Yosemite. To the summit of El Capitan and back.

Yosemite. To the summit of El Capitan and back.

The mountains are calling and I must go…

I have this thing where I do not remember too terribly much from my childhood. I am not one of those people who remembers my 5th birthday or who my teachers were in elementary school. I would not say that I blocked things out or had a traumatic childhood by any means, I just do not remember a ton without some prompting and a lot of thought. The memories I do have, that I hold very dear to me are of the outdoors. My Dad was an Eagle Scout and grew up sailing and spending lots of time outside in his native Louisiana. He passed his love of the outdoors on to my brother and me through weekly hiking, camping, backpacking, river rafting, canoeing, snowboarding, road tripping, and general exploration trips around Southern California all the way up to Yosemite and the greater Southwest over to the Grand Canyon. Even when I hit my rebellious years and wanted nothing to do with my Mom and Dad he drug my ass out for a day hike or a weekend camping trip until he couldn’t because it was no longer fun to bring an angst filled teenage rebel into the tranquil outdoors.

It is time to go back outside.

I found my way back to the outdoors as I grew into my own man. I think I understand what he was trying to teach us for so much of my childhood. I think he was saying that what we do for a living is not who we are. That there is always a peace in nature and a coming together that only happens away from all of the routine and the noise. The time we share with those we love and the experiences we have are what is important. Above all I took from him that adventure is good for us and we learn a lot about ourselves when we are outside.  When I think back on him now and all that we got to do I am eternally grateful. We backpacked into the Grand Canyon and camped near Mooney Falls. We went white water rafting on the Rio Grande. Hiked all over Joshua Tree. Explored Indian ruins in New Mexico, wandered in Yosemite, rode snowmobiles through Yellowstone, and the list goes on. More importantly than all of that is the gift of knowing what nature means and how powerful it is. If there is one thing I miss about living in the Pacific Northwest it is the hiking. There are endless trails and micro climates up there and my wife and I spent days exploring it all and barely scratched the surface. Whenever we are anywhere in Northern California or Oregon we make time to explore and get into the mountains. I feel at home there and always will.

From the Pines out to the Palms.

We have been in Puerto Rico for a little over a year now and have replaced our mountain adventures with the ocean. Whenever we are anywhere in Northern California or Oregon we make time to get into the mountains and hike. We recently had to head to my hometown of San Diego for work so we decided to take a detour north to San Francisco and then over to Yosemite. Amy had never been to Yosemite and I had not been in 15+ years so we were excited to explore. We flew into SFO and stayed the night just so we could eat at the best pizza place in the USA, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach. Get the Margarita and the Coal Fired New Yorker pizzas. They are the best ever and will ruin pizza for you from anywhere else. Amy’s first job when we moved to The City was at Tony’s right when he opened so when we go in there and see Tony it is always cool. He has been an inspiration to us as an entrepreneur and businessman and it is awesome to see him and see how both of our lives and businesses have changed over the years. We were struggling financially when we moved to San Francisco and still trying to figure things out. Tony’s Pizza was his second restaurant and was just building a name for itself. Now life is very different, he owns 16 restaurants and our life is unrecognizable as well. Every time we go to San Francisco we take a trip down memory lane and we build a lot of gratitude for the life we have lived and where we continue to go. After gorging we cruised around the city, did some shopping and headed back to the Marriott in Fisherman’s Wharf. We always stay there because we used to live right up the street and love to walk the waterfront and Russian Hill right up the street. The next morning we grabbed our rental SUV and headed to Yosemite.


Yosemite and The Great Outdoors.

As we headed over the Bay Bridge and past Berkeley and the Oakland Hills we picked up speed and left the traffic behind and headed into rural California. We decided to add Yosemite onto our trip last-minute so there were no hotels available in the park. We ended up staying at The Pines at Bass Lake which is an hour outside the park’s South Entrance and right near the town of Oakhurst which has some good restaurants (even a farm to table one) and conveniences. The weather was beginning to change when we got into the Yosemite area so it was overcast and damp which added a cool fall vibe to the area and also was great for pictures.

The Pines at Bass Lake was an interesting spot. It is a small, self-contained spot that had a couple of restaurants, a little grocery store, and great views of Bass Lake. One thing I thought was cool was the classic John Candy and Dan Aykroyd movie the Great Outdoors was filmed there and it still looks the same. We got a one bedroom Chalet which had a kitchen in it and a TV and a big balcony. It looked like any other 1980’s mountain ski-condo I have ever been in. It was a cool spot though and it was right on the lake and it was our home base for our exploration of a tiny part of Yosemite.

the great outdoors

If you’re going to go, go BIG!

When we decided to go to Yosemite we immediately began to look for hikes that were going to be epic and give us the chance for some great pictures and views of the iconic Yosemite features. We initially chose Half Dome. We wanted to scale Half Dome via the cables at the base. It was a 15 mile total hike with a 10 hour time commitment attached to it. We were in. Then right before we headed to California we got an email saying that they were taking the cables down and closing the trail the weekend before our arrival. Back to the drawing board we went. We then chose Clouds Rest, another 15 miler that promised beautiful views of Yosemite and big payoff view from the summit, we were thwarted again though by our choice of lodging. We were 2.5 hours away from the trail head and it was just not doable. Good thing we were visiting Yosemite and there is an abundance of large mountains to hike up. We ended up choosing to go on a long, strenuous hike to the summit of El Capitan.

El Capitan. The stats.

El Capitan or “The Chief” is one of the epic landmarks in Yosemite. The trail head for El Capitan is about an hour and half from Bass Lake. El Capitan is popular among rock climbers and BASE jumpers and is an icon in Yosemite. It is 7,569 vertical feet high and the hike from the base of the trail head and back is 17 miles. Before we headed out to Yosemite we hired a guide because we figured it would make life a whole lot easier for us and it wasn’t too expensive to do it. The company helped us through the craziness of choosing which hike to do based on where we were staying and the time of year we were going to Yosemite. As I mentioned earlier, we had to change plans a few times so this was a big help. We are not big on planning if we do not have to be so we wanted to simply show up and put in the physical effort (and there was a lot of that) and take pictures. You have to pick your battles and we were coming in from the other side of the country and wanted to hit the trails and, do something memorable as well as challenging. We were told the hike would take around 10 hours and we would climb roughly 2000 feet over the first 3 miles, and to bring water, electrolytes, and food.


What time did you say to be there?

We were told to meet our guide at the Yosemite Falls Bus Stop #6 at 6:00 AM. This meant that we would have to be up at 330 AM to leave Bass Lake around 4:00 AM to get to the meeting place around 530. I want to mention that I am not a morning person so the thought of waking up at 330 AM made me feel nauseous and filled me with a little bit of dread but you have to do what you have to do in the name of adventure! We packed our stuff the night before and hit the sack early, this is an accomplishment for me because I am a night person and generally cannot get to bed before midnight. As soon as I woke up we made some Amy’s Organics vegetarian burritos in the microwave, grabbed a protein bar and headed out the door into the cold dark pre-dawn morning. We got to bus stop #6 with plenty of time and with little trouble based on the detailed directions we had from our guide and we met him in the pitch dark, fired up our head lamps and head set off for the trail.

1000 feet straight up. That escalated quickly.

The trail started out as all hikes do, with a trip to the bathroom. While doing my biz I read a sign about how to fight off a cougar should I need to, I am glad I in fact did not need to on this trip… but there is always next time. We hit the trail from the bathrooms and I have to say that looking back on it I am very glad that we hiked for so long in the dark. The initial elevation gain is INTENSE so it was nice to just put one foot in front of the other and focus on the beam of light coming from our head lamps. The view that met us when we hit the Columbia Rock View Point made the climb worth it and gave us a ton of motivation to keep pressing on, but not before we broke out our cameras for the first time and geeked out for a half an hour. There was a bank of clouds covering the valley floor 1000 feet below and the sun was rising over Half Dome in the not so far away distance. It was one of those experiences in life that remind me that we are a small part of something much bigger and that nature needs to be protected and revered. It was a view that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.


When we were done with the view we got back on the trail and started the climb to Yosemite Falls. Since it was fall the falls were dry but the hike and the view were still worth it. The trail was steep with endless switchbacks made of uneven granite the entire way. The entire way up there was no one on the trail with us and we just hiked and talked while taking in the sunrise over Yosemite Valley and stopping to shoot the occasional picture. After the first few miles of the hike the steep elevation gain leveled off somewhat and the terrain changed from rocky mountainside to huge old growth trees and dense forest. It reminded me of being in the Great Pacific Northwest again.

El Capitan adventure

It wouldn’t be an adventure without a little adversity.

I love adventure and I love to challenge myself. I workout really hard with home workouts and also intense Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting training 6 days a week. I live to constantly push myself and see what I am capable of. I believe that if you put a challenge in front of me I will push through it and figure it out. When we hit mile 9 I hit my adversity. My quads and hamstrings began cramping. At first it was just an uncomfortable cramp that I was able to stretch out but it kept growing with every minor uphill section we hit. I felt like something was constricting my hamstrings to the point that I could not straighten my legs and it would not go away no matter what I did. We stopped a few times so I could let my legs calm down but it came down to me just gutting it out and keeping focused on the summit. In my experience that is what a lot of life comes down to, just making a decision that you are going to complete what you set out to complete and not letting anything get in your way. Before we reached the summit we came out of the trees into an area that had some big boulders to climb around on and a great view of Half Dome and the surrounding peaks. Amy and I took advantage of the area to get some awesome shots and rest my legs before we made the final push. With a little rest we were able to keep up a decent pace and make the summit at mid afternoon. The Summit of El Capitan is is a long wide slab of granite that gave us 180 degree views of the Yosemite Valley. It was a great payoff to the hike a perfect spot to eat our lunch and chill for a little while before we started back down.

summit Yosemite El Capitan

The descent.

You’d think that this would be much easier than the ascent and you would kind of be correct. My leg cramps gave me the most problems when I hit an uphill section so I was in much better shape going down than coming up. We finally ran into some other people as we were coming off of the summit and these were the first we had seen all day. We hustled down and made good time to the top of Yosemite Falls. When we got to the view point that is at the top there were a lot of people coming up and down and there were a couple spots that had turned into a traffic jam. When we hit the uneven granite of the last few miles we were all pretty shot, if you remember, we had to go down a few thousand feet in the course of a couple miles and it felt STEEP on our beat up legs and feet. I got a second wind around this point and just wanted to be back at the car and eating some food that was not in trail mix or bar form so I just kept my camera out, took advantage of the seeing the scenery we had taken in on the way up in a different time of the day, and put one foot in front of the other. It felt like it took forever to get back to the trail head, at this point we had been hiking for nearly 10 hours and 16 miles but we were nearing the bathrooms and our car. It was getting to be late in the afternoon and we were passing people who were just starting up the trail. We passed a log jam of people to enter the final set of switch backs that signaled the end of the trail and the completion of our hike.

yosemite valley view el capitan

The aftermath.

I have never been more excited to see a rental car in my entire life. I was beat when we were done and I immediately ran to the car and changed my sweaty clothes for something warm and comfortable. Amy and I said goodbye to our guide and jumped in the car and headed to the town of Oakhurst for some Mexican food at El Cid. 4 words. Endless. Chips. And. Salsa. I desperately needed some calories and gluttonously ate a burrito while Amy ate part of her own. We were both exhausted and already extremely sore and quite frankly, ready for bed. We hightailed it back to our chalet in Bass Lake and crawled into bed. I woke up at 4 AM barely able to walk but it was all worth it. We spent the next day driving through Yosemite in the Rain and taking pictures where we could. We are already planning another excursion out west to hit the other side of Yosemite. The challenge of hiking El Capitan was just what Amy and I were hoping that it would be. If you are going to do something, do it big. I feel like we got a great overview of Yosemite and were able to hike one of the highlights of the park. The views from El Capitan were seriously breathtaking and Yosemite as a whole is just what I remembered from when I was a kid. We did not get to go through the Mariposa Grove because it was closed and the weather was not cooperative for the remainder of our trip but the hike and being in the park among the enormous mountains was enough. If you have not been to any of the National Parks I recommend planning a trip and going. Each time we explore I immediately want to go back. Challenge yourself and go explore something a little off the beaten path. See some things that every person who visits the park do not get to see. Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all. — Helen Keller



Posted on

December 1, 2016

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