Project Half Dome: Permits Secured

half dome glacier pointBy Heather

All the time we’ve been planning our Half Dome hike this summer, we’ve also known that it could be for nothing if we didn’t get the permits we needed.

Huzzah! It wasn’t for nothing! I returned to work after a week of vacation to find an email from Yosemite saying we’re all set! Nothing I’ve done to prepare makes it feel as real as this. We’re going!

Getting permits

Half Dome is a hugely, hugely popular hike, so Yosemite restricts the number of climbing permits every year. I knew we had a decent enough chance, since we had one preferred date and two alternates, all on weekdays.

The process for obtaining a permit when you’re backpacking in the wilderness is a little different from the cable lottery in a few respects:

1. The Half Dome permit attached to a wilderness permit is undated. You can go anytime when you’re out there on your wilderness permit. Cable lottery permits for day hikers are only for a specific date.

2. You request the wilderness permit and the Half Dome permit at the same time. There’s no risk here if the Half Dome permits aren’t available: you just check a box asking them not to process anything if that’s the case.

Tips for a successful application

If you’re planning the Half Dome trek, my suggestions to you would be:

  • Do your hike on a weekday, if possible. Your chances of getting a permit on Friday-Sunday are not great.
  • Request your wilderness permits or the Half Dome cable permits (if you’re day hiking) the VERY SECOND reservations open.
  • Pay attention to the dates that things open! The process for wilderness permits opens sooner than Half Dome lottery permits, for example, so know when you need to pounce. Not everything opens up at the same time. I set up calendar alerts for this process with links contained in the details section so I didn’t lose time looking for information or forms.
  • If there are any people in your party who may or may not climb, don’t make them the trip leader on your application. For permits to be valid, the trip leader has to be there, so make it someone who is reliable and definitely will be climbing.
  • If you’re planning to stay in Yosemite beyond just climbing Half Dome, make your lodging reservations the day they open, which is usually one year+one day in advance. Although the park suggests calling for the most up to date inventory, I made a reservation at Housekeeping Camp (our favorite!) online and had zero problems.

New Year’s (Hiking) Resolutions

view cucamonga peak trailBy Heather

I can’t believe that this is the year I started hiking.

It began in February with a trek to the Hollywood Sign that I enjoyed so much, the fever struck hard. Challenging! Rewarding! Fun! More or less free!

Fast forward to now, where I’ve been transformed into a nut who stares at the mountains off in the distance and dreams of when I can go back. We talk about the mountains almost every day while driving to work. I point out peaks I want to go to, peaks I’ve been to, peaks Darren should really see, wonder what it looks like up there right this second.

“Look at Baldy! It’s beautiful!” Or sometimes just, “We were up there, right at the top. ‘Member?”

Suddenly, everything John Muir said about nature and solitude feels so deeply true. The mountains are calling…one finds more than he seeks in nature…

I have hiking to thank, too, for this being the first year where a resolution to lose weight appears nowhere on my list. Nope. Hiking majorly whipped my ass into shape this year! It was a nice side effect, I’m not going to lie.


Next year, I want more of it. More hiking, more camping, more beauty, more surprises like inversion clouds and Bighorn Sheep.

 1. Climb Half Dome. We’ve secured our wilderness permits to backpack in Little Yosemite Valley, and we’ve got our Half Dome tickets to climb the cables! This was the only thing that could have potentially screwed up the trip, so it’s now officially ON. We’ve also booked a celebratory lunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel when we return from the trek!

2. Climb Mount Whitney. Permits still need to be secured, but I’m crazy excited about this one. Oh, and I recently learned that Norman Rockwell climbed it on a whim! I’ll be walking in big footsteps on this hike.

3. Have a three-peak day. My peak-bagging adventures have so far been one at a time. This year, inspired by an Instagrammer who had an insane seven-peak day, I’m going to try a three-peak one, probably in the Cucamonga Peak area, since there are several clustered over there. Gotta work my way up to seven! I love a challenge.

There are a few other things on my list that don’t quite rise to the level of resolution but “If it happens, that would be awesome”: Climb Mt. San Gorgonio (11,500 feet), San Jacinto (10,800 feet), Mt. Baden-Powell (9,400 feet) and the Bridge to Nowhere hike.

It’s pretty likely that at least one of these will happen – Jacinto or Gorgonio are great Mt. Whitney training hikes. I did fine above 10,000 feet on Mt. Baldy and had no altitude sickness, but I’d like to get up even higher and see how it goes.

Yes, we are still camping

Fret not, we’re still camping. This year wasn’t a great one, honestly, and I think we’re enjoying our break right now.

Things just never really gelled this year, and nearly every trip had something shitty happen. By the time our last trip rolled around in September, we were ready to rest for a while.

The biggest area we could improve with our camping is dealing with setbacks. As I described our current attitude to Darren recently:

“Camping is going to be so much fun this weekend! We’ll get there, get all our stuff set up and then kick back with some drinks, have dinner and it’ll be a great time and WHAT?? THE SHOCK CORD IS BROKEN?! FUCK THIS!!”

Um. Maybe camping is meant to test our resourcefulness. Maybe it’s not meant to go perfectly all the time. Yep. Camping almost four years now and just having this epiphany.

Happy New Year and Happy Hiking and Camping in 2015!

Camp Reads: ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed

By Heather

wild cheryl strayed book reviewFrom my office, I can see the San Gabriel mountains. They feel like old friends. I want to visit them again. I miss being in there, covered by trees, hiding from the world.

It’s going to be a while before I can go back.

I’m in bed right now, recuperating from surgery. It will be a month before I can really exercise again. Next week, I’ll be able to do some light exercising – walking, elliptical sans arms, cycling.

No hiking. *sob*

I miss my mountain friends. I miss those early-morning hikes, the solitude, the element of danger, the being-in-the-moment that comes easily when hiking. Life and its pressures melt away and on the trail, everything is distilled down to what you need, to the very essentials.  Everything about what you thought you could do is blown to pieces. You’d be surprised at what you can do.

I can’t get lost in thought. I need to watch my steps. I need to look around and appreciate the beauty. I need to be alert and present in case of dangerous wildlife. There’s not much room for thoughts that take you elsewhere, away from these mountains.

Wild isthe story of a woman who hiked about 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail after her mom died and her marriage fell apart.

From the start, her journey is distilled into two simple objectives: to survive and to heal her shattered heart. She hikes through desert climates, high Sierra snowpacks, takes a few detours to avoid the snow, meets mostly kind strangers, some unsettling ones, and a few dickheads.

She comes to places expecting water where there is none. At one point, one of the packages she sent for herself at a stopping point was missing the $20 she thought she had put in there. Cheryl needed the money, too – she had sixty cents to her name by that point.

When you’re forced to be resourceful, to find ways to survive and get by, how can you simultaneously be lost in thought about the past and your future? There’s something so primal about that, getting in touch with the instinct to survive. Worldly problems don’t matter or exist. There is nothing else on the trail but to enjoy the beauty and survive the journey. Walking meditation.

By her own admission, Cheryl makes a lot of mistakes leading up to and during the hike. She didn’t watch the weight of her backpack. By the time she attempted to put it on, its 70lbs wouldn’t even budge. She didn’t know how to use a compass when she started the hike, but learned along the way. She bought brand-new hiking boots and didn’t break them in.

But despite the pain her mistakes cause her, she never gives up. She wants to sometimes, but doesn’t, no matter how bleak it seems. She gets resourceful.

If you’re new to hiking, I really highly recommend Wild because it’s a great example of what not to do. Experienced long-distance hikers should enjoy this book, if only for the stellar writing, but especially if they’re considering making this trek themselves. Apparently, you’re in for a lot should you attempt it.

The movie is getting great reviews, too, so I plan to check that out ASAP!

Icehouse Canyon to Cucamonga Peak II

By Heather

Darren and I had Veterans Day off and no plans to do anything, so I decided to head for the hills once more to Cucamonga Peak. Given how busy the trail can be and the timing of the holiday this year and the decent weather, it seemed like a good time go again.

icehouse canyon cucamonga peak

The icehouses blend in so well with the scenery that I noticed a few more this time that I had missed the first. This one is fairly early on.

ducks cucamonga peak

There’s a brief stretch where you lose the trail, and these ducks will save you. I had a hard time spotting them the first time doing this hike, but this time I noticed them all over. They were SO helpful.

Apparently, they’re also controversial. Some people think they violate the “leave no trace” ethos, which…okay? I guess. But it’s rocks stacked up. It’s not vandalism, isn’t not human waste or garbage, and it isn’t taking anything. These people also seem to think that they should be knocked over at any opportunity. No one seems to be bothered by the signage throughout the trail, though…

Anyway. As someone who gets lost really easily, you’d be sending me to a certain death if you knocked them over. Hope you can live with blood on your hands!

cucamonga peak trail

Follow this trail from Icehouse Saddle. The best part about the saddle is that you’re well past halfway there – you just hiked 3.7 miles, only another 2.4 to go!

view cucamonga peak trail

About 20 minutes after leaving the saddle, I noticed the clouds. Holy crap!

cucamonga peak sign

If you read the last post about Cucamonga Peak, you might recall the handmade sign that gave me pause. Now I have proof of how sketchy it looked. Would you trust this thing? It looks like instead of the peak, there’s a guy with a chainsaw waiting for you at the end.

This is the last .2 miles, and then you’re there.

cucamonga peak clouds

Would you look at that? Incredible. The only other time I’ve seen a view like that is from an airplane.

There were a few patches of ice around close to the summit. By the next time I’ll be free to go, it’ll be too cold and icy. It was already chilly at the very top – in the high 40s and windy.

At the summit, I attempted a few unimpressive selfies with a small tripod, had a snack, then went home to another planet.

cucamonga peak

A Change of Plans

mount whitney


By Heather

“So, when are we doing Whitney?”

“I was thinking 2016.”

“Twenty sixteen? Why not twenty fifteen?”

I couldn’t think of a good reason. It just seemed logical…Half Dome in 2015. Whitney in 2016. I don’t know, Kilimanjaro in 2017?

I’m spacing out big adventures…why, exactly? Someday isn’t a guarantee, you know. Someday is just a wish. Some will be granted the wish, others won’t. If you want it, do it now.

Fuck someday. I’m ready now.

So, Steve and I are going to climb Mt. Whitney as a day hike in 2015! (Darren hates hiking and wants no part of this business, so he’ll be waiting for us down at the bottom in Lone Pine.)

The hike is also dependent on whether we can nab a permit, which is a highly competitive process. Flexibility is on our side, though; we’ll climb any day of the week during the season!