Saturday, June 30, 2012

Half Dome Adventure

Hiking, or I should rather say climbing up Half Dome in Yosemite was on my "to-do-before-I-die" list since a long time. But as with so many other things it got postponed every year to the next year. Since one now has to apply in advance for a permit to go up Half Dome, it is not really something you can do spontaneously...
But this year, together with a good friend and our older son, we entered the lottery for the permit and got lucky!

The end of May found us driving up to Yosemite in well prepared but still a bit anxious anticipation. The afternoon before the big day, we went to Glacier Point to have a birds eye view on our route:

The red line shows approx. our planned 17 mile round trip hike from the Yosemite Valley floor with a 4800 ' elevation...

As the alarm clock woke us at 4:15 am the next morning we were torn between excitement and doubt, if we really want to do that. Excitement won and a few minutes after 5 am we were on the trail. The predawn part of the hike took us up the Mist trail and it's steep stone steps gave us a little foretaste of what was to come later on.
At 6:10 am we were looking down Vernal Falls, the sun started to rise but did not reach the Valley yet.

At 6:45 am we scrambled up Nevada Falls, the roaring of the water so loud that we couldn't talk to each other, even if we would have had the breath for it.

Shortly after 7 am we reached the top of Nevada Falls and took some time to enjoy the already great views and watching the sun inching her way into the valley.

The sun felt good on my back as I took this "self portrait"

The next part of the trail would lead us through Little Yosemite Valley, compared to what was behind us and what would be ahead of us, literally a stroll through the park. With the only excitement being warning signs that reminded us of all the rules and regulations...

...curious and not at all shy deers...

...and mating sooty grouses.

With up to 400 permits granted per day, I had expected a much bigger crowd. One would bump into people here and there, but for most of the trail through Little Yosemite Valley we were by ourselves. Finally we saw this sign which let us believe we almost reached our goal....ha, how wrong we were!

Admittedly we glimpsed Half Dome shortly after,

but before we even could start to ascend Half Dome we first had to climb up the "rock stairs" of it's sub dome. Here now, at the foot of the sub dome more and more people congregated, getting ready for the more serious part.

Still huffing and puffing we reached the top of the sub dome and awed at was lying in front of us....yes, it is as steep as it looks, I would even say steeper!
The guide to "Half Dome: Everything you need to know" describes it as
Difficulty: Extreme. It's long, steep at the beginning and end, and more dangerous than most Yosemite hikes. It's probably the most difficult of all Yosemite day hikes. On the traditional 1 to 10 scale, this one rates an 11. 
Insanity Factor: 9 out of 10. Wait 'til you get to the cables, and you'll see. 
I couldn't agree more...
After a short break we put on our gloves, got our carabiner ready, took a deep breath and went...

Gipfelstuermer! 11:45 am, after what seemed an eternity but was probably not more then 20 minutes we reached the top. Utterly exhausted we just took in the view and rested.

The views were absolutely spectacular!

View into the Yosemite Valley

and towards the Eastern Sierra

Taking a glimpse over the rim

The top of Half Dome is actually quite big and flat

After two hours of enjoying the views on top of Half Dome, the moment of truth came...we had to get back down the cables. The ascent was strenuous, but the descent scared me half to death. If you can't see your path down when you start it, you know it's going to be tough.

Arms and legs shaking, I made it down and could once more admire the beautiful views and vistas around us.

On the way down we once more passed the mighty waterfalls,

this time in gorgeous light.

Even a rainbow!

An adventure I won't forget, on a day that could not have been any better. Thank you Cherie and Tomi for sharing the trail with me. For many more to come!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June Conservation Tip

Do you compost?

There are many ways to compost depending on where and how you live. The city of San Mateo County for example offers a compost program, where the compost gets picked up weekly, together with the normal garbage. Others just put up a compost bin in their garden. If you have a little space in your garden, here is what I did:

Get a sturdy compost bin

some compost starter


and just start composting!

Start by layering grass clippings (green things), fall leafs (brown things)and your kitchen scraps together with the compost starter and keep it slightly moist. It should be a fairly balanced mix of everything. Whenever I add new material to the compost, I mix up the contents of the bin just a little bit. Adding fresh oxygen into the compost pile by turning it more frequently will help the compost to break down faster. Worms (earthworms) significantly help the process, too.
Some buy worms, but ours just moved in without us doing anything.

Ideal would be to have two bins, once the first one is full, you let it sit and completely break down, while you fill up the second one. Once full, we just let ours sit for a while and then used the resulting super nutritious compost to plant some radishes and other vegetables. And then started to fill the compost bin again by layering grass clippings, leafs and kitchen scraps....
you get the idea

If you live in an apartment and have only a little balcony space to spare, think about a vermiculture (just a fancy word for composting with lots of worms).

Regardless of how you compost, you can only win:You reduce the garbage sent to the landfill and gain an all natural great fertilizer for your garden and house plants.

Here some clever links to help you get started

Earth Easy

How to compost

Compost Guide

The Apartment Compost Bin Build a compost box in your apartment

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Solar Eclipse

Originally I wasn't going to photograph last months solar eclipse. All I read about it was, that without a proper solar filter you would ruin your cameras sensor and so forth. And needless to say, all the solar filters were sold out or exceedingly expensive.
To add to this, we here on the West Coast wouldn't see the full annular eclipse, just a partial one.
So only a half moon shaped eclipse over Half Moon Bay...
But as the day came closer and all photographers on the internet shared their story about how they were getting ready to shoot this once in a lifetime opportunity, I wondered how I could join them without spending a couple hundred dollar for a solar filter and without risking my camera. Taking stock of my filters, I decided on a 2-stop neutral density filter plus a 2-stop graduated neutral density filter should do the trick. I have quite frequently shot directly into the sun without doing any harm to my sensor, so I decided to give it a try.
The first images I tried were either totally underexposed or the sun was absolutely blown out. I went for the underexposed (to expose the sun right) and photographed in 10 minute intervals with the intent to merge them later in photoshop to show what was happening.
Kind of the same idea as with the lunar eclipse last December. The following image is the result. The little "suns" left and right are the suns reflection in the filter.


Now this worked out, kind of, but was not really what I had envisioned. I figured one really would need a solar filter to capture a decent photo...


But then, the normally dreaded fog started to move in, and provided me with the best ever natural solar of charge!

Not quite the usual eclipse photos, but I like them nevertheless. And I learned another lesson: Even if you are not totally prepared, be there and give it a try!