Yosemite National Park, California – July 4-5, 2010

Sunday: I flew from LaGuardia to Cleveland, then on to Denver, then to Fresno, California. (I found a bargain airfare of around $350 roundtrip.) The planes grew progressively smaller with each flight: I started on a Boeing 737 that held about 126 passengers, then it was a Bombardier CRJ-700 that held 66 passengers, then an even smaller Bombardier CRJ-200 that only held 50 passengers.

I only took a carry-on bag on this trip, as I didn’t need my tent and sleeping bag. The last two planes were so small that standard carry-ons didn’t fit inside, so instead baggage handlers took the carry-on luggage from passengers at the loading area and put them in the plane’s cargo area, then crew in the next city returned the luggage as the passengers were deplaning.

In Fresno, I rented a car from Avis, and they gave me a choice of cars in the class I had requested. I don’t know if they always do that, or if it’s just at this location, but I think generally the rental agencies just tell you what car you’ll be stuck with, and it’s usually different than what you had expected and hoped to get based upon their website. I selected a Volkswagen Jetta. It was also better-equipped than the usual stripped rental car I am used to, as it had a sunroof and a satellite radio.

I stopped at the WalMart and Whole Foods in Fresno to buy groceries and supplies. The WalMart was out of gallon water bottles, but Whole Foods had them. I also bought sunscreen, then drove north to Yosemite. My destination within the park was Yosemite Valley, about 90 miles from the airport. The road outside the park is fine, though it has several steep climbs with pull-off areas so that slower traffic can get out of the way of faster vehicles. Inside the park, the speed limit was much lower and the road was under repair, with the asphalt having been removed from several areas in preparation for later repaving.

Shortly after I entered Yosemite Valley, a coyote crossed the road right in front of my car, but my camera was not within reach. I finally arrived at my destination, Curry Village, which is one of several lodging choices within Yosemite Valley. The parking lot was very big and very crowded, so I had to park far away. I then grabbed my luggage and my groceries and headed to the reception desk. (The National Park Service makes a big deal about not leaving food in vehicles or in one’s tent or tent cabin, as bears have been known to break in to get at the food.) I was assigned a tent cabin that was also far from the reception area (and not so close to my car, either), and got settled for the night.

A tent cabin has a wooden floor, a wooden frame, and canvas walls and roof. Inside, it has two or more beds, an overhead electric light (but no receptacles), metal storage shelves and a garbage can. Mine had a full-size bed and three twin beds. They provided bedding. Outside each tent cabin is a metal locker for storing food and toiletries (“anything with a scent”). The theory is that if the bears don’t smell food in the cabin, they won’t come inside, and unless they develop opposable thumbs, they can’t get into the storage lockers. There were communal bathroom and shower facilities within Curry Village. Yosemite seemed very commercial, having concession operators for almost everything. I’m surprised they didn’t charge for showers at Curry Village, as Bryce Canyon does. These tent cabins cost $120/night, so someone is making a killing.

Tent cabins, Curry Village, Yosemite National Park, California

Tent cabins

Tent cabin interior, Curry Village, Yosemite National Park, California

Tent cabin interior

Here we have a tent cabin under construction:

Tent cabin frame, Curry Village, Yosemite National Park, California

Tent cabin frame

Yosemite Valley affords nice views of the surrounding granite walls and at least two waterfalls. There were nice views even from Curry Village itself. The photo below shows the 7,546′ tall North Dome (top center), Washington Column (at right), and the Royal Arches (the exfoliation arches in the granite wall at lower left and center):

North Dome, Washington Column, and Royal Arches, Yosemite National Park, California

North Dome, Washington Column, and Royal Arches

In addition to sunscreen, it’s helpful to have insect repellent to keep the mosquitoes away.

Giant Western Crane Fly

Giant Western Crane Fly

Actually, a helpful poster at GardenWeb.com identified it as a harmless Giant Western Crane Fly, Holorusia rubiginosa, the largest fly west of the Rockies.

Monday: I woke around 6:00 and loaded my backpack with water and lunch. As the pack sat on top of the bear locker, it pressed down on the bite valve for the water bladder, causing a few ounces to leak out, making the hip belt of the pack wet. I’ve had such leaks a couple of times, from stepping on the bite valve or pressing my arm against it while tying a shoe, etc. So I’m trying to get in the habit of using the shut-off valve when I’m not actually drinking from the bite valve.

My objective on this day was Mt. Dana, in the northeast corner of the park, about a two-hour drive from Yosemite Valley. As I began my drive, and while still in Yosemite Valley, I stopped to photograph Bridalveil Fall, a 617′ waterfall. This is one of two waterfalls (the other being Yosemite Falls) that may be easily seen from the valley.

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Bridalveil Fall

I bought a new camera about a week before this trip, a Panasonic Lumix GF1. This is a “Micro Four-Thirds” system camera, which allows for interchangeable lens. It has a 4:3 image aspect ratio, as opposed to the 3:2 ratio that was popularized by 35mm film cameras. The image sensor is somewhat smaller than the APS-C sensors used in most digital single-lens reflex cameras, but it’s still around 9 times the size of sensors used in compact digital cameras, allowing for three times the image quality. The “Micro” part means that unlike the full-sized “Four-Thirds” cameras, these cameras lack an internal mirror and optical viewfinder. Thus, they are not single-lens reflex cameras. The Micro Four-Thirds cameras are made by both Panasonic and Olympus. I actually bought the lens separate from the body, because I preferred the Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 zoom lens to the Panasonic lens, primarily because the Olympus lens collapses when not in use, making it more compact. The cameras have a crop factor (focal length multiplier) of 2, meaning that the 14-42mm lens is equivalent to a 28-84mm lens on a 35mm film camera. So it’s a wide-angle to slight-telephoto lens.

Except for when I went rafting, all the photos on this trip were taken with the GF1. As you will see, I have included a number of panoramic shots. I produced these by stitching two or more photographs, using Microsoft’s Image Composite Editor, a free (!) program. I did not have a tripod, so as I was panning the camera by hand to take multiple shots, some shots were lower or higher than others. This left some blank areas in the stitched photos. In many cases, I simply cropped out the blank areas. However, in other cases I used Gimp to clone a missing piece of sky or ground at the border or edge of a photo, when cropping would have caused too great a loss elsewhere in the photo. I also used Gimp to correct a curved foreground that had been introduced by the stitching of the above panorama.

Returning to my rental car, I continued driving through the park. The road wound its way through the park, gaining in altitude. Yosemite Valley is at 4,000′ elevation. My next stop along the way was Siesta Lake, just beside the road, at about 8,000.’

Siesta Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

Siesta Lake

Here are three shots at Siesta Lake in which I try out the depth of field with the camera/lens combination. In this first shot, I select the maximum aperture, F/3.5 (at 14mm). This is a narrow depth of field, and I focused on the foreground pine needles. The background trees beyond the lake are therefore not focused well.

Siesta Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

Siesta Lake

In this shot, I kept the same aperture, but changed the focus to the background trees, and so the foreground needles are not in focus.

Siesta Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

Siesta Lake

In this last shot, I selected the maximum aperture, F/22, for a broad depth of field. I don’t remember whether I focused at the foreground or background, but both are relatively focused.

Siesta Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

Siesta Lake

Continuing on my drive to the northeast corner of the park, my next stop was at Olmstead Point, with nice views:

Olmstead Point, Yosemite National Park, California

 

Olmstead Point, Yosemite National Park, California

 

Olmstead Point, Yosemite National Park, California

My next stop was at Tenaya Lake:

Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

The trailhead for Mt. Dana begins at the park’s northeast entrance/exit. I did not see a sign to the trail, so I asked at the ranger station at the exit, and the ranger said that the trail began at the back of a parking lot, and pointed toward a small lot that was marked for official vehicles only. Per her direction, I drove out of the park and parked along the road, where there were a few other cars. I walked around the back of the parking lot but didn’t see a trail, and wondered if she had really meant to wave toward the official vehicle parking lot or had meant a different parking lot, so I wandered around half an hour or longer looking in different areas. I finally asked another tourist, who led me to the trailhead, which did start several yards behind the parking lot. It was not marked at all, though. Apparently the Park Service doesn’t mark every trail.

While wandering around Dana Meadows, I took this photograph, which is one of my favorites from Yosemite.

Dana Meadows, Yosemite National Park, California

Dana Meadows

This is a stitched panorama showing one of the ponds at Dana Meadows, at the foot of Mt. Dana:

Pond at Dana Meadows, Yosemite National Park, California

The pond is very shallow and very clear; I am sure it is just runoff from the melting snow.

Pond at Dana Meadows, Yosemite National Park, California

Pond at Dana Meadows

Another shot of Dana Meadows, as I began climbing Mt. Dana.

Mt. Dana, Yosemite National Park, California

Mt. Dana

Mt. Dana is the second highest mountain in Yosemite National Park. The base of the mountain is around 10,000′, with the peak at 13,061′. (Mount Lyell, at 13,120′, is the highest mountain in Yosemite, but it is far from the roads and harder to climb.) Jeffrey P. Schaffer, Yosemite: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, recommended Mt. Dana as offering great views and being a moderate hike, with the 5-mile round-trip taking only 3 to 5 hours. A friend from law school was meeting me in Yosemite, and we planned to hike to the top of Half Dome on Wednesday, which all agree is a strenuous hike. So I thought that a moderate hike would be good for spending the day before my friend arrived.

Here is some of the interesting plant life. [Carol23 at GardenWeb.com has identified this as cynoglossum. It’s probably Western Hounds-tongue, cynoglossum occidentale, or perhaps Pacific Hounds-tongue, cynoglossum grande.]

Cynoglossum

Cynoglossum

Here’s Dana Meadows and the Kuna Crest from the trail up Mt. Dana:

Dana Meadows and Kuna Crest, Yosemite National Park, California

Dana Meadows and Kuna Crest

A little higher up, with an even wider panorama.

Dana Meadows and Kuna Crest, Yosemite National Park, California

At first the trail was regular soil, but about halfway up it became rocky.

Mt. Dana, Yosemite National Park, California

Mt. Dana

As I hiked above the tree line, I took a shot looking below. You can see that the trees end and the ground turns rocky. I noticed something sitting on that rock in the center of the photograph. I took the shot at maximum zoom, but that 42mm focal length (equivalent to 84mm on a 35mm film camera) is not even a 2x telephoto. I thought that when I viewed the photo at full-size on a computer that I’d be able to see what it was, and thought that it was probably a squirrel or something common like that.

Unknown animal, Mt. Dana, Yosemite National Park, California

Unknown animal

My camera makes images that are 4000 x 3000 pixels, which I have reduced in size to fit a monitor. In the next shot, I have cropped the image to just the center, and not reduced it in size (other than the thumbnail, obviously). But unfortunately, I still can’t tell what it is.

Unknown animal, Mt. Dana, Yosemite National Park, California

Unknown animal

I was now trudging over rocks and it wasn’t comfortable. Not only that, but I ran into snow banks and had to decide whether to skirt them or walk through them. Schaffer had said that when the trail ended, people generally just walked due east uphill, so I was trying to do that. I wasn’t having that much fun, though.

Mt. Dana, Yosemite National Park, California

Mt. Dana

Another panorama looking downhill toward Dana Meadows, with the Kuna Crest to the left:

Dana Meadows and Kuna Crest, Yosemite National Park, California

This shot shows the rocks that I was contending with, and shows the peak of Mt. Dana:

Peak of Mt. Dana, Yosemite National Park, California

Peak of Mt. Dana

This is a panorama that not only shows the peak of Mt. Dana, on the left, but to the right shows the Kuna Crest and then Dana Meadows.

Mt. Dana, Dana Meadows and Kuna Crest; Yosemite National Park, California

Another panorama:

Kuna Crest from Mt. Dana, Yosemite National Park, California

While I had the peak in sight, I also had developed a slight headache and was feeling a little light-headed. I had hiked to 13,000′ in elevation previously, years ago in Colorado, but I had acclimated to the altitude beforehand, camping at 8,000′ for one night, then hiking up to 10,000′ and camping there, and then hiking up to 13,000′ on subsequent days. I suspected that the low oxygen at the high altitudes was bothering me because I had not acclimated to it, so I decided to descend, and soon began to feel better. It was disappointing not reaching the peak of Mt. Dana, but at least I had gotten some exercise and taken some nice photos.

Here’s another interesting plant that I saw on the way downhill. This looks like something my vegetarian friends would serve for lunch, but another poster at GardenWeb identified it as a poisonous plant, the California Corn Lily, Veratrum californicum.

California corn lily

California corn lily

I finally made it back to my car, having spent 6 hours on what was supposed to be a 3-5 hour hike, and not having even made it to the peak. I probably reached about 12,000′. On the way downhill I began developing a blister on one toe. My boots are pretty good on level ground or going uphill, but going downhill on a steep grade, it seems that my feet slide forward a bit in the boots and rub against them. I’m not sure what to do about that: if I need different socks, different boots, etc.

I worried, “How can I hike 15 miles to the top of Half Dome in two days if I couldn’t even complete a 5-mile ‘moderate’ hike to the peak of Mt. Dana?” I also worried about whether the blister would cause trouble. But on the other hand, I knew that my problem with Mt. Dana was due to the altitude, and that the peak of Half Dome is “only” at 8,836′, where I would not experience a lack of oxygen. So I tried to reassure myself that Wednesday’s hike would go well.

I began driving back to Curry Village. My friend, Julie, phoned and said that she had arrived in the park and was checking into her cabin, so I told her that I would meet her at the Village in about an hour and a half. I only stopped along the way for a few minutes to shoot photos at Tuolumne Meadows, which I have stitched together into this panorama.

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, California

 

Next: Rafting on the Merced River.

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