Lesson #1: If they warn you repeatedly about bears there most definitely will be bears.
Just a few minutes into our Yosemite adventure we encountered our first bear. We had just finished setting up camp which included storing our food properly in the bear-proof locker at our campsite. Yosemite means serious business when they talk about bears. Just to get to our campsite we had to read and initial a card detailing what "food" is and that we understand how to store it. To clarify... food is anything that has a scent including lotions, toothpaste, deodorant and such. See, I carefully read the card. So, our food got put in a big metal locker with a fancy latching system that was nearly impossible for me to open or close without making enough noise to wake the entire valley. The tent was up, a quick early dinner of hot dogs and baked beans was eaten, and we were off to explore. And wouldn't you know it... just as we were pulling out of the Pines Campground area there was a little black bear out of an afternoon walk. This is cool we thought from the safety of the car. "I guess they mean business when they say there's bears," I said to Lukas as we drove away.
That night I had trouble sleeping and woke to what sounded like sheet metal being bent in. Immediately my mind went to the images of the cars we'd seen on the Yosemite website prior to starting our expedition. These cars had had their doors peeled off by a hungry bear. Laying completely still in my sleeping bag I tried to use my less than perfect human hearing to tell what direction the sounds were coming from. Is it close enough to be my car? Could it really be a bear?! What am I supposed to do?? And then I heard what I can only describe as "bear noises". A grunting, snuffling sound that I just "knew" was a bear. Rationally, I told myself there was nothing I could do about it and I was much better off in my warm sleeping bag inside the tent. No use in going outside to investigate. Also, waking up Lukas would have been no use as well. Two slightly paranoid people are worse than just one. It's much easier to pretend there's really nothing there if someone else isn't there confirming what you're hearing. The noises stopped or I drifted off to sleep, but either way by the time the alarm went off (before the sun came up) the bear was gone.
The next morning we got up early again as is our routine when on picture taking vacations (which all of our vacations are). We slipped our clothes on over our long underwear and traipsed out to the bathroom. While I was in the women's side I hear Lukas walk out of the men's side and expected him to be waiting for me just outside the door while I finished putting in my contacts. Seconds later though, the door to the women's bathroom opened and in walked Lukas. "There's a bear right out side!" he said with a big grin on his face. "Really?!" I asked. "Yep, couldn't you hear it?" And then we both heard it making the "bear noises". "See," I said, "That's the sound I heard the other night while you were sleeping." I finished up while Lukas hid out with me in the women's restroom. Then quietly we cracked open the door to the bathroom and shined the flashlight in all directions looking for the bear. We didn't see anything so cautiously we stepped out of the doorway and with timid steps began walking back to our campsite. A man walking towards the bathroom must have saw us looking like a couple scaredy-cats because he was nice enough to inform us that the bear was gone. Well, the bear hadn't gone that far. We saw it just two sites down from ours when we were in the car driving out. It was just slowly moseying along and not all that interested in our car driving slowly past. Phew! We survived bear encounter number two. Thankfully, that was to be all.
Lesson #2: Always bring the big flashlight.
On our last evening in Yosemite we drove up Glacier Point Road to... Glacier Point (imagine that!). This long, winding road led up the south rim of the canyon that envelopes the Yosemite Valley. A short walk from the parking lot at Glacier Point is an amazing view of Half Dome and the Valley stretched out beneath it. This would have been an amazing place to watch the sunset, but we had other things in mind. So, we drove back down the road to the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailheads parking lot. The plan was to "hike" the 1 mile out and watch the sunset from the vantage point of Sentinel Dome. After a minor debate with Lukas's greediness to see everything we decided to stick to the plan. While we might have had time to do the hike out and back to Taft Point and then hike out to Sentinel Dome to get there by sunset we didn't really want to get there right at sunset and it would have been pushing it a little to much. We climbed up the huge rock that is Sentinel Dome - the second highest peak in the valley (after Half Dome) - and settled in to watch the color show of the setting sun. Thank goodness for bringing extra layers because it got cold quick as the sun went down. In fairly quick secession on went my scarf, then beanie, and then mittens. While I watched the stars come out Lukas took a couple last pictures of the multi-colored sky. Boy, it gets dark quickly. I busily charged up the windup flash light while Lukas put away his camera. Lots of winding should equal a long charge right? Well, it doesn't. The light went very dim after just a couple minutes of inching our way down the rock face that made up Sentinel Dome. Lukas pulled out his key chain LED light and we used that to navigate our way off the rock so I could concentrate on not falling instead of keeping the flashlight charged. The key chain light is quite bright, but limited in its reach. We made it off the rock and onto the trail and we off on our way to the car. Well, we were walking happily along and then we noticed.... ummm this doesn't look right. We didn't walk through any close growing bushes on the way up. "Shine the light around Megan", Lukas instructs me. Well, the wind up flashlight isn't much more powerful than the key chain light. So, we pick another way to try and trudge a bit back up the hill and try again. No luck. "I think we need to go more to the right," I offer. And so we try that but without luck again.
By now it is officially DARK. And we are lost. In day light we both remember this section of the hike wasn't well marked, but it did have a couple signs and we could see to the next one to keep us walking up in the right direction. Well, in the DARK it is impossible to see to the next sign and keep on the "path". The cold is no longer bothering either of us. Instead, a sweat is setting in. After try number 4 to find the path the last option left was to hike back up to the last sign we saw. But, where was that? Up hill, but what direction up hill? Well, we walked up the hill and happened to run into one of the rusty metal signs. What do we do from here? Let's not get "lost" again. Staring at the ground we started walking again, this time searching for and following the footprints. Slowly we followed the footprints verbally checking in with each other every few yards, "Yep I see footprints. Do you?" And then there was another sign, and then a bit later another one. And then... the path firmed up again. What a relief. My hands were soaking wet in my mittens, my head was on fire beneath my beanie and I no longer needed my scarf. But, there would be no stopping to de-layer. We just wanted to see the car. I wound the flashlight as we "hustled" down the trail pausing every once in awhile to peer fruitlessly in the bushes when we heard a noise. Now I had time to notice the stars were beautiful. We paused for half a second to look up, then Lukas decided "We can look when we're back at the car!" Good idea. And then... a bridge! We didn't cross a bridge, did we? Shoot, how could have we lost the trail. We'd been following the footprints the entire way. They led right up to the bridge. Had we really lost the trail this badly? So, we turned around and walked back a little ways we'd came to a point where maybe we could have missed a turn. This time we went right instead of staying left, but the footprints petered out this way. And then a dead-end into the bushes. We back tracked again, pulled out the hiking book and looked at the map. The map showed no bridge on our trail, but there was a bridge if we continued past the trailhead on towards Taft Point. Had we seriously missed the trail head and kept walking towards Taft Point?! Completely missing the parking lot?! Our two options seemed to be (1) cross the bridge and see where that led or (2) settle in for a long night of sleeping in the woods. We decided it would be best to give the bridge a try first before accepting defeat and waiting for the light of the morning. So we crossed the bridge and then the path went up hill... this can't be right. We should be going down hill to get to the parking lot. And then a few more steps and we came to a sign "Taft Point Straight/Sentinel Dome Behind". "Oh no," Lukas says exasperated. "We're on the other trail". "Nope," I said looking to my left. "There's my car! We're here!!" What had taken 30 minutes to hike up in daylight took 1 and 1/2 hours to hike down in the dark of the night. Reaching the car, we ripped off our unnecessary extra layers, pulled out two tuna sandwiches, settled back in the seats of the car, slid the moonroof open and gazed up at the millions of stars. "I think this is the most stars I've seen in my life," I said to Lukas as we ate the best tuna sandwiches we'd ever had. It's a wonderful feeling to not be lost any more and be allowed to enjoy the amazing splendor of the starry night.
(And thankfully, we didn't see any wildlife on our hike.)
20+ squirrels, chipmunks, and such
many crows the size of medium dogs (seriously more than one was mistaken for a dog)
and... 1 very un-timid deer that walked by us about 4 feet away without more than a little sideways glance at us
*Side note: the pictures may or may not coordinate with what I'm talking about, but all are from Yosemite. I will link to Lukas's pictures when he's finished editing.