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Hiking in ‘the Cathedral of the Sierra’

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Hiking in ‘the Cathedral of the Sierra’

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POSTED June 9, 2012 1:24 a.m.

YOSEMITE VALLEY - It’s a world renowned hiking destination for a reason.

With countless trails and beautiful scenery, Yosemite National Park is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in California.

Half Dome and El Capitan tower over the Yosemite Valley, and are prime hiking and climbing spots for those who are so inclined to take their challenges. Yosemite Falls offers visitors a chance to capture nature’s aggressive beauty, and Bridalveil, Nevada and Vernal falls are all equally beautiful.

The Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park - dubbed by John Muir as the Cathedral of the Sierra - lies just 90 miles east of Manteca via Highway 120. The park is a great destination for those wishing for a day long wilderness experience, or those who wish to camp out.

Yosemite receives over 3.5 million visitors each year, with over 70 percent of them being day users. Many foreigners use the park for their wilderness experiences, many of which come from England and Japan, not to mention other European countries.

The busiest time of the year for the park has to be the summer, when the park averages between 450,000 to 550,000 visitors each month.

One of the main draws of Yosemite, besides the outstanding wilderness experience is the hiking. The park boasts over 800 miles of trails for public use, ranging from easy to most difficult.

The most popular trail is typically the Half Dome Hike, which starts at the Happy Isles Nature Center and starts off on the Mist Trail, eventually ending up on the John Muir Trail - a 211 trail that runs from Yosemite all the way to Mount Whitney - before reaching the peak of Half Dome at 8,836 feet elevation. The entire length of the trail is a little over 17 miles, and takes anywhere between 10 to 12 hours round trip depending on the pace of the hiker.

The trail conditions range from easy at some parts, to most difficult on some of the switchbacks and the steeper parts of the trail. The last 900 feet to the top of Half Dome is 24 unevenly placed granite switchbacks, followed by a makeshift ladder that runs up the back side of the rock. Two steel cables run up the side for hand support, and 2 by 4 slats of wood are placed every 10 feet for support in case of a hiker slipping down the hill.

There are several places along the trail where water is available to be pumped from the icy Merced in case water supplies run short, but the last place for fresh water is at the top of Nevada Falls, half way to the top of Half Dome.

It’s best to hit the trailhead early, since chances for thunderstorms in the mountains increase after 3 p.m., as well as it’s cooler in the early morning hours which means less wear on the body. Expect about a 12 hour day of walking, including the wait at the base of the hill and breaks along the way.

Several ledges give the hiker outstanding views of the Northern San Joaquin Valley, or glimpses over the edge of a world famous waterfall. It’s a perfect place to grab a quick bite to eat and continue on up the trail.

Along the Half Dome trail, the hiker has the chance to stand atop both Vernal and Nevada Falls, and peer over the edge at the raw power that the glaciers and Mother Nature carved into the valley.

Must-have items to bring on your trip to half dome include comfortable shoes, a decent backpack, plenty of water and high energy foods (granola, trail mix, high carb energy bars), a removable rain poncho (the Mist Trail didn’t get its name for nothing), fresh socks, a pair of leather gloves (for the hike up the cables), sunscreen, bug repellent, and a hat.

Yosemite National Park offers hikers many opportunities to venture into the wilderness. It is definitely the perfect destination for anybody how is in tune with nature, or at lease wants to be for a short period of time.

A seven-day pass for Yosemite National Park is $20 per vehicle. A season pass is $40. 

— By JASON CAMPBELL

209 staff reporter

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