DOME HIKES ALL YEAR

Half Dome, Yosemite

Well the Park Service generally closes the the Half Dome hike mid-October and opens mid-May, but since the forecast is so nice let’s talk about the other Domes.  Just a reminder when you begin to look at conquering Half Dome after about May 15th, know that you will need to plan for a whole day, get a Permit and make beeline to the Spa’s hot tub when you return…

Many of you may not understand fully what a Dome is.  It is a part of a large magma formation made underground generally near seismic subduction zones.  When it slowly cools under pressure you get granite, usually mica(black), quartz(white) and feldspar(pink).  The mica is usually identified down the watershed as fool’s gold.  Anyway as that granite formation pushes up and/or eroded away on top.  The pressure differences can help form Domes that bulb up and fracture like an onion peel. Think of the stone and ice layer pressure differencials causing this, also think of the steep Rio de Janiero domes that were under layers of salt and other stone.

Getting to the subject: the easiest Domes to reach for excellent views in summer and fall is Sentinel Dome off the Glacier Point Road & Lembert Dome off the Tioga Pass Road.  The Turtleback Dome is the best for winter off Highway 41 Wawona Road up past the Tunnel View.

Sentinel Dome is the easiest way to get to a 360 degree view for the least effort.  It’s still a mile in (unless you know the cheat parking area) and out.  It’s worth giving yourself an extra two hours to see Taft Point as well on a loop. This is better than Glacier point in my mind, and less the crowds.  Bring a lunch, dinner and a bottle of water and maybe wine.  If a marmot eats through your unattended pack and takes your food, consider yourself lucky to see one.  Any time of day really is great, but when there are cloud formations and a sunset looming don’t dawdle somwwhere else. You would swear you could see the entire park and every angle has something identifiable. And don’t forget the stars.

Lembert Dome is the largest Dome smack in the middle of Tuolumne Meadows.  This four hour adventure has 600 foot gain.  My fave route is parking below off highway in the Lembert lot in front and going left around to the top, then down the other side across the highway and follow trail along river back to car.  That last section has Belding Ground Squirrel towns.  They bark, whistle & stand like prairie dogs or meerkats.  One day maybe I’ll be arrested for whistling back at them. Pop over to Dog Lake halfway through for a pristine alpine lake setting for a cost of 45 extra minutes.  Do take your meal & water to the top and enjoy the elevated view over the Meadow and surrounding High Sierras.  It is always amazing to me this part of Yosemite is taller and bigger than the Valley and the Sierras are still rising.

Lastly, when the snows close first the Tioga Road, then Glacier Point Road look for Turtleback.  It is a diminutive cousin, but snow or no, worth the 2 hour trek and a few hundred feet gain for an elevated & super winter view of Yosemite Valley and west towards the Coast Range.  Take good boots or snowshoes, a meal and a camera.  Few others have this perspective of a shoot, and remember looking west is usually clear in the winter with the Central Valley under a white fog blanket.  There is a weather/communications station atop all this but it’s gotta be somewhere. Park on the long curve just past the Tunnel View tunnel southbound and look for the gate at the far end of the curve. Follow the small road to the top.

Okay, lastly, let’s talk about Half Dome.  I do love that rock, and enjoy watching those hikers clinging to the cables either shivering in fear, sobbing, or flying up the cables and 2×4’s while on that last stretch.  Frankly, no one like permits, but when peer pressure puts hikers who freeze and cling to the cables and holds up 300 others it is much better of a hike.  Those who take the trouble to get the permit mean it.  It is much more pleasant now.  Go in May, September or October if you need to bag the trophy.

My advice in summer is to bypass Half Dome and do a daytrip or overnight on top of Cloud’s Rest.  Cloud’s Rest is a fantastically staggering blade looking around the High Sierra at almost 10k feet any time around the clock counting domes at your feet.  Most importantly it looks down upon Half Dome like a Mama Bear over a Cub.   Start at Tenaya Lake and take a dip in Sunset Lake or a take throughway to Yosemite Valley.  On the way down you can amuse yourself counting all the hikers on the way up to to bag a peak for Cub Scouts.

As you know there are tons of places to stop and check out Dome formations but they are especially easy to find from other Domes.  Remember the top of El Cap is a Dome so maybe you should alter your Half Dome trek schedule next year.  Tuolumne Meadows & Tenaya Lake with Olmstead Point give you picturesque Domes to frolic about and stare at.

And lastly, my secret happy place is up past Mirror Lake and up Snow Creek trail to the tree-line or to the rim depending upon time of year and stare down a massive Half Dome up close & face to face staring contest.  It brings a tear to my eye every time, so I have to blink.

Morning Cycle Along the Merced River

The magic intonation I did the night before to wake up before dawn happened without my taking it seriously enough to set an alarm!  Wow.  A sign from the river pixies to go cycling along the Merced: I hear thee.  Anyone familiar with Briceberg, the super cool mini Bay Bridge there, it’s great swimming beaches and it’s raw natural beauty know where I am going.  A few miles downhill from the Bug.  Park at the Day Use Area this side of the Bay Bridge.

My old mountain bike loves this old rail grade road, so I can whip through a ten miles round-trip to the Black Bridge at high gear and feel the fresh morning breeze on my face. Set along the river are the unusually scarce campers having breakie wave, the forest burns past a few miles that still shake up my memories of the past, and the Rio Grande small stream running along the bottom of the watershed.  Wow, I have never seen it so low!
My soul looks forward to the refreshing rains that will bring out the red-orange California Newts by the hundreds in puddles, the chartreuse hued moss that grows along the opposite bank that still shocks my senses, and a renewed fresh voice to the river itself.
There’s a little bridge I call the Black Bridge at the far end you can walk through to the North Fork.  A quiet, bracing walk best from October through May past the falls there past hundred year old remnants of hydraulic electric station and it’s water sluices. Was it for mining or logging or railroad? Can’t remember.  Heard they were trying to top up the dam at the far end and it would come up past this falls. Hmmmm. Whoever said that living in the backcountry is uneventful?
While stopped listening to my heart slow and my fingers still on my brakes, a Pacific-slope flycatcher on a chair-sized rock seems to be finding food.  Two Acorn Woodpeckers fly down from a grey pine up across the canyon land at a live oak here to check me out.  They are not usually quiet and are are followed by 10 or 20 House Finches.
My chest puffs up in pride, they are rarely so close to see, are they starving for human attention? Nope, one or two at a time, they all go down for their morning drink.  A finch comes in for a closer look and zooms at my red bandana – oops a Anna’s Hummingbird thought I had a head full of nectar.  He comes back and hovers near my face to show dissapointment and flies off.  on the way back, a Stellar Jay scampers across the road, and a Raven flies above and in front of my swift bicycle.
All common species but Len would be pround of me. Remember the Bug’s 50 acres is also one of the best places for birdwatching all year.
Check out these Conservancies for Yosemite Region naturalist walks and events on their calendars now and year round:
Sierra Foothill Conservancy sierrafoothill.org
Yosemite Conservancy yosemiteconservancy.org
Upper Merced River Watershed Council merced-river.org (you can make a donation to them through our booking engine).
NEWS FLASH FOR SINGLETRACK RIDERS.  Now the old rail grade running north from the bridge upstream is now single track cycleable and super fun.  You park above the bridge once crossed and a small parking area.  Watch for dogs & owners for the first while but they are amenable.  There will be three creek depressions you will go through & return just past the last.  Sand, roots, cobblestone like rocks, narrows, whoppdedoops, rattlesnakes and pokey plants at your ankles.  Super fun all year but go early morning in summer!  For the hardcore, go up the Burma Grade at the same starting point to the top and beyond for some plateau action.  there’s actually a fire road loop at top to the right along the rim and back on the Forest Service Road, but people get lost easy.  You can cycle to Highway 12o or 132 or the old secret Big Oak Flat Road Yosemite entrance road up there (John Muir Ramble Route of Hwy 132, Greeley Hill Road, Old  Yosemite Road, Old Big Oak Flat Road).  See John Muir GeoTourism Center in Coulterville.