Tag Archives: hiking

Vogelsang: A Yosemite First

The trek to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp begins near the Tuolumne Meadows backcountry permit station. A brief part of the hike in overlaps with both the John Muir Trail and the mighty Pacific Crest Trail

The trek to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp begins near the Tuolumne Meadows backcountry permit station.

I’ve blogged about Yosemite on several occasions. I’ve recounted a time I took a friend to the park for the first time, a time I hiked up Half Dome, and a time I cross-country skied to Glacier Point. Each time I trek to Yosemite I try to experience it in a new way, through the eyes of a first time visitor or on an entirely new adventure. This weekend I explored a new part of the park and dipped my toe into the High Sierra Camp culture and tradition.

Yosemite is home to five High Sierra Camps that form a popular 51 mile loop. Lots of people hike the full loop, staying at a different camp each night. Others enjoy individual Camps on shorter trips.

Each Camp has around 12 tent cabins that can be rented, and each is equipped with cots and log stoves for warmth. Some Camps even have shower facilities and all of them serve you a hearty dinner and breakfast the following morning. Securing spots in the tent cabins is a lottery, so planning takes time and patience. Each Camp has an adjoining backpackers camp and each day a few meals-only spots are held for those that fully trek in, bringing their own sleeping bag and tent to pitch, and roughing it out under the stars.

This weekend, we took advantage of the “meals-only” opportunity at Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, a 6.7 mile hike south from Tuolumne  Meadows, and it was a fun, new way to experience Yosemite…

Glen and Derek

A brief section of the hike up to Vogelsang overlaps with both the John Muir Trail and the mighty Pacific Crest Trail. In several beautiful spots, the trail crosses the Tuolumne River, as it begins its journey to Hetch Hetchy. 


Vogelsang is the highest High Sierra Camp at over 10,000 feet. Our trip up with backpacks (sans food and cookware) was a scenic workout, which we tracked  using several apps including Strava.

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Approaching the High Sierra Camp at Vogelsang felt like an accomplishment. We were exhausted yet eager to explore. It took a while for us to get our bearings of the amenities and the area that was open for us to set up camp.

camp home

As exhausted as we were when we finally arrived at Vogelsang, we took our time exploring the backpackers camp, looking for the best spot to set up our weekend residence. I credit Glen for ultimately leading us to our home base location. It was not a horrible place to relax, gaze and daydream.

Vogelsang area

There are at least a half dozen day hikes available starting from the Vogelsang Camp. During our delicious fried chicken dinner the first night of our stay, a cheerful, adventurous group of retired ladies from Incline Village (Lake Tahoe) insisted we head up to Vogelsang Lake and Vogelsang Pass during our following free day. We obliged and were treated with mega views of the high Sierra. 

View from Vogelsang Pass

About 1.5 miles and 700 feet up from Vogelsang High Sierra Camp is Vogelsang Pass, which offered sweeping views of the Lewis Creek  valley.

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The views from Vogelsang Pass out into the Cathedral Range were among the most beautiful I’ve seen in Yosemite.

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On our way down from the pass we took a pit stop at Vogelsang Lake.

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This is the spot where I jumped in. Cold and refreshing!


There are a lot of amenities at the High Sierra Camps and it’s thanks in large part to the hardworking mules that carry supplies up and down the mountains everyday. Each time we passed a line of these friendly and peaceful creatures on the trail, either going up or coming down, we stopped and expressed our gratitude.

Whether you’ve been to Yosemite once or ten times, I highly recommend working a visit to a High Sierra Camp into your next trip. It doesn’t matter if you reserve a tent cabin far in advance or snag a meals-only permit a little less far in advance, it’s a unique experience to meet fellow trekkers, share stories and socialize in such a beautiful setting.

Learn more about the High Sierra Camp lottery process or check out more photos from our trek.

History & a Hike: Sweeney Ridge

Sweeney Ridge is a large outdoor recreation area (a.k.a. park), located just south of San Francisco. It is sandwiched between the sleepy and often foggy, ocean-side town of Pacifica and the less adjective-friendly Peninsula city of San Bruno. Home to the San Francisco Bay Discovery SiteSweeney Ridge is where European explorers, as part of the Portolá Expedition, first laid eyes on San Francisco Bay. There are several trails and trailheads scattered around the ridge, that lead hikers to this historic destination.

To celebrate the survival of another Thanksgiving holiday, my roommate Austin and I spent Black Friday hiking up Mori Ridge Trail, the trailhead nearest to Pacifica (near Shelldance Nursery).


Alternative trails start from Skyline College and Sneath Lane in San Bruno. These routes are equal in climb and distance, and offer different views and landscape. Our hike had the Pacific Ocean at our backs on the way up, and then front and center on the way down. (See the official park map for more details on the other trails.)

From the Mori Ridge Trailhead, it’s about 1.3 steep miles up to an abandoned Nike Missile Control Site left over from the Cold War days. If you’ve hiked in the Marin Headlands you’ve likely encountered one of these sites, which used to house nuclear warhead missiles pointed at Russia — crazy and interesting. The one at Sweeney Ridge is plastered with wall-to-wall graffiti.  Colorful, impressive, and – it turns out –photo-friendly.


From the missile site, it’s about another mile to the actual discovery site, where you’ll find a commemorative stone marker. It’s a fun place to pause and daydream about what that day must have been like as the explorers bush-whacked their way up the ridge and laid eyes on the beautiful Bay for the first time. From the top, on a clear(ish) day you can see all the notable and impressive peaks around the Bay including Tamalpais, Diablo and Hamilton. 

It’s a quick trip back down, with beautiful views of the ocean the entire way. If it’s clear you’ll likely be able to see the Farralon Islands and Point Reyes.

Another noteworthy aspect of Sweeney Ridge is that it’s situated just a few miles from San Francisco International airport. This makes for busy air space above you as you hike, with lots of planes taking off and landing. You may find this a nuisance or, like we did, or a point of fantasy. Seeing jumbo jets taking off, heading straight out over the Pacific Ocean, fueled our imagination about where they were going and what they were hauling.

I recommend this hike to anyone looking for a quick and solid workout or who wants a 2-hour hike that’s easy to get to from San Francisco (only 20 minutes drive south). The history is a fantastic added bonus, as are the amazing views of the Pacific, and the opportunities for exploring at the missile site.

Half Dome #3 (brought to you in part by Instagram)

This weekend I completed my third trek up Yosemite’s famed Half Dome. Getting to the top of Half Dome requires a 17+ mile round trip hike that takes you from 4,062 feet at the base of the Yosemite Valley floor, up to the 8,842 feet summit. (Yes that’s 4,400 feet of elevation gain. To put that into perspective, the Empire State Building is 1,454 feet tall.)

Half Dome

Half Dome standing 4,400 feet above the Yosemite Valley

I still remember finishing Half Dome for the first time in the summer of 2007 and thinking to myself, “ok, well that’s something I only need to do once.” I thought this because the hike is not only exhausting but a slight bit terrifying. The last 400 feet requires you to scale up the side of the top of the Dome, pulling yourself up a sketchy set of cables. And of course coming down is equally as terrifying. There have been many deaths on Half Dome and most of them have occurred when someone got tripped up on the cables.

Half Dome cables

The cables of Half Dome greet you with 400 feet to go, straight up

But of course after a few years I forgot about the pain and terror, and decided that I wanted to drag my Dad up Half Dome. During the summer of 2009,  I completed my second trek to the summit with father in toe and then let a few more years pass again before thinking about doing the hike another time.

By now however, due to congestion, an increase in deaths, and unsafe hiking conditions, Yosemite implemented a lottery program to gain access to the trail to complete the hike. Now only 400 hikers and backpackers are allowed on the trail to Half Dome each day and you better believe the lottery is competitive, especially for weekends. This spring I decided it was time to do the hike again and I threw my hat in the ring for a permit. Thankfully I scored one and this weekend the day finally came to subject myself (and a +1) to the torturous hike.

For as tiring and scary as I describe the journey up Half Dome, I should mention also that it’s beyond beautiful. On the way up you get to see two amazing waterfalls and by the time you’ve made it to 1.5-mile-to-go mark to the summit, you’re enjoying expansive, stunning views of the Sierra from high above Yosemite.

Nevada Fall

Nevada Fall stands 594 feet tall on the Mist Trail, on the way up Half Dome

Vernal Fall

Vernal Fall, just downstream from Nevada Fall, boasts a 317 foot tall rushing cascade along the Mist Trail

Glen and the Sierra

Glen soaks up views of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra from the shoulder of Half Dome

This year, I was joined by the company of one of my favorite people, the sun was shining, we were surrounded by happy hikers, and the day ended with pizza, Wild Cherry Pepsi and hot showers. I’m sure this wasn’t my last time hiking Half Dome but it will always stand out as a great day and a memorable hike that I will cherish, probably forever.

Glen and Derek on Half Dome

Glen and me just before tackling the cables up the last 400 feet, note the tiny trail of hikers behind us scaling up the granite Dome

Half Dome, The Visor

Me on The Visor on the summit, 8,840 feet above sea level

the Sierra

Me and Glen on the Summit of Half Dome with the Sierra behind us, one of my favorite views in Yosemite

Hiking with the moon

I had been wanting to go on a hiking/backpacking trip organized by Nicolas Smith for several years. I never really had the motivation to go despite always having the desire to make more friends and to find new people for Dave and me to hike and backpack with. (Nicolas leads small group hiking trips throughout the Bay Area for gay men). When I saw on Facebook last week week that Nicolas was leading a full moon hike in Marin on Wednesday after work, I decided to jump on the opportunity. This seemed liked a great post-Lifecycle chance to get outside, continue meeting new people (gay men, specifically) and savor the Bay Area beauty that I try so hard to not take for granted.

So I told Brian G. that I made plans for us to join the hike (I knew I would be more comfortable with a wingman) and he agreed to join. We left after work, met the group of guys that had signed up and then carpooled over to Marin as the sun slowly began to set.

While the hike itself up to the top of Hill 88 was beautiful, with some fun exploration of old military bunkers along the way, those details aren’t the most important. What made the experience special was the people… the awesome 10 strangers that we met and got to know for 5 hours on a random Wednesday night.

Yes, watching the full moon rise over the city was spectacular but meeting Johan, Javier, Ben, Braden and others was what I was really there to do, to meet new, interesting people.

I won’t go as far to say I made any new friends just yet, but I’m trying to capitalize on the opportunity to get to know some of these guys more.

My photos on Flickr here, and some of my favorite photos from Nicolas’s collection below:

Heading up Hill 88

The Mighty Pacific (photo credit: Nicolas Smith)

Me and Brian (photo credit: Nicolas Smith)

Making trouble (photo credit: Nicolas Smith)

The full moon rising over the Bay (photo credit: Nicolas Smith)

Full moon over the Bay (photo credit: Nicolas Smith)

Trip report: Trinity Alps

This weekend for the extended Labor Day break, Dave and I decided to venture up north to the Trinity Alps Wilderness for a backpacking trip. We had never been up there and have been looking for new areas to explore.

We made the 5 hour drive up to the Redding area (with some fun truck stop exploration along the way), had some Taco Bell for dinner (yum!) and ended up in Weaverville, CA and grabbed a room at the Motel Trinity (we are modest and underpaid). We discovered the next morning when we were driving through, that Weaverville is a very cool and very cute little gold rush town (we also love Nevada City on the way to Tahoe).

We hit the trail and ended up covering 16.5 miles round trip over the course of three days, pretty easily. We climbed about 3,500 feet, visited several waterfalls, camped by Upper Canyon Creek Lake the first night and along the Creek itself the second. We scrambled up to L Lake for a day hike and made lots of delicious food (pizza quesadillas, tortilla soup, pudding Oreo desserts).

We had a great time and I’m happy to report that I took lots of pictures! I’m glad I did, documenting a few mini-adventures that we might have otherwise forgotten about (jumping into the freezing cold water fall, draining the left over tortilla soup in a bag, finding a killer campsite along the creek).

Unfortunately, backpacking season is almost over so we might not end up doing another trip this year. I’m glad we finally made it out and I think this will just make us wanting to get out there early next year.

Hitting the trail… finally

By this time last year, I had gone on approximately 15 hikes or backpacking trips including Half Dome and Mt. Whitney.

So far this year, I’ve gone on only two. (And they were only day hikes.)

I have some serious making up to do if I’m going to hit 200 miles of hiking this year. (While I haven’t been hiking, I’ve been a running fool… with 387 miles logged in 9 months of 2010 and many more to come with marathon training.)

Well, we are finally packing our bags for the extended Labor Day weekend and are heading up to the Trinity Alps for a three day, two night backpack trip. For some reason I have this nervous anxious feeling. I am excited to go because it’ll be peaceful and relaxing and beautiful (and a mountain range we’ve never been to). But in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “what about my long run this weekend?” I’ve been disciplined and on target for all my training over the last 4 weeks but this is going to throw me off. And it comes a week before I start a week and a half of traveling. So, I’m a little afraid that this might be the beginning of training derailment.

Anyway, I’m taking my camera so even if I do fall off the training wagon I will be getting back on the picture taking wagon. Tit for tat.

2009 in Photos

Snow shoeing in Tahoe with Nicole and Meagan

Hiking in Marin with Booger

Jared and Dave at Maggie's birthday

Giant's game for Lindsey's birthday with Katie

Backpacking Wawona area in Yosemite

Benny Benassi with Lindsey and Katie

Number one dance parter, Katie

Backpacking Smith Peak with Jack and Dave

Atop Smith Peak in Yosemite

Playa del Carmen with Jaime for Stephanie's wedding

Anne's camping birthday

Go karting for Joy's birthday

Another night at Bootie for Joy's birthday

Summer outing in Livermore Valley with Racepoint

Atop Mt. Whitney with friends

Mt. Whitney complete

Meagan and Kersti in town with Marcelo

Being very American with Kersti at a Giants game

Raymond and Marcelo

Atop Half Dome with Dave and my Dad

Pretty Lights with Katie and Lindsey

Wine tasting in the Carneros with Jaime

Katie's Black & Blue birthday with Lindsey

With Meagan ❤ at Katie's birthday

Chicago Marathoners

Dinner with friends in Chicago

Kaskade with Lindsey and Katie

Thanksgiving at Joy's with Dave and Lola

Backpacking in Point Reyes with Dave and Jonas

Point Reyes beach shot over Thanksgiving with Nick