TRIP REPORT: Snamping in Yosemite—Part 2

October 26, 2012 | Adventures, Trip Reports

Dewey_Point_FeaturedStory by Deek Speredelozzi • Photos by Deek Speredelozzi and Ian Stout •

trip_report_badgeYosemite Valley to Dewey Point

The morning of Saturday, March 24th dawns with more promise than we had gone to bed expecting; and so, after rising at around 8:30 AM, we feel little inclination to tarry around camp any longer than necessary, lest our window of opportunity should close up on us while we goof off. Nevertheless, Ian, ever the dutiful camera man, busies himself with photographic pursuits while I squander an hour journeying far and wide in search of a vacant restroom. I return from my lavatorial adventure to find him still at it—squatting behind this rock and that on the outskirts of our campsite, face hidden behind his trusty camera, tinkering with the slowly-shifting lay of the morning light, hoping to waste no opportunity for a good shot.

Standing over the still-smoldering remnants of last night’s fire, excavating the deep recesses of my mouth with a pasty toothbrush, I zone out on a black raven perched fearlessly on a nearby low-hanging branch. He pays me no mind; and after a few moments of quiet speculation on his day’s agenda, I take a swig of water from my bottle, rinse off my toothbrush, and spit the toothpaste into the fire ring. The fire ring sends up a gentle puff of ash in answer.

We drive away from camp at around 11 AM under partly-cloudy skies, bound for the snowy higher country. Thanks to the still-thin crowds of late March, we manage to thread our way through Yosemite Valley without any difficulty, cruising along the valley road enjoying the views of the winding Merced River—here flat, almost-placid, and very inviting, though beneath the surface its waters run icy cold, and hide strong, unpredictable sub-currents.

At the parking area for Bridalveil Falls we turn right onto Hwy 41 south and quickly begin to climb up out of Yosemite Valley, passing through the Wawona Tunnel and then curving off to the south, away from the staggering views and into a southwest-facing section of heavily-forested winding road, following the contour of the mountainside gently upwards. Fourteen miles from the valley floor, we turn left onto Glacier Point Road and climb gently for a few more miles before reaching the turn-off for Badger Pass Ski Area. Here, an eight-foot snow bank bars any further progress along Glacier Point Road; and so we turn right, into the ski area, which is also our trailhead.

Though the partial cloud cover has given way to sunny skies, today doesn’t strike me as a particularly good day for skiing, given how warm it is. Warm days make for slushy afternoons on the slopes. Anyway—not our problem.

We pull into the parking lot against a backdrop of ski lifts busily carting the nordic set to the top of wide white slopes. Ian mans the car as I run around the base lodge area looking for the ranger station; and after being given incorrect information by the first two employees I ask, I at last find the ranger hut, housed inconspicuously in an A-frame building at the base of one of the runs. I go inside and talk to the ranger for a few minutes, get our permits, pick up a few maps, and then head back to the car. We relocate to the part of the lot set aside for trailhead parking, lay all our gear out on the pavement, and start getting ready for our walk. The area is busy with the comings and goings of hikers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers. The early-afternoon sun beats down so hard enough upon us that we are both sweating as we go to and fro among our piles of gear, slowly packing our packs for our overnighter in the backcountry.

Snow has been predicted to start falling sometime between this evening and tomorrow morning; so we play it safe and put chains on the tires of the Vibe before walking away. No need to come back to a car buried in snow and have to put the chains on it then.

Into The Back-Country

Around 1 PM—bundled up like a potato in my thick winter coat, ski gloves, wool hat, sunglasses, and those ridiculously oversized snowboarding pants I picked up yesterday at the thrift shop in Mariposa, I lock the car, stick my keys in a safe inner pouch of my backpack, close it up, heave the pack up over my shoulder, slide into its straps, and walk away towards the trailhead. At the edge of the parking lot, a friendly German fellow approaches and asks for directions to the ski rental shop. In exchange for this information, he takes my camera and snaps a few photos of us, documenting for posterity that we at least made it to the trailhead.

We walk a short distance on a spur road before merging with Glacier Point Road—which is now, here on the back side of that large snow bank marking the highway’s wintertime endpoint for drivers, a snow-covered thoroughfare.

The road here is covered in a haphazard patchwork of boot-prints, elongated snowshoe tracks, and endless lines of parallel ski tracks leading uphill and out of sight around a bend, like the view you get of a rail line from a road crossing.

The afternoon sun is so warm that we quickly shed our outermost layers, and soon after that our middle layers; and before ten minutes have passed, we have taken off our gloves and hats, and are now walking in just our snow pants and hiking shirts. We make our way up the gently rising slope of Glacier Point Road, as views across the nearby high country open up to the northwest. If we were walking this stretch during the summer months, we would be walking on a paved highway, thick with cars, busses, and RVs.

Glacier Point

From Badger Pass Ski Area, it’s another ten miles out to the end of the road at Glacier Point. Those who step up to the overlooks at Glacier Point, whether they’ve toiled their way up and out of Yosemite Valley on the steep and precipitous Four-Mile Trail, or simply driven right into the parking lot at the end of the road, are rewarded by some of the most astonishing views to be found anywhere. Those who would seek to enjoy the sublime beauty of Glacier Point untroubled by the crowds, horns, and exhausts of summer tourist traffic, however, have only one choice: they must wait for winter to bring closure to the road, then drive up to Badger Pass Ski Area, and then labor for hours on cross-country skis before Glacier Point’s stunning vistas will be revealed to them.  Little is told of hardy winter adventurers struggling their way across the Glacier Point Road’s 10-mile-long blanket of white powder only to arrive at the overlook at the end of the road feeling underwhelmed by what they find there; for the views from Glacier Point are unparalleled, and few could ask for more from a high-country vista. The panorama seen from Glacier Point encompasses most of the terrain in the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, including: Vernal and Nevada Falls, in the Middle Canyon of the Merced River off to the east; the throbbing mass of Half Dome, to the northeast, a seeming mere stone’s throw away from here; the massive North Dome, directly across the valley, and hanging over its northern rim; the protruding angle of Yosemite Point to the northwest; and the breathtaking Upper Yosemite Falls, just behind and to the west of Yosemite Point. To the west and south, the contour of the land rises steeply and abruptly, gaining more than 200 vertical feet in the first half mile, and is thickly forested with Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Sugar Pine, White Fir, Incense-cedar, and many other fine trees. Though the mighty granite helmet of Sentinel Dome towers nearly 900 feet above Glacier Point, and is less than a mile west of it, it remains entirely hidden behind the rising slopes of the forest in that direction. The Glacier Point Road approaches its scenic terminus from the southwest, dropping steeply through the aforementioned forest over the course of its last half mile.

Dewey Point Ridge Snowshoe Trail

Glacier Point Road soon tops out at a low rise, beyond which it continues eastward, gently descending into the woods and out of sight around a bend. Beyond here, the road forsakes the long views, passing instead through dense forest and a series of high snowy meadows until the big payoff at Glacier Point is reached, nine miles further up the road.

Here at this low rise in the road, we have reached our proper trail—the one that will take us out to Dewey Point, on the south rim of Yosemite Valley, three miles due north of here (as the crow flies). Our route will carve a line across open, rolling country and along the east side of a low ridge-line, as it threads its way across the deep snow-covered forestlands which lay between Glacier Point Road and the valley rim. Now’s when the real fun begins.

We break left onto Snowshoe Trail #14, aka the Dewey Point Ridge Trail—a winter-only route marked by reflective yellow blazes bolted to the trees at appropriate intervals. The trail winds uphill at a moderate pitch; and we follow it, leaving Glacier Point Road behind—not to be seen again until we rejoin it on tomorrow’s return trip. There is no maintained footpath underlying this winter snowshoe trail; so in the summertime this route would appear as nothing more than open, trail-less back-country, though the tree blazes would still quietly describe the winter route.

The deep tracks left by previous snowshoe-clad travelers render the yellow tree blazes superfluous, for our purposes. We soon crest a rise and drop gently again into a snowy hollow, as the trail unfurls before our feet. We pass a group of four young guys returning from a day-trip out to Dewey. They insist that we are only an hour—90 minutes tops—from the Doint, though I am dubious on that claim. Wilderness Lesson #7: Never trust what people going the other way tell you about what remains of your route.

As the trail contours along the east side of Dewey Point Ridge, just below the crest, the winter forest opens up all around us. The land around us is too rolling, and the ridge too low, to allow for any long views at this point; but that is fine with us.

The forest is utterly silent, save for the soothing rhythmic report of my snowshoes dragging across the upper layer of powder, and my heavy breathing, which is amplified by the total silence all around.

The snowshoes, by exaggerating the surface area of each footprint, thus simulating much bigger feet, establish a larger point of contact with the soft powder on the surface, and thus enable us to seemingly float across the upper layer of the snowy white blanket with little difficulty. We sink only a few inches with each step, as opposed to the twenty or more inches we would sink in boots alone. This saves us not only time, but energy, as we are mercifully spared the task of having to withdraw our legs from deep, narrow post-holes with every other step. The primary upshot of this effect is that we are released from the conscious effort of walking, our brains thus freed up to forget that we are toiling at all, and instead just simply zone out on the sublime tranquility of the winter forest as we coast through in mellow, joyful silence.

After a short while the route crosses a high open meadow, and we snap a few photos of ourselves under the day’s big blue sky—for posterity. Both of us are feeling fit and unstoppable; and so far the weather is cooperating beyond our expectations. We’d certainly both been prepared to be traveling underneath a milky firmament of white clouds by this point; so the fact that the sky is as clear as can be is a most unexpected, and welcome, development.

Soon the snowshoe trail drops down from the ridge and re-enters the thick forest. The winter woodland is so serene, so wholly painted over in white, that I feel guilty after taking a leak beside a large cedar. I kick snow over the area I have discolored, returning it to its virginal white. Leave-no-trace pissing, I call it.

We pass a group of Asian tourists on the walk back from a day-hike out to the Doint. They’re all strapped into snowshoes, except the hindmost of the bunch, a middle-aged man who appears to be the leader of the group. He high-steps his way through the fluffy powder, which is two to three feet deep; yet not a hint of exhaustion or frustration is reported in his beaming countenance, though he sinks past his knees with every step. We ask him how he is faring in the deep snow; and he reports with a wide, boyish grin that he is having a blast. If he is secretly struggling, his face admits nothing to that effect—he’s in the zone. His smile is infectious as he treks on past us, following his snowshoe-clad team up an incline, keeping right up with them despite his seeming tactical disadvantage. Anyway, infectious smile or not, we don’t need any inspiration or encouragement to find our smiles. We’re totally in our element here as well.

Creating Something Out Of Nothing: To Build a Campsite

At a junction up ahead, Snowshoe Trail #18 enters in from the right, merging with our trail. This will be our return route tomorrow. I pause to take a good look around, in order to ensure that I can identify this spot on the return trip, even if new snows come along in the interim to obscure the existing tracks. As I stand there surveying the junction, my eyes are drawn to a low gap in the trees to the northeast, through which I espy, to my surprised amazement, Upper Yosemite Falls, far off across the valley, and perfectly framed in between the two trees on either side of the gap. At the top of the falls, the torrent of Yosemite Creek can be seen, screaming out over the valley through a tiny notch in the north rim, its ribbon of water slowly widening as it falls and dissipates through an initial sheer drop of more than 1,400 vertical feet.

Suddenly a chill late-afternoon breeze races through the area, sending shivers through the both of us. Time to jacket-up. We beef up our active wardrobes—once again donning our gloves, hats, and outer shells, and continue on our way.

We pass several groups of day-hikers, all returning from Dewey Point, as the late afternoon sun shows now through the trees to our left, and no longer from above them. After another twenty minutes or so, I can see through the trees up ahead that the view is about to bust wide open. “We must be coming up on Dewey Point,” I state, King of the Obvious. I suggest that we establish camp here under the protection of the trees before going out to the point; and Ian concurs. We split up to do reconnaissance on potentially viable camping flats: me circling left, Ian circling right; but everything I find is either at too much of an angle or too exposed for comfortable camping.

Reconvening with Ian a few minutes later, he points me to the most promising spot he was able to find; and I walk over to suss it out. The spot is okay; but it’s a little too close to the trail for my taste, even though I know that there will almost certainly be nobody passing by our site once the night comes down. Espying what appears to be a small, reasonably sheltered spot, another ten or fifteen yards deeper into the forest, I walk down to scrutinize its viability as a camp spot. The spot is large enough for, at most, one tent; but one tent is all we have. On one side of the candidate campsite, the trunk of a large fallen cedar, buried deep in snow and only discernible because of the tell-tale rise it creates in the snow cover, like a snake passing underneath a rug, promises some shelter from the wind, if it should happen to blow from the north or west. The spot is wide open to the north, though a couple of large boulders twenty or so feet away in that direction might serve to stymie any strong gusts from that quarter. On its northeastern side, the site is framed by a couple of tall, thin Lodgepole Pines; and to the south the sight opens up again to the forest floor, which trends downhill in that direction. Ian initially questions the spot, citing what he sees as the problematic slope of the ground beneath; but I insist that the snow is deep enough that we can dig out a sufficiently-flat tent platform. My confidence on this matter proves persuasive; and a few moments later our packs sit leaning against the fallen cedar trunk, our snowshoes leaning against them, as we furiously kick with our boots and dig with our gloved hands in an attempt to get the campsite-setup phase behind us as soon as possible. The magnetic pull of Dewey Point, which is just over the low rise to the north, is now strong upon us.

After ten minutes of digging in the snow, we have carved out a reasonably flat spot that now looks as if it could accommodate my trusty REI Quarter Dome tent, which can easily sleep two, comfortably. I have shared this tent with my wife and dog on countless occasions; and two years ago, high up on the frigid slopes of Mount Shasta, I shared the tent with two friends who, though we were all three crowded shoulder-to-shoulder were, like me, more than willing to suffer this invasion of personal space in exchange for the gain in collective body heat, which would prove its value by enabling us to actually find some rest amidst the incessant gusts of subzero wind racing down from on high throughout the whole of that night.

Panic, Interrupted

The intricacies of working the tiny zippers and traditional pole-and-sheath mechanisms of modern-day backpacking tent setup are well outside the scope of what I can competently affect with thick gloves on my hands; and so I remove my gloves, stuffing them in the pockets of my ski-jacket, and set to the task of setting up the tent. Almost immediately, I begin to feel the icy chill air assailing my fingertips; though for a time I force this out of my mind, reasoning that the tent must be set up, and that it can’t really be done efficiently with gloved fingers.

After erecting the tent, we observe that the flat that we have etched into this sloping, snowy hillside is a just a hair too small to serve us properly. Instead of casting the tent aside and building out the platform further, however, we decide to just jam the tent into the space we have already created, and stabilize it by forcing the corner poles down into the surrounding deep snow. In doing this, I subject my fingers to more cold than they can withstand; and at once a delirious, frost-born panic sets itself to work within me, rising quickly and terribly. At once wholly abandoning the task of campsite setup, I begin to dwell, with an uncharacteristic level of on-trail drama, on the fast-spreading numbness infiltrating my hands and fingers. Stuffing my hands deep into my pockets achieves nothing in the way of relief; and I quickly begin to fancy that we might be in serious trouble if we endeavor to spend the night here. Ian, for his part, is not the least bit worried about this sudden silly madness that has taken possession of me; and he encourages me to bundle up as necessary to stave off the cold, and more importantly, my grave forecasts of its more insidious potential implications. I raid my pack in a frenzied bid to regain my composure at once; and soon I am wearing everything I have brought with me, save for one mid-weight sweatshirt; though it is only 3:30 PM. What am I gonna do when the night sets in and the temperature drops another 20 or 30 degrees, and all my warm shit is already on my body? “We’ll have to have a big fire”, I declare, in what is as much a desperate attempt to convince myself that I might again feel warm as it is a voicing of a fairly standard plan for a night of back-country camping.

“There’s no fucking way we’re getting a fire going in three feet of snow!” Ian laughs, balking at my assertion and dismissing it out of hand, adding pragmatically, by way of disaster-scenario-aversion “Dude, you’ll be fine—you’ve just gotta move around a bit. You’ve spent the last twenty minutes sitting or kneeling in snow, with your hands and fingers buried in it. And you just came off two and a half hours of non-stop exertion. Just fuckin’ move a little.”

I see the wisdom of his words, and suddenly feel completely ridiculous, as if I were some kind of un-weathered newbie amateur who’s never before had to try to willfully counteract the mental effects of bitter cold. I commence to deliberately moving about in place. “But we will definitely be spending our night around a raging hell-fire,” I add as an afterthought, unwilling to concede on that particular point.

The Doctor Is: IN

As I stand there like a fool, doing a stupid, pathetic jig in three feet of soft powder, I feel a vague sense of warmth, oozing in from some remote quarter to replace the ungovernable panic that has held me so firmly in its grasp for the last five minutes. Wilderness Lesson #4: Sometimes it’s better to act a fool for a few minutes than to just prematurely give oneself over to utter despair.

Seeing his familiar old friend Deek slowly reemerging from behind the panic-monster that has held me captive for the past several minutes, Ian suggests, with prescient timing, that maybe we need to smoke a bowl. Though our supply is tragically limited, dipping into it is clearly the call at the moment.

No sooner has Ian finished voicing his suggestion that we fire one up immediately, than I sense movement in my periphery. Turning my head to the right, I see a vivacious yet burnt-looking middle-aged man swishing over towards us on skis. You won’t see a more well-choreographed and timely entrance on any Broadway stage. The man swishes to a stop in front of us with the perfect form of one entirely imagined—far too fluid to be credible at face value, under the circumstances. He greets us cheerfully, then calls to his friend, who immediately appears from out behind one of the large boulders a short distance away and comes over to join in the consultation.

The first man looks around for a moment, as if needing to confirm that he hasn’t been followed, and that our enclave is not under any kind of surveillance. Though unnecessary in the deep woods of the Yosemite winter, his security scan is performed as a thing of rote, the kind of perfunctory gesture that lodges itself early on, and inextricably, in the repertoires of all serious weed enthusiasts from coast to coast. “You guys wanna smoke some pot?” he inquires with a wide, friendly, trusting grin, as if he’d never once met a single dick-head in his lifetime

The dude’s arrival into our camp reads like one of those mini-skits at the end of a GI Joe cartoon episode, wherein, typically, a group of kids is faced with some kind of temptation or threat, and waivers on the proper course of action, only to have some fatigues-clad Joe show up on the scene, out of nowhere, to provide reasoned guidance to the puzzled youths. It always ends the same way, with the Joe turning to the “camera” to directly address the viewer at home with a simple moral lesson along the lines of: “Remember, kids—It’s never a good idea to pet strange dogs”, or “Remember, kids—You should never walk out onto a frozen pond” or “Remember, kids—You should never blah blah blah.” You get the point.

After a fleeting shared glance of bewildered acknowledgement between Ian and myself, we both respond “Fuck yeah, we do! In fact, we were just about to do exactly that.”

“Yeah, well you can put your shit away, because I’m stacked”, replies this golden vision of salvation, already rummaging through his little zipper-enclosed hemp pouch to retrieve the necessary accoutrements. Sticking the little pouch back into his pocket, he then, with the utmost precision, un-shoulders one strap of his day-pack, swings the pack around to his front side, unzips the pack, reaches inside, withdraws a mini-bong, re-zips the pack, and swings it back onto his shoulder—all of which plays out in my eyes as one fluid motion. “Oh, by the way—I’m The Doctor,” he says almost as an afterthought, his proffered hand holding the mini-bong out to me.

“You sure as shit are!” I answer in stunned acceptance, receiving the offered device with enthusiastic zeal. We all stand around for a few minutes, shooting the shit and putting a nice glaze on our moods. The sudden sense of camaraderie is palpable. Any sense of impending death-by-frost is long gone. We are safer than hobbits, newly reunited with Gandalf.

After a few minutes of palling around with our unexpected guests, our mental ailments now fully cured, The Doctor excuses himself and his companion, as they ready to ski back to their car at Badger Pass. Now, my good sense assures me that, when these two guys left us, they skied away across the rolling floor of the forest; but as I reflect on the timeliness and manner of their from-out-of-nowhere appearance on the scene, my memory urges me to report that they simply called out “Up! Up, and away!” and took to the air like the unlooked-for superheroes that they were to us. Surely there had to be some other pair of dudes sitting around, somewhere in this vast Yosemite back-country, who were also in dire need of the succor of herbal relief; and I like to think that it was off to their rescue that our two heroes flew.

Anointing The Doint

With camp set up, and our grins painted on as wide they would go, it is time at last to make tracks out to Dewey Point, the primary point of this whole mission. Not only has my frost crisis passed; but the air has also grown somewhat less brisk over the last fifteen or twenty minutes. I notice that the wind seems to have changed direction, if not stopped entirely. Regardless, I’m not about to be caught standing on Dewey Point without the proper gear when the cold comes rushing back, as surely it will at some point in the not-too-distant future; so I bundle up, just to be on the safe side. I begin walking towards the opening in the trees a few hundred yards to the north-northeast; and Ian, preparing his camera bag, calls out that he’ll be right behind me in a minute or two.

I reach the valley rim a few minutes later, after having politely cut a wide berth around a tent pitched nearby. I am now staring down into an abyss more than 3,400 feet deep. The whole western end of Yosemite Valley is laid out before me as if I am looking at a life-size 3-D topo map of the area, and not the area itself. Before I can settle down and start drinking in the magnificent vista, however, I notice, off to the right by no more than a half a mile, and a few hundred feet lower than my current perch, a spit of land jutting several hundred feet northward out over the valley—bulbous at its northern end, but joined to the south rim by a narrow isthmus-in-the-sky. “That,” I say to myself, without a shred of doubt, “is Dewey Point.” At once I make for the Doint, pulling back from the brink of the rim so as to take a less perilous route down to this enticing spit of land. As I descend the hillside leading down towards the little aerial isthmus, trudging through wholly-untrodden virgin snow at least two feet deep, I see Ian emerging from the woods, following the existing tracks of previous hikers, and taking a line which intercepts mine right at the spot where the arm of Dewey Point departs from the main valley wall.

Isthmus-In-The-Sky

Stepping out onto the aforementioned Isthmus-In-The-Sky, I immediately notice that there is, shockingly, no wind blowing whatsoever. What an unexpectedly pleasant development. I had certainly been taking it as more or less a given that our time on Dewey Point would be spent striving against fierce winds. I mean, it’s 5 PM on a late-March afternoon; and I’m hanging out on a precipice more than 3,000 vertical feet above Yosemite Valley: Old Man Winter should, by rights, be assailing us with his icy breath right about now. And I know he doesn’t just simply hang it up the very second the calendar reports the beginning of springtime, as it did just three days ago. I’ve seen the old bastard linger for months after his shift was supposedly up. Well, no matter—maybe he went out to run a quick errand or something. Better enjoy the serenity while I can.

I find what I deem to be a relatively safe spot for stashing my water bottle, hat, gloves, and coat—none of which are immediately necessary under the current conditions, but any of which would take to the sky in an instant, with little to no resistance, if the wind were to suddenly pick up in earnest. I step out onto the rock of Dewey Point as Ian, who is just walking up, pauses to shed some superfluous gear.

Though the forest behind me is blanketed two to three feet deep in deep winter white, the granite on which I now stand is covered by only a thin layer of hard-packed frozen snow, thanks to the regular high-howling winds which have shorn the surface of this rock free and clear of loose powder.

There are little pockets of deep snow here and there, however, filling the numerous cracks and crevices in the rock, and—more far more perilously—blanketing the surface of the rock on either side of the narrow granite path below my feet, which is at all points sloped nauseatingly towards the abyss—an abyss which now surrounds me on both sides. I have a swath of land no more than 15 feet wide upon which I can walk in (presumed) relative safety, provided that the winds remain dormant; but if I were to step beyond this area, I would effectively be shoving a great big middle-finger squarely in the face of the gods—just begging to be taught a terminal lesson. Keeping for now to the mid-most portion of the aerial isthmus, I make my way out to the point: Doint Point, if you will.

Near its outermost extreme, the Isthmus-In-The-Sky eventually flares out into, as I mentioned earlier, a more bulbous promontory, which rises another five or ten feet higher than the rest of the protruding spit of land comprising Dewey Point. Sundering the isthmus from the mass of Doint Point is a deep fissure in the rock, down through which I can see a vertiginous gap of at least a thousand feet. The fissure is only a couple of feet wide, however; and on its far side rests a pile of large, angular granite boulders, all far too large to let the addition of my meager body weight be any cause for concern regarding their stability. It’s an easy jump; and I make it without hesitation, though I make a point not to look down as I leap. Climbing up to the apex of the point, some twenty to thirty feet beyond the fissure, I probe my way gingerly out to its northern end, crawling on all four limbs to ensure proper purchase on the rocks. At the outermost extreme of the point I find a bench of rock just large enough to sit on comfortably.

Yosemite Valley In Relief

I sit on a ledge 7,335 feet above sea level and 3,300 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley, which is immediately before me. This is an entirely new vantage point for me, as my travels to the south rim have hitherto been limited to Glacier Point, the Four-Mile Trail, and Sentinel Dome. The sky is a light turquoise, to the east cloudless but for a few straggling wisps of cirrus, to the west filling up throughout with a large alto-cumulus formation. All in all, a pretty benign-looking sky. I can’t believe there is still no sign of the storm that was supposedly due to come sweeping in here at any time after mid-day today; but I am glad for its late, if ever, arrival. Had the weather already turned on us, we would have had to forego this foray out onto Dewey Point. I take a look around from my tiny perch in the sky.

The star of the show from here is, without a doubt, El Capitan, which looms over the valley almost directly across from where I sit, a little off to the right. A few hundred feet higher than my current position at its uppermost point, the top of El Cap is visible to me. I can see now for the first time that, for a climber reaching the top of the vertical face of the monolith, which rises 3,000 feet off of the valley floor at a sheer 90-degree angle, the work is not yet over. There is still another almost 600 vertical feet to go before you top out absolutely; and this last 600 feet must be taken on a still very steep angle, albeit not one of 90 degrees.

I’d always pictured that if you made it to the top of El Cap, you could sit there right on the brink and peek your head over the edge to watch the other climbers chipping their way up the face of the bitch; but from here I now see that this would be no easier to do than would sitting on the edge of a steeply-slanted rooftop with one’s feet planted in the rain gutters for stability.

Then again, anybody bad-ass enough to hand-and-foot their way up that first 3,000 vertical feet can probably muster the nerve to hang onto the lesser-angled slope above. Either way, don’t look for me up there, ever.

The outlet of Upper Yosemite Falls is sadly, just out of view, hidden behind the protruding bulk of El Capitan; but that’s okay—I saw it earlier today, through that perfectly-placed gap in the forest. Further to the right, however, the easternmost edge of Yosemite Point is just visible, and behind that, North Dome. To the northeast, beyond North Dome, the upper reaches of Tenaya Canyon can be viewed, and behind that, the towering ridge-lines of Clouds Rest, the Quarter Domes, Cathedral Peak, and the distant Sierra Crest above Tioga Pass, nearly 30 miles distant at its most remote. The view of the easternmost end of the valley is blocked by the mass of Sentinel Dome, whose lower flanks jut out from the southern wall of the valley by more than a mile, and whose upper bulk protrudes far enough to obscure all but the uppermost reaches of Half Dome, whose head can be seen sticking out skyward directly behind the rounded top of Sentinel Dome. Due to the angle from here, however, the shocking relief of Half Dome is significantly understated, its breathtaking promontory aspect greatly mitigated by the high country far behind, which, to the eye of one peering from Dewey Point, seems to blend in quite naturally with the curvature of the dome, creating the illusion that Half Dome is merely an extension of that land beyond, and not the ludicrously profound fin of granite that I know it to be in truth. As I stated, Sentinel Dome dominates the view to the east; and the rolling forests of the south rim fill the space in between there and where I sit, though it so bothers my sense of stability to twist my neck any further in that direction that I abandon that view before really studying it all too closely.

Directly below, I can almost see the improbably narrow notch through which Bridalveil Falls pours into Yosemite Valley; though its brink is hidden from view by the intervening mass of the aptly-named Leaning Tower, a narrow rock fin jutting up from the valley floor, an off-shoot of the lower south rim. To the rock-climbing community, the Leaning Tower is arguably the crown jewel of Yosemite Valley’s south rim prominences.

In between the Leaning Tower and the looming Cathedral Rocks, just beyond, is sandwiched Bridalveil Creek. When you stand at the foot of Bridalveil Falls, in Yosemite Valley, it looks from there as if the falls pour forth from near the very top of the valley’s south rim; but from here the reality can be observed: that the lip of Bridalveil Falls is a mere fifth of the way up the southern wall of the valley. The vertical relief between Dewey Point and the top of Bridalveil Falls is more than four times the vertical relief between the top of the falls and the valley floor. I am amazed.

Looking off to the left, the winding Lower Merced River Canyon can be seen meandering away west before curving out of view behind Tunnel View Mountain (or whatever it’s called). Reeling in my eastward gaze just a bit, I am shocked to notice the seemingly lilliputian Tunnel View Point parking area, 3,000 feet below, looking unfathomably remote and utterly insignificant from here, though I can clearly recall the valiant struggle against vertigo in which I was engaged, not 24 hours ago, while probing my way along the edge of its precipitous northern cliff-face. It seemed so high to me then; but from here the relief between that spot and the valley floor seems profoundly negligible. Perspective is everything, I think to myself, in absolute awe of Yosemite for probably the thousandth time. This place is so grand, so unlike any other place, that the human mind cannot retain for long the vastly dramatic impressions that the area burns into it. It’s simply too much to comprehend; though we try. But it is for this reason, among others, that Yosemite never gets old;—it just keeps us coming back for more. Even if we persist in visiting the same features over and over again, their magnificence never begins to feel tired or played-out. But there is a whole lot to see in this enormous natural play-land; and I aim to see as much of it as I can before the reaper comes for me.

Verti-Go Bye-Bye

As I retreat from the outermost precipice, and hop over the narrow fissure separating Doint Point from the Isthmus-In-The-Sky, Ian is just making his way, and tentatively, out across the frozen surface of level granite. I encourage him to venture out onto Doint Point; but he balks at that idea as soon as he leans forward and begins to perceive the deep fissure over which I have just jumped. “You’re fucking crazy, man,” he states, matter-of-factly, turning back to his camera and retreating a few steps back onto the isthmus.

The funny thing is, I’ve always been afraid of heights; though in my adult life I have managed to temper the extremity of what was once quite literally, I believe, a genuine, bona-fide phobia. As a kid, I was terrified of heights: I mean like—Don-Knotts-as-The-Reluctant-Astronaut terrified of heights.

But somewhere along the line I managed to un-learn that abject, paralyzing terror of high places; or more accurately, I managed to somehow convert that fear into a kind of adrenaline rush; and by the time I was in my late teens, I had learned to relish the thrill of venturing out onto lofty precipices. But the fear of high places has never left me entirely. I still feel that rush of apprehension and tentativeness whenever I’m inching my way along the edge of some abyss or another; I just know how to manage it now. You could still absolutely never get me to work on skyscrapers—not for any amount of money. I don’t know how anybody does that. Put me out on a steel girder 100 stories above city streets, and without a doubt you’ll see that old me emerge at once.

The early spring air is clear and crisp, facilitating the viewing of far-off peaks and spires. Ian has set up his tripod and pointed it eastward up the valley. He stands behind his viewfinder, watching the world through its lens, waiting for that moment of perfect light—a moment that may or may not ever even arrive. No matter—he has the patience to wait it out. Me? I have to keep moving about, to ensure that no crevice or precipitous vantage point goes un-probed. I scamper about the ledges and cliffs along the Isthmus-In-The-Sky, and at one point find myself standing up to my knees in snow, peering over a ledge that sits just below the surface of the rock, on its west-facing side. The ground falls away for thousands of feet before my eyes; and as I look more closely at the wall connecting Dewey Point to the higher promontory from which I first viewed it, I track the debris lines left by falling rocks that have tumbled down the vertiginous face: long, skid-marked channels that begin twenty or so feet below the upper lip and race directly downward for hundreds, maybe a thousand, feet, at last ending at some yet-steeper drop-off—ending as abruptly as a downhill skier’s tracks at the lip of a ski-jump. A light breeze blows in from the west. I take this as my cue to retreat to terra-firmer.

Night Falls On Dewey Point

It is pushing 6:30 PM.The wind has picked up. The temperature has dropped a few degrees; and the hats have returned to our heads. I suggest a return to camp; but Ian lobbies for fifteen more minutes on the Doint. I’m fine with that, I decide. But before five more minutes have elapsed, I have grown markedly colder; though I don’t feel so much as a shred of that dire panic that I felt earlier. I’m just cold—like a normal person feels cold. I make mention of the temperature shift to Ian, though; and he has felt it, too, and decides to close up shop. We collect our gear and head back up to our campsite, back in the forest above and behind us.

Back at camp, I set myself straightaway to the task of debunking Ian’s theory that there’s “no fuckin’ way” I’ll get a fire going in this frosty white wilderness. Enlisting his help at wood gathering, I head off towards a giant cedar trunk lying in the woods near our camp, its many branches now within grasp, thanks to the tree’s horizontal position. I hop up onto the back of the tree and start twisting and pulling at stubborn branches, tossing them down to Ian just as soon as I can snap them loose from the trunk. He drags the branches over to camp, and returns for more. In this way we collect a good-sized pile of mid-sized branches (3-6 inches in diameter at their widest); and then we gather up a healthy stash of smaller branches, to be used for kindling and fuel.

The wood-gathering complete, I retrieve my fold-up backpacking chair from the tent, take a seat in the snow down at the lowest point in the site, and begin digging a shallow pit in the snow. In a few moments we have a nice little fire-pit.

It’s only about a foot and a half wide, and only six inches deep, dug completely out of snow—I didn’t bother digging all the way down to the dirt. Ian questions whether this pit is big enough for our purposes; and I reply proudly that this is a self-enlarging fire-pit. The heat from the fire will slowly melt away the surrounding snow, deepening and widening the pit as the night wears on, I explain. He seems to accept this as plausible enough. I crumple up some newspaper and toss it in the middle of the pit, and then build a tiny tepee of twigs over it. On top of this I build another tepee of larger twigs, and then kneel down and apply a lighter to the crumpled newspaper. The paper flares to life, giving flame to the house of twigs on top of it. I spend a few minutes tending to the fire, teaching it a measure of self-sufficiency. After ten minutes of delicately coaxing the fire along through its nascent phase, I decide it’s time to take off the training wheels, and sit back to watch proudly as the little fire begins to flourish, seemingly of its own volition. Satisfied with the fire for the moment, I unwrap my second burrito—carnitas—and start chomping.

Doint Talk To Strangers

After dinner, I suggest that we take a walk out to the overlook from which I first spotted Dewey Point, late this afternoon. Understandably, Ian’s interests at this point in the day lie well outside the domain of strapping back into snowshoes and exerting any further energy; but after a bit of light prodding, I manage to sell it. “We’ll be back here in 20 minutes, tops. Come on, dude.” The pitch went something like that.

We stroll out to the same high point on the rim which I had visited earlier, again cutting wide around that lone tent, so as to not freak anybody out by walking right through their front yard in the still of the night. We sit on the rock ledge and look down into the valley.

The sky is painted a deep hue of navy-blue, though it inches more towards black with each passing minute. The waxing crescent moon has already sunk below the horizon for the night; so there should be plenty of celestial sight-seeing on offer a little later this evening. For now, though, the star-scape has yet to erupt to its full grandeur, due to the dim glow in the western sky—the very last vestiges of daylight from the fleeing sun, which set more than an hour ago.

The western end of Yosemite Valley does not contain any buildings; so the only lights to be seen below are the isolated headlights of the few cars still making their way across the valley floor, and the blinking yellow light at the junction of Highways 140 and 120, far off to the left. I notice a vehicle making its way up the slope of Highway 41 towards the Wawona Tunnel, 3,000 feet below. I point this out to Ian; and he looks down just in time to see the red glow of the car’s tail-lights abruptly extinguished, as the car disappears into the Wawona Tunnel. Just as I was earlier, seeing this spot from Doint Point, Ian is shocked to see just how far below us Tunnel View actually is.

After we’ve been sitting on the ledge for five or ten minutes, a beam of artificial light assails us from behind, coming from the direction of that lone tent, which sits about 50 yards away. We turn around to see what’s up; but the bright beam is shining straight into our eyes, blinding us to whatever else is over there. Without warning the light suddenly goes off; and we are able to discern, just barely, the faint shapes of two or three people, standing behind one of the fallen tree trunks sheltering their site, regarding us through the darkness. “Hi!” I call out to them, in a good-faith effort to reassure them that we are just friendly fellow campers, and not, I don’t know…what else would we be, sitting out here in the dark of night?

My salutation elicits no verbal response; but the blinding headlight beam goes back on, seemingly in answer to my salutation, and shines directly in our faces once again. Again I venture a would-be icebreaker: “Hi, how are ya?” Again, nothing. At once through with the unreciprocated niceties, I start to get annoyed at this seemingly pointless intrusion into our mellow. “Either say hello, or say something else, or get that fucking light out of our grills,” I say for Ian’s ears only; though I probably should have said it loud enough for the strangers to hear. Do these jackasses think it’s acceptable to just flood us with light and not respond to our friendly overtures? The light continues to shine directly in our eyes. “Can you please turn the light off?” I call out in a tone that grossly exaggerates how friendly I’m feeling at this point in the standoff. No response. The light continues to shine on us. WTF?! Now I’m really irritated. Even if they don’t speak English, they must at least know how to say “Hello” in English; and even if they don’t, they must be at least reasonably well versed in the International Language of Get-Your-Goddamn-Beam-Out-Of-My-Face.

Suddenly the beam goes off. I strain my eyes to see if the bodies have retreated back to their tent; but my eyes are now full of swimming amoebic floaters, thanks to the floodlight treatment they’ve been subjected to for the past couple minutes; so I see nothing. At any rate, it’s time to move on. We should get back to the fire before it dies out completely, anyway.

We stroll back into camp a few minutes later; and straightaway I load up the expanding fire-pit with a new layer of small sticks, then cover that with a criss-crossing array of larger branches.  Immediately the fire begins to spring back to life; and as it grows, the radius of its light begins to expand outward across the forest, creating an effect wherein trees seem to just come into being, one-by-one, on all sides of us, illuminated by the ever-widening circle of fire-light. I dig into my pack for the Nalgene bottle full of red wine that I know is in there somewhere, and take my seat by the fire once again.

The Doubted Campfire

“Okay, I’m impressed,” Ian says, laying back in his camping chair, his face cast in flickering orange from the large, crackling fire lashing wildly at the air in between us. “I didn’t think you could get a fire going at all in these conditions; and you whipped that thing into shape in no time flat.”

“This doom was full-wrought ere the clock struck 4 PM this afternoon,” I reply with gravely-exaggerated seriousness, eyes focused intently on the blazing inferno raging just beyond the toes of my boots, which I have dug into the snow for support, to keep me from sliding downhill into the fire-pit. “And you should never question the pyro’s ability to set the landscape ablaze at need, or will.” The pit has almost tripled in size in the hour and a half since I first fashioned it; and the brown dirt of the forest floor can now be seen through the smoldering embers.  I take a nice fat pull from the wine, and toss it across the fire towards Ian. It lands upright in the snow, within reach of his hand. As he twists off the cap to take a sip of it, I chase my wine with a swig of harsh bourbon. After a moment of gagging and facial contortion, I sit back, pleased with the warming effect of the hard liquor. I rest for a moment, and then start packing a post-dinner bowl.

By now the night has been in full-effect for almost an hour. The sky is black; and there are still no clouds to report. A few stars can be seen through the tops of the trees overhead, though the radiant light of the fire drowns out most of them. The night air is cold against my back, though my front side is as toasty as can be. In fact, I had to move several inches back from the fire a few minutes ago, because I noticed that the soles of my boots had begun to melt, though I caught them before any real damage could be done.

We roast and chill by the fire for a couple more peaceful hours, in that time making several more forays into the woods to gather more wood for fuel. The fire pit is now almost five feet in diameter; and a patch of brown earth at least three feet across underlays its flaming bed. When we run out of wood for the third or fourth time, we decide not to collect any more of it, and settle in to watch the fire burn down. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, the fire has ceased to project sufficient heat beyond the perimeter of the pit; and the cold wastes no time moving in on us. It’s time for bed.

One good thing about a fire-pit made of snow, in a forest whose entire floor is covered in it, is that you don’t have to worry about the forest going up in flames if you sack out and leave the fire to burn itself out completely.

At 11:30, we walk away from the fire and crawl into my tent. Before zipping the rain-fly closed for the night, I take one last look at the night sky through the tree-tops. A zillion stars twinkle above, the brightness from the fire having been mitigated with the fire’s gradual decline. There is still not a cloud to speak of, anywhere in the sky above.

The Infernal Alarm Clock

I am awakened at 5 AM by my infernal alarm clock—the one that lives in my bladder. Though I am toasty in my sleeping bag, my exposed forehead cannot help but report on just how cold it has gotten in these recent wee hours; and I balk at the idea of stepping outside to relieve myself. For like the seven hundredth time in my life, I decide I’ll try to silence the voice speaking to me from deep inside my body, and attempt to sleep through my need to urinate. So far, my lifetime record in this game is 0-699; but like a jerk who simply cannot seem to take a hint, I go for it once again. Though I do succeed in dropping back out of consciousness for a time, I am pursued even in slumber by unpleasant dreams about having to take a piss: in a job interview, stuck in traffic—wherever I might be where taking a leak isn’t really an option. I reawaken around 5:45, the throbbing in my bladder now impossible to ignore, and the last 45 minutes of sleep having been wholly unsatisfying. I should have just dealt with it when I woke up before, I think to myself, chastising my futile stubbornness. I lay there for another minute, recalling my bladder-influenced dreams. Conceding at last that I must step outside the tent immediately, or suffer through every remaining moment, I extract my body from my sleeping bag, locate my boots, and fumble about trying to get them on while still inside the tent. I unzip the tent door and step out into the frigid cold of the early morning.

The world outside of our nylon abode has changed dramatically in the six hours since we sacked out. Stepping away from the tent to go stand in the snow nearby, purging the overdue contents of my pesky bladder, I can just perceive the barely-discernible caress of tiny snowflakes falling against the bridge of my nose. The storm has arrived at last, though in its present form it feels more like a much wished-for Christmas Eve snowfall than a run-for-cover-before-it’s-too-late kind of situation.

Nevertheless, I say aloud “Yo—you know it’s snowing? Probably almost an inch on the ground already. Do you think we should get up now and clear out of here before we get buried?”

“Screw it—let’s sleep for a few more hours. We’ve only got four miles to go; and we’ve got snowshoes,” is the groggy reply heard from inside the tent. “And close that fuckin’ tent door, dude.”

Ian’s response is the very response I was hoping for; and so I crawl right back into the tent, pull off my boots, slide back into my bag, and settle back down to sleep in the utmost comfort, immensely glad to have taken care of business. Before I drop out of the conscious world, my attention is arrested by the faint sound of footsteps and low voices. Must be those weirdos from that other tent up the way, bailing out of the woods while they still can.

The Wilderness Transformed

We awaken for real at 9 AM. Laying in my bag rubbing my eyes, I am surprised at just how dull the light in the tent is, for so late in the morning; but I know what it portends. As I climb out of the tent, the ruffling of the rain-fly dumps a thick layer of new snow onto my head; and my suspicions are confirmed. The forest is almost unrecognizable, having been utterly transformed into an active winter wonderland. Yesterday’s snowshoe tracks have disappeared completely beneath a new layer of freshly-fallen snow, as has any evidence of last night’s blazing campfire. Several inches of new powder have already fallen; and it continues to come down in thick flakes. Visibility has been reduced to about 30 yards.

Though yesterday we had been somewhat concerned about possibly getting snowed into the forest, we are not the least bit concerned about it now. It’s only four miles back to the car, through relatively flat terrain. We have snowshoes, plenty of warm clothing, and a good night’s rest just behind us. And the trees are marked with blazes that should guide us back to Glacier Point Road with little difficulty.

Feeling the need for a little morning sustenance, I sit down in the open doorway of the tent, with my booted feet resting in the soft powder just outside, and take down the tail end of last night’s burrito. Still delicious—even with frozen snow crystals mingling with the pork and beans. That’s one good thing about snamping: the burritos can keep for many days in conditions such as these.

Now that my burrito has been polished off, I set myself to the task of breaking camp. We take down the tent last, seeing as how it’s the only place we can keep the rest of our gear out of the weather while we pack up. We make quick work of the task, however; and by 9:45 we are moving.

The Silent Woodland

The forest is utterly tranquil and serene, the nascent morning profoundly peaceful. The snow falls without a sound. We are glad to have this all to ourselves. Our snowshoes track through the soft, fluffy, virgin powder with ease and grace, our footfalls nearly soundless.

The air is thick with falling snowflakes, muffling all sounds. Our heads, hugged by woolen hats and covered again by the hoods of our winter coats, enhance this effect. We exchange few words; and those isolated utterances we do make are heard as remote background noise, like voices heard dimly through a wall.

The snowshoe trail, covered over with fresh fall, winds away through the trees, barely discernible but for the yellow blazes peeking out from behind the monster snowflakes drifting slowly and silently earthward. Time seems to slow down for us as we make our way through the quiet wood.

After an interval that could have been fifteen minutes or could have been an hour, we reach the junction with Snowshoe Trail #18 (aka the Dewey Point Meadow Trail), our route back to Gloint Road. The Dewey Point Meadow Trail is the “easier” route from the road out to the Doint, the ridge trail we took yesterday being labeled as “difficult”—though we had not found it to be so. But however not difficult we may have found the Dewey Point Ridge Trail to be, the meadow trail is definitely “easier” inasmuch as it has less elevation gain and loss than the ridge trail.

Wordlessly we trace a meandering course through the enchanted forest, tracking the yellow blazes along the edges of stately cedar groves and through the heart of perfectly still meadows. The snow falls steadily onto our hoods and packs, the absence of wind keeping the flakes from blowing sideways into our exposed faces. Dried frozen snot molests my beard and sideburns, clumping up and biting my skin like tiny razors; but it seems a small price to pay for the opportunity to stroll this idyllic landscape. I stop occasionally to peel small chunks of ice from my cheeks and eyebrows.

Ian spots a particular tree that seems to call out to him; and he lingers behind to photograph it while I continue my dreamy morning walk. Soon the trail passes out of a small meadow and into a heavily-wooded area, thick with evergreen and fir; and the effect is one of walking through a naturally-occurring Christmas Tree farm. The flared green arms of the fir trees dip slightly, weighted down by inches of freshly-fallen snow; and as the trail passes deeper into the evergreens, they close in more tightly against the trail. I feel like the forest is giving me a warm hug.

Passing again out of the thick wood, the trail emerges into the wide-open expanse of Summit Meadow, a large flat stretching for more than half a mile before my eyes. I trudge through in contemplative silence; and, looking back from the middle of the meadow I see Ian, not far behind, yet only faintly visible through the curtain of white. A family of three in snowshoes, their forms indistinct through the falling snow, catches my eye, as they pick their way leisurely across the middle of the meadow.

After little more than an hour of walking, the dreamy snowshoe trail spits us out onto the groomed surface of Glacier Point Road. I pause to let Ian catch up; and in a moment he is standing next to me. We turn right onto the road, and begin to ascend gradually alongside another snow-blanketed meadow, and upwards towards the low rise in the road where we caught the Dewey Point Ridge Trail yesterday afternoon, a seeming age ago.

Riding The Storm Out

By 11:45 AM we are back at the Badger Pass Trailhead parking area, digging the Vibe out from under the eight inches of snow that now cover it. Before we can load our gear back into it, I have to get the car out of its parking spot, which is somewhat of a challenge. The snow is piled so thickly on top of the pavement that I can’t even open the car doors without scraping out half a snow-angel wing; and when I finally do get myself seated behind the wheel, I tell Ian to get himself and our gear well away from the buried parking spot. Gunning the car with everything it’s got, I charge through the snow like the Kool-Aid Man taking out a wall; and the Vibe is free. Good thing we put the chains on yesterday, else we’d just be spinning our wheels in the parking lot all afternoon. Sighting a recently vacated parking space, where the snow has only been accumulating for an hour or less, I make for that, and pull the car up to it. We load our gear, crank the heat, and hit the road.

The storm has evolved into quite a blizzard in the span of hours since we first arose to greet the day; and the wind has picked up something fierce. We make our way down Glacier Point Road from Badger Pass amid violent squalls, traveling excessively slowly in order to keep the tires on the road. The pitch of the road finds us sliding here and there; and with the oncoming traffic heading up to the ski slopes of Badger Pass, it’s a white-knuckle descent back to Highway 41. Due to the severity of the storm, I opt to skip the high-route back through Big Oak Flat on Hwy 120, via Yosemite Valley, and instead head south towards the park exit at Wawona. I can’t get my wipers to go fast enough to keep the windshield adequately clear; and the constant twisting of Highway 41 makes for some nerve-wracking driving. Even after we exit the park, the storm continues to rage; though we drop almost 3,000 vertical feet over the sixteen miles between the park exit and Oakhurst; and by the time we reach Oakhurst the heavy snow has turned to heavy rain, which is somewhat easier to navigate. A few miles south of Oakhurst, the rain peters out completely; and patches of blue sky begin to peek out from behind the layers of clouds above.

By 3 PM we are speeding our way up through Merced on Highway 99; and I make a game of racing a freight train that bustles along the railway running parallel to the freeway. The clouds continue to dissipate as we cut west across the central valley; and after stopping for some surprisingly good Chinese food in Patterson, just off of I-5, we head off into the rugged hills of the Diablo Range, which separates the San Joaquin Valley from the Bay Area. We crest the last rise in the range at Mt. Hamilton at around 5 PM, and begin descending steeply towards the urban sprawl of Santa Clara County. The lights of San Jose come into view just as the sun disappears behind the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west. We cross through the outskirts of San Jose, and race up Highway 101 through Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, eager to be home. By 7 PM, we are back in San Francisco, our mission complete.

Another one for the record books.

Click here to read Part 1

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