July 16, 2019
Greetings friends and family! It’s been a wild week in the Yosemite backcountry. We write to you with happy hearts, tanned skin and worn feet; over 30 miles of beautiful trail behind us. After the first day we barely saw a soul, giving us plenty of space to let our goofy selves go. We laughed until we cried and got to know each other better via thoughtful conversations on the trail. It’s amazing how close you get by putting one foot in front of the other, propelling your home with your body. Yosemite’s beauty shocked us with every twist and turn. Smooth granite mountains reflected the sun in the distance as we walked under towering California pines.
The first day of hiking started with a steep uphill climb with an uncountable amount of switchbacks. Our bags heavy with a week’s worth of food, we were immediately thrown into the backpacking gauntlet. Sweat dripped down our faces and conversations were staggered as we caught our breath. Maggie kept spirits high and chatted about favorite movies, TV shows, podcasts, and singers. We all have a list of Maggie-recommendations for entertainment to check out when we part ways. She also had great recommendations for vinyl albums, which sparked a great debate of vinyl vs. downloaded music. Another great distraction from the gruesome uphill was the view. The trail climbed up a mountain side with a sprawling valley below. Every switchback was celebrated with an open view as the evening colors changed from orange to purple. We arrived at our first campsite as dusk settled upon us. To one side was a series of five waterfalls and to the other was an open rocky area perfect for camping and stargazing. Exhausted, we cooked up dinner and had Moonup mummied up in our sleeping bags with the waterfalls crashing in the distance.
The following morning we planned to sleep in but the California sun kindly reminded us that was not an option. We took our time to wake up and explore the rivers and waterfalls below. Almost everyone took a morning dip to shake out our sore muscles. The water was freezing cold, but was balanced out well by the hot sun. We took an hour to read books, play chess, and debrief crazy dreams from the night before. We set off late that morning for another hard day of hiking. Although not as steep as the day before, we had a lot of ground to cover and consistently gained elevation. The trail immediately challenged us with a river crossing where we learned how to safely get across, a skill we would have to use many times again. Our sore muscles ached as we climbed uphill. Harris kept up conversation and shared stories of life in Florida, his lacrosse team, and family. Harris took advantage of time on the trail to truly get to know everyone. He would skip up to the front and hold up the back so that he got to chat with multiple people each day. We stopped for a late lunch that day and took out the stove to make the famous ‘Davis’. The ‘Davis’ is tortillas, PB, and Nutella filled with cooked cinnamon apples, fresh pineapple and granola. This is then heated up on the stove to meld all the flavors together. Rebecca was on cook crew for lunch and perfected the cooked apples. She laid out a buffet of all the ingredients for us to go through, making our lunch feel extra gourmet. We continued on our hike with bellies full and energy restored. We climbed higher in elevation and further into the wilderness. Snow patches started to appear, which immediately resulted in snowball fights and snow angels. Give a bunch of southerners snow in summer and giddy smiles are everywhere. Edward was the Leader of the Day today and his leadership skills shone brightly. He was conscious of the group at all times, asking if people needed water breaks but keeping us on track to get to camp at a good hour. He brought out the map and compass at each break to ensure we were on track. We arrived just as the sun was setting over the lake. On the menu tonight was backcountry Pad Thai: sautéed onions, peppers, chicken, noodles, soy sauce and hot sauce. This was a unanimous crowd favorite and we went to bed that night exhausted and full.
The third day of hiking started as usual, in high spirits and good conversation. Almost immediately we came upon an abundance of snow that covered the trail. Snow melt carried off on different paths, creating trails that confused our direction. We all worked together to spot trail markers and signs that we were on the right path. We used compassion navigation and searched for footprints and human-placed logs. This was a great lesson for all of us to take our time and note our surroundings. The trail today was a combination of up and down as well as forest and open rock. The rock formations were cut into big blocks and surrounded us as we trekked; it certainly felt like we were in Yosemite. We stopped by a lake for a 15-minute break and Casey introduced us to the power of the Yosemite echo. Yelling into the distance our voices bounced along the rocks and reverberated along the valley. William saw some fish in the lake and took the time to take out our flower and plant identification book. Noting the colors and shape of the fins he pinned the type of fish and educated the group. This then became a standard while we backpacked for interesting flowers and trees. A few miles later the trail graced us with one of the most beautiful views yet. Snowy mountains to our left, a large lake below us and the Yosemite granite in the distance. Our campsite for the next two nights was the lake below and we slowly made our way down, as we wanted to enjoy lunch at the vista. Down at the lake everyone immediately shed their sweaty shirts and jumped into the icy water. Porter, always one for a spontaneous side adventure, and Casey challenged themselves and swam across the lake to the towering boulders. We all watched in amazement as the rest of us could only handle a quick dip in and out. We enjoyed the evening and made quesadillas to end a rewarding day of hiking.
The next day was a free day to roam, explore, relax, and reflect at the Buena Vista Lake since we would be staying at the campsite again that night. We started the day off in the most spectacular way we could think of, a sunrise hike to Buena Vista Peak. The group rose while the moon was still high in the sky and began to scale the snowbanks and rocky mountain side for the peak led by a full moonlight and headlamps when needed. Anna, our LOD for the day, led the group wonderfully through the giant scree field near the top to situate us in a prime location for a sunrise we all will never forget. No matter how cold, tired, or early it may be, Anna is always one to sport a positive attitude and get the job done. We are beginning to think someone forgot to teach her how to complain, for she surely doesn’t know. As we all sat perched on top of this rocky cliff side, the color show began as black turned to light blue, then to pink, then to a dazzling orange, and then at last a glimmering yellow we will always hold in our hearts. It felt amazing to reflect on all the hard work we had put in as a group to get here and what we had learned and accomplished. The beauty of that Yosemite sunrise made every second worth it, and some. After some time just sitting to soak up the moment, Charlie, our other LOD for the day, led us down for a day of miscellaneous fun and relaxation. We all spent time for self care, with some napping here and there, some swimming in the crisp mountain lake waters, and even some exploring the other side of the mountain on a day hike. Before everyone went about their day though, Brooks whipped up some of the most delicious chocolate pancakes there ever was. With 11 drooling people looking on, he made us all several mouthwatering pancakes as a reward for the successful sunrise hike. Charlie spent the better part of the morning playing chess with Casey, and also began his first installment in a series deemed ‘Chess in strange places’’. The days feature was atop a huge boulder next to the lake. The series entails playing games in beautiful and wild places all over California. It is surely to have many more features to come. The weather was beautiful, and everyone got the time to rest and relax that we all needed. It was an incredibly enriching day for the group, and one that was well deserved with all the beauty of nature to go along with it. It was all too fitting that we ended the day with a Thanksgiving feast together deep in the Yosemite wilderness. On the menu was buttery Idaho mashed potatoes and stuffing with a scrumptious brown gravy on top and a side a chicken. Some of us even ventured to add a little bit of spice with the addition of Chile oil, our new addiction from the pad Thai supper. We ate ‘til our hearts content, then rested like we’d never before.
Our fifth day of hiking began our trek back towards Maxi, our home away from home that we were all excited to get back too. It was a longer day of 8 miles, but mostly down hill, so the group set a goal to push it back to our first night’s campsite with pace so we’d have time to swim and enjoy ourselves one last evening in the backcountry. With a blistering pace, we made it back to the falls of night one in record time with much of the afternoon ahead of us. We set up camp in a jiffy, threw on some sunscreen, and off we went to the waterfalls to find the perfect swimming hole. We found a beauty right off the bat and jumped right in. The water was so cool on that hot summer day that it felt incredible and refreshing. After some time at the first waterfall, Murphy dared to adventure further up only to discover four more gorgeous waterfalls above that we could all explore. As we climbed further up the tiers of waterfalls, the fifth and highest one opened up to a giant and breathtaking swimming hole with a nonexistent current and an amazing little ledge for jumping. After swimming down in the pool to see it was very deep, we all took turns leaping from the little cliff into the cool waters at the foot of the fall. There couldn’t have been a better way to spend the last afternoon out in Yosemite. Our last dinner was pesto couscous and salmon, and plenty a goofiness to go around. Every single person was talking in funny accents, making funny noises, laughing, and hooting and hollering. As if we all knew we had to go back into civilization, we wanted to squeeze our backcountry experience for all its weird and quickness once and for all. It was the funniest diner yet. After a goodnights rest, we all packed up in a hurry and zoomed down the trail to Maxi and all her comforts.
ackpacking had reminded us just how special the little things in life truly are. We loaded up into our home, and headed on down to the Valley, stopping at the mind-boggling view of Glacier Point for a panoramic view of Yosemite Valley. Upon arriving at the floor, we spent to afternoon hiking to El Cap to touch the giant granite monolith walls, eating pizza to celebrate, and finishing our night with a scoop of ice cream reminiscing the wonderful adventure we’d taken together.
Our time together in the wild has brought us much closer as group and taught us many skills. However, the challenges are far from over and our skills are soon to be put to the test. Now, the magnificent Mt. Shasta awaits our approach. Soon a new adventure begins, with higher heights and new things to learn. Off we go back into the Wild!!
-Casey and Joanie
July 9, 2019
Friends and family!
Finally, our big Moondance adventure across California has begun. It’s been a long time waiting, but man is it worth it. Airport day was nerve racking, exciting, and full of energy. Rebecca was our first to arrive. She bounded into baggage claim with a smile bigger than you can imagine. Bag in hand, she quickly established herself as the welcoming committee. One by one people would filter in and Rebecca would make them feel at home. As the day trickled on, everyone was gnawing at the bit to get to our first destination: the Pacific Ocean. Finally, the group was complete, and we bounded to the parking lot to meet our four wheeled home away from home, Maxi. The California sun was shining down on us as we drove down Highway 1 with the windows down and speakers bumping. Once camp was set up, many found it necessary to baptize ourselves in the ocean and wash away the long travel day. Clean and salty, we enjoyed our first dinner together as the sun set in the west. Our campsite that night was feet away from the beach and the ocean waves lullabied us all into a deep slumber. What a way to start our grand adventure.
We woke early that next morning with awe in our eyes as we watched surfers catch mega waves in our beach backyard. It was our morning TV as we drank coffee and cooked eggs and English muffins. Spirits were high as we drove to Pacifica to learn the art of surfing. Our guides ‘Big Wave Dave’ and James took us under their wings and started from the basics. On sand we learned how to paddle, pop up, and most importantly, how to read the ocean. The ocean is unpredictable and strong; we must respect it and be aware of the currents that can pull in different directions. This is an important lesson to learn. Over the next three weeks we will learn how to respect slippery rock faces, big mountains and all the powerful nature in our giant playground. In the water we paddled into the waves allowing them to crash on top of us. We put our newfound talents to the test and popped up on as many waves as we could. Everyone got up at some point and was able to ride the board toward the beach. Without a doubt, Brooks caught the wave of the day. While the rest of us were catching waves that had already crashed, Brooks was able to paddle as a wave got momentum and rode it as it broke toward the beach. Turns out we may have the next Mavericks winner on our hands. A few hours of surfing was plenty for us all. Endless paddling and the California sun can surely take it out of you. After a Mediterranean sandwich feast, we were back in Maxi with salty hair driving straight for Yosemite National Park. Charlie’s musical knowledge immediately came out on our first long drive. He had a brilliant idea to play some new albums from start to finish. His music taste spans many genres and it was fun for us all to expand our musical knowledge under his guidance. Unanimously, this was one of the most beautiful drives any of us had been on. The sun set as we drove north of the park through windy roads separating thickly covered forest floors. The purple haze blanketed the valleys as we curved our way up and around. At camp, Edward took the Grill Master title as we sparked up the grill and cooked burgers. He is a talented griller and even perfected the Veggie Burgers, which are not an easy feat. We laid our heads to rest that night with full bellies and sore arms, excited to conquer the vertical granite playgrounds the next day.
We rose early the next day with a light meal of oatmeal and dried fruit, then hit the road to meet up with our climbing guides. As we got to the wall, Porter helped everyone get situated with their gear and doled out some great advice for cruising up the wall. You could tell he had spent some time off the ground at home. He noted how different climbing outside was from climbing in a gym. The climbing for the first day was all slippery slab climbing on the granite walls high up at 10,000 feet of elevation. We all learned to focus on using our feet instead of our arms to climb, as is the Yosemite style of climbing. We climbed til we were worn and worked, then retreated to camp for a delicious diner of fajitas! On cook crew later that evening, Anna became the onion sautéing queen, slowly caramelizing them to a golden-brown perfection that warmed out hearts and taste buds while taking her time to make them with love, and while the group chatted about Sophomore year in high school, with all its twists and turns, ups and downs. Maggie was also killing it in the kitchen, with her perfectly hysterical sarcasm, she kept everyone laughing for hours. She’s been getting funnier and funnier as she gets to know everyone and opens up more and more. After our delicious diner, we all settled into a special Moonup led by Rebecca and Harris, as we all began to become more vulnerable with each other. Harris has been a rock for the group, being friendly and open with each of us. As LOD, he encouraged a longer Moonup around a campfire where we talked about pivotal moments or parts of our life that has shaped us to who we are. It was a meaningful night for us all, and we slept feeling so much closer to each other.
For day 2 of climbing, we ventured to a different area for a new style of climbing. Day 2 was the day of crack climbing. It was a strong contrast from the slab climbing. Everyone in the group unanimously preferred crack climbing to slab, and we climb all day long. Everyone was really coming into their own as budding climbers. Will, who had really been showing a lot of skill on the rock, managed to climb every single route on the cliffs on day two. It was quite a feat. We returned to camp that night kissed by the sun, starting to look a little more like locals. For diner, we busted out the tunes and partied to our success as climbers. Murphy lead the cook crew that evening, busting out his whole repertoire of unparalleled dance moves to everyone’s delight. It was so much fun. As Murphy reminded us there’s nothing liking cooking a good meal with friends and dancing the night away. For diner we had lentils with onions, bell peppers, and some jasmine rice. It was interesting to see all those among us branch out to try more veggies and find out they were pretty tasty after all.
Now we head into an even bigger challenge, our 6-day backpacking journey into the wilderness of Yosemite. The psych is high and everyone is eager to get out to the beautiful solitude of the backcountry. Sunny days and starry nights await us. For now, sayonara to all of you, and off we go to blaze the trail.
Casey + Joanie
July 5, 2019
Hi Yosemite families,
All students have arrived at SFO and this Yosemite trip is officially on its way.
Be on the lookout for more updates to come!