Itinerary #3 – Summit Half Dome

Photo Credit: Ansel Adams

Today’s itinerary is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and tentatively have scheduled for my 10 year wedding anniversary — I still have a couple years to convince the better half.

Fly into San Francisco, rent a car and make your east to Yosemite National Park.

Photo Credit: Ansel Adams

Half Dome is one of the most recognizable rock formations in Yosemite National Park, the granite dome rises almost 4,800 ft from the valley floor, and close to 8,800 ft above sea level. The park offers a trail that snakes it way from the valley floor to the summit and can be completed in a solid day of hiking.  The trail is about 14 miles roundtrip and can take up to 10-12 hours to complete, with an elevation gain of 4,800 ft.  I’m planning on doing a bit of training before taking on this challenge.

Photo Credit: Sierra Journal

One of the highlights of the Half Dome hike is the final ascent which is done with the aid of steel cables on either side of you.  The cable section is a 400 metre climb to the summit.  One recommendation I’ve seen mentioned frequently is to bring gloves for this section.

In 2010, Yosemite introduced a permit system for the Half Dome hike because there was too much traffic on the trail.  The park currently allows 400 hikers daily on the trail, before the permits they were seeing an average of 800 hikers on the weekends.  The process has changed over the 2 years and it is now a lottery system that starts in March. So even if you’re thinking of doing the hike in August, you’ll need to enter the permit lottery in March.  Keep this in mind when planning this trip.  Go here to enter the lottery.

Things to bring on the hike – well worn hiking boots, lots of water – I’d recommend a camelback which makes for easy access while walking along, and a warmer layer as the temperature can change dramatically as you leave the valley floor behind.

Accommodation – I plan on staying in Curry Village which offers very rustic cabins, this way you don’t need to bring a tent & camping gear.  The village is located in the park and is also close to the trailhead for the Half Dome hike.

Food – Stock up at a grocery store before entering the park.  There are restaurants located in the park as well.

Ansel Adams

I’d recommend staying at least 3 days in Yosemite, 1 day for the Half Dome hike and a couple more for discovering the many breathtaking vistas.  Make sure to have your camera fully charged and allow your inner Ansel Adams to reveal himself.

Now, if I’m going to make this fly as an anniversary trip I would plan on finishing my week with a few days in Napa Valley at a nice resort & spa.  To take some time to recover from the hike with good wine, good food and a massage.

Photo Credit: Ansel Adams

Here’s a few tunes I would have on my iPod for this trip.

  1. California Stars – Wilco
  2. Mountain Sound – Of Monsters and Men
  3. At Dawn – My Morning Jacket
  4. The Weight – The Band
  5. That Western Skyline – Dawes
  6. Hard Sun – Eddie Vedder
  7.  Truckin’ – The Grateful Dead
  8. Heart of Gold – Neil Young
  9. Going to California – Led Zeppelin
  10. Vesuvius – Sufjan Stevens

Hill Tribes & Vistas: Sapa

Vietnam is becoming a hot spot on the Southeast Asia travel route, but the remote village of Sapa in the northwest of the country is still considered to be off the beaten path from Saigon to Hanoi or vice versa.

The landscape is mountainous with lush green vegetation and terraced rice paddies built into the sides of the mountains.  The people in this area belong to various hill tribes such as the Dzao & Hmong, and are friendly towards travellers.

A popular way to see this area is through a homestay with a local family, you’ll get to experience how people in this area live and get a taste of their unique culture. There are tour operators in the area that can set this up:

The best time to visit Sapa is either March – May or Sept – Dec, when the weather is very pleasant and rainfall is minimal.  There are lots of trails in the area for hiking, multi-day trekking, or mountain biking.

If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, you should make space in the itinerary for Sapa, it’s a little out of the way but the experience will be well worth it.

Angels Landing Hike

The Angels Landing hike can be found in Utah’s Zion National Park, which is about a 2.5-3 hour car ride northeast from Las Vegas.  The park is situated along the Virgin River which has carved out Zion Canyon over millions of years.  The closest town to stay in while visiting Zion is Springdale, it’s a great little town with lots of choice for accommodations & meals out.

As you enter Zion Canyon, Angels Landing looms ahead of you in the distance jutting out from the canyon wall.  If you’ve been planning on hiking it, you’re likely a little anxious at this point based on what you’ve read – very dangerous, those with a fear of heights should not attempt, # of deaths, etc.

The hike starts on a wide paved path at the base of the canyon wall after you cross a bridge over the Virgin River.  The path gradually get steeper and eventually becomes switchbacks up the canyon wall.  A tip would be to get an early start (7-8am) as this stretch is in the open sun and could be scorching by noon, as well as very busy. After the switchbacks, the trail flattens out as you make your way into Refrigerator Canyon which is shaded and cool.

You’ve now reached Walter’s Wiggles, which are a series of 21 very steep switchbacks that lead to a beautiful lookout point  and the start of the Angels Landing ascent.

This is where it does get a little dangerous, the remaining 0.5 mile is a hike/scramble with the aid of a trusty chain to the Angels Landing lookout.  This section can take up to an hour, and should be done slowly and with a lot of caution.  There are some sections that are quite sketchy and test your nerves, but the pay-off at the end is definitely worth it.

The round-trip will take anywhere from 3-5 hours depending on how quick you’re walking and how many breaks you’ll take.  Make sure to take a nice long break at the lookout before the final push to Angels Landing, the views are spectacular.  I’d recommend a good pair of shoes & a Camelback for easy access to your water.

Here’s a great video that shows the whole trek. Enjoy!