Author Archives: GAC

The end, but the beginning!

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Catching Up

Well THAT was unexpected!

As 2015 draws to a close, we’ve realized our sophomore year has seen some interesting challenges. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes, the greatest adventure is life itself.

This year we’ve seen changes in family, changes in career, changes in lifestyle, and changes in focus. All these things bring something new, challenging and adventurous to our plans and goals.

In 2015 the GAC found itself split between two coasts, and the “hop in the plane and take off” excursions, became more difficult to pull together. Nonetheless, Tom and I still found ways to seek out adventure, as did a number of our members.

In the coming weeks we’re going to shotgun through some of the stories we wrote, but never posted, and those we meant to write, but never had the time.

Its helped to remind us, we found adventure where we could, and we’ll continue to seek out adventure, no matter what path life steers us down.

As always, we hope you’ll seek out your own adventure, and continue to follow us through 2016 and beyond.

Wishing you the most joyous of holidays, and many inspiring adventures in 2016.

The

GAC

Under the Southern Cross

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Under the Southern Cross

By Rick Cleveringa

 

Caraça – Pronounced /KA-RAH-SA/

Brazil_Map 2There was packing and much paper work in obtaining my visa to head to South America. Months of prep work and attempts to learn a language that I could only order bread and coffee in. After a10 hour flight we arrive in Brazil. This would be my first trip south of the equator. “E’s” family met us at the airport and welcomed me to their home as if I was a long lost brother and son. It was wonderful to share in the daily life in the city of Belo Horizonte. Walking to the tiny shops and feeding the chickens in the yard. After a few days in the busy city “E” has planned a trip to the mountains in her state. I was sitting in the bus station under strict orders “To keep my mouth shut” and watch my backpack closely. The dust and pollution of the city has taken its toll on me and I am ready for the four-hour bus travel to fresh air and Caraça.

After a very dusty bus ride and a cab that takes us high into the mountains, we make it to the office to check in. Our arrival was early and the young woman at the desk gave us vouchers for lunch and told us to walk around, have lunch, and our room will be ready at 1:00. “E” and I are very excited and joyfully explore Caraça. It’s a Portuguese style Mission, built in 1774. The hand dressed stone walls have been standing now for the last 240 years. The jungle and surrounding mountains seem timeless. We walk past some of the buildings, find a path, sit near a pond, and relax. The sun reaches noon and is smiling on us. We make our way to the dining hall. Lunch was serve-yourself with large pots on a wood-burning stove. It’s beautiful, pots of rice, beans, vegetables and large hunks of meat. We filled our plates and our bellies in the great echoing hall.

Room 147 was now ready; we get our key and walk the stone path to our room. It’s clean, sparse, a large bathroom and comfy bed, but its cold and damp. It feels like a cave. The door and window go open and fresh air comes in. I lay down to nap and “E” goes to explore the grounds. Our room is on the main walkway and shortly voices wake me. I go out to find “E”, sitting on a bench in the front garden I spy her. She says, “how did you find me?”, “I am a hunter” I say. From the front garden with its fountain, hedges, and Jaku birds, we look down deep into a valley towards a river that could be heard but not seen through the thick jungle. “Its beautiful”, “E” whispers. Indeed…. We sit for some time in peace.

Dinner and a Show

The old bell in the church steeple banged six times, by then we had our showers and clean clothes on. We walked in the dusk cold mountain evening to the dinning hall, which now was lamp lit and gave the room a warm glow. The hall and all its long dark wood wooden tables, chairs, floor, cream-colored walls and amber light were inviting. The visitors now were all overnight guests and an older crowd for the most part. We get our plates and line up to the wood stove. More rice, beans, meat, veggie, and something called Shoo Shoo. It was a tasteless

dreaming of desert

dreaming of desert

green vegetable, boiled lifeless and served. Dinner was nice, dessert disappointing. Desserts are served in a large bowl. Typically it could be a caramel sauce or some fruit puree’ + sugar. I could

kill for a piece of cake, a big yellow cake with chocolate frosting. It’s all nice and “E” has spoken in a whisper since our arrival.

 

Lobo-Guara (Chrysocyon brachyurous)

A priest in a red hoodie calls out into the pitch-dark night. His deep voice and strange words go deep into the jungle. He calls again. The flashlight in his hand signals safe passage. The beam of light cast a tiny spirit against the endless dark of the forest. Before too long a wolf appears. It timidly approaches and climbs the stairs up to the balcony where we wait. With long elegant black legs and red coat she looks much like a giant fox. The priests here have been feeding them for generations. There is a large tray of bones and meat sitting on the stone porch in front of the church. She comes to feed nightly. The priest speaks and “E” translates. There has been trouble in the jungle and wild dogs have attacked this wolf and now she is more cautious than ever. These wolves are specific to Brazil. Never before have I seen a more elegant, graceful animal. She is lean, tall, beautiful and pranced over to the tray; she retrieved some bone and meat. With powerful jaws and without effort she crushed the bones, the sound was magnificent. I loved it. It reminded me of my dog eating her treats but this is no ordinary canine. “E” and I are in heaven. The wolf would eat, tip toe off, and then come back later. One could stay for hours watching this and I did. At 8:00pm “E” went to the church and attended the mass. I pulled my hat down over my ears in the mountain cold and stayed to watch.

After mass “E” joined me outside to watch wolves. A most remarkable sight that was special beyond words. At 9:00pm, popcorn and tea were served in the hallway. It was a simple but welcome treat in the cold night in the jungle. We walked back to our little room, under Jupiter and Venus, the Southern Cross, and stars unfamiliar to me. Stars Shackelton would have known. We climbed into our cool bed and warmed each other, and slept like children.

A Walk in the Jungle

Some of the most inviting features of Caraça are the many hiking trails. Each has a point of interest or some natural feature of beauty that draws the mind to jungle adventure. They all sound wonderful and “E” picks out a trail to ‘Cascade’, or a waterfall. I woke early the next morning and walked to the breakfast mess hall. The great wood stove was roaring away. There was actual coffee here. With a cup of coffee, and my book, I waited for “E”s arrival. The local practice for breakfast here is to cook a hunk of cheese and toast a bun on the stove. There were also some brown eggs and a bowl of white batter. By now I’ve had enough bread for breakfast, so I dip a large spoon into the batter and pour a 4” circle directly on the stove face. It certainly was not Aunt Jemima pancake mix. The batter made a thin ‘cake’ of a far less tasty corn based goop with the cooked consistence of a wrapped single piece of American cheese. Maple syrup was well over 6000 miles away so I drizzled some honey, and ate it.

“E” has come, eats her bread and cheese, we look at the map and get ready. We cross a large gravel parking lot for buses, tour groups, and school groups who come regularly to the mission that is situated in a national park. We find the trailhead and make the 3-4k hike to the falls. Its flat, easy, a kind hike, an enjoyable 1st trail and exciting first look at real jungle. The trail is earth and sand and winds past jungle vines & trees. Then it would open up to grassy savannahs. This is Atlantic forest, a transition to the deep jungle of the Amazon to the west. “E” explains this to me as my fascinated heart sucks in the adventure.

The path twists about and I see black sand and quarts all over, signs of gold. This country was once rich with gold. Even the road heading here is called “the road of gold”. We reach the falls, its wonderful. The falls are perhaps 20-30 feet tall, a small stream with water brown as tea runs over the black rocks. We take our shoes and socks off and join others wading, climbing and enjoying this place. As “E” finds a place to sit I begin searching for gold. Sifting sand and pebbles in my hand, looking for a nugget. It was a pretty place; we sat close by one another, talked, felt the joy of being close. Walking around we see there were some bees drinking. Stepping on a South American been seemed like a poor idea. We put our shoes and socks on and left the bees to their work. The hike back was fine; we spent some time in the room. The old church bell rang 12 and we were off to lunch.

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our choices of trails

Once again we poured over the map and picked a trail. This one was about 6k up the mountain, gaining about 1000’ of elevation. About half way there, is a smaller mission and at the top there is “Gruta de Lourde”, a cave! Yes! Lets go see the cave! Now I’m ready. A big lunch and more jungle. Back at the room “E” gets her hat and tells me to bring my hoodie, it might be cold up there. “It won’t be cold, lets go my love.”, and we set off.

Danger on “Onça” Trail

The day was bright and sunny as we cut behind the mission, up a small hill, past a tiny cemetery with its white wall, and iron gate that protect those who need no protection. A gardener with a machete in hand, points the direction to the trail, we go happily. One difference on this trail is we start climbing up right away. We crossed a tiny rustic wood bridge that your step had to be most cautious on. You have seen this bridge in every jungle movie. It’s the one where the planks give way and you find yourself dangling uncomfortably, legs kicking away high above a ravine. “E” crossed first and I would not get on it until she was safely across.

She spied it on the ground and grabbed it up, it was a 3’ crooked walking stick. This was a fine idea as the climb was noticeable. She was most happy with her “sticker” as she called it. Then she prompted me into finding one. Yes! And I looked but found nothing suitable. “E” pointed out every rotted, way too long, way too heavy, log, stick, branch, vine and root she saw. Now I’ve gone calling her “Heidi – There’s s good walking stick Brian!”. I tell “E” the story of our hike on a hot summer day in the Shawnee National Forest.

Our ascension was laborious as we worked our way up stairs of roots, rocks and fallen logs. The trail took us up to a great stone face of black rock six feet tall, and we have to skirt it to the right. On a narrow path that look down into a green valley, up we go through the trees, vines, ferns and past anthills, that are five feet tall and fat as rain barrels. We reach a great plateau, an odd feature in the mountain. Its flat as a table and large as a football field. What

The Iron Gate

The Iron Gate

happened geologically to make this place? What happened IN this place? It appears to be a natural feature; we cross the plain and start to climb again. Through more jungle, the path is red dirt & rock. We are walking under the canopy on slight grade and come to a most strange sight. It’s a gate in the middle of nowhere leading to…? A Spanish style arch, iron gate with two locks. The gate guards a bridge made of stacked stones over a deep gorge. Where the hell does this go, maybe to hell? Fascinating! The gate reminded me of the ‘Pappa Red’ tales Brian is writing. I tugged at the locks on the gate, but “E” wanted nothing to do with it. So we walked on.

Now the day was warm and brilliant and “E” had a scarf about her long neck that I’ve tied around her hat. With her10” brim hat, she in a clingy brown dress with small deer skin handbag and walking staff, it harkens my thoughts to 1800’s explorers. I see her in the path ahead of me; I call her “Lady Penelope” in my head as if we were Victorians out on a safari.

 

Gandalf’s Staff

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Found it! After searching every twig along the route I pull up a 7’ long tree about 2” in diameter, with the root ball on the end. Its heavy, dense, jungle hardwood and I snap off about 18” between the forks of two trees. I leave the roots on and dub it Gandalf. Climbing ever up, Gandalf, myself and Lady Penelope make our way to the mission up the mountain. We had seen it some time back but it was so distant and on another ridge of the mountain that it seemed unreachable. Yet here we are we made it. On the trail leading to this place I noticed tracks in the sand, feline by the pads, some dog tracks (wild dogs), two hikers from the day before who had gone up and back. Lady Penelope asks if we should go back after seeing the cat tracks. “Of mission 2course not!” I say, no it’s gone, they were small, no worries I say. She says, “what if a cat comes at us?”, “It won’t, lets go.”. She was a bit reluctant but now that we’ve made the mission she’s excited. It’s a large rectangular white building, doors locked and beside it a large section in ruins. Why would they build here? So close to the 1774 Caraça mission? It’s all odd and wonderful.

 

 

 

“Did you hear that?

After we explored the grounds, Lady “P” and I pressed forward up the mountain on a path that shows little use. You can tell people make the mission, don’t see the next trail head to the arrows 3cave, or simply turn back. The jungle crowds this path and we start climbing up, then down into a deep ravine. A small run of water is at the bottom and I look for tracks in the mud and see none. We cross the small stream; Lady “P” has her dress tucked up to keep it away from the mud and to keep her cool in the warm jungle air. We start the climb once more. Its steep and our walking staffs push us upward through the jungle. The path winds about and out of the forest cover to a ridge the path follows. From this rocky outcrop we can see down into the valley on to the other mountain peaks opposite of Caraça mission. No longer are there any signs of man. Its raw and beautiful, the view is breathtaking and so is the climb. We pause to enjoy and breathe the thick jungle air and take in the wonder. Soon we are leaning into out staffs and climbing, Lady “P” is in the lead. For me I am alive, noticing every stone, plant, flower, breath, and wishing I had my longbow and a quiver of arrows. Lady “P” stops and says “I wish you had your bow and arrow”, yes me too!

With the trail so steep the path ahead of me was at eye level, my face a few feet away and in a small pocket in the trail, I see deposited in it was a crystal. Perhaps 2” long, 1.5” wide. Broken away from a larger globe the inner has an opaque purple hew, the shell of quartz is dark and striated. It catches my attention and I slip it into my cargo pocket.

We are nearing the summit and the cave cannot be far. We break out from under the puma 2canopy into some tall grass and 20 yards away is the top. We can see blue sky, almost there when we heard, “Rrrooooaaaaaarrrrrr………” a very low sound. My first thought was to look up at the sky, thunder? No it’s clear. “E” looked back at me, her face white as a ghost, her expression confused and frightened. Her lips and mouth drawn up like an “O” sound, she says “Did you hear that?!”. “Yes, it was a warning.” I say. “E” then, with her back to the tall grass and predator, she crouched down to make herself small. She was just a big hat and dress. I said “Esther! Stand up SLOWLY, walk, do NOT RUN toward me! Come here!” She did as instructed and once she bumped passed on the narrow path, she proceeded down the mountain at a high rate of speed. I stayed facing the grass, the sound, and the puma. Backing up slowly with Gandalf in hand. I made my way down, glad not to see the catamount follow.

 

Retreat to the Retreat

At a safe distance I turn and try to catch up with “E”. She is moving swiftly down the trail. I use Gandalf to pole vault me down from rock to rock. On one vault my arm received a large gash, 3 long scrapes from a broken branch in the path. She is ahead of me but I’m gaining on her. As in every jungle movie you have ever seen, a thing so cliché’, you don’t believe it could ever happen but it did. The heroine, upon fleeing danger or death, trips on a root or rock and twists her ankle. From where I’m at, I see “E” step on a steep bolder and her boot slides down the face of the stone and her foot gets wedged between two rocks at the base. In my mind I think “shit she just broke her leg”, but I know she is so terrified she will run 4k more down hill on a busted limb. This is when I catch up.

She is pulling on her leg desperately and frees her leather boot from its trap and I say, “Use your stick”. She moved on without injury cursing me all the way down the mountain. At the deep ravine near the mud and stream we cross up on to the other side, there is a log and I beg her to sit and rest. She says “NO WAY! I don’t trust YOU any more!” Me, I think? “Dis is not a MOVIE!” she professes and off she went, down the rocky path to the mission.

All I can see is her backside, her large brim hat with scarf tied around it. She is murmuring on and I can’t make out what’s she is saying. At the small mission on the hill she says to me “what if the puma followed us?”. “It didn’t” I respond. “How do you know?” she demanded. Oh we would know by now, so on we went. The hours of climbing up the mountain seemed to be 20 minutes run back. At the base of the trail we meet a family heading up. E tells them of the puma, the two children looked scared and they turn back.

Back at Caraça Mission we found a park ranger and he confirmed a puma has been in the area. There were guide books on tracks and the cat tracks I saw in the sand belonged to a Jaguar. Later that night at dinner it was a true celebration. We had experienced real danger and survived. The thought of “E” getting injured chilled my guts. But hey we were safe in a lovely hall, with big plates of food in front of us. We just laughed through dinner, now we had a real story to tell and we did. “E” had to tell it in Portuguese and I made the cat sound. My throat was hurting later from so often making the pumas growl.

That night we sat in the dark and waited for the wild wolves to be just feet away. Their food was in a large tray and not on a jungle trail.

Skinning

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“Skinning”

By T. Dietz

It’s been several weeks since the last snow fell in the Lake Tahoe region, and with warm temperatures, gliding sports are suffering. Not wanting to be deprived of a little outdoor adventure, I decided to fit my new “skins” to my skis and search out some backcountry terrain with whatever form of snow there might be.

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Mt Rose Wilderness

 

If you want to go backcountry skiing or boarding, you’ll likely need to climb (some do it in snowmobiles but they’re missing the good sweat). In an upcoming GAC article, Brian and I chronicle our snowshoeing trek up the Mt. Rose Wilderness. my go to area for “close-to-civilization” backcountry

 

 

 

Skins

Skins for skiing have been around for a very long time, thousands of years in fact. Up until the free ride up the mountain by way of a ski lift, snow cat or other means, skiers earned their ride down the hill by first climbing. Historians report that the first skins were indeed skin, namely the skin of seals. The hair growing out of the seal skin, grows out at an angle allowing a smooth glide in one direction but gripping in the other. Think petting a dog in one direction IMG_0091 2 - Version 2where its smooth while petting in the reverse raises the fur. This dual action is the basis of using skins to glide the ski forward but giving it traction when you push against it. Skins can get you up fairly steep grades either directly or by traversing.

The new skins I acquired (fitting to my skis below) from Black Diamond are synthetic – nylon, while some enthusiasts still use mohair (goat hair). The skins are attached to the skis by means of a loop at the front and a hook at the rear. In addition a special, reusable glue is used that holds the skins fast to the skis but comes off fairly easily. Adhesives for skins have been around for over 50 years.

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The photos here show the very straightforward way I prepared my new skins to fit my skis. The process took about 30 minutes. The skins are first cut to length, fittings attached, then trimmed to get good coverage but leaving the ski’s edge accessible to the snow.

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Fitting skins to skis can be done by most ski shops that carry them but with a little patience you can produce a quality fit on your own.

 

 

 

IMG_0135Anxious to test the new skins and absorb some of the grandeur of the Sierra Nevadas, I set out for the Mt. Rose Wilderness. Wanting to get used to the whole process I geared up as if preparing for a much longer trek. To be prepared for more intense expeditions there’s nothing like getting used to your gear in a controlled IMG_0137environment.

Although the staging area was only a short distance from the road, I packed in my gear, skis, poles, etc, an
d then “skinned up” when I was ready to being the climb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My skis have a backcountry alpine touring (AT) binding
from Marker that can easily transition from alpine skiing to touring with the flip of a lever. The binding allows you to step and pivot freely in a climb. The walking motion is very easy and comfortable especially with my boots set for walking mode.

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The pictures from midway up the climb and from where I stopped to transition to downhill don’t do the scenery justice. The 30,000+ acres Mt. Rose Wilderness is named for the highest peak in the Carson Range, the area being wholly situated within Nevada.

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From the trailheads near the top of the Mt. Rose Highway I head west. This area is also trafficked by snowmobiles whose tracks you can see in the photos.

 

 

 

 

 

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This wilderness is a real treat and only 40 minutes from Truckee.   There are deer, black bears, mountain lions,and coyotes among other animals here. Although I wrote this time mostly about the skins and using them, the real motivation is to get out into nature and places that not a lot of others are willing to take the time or energy to get to. The gear is fun but it’s also a means to get to those unique places that can take your breath away.

 

 

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Adventures in Brazil

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Under the Southern Cross

Over the summer our friend and member Rick Cleveringa journeyed south to Brazil for family, friends, and destinations unknown. Many of you should remember Rick from his provious article “Pappa’s House”.

This time, its a trip into the Brazilian mountains thats brings him beautiful sites, sounds and a close encounter of the four legged kind.

We hope you’ll all enjoy “Under the southern Cross”.

The Mountains are Calling

dsc01020The Mountains are calling

We’re continuing to expand our following as we seek out like-minded adventurers. One of those new found friends is a co-worker Matt Brisbin who recently shared some of his own mountainous adventures with me.

Matt is an experiences hiker, backpacker, and mountain climber and we shared our experiences regarding hiking the John Muir travel and our trip to the base of Half Dome in Yosemite. Matt has journeyed for more extensively than I (for now), and has documented his journeys on his own blog titled “Matt Brisbin – The Mountains are calling and I must go”. It’s a fun and informative site and I highly recommend it if mountain trips are your calling.

Matt’s most recent post highlights his January trip to Colorado and his first experience ice climbing. It’s a fun read and encourage everyone to check it out.

Here’s the link to Matt’s “IceFest 2015”.

Adventure Stories – Part 2


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“The Adventure Stories”

~Part Two~

By T. Dietz & Brian K. Brecht

Tom’s List:

There is a very direct correlation to the books I had access to as a kid and young adult , and how they fueled the vast majority of my adventure seeking behaviors, hobbies, and my career.

“Wild Life in South Africa”

securedownload2The very first book that I remember vividly, and still have today (it actually sits on my desk), is “Wild Life in South Africa” by J. Stevenson-Hamilton who at one time carried the title Late Warden, Kruger National Park. The book was first published in 1947 with a second edition in 1950. An illustrated edition followed in 1954, which is the one I possess. It’s worth a few words how I ended up with this book. My mother was an immigrant to the US from Switzerland in the late 1950’s. As a first job she worked for a wonderful family physician, Dr. L Berg. He was a staple in my life for my early years and new of my enthusiasm for collecting insects. I was a born naturalist, enthralled by all sorts of animals. But all I could talk about was Africa, that very mysterious place with incredible animal life. I couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 when he presented me with his own copy, a gift given to him by who I don’t know in, 1957. I have read this book dozens of times. It is not an adventure in some sense, but for me it was an example of an adventurous life.

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Stevenson-Hamilton had published his first version of the book in 1917 when he was the first Park Ranger of South Africa’s main wild life sanctuary, Kruger National Park. It is a factual book about the ecology of Kruger, the natural history of its animals, man’s influence over them, and man’s fortitude to protect them. The book has wonderful maps, photo plates, and descriptions. From when I first read this book to the many times since, I can see Stevenson-Hamilton out in the Park, noting his observations, making sure he is not in peril from predators, and camping in the open bush. The book fueled a lifetime desire to go to Kruger and that dream finally came true in 2009 – several of the stories from that trip will be forthcoming.

 

“The Silent World” & “The Living Sea”

securedownload4Then there are the two books by one of my favorite adventurers, Captain Jacques Cousteau, “The Silent World”, 1953 and “The Living Sea”, 1963.

The influence on me from these books can be seen in both an early career in Science, my tenure at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, SCUBA diving, and exploration. Cousteau’s undersea adventures are legendary and his respect for the sea extraordinary. I’ll look to write up some of my own underwater adventures as I’ve already touched on some on sea adventures with my GAC write up “Diablos Rojos”.

 

“Endurance – Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage”

securedownloadNow Brian has his Shackleton voyage book and I have mine, “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage”, by Alfred Lansing, 1959. This is another book whose pages are well worn from its many years in my active library.

As Brian talks about, Shackleton’s ill-fated trip resulted in one of the greatest known feats of navigation and survival. Antarctic exploration has always fascinated me and like other adventurous places, it’s been on my list. I came close once.

While at the Scripps, a team of us made a request of the National Science Foundation to fund an Antarctic expedition to further my molecular research on animal adaptation to stressful and unusual environments. Unfortunately, Federal funding for this type of trip was waning and the wait seemed too long. In the end, we settled for a warm water collecting adventure in Baja California.

 

 

“The Right Stuff”

securedownload5There are many more books by the likes of Hemingway, Roosevelt, Carter, Hillary, Scott etc, that have kindled and kept the thirst for adventure and exploration alive for me, but I will mention one last one, “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe, 1979.

Now this book really came after having already gotten the space exploration bug, as many of my generation had watching the Apollo program, especially Apollo 11.

As like most kids, becoming an astronaut and space explorer was high on my list, and lasted considerably longer than most, as my last application to NASA’s astronaut program was when I turned 46 – a glutton for rejection.

Many of my passions like diving, flying, science etc, had the dual purpose of filling its own desire, but were also pursued to give me the skill sets necessary to become a space explorer. Although that long chapter has many interesting stories, its now closed, but the journey to achieve it has brought incredible adventures.

More Adventure Stories

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It’s been an exciting and unpredictable start to 2015, but happily, we’re finding time for a little adventure where ever we can.

We wanted to start the year off, by finishing an article we stared last fall. In late October we took some time to highlight books and stories that inspired us during our youth and young adulthood. Our first post called “Adventure Stories” focused on the books which led me to the idea of the GAC. Now in our follow up article “Adventure Stories – Part Two” we finish out that thread with the books that inspired Tom.

We hope you’ll add these to your own library as well.

Yosemite and Half Dome – Part 2

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“Yosemite and the Hike to Half Dome”

By Brian K. Brecht and Rico Prate

**Part 2**

**Our Story Continues**

 

THE ASSENT – VERNAL AND NEVADA FALLS

Climbing… it seems like all we’ve been doing is climbing. We’re about 4500 feet above sea level, and I feel like my heart is about to beat out of my chest. I’m saying to myself, what in the world was I thinking!

But perhaps, I’m a little ahead of myself.

Rico:

Camping sleep is typically low quality sleep, and the first night in Yosemite was no exception, thanks to squawking ravens, owls, and many other birds not at all heard outside my apartment in Chicago. Predictably, Rick is up before Brian or me. He wanders around for who knows how long before running out of patience, returning to the tent, and waking the two of us up by saying, “We’ve got 8 hours of hiking to do today ladies – time to get up!”

Our goal from the beginning was to hike to the top of Half Dome. Again this is the part where one really needs to do some research before understanding what you’re getting yourself into. Rick kept saying “Are you sure we’re hiking the dome, do you know what’s actually involved?!” We knew we needed a permit and to that we didn’t have one. But we also knew people will hike to the base and see if there are any no-shows. So after series of conversations while driving, our goal was to see how far we could get. We’d shoot for Half Dome base camp, and if we made it, we’d assess if we could make it to the top. If we couldn’t so be it, it would provide an excuse to come back.

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Crossing the Merced River

We shot back to the valley and took the drive as far in as we could, finding the parking lot that leads to the Happy Isles Trailhead. The trail started easily enough and meandered through the tall pines, and across the Merced River. Again due to the draught, the river was extremely low, so for some reason Rick felt we should walk through instead of over. No worries, jumping from boulder to boulder was pretty easy with just a small daypack. Rick on the other hand felt he needed to carry his full pack. Now he wasn’t carrying all his gear, but he had felt the need to push himself and at least know what it would be like to hike this volume under weight. So as Rick hurried across boulders, Rico and I gradually followed along.

Again the trail was paved and we assumed it would turn into a gravel trail soon enough, but what we weren’t expecting was the immediate and profound incline that started within the first few hundred feet of our hike.

Rico:

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chart from the National Park web site http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/vernalnevadatrail.htm

We start out from the trailhead, just off the parking lot at 10:40am. We hike about a half-mile through the nearby woods – on a paved trail – before we start gaining elevation. I should correct myself. The phrase “gaining elevation” does not nearly convey the physical struggle of what we are doing. “Locked in an all-out war against the evil and malevolent forces of gravity,” describes what it feels like much more accurately. I mean, this is no fucking joke. The climb, while still on a paved trail, and in the presence of many hundreds of others about, is absolutely grueling – particularly for three guys, pushing 50, who, as I just referred to, had done no physical training for such an endeavor, whatsoever.”

And now we come back to our first words, “Climbing, it seems like all we’ve been doing is climbing,”.

The first real milestone you encounter on the hike is Vernal Falls footbridge, but this alone is an elevation gain of 500 vertical feet over the course of only one mile. For us with the intent of getting as close to Half Dome as we can, that meant continuing to the top of Vernal falls which was another 500 vertical feet. From here we’d continued to climb to Nevada falls, making its base at approx. 5500 vertical feet. All this in only 3 miles horizontal distance.

I have gone from valley floor to the base of Nevada falls without much highlight, simply to point out this was a much tougher hike than what I had ever imagined. Granted I did it, and would definitely do it again, but for me it was a moment of realizing the sedentary nature of my office job is quickly becoming not for me. Not only do I long for the fresh air, but also the toll the lack of exercise it’s taking on me is staggering. I have to change my life and I need to do it before I find myself stuck this way.

So regarding the assent, to be honest words cannot truly describe my feeling at seeing the vistas that were put in front of us at each step. Climbing up the initial rise along the paved well-maintained path was tough. You’re climbing out of the valley and most of your views are of a thickly wooded landscape. But the higher you go, the grander it becomes. Sheer rock walls reach skyward; towering over the pines that I was sure couldn’t be topped.

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climbing out of the valley

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Rico on his way to Vernal Falls

When you arrive at the Vernal Falls Bridge, you’re met with an expanse of rock and mountain debris, having been forced down from above by the rushing water. At this time of year there was very little water and certainly no torrent of rapids, but with the exposed rock and riverbed, you could truly appreciate the force and power that must exhibit when the river and falls are in full flow.

From the bridge, the trail becomes mostly dirt and the climb a more severe. Now with the falls in plain sight you’re headed to their base. Again due to the season, there was much less activity to the falls than what we expected, but no less impressive as the water that is flowing, tumbles over it’s 300+ foot drop.

 

 

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climbing the stairs to Vernal Falls

We stop and sit, now having climbed all of those 600 steps, and take in the full picture of the falls. Rick has been steadily marching ahead of us, at some points as much as a half-mile ahead. Rico, in his mercy, is hanging back with me as he realizes how badly I’m struggling. This is frustrating to me in so many ways. The hike is tough, no doubt, but as a little girl bounds past me practically running up the stairs, I realize this is pathetic. I have no intension of stopping.

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Vernal Falls

We catch up with Rick half way up the elevation of Vernal falls. At this point most people have the discussion of sitting, enjoying the view, and then turning back. Or you have the option of continuing on, up even steeper stairs, to reach the very top, the crest of the falls itself.

As I said, I was tired and sore, but more frustrated and there was no way I was going to stop now. We sit for a spell breaking out some of our modest rations, some water, a granola bar and some of the trail mix I packed. One of the things that you don’t hear about until you’re in the park is the squirrel and marmot population has become quite adapted to the human visitors. They are fearless and don’t think twice about running up to you when they see and smell food available. Rick messes with one for a bit but given the signs through out, asking to not feed them (which is practically impossible) we try to shoo them away as best we can.

 

We eventually get up, put packs back on and started back with our climb. We were now probably 90 minutes IMG_2533into our assent. There is a section almost at the very top of the assent where you climb some extremely rough stairs and the path narrows to about a couple feet. There is happily a large metal guardrail but it was stunning how limited you were in available room in order to reach the summit.

 

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At the top of the falls

Climb, climb, and suddenly you crest the top of the huge granite slab that you’ve been ascending, the backside gently sloping into the woods and the top of the Merced River. The brink of the falls is again railed off, and you are warned by the increasingly abundant signs in the area, that going past the rail is deadly. Each sign highlights victims of recent death as adults and children at one time or another, have gotten too close to the water, fallen in, and once in the grab of the current, find themselves pulled through the water, and over the falls. A terrifying death for all involved.

The Emerald Pool sits at the top of Vernal Falls and is fed by yet a still higher waterfall, that of the Nevada falls. But here there is a tranquil setting as a 20 degree slope called the apron gently washes into the Emerald pool. Again the scenery is majestic with massive granite formations shadowing above. We spend a faire amount of time here and though careful not to go IN the water, I can’t resist getting my hands in it and splashing some on my overheated face. Its exhilarating and its here I realize I’ll be taking a swim when all this is over.

Rico skips rocks, Rick closes his eyes for just a few, but we all take some time to recharge, because we all feel, we’re still not done.

Rico:

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skipping rocks at the Emerald Pool

Once on top of the falls, we get a chance to pause, take some pictures, and become energized by the stunning scenery surrounding us. We choose to continue ascending. The next stop was to proceed to the top of Nevada Falls. Before we continued, however, we were able to enjoy the calmness and tranquility of the Emerald Pool. Fed by the cascading waters of Nevada Falls, the Emerald Pool is about 30 yards across, by about 150 yards wide. Perfectly constructed by God for skipping stones, we spent a good half hour climbing the big rocks that border the pool, relaxing, and enjoying the view. Newly refreshed, and ready for more, we begin, once again, to climb.”

 

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Nevada Falls

 

As I mentioned above Vernal Falls is Nevada Falls. The falls itself is just less than 600 feet as far as its vertical drop, and the hike here is not as bad as the climb to Vernal. Nonetheless it continues to climb and challenge you. And it was that challenge that finally did me in. We made it just pass the bass of the falls, climbing another (approx.) 500 vertical feet, but it was the remaining 500 feet to the crest I knew I wasn’t going to make. So after three and a half hours, I threw in the towel. Again I was proud of how far I had climbed, but also disappointed that I was the one who called the stop.

Rick again had gotten a bit ahead of us and Rico still staying with me, said he’d run in ahead to catch rick. I waited patiently and after some time, they both came back down.

Again it was time for a break. We moved down to the base of the falls and watched the flowing water. Looking at the map when we had gotten back to camp, made it even more frustrating. Assessing the elevation gain from the top of Nevada to the Half Dome bass, it would have only been a gain of another 200 feet. But I knew I just wasn’t going to make that last climb no matter how hard I tried.

So it was back down. What took us three and a half hours up, took us just under 2 hours to get down. It was over five hours of hiking and we were all spent.

Rico:

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the decent from Vernal Falls

Something that actually does go as expected is that the trip down goes faster than the trip up did. This is aided by three factors: Familiarity, anxiousness to get back, and, the biggest reason: Gravity. At one point, I turn to Brian and remark that I am fucking sick and tired of fighting gravity. First, of course, we fought it while we were ascending. And now, we are fighting it tooth and nail as we descend – gravity wants to pull us off this mountain quicker than our legs are able to navigate.”

As we reached the truck and drove out of the valley I remembered my thought at the Emerald pool of taking a swim.

 

 

 

Rico:

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an afternoon swim. A very COLD swim.

On the way, Brian is determined to take a dip in the nearby Merced River and “wash the stink” off of him. Since he is the driver, he is in control off that. He spies a suitable placed to do so, pulls over, and we head toward the shin deep water. We all take off our shoes and socks and wade into the water. Two ducks swim within a few feet of us, neither of which are the least bit concerned or intimidated. Brian does us all one better and goes to the extreme measure of actually sitting down in the middle of the river and completely immersing himself in the 50-55 degree water – not once, but twice. We spend 20-30 minutes in and around the river, skipping stones and generally horsing around before heading toward the campsite once again.”

The water was almost painful but there was exhilaration to it that leads me to drop myself under for a second time. I think it was less I got used to the water and more I was numb head to toe. So soaking wet, it was back to Crain Flats and some dry and warm clothes.

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a perfect evening

Rico:

We arrive just past 6:00pm. Rick builds a fire, and Brian and I indulge in a nip from the Bar of Love as I get some journaling done. It isn’t too long at all before night falls. Like last night, a dizzying tapestry of stars appear above the very tall pines, and helps the three of us to quietly, and wearily, enjoy the Yosemite evening”.

THE END

In the end, this was Yosemite for us. We woke the next morning, each complaining how bad the OTHER two guys had snored, no one acknowledging we’re not 22 any more. Rick again was up first and had stoked the fire back to life while Rico and I dressed and wandered out of the tent.

All joking aside, this was a fantastic experience. Sure, a little more planning or training would have been nice, but this was a trip where we would be able to say we had done it. We at least made the attempt. As for Half Dome, the best part, is that it’s continued to push the three of us to saying “We have to go back, we have to make it to the top”. We know we can do it; this time we’ll make the plans. In the weeks that have followed I’ve already gotten emails from Rick asking, “When are we going back”.

The trip home was uneventful. We made a few stops at some local sites, but we were all spent, and looking forward to some downtime at the house with the family. We had a funny moment just outside of the park when we stopped for breakfast at the Buckmeadow Restaurant. During the week, Rick and I had fallen into a quest for the perfect slice of pie. We had pie in Shasta, we had pie in Monterey, and we even had pie inside the park at the Ahwahnee Hotel. And now we found pie in Groveland for breakfast.

Rico:

Toward the end of the meal, Rick sees a menu for “Aunt Betty’s Homemade Pies”. Uh oh… Rick immediately asks the waitress which pies are the freshest – seriously – twice in less than 24 hours. Our waitress goes in the back and brings out Aunt Janette, wearing a flour stained apron – who tells us Aunt Betty retired last year, but she knows all her secrets. After a rundown of, basically, the entire pie menu, we buy an entire “cherry-berry” pie, since we are too full to eat pie right now. $16 for an entire homemade pie – very nice.”

Its not a true road trip unless Rick is harassing a waitress, and this one took it all in sport.

This trip rounded out a couple things for me. Of course it’s always fantastic to do an adventure with the boys from Chicago. And getting some road time takes us back to our early adventuring days. But for the GAC, it was fulfilling to set a goal at the beginning of the year and realize that goal as intended. Certainly the shape and form changed as it became reality, but we felt that’s the making of a great adventure. Somewhere there’s a balance between it all being planned out, and the spur of the moment inspiration, as the adventure unfolds. I think Rico summed up this trip the best when he said:

Rico:

This trip ranks up there with New Orleans, London, and Route 66 (insert background angelic-like chanting here) as one of the great road trips we have ever done. Come to think of it, it is unfair to really categorize this as a road trip. Compared to other road trips, this one was much more centered on one location than most of the others. This trip was more about activity and accomplishment as opposed to miles under the wheels.

At this time in my life, and hopefully the others as well, this kind of trip is much more satisfying. Last year’s Lake Michigan Loop trip taught me that spending hour after hour in the car without a lot of activity to balance it out is no longer of much interest to me. This trip was perfect: Active, beautiful, challenging, not overly planned, limitless possibilities, a campfire, with a little road time sprinkled in. And who knows? We may come back for more next year…  

Yosemite and Half Dome – Part 1

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“Yosemite and the Hike to Half Dome”

By Brian K. Brecht and Rico Prate

**Part 1**

There are adventures that require plenty of planning, and some that come by happenstance. This trip would amount to a bit of both.

THE INTENT

Since last spring, when we wrote our story “Walker & Muir”, we set a lose goal to journey to the Yosemite Valley the following summer. This was more a goal for myself, as Tom has been to the valley numerous times and even hiked the weeklong backcountry trails. Having never been myself, and after our exposure to Walker and Muir in Martinez, it was a destination that played in my mind for months.

Slowly as spring turned to summer, the idea took shape and through a series of conversations, it was floated to the other inspirational GAC members, my old crew from Chicago. With busy schedules, it took time to align our plans, but finally we found a date in September. Unfortunately, by this time, our full team was not available. It would mean my partner in crime Tom D. as well as Tom C. from Milwaukee; both wouldn’t be available this trip. But with full support from them we set the date and tickets were purchased.

Rick, having the more flexible schedule, would journey out ahead of Rico and spend some time in Northern California with me. That lead to some day trips we’ll highlight in later articles. We ventured up to the old ghost town of Shasta and back down to Salinas to revisit Rocinante, and happily Tom D. was able to join us for the Shasta trip.

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Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir

Lets set the stage. The Yosemite National Park covers almost 748,000 acres, spanning across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Yosemite Valley specifically, is only seven square miles of the total park but has some of the most iconic views of this amazing landscape. Towering redwoods, imposing granite mountains, and pastoral meadows all can be found within this wilderness.

The initial steps to preserve the park for future generations came under the Yosemite Grant signed by President Lincoln in 1864. It wasn’t until 1890, with the help of naturalist John Muir and the editor of the Century Magazine Robert Johnson, who lobbied congress for the act that created the national park on October 1st. Eventually it would also lead to the creation of the National Park Service by Theodore Roosevelt.

 

 

MAKING IT HAPPEN

In other posts I’ve mentioned being “somewhat” uptight in my youth, with my tendencies to set rigorous schedules and itineraries for our trips. I joked with Rick when he had arrived that it’s taken me 25 years to break that habit. When Rick asked, “what’s the plan?” I simply replied, “I don’t have one”. The surprised look in his eyes was proof I had indeed altered that behavior.

It was true; I had set no plan, made no reservations. I had read numerous articles about how it’s impossible to get into the park without a reservation a year in advance. I was rolling the dice that going after the peak season would allow some latitude regarding our ability to find lodging. Even if we had to stay outside of the park, and drive in each day, we were all ok with making the attempt, for better or worse. That said this was a trip to learn, some adventures really do require some preplanning.

By mid-week, Rick and I had a couple excursions in, but it was Yosemite we were both chopping at the bit for. We considered our trip having begun only once we met Rico at the Oakland airport, his 10:00pm flight arriving right on time.

So this was our goal, and standing in baggage claim in Oakland, it was clear we three were all ready to get too it. Tom Dietz and I had been driving to get the GAC off the ground for the past nine months. This was the first time I had tried to mold my long time (and inspirational) friends into the idea Tom and I had created. As soon as Rico walked into baggage claim, any concern vanished. Rico said it best in his journal:

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the airport reunion

Rico:

Even though we only see each other a few times a year these days, because of our history – over 20 years of friendship – our shared experiences and adventures, and the strong, almost tenacious bond we share, every time I see them, it is almost as if I saw them just yesterday.”

And it was just that. While waiting for Rico’s bag it was short, light, brief conversation, with general pleasantries mixed in with the warm handshakes and hugs. We all knew, the real conversation, the real updates would happen as soon as we were on the road.

The goal for tonight was NOT to return home, but head straight west and make for Tracy. If we stayed the night there, we’d only be a couple hours from the park the next morning. So with a coke, some beef jerky, and plenty of attitude, we were off. Overnight in Tracy would be a blur as was breakfast the next morning. Again it was getting to the park that was the most important item.

It was during the drive when we started discussing our plans, or perhaps more accurately, Rick’s plan. As I mentioned Rick was the only one who did any real homework. He slowly outlined the concerns of hiking to Half Dome. Camping in the valley wasn’t really the concern, we’d roll with whatever we found, but as Rick outlined the severity of the hike, I started to think perhaps my “no plan” approach could have used a little more plan.

If you’re ever heading to Yosemite, and plan to hike Half Dome, here are a few important tips you should know. First Half Dome is a granite dome formation at the eastern end of the valley. It’s likely the most iconic image you’ve seen of the park as it rises almost 4800 feet above the valley floor.

Thousands of hikers hike the 8.5-mile trail to the top of the dome from the valley floor each year. This starts from the Mist Trail and runs approx. 2 miles to the Half Dome base in Little Yosemite Valley, all while gaining an elevation of approx. 2000 vertical feet. But not before climbing over 600 rough-cut stairs that have been hune from the very rock face. From Little Yosemite valley, you’ll ascend the rounded east face and ANOTHER 2000+ vertical feet using the cable path, to the summit. All of this is achievable but ONLY if you’ve purchased a permit to do so PRIOR to coming into the park.

THE (lack of) PLAN

Now, with no plan and clearly no permit, it was questionable whether we’d make it to the dome or not. Regardless, we’d take this adventure as it came and see what we could accomplish.

Here I turn again to Rico’s take on our day;

After breakfast, we ride west on Route 120 and make a beeline toward Yosemite National Park. After a few miles of staid, four-lane blacktop, 120 quickly turns into a wonderful two-lane highway that nicely reflects the character and personality of Central California. Our scenery begins as rows upon rows of various fruit trees, dotted with numerous roadside fruit stands. As we gently ascend into the highlands that precede the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the fruit trees fade away, replaced by heartier looking, less pampered trees that have a scruffier appearance to them. The colors change from the greens and reds of the fruited plains, to shades of brown and tan. The road becomes 8-10 miles of excruciatingly twisted and angry paved mountain road, requiring every ounce of Brian’s mental focus to navigate its relentless nature successfully.”

We reached the town of Groveland looking for a last stop gas station to make sure we were filled but instead we find a Yosemite Visitor Information center where we were helped by a lovely park ranger named Katie.

Katie was young, pleasant, extremely knowledgeable and finally, patient. She took her time thoroughly answering the seemingly endless questions from three Yosemite virgins. Her instructions, what to do and what to be aware of, where the nearest grocery store was, and most importantly that we should have no problem getting a campsite within the park. To this point she clarified, yes it was true if we had wanted to stay in the valley specifically we would have needed a reservation well in advance. However, there were a number of campsites, within the park, but outside the valley that all had open sites for a few nights.

From Rico’s journal;

The Main Street market in Groveland is less than a mile from the visitor center. There, we get freshly made deli sandwiches for lunch – just fill out a form where you pick your choice of meats, cheeses, bread, and garnishes. We also get ice, drinks, food, and other potential campground needs.

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at “The Rim of the World” – Stanislaus National Forest

On our way to Yosemite, as we pass through the Sierras, the scenery can only be described as strikingly beautiful. We pull over at a turnoff called “Vista – Rim of the World, Stanislaus National Forest.” Here, we are gifted with a glorious, panoramic view of the mountainous terrain we find ourselves squarely in the midst of. The vista, while breathtaking, unfortunately, contains some negative indicators of this part of the forest’s current state. A large portion has a pale, dry, death-like cast to it – reflective of the drought conditions that are prevalent here right now. We also see some black and charred evidence of recent forest fires, which, inevitably, accompany a drought.”

We got to the Western Gate and did as Katie instructed, we pulled to the right and parked in front of the park camping office to secure our site for the next two nights. As she predicted, there was no trouble getting a spot in Crane Flats, the second campground inside the park, campsite #825.

Rico:

After we make our campground reservation for two nights – a ridiculously good bargain at $40 – Rick’s enthusiasm takes a noticeable leap forward. When we enter the actual campground – inside the gates of Yosemite, he is akin to the proverbial kid-in-a candy store. The unexpected intensity of his childlike joy of being in Yosemite – somewhere none of us had ever been – was certainly infectious to both Brian and me.”

We entered Crane Flats and eventually got to site #825. A relatively minor mishap with our site cause some delays but eventually the camp was set and it was time to make our way to the valley for what remained of the afternoon.

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Our first glimpse of Yosemite Valley

The trip in was quick and easy and afforded us a great view of other areas of the park. We continued our drive when as we rounded a short bend, wham!! There was the valley laid out in front of us. Not surprising, there was an immediate vista point on our right, so we and a number of other park visitors, pulled off to take in the view.

It was stunning. Even from this distance and this elevation (we still weren’t in the valley) the view of Half Dome and El Capitan was breath taking. This is the part where everyone says, “you just have to see it to believe it”.

With photos taken, and our excitement reaching a peak, we got back into the truck and continued down.

Rico:

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the majestic El Capitan

Our initial foray into Yosemite takes us into “the valley”. The Yosemite Valley is centrally located within the park, and is close to many of Yosemite’s signature attractions, such as Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome. On the way, we pull off and walk through a small wooded area to get a superb view of El Capitan. At almost 7500 feet tall, only Half Dome is taller (at 8839 ft) within the expansive confines of Yosemite”

Once on the valley floor you lose your perspective as to what you’re seeing, as now you’re below the tree line and underneath the canopy. Moving through in the truck wasn’t going to do for us, so I quickly found a pull off and we disembarked from the truck to get a more close up view.

There was an easy trail off to the left and we followed it through the pines. Soon it opened up into a pastoral scene of high sierra beauty. Tall grasses fill the near by field while a shimmering stream flowed through. We walked in the shadow of El Capitan until finding a spot where the sun cut through the trees and stone.

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walking the river

It was breathtaking to say the least and the thought that occurred to us all, was how easily you could believe in giants after feeling so small in this environment. What did the natives feel when they walked this part of the earth thousands of years ago?

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“There be giants here!”

There was a good amount of stick and rock throwing as we revert to our childhood ways of play, but then it was time to move on. We had only just arrived and knew there was so much more to see.

One thing to note regarding the park, we of course had in our minds the idea that we would be in the wilderness, perhaps even alone amongst the trees. Yes we all knew this was a tourist destination, but you have high hopes of finding some amount of isolation. Going to Yosemite, you should know this is not the case. The park sees HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of visitors each month, and at peak season it can feel almost claustrophobic. For that we were glad we came in the off-season. We spent a little time in the Yosemite Village, checking on supplies and souvenirs, and couldn’t wait to get out. We were also very happy we chose to not stay on the valley floor.

YOSEMITE FALLS

With time to kill we thought we’d do a short hike and see Yosemite Falls, a short mile or so distance from Yosemite Village. Rico’s description here speaks to the tourist populations.

“…we decide to go on a short hike to Yosemite Falls. This “hike” is nothing like I had pictured it might be. It turns out to be a walk on an uphill path through some woods. The entire trail is paved, and there are numerous people, both coming and going, that we pass along the way. The one thing that is expected is the scenery. Lush, rugged, and striking in its picturesque beauty, Yosemite is just a privilege to be in and around.”

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The imposing, yet dry Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls is the 5th tallest natural falls in the world. At a towering 2,425 feet the falls consists of three sections, the Upper Falls, the Middle Cascades, and the Lower Falls. Its primary source, coming from Yosemite Creek, the falls are primarily produced from runoff every year of the proceeding snowfall. In years such as this, the falls in fact, were not falling at all. The California drought has been bad enough this year that in the late season of August and September its not uncommon as today that the falls are completely dry. To see the falls at their most spectacular, the early spring is when they run at their height.

Even though there was no water flowing, you can’t help but be awestruck standing at the very base of the massive shear rock face. Judging by the debris at the bass of the falls you can imagine the roar that must come when the falls are at capacity.

 

 

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Half Dome in the dwindling afternoon light.

With no water, we turned and followed the (yet again) paved path around its full length. As we walked back we were afforded one of the many beautiful treats the valley provides each night, as the sun sets hitting Half Dome and lighting it up with brilliant warm amber tones as it sits above the darkening valley floor. It was a fantastic sight.

We were back at camp as the last light of day was dwindling. We broke out our makeshift dinner for tonight, all of us still pretty full from the deli sandwich earlier. As the night came on, the fleece jackets came out, and soon so did the travel bar. Rick had gotten our first campfire going well and Rico and I couldn’t resist a nightcap in front of the flames.

Rico:

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1st night in camp. Keeping warm with a wee dram.

“…whisky (for Brian and I), and good conversation consume the rest of the evening. It has been a good and exceedingly satisfying day. We are certainly looking forward to tomorrow as we crawl into our sleeping bags a little past 11 o’clock.”

We talk into the night, staring at the stars above the redwoods, seeing the night sky light up with no ambient surface light to obscure our view. We talk until around 11:00 when we all head into bed, knowing we have a long hike ahead of us tomorrow.

 

 

**See “Part 2” for our conclusion**

Dinner and a discovery

Whisky and Wine

Last October we had the pleasure of joining the Wine and Food Society of San Francisco for one of their wine paring events. Hosted at San Francisco’s distinctive Jardiniere restaurant, we of course anticipated spectacular food and wine. But it was a quiet moment we found at the bar that put a special spin to the evening.

(*From the wfssf web site) The Wine & Food Society of San Francisco is a charter member of the International Wine & Food Society, and the first chapter to hold a dinner in North America. Each year members and their guests enjoy about ten evenings of fine wine and exceptional food at venues in San Francisco and surrounding areas.

The Society has built a comfortable-sized Cellar, so that most events are supported by wines chosen years before by the Wine Chairman. This tradition continues in selecting current fine wines for those who will enjoy these in the future. Each event is planned by a committee of members who work closely with the chef to tailor each experience.

Tom and his wife have been members for a number of years so Tom’s invitation to my wife and I had a convenient coincidence in that it was Leslie’s birthday, and cause for added celebration.

Having arrived early, resplendent in my black tie, I waited at the bar for Tom, Leslie, and my wife to arrive. While enjoying a glass of the featured chardonnay, I snuck off to the far corner of the bar, feeling exposited without my partner in crime at my side.

As anyone with an affinity for bar contents, it didn’t take long for me to examine the inventory of the spirits on the shelf. It was here I found something I had not seen before.

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Our discovery

Sitting at the far end were three distinct bottles, each with a specialty label. The label alone intrigued me so when Tom arrived, I peeled him away to examine the samples I had found. Completely unfamiliar with the brand we asked the bartender what it was. Clearly something unusual, our young friend had to call over the head bartender for an explanation.

The head bar tender for Jardiner is Greg Stone, a gentleman who clearly loves what he does.

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Our lesson from Greg Stone

He proceeded to explain to us the story behind the bottles and who Michel Couvreur is.

Michel Couvreur, having recently passed away, was a Belgian and independent bottler of single malt scotch. His cellars, located in Bouze-les-Beaue are in the heart of Burgundy where he aged his single malts for four years in hand picked sherry butts from Jerez.

The bar wasn’t open tonight; again our reason for being there was about the wine. However with true barman skills, our bartender offered us a pour of two of the three bottles so we could better understand what he was explaining.

He poured the Special Vatting and the aged 24 years versions, each having wonderful characteristics of their own. Tom favored the 24 year, I the special vatting. Both were spectacular, having full command of the sherry finishing Couvreur was trying to achieve.

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remnants of a wonderful evening

From here the evening was amazing and again, it really was about the wine and food. But starting with a specialty whisky and a great conversation with Greg Stone set our evening apart from most others.