I have always been fond of the number ten. It’s the title of my favorite album by one of my favorite groups of all time, Pearl Jam. 10 was also the number worn by New York Yankees first baseman Chris Chambliss whose 1976 ALCS walkoff home run is still one of my favorite early childhood memories. And most recently, my daughter and I celebrated her 10th birthday on the summit of Half Dome which is the subject of my Yosemite 100 Year Ambassador story on the Yosemite National Park website. Now, the company I founded is also ten years old. As I look back on the last decade, I can recall reaching hundreds of summits while hiking thousands of miles of trails and sharing countless memories. As I look to the future, I think of all the new opportunities for adventure and conservation that await me on this most epic journey.
One of the adventures we are planning is a Mt. Kilimanjaro summit trek and African wildlife safari with some of our friends from Yosemite. Olotumi Laizer will be our lead as Tanzania is his native land, and he has led this summit dozens of times. Also joining us will be Glen Young who leads many of our trips in Yosemite. Glen is also an international climbing guide who has been on top of many peaks on several continents. We will also be joined by Jeff Mitchum, an award winning photographer I met on a Half Dome expedition. Although we didn’t reach the summit that day (we didn’t attempt it), I was honored to be invited to join Jeff on the successful completion of his quest to make his celebrated “Range of Light” image from the the real Diving Board.
This will be an amazing trip of a lifetime, and for a limited time, we are offering a $400 discount to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. Anyone who enters the code YEXPLORE10 will receive the discount if they book the trip by February 29, 2016. I hope to see you on our journey. I am really looking forward to this expedition.
Once again, I would just like to take a moment to thank every for helping make this day possible. I believe reaching ten years is an amazing accomplishment, and I look forward to the next decade of adventure!
2016 marks the Centennial Anniversary of the National Park Service. When I first learned of the Yosemite Ambassador program to celebrate this anniversary, I was highly impressed with the group of athletes, musicians, and local personalities who were selected. I was profoundly happy for my good friend Les Marsden who is the founder and conductor of the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra. There is no better representative of Yosemite than Les who has masterfully written symphonic poems celebrating the Yosemite Anniversaries that the symphony has been performing at free concerts throughout the Yosemite region.
Shortly after the first group of ambassadors were unveiled, I was approached by Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher to join this group and help represent Yosemite during the yearlong celebration. I was chosen as a result of my involvement in a volunteer group called the Yosemite Gateway Partners. My heart jumped, and so did I at the opportunity to foster goodwill in the place I love so deeply. One of my first duties as a Yosemite ambassador was to share a story about my connection to Yosemite. There were so many to choose from, but I decided to recall a recent adventure with my daughter Mia who wanted to hike to the top of Half Dome before her tenth birthday.
Mia spent much of her young life hiking the trails of Yosemite. Most of them were fairly easy. Relatively easy would be more accurate. Every time we would see Half Dome on one of our hikes, which was often, I would ask her if she ever want to hike to the summit with me. “No!”, “never!!”, and “no way!!!” were just some of her responses. But then, one day, there was a transformation in her attitude toward adventure. She was nine, and we were in Zion National Park. I brought her to Angels Landing for a morning challenge up the chains. She was excited but became frightened. I was able to coach her through that experience, and although she was never comfortable on the landing, her desire for adventure grew exponentially that day. On the hike down, she mentioned that she was interested in Half Dome. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing so I feigned excitement.
After a few training hikes that Mia successfully completed, we were ready for our big Half Dome hike together. We packed our gear the night before, and I was certain to include peaches and chocolate in our lunch. Peaches have played a significant role on just about every summit journey I have made ever since a 1997 climb of Mt. Rainier. I met a kind woman at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport who shared a story of her Rainier summit and the reward she chose. When she packed a can of peaches in her backpack, her guide immediately removed it for its weight. She later secretly repacked it and unveiled it on the peak for a shared treat whose sweetness outweighed any of the struggle to carry it to the top. That story has always resonated with me, and I live by her words every day. It’s also why I call this blog the Can O Peaches.
Yosemite National Park is currently accepting public comments for a proposed Wilderness Stewardship Plan until January 29, 2016. Part of the plan will focus on “the need to determine the extent to which commercial services will be performed in the Yosemite Wilderness.” As a commercial service provider who loves every second I spend in Yosemite Wilderness, I was compelled to add my public comments focused on this aspect of the plan. This is an exercise I encourage others to engage in, especially if you have ever participated in a guided tour that has raised your awareness for protecting our beautiful wild lands.
Before I reveal my public comments, I’d like to share this image from the Glen Aulin trail in Yosemite Wilderness that I shot this past summer.
We received a call from a group of friends in Los Angeles requesting a strenuous guided adventure hike. It was mid July and they wanted to see the true beauty of Yosemite so, naturally, they wanted a tour in Yosemite Valley. After careful consideration of their request, we suggested a trek outside of the Valley that visited a significantly less crowded area of Yosemite. We convinced them to select this lesser known area, and the results were undeniable. The group was eternally grateful for the decision and their appreciation for nature during this experience grew with every step of our journey together. The benefits of the service we provided was far reaching for all Yosemite visitors that day. We were able to enhance the experience for our guests while diverting traffic away from Yosemite Valley during one of the busiest days of the year. This is just one case study that illustrates the points I made in my public comments below. Please take a moment to read them and submit your own if you feel the park should not look to further restrict commercially guided hiking and backpacking programs in the Yosemite Wilderness.
YExplore Public Comments for proposed Wilderness Stewardship Plan in Yosemite National Park
I would like to share my public comments on the Yosemite Wilderness Stewardship Plan to address concerns about the future management of Yosemite Wilderness. While I respect the way the National Park Service currently manages the wilderness, there are always going to be aspects of the plan that I agree with more than others. I believe my organization plays a role in helping the park manage the wilderness and appreciate the ability to provide input. I look forward to future planning and would like my comments to focus on one statement in particular: “Finally, there is a need to determine the extent to which commercial services will be performed in the Yosemite Wilderness.”
I have spent a significant amount of time in the Yosemite Wilderness over the past decade, and my love for it has grown each year. I am the owner of a commercial organization that leads hiking and backpacking trips into Yosemite Wilderness and spend a lot of my free time there as well. My time in the wilderness has made me more aware of the world around me and has provided me an excellent setting to achieve significant personal growth in that time. I feel I have grown as a business and community leader as well as a human being. I think the biggest growth I’ve achieved is as a conservationist and preservationist of our wild lands. I am active in several volunteer groups and donate many of our company’s proceeds to several nonprofit organizations to help protect these lands, particularly in Yosemite.
I am adding this to my public comment because I believe that further limiting the already restrictive commercial use of the Yosemite Wilderness to hiking and backpacking groups would have negative consequences. I also believe hiking and backpacking have very low impacts on wilderness when proper ethics are practiced. In 1892 John Muir founded the Sierra Club with an idea to bring members of the public on trips into the Yosemite Wilderness to develop an appreciation for the land and create a community of future protectors. Muir’s plan worked well and the Sierra Club is a thriving organization. The Yosemite Conservancy also follows that premise while leading donors and customers into Yosemite Wilderness each year. I proudly contribute to the Yosemite Conservancy and regularly inform our guests of their efforts to help provide funding for the management of the national park. In addition, I have built my company, YExplore, on the Sierra Club model and have led a significant amount of visitors on Yosemite trips who have later become donors of Yosemite Conservancy and other organizations.
As leaders in Yosemite, commercial guiding groups are responsible for helping the park alleviate congestion away from many of the main frontcountry areas while providing exceptional visitor experiences for the public who wish to make special connections with nature. It is a role I take seriously, and I am proud of this responsibility as a steward. I relish the opportunity of laying the foundation of ethics for many first time visitors to wilderness while exploring diverse trails throughout the Yosemite Wilderness at different times each year. As an outdoor educator, I am able to spend each day with new audiences sharing my passion for protection of wilderness while spreading the message of the National Park Service in partnership with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Many in my groups adopt this passion as we continue this perpetual cycle of developing new stewards for wild lands.
In sum, commercial organizations perform many duties the National Park Service depends upon to help manage Yosemite National Park. We provide information and education to the public who use our services while promoting the park’s messages of conservation and protection of wilderness. Our sharing of this knowledge is not limited to the groups we lead as we also share vital information with many trail travelers we encounter. This is also helpful since the NPS does not employ as many wilderness rangers as they wish, and we often help provide assistance. I believe the biggest benefit of continuing to allow commercial hiking groups the opportunity to operate in wilderness is our ability to persuade visitors to stay away for the most crowded areas of the park, mainly in summer months, but in all times of year. We spend a good amount of time during our pre-tour selection process explaining the benefits of a wilderness hike as an alternative to sharing a steamy overcrowded Yosemite Valley trail in summer with thousands of others who did not receive that education. Finally, I believe these types of outings continue to build a substantial base of supporters for protection of Yosemite Wilderness and produce many future stewards who will care for our national parks for decades to come.
Interview About Increased Visitation to Yosemite National Park
By John P. DeGrazio
I recently had the opportunity to interview with Mark Garrison of Marketplace to speak about the recent increase in visitors to Yosemite National Park and the economic impact. We discussed YExplore’s role in the Yosemite community and the importance of adding jobs to our local economy. Here is the link for the article and the radio interview that is currently airing on National Public Radio. http://www.marketplace.org/2016/01/18/world/parks
I am sure some are wondering what our opinion is regarding the current legal battle about intellectual property and the naming of places in Yosemite National Park. A local newspaper called us yesterday asking for an opinion which I respectfully declined.
The official position of YExplore is to remain neutral on the matter of who should own the rights to the names. I understand this conflict between Yosemite National Park and Delware North has caused many people to respond emotionally. The only input I will share is in the form of two questions. What do the indigenous people of the Sierra feel about the multi million dollar price tag on the name Ahwhanee and who do they think should own the name?
David Lukas is a well respected author in the Sierra Nevada and one of our lead naturalist guides at YExplore. He has led many guided nature tours in Yosemite National Park for us over the past 7 years. David and I have also spent many days on the trails of the Sierra Nevada developing a wonderful bond in nature together. David has written a new book titled “Language Making Nature”. Below is his recent announcement regarding this endeavor:
I am very proud to announce the publication of my newest book. The book is called “Language Making Nature” and more than anything else it’s a book about creating new words for speaking of the natural world. The book explores some of the many pieces and processes that have gone into shaping English, and then reframes these pieces and processes as tools and insights for creating your own words. It’s a very unique book and a perfect item for writers, artists, students, and everyone with a passion for the natural world!
Explore Yosemite National Park on a pair of snowshoes to see the dramatic cliffs from 3000 feet above the world’s most famous valley. Snowshoe tours are an exciting winter activity where you can explore several of Yosemite’s high peaks and points.
Winter is one of the most remarkable seasons to visit Yosemite when snow blankets the high country. Our adventures range from beginner snowshoe walks to challenging all day treks. Our most popular winter wonderland destination is Dewey Point from Badger Pass. Experts can challenge themselves by extending the hike to Crocker Point.
Inspiration Point is also one of our feature tours and we start our day in Yosemite Valley. For the ultimate adventure, try a hike up the South Rim to Stanford Point. Call to make your reservation today (209) 532-7014 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographing with a camera phone was once frowned upon as a lazy way out of making an image. With advancing technology, these phones are becoming more integral in everyday “outdoor” life. I am currently using the iPhone 6s with an 12 megapixel camera and will share the world of Yosemite through my phone.
Thankful for every opportunity to explore and share so many wonderful memories in Yosemite with so many incredible people from across the globe. Ever so grateful to share an adventure to Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome with my mom, Marian DeGrazio. Happy Thanksgiving from YExplore and the DeGrazio Family. Don’t forget to Opt Outside and enjoy an outdoor adventure on Friday.
After finishing my hike yesterday, I decided to drive up to Tunnel View for sunset. I had plenty of time to capture what I had hoped would be a special moment. Tripods had lined the wall and space was limited, but I managed to squeeze mine in to the right end of the queue next to a friendly photographer. The light was changing while clouds drifted between Half Dome and Clouds Rest. I began to set my composition before I realized the moon was rising just above Sentinel Dome so I widened my field of view to include Bridalveil Fall. The clouds were moving rapidly and the largest ones were pushed away just as the moon moved into an ideal position. It wasn’t the most dramatic sunset. Satisfied, I asked myself a question. Does it really need to be? Such is life in Yosemite.