A Tanzanian Road Trip: The Kilimanjaro Region Edition. (Day 1-3)

DSC_0489 copyAfter our grueling journey from Cairo to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which include nearly 4 hours of layover time in the Nairobi Airport, just enough time for a nap and meal, we were in Tanzania, outside of Arusha. We hit the ATM at the airport to get all the cash we could, because despite setting money aside for the car from day 1, we had to pay $250 USD cash to Tanzania’s immigration department for our Visas. NOTE: when we visited Zanzibar in 2016, we were able to pay with card, but since then their payment terms have changed.  With this unexpected issue, we had to visit the airport ATM to get more cash, however it was still not enough for our rental car. When we met up with our car provider, for our rented 4×4 Land Cruiser for this leg of the adventure, we had to strike a deal with him to pay with credit card when we returned the car because even with the ATM withdrawl we did not have enough cash for him and what lie ahead. Thankfully, he was flexible on this issue.

It wasn’t long before Brad was behind the wheel on the opposite side of the car & the opposite side of the road, cruising. We were warned by the owner of our vehicle to not exceed the speed limit because of photo radar (aka a man hiding in the bushes of Tanzania with a radar gun). Well, somehow, despite not speeding, we were pulled over on the side of the road by a Tanzanian officer dressed in all white. He claimed that they had a picture of Brad (it was on the officers cell phone) & that he was exceeding the speed limit. Brad had a choice.. fight it and possibly be taken in and have to fight it in court, or be quiet, pissed, and pay up $15 USD. Well, Brad paid the man… and got his very first speeding ticket… haha. (don’t worry I have a copy)

Anyways, we continued on to Moshi. We stopped in the small town in hope of picking up some snacks, and we did find a small convenience store but the options were very limited, but we were able to get a large pack of water and KitKats.  From there, we continued onto our hotel at Lake Chala. On our way down the incredibly rough dirt road, we had to stop at the Wildlife Management Area office to register. Not just register, but pay a fee. My weaselly and stingy husband (who works in the Congo, mind you), who knew about this ahead of time because of my research, was trying to get out of it. He tried every way he could claiming that hotel covered it, the hotel said it was covered, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there so aggravated and slightly taken aback at how far Brad was willing to go to try and get out of giving the Tanzanian government any of our Tanzanian shillings …which they didn’t even want. (They wanted US Dollars.) NOTE: Do I blame Brad for wanting to get out of it, absolutely not. African governments can be astoundingly shifty. …but I was exhausted, sweaty, and just wanted to rest. I WANTED TO GO. Finally, Brad had no choice but to surrender more of his hard earned shillings to the man.

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DSC_0372With Brad feeling even more irritated and ready to lose it, we got our paperwork, continued on our way & finally arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. We were the only guests staying there (now I know why). The place was very clean, and the view over Lake Chala was stunning, but this was easily one of the most poorly run hotels we have ever stayed at (we’ll get more into that later). Before showers & dinner, we decided to take the hike down to the lake since we were already covered in travel grime. It was a bit slippery from the recent rain, but it was a beautiful short jungle trek with gorgeous views over the turquoise water below. We spent a short while on the dock overlooking the deep jewel toned waters & watching the locals a little ways down the water’s edge making a fire.

We headed back to our tent which had a deck that overlooked the lush plains below. We stood there for a little while hoping to spot some wildlife, but there was little to see.

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After washing hours of travel grime off of ourselves and changing into clean clothes, we headed over to the “lounge” for dinner. It was basic, not just basic, but dry… It was not the first meal I was hoping for in Tanzania which was a bummer since food in Africa is typically always mind blowingly delicious, and something I always miss. Not only was IMG_1741our meal not great, but the staff was telling us how horrible their boss was which made our meal a little uncomfortable. We were the only ones there for dinner and it began to rain as we ate. We made a game of counting the geckos that had joined us. Itwas their turn to feast.  They shut the area down early, before the daylight was even 100% gone because we were the only guests and the rain. We headed back for a quiet nights sleep. It seemed there was no big game in the area, and not even the baboons kept us up.

The next morning we had our bags packed early, and grabbed our breakfast. Then we headed to the main house to pay for our stay. Well, what we found out when we got there was shocking. They didn’t accept credit cards, only accepted cash. We were trying to find ways around this but there was nothing to be done. They had no way to process a credit card, The internet didn’t even work,  so wiring funds at that moment proved impossible. We weren’t willing to hand over cash because it was going to take up the vast majority of it, and holding onto cash in this country was already proving to be more challenging than anticipated. So, after probably an hour of dealing with their mess which included bad communication from the time of booking, and Brad trying to help get their internet up and running,  we left with an agreement to wire money when we returned to the states.

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Once we were back in the car, we headed back through the Wildlife Management gate, and went on towards our next adventure. We stopped back in Moshi for lunch and cash, and were going out of our way to avoid the police. We found the bank, but getting money there was a hassle. Our car had to be inspected, we had to park a certain way, and getting cash naturally was a challenge.

Needing a break, we stopped at the Coffee Union Cafe for lunch to hold us over until we got to our next hotel. The food was decent, and it was nice to have a quick meal that met our expectations, as well as a break from the Tanzanian roads where it felt like anything goes in terms of being pulled over. NOTE: …I got pulled over while driving so that the could inspect the vehicle, and verify our credentials… crazy

We had to face the roads again at some point, and once we were far from the city and reached our off road point we finally felt like we could breathe again. We were in Maasai territory, and I was in heaven. We were headed to the Maasai Lodge, a 5 star heaven in the middle of nowhere. I have nothing but praise for this hotel. For starters, the drive in was a blast! There was so much to take in… Villagers, rock scapes, livestock… I was in my African heaven. When we got there, we were greeted wit dance and song which was enchanting. They got our bags to our room for us, gave us a run down of the place and showed us to our incredible mud hut.

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It wasn’t long before we were back outside with a couple of other women who were recovering from climbing Kilimanjaro. They were a riot, and in Maasai costume, and we had a great time talking to them while we all learned about Maasai culture and got to learn spear throwing and experience the Maasai dance and song for hunting (it gives me butterflies). We were all like a bunch of little kids with huge smiles on our face as we raced the rains to the main house. We had to outrun the downpour. It was so fun. A little while later was dinner. ..and it was exceptional. We were fed a wonderful 3 course meal of soup, meat and veggies, and dessert. The perfect African meal and completely worthy of the 5 stars the hotel bares.

IMG_8176We were so lucky because the next day they let us check out at 3PM because they didn’t have anyone coming in after us. We made the most of it. We had breakfast, did a walk through the plains with Jeremiah, our Maasai guide, took in the views and rested. Then after lunch we decided to get out of their hair, but I was definitely sad to go. We were suppose to visit Arusha National Park that day, but because of the number of days we had coming up in National Parks, we opted to take it easy. NOTE: A big part of this decision was also the cost. The planned cost between park fees & conservation area fees was in the thousands, and we thought it would be wise to reduce this a bit, since we just wanted to relax anyways. Our drive back was just as exciting, we had to cross the shallow ponds created by the rains, and wait for herds of cattle to move. We met some of the local kids, and chased by others. We watched a storm move through, and embraced it.

IMG_1851When we got back to Arusha, we went straight to our hotel, Mount Meru Game Lodge. So while the rooms and bathrooms were just alright, the location was AMAZING! The outside was like a giant garden. With towering trees that monkeys going from end of the property to the other in a flash, towering cactus, and water buffalo. Yes, buffalo…. They were on the other side of a low wall, but you could get within feet of these giant beauties. There were also several species of birds. It was awesome! This hotel was far more exciting that I anticipated when booking. Despite the constant light rain & the mob of mosquitos, I couldn’t not keep myself inside. I wanted to be with the animals. Naturally, I was speaking to them constantly.

Eventually, though, I had to give into the idea of dinner, so I ordered a nice piece of Chicken Schnitzel with chips (French fries) which was a funny change of African eating. With bellies full, after the long, but restful day, we decided to retire to our room to prepare for day 4.

After a decent night’s sleep at the game lodge in Arusha we packed up our bags, again, and grabbed breakfast. We hung out a little bit longer so that I could get some additional pictures of the resident animals & then we checked out to head to our next stop…. We stopped and loaded up on snacks and water again for our next drive. It was about 3 hours to the Tarangire area, but we were ready. We are road trip champions after all.

…to be continued.

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Yosemite National Park: The Tourist Edition.

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There is no point in me going on and on about our day to day visiting the main attractions of Yosemite… so, I’m just gonna hit you with the highlights and cover the various activities that are available…  Ready? Let’s do this.

Yosemite as a tourist (not a backpacker) in the month of June may be one of the most frustrating experiences I have had. Though Yosemite is very beautiful, and I enjoyed my time there… I have no desire to go back during the height of the tourist season. The place is packed!!! To the brim!!!   Hotels are booked solid, there is no parking and everywhere you look there are people…. in my opinion it defeats the purpose of being in nature…. You know what I mean?? That time to immerse yourself in God’s beautiful creation, find your center, and just unwind and relax.  If you think your time in YNP will be relaxing in June, you may be mistaken… It’s like Disneyland. …but there are no churros. Thankfully, it is more spread out, but the parking is an absolute nightmare, traffic is backed up, and the buses are maxed out with people trying to get from point A to point F, and the bus lines require waiting for possibly an hour.

So if you can go, go before kids are out of school, or when they are back in. Maybe, when it’s cold. The waterfalls may not be in their full glory, but there will be more room for you to enjoy them.  Winter, when the ground is covered in snow, also, sounds magical.

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 Here are some of the things we did while in the park.

  • latest iphone 138Walk around Yosemite Valley. We were fortunate enough to find parking outside of the Village store, which was almost as difficult as actually backpacking through the park. We headed through the shop full of souvenirs and groceries where we later picked up a variety of souvenir tees & camp cups.  The walk around was really enjoyable. In June it was quite warm, but nice to be out of the car. We walked down the bike/walking path stopped into the Ansel Adams Museum, visited the Visitor Center while we continued our walk toward Yosemite Falls. It was lovely & the oncoming mist was incredibly refreshing in the warm air. However, I was very excited to get past the falls. Once again, there were just too many people for my liking.  (I should note that I don’t thrive in crowds. They make me uncomfortable and can give me anxiety – so take my notes with a grain of salt if you are the opposite.)  We continued on our nature walk around the grounds and eventually headed back to find a place for lunch. We stopped in at the Mountain  Room Restaurant & Lounge. It’s safe to say the food was subpar in the lounge. I actually sent my chili back as it wasn’t even hot enough to melt the cheese on top. I was greatly disappointed, and instead of ordering anything else, I just nibbled off everyone else’s plates & decided to hold out for dinner at the hotel. The food my mom had gotten from the Yosemite Valley Lodge Food Court when we she picked us up post-backpacking was far better, and seemed fresher. …but that also, may be because I was dying for real food when I got in the car.
  • latest iphone 177.jpgVisit The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. If you aren’t staying here already, this is a great place to stop in for lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Bar or dinner at The Majestic Yosemite Dining Room. The food is far superior to that in the valley. The interior is very cabin-tastic, historical, and interesting to wander through. The grounds are beautiful & it’s easy to walk through parts of the park from there. We found our way toward Mirror Lake across from Half Dome. We were able to wade in the water to our knees to cool down our body temperatures and shrink our feet before wandering back.

  • Explore the great Sequoias. There are 3 groves within Yosemite NP that you can explore. Tuolomne Grove ( this is the one we visited), Merced Grove, and the biggest and most famous Mariposa Grove.  These light nature hikes are a great way to get some quieter time, a little work out & time away from the crowds and, of course,  marvel at some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet.

  • Just drive. See what Yosemite National Park has to offer, with miles and miles of winding roads, scenic views, and possibly some great wildlife sightings you can’t go wrong with a packed picnic lunch & a little wanderlust.

  • yosemite & cartagena 723Technically, we hiked past Vernal & Nevada Falls on the last leg of our backpacking excursion, but it’d make for a great day hike too. Be forewarned, the Mist trail is very packed. However, the closer you get to the top, the less crowded it is. The bulk of the people stop between Vernal Falls (lower) & Nevada Falls (upper) sunbathe on the flat rocks and take in the scenic views near the railings. This hike up is probably pretty tiring as it has a lot of steep steps covering the incline, but the way back down is fun. …and Vernal Falls does provide a nice cool down of mist along the way.
  • Enjoy dessert with a view. At the Mountain Room Restaurant you can sit in the dining room enjoy a sweet treat or a full meal with the possibility of watching Yosemite Falls in it’s fully glory. One of my dad’s favorite things… preferably with apple pie (they no longer serve it). latest iphone 128

There are other things that you can do while you are in the park such as climbing the rock face of El Capitan or Half Dome. You can, also, attempt the rigorous hike up Half Dome’s backside, feel free to be just an onlooker of rock climbers, get a massage at the lodge, camp in one of the camp’s campsites, day hike some of the many trails. The list probably goes on and on with things like bird-watching… but that’s the most I can come up with right now.

Hopefully this will be helpful for planning your upcoming trip to Yosemite. And hopefully you will enjoy it’s beauty as much I did… maybe even more!yosemite & cartagena 881

Yosemite National Park: The Backpacking Edition.

When my Dad initially brought up the idea of backpacking through Yosemite, I didn’t take it all that seriously. I wasn’t sure how committed I would be because the idea of roughing it in the wilderness was never my idea of a good time.  Eventually, though, things began to change. My dad reserved a few nights at a hotel just outside the park for all of us to stay after we backpacked through.

At this point, I had no choice but to commit. My dad had always wanted to take my sister & I backpacking in his favorite spot. He had been backpacking in Yosemite since the age of 14 (nearly 40 years!!) , and Touloumne Meadows is his favorite escape from reality.

As the dates came closer and closer, I knew there was no backing out. Thankfully, in March, during my trip through the African wilderness with Brad, I did get a little “roughing it” experience which including popping squats in the African jungle to relieve my bladder, missing entire meals, and light snacking in time of desperate hunger…. Not to mention, all those mosquitoes, which were actually worse in Yosemite.

Finally, it was prep time. We began plotting our course through the forest on our map, and shopping for our gear. We were doing back and forth trips to REI for footwear, backpacks, sleeping bags, and doing our best to take advantage of the periodic promotions to save as much as possible.

My dad kept making phone calls to the park rangers to find out about what trails were open and what was closed due to the record snowfall that they had been having last winter. He was sad to find out that the trails, Toulumne Meadows, and the roads leading to it were all closed. We had no choice but to reroute.

He kept reaching out to the rangers, in an attempt to plan our journey and to check on the snow levels… The problem was that with the record snow, our plan kept having to change. We had a loose plan to hike near Upper Merced Lake in the High Sierras, but knew that nothing would be final until we arrived.

Finally, the day was here. My dad and I headed to the airport, checked our backpacks, and brought along our carry-ons. We headed to our gate where we awaited the arrival of my sister. She had flown in from Charlotte earlier that morning & was heading on with us to Fresno. We were all tired, but also anxious to get there. We were ready to have a good time, and have a new adventure together.

When we got to Fresno, Erica (my sister) & I gathered the bags while my dad went on to collect the car. We had a red Dodge Durango that we loaded up with our gear before hitting the road.  On our way out of the city we made a pit stop at Big 5 Sporting Goods where my dad picked up some fuel cans for our quick boil stoves & some emergency space blankets, just in case it rained at night (it didn’t) because we were sleeping under the stars. That’s right… no tent.

We finally arrived at the park gates where we paid the $40 park entrance fee, and then headed on to get our permit at the Wawona Visitors Center north of the south park entrance off of the 41.  The office was a few miles up the road.

When we got there, we parked the car & we all headed inside. My sister and I took turns wandering through looking at displays and keeping my dad company in the very short line. Finally, it was our turn. We  made our inquiry about getting a permit for an area around Upper Merced Lake, and thankfully, we had no issues. There was plenty of room for us in the backwoods. TIP: You have to get permits to backpack throughout the national park, so I would advise to be checking on availability prior &/or have a backup plan.

We all got back in the car, and began our drive to our final stop, the Glacier Point lookout.  I should point out, first, that the traffic in Yosemite in June is ridiculous. There were long lines of cars, and parking lots were pretty full. We were directed to the visitor shuttles originally, but when we explained that we were backpacking they forwarded us on to Glacier Point.  When we got there, we began getting our gear in order. We changed into our hiking boots, and got our backpacks stuffed and organized with any possible necessity that we had. My sister and I made the mistake of using the bathroom before we began the journey. TIP: These bathrooms are one the most rank and disgusting things I have ever encountered. They don’t flush, are covered in every type of bodily excretion possible & smell so bad that it took all I had not to vomit all over the floor four times!!! So, in other words, if you can hold it… Pop a squat in the woods, ladies. It’s far more pleasant, believe it or not.  

With that stinky experience behind us, we headed back to the car and got strapped into our backpacks which all weighed between 30-40 pounds. It was literally a physical burden.  We made our way towards the lookout point where we snapped our starting photo in front of Half Dome & the falls. …and it was all downhill from there. …or so I thought.

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The descent was pleasant. We were in the shade, the air was tepid, and I was in the company of two wonderful people with some of the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen.

When we arrived at the Illilouette Creek,  we all dropped our packs to cool off and fill up our water bottles. It felt so good to drop the weight for about 15 minutes. The great thing about the record snowfall is that rivers were rushing with freshly melted clean clear water. We didn’t need to filter or treat it. We just drank straight from the earth.

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yosemite & cartagena 124With packs back on we crossed the river over the bridge and proceeded on the trail. We made it up a couple of the switchbacks when we began to question our path. At this point, I was beginning to struggle. The uphill climb combined with the weight of my backpack was slowing me down immensely. We stopped to look over the map since the path seemed wrong.  My dad & sister were in charge of directions while I was handling the photos.  The general consensus was that we must have somehow missed our trail, so we headed back down to the river and crossed back over the bridge. We went one way, and then the other, but were surrounded by dead ends. My dad headed out to survey the land and search or the missing trail, but there was no sign. Our only option was to head back the same way we were going before.

So, we began to climb once, again. It was exhausting, draining, and down right brutal, or as my dad just called it, “a bitch”. ..and it truly was. By the time we reached “the top” AKA Panorama Point, the lookout point that overlooks Yosemite Valley, I didn’t know how much further I could go, but I knew I had to keep going because we were nowhere near water.  So after, calling our mom (I know, I can’t believe we had service either) and I texted Brad… We put our packs back on and kept pushing ourselves forward, or should I say up. The views along the way were incredible. Being able to see Half Dome at sunset was truly a special moment for me.

The trail we were on was leading us straight for Nevada & Vernal Falls, which was not where we were wanting to go on day 1.  So when we came to a fork in the road, the map came out once more. Erica and my dad looked it over, and not 100% certain, mostly because of drinking water restrictions, we took the road less traveled. As we walked, we noticed a couple of spots that would make good campsites, but there was no water source. My sister went ahead to scout it out, and came back with the assumption of water ahead. We continued to trek forward with flashlights in hand because by this point, we were in the dark. We found ourselves, quickly making our way back down the mountain in the dark, and slowly wandered back below the tree line. We were wandering through a “bear infested” forest in the dark.  I was getting so frustrated and crashing fast. We still had not found water, and were at a complete loss.  …on day 1. I couldn’t keep going, I felt like my body was going to collapse.  We found a large clearing, and set up camp. I’d like to say that we got it done quickly, but considering we all were exhausted, and we all somewhat felt sick, it took a little longer than planned. Armed with flashlights, we started setting up camp. We laid out our tarp, and sprawled out our gear. My dad took the initiative to start the fire, after all, he was the Yosemite expert.  We gathered wood, and as he got it started I couldn’t help but  stare. I was so exhausted, in physical pain, and at this point my desires were food had vanished. All I wanted to do, all we all wanted to do, was sleep. We each took turns wandering off to relieve our bladders, and change into our sleepwear.

We all agreed that we had no desire to eat except for a light snack. We all had two issues, a lack of desire for food, and a lack of water to cook our food.  We were to concerned with the fact that we had not found water, to waste it on a hot meal.

As the fire began to fade, I struggled to sleep, I kept fading in and out. I was having severe pain in my chest & trouble breathing which I figure was muscle fatigue from my pack mixed with stress & anxiety. I couldn’t sleep and was so overwhelmed with emotion, thinking I might die in the wilderness on my first night (haha). I was ready to jump off a cliff to relieve the suffering, I knew I just needed my body to relax. As I sat there knowing that I was miles from civilization, had no way of calling for help, I did all that I could do: I stayed calm. I knew if I woke my dad or sister they would not be able to help me, so I took 3 Advil and a small sip of water, and stayed lying flat on my back, and stared up at the night sky focusing on monitoring my breathing.  Within, 30 minutes I was finally asleep. Although, my painful & difficult symptoms subsided. My first night was rough. I got hardly any sleep.  I kept thinking about the spiders getting into my sleeping bag, and was plagued by one pesky mosquito as the sun began to rise. It was just very uncomfortable.

I laid there as long as I could. My sister and dad finally woke up & were moving around before I could. We took our turns finding cover to use nature as a bathroom & change. We all agreed that cooking breakfast was still out of the option. We had to conserve water. We munched on some of our nuts and granola, and packed everything up.  It was time to get back to the trail.

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As we continued in the same direction from the night before, it wasn’t long before we ran into another backpacker.  We had a very quick chat about how he hadn’t seen anyone in a while, and there was water ahead.  We marched on through the forest with hope.  Water.

When we reached the small creek, we all grabbed our “camp cups” , and filled up. We were basically chugging at this point. It was cold and incredibly refreshing. We were all so excited. The pep had been returned to our step.

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Onwards, we went.  We need a deeper stream to fill our water bottles.  Within about 30 minutes we had it. Sadly, there was no shade to keep the brutal sun off of us, but there was water. We tried to find the best place to setup our make-shift kitchen. We crossed the creek one way, and then back to the other side to a small clearing. It was perfect. There was a tree to prop our packs against, and a stream just a few feet away. We were dipping our cooling towels, and constantly filling our water bottles to hydrate, cook, and clean.  Our dehydrated egg breakfast tasted soooooo good. It was so nice having a hot meal.

We enjoyed the break to play and truly reset our bodies for the grueling journey that was ahead.  Our goal was to try and make it to Upper Merced Lake. Little did we know we would never make it.

With breakfast devoured, and cleaned up, we strapped back in and headed back to the trail. The sun was beating down on us hard. We all re-wet our cooling towels, and had them draped all around our necks and heads. (They were a game changer.)  We made our way around Mount Starr King, and found ourselves reemerged in the forest. yosemite & cartagena 278

Because of the record snowfall they had last winter, there was tons of caked tree debris on the ground, which I think also contributed to the large amount of insects.

As we trekked on, we found ourselves, walking across large fallen trees to get across raging rivers. My sister, had a hard time with this, and several times had to have my dad help her across. Oddly enough, crossing over dead trees above a raging river with 40 pounds on my back was nothing. I’d rather do it 100 times than endure day 1 again.

 We crossed Clark Creek where we stopped for a lunch break. Tuna with avocado & mustard on pita pockets. Let me tell you… It was one of the most delicious sandwiches of all time.  I  enjoyed it with a side of cheese filled Ritz Bitz & a fruity snack.  We soaked our feet in the creek & cleaned up our mess once again.  We all had been slightly revived, and had to face the reality that it was time to move on.

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We geared back up & continued to press on. It wasn’t long before we came up on Red Creek. The water levels were quite high, and so we had to wander a bit to find a place to cross. Finally it happened.  We had a short climb before we rose up into a clearing which overlooked the beautiful snow covered Buena Vista mountain range.  We ran into a group of people out for a day hike (from their camp), and chatted for a little while about what each other had experienced thus far.  Erica rigged her phone on a tree so we could take a group photo, and then we shuffled along. As we moved on rain clouds began to finally catch up with us. It started as a light drizzle and only picked up for a few minutes. The cool water was incredibly refreshing, but

did also slow us down a bit.

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Eventually we met up with Illilouette Creek, and it was much more than that. It was a raging river. We had been trekking in the rain for a while now, but as we started moving further and further along the creek, the forest floor became more and more treacherous. There were many fallen trees that had yet to be cut through, there was rotting plant debris everywhere, and I had mosquitoes biting me through my pants.  I was losing momentum fast, but knew I had to keep moving & keep up with my sister… especially my sister. My dad & were feeling about the same physically on and off for the duration of the trip, my sister on the other hand was a lot like the energizer bunny until the final day.  We all did our best to keep each other going. My sister wanted to keep pressing on to the lake, but my dad & I had to persuade her to our side. It wasn’t going to happen.  Instead we found an incredible make-shift campsite with a great flat spot on the granite. We were able to set up between a creek and the river.

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My bodies physical pain began to melt away as I slipped my feet out of my Merrils and into my Birkenstocks. That act alone had a sense of revival in it. We took turns heading down to the creek to wash up and do some light laundry, mostly socks.  We got our camp set up, collected firewood, & then began preparing for dinner. We all pulled out our dishes and sporks. We boiled the freshly collected water & poured it over the dehydrated beef stroganoff. As we let it stew, we also boiled up some Lipton chicken noodle soup.  We were so excited for our dinner. We were starving, and ready to get comfortable. As we sat there, we saw a furry creature run from one end of the granite to the other and then vanish into the forest. It was one of two animals we had seen so far.

We enjoyed our dinner immensely. The temperature was dropping and so was the sun. My dad got the fire going, and we gathered around with s’mores necessities. Yes. I brought stuff for s’mores, and we ate them off of sticks! But now, I would pack it completely different.  The sweet crunchy gooey goodness was overwhelming to my taste buds, I couldn’t eat much, but it was fun to roast marshmallows on a stick over a campfire under the glowing stars. It brings out the kid in you.

We each enjoyed tea while we finished up by the fire. Then we brushed our teeth, and were off to bed. I was at peace watching the stars shoot across the sky above me while we laughed and enjoyed each other’s company from the comfort of our sleeping bags. (It will probably be one of the most memorable nights of my life.) As the fire died off in the distance, we drifted off to sleep one by one. It was the only night I slept the whole night through. I was at peace on that slab of granite.yosemite & cartagena 483

The next morning, my sister was the first up. She started the fire, and made sure we got moving. I finally had a full night sleep. I slept like a baby. I did not want to crawl out of my sleeping bag despite the fact that my air mattress had deflated. Clearly, my body was able to relax enough after all of the exhausting experiences I had put it through in the previous 48 hours. The temperature had been just right to allow me to sleep comfortably without being too hot or cold. However, freeing myself from the clutches of the sleeping bag was a different story. It was cold. I was bundled up in sweat pants, wool socks & my fleece pull over. I slipped on my Birkenstocks and found a quiet place to use as a bathroom.

yosemite & cartagena 570 - CopyWe readied our small quick boilers to make some breakfast, tea & coffee. At this point, the dehydrated food was starting to wear on us. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as it was before, but our bodies needed the fuel for the day.  We started packing up our gear, and as we sat on the tarp doing so, a critter appeared from the forest: a marmot.  It was scavenging for food, and wasn’t too concerned with getting close to us which seemed odd. In this area, it was doubtful that they interacted with humans regularly. It was easily within 10 feet of us, sniffing around our open bear vaults, hoping to snag a prize. Slightly skittish, it kept a close eye on us, if it thought we were getting to close, it would skedaddle.  A little while later, we watched it sifting through the ashes of our exhausted fire, where we had dumped our breakfast scraps, and the area next to it where we had washed our dishes out with water. That marmot  ate every tiny morsel that it could get its tiny marmot lips on. Off in the distance, we noticed a second marmot. It’s possible they were tag teaming our camp for food.

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Finally, we were all dressed and packed. ..but our journey was different this time. I had removed the day pack that came with my back pack and filled it with our essentials. We hid our backpacks (without the bear vaults) back behind a large rock in the forest & left our bear vaults out on the main rock behind a boulder.  We didn’t want to risk a bear getting into our packs while we were away, and we didn’t want to risk other backpackers getting into our bags, so everything was hidden.

latest iphone 045We set off on our journey. We headed further back into the wilderness in search of  Upper Merced Lake. We climbed over large granite rock faces with the tiniest trickles of water flowing down, along the rushing rapids of Illilouette Creek, and through the marshy forest floor.  Nothing had prepared us for the wilderness we were wandering into.  The forest floor was in such shambles that it was almost unbearable to walk through. Between the amount of bugs, decaying debris & the lack of crossing points for the river, we were tempted to give up the journey. …but we didn’t. We headed down river a ways and found a large fallen tree that spanned from one side to the other. Mind you, it was close to 30 feet across.  We each took a turn crossing. My sister lead the charge in trying to find our way back toward the trail. We were basically in a free climb through very rough terrain, but eventually met back up with the trail. We followed it for as long as we could, but it wasn’t long before we were back on our own.

yosemite & cartagena 629All we had to navigate with was nature, and that wasn’t much help.  The theory is that because of the large amounts of snow melt passing through the area, the trails were basically gone. We had no way of finding it. Our only option was to wing it. We were crossing stream after stream over log after log, jumping from rock to rock, trudging over snow banks, and eventually found ourselves climbing up the side of mountain wall made entirely of granite.. Steep granite that was at times slippery. There were a couple close calls. We had come so far, and it seemed like we were continually losing hope, but for some reason we also held onto the hope, saying “we have to be close” & “we’ve come so far”.  We were all feeling it, but we kept going. Eventually, we ended up on top of a mountain top… or close to the top of the mountain. We stood across from Red Peak on the edge of the Buena Vista Crest. The views were incredible You could see for miles. We could see where we came from (around Mount Starr King) over the last couple days. It was truly incredible. We found a shady spot under a juniper tree and snacked on our sustenance… Nuts & stuff.  We were all hungry.

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We had a long journey still ahead of us, so with no lake at our feet, just a tiny murky pond tucked in the crest, we knew it was time to head back down. We quickly made our way down the granite mountain side, navigating our way over and around large boulders while hoping not to misstep.  Before we knew it, we were back in the tree line. We navigated our way back through the marshlands, trying to find our way across streams and river. We would go one way, and then back the other. It was truly challenging terrain that we were all incredibly thankful to get out of. There were many mosquitoes that were constantly pestering me. I just wanted to be free and clear.

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On our way back to our main crossing log, we stopped off at the raging rapids plummeting over the small waterfall. We grabbed a couple of photos, and then it was back to trekking. It truly was trekking. The floor was treacherous. The goal was not to misstep… not to scrape your leg… not to walk into a spider web… because there is no way to call for help should something be broken, you fall into the rushing freezing river, or better yet, you’re unconscious or dead. WooHoo!!!!

Finally after weaving our bodies over and under fallen trees, we followed the river quite a ways. There was concern we had passed our crossing-log. We didn’t it was just a little further ahead. My sister led the way, I followed, and then my dad. We were making our way back quickly. We kept going. I kept swatting away mosquitoes and we searched for the trail we had lost hours ago.  Within minutes, we were back on track. We hustled our way back to our packs. We grabbed our gear and headed to the opposite side of the river, on a clearing just downriver from where we slept. We found a great spot where the water was shallow & the raging water slowed to a safe pace allowing us to wade in slowly and soak our aching feet, refill our water, and clean our dishes. We set up for lunch which was a mix of snack, tuna, and whatever else. NOTE: Don’t leave a bag marshmallows in the heat. They turn into one giant sticky blob. We were famished. We soaked our feet in the shallow granite shore of the rushing river, and tried our best to regain our energy.

Once again, it was time to put our hiking shoes back on & strap into our Gregory backpacks. We filled our water bottles & headed back North West. We knew where we were going to camp. Just on the south side of Clark Creek where we had eaten lunch the day before. We pushed ourselves hard that afternoon. It was a lot easier to make the journey without the rain, fatigue, and inclines.  We were moving quick. We came face to face with a dear on the path, and watched it until it ran. Once again, I didn’t have my camera out and ready which was disappointing, but it was okay. I enjoyed a beautiful & serene moment while wondering how long it would last & how close could we get before it left us.

In the last 24 hours, we had seen more wildlife than people and we were okay with that. It was great to have a break from people, an opportunity to truly connect with nature. We came to the intense river crossing once again. We waited as my sister kepting waiting to step up and cross. I couldn’t take it anymore. I cut the line & went first. My dad helped her across, and we wrapped up our trek for the day. Finally, early that evening we reached our campground.  Found what seemed to be the clearest spot, and did our best to make it even clearer by shifting small rocks & moving the bigger rocks over by the already built fire pit.  We laid our tarp for the last time and strategically placed our sleeping bag, my dad & I at opposite ends, and my little sister in the middle. Everything  was laid out as we wanted it.  Pillows were placed at the top of sleeping bags which laid on our inflatable mats. The knives laid by head and the tarp was lined with a border of Off! (the bug spray).  Our backpapcks were propped up against the adjacent tree, and our bear vaults sat by fire pit.

We took turns by the river washing up and changing our clothes into our sleeping gear. The water was freezing, but it felt good to wash away the sweat. When we were ready we wandered the campground to gather firewood.  My sister took charge of the fire while my dad took some time to rest. She became very proud of her ability to start fires. …but this one wasn’t taking off the way she hoped. We were all involved. …naturally, my dad was the one who got it going.

With the fire burning, it was dinner time.  We opened up our bear vaults & sifted through the food. It was Chili Mac night. We lit up the quick boilers and heated the correct amount of water for two packs of food.  We let it sit until it was ready and split it up amongst the three of us. The only problem was… none of us had much of an appetite. Two days of grueling activity and dehydrated food are just hard on the body & on the digestive system. We all ate as much as we could, but then decided it was time to clean up. We dumped the remaining food into the fire, rinsed the food bags & stuck them in our ziplocs , then my dad and I washed the bowls a little ways away.  We reconvened by the fire. As the sun was setting we had a lot of fun talking and taking  group photos. We drank tea & tried to relax.

Once again, it wasn’t even completely dark when we nuzzled into our sleeping bags, but it felt good. It was cold that night, and for whatever reason I was struggling to sleep. In fact, I barely slept (my tea was probably caffeinated, haha). I was so cold. Sleeping without socks this night was a mistake. (It was however, the only night that I got my air mattress pad to stay inflated the entire night, so that was a win.) As I laid there frigid, tossing and turning, I kept trying to sleep. It felt impossible. I couldn’t shake the concern for bears and spiders as I laid there cold and almost shivering. Looking back, I wish I had made an effort to find my socks, but in the moment it felt far to overwhelming in the cold darkness.

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The next morning, we all slowly woke up. But, of course, my sister was the first up, eager to start the fire. We all gathered around for our last breakfast. A mix of random things from our vaults. We didn’t even bother with trying to eat the freeze-dried stuff, we could barely stomach the thought of it.  We all had uneasy stomachs & a long journey back to the village area. We headed back over to our sleep spot & started packing up. Within 20 minutes we were ready for the final leg of our great excursion.  We made sure our fire was out, and headed back across the river in the direction we came barely more than a day before.

yosemite & cartagena 708yosemite & cartagena 709The final leg was rough. It was hot, we were tired, had uneasy stomachs, and were all ready to drop our packs for good. We were sluggish but pushing our hardest to make it through. We took a different route than we had before, and it was paying off. It was a little shorter, but a good chunk of it was in the hot sun. We had our last water fill in a small creek near the back of Kings Peak, and pressed on. We went up and over & found ourselves at the lookout point facing the back of Half Dome near the falls.   We were so excited. We finally had cellphone reception to call my mom to let her know where we were and where to meet us.

latest iphone 077We thought we were almost done. My dad had made it sound as if we would be down and out within 30 minutes, but it took us at least 2 hours, maybe 3. Honestly, I think the end may have been the worst part simply because of the amount of tourists that we came into contact with. First we headed down a long paved trail that took us from the lookout point down to Nevada Falls. This part wasn’t too bad because it seems fewer people decide to go past Vernal Falls. We had to cross the bridge over Nevada Falls & began our next decent down steep rock steps. Thankfully, the traffic was still mild.

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We continued down and along the path until we hit flatter ground and the next bridge. It was time for the next crossing. We found the crowds…. We continued on the given trail which was a little tricky to find at first because the large space was packed with sunbathers and families. We made it to the railed in stairway down… It was steep. The further down we go the more people we were coming into contact with. Here we were walking along massive water falls on rock steps that were completely lined with tourists that half the time didn’t seem to be fully paying attention. After over 72 hours in the wild without a real shower, sweating, drinking river water, and not having a hot fresh meal, the last thing you want to deal with is mobs of people who could care less about about your sleep depravity, aching feet, and bruised torso.  #respectthebackpackers  Its hard to slow your momentum on your downward climb of massive rock steps, so it’s incredibly frustrating when you have people just coming out of nowhere right in front of you.

latest iphone 095When we reached the south side of Vernal falls, we were soaked. Vernal Falls is the one you have to look for! It It was like my encounter with Vic Falls. There had been so much snow last winter that the snow melt was raging over the cliffs  and was drenching every person that was bold enough to pass through. It was 100% unexpected, and although it wasn’t ideal, I still sort of enjoyed the cool down and the little bit of peace that it brought to my soul. …but then came the traffic jam. The rest of the way down had the largest amount of traffic, at one point there was a small mob where it seemed no one could move. It’s how I imagine a New York department store is during Black Friday. …awful.  Finally, we made it to flatter grounds, but it just kept going. The paved trail just kept going. It was cloudy & damp, my poor dad was lagging behind, and my sister was really worn out. I was on my second wind with the thought of being done. We just wanted to reach the end.

When we did cross the final bridge and made it to the road, we headed to the bus stop where the line to get on seemed a mile long. We called my mom & found out that there was no way for her to get to us. We came to the realization that the only way this was going to work was for us to take the bus into the village & meet her. However, the traffic in the area was so dense that buses were not running on time, were taking alternate routes, avoiding stops & doing whatever they could to keep things moving as efficiently as possible. I think just our bus ride took nearly 40 minutes, and it wasn’t the most enjoyable. We all got separate seats and I was freezing as I sat next to a stranger in my damp clothes looking like a trainwreck. Haha.  We stayed in constant contact with my mom, and rearranged our plans in an attempt to meet sooner.  Finally, it worked out. We got off the bus with our packs and headed her direction. We got into her rental car, where she greeted us with cups of chili, soups, salad & drinks… She had literally read my mind in some magical mom way.  Earlier that day we had all been talking about what we were wanting to eat… mine was a salad.  Thanks, Mom!

Our day still wasn’t over though. We had to go back up to the Glacier Point Lookout in order to get the other rental car. It was probably another hour and a half of driving before we ever got back to the hotel. It’s safe to say that shower was one of the best of all time.

…to be continued

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