Yosemite African American History Month 2017

February is African American History Month. A great way to celebrate is by honoring many prominent African Americans in United States history. I’d like to kick off Yosemite African American History Month 2017 with a tribute to several African American explorers who visited Yosemite in 2016. Additionally, it was my true honor to share these adventures with brave and energetic pathfinders. I was able to take many exhilarating images in their presence as they met every obstacle Yosemite threw at them.

Yosemite African American History Month 2017

Yosemite African American History Month 2017

President Barack Obama gracefully overcame so many challenges over the past eight years. He has cemented his legacy as the United States President who has designated the most wild land for protection. By designating Bears Ears and Gold Butte National Monuments in December, he has protected over 553 million acres of wild land.

Yosemite African American History Month 2017

During all that work for conservation, President Obama still had enough time to come to Yosemite in 2016 on Father’s Day weekend. I was honored to be able to take a few photos of this wilderness champion during this historic event.

Yosemite African American History Month 2017

Many African Americans visit Yosemite each year. However, there are several community leaders who wish to see better representation of African Americans in our national parks. I met Rue Mapp, the founder of Outdoor Afro, in Yosemite on the day of the president’s visit. Ms. Mapp shared the mission of her organization which is an effort to get more African Americans outdoors. This is directly from their About Us page on the Outdoor Afro website:

Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature. We help people take better care of themselves, our communities, and our planet!”

Yosemite African American History Month 2017

I was able to spend a lot of quality time on the trails in 2016 with African American expeditionists and their families. They all were brave enough to accomplish some outstanding achievements. Most noteworthy were Yosemite Falls and the summit of Half Dome. I have selected some of my favorite photos to share in celebration of these wonderful achievements.

Yosemite African American History Month 2017

Yosemite African American History Month 2017

As we celebrate African American History Month, it is important to also recognize those who make their own history every day.

Yosemite African American History Month 2017

In conclusion, look forward to sharing so many more Yosemite guided hiking experiences with African American hikers in 2017. And if you’re listening, President Obama, it would be a great honor to lead you and your family to the summit of Half Dome now that you are a private citizen.

Yosemite African American History Month 2017

Finally, this could be you on the Half Dome Visor in 2017!


Das Boot

A Modern Day Yosemite Legend

By John P. DeGrazio

Das Boot

Some legends are made. Others are born. Every once in a while you cross paths with someone so extraordinary that their accomplishments seem unfathomable. Before I begin the story of Luke Milam, I’d like to share that his twin sister Virginia is one of the strongest, most courageous eleven year old girls I know. She is an outdoorswoman who is brave beyond her years. Das Boot is a tale about strength, courage, determination, and an undying sense of adventure in the mountains of Yosemite.

This story is dedicated to the memory of George Wendt, an outdoor adventure pioneer who recently passed. He will always be remembered for his courage, leadership, and vision. We are eternally grateful to the Wendt family and O.A.R.S. for our partnership with this amazing outdoor industry leader.

Das Boot

“What do you think Das Captain?”, I overheard Mike asking the eleven year old astronaut as we made our way up the steep lunar-landscaped slope of Mt. Hoffman. “I want to keep going!” was Luke’s reply. The entire group put their collective heads down in amazement as we inched closer to the summit. Many were dealing with their own issues but refused to give in because they were inspired by this young dynamo. Mike was my guide counterpart from O.A.R.S. We were on a multi-sport adventure with a two day rafting trip on the Tuolumne River that ended with three days of hiking in Yosemite National Park. It is called the Yosemite & Tuolumne Hiker and is offered annually as a once in a lifetime opportunity we have been co-leading with our trusted travel partner since 2009. This was a larger group so we also had two other leaders, Alex from YExplore and Crystal from O.A.R.S.

Das Boot

We typically receive our client information a couple weeks prior to the trip’s launch. For this adventure, there were some last minute amendments to our roster. The information stated it may be reduced by three people because one of the participants (Luke) suffered a hairline fracture of his ankle just two and a half weeks prior to the adventure. Luke was given a walking boot, and his mom Lisa decided they would make the journey from Atlanta, Georgia to California to at least participate in the rafting portion of this unique excursion.

Das Boot

My co-leader Alex and I met the cheerful group at the Sentinel Dome trailhead on a bright summer morning. They were understandably moving slowly the day after their two day river run. We made a final head count and were pleasantly surprised to see the Milam family had decided to attempt the hike. There was Lisa, Virginia, and Luke in his walking boot. By the time the group arrived that morning, Luke had already earned the nickname Das Boot, and we were happy to oblige in building this modern day legend. By the end of the first day of hiking, Luke received other nicknames, including Das Captain.

Das Boot

We all were impressed by Luke’s stamina throughout this 5.5 mile hike. More impressive was the fact that this precocious eleven year old boy never complained once about any pain he felt in this crucial joint used to support every step he took. Unlike many others his age, Luke decided not to dwell on the discomfort of this obstructive accessory but instead found positive motivations while climbing over rocks and posing for photos. Toward the end of the day, he expressed that his leg was sore but he managed to complete the hike with aplomb. When we all said our goodbyes, Lisa thanked us for the care we provided to Luke, and she also informed us that there was an excellent chance we would have seen the last of Das Boot for the trip.

Das Boot

Das Boot

Das Boot

We met our group at the May Lake trailhead for the start of day two with a trek to the summit of Mt. Hoffman. One by one, each hiker piled out of the van. There were Fred and Edel from Texas whose love for adventure matched their charming personalities. Then there were John and Jill from Seattle who appreciated every inch of the Yosemite nature they explored on each trail. Claus and Bente were from Southern California but emigrated from Denmark years ago. They brought their sons Alex and Chris, an aspiring naturalist and geologist, on a family adventure to discover the natural world of Yosemite National Park. Then there was Nicole who was traveling alone on a personal journey to find wild adventures in the vicinity of her home in the American Southwest. She was originally from New Jersey, and we shared a spirited discussion of what constituted good pizza and cheesesteaks that left me with a “don’t mess with a Jersey girl” feeling within the first hour of meeting her. Nicole’s quest ran a little deeper than the rest, and she stayed in Yosemite for an extra week in an effort to rise to an ever greater challenge than Mt. Hoffman. Nicole reached the summit of Half Dome later that week on the day I arrived in the Little Yosemite Valley campground with another group. We shared our delight in seeing each other in the campground after her spectacular achievement, and I was happy to share “The Legend of Das Boot” with her hiking group at their campsite as night fell.

Das Boot

The legend grew the moment Luke emerged from the van with his mother and sister at the trailhead. “He’s going to give it a try” was all Lisa had to say as we made our way up the dusty trail to May Lake. Alex and I asked Luke a series of questions about his condition and were convinced it would be alright to attempt the summit while realistically planning for the family of three to spend a relaxing day at May Lake while the rest of the group labored on the two mile stretch of steep slope on the upper mountain. By then, a pattern emerged. There was never ever any quit in Das Boot. He continued beyond the lake into the rock cut trail leading from the lake to Mt. Hoffman. He became more determined as his plastic boot would slip on the exposed ancient sea floor of the Pacific Ocean connecting the granite peak to the moraine surrounding the glacial lake.


Das Boot

Hiking above ten thousand feet is no small accomplishment for anyone. Now, imagine yourself traversing rocky, sandy terrain with an unwanted anchor attached to your foot as you approached the summit on a section of trail angling around forty degrees. Despite these very long odds, Das Boot never complained once as he continued along the inhospitable conditions for his less than aggressively tracked footwear on his right foot. That is the area he officially earned the moniker of Das Captain. He spent the day side by side with me in the lead of the group and transformed from brave hiker to motivator and captain of the team while providing inspiration to all who followed. Some admitted later that they wanted to give up but continued to draw strength from our hobbled hero.

Das Boot

We arrived at a cornice at the base of the summit for a unique view of the Ten Lakes Basin below and paused for a cool break with some fun in the snow. The group decided to eat lunch at that spot and were careful not to share our spoils with the gregarious marmots who were all too happy to approach. After lunch, we made one final decision to scramble over car sized boulders to reach the peak. Once Das Captain decided he would attempt the summit, nine others followed him, and we climbed like spiders through the cracks. Luke’s boot slipped on more than one occasion, but I was positioned to support him the entire route to the top. I was able to keep a watchful eye on the group and relished in the admiration each had for this young emerging legend. Once the summit was in reach, Luke and Virginia rightfully shared the honor of being the first from our group to reach the highest point. It was an amazing accomplishment for all who drew inspiration from these eleven year old superheroes. We took time to enjoy our symbolic Can O Peaches in the form of a chocolate bar we all shared.

Das Boot

Day three was a “mellow” eight mile roundtrip hike to Lower Cathedral Lake for an extended relaxation break and swimming. Luke finally admitted to some pain and soreness in the ankle, but nothing precluded him from reaching the lake for a well deserved dip in a subalpine tarn.

Das Boot

The group reflected on what an amazing journey they all shared as they passed bags of chips and other tasty delights prepared for them as part of an impressive spread of gourmet trail food provided by O.A.R.S. All were pleased with the extra time spent swimming and napping in a secluded area of the lower lake. We each signed Das Boot to be forever remembered as a badge of courage by Luke and his family.

YExplore Media Buzz Cathedral Peak

YExplore Media Buzz Cathedral Peak

Das Boot

Hugs and goodbyes were exchanged at the end of our adventure together. Mike and I knew we would see each other in a few weeks on the next trip together, but I felt a sense of loss as the van pulled away. There was something really special about this group that could never be duplicated. The beauty of leading groups in Yosemite is that each will have its own unique character that makes it special. All twelve individuals contributed to the incredible fiber of this unit and each had their singular characteristics that made it so special. However, for this particular trip, there is one boy who sewed the fabric of the team together so effortlessly. He will  forever be remembered for his tremendous ability to motivate and inspire his team.  Most importantly, his story will be told by future generations as The Legend of Das Boot! Das Boot

Nobody Beats the Wizz

A Can O Peaches with CW, Kenny, & Wizz

By John P. DeGrazio

Nobody Beats the Wizz
Brotherly Love by John P. DeGrazio

Nobody Beats the Wizz

I stood with an outreached hand, “Great to meet you this morning. My name is John”.  The response was an extra firm handshake, a smile that lit the parking lot in the predawn hour of 5 am, and one word, “Wizz”. I finished making my introductions with Ken and Christian, then came back to the stocky former champion wrestler with the already magnetic personality. “I have ‘Richard’ on my sheet” I explained. Again, he flashed his pearly whites and said “Just call me Wizz”. Wizz it was. Of course, I immediately thought of the Seinfeld episode and whispered to myself “Nobody Beats the Wizz”.

For the next five plus hours, Wizz struggled his way up the 7.5 mile stretch of the Half Dome path. He lost his breath on the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall, bowed his head more than once on the Nevada Fall track, and then amazingly caught his second wind on the Beach. The Beach is a one mile stretch of flat sandy trail from the top of Nevada Fall to Little Yosemite Valley campground. Then, as if he was directed by sheer will and adrenaline, he powered his way through the next 3 miles which seemed to have taken its toll on his previously injured foot. Yet, every time I turned around, the smile was still there feeding energy and encouragement to the entire group.

Our team spent those hours sharing stories about, among other things, how the name Wizz was born. One of his early jobs was in the mail room at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco. He had a Muir-like talent for maximizing efficiency and made several suggestions that were immediately adopted and developed into procedures for operation. Hence, the name Wiz kid was earned. Later it was just shortened to Wizz.

When we reached the base of the Sub Dome, I looked in Wizz’s eyes and asked him what he wanted to do. He shot me a look of dejection and decided it was best for the team if he stayed and rested while his brother Christian and their friend Kenny went for the summit. I sometimes try to add a little motivation but read him clearly at that point. We all knew what he said was true; however, I told him there’s no failure for making it up 4,000 feet and sitting at the base of a mountain less than 1% of all Yosemite visitors would ever dream of approaching. The smile reappeared, and we were on our way.

CW (that was Christian’s nickname) and Kenny were motivated to make the summit and were champions of the cables. CW was actually short for CW on Fire, and he brought fire and enthusiasm all day. Kenny was more reserved but no less determined to achieve this goal. The friends proudly posed for photos on the peak, and we all enjoyed our peaches and dark chocolate which was a gift from CW. Nearly an hour was spent on top, but our success was only a footnote to this story.

Yosemite-HalfDome-WCWKS-YExplore-DeGrazio-JUN2016-17We returned to the base of Sub Dome to see the ranger chatting with hikers. Wizz suddenly reappeared to give his little brother a BIG bear hug. His smile was infectious as always. Christian shared some of the harrowing details of our descent and seemed to momentarily collapse on the shoulder of his older brother during a period of healthy laughter. It was a cathartic release that I was able to magically capture before taking a photo for their dad with a “Happy Fathers Day” sign. It was obvious from the moment we met that Christian adored his older brother and relied on him as a source of positive energy and strength. This series of images was the realest portrayal of brotherhood I have ever witnessed.

Yosemite-HalfDome-WCWKS-YExplore-DeGrazio-JUN2016-18In that brief instant I thought of my own brothers and our missed opportunities in an uneven childhood. Witnessing these two men sharing that genuine moment of love and joy was my can o peaches and reaffirmed my earlier assertion that “Nobody Beats the Wizz!”




Rock Climbing Yosemite Valley Guide Book

Rock Climbing Yosemite Valley Guide Book

Rock Climbing Yosemite Valley Guide Book

Erik Sloan is a very popular climber in Yosemite National Park. He is also a good friend and has led Yosemite hiking tours and Backpacking trips for YExplore. Erik has collaborated with other Yosemite expert climbers to author one of the most comprehensive Yosemite rock climbing guide books titled ” Rock Climbing Yosemite Valley 750 Best Free Routes.” Visit Rockclimbyosemite.com to pre order your copy now and receive a 25% discount. This is a premium guidebook with 432 full color pages complete with maps and photos from some of the best photographers in Yosemite today including Jimmy Chin and Corey Rich. This is sure to be the best selling rock climbing Yosemite Valley guide book on the market.

The authors of this book are Lucas Barth, Cary Bedinghaus, Marek Jakubowski, and Erik Sloan. Photography credits go to Jimmy Chin, Corey Rich, Adam Freund, Drew Smith, Samuel Crossley, Chris Edmands, Pep Soldevila, Dave N. Campbell, Gabriel Mann, and Austin Siadek.

Erik Sloan is also the co-author of “Yosemite Big Walls The Complete Guide”. He co-wrote that climbing guide book with Roger Putnam.



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.

YExplore Celebrates 10 Years in Yosemite National Park

Help Us Celebrate Our 10 Year Anniversary 
By John P. DeGrazio 
YExplore celebrates 10 years in Yosemite National park. Photo by John P. DeGrazio

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.

Olotumi Laizer leads his group to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro

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!

Half Dome #119 Peaches with Mia

My Yosemite Ambassador Story 
By John P. DeGrazio 

2016-NPSCentennial-logo-lg2016 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.

John and Mia DeGrazio on the Half Dome Summit

Mia and I began our journey in the predawn hours under a blood moon. We arrived at the John Muir Trail ready for our ultimate expedition. I have spent many trips standing by the Happy Isles Bridge preparing my groups for the Half Dome hike, but this was a unique opportunity I’ll never forget. She was attentive and ready to go. The photo above is proof of a successful journey, but the rest of this story is shared on my Official Yosemite Ambassador Page of the Yosemite National Park website.

Yosemite Wilderness Stewardship Plan

Comments for Public Scoping 
By John P. DeGrazio 

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. 

Cathedral Range from the Tuolumne River in Yosemite Wilderness by John P. DeGrazio

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.

I Know it’s Winter But…

Clouds Rest Summit Photos
By John P. DeGrazio 
Half Dome from Clouds Rest by John P. DeGrazio

I know it’s winter, but I am working on another project and was scanning some of my images from this past summer. I came across a trip I took before I broke my wrist. I can’t believe it’s already been 5 months since that occurred, and it has healed very well in case you were wondering. Needless to say, the injury had inhibited my ability to take and share photos all the way into the winter. However, I have some folders from November and December I promise to share in the upcoming weeks as I motivate myself to blog more. Where was I? Oh yeah, so I found these photos.

This was an amazing day with Christine and David. We got a good early start to our Clouds Rest summit hike under a perfect sky with an abundance of clouds. How apropos, right? We moved efficiently through the forest and up the slabs of the peak where we met our biggest challenge of the day.

Reaching the summit of Clouds Rest by John P. DeGrazio

Overcoming adversity with big smiles, here they are on the summit.

Resting Atop Clouds Rest by John P. DeGrazio

Cloudy days are perfect for photographic opportunities in the Sierra. This was one of the most amazing trips of the year, and the photos easily show why many locals prefer this hike over Half Dome. Do you agree?

Mt. Hoffman, Tenaya Lake, and the Cathedral Range from Clouds Rest by John P. DeGrazio

Yosemite Snowshoe Adventures Await

Badger Pass Opens December 12, 2015 
By John P. DeGrazio 
Yosemite Snowshoe Adventures from Dewey Point by John P. DeGrazio

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.

Snowshoe in Yosemite at Stanford Point by John P. DeGrazio

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.

Yosemite Snowshoe Adventures at Inspiration Point by John P. DeGrazio

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 tours@yexplore.com.

El Capitan Sunset from Dewey Point, Yosemite National Park by John P. DeGrazio
Yosemite Snowshoe Adventure at Stanford Point