Mt. Whitney Passes: Got ‘Em!

By Heather

At the beginning of April, we got our passes to climb Mount Whitney. Which is very, very awesome, but it was stressful as hell!

The whole process started when the application process opened up on Feb. 1. There is no advantage to applying early, by the way. The applications are gathered together on March 15 and dates are assigned at that point.

But I applied early because that’s just how I roll.

But then…

We didn’t get the passes. Boo!

Although the lottery is the best chance to get a pass, general sales for the remaining/unclaimed passes were going on sale April 1. There weren’t many – some days had no passes, others had just a handful.

Me, Darren and Steve were ready at our computers with a few pre-selected dates, ready to pounce at 7 a.m. But milliseconds after that, they were gone. Holy shit. I knew this stuff was competitive, but I wasn’t prepared for that.

I did actually get to a screen where I needed to enter additional information, but when I clicked “proceed to shopping cart” they were gone. That seemed like a little bit of bullshit. How about giving me 30 seconds to enter everything before just giving my tickets to someone else?

A few hours later, I checked again. There was a date in September with four passes available. Sold!

Funny thing, I guess: my cousin swooped in at the last minute and got the fourth pass. After all that stressing and strategizing and waiting… But I’m thrilled that she’s going! She’ll probably beat us to the top by hours.

Going in September is a little more chancy, I hear – storms get more and more likely the later in the year it is. But September is still supposed to be one of the nicer times.

One crazy day hike. 22 miles round trip. We’ll start the hike around 1 a.m. It takes about 12 hours, start to finish. It’s going to be the craziest, the most challenging and the most fun thing I’ve ever done. Feats of physical endurance have always appealed to me (it’s long been a dream to run a marathon, but I just can’t run with these knees), which is a big reason I enjoy hiking so much. There are always opportunities to push yourself and get better.

Hiking for me has had so many moments of “Wow. I had no idea that was in me.”

I’m a little nervous, a little “Oh shiiiiiiit, what did I sign up for?” and a lot excited!

How to apply

You can select up to 15 dates on a single application. Each application is $6. Given how competitive the process is, unless you can do one date and ONLY one date, you should pick as many of the 15 as you possibly can. Weekdays are are lighter than weekends, but weekends appear to have more no-shows.

To better your chances, you should have everyone in your group apply, too.

Study the Inyo National Forest Mt. Whitney website – there’s a wealth of information here about the process, plus valuable statistics and so much more.

Reading preparations

As I bone up on the hike and prepare myself, two resources have been awesome:

More Half Dome/Whitney Preparations

By Heather

There have been grand plans to write individual posts on all the junk we’ve gotten for ourselves in preparation for the Half Dome/Mt. Whitney ascents this year, but my non-hiking life has been too hectic for that business.

As anticipated, Christmas yielded a lot in the way of gear! So, let’s get started.

Biolite Wood Burning Camp Stove

biolite camping stoveThis is the item we’re most excited about.

The Biolite is a stove that uses no fuel AND charges your electronic devices while it’s on. The product suggests twigs as a fuel source, but you can use anything that burns, including the box it comes in. I plan to copy the trail map section of One Best Hike: Climbing Yosemite’s Half Dome and use that for fuel on the trek, Wild style.

Clocking in at 2 pounds, it’s not ultralight, but it’s compact, really sturdy and light enough for shorter jaunts.

Teton Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack

teton backpackFor a starter backpack, the Teton is a great pack! It has also been nicely marked down from the original $130 price.

It’s very sturdy, fully adjustable, has enough space for a 1-2 day trip, has a million straps and compartments, comes with a rainfly (a good thing, since we always seem to be getting stuck in bad weather) and weighs 4.4 pounds.

We went for the internal frame style because they’re supposed to have more stability. I’m the acid test for that one, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m really impressed with this backpack, and think they’ll serve us well for years to come.

Lands’ End Packable Down Jacket and Vest

It kills me to type Lands’ End’s name with that errant apostrophe and all. Gah. Let’s try not to think about it, because I’m really happy with the down jacket and vest I got at a killer 60% off.

Although I needed both of these things for non-hiking, non-camping life, I chose them with hiking in mind for three reasons: they’re very light, they’re warm enough for me (who tends to run hot, so I don’t need much), and best of all, they pack into their very own bags!

Coleman Insect Head Net

The last time we hiked the valley floor in Yosemite, these obnoxious little bugs hovered in front of my face the entire time, never touching, always hovering, as if to say, “Not touching, can’t get mad. Not touching, can’t get mad.”

Fuck them. This head net is knocking that shit off right now.

Fleece Blanket

At CVS the other day, I noticed some giant fleece blankets on sale for $3 each, so I grabbed one. It’s light, it’s warm, it’s big. This blanket, the down jacket and my thermal gear are what I’ll be relying on for warmth while sleeping. Hope I don’t die of hypothermia!


Waterfalls in Yosemite will be in full effect when we’re there, so I grabbed this poncho to keep me dry while hiking the Mist Trail portion of the Half Dome hike.

A pretty good haul, if I do say so myself. We’re pretty much all set with gear for the Half Dome hike, and now the focus will shift to getting food, procuring more permits (Mt. Whitney’s lottery opened today!) and tying up loose ends. For Whitney, we still need a few things that can wait for now, like bear boxes and the infamous WAG bags (which rangers pass out, I hear, but I don’t want to count on that!).

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!