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Saturday, June 27, 2015

U.S. Trails - Keeping Watch at the Top of Yosemite's Sentinel Dome

For the visually oriented, skip straight to the pictures here.

Half an hour before sunrise, I hopped into my car and began the drive to Fresno, CA from Cedar City. Google was predicting ~560 miles and ~8.5 hours. It turned out closer to 11 hours. The scenery was rather uninteresting. Although, I did managed to turn my car into a gasoline mutt, putting in a gallon of gas at this station, another gallon at another, and so on for five stations in total. I did it because I didn't want to pay $4.30+ per gallon! Plus, I needed to keep myself entertained. Each station got cheaper and cheaper, but the risk of me running out of fuel got higher.

Fresno was my home base while I explored Yosemite. One of the hikes at Yosemite is the Half Dome (more on this later). Importantly, only 300 hikers are allowed on the Half Dome each day. To get permission, I needed a permit either from the pre-season lottery (which I didn't apply for) or the daily lottery (which I was gunning for). I submitted my permit request the (Saturday) morning of my long drive to Fresno, and got the permit to climb Half Dome (for Monday). So, Sunday - my first day at Yosemite - I took it easy.

The drive from Fresno to Yosemite was mostly farmlands in the early part of CA-41, slowly transitioning into a lot of circling up the mountain. Apparently that was going to be the theme of the ride. Once past Oakhurst, the town just outside of Yosemite, CA-41 enters the Sierra National Forrest. The road got narrower and snaked continuously round and round.

When I was booking my Airbnb, I chose Fresno because it was cheap and only an hour's drive away (same as Cedar City - Zion). However, I didn't know that once I arrived at Yosemite, there would be another hour's drive from the entrance to the trailheads I wanted to go to. Doh. This involved driving on even narrower "S" roads that were perpetually extending itself. Not only did the curves keep coming, but the road itself was also slanted at each turn, making it quite the fun roller coaster ride. Well, it was fun the first 20 minutes, but the number of times I had to do it over the next few days was much less exhilarating. I couldn't exactly zone out. Not that I would recommend zoning out while driving. That's just crazy.

Thirty-four miles into the Yosemite entrance, I arrived at the trailhead for Sentinel Dome. The trail's pretty easy to follow and a relatively short one. The reward is a panoramic view of Yosemite's landmarks, including Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, El Capitan, etc.

At the top of Sentinel Dome itself is the ever so famous Jeffrey pine tree that appeared in Ansel Adams' 1940 photo. It's dead now, but I'd say it aged pretty well.

I wanted to take it easy, but not that easy. On the way back down the dome, I took a detour meandering here and there for about two miles until I started getting tired. I thought that was weird since it was only about 4 miles total of walking. I had 16+ miles of hiking to do the next day! Then it hit me. To paraphrase, Billy, "It's the altitude, stupid." While the 2,470 meter elevation of Sentinel Dome is nothing compared to Huaraz's 5,000 meters, I had just come from Fresno, which stands at a mere 308 feet above sea level. Good to know.

See photos of my Sentinel Dome hike here.

Total miles walked today: ~4
Total water drank today: a rainfall

Sentinel Dome Summary
Difficulty: Easy as sitting on the couch and eating Chipotle
Length: 2.2 miles round-trip 
Altitude change: 400 feet
Time: This should be a leisurely hike, taking ~1.5 hours RT.
Tip: If you're easily cold, bring a jacket. It's windy up at the top.

Remember: hike at your own risk as your safety is your responsibility.


  1. Ok, I am ready to spit or say a few curse words! This is the fifth time writing this post.....three times because I pressed the wrong button and two times because I had to log in again :( I am not the fastest typer so this hurts. Once again, I am not happy to hear about your gas risks but can understand why. Just happy it all worked out and that I read about them after the fact. Thanks again for a morning coffee read and stay safe. I am off to Vegas tomorrow. ( almost pressed the wrong thing again!)

  2. Sorry you were having trouble posting! Thanks for reading, and have a great LV trip. Bring home the $$$


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