Sunday, May 31, 2009

Yosemite NP

Even though I tried to avoid it at all cost, we ended up going to Yosemite NP on the Memorial Day weekend. The problem with Yosemite NP is that it is always very crowded, even more so on weekends, not to mention the wild crowds that you need to expect there on a three-day weekend. We thought that we were prepared for that. We were wrong. It was just insane - there were easily more than 30'000 cars in the Yosemite Valley and it was impossible to find a parking spot anywhere. There was not a single accommodation left (neither on the campground nor hotel) within 1.5h drive from the park. The lines (at least to the ladies' restrooms) were 20 minutes long. Wherever you went, you would soon meet another fellow human being. Yosemite Valley might be stunningly beautiful, but with all those hundreds of thousands of people moving around in it, it feels just like downtown San Francisco.

Things got slightly better when we started hiking up to the Upper Yosemite Falls (6.8mi/10.9km-long hike climbing up 2410ft/735m). These falls were the reason that we decided to go to Yosemite Valley despite knowing that it would mean meeting thousands of other people. Yosemite NP is full of waterfalls and majority of them are at their peak in the month of May. I thought it would be cool to see them since we are in this part of Sierras anyway. In particular, I was interested in Yosemite Falls, which is the highest free-leaping waterfall in North America. From the top of the upper falls to the base of the lower falls it drops the total of 2420ft/739m. The Upper Falls alone drop 1430ft/436m.

The trail to the Upper Yosemite Falls starts with four dozen steep switchbacks, which discourage majority of weekend hikers. After climbing 1000ft/305m the trail reaches Columbia Rock viewpoint that offers spectacular views of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome. Around two thirds of the hikers who made it that far, turn around and do not attempt to go farther up on another set of switchbacks. We made it all the way up, but it was not easy. After the lunch break that we had at the feet of the Upper Yosemite Falls, N. started feeling sick and was moving up at the snail speed. I almost started to have doubts that we would make it to the top of the falls, but luckily we did. He started feeling better as soon as we started going down, which would make me think that he might have an altitude sickness if we were not hiking ~4000ft/1300m higher the previous day without any problems.

Anyway, I am glad that we went for this hike. Seeing the Upper Falls from up-close was amazing, especially that we could observe the rainbow forming there for more than an hour. Also the views of Half Dome and the Valley were pretty spectacular, compensating for the lack of intimacy on the trail.

Tioga Lake, still partly frozen:

Tenaya Lake:

Beautiful Hwy 120 leading through Yosemite NP:

The view of Half Dome's back from Olmsted Point:

Glacial erratic boulder at the Olmsted Point:

Yosemite Valley and Merced River:

Yosemite Falls:

View of Half Dome from Columbia Rock viewpoint on the trail to Upper Yosemite Falls:

Rainbow at the feet of Upper Yosemite Falls:


Waterfall, Half Dome and rainbow:

The view of Yosemite Valley from the top of Upper Yosemite Fall:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mono Lake

We were lucky to arrive at Mono Lake before the majority of other people did. We have proverb in Polish which says that God rewards the ones who wake up early ("Kto rano wstaje, temu Pan Bog daje"). We clearly got rewarded for waking up at 5:30am :) ... The views were the more amazing, as not obstructed by human presence.

The Mono Lake is famous for its Tufa towers, which are essentially weirdly shaped limestone rocks sticking out from the lake. Tufas are formed when underwater springs rich in calcium mix with lake water rich in carbonates. The results of this mixing is precipitation of calcium carbonate (limestone) around the spring. Over the course of years, the precipitate will accumulate and a tufa tower will grow.

Tufa towers grow exclusively underwater and they can only be seen around Mono Lake because the lake level decreased dramatically during last sixty years when it has served as a fresh water supply for LA.

The greatest concentration of Tufa towers can be seen at the South Tufa grove, where the majority of pictures shown below were taken.

Approaching Mono Lake:


Mono Lake, its Tufas and snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains:

Pinnacles NM

On one Saturday, a few weeks ago, N. and I went hiking in Pinnacles NM. As it takes 2.5-3 hours to get there from San Francisco, we initially planned to go camping there. However, all the campgrounds were already reserved for that particular weekend. So we decided that it is still better to go there for a day trip rather then postpone it till never.

The Pinnacles park can be entered either from the east or from the west (and, interestingly, these roads do not intersect, so you need to exit on the same side you entered). We went for the eastern entrance as more hiking trails start from there. First, we went for a short (<1h) hike to the Bear Gulch Cave and afterward we went for a longer (3-4h) hike to the top of High Peaks. Exploring Bear Gulch Cave was a lot of fun. It would have been even more enjoyable, had there been less other people wanting to explore it too... In general, the park was very crowded (especially with school kids), so I was wondering if we were simply unlucky to get there on a busy weekend, or is it always so crowded? For me an important part of experiencing the nature is to be able to immerse in it without the noise created by other people, so you can imagine that I was not that happy there. It got slightly better when we started hiking to the top of High Peaks. Luckily, most of the casual visitors to parks are not willing to go for longer hikes, especially if that means going up... The views from High Peaks were great, but still not as spectacular as the ones from Mount Diablo. Taken that into account, plus the fact that on Mt Diablo we hardly met anybody (granted, we were there on a weekday), I would rather go back hiking on Mt Diablo then in Pinnacles. It will take some time before I will be willing to give Pinnacles NM another chance.

Bear Gulch Cave:

The Cavewoman:

The light, at the end of darkness:

N. resting next to Bear Gulch Reservoir:

Views on the way back to the visitors center:

High Peaks Trail Loop:


Almost vertical way up:


Turkey Vulture!



Friday, May 29, 2009

reasons for not blogging

As you have noticed, dear friends and random strangers, I have not been blogging much recently. There are two main reasons for that:

(a) I am extremely busy. (I already hear you saying: as always... tell us something we do not know...) Well, this time I have a very good reason for claiming being busy. My beloved parents are coming to visit me for a month (whole month of July) and I am trying to get as much job done as possible before they come, as I know that when they are here, I will be hardly able to work. First, we plan to travel together for two weeks (this time to Hawaii, yay!). Then, during the rest of their stay here I would still like to spend as much time as possible with them, which means that I will not be able to work full time then. BTW, don't get me wrong. This is not a complaint. I am actually looking forward to my parents' visit. They are fabulous and I know that we will have an amazing time together. If they only spoke English, I would throw a huge party that you could all get to know them and see how much fun they are.

(b) My laptop has kindly decided to die. It probably happened already a month ago and I still did not get a new one. That means that I can not blog from home (which is what I used to do). The only times that I use a computer is when I am at work. And after 12+ hours here I barely feel like staying an extra hour only to post something...

Regardless, before my parents come, I still plan to finish the following posts:

  1. Pinnacles NM (from a weekend trip in April 2009)
  2. Mokelumne Wilderness (from Memorial Weekend)
  3. Mono Lake (from Memorial Weekend)
  4. Yosemite NP (from Memorial Weekend)
  5. Grand Canyon - Bright Angel Trail (from March 2009)
  6. Grand Canyon - Bright Angel Creek (from March 2009)
  7. Grand Canyon - Clear Creek Trail (from March 2009)
  8. Grand Canyon - Plateau Point (from March 2009)
  9. Road Trip 2008: Bryce NP (from September 2008)
  10. Road Trip 2008: Canyonlands NP (from September 2008)
  11. Road Trip 2008: Arches NP (from September 2008)
  12. Road Trip 2008: Grand Canyon NP - North Rim (from September 2008)
  13. Road Trip 2008: Mesa Verde NP (from September 2008)

Though now that I see that it means one post every other day, I start to doubt that I will manage it. Still, it's good to have ambitious plans as they at least motivate you to start doing something...