Training: Gettin’ Right with Nature and Falling on My Ass

Trust me, training on the old school stepper is not going to be ideal. In June I will get to experience the beautiful Yosemite National Park, but while training I plan to experience Minnesota’s beautiful spaces. The forecast was looking a bit warmer than usual, so I threw on my pack with two law textbooks and a giant yoga book inside and headed to Afton State Park in Eastern Minnesota. The husband and I hiked the park a few weeks prior. At that time the snow was well packed and easy to navigate with just hiking boots. This time, however, was a different story.

Did you know that snow melts when it gets warm enough, but overnight that melted snow quickly turns to ice? What a concept! Apparently Mom and I forget this act of solidification from middle school science.

I love hiking at Afton. The park has quite a few hills to conquer and it’s pretty ideal for training. We hadn’t gone far before Mom said, “Was this a good idea?” We were slipping and sliding all over the place. Mom took the first fall. I took the subsequent two. These were no little stumbles. My last fall included soft ground and mud all the way up my left side. Mom noted that I at least knew I could get back up with my heavy pack on my back. I noted that these conditions would be relatively similar to Yosemite in early June.

I had minimal bruises the next day, but realized this was probably a great learning experience. Falling sucks and could be disastrous on a trip like the one we’ll be taking. Depending on trail conditions in June, we might have to invest in crampons or some type of traction for our boots. Unfortunately, this is gear we might not have the opportunity to use prior to our trip as most of the snow is now gone in Minnesota. Looks like another thing I’ll have to reassess as the date gets closer. FullSizeRender-2

The pup and me. Not pictured: Mom and the mud along my backside.

Plan B, C, & D

Turns out June 8 is pretty early in the Yosemite backpacking season. Of course it’s all dependent upon the amount of snow that fell that winter, but in early June there’s the potential for snow on the trails and road closures. I was so excited when we scored our wilderness permits. Now that excitement is starting to dissipate and I’ve had to get real with the conditions we might be facing so early in the season.

Sure enough Yosemite has had quite a bit of snow this winter. As of February 1 the snowpack in Yosemite was well over 100%. California has been suffering from a major drought so I am happy for all the snow, but I also have to put it into perspective of our early June trip. If the spring is wet and cool, there’s a good chance Tioga Road, the road that’ll lead us to our trailhead, will be closed due to snow. And remember that high creek crossing the woman at the Yosemite office warned me of? That’s going to be the biggest challenge. As much as I like a challenge, I don’t want to risk being swept away in a creek. For now we’ll have to watch the weather reports and see how things progress through May.

Being the planner that I am, I don’t feel comfortable just hoping conditions work in our favor. Based on recommendations from various helpful people on some backpacking forums, I’ve been looking at routes that have a higher chance of less snow and no risky creek crossing. The biggest problem, however, is getting permits from a different trailhead. If conditions don’t pan out for Plan A, we’ll be crossing our fingers to score a first-come, first-serve permit when we get to Yosemite. We might be at a disadvantage with four people in our group, but only time will tell.

In the meantime I’ll be studying my maps and obsessively routing out hypothetical Plans B, C, and D.

Training: Kickin’ it old school

I like to research stuff. Like a lot. My regular workout regimen includes two or three yoga classes a week, some weight lifting, and usually one or two indoor rowing classes a week. But I wanted to know the best way to physically prepare for Yosemite. Of course just getting out on a trail with some weight in my pack is an obvious choice, but I needed some more options for when I can’t get to a trail. In comes a stepper!

blog1You know those old school, Jane Fonda, high tops with scrunched socks aerobic steppers that were big in the 80’s? I actually have one (Thanks, Sam) and one website I came across said that if you don’t have access to a few flights of stairs, you should invest in a stepper. Put on your backpack with some weight and get to steppin’! So that’s pretty much what I did. Clouds Rest and Half Dome ain’t got nothing on my sweet stepper!


Who even has a fax machine?

Apparently Yosemite National Park is stuck in 1992. In order to apply for wilderness permits you have to fax in your application. Sure you can call, but don’t be upset when you just hear a busy signal. Do anyone even have a fax machine these days? The answer is no. No one in this modern era has a fax machine. I asked all sorts of people and everyone just chuckled at me.

During my process I failed to ask my husband about a fax machine. This was apparently a mistake that would’ve saved me a lot of time and minimized the number of people who laughed at me. Turns out the law firm he works for has a subscription to an online fax service. Well doesn’t at work out nicely? On a Friday the initial thought of going to Yosemite was just a small one. On a Monday we were faxing in our application with three different dates in June hoping that one of them would be open for four people starting at Sunrise Lakes.

Luckily Yosemite doesn’t need to fax your application approval or denial back to you. Surprisingly I heard back via email in just 24 hours. Unfortunately, the dates I chose were not available for four people. Back to square one I suppose.

I filled out another application with different dates and told my husband to send it out the next day. I wasn’t sure how long this whole back and forth would go. There’s four of us and only nine openings at Sunrise Lakes each day. I decided to have my husband hold off on sending out the application and see how lucky I’d get with calling. At least that way they can tell me which days even have four spot available.

After only three tries I got through. The complete shock that I was able to get through caused me to be silent for the first few moments and the woman almost hung up on me. June 8th was the latest date available within our timeframe and I said I’d take it. “Just to let you know,” the woman on the line said, “this date, and earlier ones, are open due to a high creek crossing warning for that time of year.” I was just excited that we finally had our permit that I just responded with, “That’ll be okay.” She then asked, “Half Dome?” “We might as well.” We might as well test our luck with the lottery.

Just like that we had our permits. On June 8th four us will be backpacking from Sunrise Lakes to Yosemite over four days. After I got off the phone with the woman from Yosemite I was inspired to get outside right away. I grabbed my dog, put my snowshoes in my backpack, walked a few blocks to the parkway by my house, and took advantage of the few inches of snow that fell the night before. Training had to start now.

(Side note: I received my permit via email and noticed that it said the following:

Entry Date: 06/08/2016
Entry Trailhead: Sunrise Lakes
Exit Date: 06/11/2016
Exit Trailhead: Happy Isles->Little Yosemite Valley
Number in Party: 4
Number hiking Half Dome: 4

The last part was confusing to me. Are we entered into a lottery for Half Dome or did I also just get us permits to climb 400 feet of super scary cables? My credit card was only charged for the wilderness permits. I thought their was an additional permit fee for Half Dome so I assumed that meant we were entered into the lottery. Considering all questions have to be sent through actual mail [Yosemite, when will you get with the technological times?] or you can test your luck by calling, I figured I’d play the “how many times will it take me to get through on the phone” game again. The magical number was ten this time. Turns out we do indeed have Half Dome permits. Oh boy…)

Permits and Initial Plans

When I got the grand idea to backpack in Yosemite for a few days I thought we could just show up with our gear, have a planned route, and just head on into the wilderness. Little did I realize we need permits to overnight in the wilderness. And those permits aren’t necessarily easy to come by. Each trailhead has a quota for the maximum number of people who can enter each day with the intention of overnight backpacking. Most trailheads have between 14 and 24 openings per day with 40% of the permits set aside for first-come, first-serve backpackers.

Unfortunately, our times for travel are limited. My husband graduates at the end of May, we have a wedding to attend at the end of June, and studying for the bar will be top priority in July. That doesn’t leave a lot of options. Based on my initial research and suggested four day backpacking trips from various websites and forums, I was inspired to tackle Clouds Rest during our trip. At 9,931 feet, Clouds Rest gives hikers breathtaking views of the entire park. I mapped out a 16 mile route starting at Tenaya Lake and finishing in Yosemite Valley. For my first big trip like this I didn’t want to bite off too much. I figured five miles or less a day, including a strenuous hike up Clouds Rest, would be plenty for us. I also took into consideration that this route feasibly includes Half Dome.

When talking to Trudy, my friend who will be joining us on our trip, about backHalfDome2packing in Yosemite she said, “What about Half Dome?” I wasn’t too familiar with it, but I knew it was a tough route. Trudy was ambivalent about tackling Half Dome, but I figured I’d look into it before completely writing it off. Of course Half Dome too requires a permit. For the final 400 feet hikers reach the summit with the assistance of cables that are hammered into the granite. With only 300 people, 75 which being overnight backpackers, issued permits to ascend the cables of Half Dome, I figured our chances were slim but worth a shot. Based on my research I figured all Half Dome permits were issued based on a lottery. I never win anything via lottery so I figured I would just keep Half Dome in the way back of my mind.


Where to next?

My husband has been in school for quite some time. Two undergraduate degrees led to a Master’s degree and finally law school. At the end of May he will be wrapping up his schooling. In celebration I wanted to plan something special for him. I toyed with various trips for the two of us like New York City or Seattle and he just shrugged and said he’d rather go to Yellowstone or something.

For years we’ve been promising friends and family in LA that we’d make a trip out to see them. I figured this was the perfect time. Just a few weeks ago I said, “We’ll fly to LA, spend a few days there and then go to Yosemite to backpack.” My husband was a little surprised that I initiated this plan, but he was all for it. Within 24 hours of my initial thought to head West I had started looking at routes in the national park and convinced two friends of ours, a friend of mine from college and her husband who live in LA, to join us.

I’m an obsessive planner and something like this really excited me. Where will we go in Yosemite? What’s it going to take to do a four day trip in the wilderness? Images of Reese Witherspoon in Wild constantly flashed through my mind. The book and movie bring up so many images for people when the topic of backpacking arises. But I’ve always thought of Cheryl Strayed’s book as the antithesis of a how-to guide. Proper planning and preparation is essential to do even just a short trip in the wilderness. All gear will be tested in advance, maps will be studied, and there will be zero freak out moments. This essential preparation is all to make the trip more enjoyable and truly take advantage of the area we will get to experience.