Walking with the Ghost of El Capitan

The other day I was hiking along the North Rim of Yosemite Valley when an apparition appeared. In prior revenant encounters, the elusive spirit always avoided contact, but this one was different indeed. As I stood on the summit of El Capitan on a rain soaked afternoon, I was approached by this shadowy figure. It was I who became dodgy, but all my best efforts were thwarted. My hurried hiking pace became a light jog then an all out sprint. My mortal efforts were no match for this persistent poltergeist. After nearly a quarter mile sprint, I stopped to see his outstretched hand offering a gesture of greeting. “Why do you run?” asked the Ghost of El Capitan.

Ghost of El CapitanThe Ghost of El Capitan

“Are you ashamed?”, he continued. I did not answer at first. My stunned silence quickly morphed into an ocean of words as we discussed many topics. He asked me “How could this happen?” and the silence returned. He aired his grievances. I tried to assure him that we will eventually learn valuable lessons from this grave mistake. He followed with “Will it be her?’ Again, I had no idea. He began to rattle off quote after quote from one of the most dangerously uninformed potential “future protectors” of his home.

I’m not a denier. I don’t doubt that climate change exists. No one has proven that these changes are caused by anything done by human beings via greenhouse gases. There’s no convincing scientific evidence for man-made climate change. The climate has always been changing. Climate change is to this century what eugenics was to the last century. It’s hysteria and a lot of it’s junk science. And when it’s as discredited as eugenics, you know a lot of people are going to look very foolish and heartless.

One of the markers that they use to measure the glacier that he was talking about, they started measuring … back in the early 1800s. And then they started showing from there how it shrunk. You know, it’s receded. Well, man’s footprint, the first Mukluk was not even near that glacier in the early 1800s when it started melting. That was before the Industrial Revolution. So, you know, these blames on man’s activity, some of that I know is bogus.

The chant is “drill, baby, drill.” That’s what we hear across this country in our rallies because people are hungry for those domestic sources of energy to be tapped into.

We continued our discussion while walking through some of the most pristine wilderness Yosemite National Park had to offer. He shared so much valuable information along with strategies to combat the ignorance behind what is sure to be the biggest fight to protect our national parks in the 21st Century. He was my guide. I was his student. This was the most horrifying of all the statements he shared:

I think a lot about the Department of Energy, because energy is my baby; oil and gas and minerals, those things that God has dumped on this part of the earth for mankind’s use instead of us relying on unfriendly foreign nations, for us to import their resources. … If I were head of that, I’d get rid of it. And I’d let the states start having more control over the lands that are within their boundaries and the people who are affected by the developments within their states. So, you know, if I were in charge of that, it would be a short-term job … it would be really great to have someone who knows energy and is pro-responsible development to be in charge.

“Reckless” was all I could utter. I mentioned this agenda has already been initiated in Utah. It’s sure to be the law now. “I know, word travels quickly in my realm” he responded. We are in for a pitched battle no matter who becomes the next custodian of the forests. I pledged to fight the good fight and will convince others to join me for this most worthy cause. Again, he was not surprised by my expressions of vigilance. He promised to have the ravens look after me and advised me to “look to them for guidance.” I turned to see one flying overhead. At that moment, the Ghost of El Capitan left me alone with my thoughts. I caught one last glimpse of him before he disappeared into a thicket of tall trees.

The Ghost of El Capitan

Ghost of El Capitan

I continued my journey as the rain subsided. The clouds gave way to sunshine so I decided to visit North Dome and was greeted by a friend.

Ghost of El Capitan

The Ghost of El Capitan had left me, but I strangely felt his presence nearby. It’s a feeling that has stayed with me since that day and one I don’t suspect will leave me any time soon.

Ghost of El Capitan

The day’s adventure was coming to  a close, but I had a sense that I had a much longer walk ahead of me. A walk I hope many will join. As I hiked down the Snow Creek Trail, this Tegan and Sara song was stuck in my head. “Out of my mind, out of my mind. I was walking with a ghost…”

Yosemite Stewardship Outreach REI

“Fostering Yosemite Stewardship in the Digital Age” REI Store Scheduled Presentations

By John P. DeGrazio

Yosemite Stewardship Outreach REI“Fostering Yosemite Stewardship in the Digital Age” is the topic of discussion for a schedule of speaking engagements at California Bay Area REI stores. I will encourage the use of technology as a tool to promote responsible wilderness enjoyment. Yosemite Stewardship Outreach REI is a program I have developed in partnership with REI, and I am announcing my speaking engagements in September and October 2016. I will also schedule future dates at other REI stores.

Yosemite Stewardship Outreach REI

I was honored to be named a Yosemite National Park Centennial Ambassador in 2016. My duties include sharing my love for Yosemite on a daily basis with audiences ranging from social media followers to participants in volunteer organizations where I donate my time. Included in these audiences are the hundreds of guests I welcome to the park in my day job as a wilderness hiking guide. As an outdoor photographer, I share a photo a day from my YExplore Yosemite Instagram and Facebook accounts. I also wanted to contribute something more meaningful to honor the NPS centennial anniversary. Anniversary coordinator Kristen Kosick suggested that ambassadors could schedule speaking engagements during the yearlong celebration.

I began to further develop a program created in 2015 and enhanced the presentation with photographs and case studies from my experiences in the wilderness. After approaching REI about the program, they enthusiastically accepted my proposal. It is a thrill to announce I will be speaking at REI stores throughout the California Bay Area. Below is my confirmed schedule with a link to register through the REI website.

Yosemite Stewardship Outreach REI

Half Dome Stewardship

I will be spending the second half of my presentation discussing the appeal of hiking Half Dome. This iconic Yosemite landmark that draws thousands each year who wish to reach its summit. My presentation will help you prepare for this hike. It will also encourage you to think of all the other outdoor enthusiasts around you during this shared experience.

As someone who has led over 100 summits of Half Dome, I hope to inspire you to instill ethical practices on your hike. They will ideally help you enjoy the experience in the safest manner possible. This will benefit everyone with whom your share the trail and the infamous cables. I believe that is very important.

Yosemite Stewardship Outreach REI

With over two decades of wilderness experience, John P. DeGrazio has transformed from a weekend warrior recreationalist into a seasoned guide, naturalist, wildland steward, and Yosemite National Park Centennial Ambassador. Join him to discuss the importance of stewardship while he shares ideas of how all visitors can protect our public lands. While many traditionalists scoff at the notion of using technology in nature, John embraces the idea and will share many ways to use technology to enhance your enjoyment outdoors and as a tool for conservation.

Join him as he shares stories and photos of hikes, climbs, camping trips, and wildlife encounters while weaving Leave No Trace ethics to offer best practices for those who find themselves in nature for the first time. He will also share insights into the use of social media to encourage positive change for those who join the #FindYourPark movement, #getoutside, & create their own #REI1440PROJECT.

Here is the YExplore John P. DeGrazio Yosemite Ambassador Bio Page.

John’s YExplore Photo Gallery

Can O Peaches Adventure Blog

John P. DeGrazio Yosemite Ambassador NPS Page


Fostering Yosemite Stewardship

YExplore Announces Schedule for John DeGrazio Yosemite Stewardship Speaking Engagements

Fostering Yosemite Stewardship Black BearJohn P. DeGrazio has developed a presentation titled “Fostering Yosemite Stewardship in the Digital Age”. He is scheduled to present at the Sierra EcoSummit at Mt. Sage in Groveland, CA Saturday June 11 at 1:30 pm. Other scheduled appearances will be at California Bay Area REI stores (TBA) beginning in September 2016.

Fostering Yosemite Stewardship

In January 2016, John was named a Yosemite National Park Centennial Ambassador by the National Park Service. He has scheduled these speaking engagements as service to his commitment of fostering Yosemite stewardship. During the presentation, John will share images and stories from his past decade as a wilderness guide in Yosemite National Park. He weaves those stories with messages about stewardship and conservation while introducing the use of technology as a tool to promote responsible wilderness enjoyment. A Q&A session will follow the presentation.

Fostering Stewadrship Sierra EcoSummitJohn’s first Fostering Yosemite Stewardship engagement will be at the Sierra EcoSummit in Groveland, CA at Mt. Sage June 11, 2016. John will be speaking from 1:30 to 2:30.  The event is a full day of the latest science, land practices, community building, farming, local foods and entertainment. The mission of the event is to facilitate Sierra appropriate land management and community development through sharing of successes, failures, and the latest scientific methodologies and concerns.

Following the EcoSummit, John will be presenting at REI stores on a continuing basis beginning in September 2016. That schedule will be announced at a future date.

John P. DeGrazio has spent the last decade cultivating his professional career at YExplore Yosemite Adventures as a wilderness guide, naturalist, motivator, and coach. He shares stories of the geological, natural, and human histories of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada with visitors from across the globe. Along the way, he has assisted in authoring new narratives while helping others achieve personal growth while accomplishing their goals.


A Hiker’s Guide to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Low Impact Tips for Hiking Half Dome

By John P. DeGrazio

Yosemite Half Dome Cook's Meadow
A Hiker’s Guide to Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

Half Dome is the most popular hike in Yosemite National Park and one of the most sought after adventures on the planet. The demand for this hike is so great that the National Park Service began implementing a permit lottery system in 2011 to reduce extreme overcrowding of the trail. A large portion of the Half Dome trail is in Yosemite Wilderness. Having successfully led over 100 summit attempts of this epic journey, I would like to share a Hiker’s Guide to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park with some basic minimum impact guidelines to enjoying the wilderness from our partners at the Leave no Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

A Hiker’s Guide to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Hiking Half Dome requires a great deal of determination and stamina. If you are one of the lucky ones who have received a permit in the preseason lottery, you have probably begun your training. I highly recommend developing a routine of at least three days per week of cardio as well as some arm strengthening exercises if you have not already. To reach the summit of Half Dome, you will need to hike 16 miles roundtrip while gaining just about 5,000 feet of elevation. In case that wasn’t enough, you will be required to pull yourself up 600 feet of steel cables at the very end. That’s why the arm strengthening will be important. <Insider’s Tip> Do not rely solely on your arms while ascending the cables. Instead, drive off your legs. Sure, they will be tired at this point; but the taxing that your arms will receive will be far greater if you do not rely on your legs. There are more tips for a successful Half Dome summit on the YExplore Hike Half Dome page complete with a gear guide and safety video.

The cable route on Half Dome is expected to be open by May 16 this year. However, there is a possibility of delays since we have received a fair amount of snow at that elevation while storms continue to hit the Sierra Nevada throughout spring. Check the National Park Service website for updated Half Dome information. If you already have your permits, you are good to go. If you were unsuccessful, you may also acquire them through a secondary 48 hour lottery once the season begins.

Hikers Guide to Half Dome in collaboration with Leave no Trace

Leave No Trace is an organization that teaches outdoor ethics for minimal impact uses of our natural lands. It is an important concept to understand. Everyone wants to enjoy nature, but we all can use some education on how to enjoy these beautiful parks and wild lands more responsibly. I have established a much stronger connection to Yosemite since I have been practicing these Leave no Trace ethics and truly enjoy sharing them with visitors from around the world. This summer I will be speaking at several venues on a topic I titled “Fostering Yosemite Stewardship in the Digital Age”, I will be making an appearance at the Sierra Ecosummit on June 11 in Groveland, CA and will speak at REI stores in the Bay Area in September.

Leave No Trace has seven simple common sense ethics to follow. Each is listed below followed by suggested applications to your Half Dome hike.

Know Before you go This is the first rule of any outdoor activity. It’s such a wide ranging topic, but I will share some highlights. First, do your homework. Research the hike, nutrition guidelines, and fitness routines. Make sure you let a friend or family member know your plans and also be certain to check in with a ranger when you arrive in Yosemite. Finally, be sure to pack the right gear. Most importantly, hydrate before the hike and stay hydrated all day, Summer months are hot and dry in the Sierra. Dehydration is one of the last things you want to deal with on this hike.

Choose the right path Yosemite Trail crews spend a lot of time constructing and repairing trails. Please show respect to them and other hikers by staying on trails. Please do not shortcut trails. It causes erosion and also kills the wildflowers and other plant life that struggles to grow in the higher elevation of the Half Dome trail.

Trash your trash Please make sure to pack out any items you pack in. This includes any biodegradable items such as orange peels and apple cores. Although they will eventually decompose, it will take much longer in higher elevations. Also, by leaving this fruit behind, you are introducing a non-natural food source to the wildlife. Other items to consider disposing properly are fruit stickers, corners of wrappers, tissues, and band-aids. I recommend carrying a small bag to trash every item as you consume your calories for the day. Finally, one of the biggest trash problems on Half Dome is the pile of gloves left behind for other hikers. This unwanted trash pile grows almost as high as Sub Dome by the end of summer, and many of them wind up in the stomachs of marmots and squirrels. At last year’s Yosemite Facelift, we removed several full bags of gloves from the cables that weighed hundreds of pounds. Please take them back down the mountain with you.

Leave what you find If you see a beautiful flower, you will want to take a photo of it instead of wearing it in your hair for all to see as you ascend the cables. It’s also a bad idea to take rocks from Half Dome. It’s important for everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this place. The more we remove, the less there is for others to experience. Finally, please do not build rock piles known as cairns on the trails or Half Dome itself. Many people think they are helping by placing them, but even the slightest miscalculation in placement can lead someone down a wrong trail or even off a cliff. I’ve knocked over several misplaced cairns on Sub Dome that pop up all the time and lead hikers dangerously closer to the edge of the rock than they need to be. This has become an issue on the summit as people believe they are “beautifying” nature. Leaving your mark is overrated. Let nature do the work, just enjoy it.

Respect wildlife This is also an easy one to follow. If you stow your trash in a bag in your pack, you are letting wild animals find their own food which is the way nature intended it to be. Please don’t feed squirrels and marmots. Also make sure to zip up your unattended packs and don’t leave them below the cables. I have seen countless backpacks ruined and food stashes lost because they were raided by enterprising squirrels and marmots.

Be careful with fire Please never light a fire on the summit of Half Dome. It is illegal and unsafe.

Be kind to others Unfortunately, this is becoming the most controversial topic of discussion while hiking in nature. When we are in wilderness, we need to realize that what may sound reasonable to you is not reasonable to others. If you like to receive motivation from your music, that does not mean everyone around you would like to as well. Please use your headphones while hiking. Many around you would like to hear the sounds of nature. Bluetooth speakers are not advisable on any hike. There are so many hikers on this trail with diverse taste in music, and what sounds good to you likely will not sound good to others who are trying to share this wilderness experience.

Other ways to be kind to others on the trail is to practice good etiquette like letting the uphill hiker have the right of way and to avoid attempting to pass someone in a narrow or dangerous section of the trail. Practice patience and spend an extra minute to take in the scenery. Finally, my last advice is another <Insider’s Tip> Please use the cables wisely. There are two cables spaced out about four feet apart. It is designed to allow people to ascend and descend at the same time. Unfortunately, these cables become very congested at times, even with the new permit system. Safe passage requires patience from everyone involved. We always recommend getting accustomed to using only one of the cables while ascending. Using the right cable allows the descending hikers an opportunity to safely return to Sub Dome without delay. I have seen many people try to pull themselves up both cables at the same time and can assuredly state this method is not as efficient as using the right cable only. You will not burn out your forearms as quickly and you will attain self sufficiency which means you will not have to rely on waiting for the left cable to become free from others who will be descending. Additionally, it causes extended delays for everyone on the cables. This is no fun when you are stuck in the middle section of the climb which is the steepest. Think about this on a crowded summer day when the cables are full. It should typically take about 15 to 20 minutes to go up or down when everyone is using their own cable. Unfortunately, we have been stuck on the cables for over 45 minutes simply because some hikers do not wish to consider the other hikers. This, of course, is not unreasonable at 8,800 feet above sea level. However, it is something to consider before you begin your hike.

YExplore has produced a safety video on Sub Dome and the Cables that you can watch here:

Half Dome Permits Available From YExplore:

As you may know, YExplore offers guided Half Dome hikes. Below are dates we currently have available and would be happy to help you achieve your goal.

Half Dome day hike permits available: 2017 dates will be announced in mid April.

Half Dome 2 Day/1 Night Backpack Trip permits available: 2017 dates will be announced starting in December.

4 Day/3 Night Backpack Trip with Half Dome Permit: 2017 dates will be announced starting in December.

Thank you and have a safe hike everyone. Always remember to enjoy your Can O Peaches on the summit.