First stop after arriving in San Francisco, In-n-Out Burger. After gorging ourselves on the best burgers known to man we proceeded to a somewhat grimy, yet cheap hotel south of Oakland to lay our heads for the night. The guy at the front desk was sleeping on the floor, it was so sketchy. This was an upgrade from the last adventure where I got sick during landing at Salt Lake City, we proceeded to a 24 hour grocery store, then at 1:30am we set off on a 4 hour trip to Canyonlands straight through the night. Believe me when I say I was grateful for this.
I was white-knuckled and terrified in the passenger seat of our rental minivan (yes, a minivan). The roads are narrow, on one side there is oncoming traffic and the other a 2,000 foot drop off. Some areas lacked guardrails altogether, but the scenery around us left me speechless.
In the valley I felt a sense of awe, as if I was in a fairy tale. I can understand why John Muir spent so much time in Yosemite. Just as soon as the incredible vistas popped up so did the hotels, swarms of tourists, and huge visitors center area. Yosemite Valley is a town, it has a post office, store, hair salon, you name it. It put a bad taste in my mouth from the very start. I’m not a fan of the development. I focused my eyes in on the rock walls where if you looked closely you could actually see climbers! Almost as soon as we got into the valley we had to head out to our engagement shoot! Jessica Micheletti of Caked Imagery took amazing shots of us on the Taft Point trail, on Sentinel Dome, and at Glacier Point (pictures coming soon)!
Just FYI guys, I froze my butt off during this shoot. The temperature went from a comfortable 72 degrees down to 40 degrees. The wind was like knives.
Back in the valley it got cold, but wait, what’s this? Oh yes, we have a minivan. Our camping experience for the next four nights will be warm and toasty as we will sleep in the van. The best part? Minimal set up and clean up. This will enable us to maximize our adventures!
I woke up early, freezing cold. I could see a theme developing. After an enormous heavy breakfast we packed our backpacks, packed camp, and made our way to Tuolumne Meadows.
Anton and I could not stop taking pictures. By the time we got there it was already 1:30pm. I fell in love with this side of the park. It was wild, it was different. No, it wasn’t dramatic like the valley, but it actually reminded me of Zion in so many ways.
From Tuolumne meadows we began an overnight backpacking trip from the horse stables to Glen Aulin, a High Sierra camp. The camp was closed down, but backpackers were still welcome, we walked along the Pacific Crest Trail for six beautiful miles. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Was it dramatic? No. It was elegantly beautiful. It was simple scenery, but it gave me so much joy. To top it off this was an easy hike, mostly downhill. Glen Aulin is a canyon, you have to hike down and on the way you witness the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen.
That evening we enjoyed our delicious dehydrated packets, which I found surprisingly tasty, in the company of a communal fire pit. We met Dreamwalker and Tumbleweed, an older adventure couple, don’t ask me to recall their real names. They were friendly and great company on this freezing cold night. We camped on top of a bluff, the stars were bright and every single noise made me want to scream. Everything as usual is a bear, it could be the wind, but to me it is a bear.
We shivered in our sleeping bags and held onto each other in an attempt to stay warm. I used my scarf as an extra layer beneath me to keep myself warm. We barely slept because of the cold, but of course we were grateful to be in this beautiful place along the PCT.
5:30am, too cold to sleep, too cold to move. It’s best to sleep in your sleeping bag with minimal clothing in order to optimize the warmth it can produce. In this case I still wore my fleece leggings and base layer. Anton was awake too. We bravely got out of our sleeping bags and threw on our clothes as quickly as possible. By my estimation it was about 24 degrees on our little bluff. The frozen ground and cold rock made it worse. Now I was truly freezing and all we could think about was fire. Dreamwalker told us where he found firewood which was all driftwood from the falls. We found enough to start a fire that would burn long enough to warm us up as we ate breakfast. My body was working hard to stay warm and I was burning calories quickly. Soon we were joined by Dreamwalker, Tumbleweed, and other backpackers. I was surprised to see that we were the youngest people in the camp.
When we left and made our uphill trek back to the car I started feeling weak, I couldn’t breathe, I felt hungry and lightheaded. My brain felt like it was going to explode, I had altitude sickness. My body was not yet acclimated and I couldn’t get enough oxygen to my blood. Anton has hiked at these elevations numerous times so he had no trouble, but this was my first time. The heavy backpack didn’t make it easier. It took us 2.5 hours to hike the six miles to Glen Aulin, but 5 hours to get back. Each step felt like twenty and I needed to stop and rest every few hundred feet. My breathing continued to become labored and the pain in my chest was worse. At this point I couldn’t enjoy the hike, I reveled in the moments I wasn’t moving. If it was flat I could function, but a slight incline set me over the edge. At least my first high altitude hike was an easy one, we almost hiked Cloud’s Rest, that would have been a failure for sure. Most people don’t react to elevation until around 10,000 feet, but I’m guessing the 30 pounds on my back lowered my threshold.
I was the happiest person alive when I saw the minivan and could finally rest. Anton wanted to continue adventuring in the park, and truthfully I did too, but my body was completely exhausted. We sadly had to opt to go back to the campground and rest.
Lets play a game of where’s Natalie! Did you find me yet in the picture above?
Of course you didn’t, that’s El Capitan and I’m not that crazy yet. The keyword being yet. We went into the valley for the moment I waited for all trip, rock climbing. No I can’t lead belay at this time, so that severely limits the options since most of Yosemite is trad. All I can do is top rope now, but that never stops me. The little top roping we could find was hard, probably harder than most I’ve ever seen. We looked in the Swan Slabs area adjacent to El Capitan and finally found a short climb that would work. Since we booked this trip I dreamed of the rock climbing. I belayed Anton up with relative ease. He’s tall and has an advantage. I couldn’t lift my leg up high enough to the first foothold. This wasn’t working for me, I wanted to give up, but Anton wouldn’t let me. I just hauled 30 lbs of climbing gear 3,000 miles after all. Finally after 20 minutes of slamming into the cliff and falling I found an alternative traverse which began as a crack climb. It didn’t take a lot of strength surprisingly, but it did take skin off of my hands. They were torn to shreds afterwards. Getting to the top was euphoric. Maybe it wasn’t a Half Dome or El Cap, but the accomplishment felt so much greater. I took an “I can’t” and turned it into something positive. Sometimes it is okay to alter your plans in order to accomplish a task. Regardless of how I got there, I did it. This little cliff fueled the fire. Someday I might attempt climbs far bigger than what I am doing now. The bravery is there, the desire is there, now I just need the skill and strength. There aren’t many moments in life where I’ve ever felt happier. If I don’t keep climbing I won’t be satisfied with myself.
We spent the afternoon hiking on the North Dome trail and made it out to Indian Rock before I was too nervous to continue. I would have done anything to avoid more altitude sickness. Indian Rock was something else. An arch, a little piece of the southwest in the high sierras. There was also another little piece of the southwest, a snake. Anton saw him and we both scurried up to the nearest rocks. My worst fear and our cue to leave.
We went to Pothole Dome next to attempt to find another top rope anchor, but my hands were frozen. Even if I wanted to climb, I couldn’t. We left, but I felt content with the wonderful day we had in Yosemite. It wasn’t the perfect adventure, but it was my Yosemite adventure and I’ll always cherish it. Yosemite has taught me to be flexible. It may seem obvious, but for most of us flexibility is difficult. When we learn to relinquish control and acknowledge that everything will work out, we accept ourselves and find contentment in life. Adventure helps us find contentment.
We took so many pictures on our Yosemite adventure. Click here to check out my new gallery page where you can see all of the pictures from our trip!