With its towering granite cliffs and impressive waterfalls, the park is always a great getaway. Unfortunately, many other people are also getting away to the park, so that on holiday weekends, Yosemite Valley can seem as congested as Times Square at rush hour. Those really looking to get away obtain a wilderness permit, pack a backpack and head off to explore the vast stretches of beautiful wilderness unknown to 90 percent of the visitors to the park.
But what if you’re a newbie to hiking, camping and exploring, don’t know how to get started, where to go, what to bring, what to leave behind and are worried about getting lost or eaten by bears? For the first backcountry trip or two – or perhaps all of them – you might want to consider joining a guided excursion.
Karen Najarian, who has spent more than 30 years exploring the Sierras, recently discussed at REI in Brentwood four backpacking trips that she leads. Three of them are in the Yosemite high country and the fourth is in Kings Canyon, south of Yosemite.
Najarian is a skilled photographer, so her hour-long presentation was illustrated by her photos of colorful wildflowers, hikers posing with Half Dome in the distance, an emerald lake in the middle of rocky peaks, hikers and clouds refreshing themselves in lakes, blue skies, clean air and a bear.
On the subject of bears, Najarian said they’re usually not a problem as long as you store your food in bear-proof containers, which are required in Yosemite.
“Bears are savvy enough now to know that they can’t get in them; so they sniff them and walk away,” she said. “I have had a bad bear pick them up and throw ’em on the ground like a nut he was trying to crack. He must have had success at some point because he kept at it all night. I shooed him off and he went onto greener pastures.
“You have to know where the bears are. If you’re in a lush canyon, you’re gonna have bears. If you’re in a rocky wasteland moonscape, you’re just not going to have any bears.”
For current information on where bears have been a problem and just about anything related to hiking/camping in the Sierra, Najarian recommends going online to www.highsierratopix.com.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the four trips she leads is the one that allows you to climb to the top of Half Dome but approach it from the high country rather than from the valley floor, thus avoiding the 5,000-foot vertical ascent. Her hike allows you to get there in the late morning before the cable ladder to the top of the Dome becomes packed in the afternoon with valley hikers.
Even if you’re a seasoned hiker, there are advantages to participating in a guided tour. The guide will provide the wilderness permit, tents, cooking gear and fuel, food, water filter, group first-aid kit and a bear-proof canister. Newbies will be shown how to use a compass and topographical map to find their way in the wilderness, how to pack light, cook and plan meals and learn natural history.
On the down side, it’s $625 per person for a four day/three night trip. It’s also not recommended for couch potatoes. You’ll need to be in good enough shape to carry a 35-pound pack while hiking three to six miles per day, often uphill and at a high altitude. There are mosquitoes, especially in July and around sunrise and sunset, and the temperature can dip into the 20s at night in the high country.
REI Adventures Weekend Getaways are scheduled for Thursday through Sunday nearly every week through Sept. 20 in Yosemite Valley and the high country. For more information, go to www.rei.com/adventures. For Najarian’s Web site, go to < a href="http://www.sierraspirit.biz">www.sierraspirit.biz.