It can be hard to find good adventures on the shoulder season, but as long as you are not adverse to rain and snowy conditions you can usually find something! Damien and I were going to do a Loop backpack called The Cradle this weekend which is located at the end of Icicle Road in Leavenworth. No many folks go to the very end of the road. We also wanted to add an ascent of Bootjack and Highchair mountain tot he second day since the route to those peaks was right off the loop. We were also prepared to revise out plans as the mountain conditions lately have been a question mark.

We started off of the Icicle Creek Trail. The drive across the creek just before the TH is still very doable in any vehicle. After about 1.5 miles at a huge camping area we turned onto the French Creek Trail. leads though the forest for a long time gradually ascending. It was raining throughout the day, but not pouring and the cool temp made the forest jaunt pleasant. At the next Junction we stayed left on the French Creek Trail and a few yards later came to the edge of a very deep French Creek… with the trail on the other side. Damien tried to find an alternate place to cross, but there were no better options. The water was deep enough to make removal of the pants necessary. It was actually deep enough so that the water was actually just below my hips. The key was to go inott he water and aim slightly up-stream to avoid a waist deep drop and then circle back to the trial on the shore. And, yes, it was FREEZING! Strangely once out of the water a dripping wet we didn’t feel very cold.

We continued on. The trail grained elevation more aggressively for about 600 feet before changing once again to a more gentle uphill grade. Mist hung low in the sky, but we could still see the bottom of Cradle Peak to our right. We passed though an Avalanche debris field and several meadows before once again going aggressively up after a horsecamp. Here snow covered the ground pretty solidly and we lost the trail at times. We managed to get back on it though without too much trouble. After about 1000 feet of climbing the trail begins to switchback up the ridge until reaching the top overlooking the snow engorged Cradle Basin. It was dark back then so we took out our headlamps before descending. The lake was frozen and it was hard to see exactly where it was. We set up camp in some trees near a thawed out pool.

In the morning we reviewed our options. There was a lot of deep snow and potholing ahead of us in the next two basins until we began to climb to the ridge by Bootjack. The forecast called for a big storm in the evening and moderate rain in the afternoon. Naviahgating through the deep snow in the basin could take hours and if we did end up having to turn back and go out the way we had come we could be looking at returning to the TH the next morning (we were 12.5 miles in). Highchair Mountain would be be a good choice of a climb since the snow covering nearby ridges looked slippery and questionable. With these being the circumstances we opted to change the loop to an out and back.

Of course this also meant we needed to cross French Creek without pants again! We made the right choice. The rain picked up as soon as we got back to the car.

Crater Lake was our final destination on our Triple Park Trip. We had originally planned on hiking to the top of Garfield, Scott, Crater and Union Peaks. However, an unseasonable snowstorm which dumped 5 feet of snow on the park change our plans. The Rim Road was closed which took away access to Crater, Union and Scott. The Road was open to The Rim Village though so we could still get Garfield and walk the road Watchman, a small peak with a watchtower.

We began up Garfield at first light. The air was frigid and it was hard to believe I had been sweating in Yosemite less than a day before. The trail starts behind the Hotel, but it was invisible under the snow. But we new it followed the rim and then up the ridge. There were also some tracks. Right away I had a feeling crampon would be a nice addition to the hike. I didn’t realize though they they would become a requirement. We ascending the switchbacks up the ridge. The trail was pretty apparent with the snow and the going was straightforward and doable with just poles until about maybe 7400 feet. After that the angle of the snow got much steeping and the ledge of the trail most exposed. There was one point where we had to walk for about 3 yards on a rock catwalk next to the snow that had drifted on the trail right on the edge. The trail was eventually obliterated in steep angled snow and invisible. Without crampon we opted to climb up some exposed talus and scree . We then reentered the snow and stopped at a tiny flat area about about 7600 feet to examine our options. The snow was frozen and had been questionable and sketch up to this point. It was about to get steeper to regain the ridge… and we weren’t sure how stable the ridge was. Without an ice axe and crampons we made the hard decision to turn back.

We instead walked down the West Rim Road to Watchman Point. There is a trail beside the road, but it would have slowed up down and we didn’t have the time to post hole. We didn;t think we’d make it up Watchman without snowshoes when we first got there and just hung out at the point enjoying the perfect view of Wizard Island. But as we got up to leave Damien took a closer look at the trail and found that he wasn;t sinking as much as expected. We decided to go for it. We followed the gently switchbacking trail through the snow with minimal sinkage to the summit of Watchman. There is an out lookout there what is not open to the public, but the views are spectacular! And we had it all to ourselves! Well worth the long road walk…

Speaking fon the road, we wanted to cut off some road travel time so instead of descending the trail we opted to plunge straight down the mountain to cut off a mile of the road which circles around the back of the Mountain to the TH. This is kind of an adventurous moves as the road around watchman features of impassable cliffs. But we figured we could troubleshoot if need be. We used a combination of plunge stepping and glissading to descend. We did end up popping out on a cliff above the road, but there was a lower angle place we were able to down-climb.

We followed the road back toward the Rim Village. Along the way we came across a vole that had no issue with me walking right up to it and well… I also petted it with my gloves on of course. i doubt it will be long before he is picked up by a predator, but he was so darned adorable!

One of our big goals for this Yosemite Trip was to learn aid climbing, both leading and following on jumars. We were lucky enough to find two great location to practice and learn.

Housekeeping Boulders:

Oddly enough this bouldering area also had 2 practice C1 aid routes on bolts. The two routes are located on the first huge boulder to the left of the LeConte Memorial. There is on route behind the boulder on a gradual overhang and another route on the right side of the boulder under sharp overhang. There was a group on the sharp overhang on our first visit so we ended up on the gradual overhang. This route is actually harder. The bolts are very far apart and I had to get on the top ladder step to reach the clips. Often it took a few attempts to clip and I had to use a rivet hanger to reach one bolt (loaned to me by the neighboring team who offered coaching as well). We visited the wall 2 more times on the trip using the sharp overhang route which is easier… at least to lead. That route took the life out of us as we tried to figure out the best way to jumar up and clean. We tried a re-aid technique, a straightforward jug technique (most taxing) and one jumar/grigri ascension technique. Re-aiding seemed to be the best way, but overhanging jugging is a fine art we’ll need to work on for sure.

Church Bowl:

After practice on the bolts, we felt pretty good about trying to aid on trad gear on a wall. On our last day in the Valley we went to Church Bowl wall across the street from the Majestic Hotel. We had seen a good finger crack on the right side of the wall perfect for aiding at C1 on another day we were trad climbing in the area. Damien was first up the wall. The biggest difference is the uncertainty of placing gear above your head and not being able see see fully how it is seated. The other big thing was getting used to the fact that the gear doesn’t have to be good enough to take a fall. Just good enough not to pop when you step onto the ladder. I found the same thing when I led the route later. We also both agreed that jugging up a straight face with infinitely better than an overhang!

I see big walls in the future! I could definitely get more into aid climbing!

Last time we went to Yosemite The road to Glacier Point was closed. We came earlier this year so it wqas open and several hours of climbing we decided to visit the South Rim along the Glacier Point Road for a late afternoon hike. The drive is about 45-60 minutes from the valley to the Sentinel and Taft Point Pullout. We Most folks do one of the other of these destinations, but we did a 6 mile loop. We first went right into the trail to the Sentinel which is a typical Yosemite Dome. As you approach the dome it appears unclimbable without technical gear, but the trail curves around to the other side of the summit which is much lower angle. Not much. The elevation gain to the summit was about 450 feet. The summit is at 8035 feet. Lots of foot traffic as expected since it is only 1.1 miles from the parking lots, but a worth-wild destination for the spectacular view of the valley.

Backtracking down the Sentinel we turned left onto the trai heading to Glacier Point and then then left again at the next junction to Taft Point. We followed the Pochoco Trail to Taft Point and the Fissures for about 2.7 miles (following the signs to Taft at the junctions).

The Fissues are just before Taft Point and are large cracks in the Rim Wall, Taft point has a benchmark, but it is more of an overlook than a summit. Again great views of the Valley. On the way back we took the trail to the parking lot at the junction for .5 miles completing the loop. Short by scenic trip and a great break from pulling on rock for a few days.

Damien and I climbed Regular Route (5.5) last time we were in Yosemite last November. It had been kind of an Odyssey for us back then since we were out of practice on rock and new to the Valley. This year we redeemed ourselves. Sunshine Beach wall is located to the right of the Lower Falls. The Route begins about 100 feet up a third call gully at a god belay tree. I lead the first pitch this time around. Last year I was glad I hadn’t led it… and now here i was leading the pitch. At first glance in looks very easy, but there are many awkward moves with questionable feet. I’d say the biggest issue is the problem solving on the committing moves on tiny numbs of granite. The pitch is about 90 feet end ends at a nice belay tree.

Damien led the 2nd pitch. It pretty long angle and going right around a hump by the tree and out onto the exposed wall. There is are a few fun moves onto the ledge to a boulder problem moved leading to the next tree belay. Last year I had an issue getting up the unprotected boulder problem so I had gone around to the right on onto the unprotected but less reachy face. This time when i followed I got up the boulder problem with no issue using a slopper. I guess I’m stronger? I think this pitch was also about 90-100ft.

The third pitch was our nemesis last year. The 5.4 variation seemed way to exposed on unprotected (to the right), so Damien had lead up the 5.5 direct route. Some committing exposed moved and the whole ordeal of trying to get onto the 5.4 route psyched him out and I went up to finish the pitch lead. But I was terrified the whole time and it took forever. Thus year he flew up the pitch and when i followed I could not understand what my problem had been. This was supposed to be the final pitch, but we split it in two since there is horrible rope drag when the rope is extended the full 60 meters which is how long the pitch is. Damien and I switched leads just above the crux on the gear anchor. I followed the low angle cracks up to a big shady tree about 100feet up. We then opted to switch leads again and pitch out the low angle but exposed slabs to the true top of the ledge.

The climb is a walk off and we followed the climbers trail to the right along the forested ledge to a talus field above the valley where we descended to the trail following carins. This route proved our progress over the past year and was a big accomplishment for us. Our mental aptitudes have grown vastly since almost a year ago!


Yosemite was granted a very heavy duty rain storm over the weekend and when the skies began to clear on Monday the Upper Falls, previously dry just days before, was gushing with water. Since the rock will still wet, we decided to make Monday our hiking day and headed onto the Trail to Upper Falls (starts at Camp 4). The trail is pretty steep at times and ascends 2800feet in about 3.4 miles to the brink of the Upper Falls. The path begins in the forest on typical switchbacks. As the tree open the trail gets steeper and our first views of well, mostly mist, were revealed. After ascended for about 1400 feet the trail drops 200 feet to avoid and slab and curved around the shoulder of the rock wall to a wonderful viewpoint of the Falls. After a short section of flat hiking the trail goes into what seems like endless switchbacks until it reaches the top of the North Rim. Here signed point to the right toward the overlook. A quick 1/2 mile jaunt over rock and down some stairs with a rail led us to the top of the deafening falls and views of Yosemite Valley still partially covered in mist.

After a quick break and snack we backtracked to the Junction. We followed left hand turn from the valley bottom and toward Eagle Peak. There are a few junctions on this gently ascending trail, but they are all well signed with arrows to Eagle Peak. The elevation gain here barely noticeable as you trek through the pine forest. Finally a junction is reached with a sign indicating the summit of Eagle. We took this trail which was also not very steep to the rocky summit. It features maybe 2 or three 3rd class moves. It was still misty, but the clouds were break every few minutes revealing a great view of Half Dome! It was hard to leave the summit. The mist gave everything a real high sierra feel and laying on the rocks was just addicting. But we reversed route. We ran into throngs of people on the Upper Falls trail and were very happy we had started early in the morning before light (typical us).

The mist did manage to fully clear on the way down so we were granted perfect views of Half Dome in vivid afternoon light. But nothing could compare to the solitude of the morning where we had the North Rim to ourselves in the mist.

The Day we took off from our Triple Parks Trip a huge heavy rain and wind warning was in effect for the entire PNW. Though it wasn’t half as bad a predicted a copious amount of rain did fall during our Redwoods Excursion. Luckily we were in the trees which provided Shelter. The Redwoods National and State Parks Complex is composed of a series of State Parks and Redwoods NP. We went to Prairie Creek State Park which i believe provides the best sampling of everything that is the Redwoods: Tall Trees, the beach and Fern Canyon.

Damien and I completed connected several trails to make2 a loop tour of the the major features of the State Park. We began at the mian trail from the visitor center and followed the signs to the James Irvine Trail which offers a great tour of the Redwoods. This trail leads to Fern Canyon. The trail is almost none existent Basically you walk through the creek that runs through the Canyon. This area of lofty fern canyon walls is where Star Wars with filmed… The third of the original films. I get confused at this point which episode is which. The rain actually made the canyon even more beautiful.

We exited the Canyon to Golden Bluffs Beach… which exceptionally high surf. We followed the road/trail along the beach  for about a mile or 2 to Miners Ridge Trail. Walking out in the open on the road allowed us to fully experience the wrath of the rain so we were happy to be back under the cover of the tall trees. From here we trekked back to the VC completing the 12 mile loop.