Throwback to Cave Rappelling and Yosemite in California!

Throwback to Cave Rappelling and Yosemite in California!

In the summer of 2012, I was sitting at my desk at work when my boss ran in.  Very excited, she said, “You’re about to get a phone call.  They are going to ask you two questions, and if you answer correctly, you might be sent home immediately to pack a suitcase and catch a plane to go work on a winery in California.”

That was the most exciting news I could possibly hear at that time!  I was so bored in Excel hell.  I couldn’t wait to get out of the office and get some hands-on experience!  I don’t remember what the two questions were, but I must have given the correct answer.  The next day I was on a flight to San Francisco for a business trip to Wine Country!

At the winery, we worked long 16-hour days outside on a construction site.  They worked us hard, but we had one day off every week.  I decided to take full advantage of this short “weekend.”

The night before my first weekend, I left the winery in Livingston, CA, and headed to San Francisco.  My phone somehow got bricked within a few hours of landing in San Francisco, so I had to navigate the old fashioned way – with a map and handwritten directions.  I visited a friend from college who (like every time I visit) tried to convince me to come back to do the Escape From Alcatraz Shark Swim competition that he does every year.  It’s easy to see why we are friends.

The next morning, I drove three hours to Moaning Cavern.  I read about the place in a brochure about ziplining and rappelling and decided to try it out.  It was in a very remote place with no cell phone signal.  The roads and buildings made it look like I was transported back to the 1980s in a one-horse country town.

The “parking lot” was a field of dead grass.  There was a white trailer in the corner.  I started to panic.  “I drove three hours to the wrong place! Where the hell am I??”

I got out of my car and looked around. A few minutes later, I heard screaming from overhead as someone flew by on a zipline.  Yes! This is definitely the right place!

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The entrance to the cavern

I went inside and registered to rappel.  There were a few people ahead of me in line.  The entrance to the cave was on the ground level, so I didn’t have to worry about climbing up before the rappel.

When it was my turn, they fitted me with a harness and hardhat, and taught me how to use their rope system.  Then they opened the gate and let me in.  It was a dark narrow tunnel.  Cool!  Not what I was expecting, but it looks like fun!  I climbed down to about 15 feet to the first platform.  After the platform, I had to maneuver around a rocky area to get to the next section, which was also a tunnel.  After about 10 more feet, the tunnel opened up, and was just a flat wall.  This is going to be easy, I thought.  All I have to do is walk down the wall.  But I was wrong.

When the tunnel opened up to a flat wall, I could see the entire cave.  It was breathtaking!  It looked like something I would see on a SCUBA dive, but without the water.  I climbed down a bit more.  For a split second, my brain was tricked into thinking I could swim over to the far side of the dimly lit cavern to get a better view.

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The cavern wall opened up and my feet couldn’t reach the wall anymore

The cavern opened up even more – my feet were too far away to touch the wall!  I was dangling from a rope 150 ft in the air!  I panicked and for a moment forgot how to use the device to climb down the ropes.  Then I realized I was stuck; the only way I could move was to use the device.  I struggled for a second, but then it came back to me.  It was fascinating to be able to see the walls of the cavern up close.  On my way down, I could see people from the walking tour (read: too scared to rappel, but still wanted to see the caves).  I waved hello to them and continued my descent.

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Cavern selfie

I finally made it to the bottom!  Still shaking from the adrenaline rush, I got a selfie inside the canyon.  And then it hit me:  If the entrance to the cave was on ground level, then I’m currently 165 ft below ground level.  How do I get back up?

Climbers join the walking tour at the bottom of the cavern.  The tour guide pointed out some named features inside the cavern.  Shortly after, it was time to go up.  The way up?  A 17 story spiral staircase made entirely of WWII scrap metal!  As an engineer, the idea of an old rickety spiral staircase erected from used scrap metal was more terrifying than rappelling down the cavern!

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The view from the top of the spiral staircase

I made it all the way up the terrifying spiral staircase and back to the lobby.

I did it!  It was awesome!

But I wasn’t done yet.  Since I only had one day off, I had to maximize my time by squeezing more than one adventure into a day.  I headed off to Yosemite National Park.

 

 

After a two hour drive, I arrived at the entrance to Yosemite National Park.  This was my first time at a National Park.  I pulled up to the hut and was handed a map.  I figured it would be like a theme park.  Pay for parking, get handed a map, and given directions to the main attractions.  Wrong, again!

After driving a few miles without seeing any signs, I pulled over to look at the map.  The entrance I just drove through wasn’t even on the map.  I had no idea what I was looking at.  I decided to just keep driving, and I’d probably come across a sign eventually.  Several miles later, I still hadn’t seen a single sign.  I started to wonder if I drove all the way out here for nothing.  Maybe I was at the wrong entrance?  Maybe I won’t be able to find anything and still make it back to the winery at a decent hour.

Finally, I saw a sign.  There was an arrow pointing left with a name (presumably something that was on the map), 65 miles.

Sixty-five miles?!  I already drove two hours!  I need to be somewhere now!  Not in 65 miles!  I decided to pass on that one.  Too far.

After what seemed like another lonely 10 miles, I found a parking lot with people walking towards a rocky path.  Not exactly what I was expecting, but I figured it was my best chance at seeing something before the end of my short weekend. I parked and saw lots of other people there.  It turned out to be Olmsted Point.

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Olmsted Point (the big and little domes near the horizon), as seen from wherever I was when I got lost.

Among the rocks, there was a path down into the valley.  It was gorgeous! I walked around and soaked up the view.  I took a few pictures and headed back to my car.  I felt like there was more to see and time was of the essence.

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I found a paved path among the redwoods.  It was so humbling to be among such enormous trees!  Being from Florida, I had never been on a real hike before (except in Costa Rica).  When I first got there, I preferred the paved path.  But after walking among all of those trees, the paved path in the middle of a forest seemed very artificial.  I understood why real hikers preferred unpaved trails.

I decided to keep driving a bit further.  Just past a campground was the entrance to Hetch Hetchy, which I honestly had never heard of but recognized the view.

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Hetch Hetchy
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While crossing the bridge, I discovered that Hetch Hetchy is a dam!

There is a trail that goes around the lake.  After walking over a bridge and then through a tunnel, I came out around the left side of the lake and started hiking.  The trail was magical. Despite the long day, I felt more and more energized with each step along the trail.  As nightfall began, the trail became darker and darker.  I started to wonder if I’d encounter a bear.  A coworker told me he had gone to the non-touristy parts of Yosemite the previous weekend and had a close encounter with a bear.  I still wasn’t sure if I was on the touristy side or not.

305027_10101895299596233_1125771702_nThe trail turned out to be much longer than I expected.  I turned around and raced the darkness, trying to make it to my car before nightfall.  Lights illuminated the inside of the tunnel.  Though the sun had set completely, the moon was very bright.

I got back in my car and started my journey back to the winery.  But first, I stopped at the campground to use the restroom.  When I entered the restroom, I was greeted by an awesome sign:  step-by-step picture instructions on how to poop in the woods.

293077_10101895300170083_800385655_n While there was running water and flush toilets, there weren’t any lights.  (Sorry for the glare in the middle of the picture.)

As I left the restroom, the park ranger came to ask me if I was leaving because they were just about to close the park gates.  I made it out just in time!

On my long drive back to the winery, I reflected on all of the awesome experiences I had in just one day.  I was in disbelief!  I had seen more in a short weekend than I had in any other weekend in my entire life!  I am so happy that I had the opportunity to make this happen.

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