It’s the end of the year, and although I don’t have holidays per se, I took a break to have some fun while my wife is on holiday. Her and a friend attended a conference in San Francisco, so at the end of the week I joined up to form our touring group of four. With a new set of second-hand wheels, our trip was planned and ready to go.
I took the PCH1 all the way up from LA to San Fran to meet them there. I overnighted in Monterey at the HI hostel located near the aquarium. It was a beautiful drive, although it rained the entire way, including a few manoeuvres to dodge the fallen rocks. Definitely on the list to do again in the summer, with a number of national parks and other places to stay along the way.
Monterey also looked like a stunning town, and the Aquarium is highly renowned, also on the list for next time. I donned my rain jacket and made a few loops of the former fishing town, before withdrawing to the warmth of the hostel.
The next two nights were spent at the HI hostel in Fisherman’s Wharf (north SF). Located on the grounds of a former naval base, this is a very popular hostel, located in a beautiful section of LA with great views over the bay, Alcatraz (not Azkaban) and the Golden Gate Bridge.
We did a lot of walking, but this let’s you see a lot. From the hostel we walked down to pier 45 to see an old submarine, from there we carried on to the top of telegraph hill to view the Coit Tower. All the way down Lombard Street, we climbed to the top of the Crookedest Street. From there we found a bus that took us to the Golden Gate bridge, which we promptly walked in both directions. From there we followed the coast all the way back to Fort Mason and our hostel.
We didn’t have much time in SF, and have left a lot to return to. We had wanted to visit Alcatraz, but this apparently requires advanced booking as demand is quite high. After the initial rain, the weather cleared up, and although it was cold, the sun shone all day. This weather persisted for the rest of our trip.
From San Fran we took a direct route to Yosemite National Park, and camped three nights at the Upper Pines camp-ground, in the Yosemite Valley. The campsite was probably about a third full and very cold, dropping to about -5C most nights, and not getting much above 5 during the day, being mostly in the shade.
It wasn’t our first camping foray in negative temperatures, but the low daily average was something to contend with. On our first full day in Yosemite we did the short trail out and around Mirror Lake. At the base of the Half Dome, it was a cold dark hike, although flat, with a brief sunny respite for lunch. Stunning scenery and breathtaking landscapes were to be the order of the next several days.
The next day we decided to get out of the valley and into the sunlight and chose the steep and switchback full route to the top of the Yosemite Falls. Climbing about 800m, the route takes you up the western part of the falls offering some amazing views of the Upper Yosemite Fall and placing you up top with a view down.
You follow the same route down, and as the sun set we were greeted with an array of new colours, lighting up the mountains around us. On our way out the following day we headed south towards Fresno. This gave us new views looking back over the valley with a view of El Capitan, Yosemite Fall, Bridalveil Fall and Glacier Point, truly a magnificent sight.
Shortly thereafter we had our first run-in with the law as our newly registered vehicle did not yet have number plates (perfectly legal for 60 days), and after a very orderly interaction with the po-po we were free to continue our journey to Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Park.
Another beauty in it’s own way. Yosemite’s glacial basin made way for rolling hills, an increase in altitude and massive trees. Having visited in the summer, it was nice to visit again in the winter. We had expected colder than Yosemite temperatures, and thus booked into a cabin. Temperatures however increased between the storms, but our enjoyment of the cabin’s heating was no less diminished.
As we arrived we swung past the General Grant tree. Although snow-chain laws had been in place, and we were suitably equipped, the weather had improved to an extent that they were not required. While the General Grant is not as big as the General Sherman tree we had seen previously, it is suitably impressive. Later that evening while prepping supper, we were visited by a swarm of raccoons who proceeded to tear apart a nearby pine tree but seemed to mostly leave us alone.
After much debate on what to do the following day, we opted for a shorter hike to allow us time to drive through King’s Canyon. We chose and enjoyed the Big Baldy route. Taking you up to 2500m, this gentle route offers outstanding panoramas. With the snow-capped Sierras close on your one side, your view stretches out over the Central Valley with the peaks of the Coastal Ranges just sticking out in the West.
After a brief lunch break we headed back and on towards King’s Canyon, intending to drive to the Roads End, we were instead greeted with ‘Road Closed’ signs, and our map confirmed that the road closes in winter. As such we took a detour back past the Hume Lake (which is actually a dam) back towards Grant Grove village where our cabin was located.
With a storm headed our direction, we decided to make an early escape via the General’s Highway, past the Sherman Tree, and out the Ash Mountain entrance. The CHP and park rangers had other plans for us though, and decided to close the road in anticipation of the storm, thus our nice long drive out was summarily curtailed within minutes of leaving camp. Understandable, but disappointing. We did at least experience a few light flurries of the impending snow as we dropped our altitude.
Although we really wanted snow on our trip so we could do some skiing, the warm and dry weather we were greeted with did make several aspects of the trip (like camping and driving) much easier and more pleasant (and drier). That being said, regardless of the weather you receive any of these places are a great place to take a holiday, and all of them remain on our list of places we want to visit (again).
We were also amazed at the large portions of the parks which are not accessible from roads, but open to hikers to camp out in the wilds (best done in the warmer months).