North Dome: Part One, Getting There

In October, 2016 I set out on a Yosemite adventure with my friend Gary Crabbe. I worked on images since the trip as time allowed with the plan to write about it “real soon.” Naturally so did Gary who beat me to it in a series of outstanding posts.

Well darn. The last thing in the world I wanted was to look like I’m copying him so I set the idea aside until there was a big gap in the post dates. There’s something to be said for timeliness, but this isn’t professional journalism, it’s just me sharing an experience.

Inspiration

North Dome as viewed from Glacier Point. This image available on my sales site

You may have read my story about hiking Half Dome. Most of the inspiration arose from that journey; fitness, physical challenge, a growing love for all things Yosemite, more photography inspirations. We talked a lot about that trip which helped create some urgency for the North Dome adventure.

Granite cliffs and the valley below. Purchase this image on my sales site

There were some parameters we had to work with. For example the seasonal lighting conditions we wanted were ending soon. Another potential problem was that we were towards the end of the fall season and the road to the trailhead was likely to close with the next big change in the weather. That weather parameter was a bigger deal than I imagined and it was just a preview of the wet winter ahead.

Getting there

Cresting that first ridge – This image available on my sales site

North Dome is a granite feature on the north side of Yosemite National Park almost directly across the valley from Half Dome. It’s a four mile hike from the trailhead across varying terrain. I’m still exploring around Yosemite, so this fairly popular day hike was new to me. The trail starts as heavily wooded with small streams and leads to more exposed granite and occasional trees and brush.

Looking across Yosemite Valley from must about 7500 feet. This image available on my sales site

The hike itself is described as “moderate.” I had been training extensively so I personally didn’t find it very difficult.

Half Dome through the trees. Purchase prints here

If anything my challenge was the small size of my day pack. It is just enough for some food, a water bladder, a couple layers of clothing, and my favorite camera gear. I carried my tripod by hand and clipped the camera body to a strap on my pack. Gary kept his Nikon D800 in his pack and used a small yet highly capable camera while on the move.

Southwest across Yosemite Valley. Purchase this image on my sales site

I keep experimenting with different ways of carrying the camera itself. It’s too large to keep inside the pack, but keeping it outside exposes it to the elements. The clip that I used worked well enough but gets a bit uncomfortable after a while around my chest. A shoulder strap is a fair choice for a very short hike, but I expected it to become annoying quickly. A neck strap is a perfectly awful choice for any distance – honestly I can’t believe people use them at all. Recently I’ve tried a top-loading bag slung over my shoulder which worked reasonably well on a short hike at Wilder Ranch State Park. G. Dan Mitchell mentioned some time ago on his blog that he likes to use a chest-mounted top-loading camera bag. I’ll try that next time.

Half Dome from the North Dome trail. If you look very closely you can see a brave group of hikers on top although the cables have been taken down. Purchase this image on my sales site

We started fairly early in the day, but the light was high contrast; no point in making many photos for a while. We had a schedule to keep. The plan was to arrive at the dome an hour or two before sunset. The light started to cooperate nicely with overhead clouds when we were about a mile away. We crested a ridge which gave way to a nearly sandy trail among increasingly exposed granite.

The view towards the southeast with dramatic clouds overhead. Purchase this image on my sales site

I keep writing about the hike itself rather than the photography involved. Thats easily explained since most of the time was spent getting there and getting back. I take a lot of joy in these experiences. I live in a fairly rural area surrounded by redwoods, but this hasn’t always been the case. When I was little my family lived near Los Angeles, and it was a concrete jungle. I thought Western Avenue went as far north as I could imagine. The one clear day when it was smog-free enough to see Mount Baldy was surreal.

There are mountains nearby? And I can see them? And is that snow??

Believe me, the change of scenery that I have now is exactly what I wanted back then, I just didn’t have the vocabulary for it. So trust me when I tell you that sharing this hike with somebody passionate about The Great Outdoors and is perfectly happy to enjoy the peaceful quiet is beyond compare.

Half Dome View #2. Purchase this image on my sales site

I took this collection of photos as the scene inspired me while hiking. They were largely made using a 17-50mm Sigma lens with a Tiffen circular polarizer. Apertures varied from f/8 to f/13. Since they were taken hand held rather than using my tripod I went with a 1/focal length rule which served me very well. I use a crop sensor camera, so increase the focal length a bit to “perceived focal length” to account for the crop.  I’m very happy with the results.

Come back again soon for the second installment where I describe being on North Dome and the photography that occurred.

All of these images are available on my sales site: www.coastalimagesbysean.com