saw more birds and chipmunks than on any other northern New Jersey trail. The hikers in 50 Hikes in New Jersey wrote that they came face to face with a deer in Jockey Hollow!

Lastly, I’ll mention that the trails were incredibly well marked. Not only are the trail blazes clear, at every junction you can find a printed trail map with an arrow saying “You are Here.” I heard from other Morristown hikers that JH had previously been confusing to hike. No Longer.

That completes hike #6. Have you hiked Jockey Hollow? Did you encounter a deer or bear? Is the White Trail better than the Red and Yellow? Let me know!

Here's the little guy again zoomed in.

Happy hiking!

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Jersey Girls in the Woods: South Mountain Reservation

It started with an innocent “Hey, let’s go for a hike!” Four hours later with nothing but drops in our water bottles, no food and an increasingly slow pace, Mr. Knightly sat down in the middle of the trail refusing to go on. My friend Nicole looked at me with a similar question in her eyes “When will this torture end?”

Two months ago I convinced friends Nicole and Meredith to come out hiking. We picked South Mountain Reservation in northern New Jersey because Meredith and I had already been to High Point recently and it was one of the only other hiking trails we could think of. I carefully mapped out a trail on a map printed off the internet.

Meredith leading the hike.

The hike started out swimmingly–well, once we found the trail head. Save for some mud, everyone was excited for a day out in nature.

Once we had fallen into a rhythm, hiking farther and farther from the parking lot, did the hike reveal itself for what it is: a really long walk in the woods. Nicole had not anticipated the rocks, inclines, overhanging branches, mud, lack of pavement and she was not pleased with the discovery. I had failed to include these details in the Upcoming Attractions at South Mountain  and now my hiking buddy was feeling unprepared. That wasn’t the only mistake.

Halfway into the trail we came upon a river crossing that seemed more intermediate than easy. There was no bridge in sight and the rocks intended for crossing were far apart from each other and slippery. We walked to one possible “crossing” and then backtracked to another. Neither crossing seemed straight forward, and both seemed so difficult for our abilities that we’d end up soaked in the river. Not to mention our Westie terrier with short legs. We saw one man across the river attempt to cross it, but we never saw if he succeeded. Minutes after we spotted him, he disappeared into the woods.

After checking our map over and over to figure out if, yes, we were supposed to cross here, we decided to take the plunge. Fortunately, it was not a literal plunge. All of us made it. Embarrassing video was taken. Nellie, who had been terrified during most of the trail, forged the river as if she had been born to do it. After crossing, she shook herself and swelled with pride.

We took on a 6 mile hike that day and didn’t pack any food. Not one power bar or fruit. All of us felt the tightening of our stomachs by the end of the trail. Even the dogs were hungry.

Hunger and surprises aside, all of us had a memorable day. On seeing the parking lot, we were all giddy with excitement. It wasn’t until the drive home that we considered our small victories. We forged a river! Finished a six mile hike! Found the waterfalls! Didn’t get lost!

South Mountain has some great features to experience such as a waterfall, reservoir, and several trail systems. We saw two waterfalls that day!

I would love to hike South Mountain again. Once I cross off a few other hikes on my list, I will return! As if I didn’t make enough mistakes during that hike, I forgot my camera too! These pictures are all courtesy of Nicole’s phone and if you’d like to check out her other adventures she keeps a health blog here.

Just keep hiking, just keep hiking.

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Wells Mills County Park– Waretown NJ

Ticks, ticks and ticks, oh my. Whatever other information I read about Wells Mills County Park in Ocean County was blurred out by the redundant warnings of ticks in the park. I’ve always hated insects. Blood-sucking insects scare me even more. For a moment, I thought about skipping Wells Mills, or putting it off until next December when it might be under a foot of snow. However, since we were in the area and I want to complete all of the hikes on my list, we loaded up with insect repellent and drove to Waretown, NJ.

I can’t tell you much about the trail because, well, we booked it. Despite having a small group including my little brother Finn, we finished the 3.5 mile Green Trail in less than an hour and a half. I think we were all anxious about ticks and eager to push through it. Also, Finn wasn’t so eager to come hiking in the first place. As soon as he got the trail map, he named himself leader and sped off into the woods.

Perhaps our fearful motivation paid off because as of this time, after several thorough reviews, neither the people nor dogs came out with a single tick! Enough about ticks and more about the Pine Barrens…

We took the Green Trail which a Park ranger told us would be the most scenic. The trail goes in a loop and is extremely easy to follow. The terrain alternates between a bed of soft pine needles, sand and boardwalk. The boardwalks take you through swamps and the pine trees surround you through the whole trail. There is also an option to hike an 8.4 mile White Trail. We saw a few cross-country runners, but not many other hikers.

We saw these geese as we finished up the hike.

In short, the Pine Barrens were beautiful, but I will not be back.

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Catching the Hiking Bug

You know the feeling. That itch to get outdoors and soak up the sunshine. Whether it was during family camping trips, joining an outdoors club in college or dating a nature aficionado, all hikers can remember when they first discovered the love of being out on the trail. Believe it or not, my inspiration to begin hiking did not start in the great state New Jersey.  I caught the bug far away in the mountains of Tibet.

Check out the jeans and socks on that hiking newbie.

A year ago, in the spring of 2011, I found myself thrust into my first backpacking journey. My professor in China led us on mid-semester trip through the Tibetan Autonomous Region. He warned us that it would not be a tourist trip and gave us a long list of necessary items. So, I bought all the gear and I was that person: the novice who buys all the gear before actually trying out the activity. I didn’t know why I would need a pocket knife, but I had one just in case.

Got a deal on that knock-off North Face.

After realizing I could survive without proper toilets (truly a shock) and could hike mountains without spraining my ankle, I came to enjoy nature and the lands untouched by humans. There was something too about the camaraderie that formed on that trip, that you couldn’t find in another setting.

Through the gate, toward adventure!

After I returned to the states, I took a good hard look at the hiking boots I was required to buy for this one trip. The outdoor adventures must continue–even in New Jersey, the unlikeliest of all places.

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