Tag Archives: outdoors

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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Spring Forward at Schooley’s Mountain

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Today I found myself short an hour, so I decided to start with a short hike in Morris County.  Sometimes you find yourself with limited hours in the day, and for that, Schooley’s Mountain County Park was the perfect choice. The hike runs 3 miles on mostly rocky terrain. I was able to complete it in about 2 hours occasionally pausing to take pictures and breaking for water.

50 Hikes in New Jersey rates the hike easy and I agree, although you really have to stay alert with the rocky footing in some areas. It’s not easy enough to rush through while playing Words with Friends, and with the first half of the trail hugging close to the lively Electric Brook, I doubt you’d want to. The Park is deemed pet friendly, and most people I saw brought their four-legged friend. And their special someone. Speaking of people, there were quite a lot on the first half of the trail. Around every corner you’d bump into another happy hiking couple and their pooch. However, no one seemed to venture past the blue trail onto the white, yellow or red trails.

I followed the suggested route in my book: beginning with the Blue trail just left of Lake George and continuing to the Yellow trail until the end. I won’t go into many details on navigation because the trails were all easily marked and at every junction, there was a clear wooden sign pointing in the direction of the parking lot. Outside of the wooded area, the park contains many picnic areas, open green spaces and even a small beach next to Lake George.

The 3 mile hike left me wanting more, though, in only 2 hours you get a lot of bang for your buck. As an added bonus, I got to see some horse-back riders as I was leaving!

Hike #1 = Complete! Happy spring everyone!

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