Not a single person I spoke to in Yosemite was on their first trip there. They return year after year to take in all that the park has to offer and they probably still have so much to see. The south end of the park is littered with groves of giant sequoias. These three thousand year old trees are wide enough to drive through and over 200 ft tall. As one drives toward the center of the park they begin to see the majesty the valley holds. The floor is bustling with life, from the lush green plant life supported by the mighty Merced River to the thousands of tourists milling about the lodge and other attractions. From the floor looking up you can see steep rock faces, including that of El Capitan, and if you are lucky enough, you may even spot one of the many climbers it draws each year trying to scale the giant granite vertical. People are so captivated by the Sierras, that every year they come to do the same hikes, stay in the lodge, or just come to play their guitar on one of the porches in the valley.
My father and my uncle Pete had caught the bug on one of their first trips out and had returned several times since then. Once again they had quite a bit of knowledge on where to go and what to see. The first thing on the list was Half Dome, and to make the summit you needed to get permits. Last year we were denied, but this year my Uncle Pete had suggested we get a backcountry permit (which is needed to go on the trail for a number of nights, carrying all our supplies in our rucksacks) because it is usually easier to get acess to Half Dome through a combined permit.
This year, we were granted access and I was pumped to go. The only question was, how would my circulatory system hold up at nearly 10,000 ft. above sea level? My heart already has issues transporting oxygen throughout my body. A normal oxygen saturation is around 100, whereas the upper 80's is good, and anything above 90 is great for me. Around 9,000 ft. altitude sickness sets in and oxygen saturation levels drop 10%. I would be going higher than that, and as one goes higher, the air definitely gets thinner. I was not nearly as worried about it as my parents were (as per usual), before my coil embolizations (operations that put stainless steel corks in my septum to stop red and blue blood from mixing) my oxygen saturation was in the low 80's, upper 70's, and if I had lived there before I could do it again. Plus, the hike that my uncle had planned for us was mostly downhill, starting from Tuolumne Meadows in the eastern part of the park, we would take 3 days and 2 nights to hike down to the valley floor. Our last day would be the toughest, we would summit half dome in the morning and then finish our 20 something mile, 3 day excursion to the floor that afternoon.
When it was originally planned, it was just Jeff, Cola and I, but about a month before we left my father told me that he and my youngest brother Paul would join us. Both my parents were more at ease to know that I would be with an experienced hiker who was well versed in my medical history. Plus my Dad was definitely stoked to have an excuse to get off from work and come out West. I was ecstatic as well, to learn from my father and to spend quality time with my brother.
After a drive from Las Vegas and a night in Sequioa and Kings Canyon, we met my dad and Paul in Yosemite. The drive into the park from the south entrance was amazing, especially when you get to the valley, there are some amazing views of El Capitan and Half Dome. I was expecting the amazing scenery though, what I was not ready for was the amount of people. They were everywhere! It was not as bad as the tourist death trap known as the Grand Canyon, but there were still throngs of tourists everywhere. After catching up with my father about the journey thus far, we prepared our backpacks for our nights back country and our car for it's nights in bear country. There were two rules, anything that has an odor in your backpack went into a bear canister and everything smelly in the car went in a bear locker. When fitting 3 days of food, cooking supplies, medicine, and toothbrushes for 3 people into a tiny bear proof can, it basically comes down to science. One can only bring the necessities, and even though this should have been more challenging than fitting the leftovers from the car into a bear locker, we had so much food, so many medicines, soaps and sunblocks in each one of our bags that finding it all was a challenge. When we finally did, we all crammed into my father's rental car, and with Paul kicking the jams, drove through Tioga Pass to Tuolumne Meadows, to find the Cathedral Lakes trailhead.
To be continued...