Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Butler Adventure 2016 - The Yosemite Adventure

Day 5 - Yosemite National Park

“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” 
― Ansel Adams

The glitter of green and golden wonder, stone and space had a hold over me. I just can't explain it.

Unfortunately, at this park, we were not able to secure a reservation at a campground inside of the park. Apparently, if you want to do this, you have to reserve a spot as soon as the reservation system opens. Like at 12:01 am that day. Because we were not those people, planning this trip about 2 months in advance, we found a place called Yosemite Pines...which totes itself as being located at the "gateway to Yosemite".

Yosemite pines also offers panning for "gold" mud. 
What they don't tell you is that the "gateway" is about 40 mins away and Yosemite Valley is another 45 past that. It was worth the drive.

On our way in, we caught views of Half Dome and El Capitan. Towering slabs of granite as far as the eye can see. Majestic.

NOT El Capitan or Half Dome. 
We quickly found that Yosemite Valley is crowded. Very crowded. This year was the 100th anniversary of the US Park Service, making the park even a little more popular than ever, making parking a 26 foot RV a bit daunting.

On the advice of one of the physicians I worked with this summer, we set out that day to hike the Mist Trail, which happens to be part of the John Muir Trail - inspiring in itself. I wanted to do the entire 14 miles (round trip) all the way up to the area where you can summit Half Dome (to summit now requires a permit), but because we had gotten there so late, we just hiked as far as we could. We also took a brief look at lower Yosemite falls, which wasn't much - a trickle compared to what we were about to see.

The shuttle system in Yosemite is *amazing*. We took a shuttle a few miles down to Happy Isles, where we began our adventure that day. Happy Isles, as I found out, is the trailhead where most southbound John Muir Trail hikers start their 212 mile journey to Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous U.S. at 14,505 feet (which also requires a hard to get permit to get to).

After a brief "warm up" at Happy Isles, our hike took us up. Way up.

The vert here was NO joke. 
Along the way, we passed some of the most amazing sights I've ever laid my eyes on. The warm afternoon sun filtered through the pines and along the granite slabs.

It was so gorgeous. We passed Vernal Falls and the rush of the Merced River. The hike then took something of a turn that reminded me of the stairstepper at the gym.

It was steep with loose dirt and a little crowded in spots. Louis and I somehow separated from Ryan and got to a place where there was a lot of people standing around looking into the water. That's when someone asked us if we saw the bear? (This would become a very common theme during the trip.)

Look in the middle - BEAR!
In all the trips that I've taken to the mountains and National Parks, I have never seen a bear. And there it was...down in the rushing river. Perched on a log, picking fish out of the water like it was no big deal. What appears to most as a brown bear, was really a black bear.

As the ranger had told me in Sequoia National Park, black bears come in three colors; blonde, brown and black. Something I had not known! These bears are pretty much harmless and this one didn't seem to mind the crowd. This was such a great experience for Louis and I to see together. Unfortunately, Ryan missed out on the bear, but plenty of cool things awaited us later that day.

Guess who's feet didn't hurt? Boots or Altras? Altras for the win!
We climbed to the top of Vernal Falls and were able to look RIGHT over the falls. It was a rush! Of course to get there, required walking along the side of a cliff (where a fence was in place for safety).

Yep. Straight down the waterfall. 
We continued to climb and climb and climb until we reached Nevada Falls. We then spent the most relaxing, fun, afternoon here. Louis and Ryan waded in the peaceful lake below the falls, with the Liberty Cap rising to the left.. There were huge slabs of granite that spilled into the water, nearly as smooth as a countertop - smoothed after thousands, if not millions of years of water wear. A couple of young men made a slip and slide of sorts out of it and eventually, as expected, Louis did the same. I sat with what became a small group of people who were also lounging in the warm up and giggled and clapped when one of them would make it down the slab. I think we spent about 2-3 hours just sitting and enjoying ourselves. The ice cold water felt wonderful on our feet. So clear you could see the rocks in the middle. It was a place where you needed nothing else. No phone to look at, no book to read, no music to listen to. I sat for nearly two hours just looking at what was around me and watching the boys explore.

The evidence of the "slip and slide" in the background. 

Ryan & Louis' "yoga crow"

Me, doing actual yoga.

We could've played here all day!
As we hiked back down, the afternoon turned into a beautiful, cool, dusky evening.

A rainbow farewell.
When we got back to Happy Isle, we took the shuttle back to our RV (so, so easy!) and headed back to Yosemite Pines. We had a short moment of weakness where we considered staying at Yosemite one more day instead of heading to Oregon as planned the following day, but with both of us really wanting to see Columbia River Gorge, we stuck with the original itinerary and packed up the next morning. 

I think I stayed up until 3 am that night reading and researching about Yosemite and the John Muir Trail. Sometimes true inspiration can be so difficult to find. I honestly think the word inspiration is loosely overused, but being in this vast expanse of wild was true inspiration (at least for me it was). I felt like I took a piece of that trail with me.

“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”        -John Muir

I know why John Muir so loved the high Sierras and this wilderness, there was something so magical within its granite walls, valleys and meadows. Every step took you to something different, something even more enchanting.

Yosemite National Park and the JMT....we'll be back - this was only the beginning of a whole new adventure to come.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Butler Adventure 2016 - The Columbia River Gorge.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Butler Adventure 2016 Chapter One

It's been over a month since we started out on our big, kind of last minute (at least when it comes to National Park trips we found out) Butler Adventure 2016. What an adventure it was. I figured I'd better start writing down some of my thoughts before they disappeared or became a distant memory.
insert phone stuff

Day 1
Dallas to San Francisco

We took an early morning flight to San Fran in order to pick up the RV we had rented from this completely adorable couple outside of San Fran. After exploring all of our RV options, we decided to go with a private rental vs something like El Monte or Cruise America. Both of the later like to play the bait and switch game. They offer a reasonable price then double it when you actually want to reserve it. Plus, they upcharge you for anything extra. Like forks. And sheets. And yard chairs. Our RV had it all. It was stocked with everything you could possibly need and more.

After a lengthy orientation to all of the bells and whistles on our home for 17 days, the Leprechaun, we headed to meet and pick up our friends, Sean, Kristin and their adorable baby girl, who all lived outside of San Fran. They were joining us for the first leg of the trip to the Sequoias. We spent the night in their driveway (keepin it classy in San Fran!) and headed out the next morning.

Picking up a few things with these two cuties in tow. 
We arrived in Sequoia National Park mid afternoon and found the weather to be absolutely amazing. 70 degrees and almost no humidity. Heaven. When we got there, we headed to the Visitor Center where they told us of some things we might want to do.

That night we took a short hike to see the second tallest tree in the US - the Grant tree and saw several other ginormous trees along the way. I hiked with Heidi in a kiddo back pack (so fun, but a tough glute workout!). We had a campfire and crashed. All of the fresh air was almost exhausting!

On the park ranger's advice, the next day we headed to King's Canyon, a little traveled (mostly by PCT and JMT thru hikers), a stunning National Park right next to Sequoia NP. This park just isn't on many people's radar...and I'm not sure why that is. The granite slabs are incredible, they surround you everywhere.

There were plenty of rivers for all of us to dip our feet in (ICE COLD) and a few short hikes to just soak it all in.

Funny an attempt to "live a little" (Louis and Ryan's trip motto), Ryan decided to take a plunge into this pool of cold mountain water. Ryan's trip nearly ended here, or likely could've ended with search and rescue. 

Yeah....that head on the left? Ryan. 

Apparently, as he neared the waterfall, his body became hypothermic and he found himself being unable to breath very well. Luckily, he is a strong swimmer and practically forced himself to get back to the boulders where he jumped in. 

That evening I went on a short run near our campground. 3 miles down, 3 miles up. The down was really fun, the up was actually just as much! Apparently running on the trails in the Sierras is kind of frowned upon in some areas. Not because of breaking laws or disrupting the peace, but because of the wildlife. After getting well versed about bears and mountain lions by the park ranger the days before, she told me they see people who run as prey, like they are trying to get away. Oh well, like Louis told me about seventy five times on the trip, you have to live a little.

The payout was worth it. Beautiful views, filtered sunlight through the sequoias and being the only person on the trail was an amazing experience.

I not so secretly wished during the entire run, that I had places like that to run all of the time, despite bears and other things that attack.

I'd have kept going, but since it was getting dark, I headed back and rewarded myself with a smores.

On Sunday, it was time to head out to our next stop, Yosemite. We took Sean, Kristin and Heidi back to Fresno so they could get back to San Fran and moved on a little further north. We soon discovered that when google maps told us it would take a certain amount of time to get somewhere, we should easily add 3-4 hours to that. Throughout the trip, that theme remained the same.  While we wanted to get to the park on Sunday, we arrived to late, so we just relaxed at our campground.

Here are a few more photos from Kings Canyon...

These two...
Our adorable friends, Sean, Kristin and little Heidi.

We just could never get over how clear all the water was here and everywhere we visited!

Stay tuned for Chapter 2! Yosemite National Park.