A Yosemite Start To A New Year on the Bike

For the full photo diary for this part of the tour please click here

At some point I know that I’ll have to leave my snowy home here in Yosemite National Park… that time is yet to come. When I rode over I expected to be here until today when I hoped to ride out south over Hwy 41. Another day of snow has combined with an ever-deepening love for the Park in delaying this departure date indefinitely. I shall probably have to hitch-hike out as the road I came in on is closed due to land slide and the 41 will take me on a climb to above 6,000 feet and certain unfriendly bike conditions.

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Looking east down Yosemite Valley towards Half Dome

The last couple of days of 2010 were gorgeous up here; sharp blue skies have sat commandingly over the cold snowy valley. I have finally been able to go out and have a couple of days hiking in this granite dreamland of knee weakening faces, iconic big walls and enormous boulders. The nagging feeling I had of having walked into a Ski resort has been entirely lost in the stride on icy trails and my mind has completely opened to the wonders of Yosemite. There is an elaborate infrastructure in place that caters for the four million tourists who flock here every year. It is the gloss of these facilities over the constant movement of tourists that give the place more of a Disney land feeling than one of a protected wilderness area. I would ordinarily have expected this to turn me off the Park and indeed it was starting to, but having now explored away from the valley floor I find this quality rather endearing. The splendor that surrounds me could doubtless inspire anyone with an ounce of romance; geological forms that battle amongst themselves for attention. Although I’ve been captivated by the majesty of Half Dome, this is just one of the geological wonders that saturate each wall of this incredibly flat-bottomed valley. Why wouldn’t millions of people want to come and celebrate this beauty? Sure there are people around who don’t ‘belong’ in this environment but a mile in any direction out of the valley and you’re in the backcountry.

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Clouds just waiting to clear out of the Valley

One of the major draws of solo cycle touring is your accessibility to people; you are approachable and assumed to be amenable. This social angle on touring has awakened an increasingly large portion of my spirit over the last few months. So much so that I am really enjoying having people around in the valley. I am staying in Camp 4, the summer home to the Parks huge climbing community and the winter home to the visiting hard-core. Over the time I’ve been here I’ve seen several people come and go, but prior to New Years Eve, there have seldom been more than about four or five tents in residence. If you mention you’re staying in Camp 4 while in any other part of the park you’re often met with astonishment; it’s the place people drive by on their way out, see the few tents marooned within a thick sheet of snow and say to one another ‘those people must be mad’. Camp 4 is like the ghetto of Yosemite accommodation, a perception that draws amused smirks from those of us that call it home.

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Brandon, Ryan and Matt at Camp 4

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Nabeel, Aran and Arnan at Camp 4

Winter camping is incredibly liberating yet still only for a select few. You can guarantee that if someone is camping at -10 degrees celsius in the snow then they’ve probably got something interesting to say. This has been the source of great fun at Camp 4. Until yesterday we had quite a community, with Nabeel my camp neighbour, the ‘fearless wilderness wanderers’ Brandon, Ryan and Matt across the way and the ‘Bay Area Crusaders’ Mr & Mrs Aran behind the toilet block. A couple of nights ago we came together around a camp fire to talk as only those who brave Camp 4 in December do. It is this kind of gathering that I miss out on with my usual commitment to stealthy camping. When I said goodbye to Nabeel on the way up to the Upper Yosemite Falls yesterday I was left hollow in the thought that these brief but inspiring friendships would be resigned to history on my return to camp.

The hike up to Upper Yosemite Falls was hard work but a real thrill (much like life as a cycle tourist in general). Nabeel and I set off early to hit Columbia Rock, a great vantage point from which to view  the Valley below. We plodded up in just under an hour of perfect morning light, slowed by the irresistible compulsion to photograph Half Dome. On reaching the Rock I fixed my guerilla tripod around the safety barrier to get a picture of the two of us together. As we stood there, our photo faces on, the camera slowly topped backwards and down the snowy cliff beyond. Luckily it perched just ten feet below us on a deep bank of snow. Having tried and quickly ascertained that trying to climb down would end in a mournful knock on my parents door, I set off down back to camp to retrieve anything that may help me fish the camera from its precarious new home. I stormed down the icy slope and sweated my way back up in incredible time, before fashioning a hook out of a bungee cord and tent pole to hoist the camera back up to comparative safety. An amusing little side trip that introduced me to Roland who would accompany me a good deal of the way up the remainder of the climb.

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Upper Yosemite Falls in front of Half Dome

The trail up to Upper Yosemite falls was hardly broken, with only a few hardy souls making their way up following the snow dump of a couple of days previous. Those who had braved it did so in snow shoes. Before I kicked my way up there I know of only one other guy who had done so without snow shoes. Kicking steps on steep icy slopes and precariously treading so as not to step through into the several feet of snow layer  beneath, I laboured my way up the ascent. A few feet from my final destination I could be found wading through snow up to my waist. A real blast of a good time leading to the thrill of knowing I was likely the last person to look down on the valley from this point in 2010.

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Posing at the top of Upper Yosemite Falls

I returned to camp tired and with feet swimming in snow melt. As I trudged back to my tent beyond the vacant lot that was Nabeel’s I was busy working out how I was going to dry my slowly freezing feet and then find a party to celebrate the New Year in with. The campsite had doubled in population with the influx of New Years revellers and as a ‘howdy neighbour’ rung out across the darkness, I was relieved for this new blood. Any thoughts of a lonely cold end to 2010 were quickly dispelled as I was summoned into the fold of the ‘L.A. Bear Grylls Appreciation Society’, aka Mark, Anna, Paul and Jeanette. Despite their inexplicable adoration of Mr. Grylls, they had everything I could ever have asked for; amusing characters with a penchant for the more enlightening things in life. I duly spent New Years Eve drying my feet by a blazing fire whilst sipping fine Champagne. These guys have bought an additional class to Camp 4; they’ve bought bling into the ghetto with their fine food and camp chairs… car camping certainly has its perks!

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Paul, Jeanette, Mark and Anna: Bringing the decadence of L.A. to Camp 4

Thus a new year has rolled in. It is 2011 and an open-ended platform for adventure. I’ve met some unbelievable people in 2010; from the good folk of Fairbanks, through all the kind people who have helped me in my journey, to my Vancouver saviors and now the personalities of Yosemite. I cannot even begin to fathom what 2011 may bring me but I welcome it with an overwhelming sense of optimism and excitement.

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3 responses to “A Yosemite Start To A New Year on the Bike

  1. Hey friend and camp neighbor!

    Here’s to mountain men, back country hikers, and all the people who build a fire when it’s 20 degrees below freezing. Here’s to everybody who made Camp 4 a neighborhood.

    Hope you have safe travels, and I also hope you have many more ways to apply your ingenuity. Speaking of ingenuity, I posted some photos from the trip. Check out the last one:

    http://www.facebook.com/album.php?fbid=497503951951&id=778671951&aid=295375

    Nabeel

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