Category

<span>Road Trip</span>

  • How to Dominate Half Dome

    As I write this, I am 38 weeks pregnant. I solo hiked Half Dome in Yosemite National Park a little more than a year ago. When I found out I won the Half Dome lottery, I cried tears of joy and said to my sister “I think this is how normal women feel when they find out they’re having a baby”. Now having experienced both sources of excitement I can confirm, the emotions are pretty similar in both scenarios. I have the same thoughts: I am thrilled! I am terrified! Wait, do I have what it takes to do this?

    The moment you find out you’re in!

    Tears of joy

    DO look down!

    If this picture freaks you out, you might be thinking “nope, I definitely can’t handle it!” but before you abandon the idea, read a little bit more, because this is the adventure of a lifetime and it’s something I am so very proud of accomplishing. I would love for you to cross it off your bucket list.

    Getting the permit

    There are multiple ways to secure a permit through the Half Dome Lottery. There is a preseason lottery that takes place every March and there is a daily lottery throughout the hiking season. There is an option for backpackers that utilizes a separate system via the wilderness permit process.

    225 permits are granted per day via the preseason lottery and only about 50 are granted per day via the daily lottery. What is really interesting is those daily permits are granted based on cancellations from people who won the lottery earlier. So if you do chicken out, notify the park so another hiker can get your permit!!

    The term “daily lottery” can be a bit confusing because you don’t get the permit and hike that day, you actually get notified if you got a permit two days in advance. For example, if you get notified on Wednesday, your hike will be on Friday.

    Half Dome is one of the most coveted hikes in the world and the crew at Yosemite National Park knows it. They even put together this breakdown of statistics to help you understand your odds.

    It costs $10 to get apply for the permit and another $10 when your permit is granted. Best $20 you will ever spend!!

    So let me tell you how I got a daily permit! I actually drove to Northern California with my sister, without a permit but a whole lot of hope! I applied for the preseason lottery in March and in April, I learned I did not win. My sister being the awesome person she is, was still down to drive up to Nor Cal for a little adventure in Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. (A huge shout out to sister Jackie for being spontaneous with me and helping me prepare for Half Dome. She’s THE BEST!)

    *If you don’t want to hear about our trip and want to focus on HD, scroll down to “preparing for the hike”*

    We road tripped for about 9 hours from Phoenix. If you don’t know this about me yet, I love being on the road and always prefer to drive!

    The views from the Lodgepole Campground at Sequoia National Park

    We stayed in a hotel our first night and that is when I submitted my application. The next day we went into Sequoia and stayed at the best campsite ever! We stayed at the Lodgepole campground and it was stunning. A river runs alongside it and the views are just majestic!!

    My sister Jackie & I exploring Sequoia

    We also took some time to explore the amazing trees and climb Moro Rock. Then we hit the road for Yosemite and starting planning for my big hike.

    Campgrounds in Yosemite were all reserved and we did not get any first come, first served openings so I ended up splurging on a hotel outside of Yosemite. You do what you must when hiking Half Dome is on the line!

    Preparing for the Hike

    Here are my essentials for hiking Half Dome:

    -Gloves- they are required for the cables. I actually lost my gloves somehow on the hike up and it was horrifying to think I may not be able to finish the climb due to my loss! Some hikers coming down gave me their gloves (I was so grateful!). The gloves I wore were similar to those pictured above and they’re work gloves you can get for a great price at a home improvement store.

    -Dry Bag- Learn from my mistake… if going up the Mist Trail (we’ll talk more about this in a moment) bring a dry bag. I got my ass kicked by the waterfall and was SOAKED from head to toe about 1-2 miles into the hike. Everything I owned was soaked too. I have a medium sized Sea to Summit dry bag that I use for kayaking and I majorly regret not bringing it because my M&Ms got soaked in my backpack and I wa freaking out over my cell phone getting wet.

    -True Hiking Shoes- My biggest pet peeve is hikers not wearing proper shoes. Half Dome is not the place to wear Converse, ok? In my opinion, the Salomon Speedcross 4 is the greatest trail shoe ever made. I do not like shoes that come up over my ankle so I prefer more of a trail runner to a hiking boot. This shoe is comfortable and grips the ground so well it gives me tons of confidence on every trail (especially while I’ve been hiking pregnant). Salomon has come out with the Speedcross 5, but I am so loyal to my 4s, I have yet to try them out. I’ve been wearing the 4s for two years now and I am just in love with them. These shoes are made for both men and women. My husband hikes in them too!

    -Food- lots of food! I get SO hungry on hikes and I know this about myself so I packed protein bars, fruit, M&Ms and Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets + barbecue sauce. Thank goodness my sister packed my nugs in a baggie so they didn’t get destroyed by the waterfall. It took me about 7-8 hours to complete this hike so I drank a lot of fluids and ate all my snacks in that time. (For liquid I had my Camelback, an extra bottle of water and a gatorade.

    -Camera- This is the time to bring the good camera or splurge on new gear. If there was ever a time you want to make sure you have great pics… this is it! I brought my GoPro Hero6 and got a clip so I could secure it to my backpack when I recorded my way up and down the cables. I didn’t have someone to hike with me so I don’t have the greatest pics but I am so glad I brought my GoPro.

    The Hike!!!

    Worth the wake up call

    The day of the hike I got up at about 2:30 am. At the time I was working on a morning newscast as a weather anchor, so the alarm clock felt normally for me. I needed to get ready and eat then drive about an hour to the trailhead from my hotel. I started the hike in the dark at about 5am. I highly recommend starting very early. Plus, watching the sun peak through and define Yosemite’s rock formations while you drive into the park is a stunning sight. I also loved seeing the climber’s light on El Cap. That drive in was so surreal… my jaw just kept dropping as bits of sunlight revealed more beauty.

    Trail Choices

    You have some options when you hike Half Dome. You can take the Mist Trail up or you can take John Muir Trail up. Eventually they both meet. An experienced hiker I met earlier in my trip recommended I take the Mist Trail up when it was still a little dark so I could fully enjoy the gorgeous views of John Muir Trail on my way down. It was great advice, except as I mentioned earlier, I got absolutely soaked on the Mist Trail. Friends I know who’ve taken the same route had no problem going up and staying mostly dry. I, however, got slapped in the face repeatedly by waves of water and walked through a few inches of water. The Mist Trail is filled with steps so this part is actually a bit strenuous. I was definitely flustered.

    Hiking up Half Dome consists of 15 miles trekked out and back with a 5200 foot elevation gain. With stopping for a long time at the top to enjoy my accomplishment, it took me about 7-8 hours to complete.

    There are parts of the hike, mostly right after the waterfall, that are not well marked. I always recommend downloading a map on the All Trails app so you can tell if you got off the path at any point.

    Once the trails merge and the hikers from Mist and John Muir meet, you’ll start seeing a lot of fellow adventurers. I made a lot of friends on the trail and as a solo hiker, that’s part of the fun! Most of the terrain is pretty gentle and the elevation gain feels slow and steady until about the last mile to the cables. That’s when you are climbing bigger rocks and handling tougher terrain.

    A tough stretch of the hike right before the cables

    The Cables

    As you approach the cables, park rangers will ask for proof of your permit. My phone actually had a bit of a meltdown and at the last second I almost couldn’t pull up my permit digitally. I would highly recommend bringing a printed version to avoid any tech issues. Also, bring your ID! They will also check to make sure you have gloves.

    Shortly after you check in with the rangers, you’ll get your first view of the cables. Stop to take this sight in because it’s truly amazing to watch hikers climb vertically up this incredible formation.

    Now it’s your turn! Don’t overthink it and freak yourself out. JUST GO!

    The cables are 400 feet long. That’s how long you will be climbing vertically. Honestly, I don’t think I would have been strong enough to handle the cables if I hadn’t been doing strength training and indoor rock climbing regularly. I would recommend 3-6 months of upper body strength work before attempting the cables. There are some wooden planks placed on the rocks every now and then so you can stop and be supported. A few times I needed to give my arms a rest so I would wrap one arm around the cable and let the other one relax, then switch until I regained my strength.

    Most of the time you will be able to hold onto both cables but when you pass someone going down you will need to move off to the side and cling to just one so they can have the cable on the other side. There will probably also be some pushy people who decide they need to rush and go around you. Be prepared to pause and hold onto one cable exactly where you are to let them get around.

    You will run into people who aren’t being careful enough. I think people get freaked out coming down, just want off, and rush (and ok, some of them are just rude). It is so important in these moments for you to focus on your foot and hand placement and avoid getting distracted by the behavior of other hikers. I remember when I was in Driver’s Ed in high school, my teacher preached “defensive driving”. I’m a big believer in “defensive hiking” in these situations. Be aware of people who are making poor choices, do what you can to avoid them and when you can’t- be prepared to minimize any risk they pose to your safety.

    Here are a couple videos from my journey going both up and down the cables.

    Making it to the Top

    Once you arrive at the top of HD, it’s an emotional experience. You just accomplished something super challenging (and dangerous)! Take a moment to congratulate yourself and realize you just had one of the most coveted experiences on Earth!

    I was amazed by how large the area you can roam around really is up top. I found a quiet spot away from everyone where I could eat my Chick-Fil-A.

    I highly recommend packing cold chicken nuggets

    Knowing I not only physically accomplished the climb, but that I did it alone and showed up to Northern California without a permit made me really proud. I was so determined to make this happen in June 2019 and I did it!

    Heading Down the Cables

    Going down the cables is very mentally taxing for a lot of people because looking down at those heights is not for the faint of heart. I found it to be the most exhilarating part of the entire experience. The views are unforgettable so no matter how scared you feel, hold on tight to those cables and stop to soak in the view for a moment.

    I very often sat down and sort of scooted my way through the descent. Do what works for you and makes you feel safe. Remember, other people will be going up!

    Make sure you watch the video I linked above of going down!

    John Muir Trail 

    The heavenly views on John Muir Trail

    Just take a look at that picture for a moment because it will do a better job of capturing the beauty of this section of trail than my words ever could. In this photo you are seeing Liberty Cap (the rock formation) and Nevada Fall.

    Throughout the hike you cross a river, run into waterfalls and beautiful rock formations and see gorgeous foliage everywhere. It is unbelievably breathtaking.

    Even if you don’t hike Half Dome, do this trail. You will love it.

    After the Hike

    There’s nothin’ better than a post hike beer

    Make sure you get some to go!

    At this point you deserve a beer and it HAS TO BE this one: Half Dome California Wheat from Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company. I met my sister at Curry Village Pizza Deck in the park and had the beer on draft and scarfed down some pizza. It was the perfect post hike delight! I also took home a bunch of cans of Half Dome Cali Wheat. If you like Hefe’s you will absolutely love this beer.

    Make sure you have some comfy shoes or sandals to slip on after the hike because your feet will be sore. Going down the cables at that funky angle is not kind to the feet.

    A year later

    Maternity photo taken by Jose Ochoa

    Now in summer 2020, I am scheduled for induction to welcome my baby boy within a week of writing this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about labor. To be honest, I have a lot of fears about childbirth. I’m afraid of the pain and the things that could go wrong. In the past few days I have found great comfort in thinking about what my body has accomplished while hiking and what my mind has overcome on the cables of Half Dome, the ropes of the Moanalua Valley Trail and the chains of Angels Landing. Just like when I hiked those trails, I’m not sure exactly what to expect, but I do know I was made for it.

    Thank you for reading about the greatest adventure of my life. Please join me on Instagram to continue the conversation.

  • Make the Most of Moab

    Hopping in the driver’s seat to take on Hell’s Revenge off-roading trail

    I am absolutely crazy about Utah. Every time I pay the state a visit I find a new reason to fall in love. My most recent trip to UT included a week in Moab and I had the time of my life. It’s also where my husband and I got engaged!

    We had 5 main activities on our Moab bucket list: off-road, hike, visit Canyonlands National Park, visit Arches National Park and drink local beer. Okay, actually Matt had 6 items on his bucket list since he did pack a diamond ring! We took the most beautiful engagement photos in Arches National Park, so if you’re interested in taking a peek I’ll put them at the end of this post. Here’s a preview:

    Engagement photo at Arches National Park

    When to Go

    My recommendation is to hit up Moab in the offseason from November through February. I love avoiding a crowd and this is the perfect time to do that! Just keep in mind it can get a bit chilly and not all restaurants/shops are open due to the slowdown. We went the first week in December and it was perfect for us.

    Where to Stay

    Let’s start with the BEST place to stay in Moab. You know I’m big on camping, but I’m also a sucker for a charming hotel setup. We stayed at Moab Springs Ranch and I could rave all day about how perfect this place is. There are bungalow and townhome options. We stayed in a bungalow that was both functional and adorable. It was also perfectly located close to Arches NP and just a few minutes from restaurants and shopping.

    Photos from moabspringsranch.com

    Where to off-road

    I have two options for you based on your level of skill and how intense you want your ride to be.

    *Disclaimer- Attempt at your own risk*

    The start of Hell’s Revenge

    Hell’s Revenge is straight up terrifying from beginning to end of the 9-mile loop. That being said, I still highly recommend this thrilling trail if you have adequate off-roading equipment, experience and a whole lot of guts! Just be careful and take it easy. Along the path you get amazing views of both the La Sal Mountains and the Colorado River. Make sure you give yourself enough time to take in the sights! The whole trail takes most drivers about 3-4 hours. What I like about this trail is that it is pretty clearly marked and you have options for some challenges around the trail. We challenged ourselves to “Hell’s Gate” and I’ll be honest… our little adventure ended with a tow truck. I did not want to do this challenge but my husband decided to go for it. You can imagine my reaction when we got stuck. I am happy to tell you there is cell phone service on this trail. I do not want to downplay the gravity of the situation because this can be VERY dangerous. If you want to see Hell’s Gate (and the rest of this trail), I found this awesome YouTube video. Skip to about 12 mins to see where we got stuck. If you find yourself in the same situation, here’s the number for Tic Tac Tow (yeah that’s seriously the name!) (435) 260-0619

    Taking in the view of the Colorado River while on Hell’s Revenge Trail
    The view of the Colorado River from Hell’s Revenge
    Stopping to assess the situation as I took over driving on Hell’s Revenge Trail
    Take a look at the stunning snow capped La Sal Mountains in the distance

    Shafer Trail is a more mild ride and offers stunning views as it winds you through about 20 miles of Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. We started at Canyonlands and ended by exiting through Dead Horse Point SP. When starting in Canyonlands, you will have about a 3,000 mile descent. So the top of this journey does have steep drop offs that are not a good fit for anyone with a fear of heights. As you get to the bottom, you drive through mildly rocky terrain and often you cruise right along the Colorado River. It’s just magical!

    Where to Hike

    Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park is the perfect place to enjoy Utah’s unique geography. There aren’t just arches; you’ll also find spires and other gravity defying rock formations. There is a wide range of hiking options through the garden from an easy walk to Landscape Arch to a full on scramble on the Primitive Trail. Primitive Trail is an alternative route you can take to or from Double O Arch and it is intense. In fact, it is considered the most difficult hike in the park. If you do choose to take this somewhat sketchy path, be prepared to scramble and scale some very slippery rocks accompanied by steep drop offs. DO NOT do this without proper hiking shoes and prior hiking experience. Should you choose the Primitive Trail option, I also recommend following the signs to Private Arch. It is offers extreme solitude and access to a really cool hidden arch. Primitive Trail is 7.2 miles out and back and you will want to take a lot of pictures so give yourself a lot of time for this one!

    Surrounded by spires in Devils Garden

    I’ve been told next time I got to arches I should get a permit and hike fiery furnace. While I did not do this on my own trip, it may be something you want to try! Do take note that a reservation is required in advance.

    Where to Drink and Eat

    Moab Brewery was our favorite spot to grab a drink. As beer connoisseurs, Matt and I always make finding a local brewery a part of our plan. They also have yummy food and a huge menu! My favorite beer on the menu was the Moab Dead Horse Amber Ale but they have a huge variety and you’ll want to try them all

    Address: 686 S Main St, Moab, UT 84532

    Southwestern Chicken Chipotle Wrap (w/ tortilla on the side)
    Mushroom Swiss Burger

    The Broken Oar  is the most high end dining experience we found in Moab, but in a city like this it’s still chill and you can show up in your hiking clothes. We feasted on the ribs and it was one of the best meals of my life!

    Address: 53 W 400 N, Moab, UT 84532

    Ribs, sweet potato fries & beans for dinner

    Love Muffin offers great coffee and quick breakfast options so you can get on with your day!

    Address: 139 N Main St, Moab, UT 84532

    *We also heard Moab Garage Company was amazing for breakfast and sandwiches but it was closed during the slow season. Address: 78 N Main Moab, UT 84532*

    Where to Simply Take in the Sights

    Dead Horse Point State Park is a great reason to go to Moab all on its own. I recommend packing a meal and sitting on the edge of the canyon as you gaze down 2,000 feet at the Colorado River.

    While we did not camp, I hear this is an awesome place to pitch a tent… or choose from a variety of other options. This park has cabins, yurts and even teepees available!

    Taking in the view at Dead Horse Point State Park
    All smiles with a gorgeous view!

    Arches National Park offers more than just the hiking adventures I mentioned previously. It’s actually the perfect park for driving around and sightseeing. You can drive from arch to arch, check out the spires and see balancing rocks that will blow your mind! If anyone in your crew has limited mobility, this is really a great park for you because there is so much beauty to behold from the comfort of your car or with just a brief walk.

    Cruising through Arches NP
    Always get a pic with the national park sign!

    Our engagement!

    Angela Hays took our engagement pics and we can’t give her enough praise! We were able to incorporate so many meaningful parts of our trip into the photos from the Jeep to the beer and, of course, our national parks passports. Take a look!

  • Camping is for the Girls

    One of the most common questions I get is about how to feel comfortable camping as a single female so I want to break down some of the barriers here and help you find ways to feel both secure in your surroundings and confident in your campsite selection.

    Before I got married, solo adventuring or trips with my girlfriends was really all I did. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I absolutely love solo adventures and have done some crazy hikes all by myself. But it is critical that whether you are alone, with just gals, or even with your entire family that you do take some safety precautions when camping. Also, knowing some basic info and easing into your outdoor experiences should leave you feeling stress free… just like you should when you are in nature!

    My dreamy campsite in Havasupai

    I do want to let you know that I did not ever camp until I was 28 years old and I started with a serious backpacking trip into Havasupai to see the gorgeous waterfalls. I carried a 40 pound pack (oops), hiked 10 miles in, hiked about 20 miles to various spots within the destination, then hiked 10 miles back out. Every camping trip that does NOT include backpacking, has felt easy ever since. But if I can start at 28 with no prior experience and fall in love with sleeping outside, you can too! If you’re new to outdoor adventures, especially camping and backpacking, it can be really overwhelming and even scary to start. I feel pretty dang vulnerable when sleeping outside, but that’s what part of what makes it so special. I’m hoping by the time you read through this post, you feel empowered and ready to try something new! So, here are my recommendations. Enjoy!

    • A little research on the campsite will put you at ease:
      • I recommend doing some research and picking places that are well regulated early on. When I book a campsite, it is usually via Recreation.gov. This is where I book forest and national park spots but the state parks I’ve stayed at have their own system directly from their own site. When I say “well regulated” I mean this site will have a host who keeps an eye on the property and guests, keeps the campground clean and sleeps on site. This brings me a sense of comfort knowing someone is paying attention to what’s going on around camp and can typically radio for help if needed. I’ve never been to a state or national park that lacked this but when camping in the forest, it’s something I check for. When booking on Recreation.gov you can see if there is a host and check out the other amenities you can expect.
        When booking on Recreation.gov scroll down to “amenities”
      • While you’re looking for a host, look for other amenities you aren’t ready to forgo yet. If a shower is an absolute must for you, pick a campsite that you know has one. If you don’t have a campstove, make sure your site has a grill, if you don’t have a portable table, make sure there’s a picnic table at your site.
      • With the above info in mind, you won’t want to try dispersed camping early on. It’s going to be remote and lack the amenities you will need before you build up a stash of proper camping gear. I also don’t feel safe dispersed camping without a whole crew of people because I just feel too vulnerable. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here is some info on developed vs. dispersed camping.
      • I recommend picking a camping spot to start that is close to home.  I live in the Phoenix area so whenever someone who is new to camping wants to try it out, I recommend Lost Dutchman State Park. It’s well regulated, and it’s only about 45 minutes from the heart of Phoenix. If you are having a bad time or feel uncomfortable it’s easy to go home. You can try again another time!
      • If you feel uneasy without being to call 911 or friends/family, pick a spot with cell service. You can always check your carrier’s coverage map. Personally, I just Google the phone number for the campsite, park, forest, etc., tell them who my carrier is and ask if there’s service. The folks who answer the phone are generally very helpful. Use this info before heading out on a hike too!
      • It’s also very important do some research on the types of animals you may encounter in the region you’re heading to. Google and park rangers are great for this! Remember, pack up your food safely and never bring it in the tent. It’s a great idea to see if your campsite has a bear box. I also recommend buying these food storage bags, especially when backpacking. Keep in mind, animals don’t want to have an encounter with you just as much as you don’t want to have one with them!

    • Don’t go if nobody knows
      • When camping, or even hiking or road tripping, you need to tell a friend or family member where you will be.
      • If going out on a hike as part of your camping adventure, send a selfie at the trailhead or before you lose service (if you have it at any point) so they know exactly what you were wearing that day, your hairstyle, etc. If something goes very wrong this information will help rescuers find you.
      • Share your location with someone from your phone. This will help them know where you are and if it loses tracking capabilities while off the grid, at least it gives a good idea of where you last were. Again, think in terms of helpful hints for rescuers in the worst case scenario. 
      • If you are going on a long drive to your camping destination, share your driving instructions so your friends and family can be aware of your route.
      • This is very important- if the plan changes at any point and you pick a different site or take a detour, make sure you keep your contact updated!

    • Invest in a GPS satellite messenger if you won’t have service
      • Search and Rescue crews have told me success survival stories that started with the SPOT GPS device Basically this little device about the size of a pager tracks your location and if you need help you can push a button and alert the proper authorities that you need help. Here’s the manufacturer’s description of the products:
        • “SPOT determines your GPS location and sends your location and pre-programmed message to communication satellites. Communication satellites relay your message to specific satellite antennas around the world. Satellite antennas and a global network route your location and message to the appropriate network.”
      • There are models starting at about $50 at the basic end and up to about $200 for a device that even has messaging capabilities.
      • Additional payment is required to turn on the tracking abilities.

    • Pack Protection
      • When camping, I carry a knife my dad gave and I won’t go on a trip without it.
      • At night, I actually keep my keys close by so that if I hear something outside my tent and I fear it may try to make its way inside the tent, I sound the alarm and scare it off. If something did make it inside, I have a headlamp within reach to disorient (whether a person or animal) and my knife as a last resort. (Oh and bring a headlamp for camping, always!)
        Our van was named “Stevie” and I took her to Lake Elsinore, CA for the 2019 Superbloom

    • Don’t camp in a tent if you aren’t feelin’ it
      • If you don’t feel safe in a tent, try something with a hard shell and locking doors… a vehicle.
      • There are numerous van rental and RV rental companies you can check out. I have used Boho Vans based in Tempe, AZ and had a great experience camping with a girlfriend and our dogs!
      • Here are some rental companies, you can try:
      • Glamping is an option too and it’s a great way to ease in to camping without sacrificing so many comforts. Here are a couple of sites to check out:

    • Trust Your Intuition
      • This is my #1 rule! If anything EVER feels “off” about your campsite whether it’s the animal tracks you saw, the guy staring at you while setting up your tent, or anything else… if you get that feeling that you got to go, get out of there. I have left campsites before and booked a hotel because my intuition was screaming at me to leave. It’s ok to depart and try again another time. Your safety is more important than anything! Just make sure you let someone know your plan has changed if/when you have service.

    Now that you know some steps you can take to feel safe, it’s time to relax and enjoy all your new hobby has to offer.

    Camping in Sequoia National Park with a Huss Brewing Koffee Kolsch and my Eno Hammock

    If you have any questions at all, shoot me an email to kgkeogh@gmail.com or send me a DM on Instagram @KristenKeogh.

     

     

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