COOPER DISCOVERER - Yosemite Adventure With My Brothers


Part 1

It got real dark real fast. Up ahead, lightning flashes, lighting up the dark sky.

“Are you tired?” Phillip asks.

“No. I’m too excited to be tired.”

I can feel my heart pumping in my chest. I’m excited, but at the same time, I’m scared. I’ve never done this before. It’s exhilarating!

Raindrops start forming on my windshield and I turn on my wipers. Lightning flashes again, closer this time.

“This is wild.” Phillip says with worried anticipation.

The rain is pouring down now and my windshield wiper works hard to keep up. We exit the interstate, onto a country road. Few miles down, I point the Xterra off the pavement and up a gravel road. This is getting real.

14 hours ago…

I overslept! My mind is racing and I pour over the checklist to make sure we have everything. Months of planning comes down to this. If we forget anything, we can buy it there. James has spring break this week, Phillip and I have the week off from work, and we have a reservation for a campsite in Yosemite Valley for five nights; the ingredients for adventure. We’ll be spending two days on the road, four days in Yosemite, and two days driving back home. This is going to be so much fun!

We scramble to get ready and gather last minute supplies. My mom is nagging us about this and that and my dad is telling her to leave us alone. Resistance only fuels her determination to leave us with enough motherly concerns echoing in our minds to last us the entire trip. We make necessary promises to call frequently and pile in the car. We’re leaving over two hours later than planned, but it should be okay.


The responsibility of finding restaurants on the road was given to Phillip, our resident foodie. First up is Petite Provence in Portland, OR. The food is a little salty, and the roof of my mouth is burnt from tasting Phillip’s baked eggs like a hipster, but it’s a nice spot for brunch. I had the smoked salmon hash.

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In Medford, OR, In-N-Out is for dinner, Animal Style of course. Though we’re not in California yet, the combination of the golden evening sun hanging low in the sky and the nostalgic taste of In-N-Out creates an atmosphere that’s close enough to the So-Cal experience. After I finish my cheeseburger and shake, I study the map of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest to figure out where we could camp for the night.

The area I picked is about five miles up the gravel road, but it’s taking longer than I thought. The road is getting rougher and all I can see is what the dim headlights reveal directly ahead of me. On the bright side, it has stopped raining.

We find a short turnout on the side of the road and park the Xterra.

“What’s that sound?” Asks James regarding the continuous rumbling noise coming from the left of us.

Phillip wonders out loud, “Is that water?”

I check the map, “I don’t see any rivers in the map.”

“Is it wind?”

“The trees aren’t moving.”

“Let’s go explore.”

The rumbling grows louder as we walk further up the road. About a hundred feet from where the Xterra is parked, we find the source of all the noise.

It’s a big stream, or a small river, I don’t know which. It’s flowing fast and white water pounds around and over the rocks. The water is so loud that it’s all we can hear around us.

We fumble around in the dark with our flashlights and lantern to set up camp. It takes us an hour, but we get it done. After saying a prayer around the lantern, we go to our respective sleeping areas. James and I are in the tent and Phillip is in the Xterra.

While laying in the tent, my mind races with all the things that could go wrong overnight. A wild animal could attack us in our sleep. A sudden wind storm could knock down a tree and crush us in the tent. The river could flood and wipe us out. A mean man, or woman, could rob us at gunpoint, leaving us stranded with nothing. So many things could go wrong. So many things are outside of my control. I am so scared that I can’t fall asleep. I pray again to God for protection and lay there listening to the roaring water.

I wish morning would just come already.
COOPER DISCOVERER - Yosemite Adventure With My Brothers Part 2


In the midst of the sound of crashing water, the birds are faintly singing in the background. It’s morning. The morning light reveals the surrounding areas of our camp and the forest takes on a different form. Last night, the forest was dark and terrifying. So much unknown, so much mystery. But in the light, the forest is benign and placid. The air is brisk and the sense of adventure is overwhelming. I’ve dreamed of camping out in the woods, and here we are. We did it! Hooray!


With Phillip and James still sleeping, I wander around to take it all in. I check out the river nearby and explore the woods. Nature is amazing, it has this effect of slowing everything down. I’m not thinking about anything, I’m not anxious about anything; I’m just here. River roaring, birds chirping, trees rustling, and I’m in the middle of it all. I need to do this more often.

We pack up camp and hit the road. Our brunch stop is in Sacramento. Tower Cafe is decorated with cultural artifacts from all over the world, scattered out amongst the green plants all over the restaurant. But it isn’t the decor that brought us here, Madame Cristo did. The Tower Cafe menu describes Madame Cristo as follows.

"Our Famous French Toast stuffed with sliced ham and swiss cheese then topped with two over-medium eggs with creamy bechamel and chipotle-raspberry jam."


James has the Carnitas de Mariachi and Phillip has the Thai Steak and Eggs. We share because we care.


Once off the Interstate, Highway 120 takes us east towards Yosemite and up into the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It’s at this point that we start driving away from the civilized world of LTE, 4G, and all the other letters from the cell signal alphabet soup. I don’t know how we’re going to survive without Facechat and Snapagram.

The steep twisty road takes us up into the clouds as the sun goes down behind us. Being in the clouds isn’t like how the cartoons portray it. Clouds aren’t soft or fluffy. Rather, it’s like driving through a thick wet fog. It’s dark, visibility is limited, and the going is slow.

As we start descending into the valley, the fog occasionally gives way to reveal the valley down below. The steep rock faces seen through the fog creates a mystical atmosphere.

“This feels like Jurassic Park.” says Phillip while James searches the fog for man-eating pterodactyls.

After eating cold $10 sandwiches at the only restaurant serving food past 9:00, we quietly roll into Upper Pines #229 and set up camp; home sweet home.


"None but those who have visited this most wonderful valley, can even imagine the feelings with which I looked upon the view that was there presented. The grandeur of the scene was but softened by the haze that hung over the valley,—light as gossamer—and by the clouds which partially dimmed the higher cliffs and mountains. This obscurity of vision but increased the awe with which I beheld it, and as I looked, a peculiar exalted sensation seemed to fill my whole being, and I found my eyes in tears with emotion." -Lafayette H. Bunnell

The geographic features of Yosemite were formed over time by glacial movement carving away at the granite rock. The glacier then melted into a lake and the sediment settled to create the lakebed which would eventually become the Yosemite Valley. The Merced River winds through the valley floor surrounded by awesome granite faces towering thousands of feet above it. It’s hard to understand the scale of this place without having been here. The granite rocks are 3000-4000 feet tall relative to the valley, with the Half Dome standing approximately 4800 feet above the valley. As reference, the Empire State Building is 1454 feet tall to the tip of its antenna. The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world (the one that Ethan Hunt climbed to save the world from certain destruction) is 2717 feet tall. Nature has a way of making me realize how small I really am.

First thing’s first, we have to set up the tarp to protect us from the rain that the forecast has promised us. I have a general idea of how I want this to turn out, but I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s around noon by the time we finish setting up the tarp. I’m frustrated, Phillip is frustrated, James is frustrated, and we’re all hungry. We boil a pot of water and prepare our Mountain House breakfasts. If you don’t know what Mountain House meals are, they are pouches of freeze dried food that turns into a quick tasty meal. Simply add hot water and stir.

Today, we will be exploring the valley by car.


The great thing about being in Yosemite in the spring is that all the water falls are running at full force. Of the many waterfalls, the one that stands out is the Upper Yosemite Fall, mostly because we can see it from nearly everywhere we go in the valley. The Yosemite Falls, dropping an impressive 2425 feet, is the tallest waterfall in North America. It’s so tall in fact that much of the water coming over the fall comes down as mist towards the bottom. It looks as if the clouds are pouring down over the edge of the cliff.


After a short hike, we reach the bridge at the base of the Lower Yosemite Fall. Here, the wind is blowing down from the waterfall along with a shower of mist. Literal tons of water thunder down the waterfall, relentlessly pounding down on the unyielding rocks. The force of the coursing water can be felt vibrating through the air. It’s amazing.

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As the sun begins to set, its rays cast a golden light across the entire valley. The Half Dome has finally come out from hiding in the clouds to show its face. The best views of Half Dome can be seen from the meadows that open up a clearing in the trees. The clearing also gives us a 360 degree view of the granite peaks dwarfing the tall pine trees all around us.


Back at camp, James (a.k.a. the Fire Master) gets the campfire going while Phillip and I prepare dinner. Though it has gotten dark, our lantern and our super cool headlamps allow us to be active into the night. It’s taking us over an hour to set up our camp kitchen and to cook our food, but it’ll be worth all the effort.


Ribeye, potato, grilled onion, and beer. The perfect ending to our first day in Yosemite.
COOPER DISCOVERER - Yosemite Adventure With My Brothers Part 3


Waking up in Yosemite Valley is a surreal experience. To be able to call this amazing place home, though temporary, is unreal. Stepping out of the tent, I’m greeted by the chill of the air and giant rock faces lit up by the morning sun. How is it that I get to wake up in a place like this? Though this may sound cheesy, it’s like waking up into a dream.


James gets the fire going and Phillip and I start preparing breakfast. I didn’t expect this at first, but the aspect of the trip that took the most planning and preparation were the meals. During our time in Yosemite, we will be cooking five breakfasts and three dinners. It was a challenge to come up with meal ideas that all three of us would like while minimizing the use of ingredients that require refrigeration. Exceptions are items such as meats and cheeses, which we will buy at inflated prices at the valley supermarket. For example, the ribeye steaks we had last night cost $16.99 per pound at the Yosemite Village Store. Convenience is not cheap, but it’s not too bad considering we don’t have to lug around an icebox while hoping that the meat isn’t going bad on us.


Only a fantastic breakfast would appropriately complement the fantastic scenery for the most fantastic camping experience. On the menu this morning is grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, and not just any old grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. What we have before us, waiting to be devoured, are provolone and cheddar grilled cheese sandwiches, toasted in butter until golden brown, accompanied by a pot of mouthwatering tomato basil bisque. I am indeed a happy camper. Our wonderful meal satisfies our tastebuds and gives us energy for the day ahead; for today, we explore the valley by bicycle.


Of all the different ways of seeing the valley, my opinion is that the valley is best experienced on a bicycle. The valley is too big to walk around in, and scenery passes by too quickly when driving around in a car. But on a bicycle, we can stop and look at whatever scenery we come across, and we can cover a lot of ground in just one day at the moderate speeds that the single-speed rental bikes would allow. We follow the network of bike trails laid out throughout the valley and are treated with breathtaking views unobstructed by dirty windows, and tranquil sounds of nature untainted by noisy engines.

From the end of the bike trail, in the northeast corner of the valley, it’s about a half mile hike up to Mirror Lake. Mirror Lake is a seasonal lake, meaning it’s a lake during winter and spring and a meadow during summer and fall. The source of the water are glaciers melting down from the mountain tops and the water is collected by a natural dam that limits the flow of water without completely blocking it off. When there’s no more snow to melt and water is no longer being added to the lake, before all the water drains out to uncover the grassy meadow, the lake surface calms down to a mirror-like finish and perfectly reflects the scenery behind it. At least that’s how it is in the pictures. Right now, the lake is all ripples and there’s nothing mirror-like about it. Might as well call it the Sometimes Mirror Lake.


One of the best views of the Half Dome can be seen from a meadow directly west from it. Unfortunately, the Half Dome is hiding in the clouds today. This meadow is also a good place to spot some deer. Late afternoon, as the day cools down, deer come out to graze in front of an audience of iPhone wielding tourists. But remember, these are wild animals, please leave them alone!

Tonight, we attend a presentation by a Yosemite Search and Rescue (SAR) ranger at the Yosemite Theater. There are so many different ways to get killed in nature. Falling off a cliff will kill you, obviously. Fast flowing water will kill you. Getting lost will kill you. So here are some helpful tips to avoid such death. Don’t try climbing down a cliff. Don’t cross fast flowing water. Don’t get lost, and if you do get lost, don’t panic. With that, we wrap up an activity filled day in the valley.

I am really enjoying the mornings at camp. While Phillip and James are sleeping in, tired from riding bicycles all day, I’ve got the camp all to myself. A warm fire, a good book, and a thermos full of coffee. I can’t ask for a more perfect way to spend a morning. I’m reading a book called We Will Be Free. It’s about a South African family that sold their house and are traveling around South America in their Land Rover Defender. What a way to live! Reading books like this make the traveling lifestyle seem both accessible and impossible at the same time. I can dream.


El Capitan stands 3500 feet above the valley, featuring a 3000-foot vertical face most famously known to rock climbers and MacBook users. The view is even more impressive from the base of the renowned monolith. Looking carefully, we can see little specks of people climbing their way up to the top. Inspired by the intrepid climbers, we climb the first couple feet of the massive rock wall to join the ranks of world class climbers. Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s how that works.


We pay another visit to the Tunnel View at sundown and find ourselves amongst an army of photographers. Everybody is focused on getting the perfect shot, all that can be heard are the clicking of the cameras. But the thing is, you really can’t take a bad picture from here.


We round out the day with fajitas back at camp. Phillip fires up our trusty Coleman stove to sauté some bell peppers and onion and James starts the campfire to grill the carne asada we picked up from the grocery store. We enjoy our delicious meal in anticipation of what’s next. Tomorrow, we hike the Mist Trail.
COOPER DISCOVERER - Yosemite Adventure With My Brothers Part 4


We saved the best for last. The Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall is 3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 1000 feet. Not too long, but pretty steep. We’ve never done a hike like this before.

The really nice thing about camping at the Upper Pines Campground, among many, is that the trailhead to the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail is just a short walk away. After breakfast (french onion soup and stale Albertsons bread) we gear up and walk through the trees, out of our campsite, towards the trailhead.


The Mist Trail is a well groomed path for most of its length, until we get close to the bottom of Vernal Fall. From here, the trail becomes a granite staircase with steps of varying heights. In addition, the mist from the waterfall rains down on us and the slippery-when-wet granite.

Quads, calves, hamstrings… you name it, they’re all burning. Progress is slow, but we’re catching up to a group of elderly hikers that passed us earlier. Age versus weight, the battle of the hour. Wiping sweat and mist off our brow, we press on.

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The sound of water pounding against boulders fills the air as the spectacular views of Vernal Fall (and poor cardiovascular health) take our breath away. The glacial water pours out over the edge and hangs in free fall for 300 feet as if in slow motion. Why is it that falling water is so magnificent? It might be the sheer volume of water falling down, or maybe it’s the immense force of the waterfall. I’m not sure why, but it is truly awesome.

In the final stages, the trail continues as a narrow ledge cut diagonally across the rocky face leading up to the top of Vernal Fall. The path is wide enough for two hikers to barely squeeze by each other and you have to really trust that the handrail will keep you from falling off the ledge as you lean on it to make space.

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We’ve finally reached the top! Our hard work is awarded with a massive sense of accomplishment and a much-needed bathroom. We rest our weary legs and chew on some beef jerky as we take in the scenery around us. What an amazing place to be.

“My feet are crying,” says James as we return to camp. So are mine James, so are mine… My feet are aching and my knees feel stiff, but it was a great hike. All I need now is a hot shower and a nice dinner.

Since it’s our final night at Yosemite, we’re treating ourselves with dinner at the Mountain Room Restaurant. I’m having the roast duck and Phillip and James are having the lamb shank. I’ve never had half of a roast duck before, so I have to work hard for my food. Meanwhile, James regrets choosing the lamb shank over the ribeye steak and Phillip is enjoying his shank of lamb from what I can tell. I can’t believe how different duck is from chicken. I know my way around a chicken, but I’m completely lost when it comes to duck. Though challenging to eat, the food is especially tasty after our hike. On a side note, our server’s name is Sam, and Sam lives in Yosemite. Get it??

We roll back into camp for our final night at Yosemite. I’m sad it’s already our last night, but happy for having been able to spend the past four days in such a wonderful place.

"It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter." -John Muir

We leave the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and as cell signal returns to our phones, we are absolutely bombarded by voicemail and missed call notifications from our mom. Phillip calls her back and her frantic voice can be heard throughout the whole car. We were too tired to Skype her last night and we left Yosemite later than planned. Our mom had thought that we had gone missing on our hike and was about to call the park rangers to go look for us. I honestly don’t understand why she worries so much. If we die, we die. Geez. Maybe one day I’ll understand parental anxiety, but right now, I just don’t.

Our lunch stop is at Jamie’s Broadway Grille in Sacramento, but we can’t find it. We’re at the spot the GPS led us to, but there are no signs of a Jamie’s Broadway Grille. We consult Google and it says we are at the right place. We park near the door with a green awning and look for any indication that this is a restaurant. Near the door reads “Guy Ate Here”, a mark left behind after Guy Fieri visits a restaurant on Diners, Drive-Ins and Drives. This must be the right place.

This place is truly a dive. You’d have no idea that it’s a restaurant by its external appearance. You could drive past this place everyday without ever knowing what’s inside. The bar is lively with local chatter and we’re seated in the dimly lit dining area to look at what’s offered on the menu. The New York steak sandwich for me, and the prime rib for Phillip and James. All three of us have a ridiculous grin on our faces and it’s clear that the prime rib made up for James’s disappointment from dinner yesterday. We consume our meal in a mad frenzy and and we’re back on the road towards Mt. Shasta.

I’ve got a spot picked out on the map near Mt. Shasta and as usual fashion, we’re looking for a place to camp in the dark. I turn the Xterra off the paved road and James scans the side of the road with a flashlight. My headlights dimly light the road in front of me as I slowly make my way down the road. Maybe I should get some off-road lights.

Up ahead on the road, there’s an animal, about the size of a large dog. It’s a bear! I stop the car. What do I do? I think this bear is too small to be full grown. What if its mother is nearby?

“What are we gonna do?”

“I don’t know.”

I flash my lights. Nothing. What do I do? The bear doesn’t seem threatened by us. In fact, it’s having dinner off the bushes by the road. Though it’s not afraid of us, it hasn’t shown any signs of aggression towards us. I’ll try scaring it away. I drive up closer to the bear until it finally runs away into the woods. That was a bear!

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the bear. Fortunately, Phillip had recorded the encounter on his phone. Check it out!

Further down the road, the path becomes rougher and narrower. There hasn’t been any good spots to set up a tent so far, and even if there is a spot further down the road, we’re too spooked out by the bear to set up camp around here. It’s at this point that I execute the most important off-road driving skill in my limited arsenal. Knowing when to turn around. Phillip bravely steps out of the car with the flashlight to spot for me as I make a multi-point U-turn to turn the car around on the narrow road. We’re going further east to look for a place to camp.

“That was a bear.” As the tension fades, we begin to appreciate what just took place. Back on paved road, my body relaxes and my heart rate starts slowing down back to normal. We just saw a bear in the wild!

We find a spot that we’re happy with, double check for bears, and start setting up camp. We haven’t had dinner, but we’re not going to cook anything lest we attract any animals to our location. The forest is silent and sleep comes over me quickly.


Waking up in the woods has got to be one of the best feelings ever. Camping is so much fun! The air is crisp and there’s nothing like the smell of trees. A little ways off from camp, there’s a railroad track lit up beautifully by the golden morning sunlight.


Last day of the trip. We drive home tonight! But first, brunch.


Buttercloud Bakery and Cafe in Medford, OR has the most amazing biscuits ever. As the name of the restaurant implies, the biscuits are buttery and fluffy like a cloud. The buttermilk biscuit joins forces with bacon and eggs scrambled with rosemary and cheese to form one heck of a breakfast sandwich.


My favorite meal of the trip though was dinner at Screen Door in Portland, OR. There was a long wait (we got there an hour before they opened for dinner), but it was well worth it. Between the three of us, we ordered the Crispy Fried Buttermilk-Battered Chicken, the House Smoked Beef Brisket, and the Braised Pork Shoulder. We then rounded out the day with gelato at Bassotto Gelateria before our uneventful drive back home, thus concluding our Yosemite adventure.

Yosemite is a great National Park and is a must for anybody who hasn’t been there before. Additionally, what made this trip extra special was that I got to visit Yosemite with my brothers. Opportunities like this will become increasingly rare and I’m glad we got to share this experience. We’ve made a lot of memories together that Phillip and James will tell me about (I have a very bad memory) for years to come.

I encourage you all to get out and find your own adventures this summer and consider adventuring with your siblings if you have the opportunity to do so. Sorry for the long post, but thank you for following our Yosemite adventure and stay tuned as I explore locally in Washington over the summer.


Incomplete Idiot
My boys are still little, but I look forward to the day that the four (maybe more, later) of them set off on similar adventures together. I'm sure their mom will worry to death just like yours, haha. How close in age are you and your brothers (if you don't mind me asking)?