Happy Mothers Day from Yosemite 2015

Mothers Day Adventures 
YExplore Family Adventure above Vernal Fall

Happy Mothers Day to all the moms of the world. We think hiking to a waterfall in Yosemite National Park would be a great way to celebrate. No matter what adventure you choose, we hope you enjoy your day immensely.

YExplore Family Adventure at Lower Yosemite Fall
YExplore Family Adventure at Upper Yosemite Fall
YExplore Family Adventure at Vernal Fall

Happy 177th Birthday John Muir: Yosemite Panorama Photos 2015.04.21

Retracing Muir’s Footsteps on the North Rim 
By John P. DeGrazio 
Yosemite Valley from Eagle Peak by John P. DeGrazio

It’s not every day you get to follow a legend. This past week I had the opportunity to follow the path of the greatest Yosemite legend of all time, John Muir. It’s only fitting that we honor him on what would have been his 177th birthday today, April 21.

Clouds Rest, North Dome, and Half Dome from the North Rim by John P. DeGrazio

John Muir wrote about his adventures in many books. In “My First Summer in the Sierra” he eloquently shared:

“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.”

Yosemite Falls and Half Dome with the Clark Range and Glacier Point by John P. DeGrazio

During that first summer, Muir took a job herding sheep through wilderness above Yosemite State Park in 1869. The wilderness Muir roamed was unprotected at the time. This summer trip changed his life forever, and he dedicated the rest of his time adventuring in and later protecting the American West. Thanks mainly to his efforts, the area surrounding the Valley is now part of Yosemite National Park (established Oct. 1, 1890).

Half Dome and Basket Dome from the Snow Creek Trail by John P. DeGrazio

I relish every chance I have to wander on that very same North Rim of Yosemite Valley and had the good fortune to lead a private 4 Day Yosemite backpacking trip there this past week. Muir’s words were in my head as we danced from peak to peak in no particular hurry. It is a feeling of ultimate freedom and one I encourage everyone on this earth to experience. I know my photos won’t represent these landscapes with any justice, but I will share them anyway.

Yosemite from El Capitan by John P. DeGrazio

I owe my professional life to trailblazers like John Muir and am forever in his debt. For that, I will always honor his spirit, his teachings, and his legacy. Happy birthday John of the Mountains. Thank you for the gifts you left for us all.

Yosemite Falls and Half Dome from the trail by John P. DeGrazio
Half Dome and trees Up Arrow Panorama by John P. DeGrazio

Half Dome Permit Lottery 2015

Apply for Half Dome Permits March 1-31, 2015 
By John P. DeGrazio 
YExplore Half Dome Summit Club by John P. DeGrazio

Today is the first day to apply for the Half Dome permit lottery which will run from 12am PST on March 1 to 11:59pm PDT on March 31. If you are planning on hiking to the summit of Half Dome on any day from May 22 to October 13, 2015, you will be required to obtain a permit to access the Sub Dome and cable portions of the Half Dome trail. Rangers will be stationed to check for permits, and you will be turned away if you do not have one. All permit applications are handled by Recreation.gov and can be made online or over the phone. The Yosemite National Park official website has more details about the process including a secondary daily lottery (48 hours prior to your selected date) for those who were shut out of the preseason lottery.

YExplore offers guided Half Dome hikes that give you an opportunity to attempt the 8842′ Summit in a day with the most experienced Yosemite guide service who consistently receives the highest ratings on Yelp and Tripadvisor. We break down the hike into manageable sections to help you focus on your goal. We will safely guide your group and give you the best possible chance for success while you learn about the area’s geology and natural history. We will also photograph the highlights of your trip with professional quality images and share them with you at the end of your adventure.

Group Outings in Yosemite National Park

If you choose our services we will develop a strategy for applying for permits with you that may potentially increase your chances of success. Once your booking is confirmed, we will help you create a training routine and check in with you from time to time to monitor your progress. On the day of the hike, we will provide added safety equipment including reliable gloves and safety belts. From the beginning, our guides will help you confidently approach this hike by offering a profile of the terrain, setting designated rest stops, and coaching you to add confidence when you need it most. If you reach the summit with us, you’ll also earn a highly coveted YExplore Half Dome Summit Club patch of your very own.

Your safety is our number one priority, and we want you to be safe on this hike whether you choose our services or not. Please watch this safety video about the Sub Dome and Half Dome cables.

 We will also offer an excellent alternative to Half Dome in the event you do not receive a permit but would like to experience the Yosemite Wilderness on a less popular but no less scenic trail. 

Good luck to everyone, and try to remember these immortal words of Dr. Seuss on your summit day.

Dr. Seuss On the Half Dome Cables by John P. DeGrazio

Summer Night Skies in Yosemite

Yosemite Half Dome Night Sky Panorama by Jesse Summers

Have you every captured the night sky in a photo? I have always enjoyed looking at images of the Milky Way, and last July I had the unique opportunity to join Jesse Summers for a night skies workshop in Yosemite National Park. Jesse and I hiked, camped, and photographed together for 3 summer days and nights. It’s always fun to get to know someone on a camping trip, and we both got to learn a lot from each other in our short time together. One thing I learned is that I need a new camera before our next workshop begins July 16th. I am excited to spend more time exploring Yosemite with Jesse. Will you join us in 2015 to make your own Milky Way images?

Be adventurous,


Here are some of Jesse’s photos from our 2014 workshop.

Half Dome Sunset Panorama by Jesse Summers
Yosemite Night Skies Photography Workshop by Jesse Summers
Yosemite Sunrise Photo Workshop by Jesse Summers
Half Dome Workshop at Sunset by Jesse Summers
Yosemite Night Skies Photography Workshop by Jesse Summers
Yosemite Night Skies Photography Workshop by Jesse Summers

Views from the Summit of El Capitan

We’ll Take You There the Conventional Way 
By John P. DeGrazio 
Yosemite Valley from the Summit of Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

Congratulations once again to Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson for being the first team to free climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Considered by many to be the hardest rock climb in the world, the pair inspired millions of people from around the globe with their epic adventure. Rock climbing is a fun activity and one with amazing opportunities to see dramatic landscapes, but it is not the only way to seek these rewards. Hiking can be equally rewarding for those unable to scale 3000 foot rock walls. Seeing both men achieve their dream on this sheer granite face, sparked a desire to return soon.

Half Dome Through a Juniper on El Capitan by John P. DeGrazio

There are three conventional routes for reaching the summit of El Cap that do not require rock climbing skills. Although they are each considered an endurance trek, the rewards are breathtaking. Scanning through my library of images, I found two of my most memorable photos from those hikes. Join us for a guided El Capitan adventure in Yosemite and you will be able to make your own.

Snow in Yosemite: Yosemite Panorama Photos 2014.12.22

Yosemite in Winter  
By John P. DeGrazio 
Panorama from Dewey Point by John P. DeGrazio

Winter is here and so is the snow. Recent storms have dumped over 3 feet of powder in the Yosemite high country. Here are a few panorama photos taken from a recent Yosemite Snowshoe Adventure. The hike begins at Badger Pass along the Glacier Point Road to Summit Meadow and then to Dewey Point. All photos taken on an iPhone 5 with no filters.

Making Tracks in Yosemite by John P. DeGrazio
Summit Meadow Under a Fresh Blanket of Snow by John P. DeGrazio


Snowshoe Season in Yosemite

Yosemite Winter Wonderland 
By John P. DeGrazio 
The Reward for Choosing the Red Pill by John P. DeGrazio

What a start to winter in Yosemite National Park! We are cautiously optimistic for a great winter as we have been exploring our favorite areas of the park on snowshoes this week. Over the past few days, we have enjoyed beautiful scenery at Crane Flat and Badger Pass where there is an estimated 1 foot and 2-3 feet of snow respectively. Please feel free to contact us if you are looking for an exciting winter activity in Yosemite. Our calendar is filling up fast, but we will always customize a trip for you. Until then, please enjoy these photos from this week.

A New Adventure in Yosemite by John P. DeGrazio
Snowshoeing Crane Flat Meadow by John P. DeGrazio
Snowshoe Adventures in Yosemite by John P. DeGrazio
Approaching the Captain By John P. DeGrazio


Snowshoeing in Yosemite

See You Soon 

By John P. DeGrazio 

Finding Inspiration After a Storm by John P. DeGrazio

The storms this week have been a great start for a wer California winter. Today we are thinking about snow so we can begin snowshoeing, our favorite winter activity in Yosemite National Park. Looking at these photos make us wish we were hiking on fresh carpets of snow at Dewey Point or one of the majestic giant sequoia groves in Yosemite. I snuck in one photo that would be an incredible but illogical place to visit in winter. Can you pick which one it is?

One Giant Sequoia by John P. DeGrazio
Traversing the Glacier on Mt. Lyell by John P. DeGrazio
3 Buddies on Dewey Point by John P. DeGrazio
Snowshoe in a snowstorm by John P. DeGrazio



Honoring Veterans

Thank You Veterans

A hiker proudly displays the US flag on Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

We would like to extend a thank you for the service from our veterans to provide the freedoms we enjoy in the United States, especially in our National Parks. On a personal level, we would also like to thank all the veterans (for past and current service) who have adventured with us in Yosemite throughout the years. Special thanks to Al Golub, Travis Workman, Joe Cooper, and Christelle Harris who have worked as guides for YExplore. Al is currently one of our lead photography instructors. Travis and Joe are still proudly serving our country today!

#1 A Hundred Half Domes, the Series Begins

You Always Remember Your First Time 
By John P. DeGrazio 
John, Dave, Ed, & Ram enjoy the views from the summit of Half Dome

It’s got to be at least 95 today. I think my sweat is sweating. I need to change this shirt. It stinks. And where did all these people come from? This trail is packed. Making our way down this longer trail was harder than I imagined, especially with no water. Why didn’t I just drink the iodine water? My left knee is barking like my dog when she sees a squirrel running through the trees outside my apartment window, but I’m going to try to ignore it. It’s not working. At least I have these raisins to suck on. Wow, did we do a lot of things wrong on this trip, but we made it to the top. What a view! What’s next?

It’s hard to believe that was already 11 years and over one hundred times ago. Half Dome has been calling my name ever since we planned that fateful Yosemite trip for the Fourth of July weekend in 2003. It was a trip that changed everything. I went from being an adventurous weekend warrior to dreaming about starting my own adventure company in a matter of 12 hours. My questions went from asking about how long was it going to take to how can I find a way to come back here. Permanently. In retrospect, it was a magical day.

The Half Dome Journey begins with Rod, Ed, & Dave on the Mist Trail

The day started early. 3am! We stayed in a quaint little B&B that rented their private guest house to our rowdy (hardly) group of 5. They couldn’t believe that we chose to forego breakfast (definitely the best part of any B&B) in order to start our pre dawn hike. Our lodging was relatively close to Yosemite Valley in terms of mileage but the lower speed limits on windy roads left us preparing for additional drive time. We drove through Mariposa to pick up the rest of our hiking team and were in the Valley by around 6am.

Catherine DeGrazio on her first journey up the Mist Trail

The hike began up the Mist Trail  and we made steady progress to Nevada Fall. Looking back at these photos of Vernal and Nevada, you can see this was a pretty healthy snow year.

Booming Vernal Fall with Dave & Ed

We posed for a quick photo along the trail and parted ways with Catherine and Alice who were content with reaching the top of the waterfall before taking their time heading down the JMT at a leisurely pace.

John and Catherine DeGrazio with Nevada Fall

They were determined to enjoy the rest of the day back at the lodge and more importantly, go to the store to prepare for a feast when we returned.

The Original YExplore Team Atop the Mist Trail

Cindy, Rod, Dave, Ram, Ed, and I continued on to the summit and trudged our way up to Sub Dome. At that point, Cindy found the comfort of a shady Jeffrey Pine to read her book and recharge her battery. Rod had reached down for his last ounce of energy and decided it was time for us to leave him behind as well. We tried to convince him to stick it out but eventually relented and moved on without him. We were down to four. On the Sub Dome, our legs and lungs began to burn. Step by step, we were accomplishing our goal.

Ed, Dave, Ram, & John on top of Sub Dome

Facing the cables for the first time was a bit unnerving. We settled down on a rock and removed our suede garden gloves from our packs. The cables were difficult. So difficult that I remember thinking that I might not have what it takes to make it to the top. This, of course, was crazy talk since I had already accomplished a much more difficult summit in Mt. Rainier; but doubt is a real thing and can strike at any time. We huffed and puffed and made our way up the chaotic cables to the top where Ram immediately plopped himself down on a nearby rock. Elation overcame us all, and we were quickly scampering around the summit posing for victory photos. I remember that feeling like it was yesterday.

John P. DeGrazio First Half Dome Summit

Back then I saw it as conquering the Dome. A transformation occurred many years later in how I viewed this accomplishment, but the feeling of unbridled excitement remains with every successful summit.

Ed Chao on top of Half Dome
Living on the Edge with John P. DeGrazio

We ate our lunch along with our cans of peaches, and took some more photos before retreating. We returned to the cables and gleefully witnessed Rod making his final ascent. It was an amazing story, and one that helped shape my outlook as a guide. Rod had never given up on the climb, he just needed a little more time to make it. Knowing what I know now, I would have been more assertive to accomplish the goal together as long as Rod had been willing to try; but back then, I was more focused on my own achievement. It was a truly valuable lesson for all of us, and Ed and Dave went back up to the summit with Rod while Ram and I enjoyed a little extra rest before we all departed together down the tangled sea of humanity. It was the pre-permit days, but not quite the madhouse of 2010.

Dave & Ed celebrate the summit of Half Dome from the Visor
Ram crashes on the Half Dome Summit
Sea of Humanity on the Half Dome Cables

On the return trip, we shared lots of great ideas. Crazy, far fetched ideas. I never claim to be the smartest guy in the room and would rather choose another room to be in if it’s close so it was a fruitful exercise in preparing a business plan. This trip was more than just a weekend adventure for me, and on that summit, I realized that the mountains were where I wanted to start the next chapter of my life. I’m not going to lie and say John Muir’s “The mountains are calling and I must go.” was my call to action. I hardly even knew who Muir was at the time, but I did share his burning desire to spend my days out in the wilderness as he did over a century prior to our excursion.  I knew one thing, the mountains and these adventures made me feel more alive than anything else so I began to ask myself, how can I turn this into a new career. I remember Ed distinctly focusing on the photography aspect of our day. It was the dawn of the digital camera age and his idea to find a way to create special adventures for people to share while learning how to use their expensive new toys. “Where else than in the land of Ansel Adams?” he so eloquently inquired. The idea was hatched.

The rest of the long slog back to the parking lot had me thirsting for more ideas and more water. We returned to the Merced River, and they dropped iodine pills into their water bottles. I was not thrilled with the idea and decided to hold out just a few more miles until we reached the water station at the Vernal Fall footbridge. Another lesson was learned, and I now bring my Katadyn Hiker water filter on every Half Dome summit trip. I sucked on raisins all the way down the John Muir trail until we reached the fanciful faucets of the filling station and drank until we were bloated. It was my insatiable thirst for adventure that would not be quenched that day, however.

We returned to our rented home for a delicious BBQ prepared by Catherine and Alice at around 8pm and were admittedly a little boisterous, but who could blame us? After a good night sleep, we were finally able to enjoy that hearty breakfast served by Kathy and Barney, packed our minivan, and headed off on our next adventure.

YExplore Lead Adventure Guide John P. DeGrazio has reached the summit of Half Dome more than one hundred times. In this series, he will share stories from some of the most interesting journeys on Yosemite’s most popular peak. He will reflect on some of the most inspirational moments he has shared with hundreds of others while achieving their lifelong dreams. He will also share tips on how to properly prepare for such a long, arduous trek while providing insights on how to successfully complete this quest. He’ll also discuss changes he has witnessed to the overall landscape of this trail as well as many interesting encounters along the way.