On our 7th wedding anniversary, Onur and I stood on the 13,061-foot summit of Mount Dana, the second highest peak in Yosemite National Park. It had been a steep, rickety, muscle-shivering climb, and we were elated. Mount Dana was a training hike of sorts, a test to see how Onur’s body reacted to hiking a challenging trail in thinner air. Next weekend, he’ll be attempting Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States, elevation 14,505 feet.
I first heard about Mount Dana when training for Mount Whitney last year, so when thinking about what hikes we wanted to do on our trip, it seemed like a good choice: We could see how Onur would do at altitude before Whitney, and it would be a new and challenging hike for the both of us. I also found out it was a new moon on Friday night, August 30, so I was excited to try to capture the stars and Milky Way. Following our tradition of getting up early to watch the sunrise at Mount Rainier, we also woke up early to watch the sunrise at Glacier Point. Here’s a bit more about those three adventures—the highlights of our trip.
Stargazing in Yosemite Valley
By sheer coincidence, it was a new moon the night we arrived in Yosemite. Once I realized my luck (a new moon means the stars are most visible in the night sky, and it was still Milky Way season!), I began researching where I could practice my astrophotography. The tricky part about shooting the Milky Way in Yosemite Valley is that many viewpoints face east towards Half Dome, north towards Yosemite Falls, or south towards Bridalveil Fall. At this time of year, the Milky Way is in the southwestern sky, where there are generally fewer “photogenic” backdrops in Yosemite Valley. In the end, my favorite shot, the one above, was taken from the parking lot of an eastern-facing viewpoint. I wanted to photograph as much of the Milky Way as possible, so I tipped my camera nearly horizontal on my tripod, and included the tips of giant pine trees for perspective.
At one point, while trying to focus and swat away bugs, I heard voices overhead. I looked up and it turned out to be a couple climbers chatting about three-quarters of the way up El Capitan! It was so funny, and I tried to capture their firefly like headlamps, the dark wall, and night sky. But, it was difficult to manually focus in the dark, and many of my shots came out blurry. Eventually I was able to focus and get a couple clear shots. I spent about an hour outside and then came back to catch a few hours of sleep before driving to Glacier Point the next morning.
Watching the sunrise from Glacier Point
Glacier Point is an east-facing viewpoint over 3,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, very popular for the scenic bang-for-your-buck next to a parking lot. We decided to drive up to catch the sunrise on Saturday morning, August 31, and then relax before our Mount Dana hike on Sunday. When we arrived at 6:00 a.m., there were people milling around but generally lots of parking space still available. The sky looked incredible—almost glowing in purplish-orange.
We walked a short distance a viewpoint and marveled at the panorama. Looking through a telescope, we could even see hikers walking around on the summit of Half Dome! Since we had hiked Half Dome last year, it was extra cool seeing Half Dome’s shark fin shape, Vernal Fall, and Nevada Fall from this vantage point. We could almost trace our hiking path to the summit. It was just phenomenal and absolutely worth getting up early for!
This shot is a panorama taken on my iPhone. I had my tripod and camera set up behind Onur, and was so inspired by the warm sunrise, the sweep of the view, and Onur taking it all in that I quickly captured this scene. It turned out to be our favorite picture of the trip :)
Hiking Mount Dana
At 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, September 1st, we drove into the darkness on Highway 120, heading northeast for our big hike of the weekend. Mount Dana is 6.5 miles round-trip, beginning just below 10,000 feet and climbing to 13,061 feet. Although it seems like a short hike, the altitude combined with a rocky tread made it a slow ascent. We began at 7:00 a.m., me with a slight headache. Onur felt the altitude as well, but we were able to manage it by ascending slowly, sipping water frequently, and taking small, regular bites of energy bars. This technique had worked when I climbed Mount Whitney last year, so it made sense to try it again.
The hike begins nearly level, weaving through several ponds, pine trees, grass, and wildflowers. At 0.75 miles, the trail rises above the treeline into an open, exposed boulder field. The trail is faint, but visible among the boulders, with 4-foot tall cairns at long intervals. Since we had started so early, this part was shady as we climbed. At 2.1 miles and 1700 feet gained, we reached an open meadow at the foot of Mount Dana. This gently rising 0.25-mile section gave our legs a rest before the final steep push, 1300 feet in 0.9 miles. This last section was very challenging as it was through a loose, steep scree field where we had to watch our balance. It was hard and tedious, and at times tricky to spot the trail. There are small cairns and a faint path is visible, although it became obscured at times. Poles came in handy, helping us balance on precarious rocks. Sunglasses, hats, and jackets were also very helpful for sun and wind protection. It was chilly as we climbed, and we both kept two layers on, even on the steepest sections.
Our pace was roughly 1.0 mph on the ascent, and we celebrated every 500 feet—12,000 feet! High five! 12,500 feet! High five! We reached the summit at 10:00 a.m., absorbing the 360-degree views of Mono Lake and the Sierra. Thanks to a tip from other hikers, we saw Dana Lake too from the very northern edge of the summit. We met a biology student who was spending the summer at Tuolumne Meadows, and a gentleman celebrating his 31st anniversary the following day! Pulling out our sit pads, we spent about an hour at the summit, resting and refueling on almond butter & banana sandwiches, cashew cookie Lara bars, and orange vitamin water. The descent took us two hours; we reached the car just before 1:00 p.m. We both felt so happy and fantastic we had accomplished what we had set out to do, and had done it together on our anniversary. I was so proud of Onur :) We celebrated with veggie pizza back in El Portal :)
Below are pictures from our hike—please click on the images to see their full size :)
Wishing you a very happy weekend :)
P.S. In honor of our move this weekend to San Jose, I’m sharing a recipe I created for single-serve microwaved scrambled-eggs :) See below :)
Single-Serve Microwave Scrambled Eggs
We are moving this weekend, and in the way of how moving goes, our utensils and general cookery are already packed. I still needed to eat breakfast though and wanted to use up our eggs, so I tested cooking them in the microwave on paper plates. Turns out, it can be done! This recipe works surprisingly well, heating eggs in 45-second bursts to a gently wobbly consistency with gooey melted cheese. Yum!
1 tablespoon butter
4 cubes of cheese (I used gruyere!)
salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Place 1 tablespoon of butter on a plate and microwave for about 20 seconds, until butter is melted. Swish the melted butter around the plate and crack two eggs onto it. Using a fork, give the eggs a little mix, breaking the yolks but not overly beating it. Microwave for 45 seconds. Mix again with a fork, peeling the eggs away from the edges of the plate. Microwave for another 45 seconds. Mix again with a fork, sprinkle with cheese, and microwave another 45 seconds. At this point, the eggs should be mostly cooked, and a little runny, depending on your microwave’s power setting. If still a bit runny, mix again and microwave for another 30 seconds, watching carefully for over-cooking. Voila! Serve plain or on toast, sprinkled with salt and pepper. (Our toaster was packed, so I warmed my toast in the oven.) Enjoy! :)