Yosemite – North Dome Hike

Our trip to Yosemite was more than just another adventure into another majestic national park.  It was a journey to visit the roots off the climbing community.  To experience the place that influenced our decision to take a hiatus.  The love of the outdoors and hiking sparked the flame of adventure and it was the articles, books, and movies about the Yosemite Valley that added fuel to that fire.  I wanted to see, smell, and feel the area that helped lure me to dream of our hiatus adventure.

Yosemite was the epicenter of the climbing community starting in the 1960’s and continuing to today.  Climbing icons like Warren Harding, Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, Tommy Caldwell, Lynn Hill, and Alex Honnold climbed here.  These names are probably insignificant to 99-44/100% of my readers, but in the rock climbing world they are synonymous with the sport like Michael Jordan to basketball, Babe Ruth to baseball, or Mohammed Ali is to boxing.  They have set the standard for the climbers to come.  Their climbing accomplishments and stories of adventure inspired me to push my own boundaries, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Our daughter Kayla asked to join us……no make that begged to join us on our visit to Yosemite.  We started hiking with her when she was just a toddler.  Then, I don’t think she really appreciated the beauty of hiking, but as she got older, she developed her own true love of the outdoors.  She has always wanted to see Yosemite and, as with us, it was one of the few places that we never had the opportunity to visit but it was a mandatory destination on this hiatus.  It was a little crowded with 3 in our little van, but how could we say no?

kayla-4-hiking-in-mt
Kayla Hiking in Montana age 4

On the decent into the valley a brief glimpse far up-valley reveals Half Dome framed by massive vertical granite walls foretelling the grandeur that is yet to come.  The road continues to lose elevation it passes through a series of tunnels carved through the granite until it emerges onto the surprisingly level and wide forested valley floor.  Travelling further up-valley trees give way to meadow and a massive granite wall reveals itself.  El Capitan, the rock climbers Everest, rises 3000 feet straight up.  Vehicles line the side of the highway.  Tourists peer through binoculars to get a glimpse of some elite climbers on the wall.  The climbers exist in an inhospitable vertical granite world that the rest of the population thinks is on the verge of insanity.

 

vickie-kayla-in-front-of-el-capitan
Kayla & Vickie in front of El Capitan

Inside I secretly want to pull out my climbing shoes and free climb 5 feet up just to imagine what it might be like up a thousand more feet.  But I am not worthy to even touch that rock.  I am just a chubby old country boy.  My climbing experience qualifies me to climb El Capitan as much as my bench sitting B-squad basketball experience qualifies me to play one on one against Michael Jordan.

We piled back in our van and headed towards Yosemite Village.   We passed Camp 4 (See the film ‘Valley Uprising’) and headed to the Visitor Center to get hiking advice from the experts.   The ranger suggested a hike to North Dome which provides a perfect view of Half Dome from across the valley.  As of yet we had still not been awarded a permit to attempt the Half Dome hike.   As we walked back to our van we bumped into the valley’s “wildlife”.

This mule deer buck didn’t seem particularly wild.

view-of-half-dome-from-north-dome
View of Half Dome from North Dome

Yosemite National Park is much larger than just the Yosemite Valley.  We drove an hour from our campground on the west side of the park to get to the trailhead for North Dome.  The hike to North Dome is about a 600 vertical foot change over about 11 miles.  It follows mostly through the forest for a few miles before opening up to a clear view of the whole Yosemite Valley from the north side.

up-valley-from-north-dome
Up Valley

From the top of North Dome was had a perfect view of the most iconic feature in Yosemite National Park, Half Dome.

kayls-looking-at-half-dome
Kayla looking at Half Dome (23 years old)

We stayed on top of North Dome for a couple of hours just soaking in the scenery.  Exposed granite monoliths worn smooth by ancient glaciers dominate the area.  Lodgepole pines cling to life, growing from cracks in the surface of the granite.  It is rugged and beautiful.

One the trek back to the parking lot we took a .3 mile side excursion to Indian Rock, a natural granite arch.

indian-rock

We climbed around and on top of Indian Rock.

sean-on-top-of-indian-rock

The whole experience off North Dome was more than just a cool hike.  It was a chance to experience the area we have only seen in pictures and videos.  We were able to see in person the beauty and really understand the allure of the area.  Because of the sheer vertical walls and massive scale, I can see why the world’s best climbers come there to test their skill.

We took plenty of pictures, but pictures are just 2 dimensional representations of the real thing.  They don’t really capture the depth, feel or the visceral experience of actually being there.  But, for me, I can look at these pictures now, close my eyes and smell the lodgepole pines, feel the dry warm breeze on my face, and visualize the contrast between sunlit granite and the shadowy cracks of those massive walls.  And, I can taste the adventure.

Go.  Prioritize your adventure and create your own memories.

 

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