Yosemite Valley Highlights

Or perhaps this post should be called “a hopeless attempt to visit the highlights of Yosemite Valley in one week”.

Altogether we spent about 10 days in Yosemite National Park.  My Dad thought perhaps that was his longest trip ever in ~70 years of visiting Yosemite.  We had seven of those days in Yosemite Valley, but that was barely enough time to start on the list of things I wanted to do there.  It’s an incredible place really.

The first day found Ferda and me on The Grack, a three-pitch 5.6 finger crack on Glacier Point Apron.  The finger crack on P2 is seriously outstanding.

The Grack finger crack by bryandkeith on flickr

It gets pretty thin by the top of the third pitch.
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Tuolumne Meadows Domes

Basket Dome, North Dome, Lembert Dome, Half Dome, Polly Dome — our first few days in Yosemite NP were spent around some of Tuolumne Meadows’ famous domes.

Megan dropped us off at Tuolumne Meadows and then had to drive home, but that didn’t mean that Ferda and I were on our own.  My parents drove up to meet us in Tuolumne, and we continued our Yosemite adventure with them.  For the first day all five of us were together, and we chose the brilliant hike to North Dome.  On my only other visit to Yosemite my Dad and I walked up Half Dome and Clouds Rest so we had great views of North Dome then.

On this trip our hike to North Dome included views of Basket Dome and Clouds Rest:

IMG_20180908_121403 by bryandkeith on flickr

and views of Half Dome:

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Auto-touring the eastern Sierra with Megan

From Anchorage Ferda and I flew to southern California and managed to fit in a short car camping trip with Megan while she still had a few days off.  Growing up in southern California, both Megan and I have made many trips through the eastern Sierra, but there’s still a lot to see.  The main goal of this trip was to visit the bristlecone pines in the White Mountains, but we also stopped at Fossil Falls, Alabama Hills, Manzanar, and Gardisky Lake — all places that none of us had been to before.

Fossil Falls was Chad’s recommendation and a place my grandma enjoyed visiting as well.  It’s a short detour off 395 near Little Lake.  An ancient river sculpted a small canyon through the basalt leaving interesting rock formations.  Supposedly there are Native American grinding stones and petroglyphs around, but we didn’t have any luck finding these.

The short walk to the canyon reminded me of the area around Palm Springs.

Fossil Falls:

IMG_20180904_161452 by bryandkeith on flickr

Palm Springs:
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How to get to and from McNeil River (or not?) (and more bear photos)

The logistics of getting to Alaska’s McNeil River State Game Sanctuary at first seemed a bit daunting.  The area’s remote — there are no roads, the nearest village is probably Kokhanok, ~30 miles NW.  King Salmon is “only” about 75 miles WSW of McNeil, but what almost all visitors do is fly from Homer (100 miles ENE of McNeil River) with Northwind Aviation.  Also, the weather’s crappy at McNeil so you need good rain gear, waders for crossing the tidal/mud flats, camping gear since there’s no accommodation, and food for quite a few days since there’s a good chance you’ll be staying longer (or shorter) than you planned because of bad weather.

Thankfully Kevin and Elise were able to loan us one of their cars for the week, and other friends in Anchorage — Peter, Galen, and Todd — got us set up with fancy rain gear, boots, and the requisite waders.  Even with the car, getting to and from Homer turned out to be more of an adventure than we expected.  We drove out of Anchorage in pouring rain, stopping a couple times to try and figure out why the car was making such strange noises.  Our first real stop was at the Byron Glacier Trailhead at Todd’s recommendation.  We didn’t get to the base of the glacier — like Mendenhall, it has retreated greatly — but we were able to test our rain gear!

IMG_20180821_112752 by bryandkeith on flickr

After a brief stop in Kenai to see where I worked over 25 years ago, we visited the Russian Orthodox Church at Ninilchik and camped nearby with beautiful views of the Redoubt and Iliamna volcanoes.
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Six days of bear viewing at Alaska’s McNeil River State Game Sanctuary

Generally you have to be pretty lucky to get a bear viewing permit for McNeil River.  We considered ourselves especially lucky last year since we had never even applied before.  However, the late season permits, blocks S and T, are the easiest to get (because bear counts are the lowest), and the tides were such that last year’s T-Block permits looked to be three-day permits instead of the usual four-day permit.  Even though we “won” the lottery, we gave serious thought about whether it’d really be worth it to visit McNeil River during T-Block last year.  We’re glad we did it.  Bear viewing at McNeil River was a fantastic experience, the most amazing wildlife viewing I’ve ever done (seeing the gorillas in Mgahinga NP in 1998 is now second…).

P8220037 by bryandkeith on flickr
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