Tagged: California


At the start of the year I made some goals for the year. I won’t bore you with the whole list. But one item read…

Hike Whitney or something else big

suzie on whitney

Here I am on July 4th 2015.

Some things can happen. So what else is big that we should be hiking?

Your first trip to Yosemite: Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley view in the Winter by Ian Carvell
If you do nothing else you must explore Yoesmite valley. You can’t really avoid the crowds here but you should see it. There are valley loops that are good walks or cycles. I personally enjoy walking through Cooks Meadow, to Lower Yosemite Fall and to Bridalveil Fall. Taking a dip in the Merced River in the valley is also lovely. I’d skip the museums in the valley unless the weather is bad as the crowds are crazy and it’s better to be outside in the park anyway.
Yosemite Valley from Half Dome
If you fancy something a bit more challenging try the Vernal Fall trail. It gets popular too but the falls are stunning. It’s an uphill hike but the views are totally worth it. Once you get to the top it’s not too much farther to Nevada Falls if you’re feeling strong. Please be careful by the falls and do not enter the water. At the top you can either retrace your steps via Vernal on The Mist Trail (hopefully you’ll know why it’s called Mist by then!) or take The John Muir Trail down. 
The top of Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail
For a less strenuous hike on the flat try Mirror Lake which usually has a lovely reflection of the granite around it floating about on top. Very picturesque.
If you have time explore other parts of the park such as Tuolumme Meadow.

Your first trip to Yosemite: Tuolumme Meadow

Tuolumne Meadows Sunset.jpgTuolumne Meadows Sunset by Steve Dunleavy Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Spring and summer are the best times to visit areas in Yosemite National Park outside the main valley. If you have more than a day in the park I recommend heading along the Tioga Pass Road to Tuolumme Meadows. The views along the drive are magnificent. If you’re early in the season there will still be snow on the ground in some places and the peaks will shimmer in the bright light. Make sure to stop often, look out and breathe in the cool air.

Swimming in Tenaya Lake late afternoon Yosemite

Swimming in Tenaya Lake late afternoon Yosemite by Jono Hey. Licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic. Dimensions altered.

One stop not to miss is Tenaya Lake. If you’re lucky and it’s a hot day (or brave on a cold day) you can have a refreshing swim in the water. Especially wonderful after a long hike.

Once you finish your drive, Tuolumme meadows at the end is a beautiful sight. Freshly blooming and green in spring, the vast meadow makes for easy hiking. With the Tuolumme River flowing fast between the meadows you can enjoy the relaxing sounds of water in the quiet landscape.

While you’re there, the short hike across the meadow to the Soda Springs is worth a quick look. The cabin has historical value but the springs are modest and no competition for Yellowstone.

Lembert dome.JPGLembert dome by Inklein. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A wonderful way to get a good view out across the meadow and the surrounding peaks is to climb up Lembert Dome. You don’t need special skills or equipment, just be careful where you put your feet and don’t climb in the rain. If you have longer to explore the area add on a short hike out to Dog Lake as well.

I hope you enjoy your first trip to Tuolumme Meadows.

Hiking tips for Yosemite’s Half Dome

A couple of weeks ago we hiked Half Dome in Yosemite for the second time. Despite it being a hard slog it’s a really enjoyable hike with some amazing scenery and a daredevil adventure in the middle.


If you’re thinking of hiking Half Dome I’d highly recommend reading One best hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome by Rick Deutsch. It really helped us prepare.

In addition to his advice, here are our quick tips on hiking Half Dome.

  • Get a permit – you must have a permit. Join the lottery to be in with a chance of permits in advance
  • Book accommodation – you’ll want to stay in the park close to the trailhead the night before. We stay in Curry Village
  • Practise – this is a long, steep and potentially hot hike. You should really try to hike some steep hikes in the months and weeks running up to this hike to get ready
  • Eat and hydrate – the days leading up to your hike make sure you are eating well and hydrating
  • Prepare – the night before the hike prepare your bag and be ready to go when you get up
  • Sleep well – try to sleep early because…
  • Start early – the first time we hiked this we started at 6 am, this time we started at 4.30 am! We are not morning people. Start early so you can get the ascent done in the cool and the dome done before the crowds. Believe me you’ll be happy you got up in the dark
  • Park closeby – there is a wilderness parking lot after Curry Village with bear boxes. It’s closer to the trailhead. In the morning you might not care but on the way back you’ll be relieved to see the car
  • Use walking sticks – they really help on subdome and on the way down. Love your knees
  • Don’t look down – if you are afraid of heights, when you start the climb up subdome don’t look down. Save that for the way back
  • Rest before the main event – don’t rush up the dome. Catch your breath, have a snack, be calm and then go
  • Clip in – having done this with and without a Via Ferrata I certainly know that clipping in makes this a much more pleasant experience. If you can get hold of a harness I’d highly recommend it
  • Go slow – it’s not a race. Maintain 3 points of contact on the dome. Be sure about your footing. Breathe and relax
  • Don’t run down – again, love your knees and take it slow on the descent back to the valley
  • Swim – your muscles will ache when you reach the bottom. Find a safe spot and have a quick dip in the Merced River to cool off, clean and reduce swelling in your muscles

That’s it. Good luck. And well done!

Our wedding in Yosemite: planning advice and recommendations

Last year I got married outdoors in Yosemite National Park. This blog post is my advice for others planning or considering Yosemite for their wedding. There is also some advice specifically for expats.

We had a small wedding with just 6 guests. We had a traditional ceremony outside but no formal reception. It was a beautiful day.


Photography: Patrick Pike Studios

Wedding planners

There are a couple in the area. The one at the national park and one that is ran by one of the local celebrants. We did investigate using the one but given the small size of our party it didn’t seem like they would offer a suitable package for us so we just arranged everything ourselves.

We used a lot of the information on My Yosemite Wedding and Yosemite Weddings to help us plan. Our photographer and celebrant were also helpful and gave advice.


There are about 4 or 5 different celebrants who serve Yosemite. We contacted all for their prices and decided on Carol because she was a women (I wanted a lady to perform the service), seemed the most laid back and friendly. Emily also seemed nice but was unavailable when we first contacted her. There is a bit of paperwork to get booked but once sorted Carol was very helpful in planning the ceremony via email. She suggested some standard service formats and vows. We used those to design what we wanted. We met her for the first time right before the ceremony to finalise what would happen during the service. The prices for each celebrant were similar and were around $400.

You will need at least one person to witness the wedding. We had my brother and sister-in-law do this for us but I believe the photographer has witnessed many!

Marriage license

You will need a California marriage license to get married. It doesn’t matter if you are not a citizen but you need to get the license in advance of the ceremony. You can get this in San Francisco at the City Hall like we did or closer to the park in Mariposa if needed. Your celebrant will help you get this sorted out. This is about $50.

The biggest pain comes after the ceremony as California do not automatically provide a marriage certificate. This means you must request and pay for one yourself. It took ours about 3 months to arrive. I believe once you have it it’s simply a matter of providing this to the UK to get the marriage recognised at home. We haven’t done that yet though.


Providing you have less than 10 people (including the celebrant and photographer) you can get married in many places around the park. Some people even hike out to places to get married! We reviewed the standard list of places and then asked the celebrant to recommend somewhere in the valley with a view of the waterfalls that was private and intimate. Someone suggested Superintendent’s Bridge because it was easily accessible, with a stunning view but was generally not too busy. We had no issues with people interrupting the ceremony at all.

There is also a small church very close to where Ian and I got married so you could do that if you wanted as well.

You must apply for a permit to get married in the park and this can only be done by filling out and posting forms but once it’s done there’s no trouble. Carol asked to see it but no-one else did. This cost about $150. You also have to pay the normal entrance to the park which is $20 per car.


We used Patrick Pike. We had the elopement package which included 3 hours of shooting, digital photos and some credit for prints.

He was super nice and took care of us on the day. He also recommended some places for the ceremony as well. He knows all the good places for photos and is willing to make suggestions based on your personal needs. We basically said “take good photos” and he did!

It was the most expensive part of our day (around $1500) but we decided it was worth it and were very happy with the results.

If you want to go with him I recommend getting booked early as he does get busy and actually photographed another wedding right after ours that day. Due to him being very busy it did take about two months for our images to be available for review.

Hair and makeup

I used Carol Cardinale at Bellisimo Brides. Carol was very cheery early in the morning and curled my hair just like I asked for. Carol cost approximately $200 for hair and makeup.


There are places you can collect from on the way to the park. Or often Patrick, Carol or Carol will collect them for you. I didn’t do that as I wanted to make my own so I brought flowers at the market in SF and made them when I arrived at the hotel.


Likely the ceremony will be away from the accommodation. If you don’t want to drive there Patrick or the celebrant can help. They don’t have glamorous cars though. We just used my sister-in-law’s hire car. You could arrange something else if needed.


We stayed in the park at the Ahwahnee. It is a little on a pricey side at about $400 per room per night. It is rustic and old but grand and calm. The location is amazing. I’d recommend it. We stayed in the Classic Rooms which are mid priced. There are other places to stay in the valley and just outside the park.


There are wedding cake places that serve the park but we didn’t bother with this. We just brought in a cake from our favourite local bakery in San Francisco called Tartine and ate that in the hotel grounds after the ceremony.


We didn’t really have a wedding dinner. After the ceremony we had drinks in the Ahwahnee bar and ate our cake in the grounds. In the evening we got changed and just had dinner at the Ahwahnee. It’s a grand old dining room with a great atmosphere. It gets busy so book ahead. The food is ok, not amazing. The servers had been tipped off that we got married so we had a nice reception when we arrived, a special dessert and the piano player toasted us. That was all very nice. Dinner (3 course) is close to $100 per person with a tip. They have a decent wine list.

Hope this helps others getting married in the park!

A road trip from Vegas to San Francisco: Day Four – Big Sur

Our cabin in Cambria had been dubbed “the Evil Dead cabin” even before we arrived because in the photos we had seen it closely resembled the cabin in the 1981 film of the same name. It is unsurprising then that we were all a little spooked by the end of the drive down into the valley on country lanes seemingly inhabited solely by a host of night walking animals (we saw deers, a cow and a desert fox). The pitch black allotment, barking dog and cabin looming in the distance only added to the eeriness. However, I for one, had not truly expected as much oddness as the cabin really possessed.


First of all it was basically all windows and glass doors. There was no privacy from the outside world. Inside not even the bathroom provided solitude as it had a saloon door into the living area and a glass door out into the animal filled wilderness. To finish it off none of the doors locked and there was a stinking odour of sulphur. It was odd to say the least.

Despite all that we all slept well and nothing untoward happened. We didn’t hang around much in the morning so, after wandering the garden, we picked some oranges from the trees at the entrance gate and headed out.

First stop was breakfast at Lynn’s in Cambria. Then began a journey up the Big Sur back to San Francisco. Our first view point was to see the Elephant seals at Piedras Blancas. At this time of year the seals are moulting and so many of the males were beached in the sand losing their fur. We watched them, sleep, fight and loll about for awhile before driving off.


Leaving we continued on north and stopped at Willow Creek beach where we saw people searching for something in the shallows. At first we thought they were fishing or looking for shell fish. As we got closer it appeared they were panning for gold or diamonds. Eventually after observing them looking at rocks and a little guidebook sleuthing (thanks Lonely Planet!) we concluded they were looking for jade.

Our first stop on Big Sur real was at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to see the McWay waterfall plunge on to the beach and admire the bright blue seas below the steep cliffs.



Our next adventure took us down through a tunnel in the cliffs to an aqua blue sea with lovely rock pools. We clambered about on the somewhat precarious rocks and were able to catch a glimpse of crabs, urchins and star fish amongst the seaweeds and grasses. Each time we saw them water would rush into the pools and obsure the view until it cleared and we were able to peek in again.


Just before the rain started and we lost the light we were able to briefly explore Pfeiffer Beach in Los Padres National Forest and stomp about on its purple sand.


Our final stop was to enjoy dinner at Basil in Carmel. While waiting for a table we also managed to squeeze in a quick wine tasting in Manzoni across the way.

Heading back to San Francisco we caught a glimpse of the “super moon” before we were subsumed into the traffic heading back up the Bay.

A road trip from Vegas to San Francisco: Day Three – Sequoia National Park

Having recently visited Kings Canyon and stopped briefly in Sequoia on the way home, I was excited to return. We started our day with breakfast burritos from Antoinette’s cafe before heading up up up to Sequoia.


Once in Sequoia we had a relaxing but whistle stop tour starting at big butted General Sherman then on to breathtaking Moro Rock.


We continued on to Crescent Meadow to see Tharp’s Log; a house made from a log. Returning on the bus to the Giant’s Grove to view The Sentinel at 257 feet tall. The final highlight was a very brief glimpse of a bear from the car on Generals Highway on the way out.


Our day ended by driving to our creepy cabin in Cambria via dinner and beers at Brewbakers in Visalia.