It was a typical night at the end of July. I was at home multitasking: cooking dinner, scrubbing the floors, and planning a wedding while Hilary was sipping a beer on the couch watching the Cubs. My friend Ben (we’ll call him Bearcat cause that’s his other name) sent me a text. It read: ‘Hi’. I responded appropriately: ‘Hi’. After a few more messages shared between Bearcat and me, I discovered he had a trip planned back to the continental U.S. (Bearcat lives in Hawaii). During his visit, he planned to hike in Yosemite and Death Valley and wanted me to join him. Obviously, I said yes, or I wouldn’t be righting this write now (nailed it).
Our plan was as follows:
I fly from Des Moines to San Francisco (via Vegas) on Monday, August 28. We drive to Yosemite on Monday evening. We camp and hike in Yosemite between Monday night (technically Tuesday morning) and Thursday afternoon. On Thursday, we drive from Yosemite to Death Valley, where we spend one more night (at around 8,000 feet of elevation, so no it wasn’t 110 degrees at night). On Friday, we wake up and drive to Las Vegas, where I spend one night before flying back to Des Moines. Ben and his friends would be staying through the weekend.
Monday rolled around, and my flight to Vegas was smooth. I had a few hours to kill, so I found a slot machine that came highly recommended: Lucky Larry’s Lobster Mania III. I lost $4 in about 5 minutes and decided I’d rather spend my money on a beer. Lucky Larry sucks.
After flying from Las Vegas to San Francisco, Ben picked me up from the airport in our shnazzy Jeep Liberty. We met up with his mom and her boyfriend for a quick drink (hi Mary!) before departing on the 4ish hour trip to Yosemite.
However, before leaving, Bearcat and I stopped at the highly touted ‘In-N-Out Burger’. Not gonna lie: I was not impressed at all. The burger was more or less forgettable, and the french fries tasted like they had been cooked, frozen, then reheated in the microwave. Maybe I had a bad batch of food, or maybe the restaurant is just over-hyped. I didn’t try their milkshake because nothing compares to Graham’s, anyway.
I digress. A friend from high school gave Ben and I a few recommendations on what to do in Yosemite – one of those suggestions was to check out Glacier Point – a scenic lookout close to Half Dome – at night. It just so happened that Ben and I arrived at night, so we headed over to Glacier Point!
There was only one problem – fire. As we found out the following morning, there were a handful of controlled fires in Yosemite. Where there is fire, there is smoke, and where there is smoke, you can’t see Half Dome. I mean, we could sort of see the outline of the mountain, but not really.
After our night hike (if you can call a quarter-mile walk on pavement a hike) without a view, we walked back to the car and decided to find a place to sleep. Bearcat and I both had hammocks with bug nets, so we drove towards a roadside parking spot, walked into the woods, found some trees, and strung up our hammocks to get some shuteye.
Until a very loud car drove up to the side of the road. We were probably 50 feet from the road but could hear the car very clearly and but were worried that some park rangers were going to have our car towed. You see, we didn’t have a camping permit for that night (whoops). We woke up, decided to head back to the car (~4 a.m.), and then discovered our mistake: it was two guys in a large, fuel inefficient (assuming) camper. We talked for a few minutes, pointed them in the direction they wanted to go, and they were off. By that time, we were tired enough and decided to sleep in the car. We drove back to Glacier Point, found a nice parking spot, and slept in the car.
Bearcat and I woke up around nine under clear skies and decided to walk the quarter mile to the ‘point’ at Glacier Point. On our way, we were stopped by a Park Ranger and told that the road we were on was closed down due to the controlled fires, so we had to leave and did not get a good view of Half Dome.
Our initial plan for our first hike was to go to Mirror Lake, which, you guessed it, reflects off of Half Dome and North Dome just like a mirror! However, due to the smoke, it was suggested we call an audible. We did and decided to hike to Ten Lakes Pass. That hike was about 6.5 miles with about 5,000 feet of gain (I think). All I know is that it was a very tiresome hike, and we found ourselves off trail a few times (but never for long!). The hike was more than worth it, though, as our destination provided a roughly 270-degree view of nothing but mountains. The weather that night was beautiful, we enjoyed some ramen noodles (cooked using boiling water from my Jetboil) and washed out dinner down with some refreshing brewskis.
OH YEA AND SOME FLAMIN’ HOT CHEETOS!!!!!
The next morning, Bearcat and I woke up to the pitter patter of rain. We grabbed our $8 Walmart tarps, draped them over our hammocks, and went back to sleep. A few hours later we got up, had breakfast, and headed back to the car. The hike back down was not nearly as bad as the hike up, but it was just as breathtakingly beautiful. We also saw a deer, so that was kinda neat.
Day Two in Yosemite was designed with an eleven-mile hike in mind. After determining that we were not, in fact, crazy and we did, in fact, have jello legs from the prior day’s hike, we did what any good quarterback does: we called another audible!
We grabbed our maps and our equipment (Bearcat basically had everything we needed because he’s in the Army and has good equipment) and planned a different hike. We located another small lake on the map, found a solid mountain close by, and we were off to Potty Pass! It was actually called Polly Pass, but Potty Pass allows for more humor. The 2.5 mile hike to Potty Pass was nowhere near as challenging as the one the day before.
The wonderful aspect of this traverse, though, was the need to go off trail. Once we were directly west of Potty Pass, we started hiking east. Since the mountain was covered in trees, we couldn’t exactly see the top; but based on the topographical maps and our GPS location, we knew generally where to hike.
After dodging, ducking, dipping, diving, and dodging around, we made it to the top of Potty Pass. And was it BEAUTIFUL. I can’t say that we had a better view than night one – but it was close. There was also something to be said about being present in a location that trails didn’t lead. The absence of any trace of humanity was comforting — Bearcat and I knew we were two of few people to camp up there. After building a fire (don’t worry, we were allowed to) and enjoying some whiskey, ramen, the warmth of the fire, and fantastic conversation, we fell asleep.
The next morning was fairly uneventful. We said goodbye to Potty Pass and started back towards the car. Neither of us got hurt, which was a win ‘cause there were multiple stumbles as we descended the mountain.
After returning our Bear Box (yes — all food and scented items were in a box that bears were unable to open) we started our 4ish hour drive to Death Valley!
Before moving forward — let me explain how upsetting it was to not see a bear: it was mildly upsetting. We were hoping to see one from afar, as we had been told the bears (small brown bears, I believe) were very skittish and afraid of humans. However, the deer was saw was very bold and didn’t run away…so maybe we got lucky by not encountering a bear. Idk.
Back to the trip and Death Valley.
You may be thinking: Why FUCK do you want to go to Death Valley, let alone SLEEP in Death Valley? Well, Bearcat and I are (cue Larry David voice) pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty badass (end Larry David Voice). Also, we camped at a site ~8,000 feet of elevation, so it did get pretty cold at night.
Back to earlier in the day – driving through Death Valley. It’s hot. Very hot. We were driving with the windows down, cruisin’ at 70 MPH, hands out the window. You’d expect a nice breeze, right? WRONG. It’s roughly 105 degrees and dry, so it felt more like Drogon was breathing fire into the car.
We eventually made it to our campsite — but not before we almost POPPED A TIRE 30 MILES FROM CIVILIZATION. The last 4 miles of our the drive was unpaved and had about 4,000 feet of elevation gain and was 95% single track (meaning only one car could drive on the road at a time). It took Bearcat and I roughly 30 minutes to drive those 4 miles to the campsite. In hindsight, we should have found a place to turn around after about 5 minutes; blowing a tire on THAT road with no cell service would have been demoralizing, and we would have had to hike the 26 miles to the nearest ranger station.
But we made it. It was a beautiful place to stay. We were still in the treeline, and there were plenty of trees around, so our view wasn’t outstanding. I’ll give Death Valley this, though: I would slightly consider going back, especially in a car that had 4 wheel drive.
Also, I always thought of the desert as just having sand and cacti. That’s not true. There’s some shrubs and lots of rocks. And there’s also lots of sand and cacti.
The night was stormy, it was chilly, and we couldn’t make a fire. We did, however, enjoy a few more beers and, of course, some more FLAMIN’ HOTS!!!
The next morning, driving back down the gravel road was no better than driving up it. This time, Bearcat was driving, and I was the one pooping my pants. We made it down and hit the road for Las Vegas.
These are the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns — used to burn trees and create charcoal. They were used in the 1800s for a few years. The charcoal was transported to a nearby mine to be used as fuel. If you’re interested, check out the page.
All in all, I couldn’t have been happier that I decided to go on this trip with Ben. It’s always fun to take trips and see new places, and Yosemite is definitely one that I will return to sooner rather than later. For now, I’ll enjoy these videos. You can, too! They’re only available through this post!
To summarize the trip: everything did not go as planned, we had lots of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and my desire to travel and see more national parks has only continued to grow. If you haven’t been to Yosemite or Death Valley, GO! THESE PICTURES AND VIDEOS DO NOT DO IT JUSTICE! You won’t regret it.
Until next time,