Cloud’s Rest – Solo Hiking in Yosemite and the Range of Light

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
-Henry David Thoreau

Read about my other two days in Yosemite – Pohono Trail and Mariposa Grove

Day 2 – Cloud’s Rest

The hike to the summit of Cloud’s Rest is a 14.2 mile round trip trail that starts at Tenaya Lake, rises approximately 3K feet in elevation and ends with an incredible view from the back of the valley, sitting 5K feet above the valley floor. It’s a great hike with a little less traffic and offers you a different perspective on Half Dome and El Capitan.

Even though I’d done 23ish miles the day before, I still felt pretty good and set out in the morning in good spirits. The first mile of the trail is very calm – a serene mountain lake, sandy footpaths and mostly flat ground.

Tenaya Lake - Yosemite

The second mile is one of the most brutal sections of trail I’ve ever been on. You’re hit with a little over 1K in elevation change in less than a mile as you pick your way over rocks and rocky outcroppings. I was climbing this section along with several other groups, and all of us were stopping often, panting, heaving and wondering when it’d even out. It feels like the final stretch of a summit, but with none of the joy of reaching one.

Immediately following this, you plunge downward for a couple hundred feet and begin to question why you’re doing this. Luckily, the trail is much more moderate here in the middle section. You even pass by a quiet, pristine mountain pool and wind among giant boulders.

The last section of trail gets tough again, as you’d expect with the final stretch of any summit. After climbing above the tree line, it turns into a ridge hike, with a 5K foot bare rock drop down one side and 1.5K drop back into the forest on the other. I wouldn’t call it precarious by any means, the path is fairly broad, even and it’s not hard to get footing. But with those drops it’s easy for your mind to play tricks on you.

Clouds Rest - Yosemite

When you arrive at the summit, there are 360 degree breathtaking views. From here, you can continue on to Half Dome or turn back as I did. That brutal section isn’t any easier on the way down, and the cool waters of Tenaya Lake felt amazing on the battered soles of my feet.

Read about my other two days in Yosemite – Pohono Trail and Mariposa Grove

Tenaya Lake - Yosemite

Clouds Rest - Yosemite

Writing Process? Is There Such a Thing?

So a long time ago in a galaxy far away I was nominated by Midwestern Gothic contributor and all-around good guy, Lee Krecklow, for the Writing Process Blog Tour. The actual tour was probably over a long time ago and I am venturing into irrelevancy, which should give you a clue as to my answer to his call – what’s your writing process? How do you work? And away we go!

What are you working on?
What am I not working on? That may be a better question. Recently I quit my high-powered (middle management) advertising executive (middle management) job in lieu of striking out on my own as a consultant. This is also a busy time of year for Midwestern Gothic, with the Voices of the Middlewest Festival, AWP, a new book, new issues, and a few other surprises all in full gear. Plus I’ve got a family, plus I’m finding time to edit and work on a few short stories. Needless to say, my dance card is pretty full.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
When it comes to writing and reading for pleasure, my genres are fantasy and sci-fi. I love being transported and experiencing metaphors and imagery that I’m not familiar with. Plus, I’ve always had a soft spot for space exploration and swords and sorcery. Usually, in my work, I try to make the story approachable – in that it’s not about the science or the world building, but the people and relationships within it. I tend to like to tell stories that are small as opposed to the big, sweeping epics as well. If I went back in time and created Middle Earth, my version would be more like The Children of Hurin as opposed to The Fellowship of the Ring.

Why do you write what you do?
Again, I’m going to go hard fantasy here and quote George R.R. Martin. “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” That same logic applies to writing, for me. It gives me a chance to experience and live something that I never would have otherwise.

How does your writing process work?
I’m typically a planner, in that once I get the seed of an idea, I like to rough a few things in before I draft. It’s helpful for me to write a one-sentence pitch for the story, something that gets my juices flowing, and, as a reader, would make me interested in reading. Then I rough in the characters, who they are, what they desire, and how they might conflict with those around them. Then I rough out the plot in scenes as a way to keep me focused on what’s next. If I’m writing a short story, I’ll usually plot the whole thing. If it’s a novel, I’ll usually work a chapter ahead. I find that way helps me discover the book as I draft vs. feeling boxed in to a predetermined plan that might not work. After that, I’ll typically edit in 4-5 passes, starting with broad, content issues and narrowing into things like dialog tags, filler words, etc.

And there you go! In the spirit of keeping this going, I’m nominating another person I’d like to hear from.

Michelle Webster-Hein has published work in River Teeth, Midwestern Gothic and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among other places. She holds an MFA in Fiction and Creative Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. She also works as a co-editor of River Teeth’s “Beautiful Things” series, which grew from an essay of hers by the same title. Her essay “Counting Apples” was listed as “notable” in Best American Essays of 2014. She lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan with her husband and children.

Pohono Trail – Solo Hiking in Yosemite and the Range of Light

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
-Henry David Thoreau

Read about my other two days in Yosemite – Cloud’s Rest and Mariposa Grove

Pohono Trail - El Capitan

Last Labor Day, I took a much needed solo expedition to Yosemite, a national park that’s long been on my bucket list. 2014 came with the level of stress at work that leaves you feeling strangled and trapped, so much so that I decided to embark on a drastic career change (which only created a new, different level of angst.) This trip came at the perfect time, it was exactly what I needed to reset, unplug, and regain perspective.

As a procrastinator, I waited too long to plan my trip – two months out and on a holiday weekend, all the back country passes were taken, so I made my basecamp at Yosemite West, a KOA campground in Mariposa. It was far less expensive than staying in the valley and only forty-five minutes via car to the trailheads I wanted to explore. And an unexpected bonus was getting to witness the sunset over Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest every morning as I drove in.

Day 1 – Pohono Trail

The Pohono Trail is a 15-mile rim trail that hugs the south side of Yosemite Valley. If you want a sampling of everything hiking in Yosemite has to offer, this is it. This trail is not for the faint of heart – it’s 15 miles, about 3.5K in elevation change and unless you have two cars, you’ll probably have another six miles in the valley to get back where you started at Yosemite Lodge.

Getting up to the trailhead is easy – buy a one-way bus ticket from Yosemite Lodge to Glacier Point. This was the only guided experience I had in the park, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, the driver supplies you with plenty of inspirational and interesting stories about wildlife in the park, mountaineers climbing the many cliff faces, and the history of this incredible landscape, which is truly the birthplace of the national park idea. When I got off the bus, I had one of those soaring, awe-struck feelings in my gut.

Pohono Trail - Half Dome

Glacier Point sits 4,000 feet above the valley floor, and has stunning views of Half Dome. I spent about an hour wandering and gazing out over the hazy expanse as the sun rose. Several spot fires were burning in the distance. And I was treated to the heartbeat-skipping sight of a dad taking his ten-year-old out onto Hanging Rock, an tiny outcropping that dangles over the void. I couldn’t watch and started my hike.

Hanging Rock - Pohono Trail

The Pohono Trail winds past Sentinel Dome and continues on to Taft Point in its first section, which is well traveled and marked. This section is a popular day hike, and I don’t think I was ever more than a hundred yards from another person. Along the way you’ll find the Fissures and then Taft point, another dizzying overlook with nothing more than a metal bar between you and a yawning panorama of El Capitan and Half Dome. I found myself stopping multiple times to sit on the edge of the cliff to take in the air and the view.

Pohono Trail - Taft Point

Between Taft Point and Inspiration point, the trail turns into a bit of a slog. This 4- to 5-mile section veers away from the ridge and wanders through the woods. I was treated to moss covered trunks, sandy trails, and dry creek beds. It was here that I decided to change where I was planning on hiking on Day 2 and 3, the drought had strangled every single creek bed I crossed. There was no water to be had. I’d downed 32 oz. at Glacier Point and carried 64 oz. more, but I was planning on making it to the Bridalveil Falls viewing area restroom to replenish, since it didn’t seem I’d be able to filter any water.

Past Inspiration Point, the trail gets much rockier and takes a steep downward turn – the bulk of your elevation change can be found here. If you’re hiking the trail from Tunnel View up to Glacier Point, congratulations, you’re in much better shape than I am. Bonus insanity points if you try to do the 30-mile round trip in a day. Most times, I find going downhill harder on the body than uphill, especially when it’s steep.

As I stomped down this section of trail, I heard a noise behind me, and turned to catch a flash of brown fur. My immediate thought was “Shit. Mountain Lion. My wife and mom were right.” After the adrenaline surge faded, I realized it was only a deer. The thing regarded me as it walked down the path, and I slowly backed away to keep distance. As it kept coming, I veered off into the forest, thinking it merely wanted to use the trail. But the deer turned off the path and probably got within two arm’s reach. So I raised my walking stick, yelled, and almost fell over myself. If anyone had been watching, I’m sure they would have died laughing.

After the deer, I made it to the valley floor, out of water and with sore joints. I arrived at Bridalveil Falls only to discover no running water. It was near 5 p.m., and the shuttles (still 3 miles away) were stopping. I had 6 miles to the lodge. I drew a little inspiration from Cheryl Strayed in that moment and kept telling myself, “There’s only one option. Keep walking.”

Pohono Trail - Wild, Cheryl Strayed

The 6-miles from Tunnel View to Yosemite Lodge is unremarkable, under trees and steps from the road. When I got to the lodge, I monopolized the water fountain, refilled my bottles and headed home for the day.

Read about my other two days in Yosemite – Cloud’s Rest and Mariposa Grove

Forest Fire - Pohono Trail

Pohono Trail - Trees

Pohono Trail - Fissures

Pohono Trail - Half Dome

Pohono Trail - Overlook

Pohono Trail - Yosemite Overlook

Midwestern Gothic: Issue 16 Editor’s Commentary

Midwestern Gothic Summer 2014 Issue 16
The Winter Issue of Midwestern Gothic is a little extra special this time around because it features the winners and finalists of our first ever Lake Prize, an annual awards for fiction and poetry that best represents the Midwest. It seeks to reward those who see the beauty of the region, whether that be quiet forests, gutted industrial wastelands, small towns or vibrant urban neighborhoods. The first time round, we got two stellar judges, Ander Monson and Mary Biddinger, and honestly, we couldn’t have been happier with the response we got to the contest.

While I loved all the Lake Prize entries, I wanted to highlight one of the other stellar pieces we published, “Longing” by Ben Tanzer. It’s a familiar scene to most folks, neighbors spending time together with their kids. But underneath that runs the protagonists desire for something different than what he’s got now. Is it freedom, is it the separateness that alcohol brings, or is it acting on the sexual tension he perceives between himself and the other husband? Longing, to me, is something core to a lot of the Midwestern experience – most folks have the responsibility and the integrity to hang on to something far longer than they should, even when what the desperately want and need is something else. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s what we, Lisa and I, do with them, Rita and Mark. Someone comes into a bottle of something new, different, on a work trip, or vacation, maybe from some random visitor from out of town, and we drink it until it’s gone, slowly for the most part, and civilized.

When the kids were younger we were more self-conscious about drinking until things got blurry or we couldn’t walk home easily. Back then there were diapers to change and bottles to heat-up.

Now we just let them run and run around Rita and Mark’s house, watching the same movies again and again, while we just drink and drink.

Tonight it’s whiskey.

I could tell you that I don’t have a problem with alcohol, but that’s what problem drinkers tend to say, and I am not a problem drinker.
They also tend to say that I only drink when I want to, that I can stop whenever I want, and that it doesn’t interfere with my life.

All of which I have definitely said, and all of which I mean.

Still, if you drink until things are blurry, and you cannot easily walk, and this despite the fact that your children are just steps away watching Despicable Me or chasing Guinea Pigs around the house, you might have a problem.

The real question I suppose is do I ever long for a drink, and the answer to that is yes, all the time. I can taste the alcohol hit my tongue even when it isn’t there, and feel the warmth burn the back of my throat.

So, do I long for that, that feeling of being both alive and dead all at once? Yes, endlessly.

Buy a copy of Midwestern Gothic : Winter 2015 – Issue 16 for the rest of the story, the Lake Prize winners and finalists, and many others inspired by the Midwest.