Backpacking Yosemite

date June 08, 2019 location Yosemite, California

Pre trip
For my 35th birthday this year, I decided to scratch an itch that I've had for quite some time, and try my hand at a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains. As I am admittedly a novice in backpacking, and fearing the worst possible outcomes, I decided it would be best to find a backpacking guided tour group. After discovering Wildland Trekking, a well-reviewed company offering both domestic and international guided hiking trips (they don't sponsor this site), I researched their offerings. I was looking for a trip that would be both physically demanding enough to take the place of some marathon training runs, and would offer good photo opportunities, preferably in a location I haven't previously been. After some research, I decided on the Half Dome Backpacking trip offered in the first week of June, which would fit in nicely with my marathon training schedule and take place during the new moon phase allowing the best possible conditions for astrography. The ascent to the summit of Half Dome includes a final 400 or so feet of a near vertical climb made possible by the presence of a cable system drilled into the face of the mountain. The cables are removed and repaired before being re-affixed to the mountain each year in early summer, and as Yosemite endured a heavy snow season this year, we were informed a few days before the trip that the cables may not be applied in time for our visit. While it would be a little disappointing to make the trek to Yosemite and to the near top of Half Dome without officially completing the mountain, making the climb on the cables would be a nice-to-have cherry on top of the sundae, and not something that would ruin my trip if we weren't able to do.

Day 1
I flew into Fresno the previous night and stayed at a nearby airport hotel. After getting in a quick 5 mile run (my training would not suffer for this trip), I enjoyed the $5 hot breakfast and was on my way to Yosemite. I had a few hours to spare before meeting the tour group which I spent photographing Yosemite Valley which is the most accessible part of the park and also among the most photogenic so long as you're able to keep all the tourists out of your photos. One of the very first pullover points from the south entrance on Highway 41 is Tunnel View, a magnificent vista made famous by Ansel Adams, showcasing the valley and its famous landmarks including El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls.

The famous "Tunnel View" of Yosemite.

Upon entering the valley I stopped at the Visitor Center, gift shops, Ansel Adams Gallery, and even had time to watch a short film about the park at the Yosemite Theater. There I learned that Yosemite is truly a one of a kind place on earth having been formed by a unique combination of sedimentary rock, volcanic eruption, tectonic plates, and glacial formations. The resulting output results in a huge lush valley surrounded by massive bald mountains with steep, polished drop-offs.

Yosemite Falls from the road into the valley.

Half Dome from Yosemite Valley.

After the movie, I captured a few more photos before meeting up with my tour group. The group met at the pizza parlor in what is known as Half Dome Village, what is essentially the Half Dome trailhead located in the valley. I took a risk when booking the trip that I might be paired with a group that I didn't get along with, and have to spend the next 4 days doing my best to keep to myself. It didn't take long after meeting the other hikers, a bachelor party of 4, to realize that we not only had similar goals for the trip but we also had a lot in common, making for a great group dynamic. The group was led by Kevin, a chill Californian with a natural appreciation of the outdoors and an easy going demeanor that would set the proper tone for the rest of us. We signed our waiver forms and took care of a few formalities before finally grabbing our bags and heading into our night 1 campsite in Yosemite Valley. The sunlight was now almost completely gone as we took the nearby trail just a few hundred feet into the campsite. The camp was flooded in a few areas and we were forced to take our boots and socks off and walk through ankle high freezing cold water in darkness to our tents. What did I get myself into?

Day 2:
Total Steps: 18,040
Total Calories Burned: 3,412
Hiking Distance: 5mi



After a 7am wake up, we grabbed a quick breakfast of yogurt and oats and started the daunting task of packing our backpacks. Our packs consisted of a mattress pad, sleeping bag, tent, large bear canister filled with food, clothes, cookware, clothing, and personal items. On top of this, I packed my camera, two lenses and travel tripod.

The heavy pack I trekked several miles from campground to campground.

Though I never measured it, the pack had to weigh about 50lbs, and while I was confident in my cardio fitness, the new dynamic of carrying this heavy pack up a mountain was a challenge that I had no idea whether or not I was prepared for. We began our hike towards our campsite in Little Yosemite valley along the Mist trail. Though the trail was steep and our packs were heavy, we were rewarded with a rainbow at the base of Vernal Falls, and spectacular light at Nevada Falls.

Vernal Falls

Nevada Falls

We took a few stops along the way before reaching our campground in Little Yosemite Valley after a hike of about 5 miles and an elevation gain of about 2000 ft. While the distance we covered was relatively short, the heavy packs and elevation gain made the hike seem rather strenuous. Our campground was near the Merced River which was absolutely freezing cold, and though I am sensitive to cold temperatures, I barely hesitated joining the rest of the hikers in a quick submersion in the icy stream. The dunk was bittersweet, on one hand extremely refreshing to my sore legs, shoulders and back while simultaneously causing cold shock and the inability to think for several seconds. We set up camp, and had a delicious dinner of pesto pasta before making a campfire and heading to bed just before 10pm. The stars weren't quite out yet so I figured if I woke up and had the motivation to get out of my tent in the middle of the night and try for some photos of the stars, I would, but I didn't set an alarm. As I was still getting used to sleeping in a tent, sure enough,I woke up at about 12:30 and after some internal debate, I grabbed the camera and tripod and headed for a nearby clearing to see what the stars looked like.

The Milky Way from Little Yosemite Campground

Day 3:
Total Steps: 29,537
Total Calories: 4,388
Hiking Distance: 10mi



We woke up at 7am once again as Kevin was preparing breakfast burritos with chorizo and some local coffee. In the original itinerary, today would be the day that we hiked to the top of Half Dome, but since the cables were still down, we opted for a hike to another nearby peak, Cloud's Rest, and saved the ascent up Half Dome until our last day. The summit of Cloud's Rest sits at 9,931', more than 1,000' higher than Half Dome, and although the round-trip hike would be several more miles than we had hiked the day before, I was comforted by the fact that we could leave our heavy packs at camp, carrying a day pack with a few snacks and my camera gear.

A group photo at the Cloud's Rest Trailhead

The hike began rather easily with a mild ascent along a well-maintained trail. The trail wasn't clearly marked, and Kevin saved a few other hikers from making a wrong turn as they mistakenly headed towards Half Dome instead of Cloud's Rest at the crossroads of the two trailheads. About four miles into the five mile hike to the peak, the trail went from a little sketchy to near treacherous as snow got heavier along the trail with each foot of elevation gain. After several wrong turns corrected by consulting the GPS, a few missteps into knee deep snow, and multiple falls turned into baseball style slides, we finally reached the top of Cloud's Rest where the 360 degree views made up for the tough terrain along the way.

Yosemite is huge

Amazing Views in every direction from Cloud's Rest

Even the birds come to view Yosemite from this perspective

A view of Half Dome in the distance from the top of Cloud's Rest

A better view of Half Dome in the distance from the top of Cloud's Rest

A curious marmot trying to get our food.

I conquered the mountain!

The hike back to camp was much easier with several calculated slides in the snow getting us down to the dry trail quickly where we enjoyed lunch (Tuna wraps with black olives, mayonnaise, and Cheez Its, yum!). I grabbed a couple more photos on the way down.

A bent tree framing Half Dome on the way to Cloud's Rest

A view of Half Dome on the way to Cloud's Rest

Before we were back at camp, we stumbled on a rattlesnake just off the trail and uncomfortably close to where we were sleeping. Despite their reputation, rattlesnakes don't want much to do with humans and most reported bites occur due to unknowingly stepping on or near them, or overconfident outdoorsmen purposefully getting too close, approaching or even handling the serpents.

A rattlesnake on the trail

After another dip in the river, we cooked up some chicken curry which really hit the spot after what would be our longest hike of the trip. As we were finishing up dinner, we heard a loud scream, “Bear, Bear!”ť. Camera in hand, we ran towards where we heard the screams, and saw the four legged beast before he left the area. The bear was tagged which means this wasn't his first appearance near a campsite and was probably interested to see if any campers left some goods out for him. While bears are mostly harmless to humans, we pose a big threat to them, as any food scraps left out risk luring them near humans. After a number of encounters near humans, the bears have to be moved or eventually euthanized if they don't break their habit of seeking human food.

A bear near our campground

A bear butt

After dinner, Kevin went out to the ranger station to check on the status of Half Dome's cables. To our misfortune, we then learned that the cables were up, but still required some repair which would not be completed by morning. While we all would have loved to make the trek all the way to the top of Yosemite's most iconic peak, we were enjoying our trip so much that settling with a morning hike to Sub Dome, a flat summit where the cables to the actual mountain peak are, would suffice. After playing some dice, we headed to our tents around 9pm ready for an early start in the morning.

Day 4
Total Steps: 35,595
Total Calories: 3,760
Hiking Distance: 12mi





After a 4am wake up, I ate a Clif Bar and some coffee and we headed for Sub Dome. The trail towards Sub Dome was similar to that of Cloud's Rest, sharing the first mile of path upwards. As we approached the top, with the sun peaking over the horizon, I let the group go on as I captured a few photos.















I caught up with the group as we summited Sub Dome taking in more amazing views as Kevin cooked up some killer blueberry pancakes. Though we weren't able to climb the cables to the top, the silver lining was that due to the repairs we had the mountain to ourselves which is a rarity for this time of year.

On top of Sub Dome

A candid shot of the rest of the crew atop Sub Dome. Would make a good album cover.

The cables to the summit of Half Dome

We headed back down the mountain towards camp and on the way bumped into a worker that was about to make final repairs to the cables which would be ready just two days after our summit.

A selfie on the way down the mountain.

Once we made it back to camp, we tore down our tents, filled our packs, which would be slightly lighter on the way down due to having eaten most of the food that we brought up, and headed for the valley. We took a slightly different path on the way down, opting for the John Muir Trail instead of the Mist trail once we reached Nevada Falls. The JMT offered a perfectly framed view of Liberty Cap and Nevada falls.

Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls

The last couple of miles back to Yosemite Valley had a much different feel to them than the first miles up. As we approached the bottom, where we started to once again see more tourists, having trekked nearly 30 miles and acquiring a gnarly stench that can only be obtained after a few days of hard work without showering, I felt much more comfortable and confident, and had a swagger to my gait for the final steps back to the parking lot. After a quick beer, charcuterie plate, and goodbyes to Kevin and the rest of the group, I was on my way to the airport.

Conclusion:
My trip to Yosemite was an amazing experience that I will never forget. The trip blew my expectations out of the water, providing a challenging physical experience, beautiful sites, and a welcomed break from technology. While a four day backpacking trip isn't for everyone, this intensity level isn't required for Yosemite, and one can have an equally rewarding experience staying at a hotel in the valley and casually wandering the nearby trails. Yosemite is a place that can be enjoyed in a day, a few days, weeks or even months. Even though I checked off a lot of the most famous attractions in just a few days, I feel like I only scratched the surface of what the park has to offer. I'm not sure what my next adventure entails, but whatever it is I'll have more confidence going into it.

Cathedral Rock

date May 07, 2019 location Sedona, Arizona

Today's shot is the famous Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona. While I was just passing through on my way to the Grand Canyon, Sedona seems like a great spot to spend a few days. The terrain is quite surreal, and it seems like there are an endless amount of hikes and outdoor activities in addition to having a nice downtown.

The famous Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.View Exif InformationView on Map

The famous Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.

Athletico Running Video Gait Analysis Review

date December 15, 2018 location

As I have started taking my running habit more seriously over the last couple of years, I have been trying to improve in every way possible. While the formula for improving as a runner is simple: "run more", the challenge of scaling weekly mileages and run difficulties without injury is very complex. In addition to strength training, proper nutrition, post-run massages, and careful mileage increases, another way to improve as a runner is to optimize running form. Improved running form offers two advantages: 1)it lowers injury risk by ensuring that improper form isn't putting too much stress on any part of the body, and 2)it improves running economy allowing for longer distances with reduced effort. As I am currently between marathon training cycles, I decided that now would be a good time to go in for a video gait analysis.

There aren't a lot of options for video gait analysis in Chicago, and I ended up deciding on Athletico simply because it is the closest to where I live. The video gait analysis cost $150 and consisted of two one hour sessions with a Physical Therapist. During the first appointment, the PT asked questions about my running history, how I warm up and cool down, and did some basic strength and range of motion tests. We then moved to the treadmill where he filmed me running from multiple angles for about 10 minutes at a pace consistent with what I would do for a moderate run. During the second appointment, the PT walked me through the results and what I can do to correct the findings. Many of the corrections involved various exercises which I then performed under the PT's supervision, ensuring I was doing the exercise properly along the way. Below is a summary of the findings from my report, and here is the full report. The report is broken up by the angles that were filmed, with annotated photos showing form deficiencies.

Posterior View Findings

Fault: Left Hip Drop 7°
Explanation: My hip/pelvis is dropping below the ideal range of 4-6° potentially putting more stress on my hips and knees. While I am just above the desired range here, this finding is particularly interesting since I have struggled with knee soreness over the last several years of my running career.
Prescribed Exercises:
Monster Walks


Foam Roll vs Wall


My PT emphasized a series of drills from Christopher Johnson, including:
Metronome Marching


Side Step to Lateral Hop Progression


Four Square Hopping Basic


Quick Tap Variation


Lateral Skipping Over Hurdles


Lateral Toe Taps


Lower Posterior View Findings

Fault: Over Pronation 11° right, 12° left
Explanation: My feet tend to roll inwards on landing beyond the desirable amount of less than 10 degrees.
Prescribed Exercises:
Arch Doming Progression


Single Leg Heel Raises


Eccentric Lower Leg Strengthening


Marching Drills



Mountain Climbers


High Knees on Wall


Calf Stretches
Proximal Stabilization

Lateral View Findings

Fault: Heel Strike, Low Cadence
Explanation: My cadence (steps per minute) is 164 and below the desired range of 170-190. This means that my feet are reaching with every step resulting in an increased impact with the ground that can result in pain particularly in the knees. I question the result of the cadence as my watch also tracks this and a quick look at my strava profile suggests that my cadence was about 179 during my last race, and about 169 during my easy runs. That being said, while I've worked hard to increase my cadence and put an emphasis on landing mid-foot, there is at least room for slight improvement here.

Anterior View Findings

Fault: Landing on outside of feet 14° right, 10° left
Explanation: Due to a weakness in my hips, I am landing on the outside of my feet. This finding is particulary interesting given that I've struggled through all sorts of pains in my right ankle, foot, and particularly my fifth metatarsal (pinky toe bone).
Prescribed Exercises: Hip strengthening (see above).

Overall I was happy with the analysis and while there were no earth-shattering revelations about my running form, the analysis reinforced some areas where I already knew I needed work, and added several new exercises for me to improve some of my weaker muscles.

One More from New York

date December 13, 2018 location New York, NY

I finally had the chance to revisit some photos that I took during a June trip to New York. This is likely the last shot i'll post from that series, and one I got from Pier 45 along the Hudson.

The last photo that i'll post from my June trip to New York. This is Pier 45 along the Hudson.View Exif InformationView on Map

The last photo that i'll post from my June trip to New York. This is Pier 45 along the Hudson.

Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park

date November 14, 2018 location Shenandoah, Virginia

Following the marathon, my wife and I went for a drive through Shenandoah National Park.

Fall settling in at the national park.View Exif InformationView on Map

Fall settling in at the national park.

2018 Richmond Marathon Race Report

date November 13, 2018 location Richmond, VA

Race information
What? Anthem Richmond Marathon
When? November 10, 2018
How far? 26.2 mi
Race Website
View my Run on Strava

Training
I finally gave into the hype and tried Pfitz' 18/55 plan for the first time during this training cycle. This would be my 7th marathon ever, and for each of my prior races I did some form of a Hal Higdon plan. I labeled all of my training runs on Strava which may be helpful for someone with a similar goal following the same plan. Pfitz suggests both heart rate and pace benchmarks for each of the training runs. I generally tried to match his suggestions by pace (I based the plan on my original goal of 3:10), though for nearly all of my runs I wore an HRM and was mindful of my zones. Based on his suggestions, my training guidelines were as follows:

Pace (min/mi) [Heart Rate]
Lactate threshold (~7:00) [162.275]
Recovery (9:00) [136.55]
General aerobic (8:19 - 9:02) [141.695]
MP runs (07:14) [156.395]
Long/Medium run (7:58 - 08:41) [146.105]
VO2 max (06:30) [176.975]

In addition to the running, I did lower body and core weight training twice a week in addition to some injury prevention exercises (PT band/proprioception). I did no cross training.


Pre-race
It was an emotional week leading up to the race. On Wednesday morning I got a call from my Mom that my grandmother wasn't doing well and was in the hospital. I went to visit her that morning in what would be my last time with her as she passed away on Thursday morning at the age of 92. It's been a sad few days for my family, but I'm grateful that my grandma lived such a long and happy life. She has been on my mind for much of the weekend, and memories of her got me through some of the tough miles during the race.

In addition to a new training plan, I paid a lot more attention to my nutrition during this training cycle. Having read Matt Fitzgerald's The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition and Racing Weight, I followed much of his advice. First, I lost a few pounds and got myself down to about 150lbs(68kg) - I'm 5'10"(178cm) - by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy meats, nuts and seeds, whole grains and reducing my intake of sugar and other processed foods. I also eliminated caffeine starting 10 days before the race to maximize the benefits of the drug during the race. Finally, I did a 10 day fat-load (66% of calories from fats) followed by a three day carb-load (75% of calories from carbs) before race day. While carb-loading before a marathon is a well-known practice, fat-loading is not. While carb-loading maximizes the body's glycogen stores, fat-loading optimizes the body's ability to burn fat. According to Fitzgerald, studies have shown that combining a fat-loading phase with a carb-loading one gives endurance athletes both maximum glycogen and fat-burning power. While I felt confident in the science behind the practice, I violated one of the most important rules of racing, never try something for the first time before a race. I woke up the morning before race day with some bad GI distress. This sucked, both for the obvious reason that I had a race the next day, but also because I had a flight followed by a two hour drive to get from Chicago to Richmond. When we finally arrived in Richmond and settled in, seeing me suffering, my wife urged me to get some Imodium for my stomach issues. I made a pre-race evening jog of it, and ran to the drugstore securing some Imodium which would end up being my savior for the trip.

I'm still not sure what caused my sickness but my suspicion is that either my body did not react well to carb-overload after carb starvation, or I just overdid the carb-loading portion of the diet. I always like to have just a few extra bites of pasta two days before the race to make sure i've gotten all the energy build-up I can and that might have just been too much food for me this time.

Having taken a 5:30am flight into Richmond on Friday, I was so tired that I managed to fall asleep around 9pm the night before the race. I woke up at 4:45am (3 hours before the race) and immediately had my pre-race breakfast of homemade oats/nuts/raisins cereal with almond milk. I drank a total of about 750ml of water starting from when I woke up until an hour before the race. I added two more Imodium to my drug cocktail which would also include 200mg of caffeine an hour before the race and 500mg of Acetaminophen 30 minutes before the starting gun, the latter two at the suggestion of Fitzgerald. Lastly, I had my first gel 2 minutes before the start of the race.

Race
My plan was pretty simple, stay with the 3:05 pace group, and if I felt like I still had some gas in the tank towards the end of the race, try to get a bit of a buffer to ensure qualification for Boston. Prior to the race, the 3:05 pace coaches sent an e-mail to the pace group stating their plan which was to go even splits the whole way.

Miles 1-3: The pace group consisted of 20 or so people, and knowing that it was a very windy day, I selfishly tried to run behind someone at all times though I would end up doing my share of wind-blocking for a a good portion of the race as well. In 2010, when I bonked in a marathon, I knew right away that my pace was just too fast but ignored the early signs. While I didn't feel like I was going to bonk at this pace, it wasn't super comfortable either. As long as my stomach held it together, I figured I had about a 50/50 chance of hitting my 3:05 goal.

Miles 3-11.5: The rolling hills of the Richmond course were...rolling. I kept my thoughts positive though, really making sure I wasn't taking the brunt of the heavy winds which were in our face for most of these miles. Despite this adversity, I was starting to feel pretty good.

I Qualified for Boston

Mile 12: By this point in the race, I had come to find myself drifting ahead of the pace group several times, having to remind myself to get back with the group. Having mindlessly drifted to the front one last time, it was at mile 12 that I decided I had the fitness to hit my goal and it was time to step on the gas and leave the pace group behind.

Miles 13-18: I was finally on my own and now and just running by feel. I stepped it up to about a 6:50/mi (4:14/km) pace. It was during these miles that I learned that I had definitely had the fitness to hit my 3:05 goal. There were several brutal stretches running into the wind including one particularly bad one over one of Richmond's bridges. I kept the thoughts positive. My legs felt great, my breathing wasn’t too heavy, but I had some brutal intermittent bouts of cramping in my sides and upper stomach. Cramps are rare for me so i'm guessing the pains were related to my stomach issues or some combination of the drugs I was taking. Focusing on my breathing seemed to get the cramps to subside enough that I was able to put them out of my mind.

Miles 19-26.2: At this point in the race, I was flying and feeling great. In hindsight, I probably could have been more aggressive with my pace, and could have even broken 3 hours if I had set out to do that from the beginning. With a 3:05 BQ as my goal, I knew that I just had to cruise into the finish to seal the deal and that’s exactly what I did.

I Qualified for Boston

Post-race
I wasn't nearly as tired following this marathon as I have been for the others. I'll chalk that up to the adrenaline from running my first BQ, the fact that I underestimated my fitness, and my maturation as a runner. My wife and I celebrated the race in Richmond with a few adult beverages. The next day we drove through Shenandoah National park and I even managed to get in a short hike before flying back to Chicago.

I Qualified for Boston

Retrospective
Reflecting on the success of this race, I don’t think any single change I made was the catalyst for hitting my goal. Rather, as I have gotten older, I have come to respect the sport of running more than I used to. This means reading books on training, nutrition, and anatomy, not expecting unreasonable improvements in fitness, and spending time at the gym to improve muscle strength, balance, and injury prevention. As I did for my previous race report, here are some thoughts on practices that I should start, stop, or continue for my next training cycle.

Start:
*Practice running at specific paces to improve my ability to pace myself
*Bring the whole medicine cabinet to the hotel

Stop:
*Over doing the carbo load

Continue:
*Tune up races during training
*Weight training and injury prevention exercises
*Pfitz training plans - 18/70 next?
*Destination races

Ready for Richmond

date November 08, 2018 location Chicago, IL

I wrapped up my last training run this morning, putting a finish on an 18 week marathon training plan. Looking forward to the Richmond Marathon this Saturday.

A photo of me running along Chicago's Lakefront during my last training session in preparation for the Richmond Marathon.View Exif InformationView on Map

A photo of me running along Chicago's Lakefront during my last training session in preparation for the Richmond Marathon.

Jersey City Skyline

date June 14, 2018 location New York, NY

Being able to run along the coast of New York had its advantages on this day as I was able to make stops at almost every pier along the Hudson on New York's west side. One of the challenges of shooting a sunset over water is finding foreground elements to fill the frame. This was a great pier for that, as these wooden dock pillars made for a nice complement to the setting sun over Jersey City.

The sunset behind Jersey City from Pier 46 on Manhattan's West Coast.View Exif InformationView on Map

The sunset behind Jersey City from Pier 46 on Manhattan's West Coast.

Light Trail to Freedom Tower

date June 13, 2018 location New York, NY

I snagged this shot on my way to the Brooklyn Bridge. I thought I had wrapped up my Manhattan shooting for the night, but as I looked behind me I noticed how One World Trade Center lined up perfectly with this street. Even better, there was a barrier directly behind where I was positioned for this shot, so I was able to stand in the middle of the street without having to worry about the cars behind me.

A night view of One World Trade Center from Downtown Manhattan.View Exif InformationView on Map

A night view of One World Trade Center from Downtown Manhattan.

Enjoying the view at Sunset

date June 12, 2018 location New York, NY

I couldn't have timed my trip to New York City better. While the weather in Chicago last week was cold and rainy, New York was enjoying the start to their summer in 70 degree and sunny weather, and people were out in droves. I usually prefer to shoot sunrise over sunset in order to avoid the people, but my time in NYC was limited so I made the most of it and included some strangers in my compositions.

A couple enjoying the New York sunset along one of New York's many piers along the Hudson River.View Exif InformationView on Map

A couple enjoying the New York sunset along one of New York's many piers along the Hudson River.