Yosemite: Running with Lightning and Deer


Wow. I haven’t written a blog entry in a while. I guess life has got me busy. It’s important to take a few moments to reflect from time to time, so I’m going to try and make a conscious effort to do so, at least around various milestones: trips, races, other fun life activities..

..I thought I was running alone, but the deer were actually running with me now, urging me to go faster!

We planned this trip in the beginning of the year. You have to, if you want to reserve permits. You could always just show up and see what’s available, but it’s hard to do that when you’re driving from nearly half a day away. I’d meet up with my friends, Beck and his wife Christine, on the way to Yosemite’s east entrance, and we’d caravan the rest of the way to the camp site. We figured this was a good idea, as cell phone coverage tends to get spotty around the small towns that dot the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, and it might be tricky to find each other once in the park itself.

On my way to meet up with them, I decided to listen to an audio book called Shattered Air, which was about the lightning strike incident that took place in 1985 on top of Half Dome. People did stupid things, and not everybody made it out alive. I figured it would serve as a good warning about the fickle nature of lightning. As I drove, I passed through an intense electrical storm that had me seated forward in my car like an old lady who can barely see over the steering wheel. Lightning struck all around the roadway as cars passed through unscathed. I’ve never driven through something quite so powerful. Little did I know that wouldn’t be my last experience with lightning that weekend..

May Lake. I like lakes. And clouds. #latergram #yosemite #tuolumne

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Our original plan was to obtain back country permits, so that we could camp out in the wilderness and explore parts of Yosemite that most people don’t get to see. Those passes get snatched up really fast, though. Heck, we barely were able to get car camping permits. Yosemite is a really popular place, and for good reason. There isn’t a bit about it that isn’t absolutely gorgeous. We took it easy after getting our tents set up.. We had hot dogs and beers and s’mores… Pretty typical camp stuff. We figured we’d sleep until we couldn’t sleep anymore, then hike to May Lake and the top of Mount Hoffman. This would allow my cardiovascular system to acclimate a bit to the elevation, as I had planned to do a long trail run the next day.

Mr. Pineapple at Mt Hoffman Pass. Half Dome in the background. #latergram #yosemite #tuolumne

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The three of us took a shuttle to the trailhead and after being dropped off, made our way up to May Lake. They have tent cabins set up there, which are available for reservations. Upon seeing the chairs lined up next to the lake, we decided we’d definitely come back another day to stay there and enjoy some beers while staring out across the water and up at the mountains. Today, though, we had a mountain to hike!

The ascent up Mount Hoffman was tough. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest as my lungs struggled to process the thin air as we kept moving higher in elevation. We eventually made it to the top, though. All along the way, we kept an eye on looming storm clouds. They looked like they were moving away from the peak, so we figured if any others developed we should have enough time to get to safety. And so, we stayed at the top of the rocky mountain for a while. Beck found a marmot who couldn’t care less that we were there, and he got some great photos of the little guy. I guess I shouldn’t say ‘little’, as he was quite fat, having claimed the area that seemed to be popular for hikers to rest and eat and drop bits of food..

We also saw a falcon of some sort attacking a group of ravens. As far as we could determine, the falcon may have been trying to drive the ravens away from a nest or a food source. It was amazing to watch these birds fight in mid-air. The falcon’s speed and ability to dive suddenly gave it the edge, and it managed to keep the 20 pound black feathered birds at bay. Seriously, watching this was perhaps the coolest thing ever.

As we headed back down the mountain, we heard thunder for the first time. Better pick up the pace! We did, but it wasn’t enough. Before long, it started to downpour. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the thunder didn’t let up, and before you know it, we began to see flashes of lightning. As we crossed a large granite rock, the brightest flash of lightning occurred – and just about simultaneously, we could hear the crack of electricity in the air and the clap of thunder. THAT. WAS. CLOSE. I had been thinking about this moment ever since hearing about what the survivors in Shattered Air did. I jumped into the closest patch of dirt I could find and crouched down for a moment. Who was I kidding, though? If that previous lightning bolt wanted to hit me, it would have. Regardless, we all ran for it at that point. Down the hill, the lightning and thunder eased up, and by the time we got to the shuttle stop, it seemed pretty safe. You know, beside the possibility of hypothermia from standing out in the cold rain.. After waiting nearly an hour for the shuttle to show up (we never did get an answer as to why they were so late), we got back to camp, changed into dry clothes (the most glorious moment that day, besides watching the birds, perhaps), and sat in their car with the heat on for a while! Eventually, we could all feel our hands again and we were ready for a beer to close out the day. Plus, I had to start getting my gear ready for the next morning’s 20+ mile trail run, assuming weather would cooperate.

Sunrise #TrailRunning! #Tuolumne to #Vogelsang to #LyellCanyon.. #latergram #yosemite

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My alarm went off at 4:30am. Even though I had all of my clothes ready, snacks set aside, and everything.. I still didn’t start my run until nearly 5:30. Sometimes it’s just hard to get moving in the morning, you know? The timing was actually quite perfect, though, as by that time there was just enough light in the sky that I could leave my headlamp behind. One less thing to concern myself with! Just me and the trail this morning: from Tuolunme Meadows along Rafferty Creek to Vogelsang, down into Lyell Canyon, and back to where I started as a big loop. Time to find my happy place.

Love the trail. #TrailRunning #latergram #yosemite #tuolumne

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The first half of the trail was mostly uphill. It was mostly a gradual incline, though, so it was pretty easy going, save for just a few steep portions. Along one of the flat parts, with Rafferty Creek to my left, and a canyon wall covered in trees beyond that, I heard a strange noise.. I thought it was some sort of strange bird up in those trees, until I saw them – two deer running back and forth on the hill. I paused for a moment, as they both looked at me. One made that noise again, and it ran ahead. The other followed. As did I, about a 150 yards away on the trail. They stopped after a bit, and called out to me again. Once I caught up, they moved up the hill again and called to me once more. This was seriously happening. One minute, I thought I was running alone, but the deer were actually running with me now, urging me to go faster! I almost couldn’t take it. I laughed. It was amazing. I wondered if I could get a picture of the deer, but it turned out that the lighting was pretty bad, and they were just far enough away that they’d just look like brown dots among the trees. I figured I’d use this opportunity to put some sunblock on and eat a quick snack. In the time it took me to do so, the deer had given up on me and moved on. It was fun while it lasted.

#Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. AKA bathroom break! #latergram #yosemite

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Eventually, I made my way up to Vogelsang, another of the High Sierra Camps. Here, the tent cabin guests were just waking up as I met a few of them en route to use their facilities. They seemed to be confused about my presence there so early in the morning. After all, they were the first people I had seen along the trail all day.

Let's do some stairs! #trailrunning #latergram #yosemite #vogelsang

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After Vogelsang, I came down over the pass to Evelyn Lake. At this point, the Jurassic Park theme wouldn’t stop playing in my head, and I imagined Photoshopping dinosaurs into the pictures I’d take with my phone. I ultimately didn’t do any such thing, but feel free to make edits to my pictures yourself! Just tag me in them..

Great #trailrunning path or greatest trail running path? #latergram #yosemite #lyellcanyon

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A little over six hours from the time I started, I got back down to the start. A couple was standing there, waiting for some friends to meet them. They told me they had also come from Vogelsang that morning, but that they had stayed there for two nights before getting up early to make the trip back to Tuolumne. They seemed impressed about the run I made that morning. I felt pretty good about it. And really, I did. I wasn’t sure if my heart would be beating out of my chest or I’d be dying to sit for the rest of the day – but I really felt good! If I had to, I maybe couldn’t gone another 10 miles at a similar pace. Maybe not.

The end of a long but SO rewarding morning! #trailrunning #latergram #yosemite #tuolumne

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After the long run, I relaxed with a saison from Mammoth Brewing Company, a bag of ice on my knees (preventative measures), and a bag of baked Cheetos. It was just another one of those moments where I couldn’t be much happier. Beck and Christine eventually came back from exploring the nearby meadows, and I grilled up some burgers as we enjoyed a few more beers before the afternoon storms rolled in.

In just a couple of days, we soaked in quite a lot of what Yosemite had to offer. My phone was in airplane mode the entire time – though we could send the occasional text and make phone calls, there wasn’t any data reception. But really, I didn’t want any. I love my job, and I love keeping up with my friends via social media, but I love taking a break from it all every so often. I’ve been to amazing places all around the world, and I’ve yet to be more impressed with a place than I am of Yosemite. I think we’ll have to make our visits there more frequent. That John Muir guy was onto something…

Also published on Medium.