- Thursday, December 16
- Grace flies to Phoenix
- Anna takes her last final exam of graduate school
- Grace and Maddie hike Camelback Mountain (2.4 miles, 1322ft change) for sunset
- Anna flies to Phoenix and the gang drives from PHX to Joshua Tree NP (4hrs, 7min)
- Friday, December 17: JTNP
- Wake up in Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park
- Maddie chops our gifted firewood
- Hike from our campground: Skull Rock and Discovery Trail loop (.7 miles + 1.7 miles)
- Hike Ryan Mountain trail (3 miles, 1050ft change)
- Stop to become Junior Rangers at the visitor’s center before driving north through Bakersfield to Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs (5hrs, 52min) to carve out a spot for our tent in the snow at Azalea Campground
- Saturday, December 18: SKCNP
- Wake up to an amazing sunrise amongst the trees and put chains on the car
- Snowshoe up the road to Panoramic Point (approx. 5 miles, approx. 1000ft change)
- Hike the General Grant Grove (.3 miles)
- Campfire in the snow
- Sunday, December 19: YNP
- Attempt to find Big Stump in the snow (do not succeed, unfortunately)
- Drive north to Yosemite National Park (3hrs, 16min)
- Set up camp at Camp 4
- Enjoy Tunnel View and hike the base of to Yosemite Falls from our campsite
- Monday, December 20: YNP
- Take the bus to Curry Village
- Hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls on the JMT (10.4 miles, 2000ft change)
- Hike to Mirror Lake (2 miles, 100 ft change)
- Tuesday, December 21: YNP
- Drive and walk through the valley on the audio tour from the National Parks app
- Hike back to Yosemite Falls
- Begin the overnight drive to Phoenix (11hrs, 10min)
- Wednesday, December 22
- Enjoy coffee and donuts with John and his family
- Brunch with Matthew in PHX
- Grace and Anna fly home
How to survive in a tent (in the snow): Camping in the snow was to be a new endeavor for TGOT and for our good friend, Grace Muldoon, who has incidentally known both Anna and Maddie for longer than the have known each other. Step one, as always, was research. Step two was gear acquisition. Maddie bought chains for her car and everyone got crampons for their boots and new ski pants/bibs. Maddie also bought an INTENSE shovel with a second handle for leverage, which proved very useful in SKCNP. Step three was plotting a way to insulate our tent from the elements. We started with a thick, old school sleeping bag, then layered our sleeping bags, then us in our sleeping bags, then blankets on top, and finally used our snow pants and coats to add extra warmth on the sides of the tent. Truthfully, we all shed layers each night, so we may have done the job TOO well.
How to go for a hike (in the snow): Poles! Crampons! Snowshoes! One of the finer moments of trip planning was Anna’s parents chiming in to mention that the Petersen family owns three pairs of snowshoes already. Nothing hits like the superiority of skipping the rental line and heading on up the road in your own snowshoes. Nothing, that is, except strutting past tourists slipping around the paved trail in their street shoes in your crampons after hiking ten miles. A word of warning, however, hiking in crampons or in snowshoes is physically harder than just plain hiking. Your body is working harder because you aren’t actually on the ground — your gear and the snow is lifting you up, which is more work on your muscles. And with snowshoes, be warned that you might get a little stuck in snowbanks if you aren’t careful.
How to drive overnight to make the most out of your vacation time: Don’t. Just kidding — make sure your wonderful boyfriend (s/o John) and his family (s/o the Kellys) have donuts and coffee waiting for you. And be sure to drive in shifts; teamwork makes the dream work.
Roadblocks: It just wouldn’t be TGOT without them. Anna got food poisoning the night before the trip, which meant not only flying after throwing up all night, but also that she took her last final exam of her master’s degree from the bathroom floor. Maddie and Grace saved the day by bringing soup and Blue Gatorade to the Phoenix Airport. OUR BEAR LOCKER FROZE CLOSED!! With all of our packs and food inside! Maddie sacrificed her hands and 30+ minutes of her time to crack it open while Anna and Grace tried to warm water in the bathroom Dyson Airblade to melt some of the ice. 0/10 locker design, would seriously reconsider. On our Vernal and Nevada Falls hike, all three of us decided to be in pain and genuinely angry for a few minutes each, despite being on one of the most beautiful adventures of our lives. The pain persisted – Grace got more than a few blisters, and Anna’s knees decided to no longer participate. Luckily, a relaxing day in Yosemite Valley was scheduled right on time. Maddie’s old enemy, fog, hounded us all throughout the lowlands of central California. The worst part of this was Maddie was already locked in for a summer in Bakersfield; our drive through did NOT get her excited for the summer. And, unfortunately, Bakersfield did not end up being pleasantly surprising. Lastly, the JTNP visitor’s center gave weird vibes, and one of the rangers was the first we have EVER met who was weird about grown-up kids wanting to be Junior Rangers. I thought learning about conservation and the national parks was supposed to be a lifelong pursuit??
Highlights: driving through tunnel view and seeing the valley for the first time — climbing on Jumbo Rocks — looking like Real Hikers with our elite snow gear — Fireball shooters at the top of Nevada falls (please sponsor us) — trees on trees on trees — dazzling a group of age-appropriate young men because we were sleeping in a tent — Maddie outdoing herself in the campfire department by building on snow — using the shovel — looking out over the High Sierra from Panoramic Point — visiting the nation’s Christmas tree in our Christmas sweaters — sunrise and sunset from our high country camp in spending lots of quality time snuggled together in our cozy lil tent. Thank goodness for lifelong friends.