Would you like my window seat?

We are 36,000ft in the air and the announcement comes over the tannoy:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, if you look out to the left side of the aircraft, there is a brilliant view of the Austrian Alps”.

I’m that person on a plane who is happy to give up their window seat. It’s not that I don’t want to see the views. I really do, but looking out of the airplane that high up as it’s tilting is guaranteed to do two things: make me panic and make me throw up.

Wandering Beeb is the opposite. He’s quite happy looking out of the window and taking photos, snapping away and telling me all about what he can see below.

I’m not the greatest on planes anyway – I tend to think that they only stay up in the air based on the power of wishful thinking, so anything that reminds me of how high up we are is a bit ‘no no’.

On this particular flight, however, I really want to see the Alps. I’ve looked out of the windows on purpose once before, as we headed into Vegas. It was night time and we were flying in over the strip. Instead of paying for a helicopter ride, we were able to see the whole of the strip as the plane made its approach to the runway. I was persuaded to take in the view after much discussion and whilst it made me feel quite sick, I was really glad for the experience.

This time, as the Alps passed below us, I took the decision to look out without any cajoling or discussion. It was beautiful. The line of the mountains and the colours of the sky were stunning. I manage to peek out long enough to see the snow-capped tips of the mountains against the horizon and to pass my phone to Wandering Beeb to take a couple of shots.

A big achievement for me, despite feeling a mixture of vertigo, sickness and fear. A beautiful site and a proud moment. Something to remember the next time I’m eager to pass up that window seat.

Half Dome: Subdome

You can read part one and part two of our trip up half dome here:

Part one

Part two

The Sub-dome was in sight! After a gruelling but beautiful hike past Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls and through Little Yosemite Valley, we reached a sign to say that Half Dome was a mere 2 miles away.

By this point, I was done in. I was struggling to breath (asthma and altitude do not go hand in hand) my voice had gone almost completely and I was shattered. I also knew that we still had a roughly 4-5 hour hike back down to the valley. I am a very stubborn person and I refused to turn back until I made the Sub-dome. By this point, I’d accepted that there was no way I was going to make it to the top of Half Dome. Physically, I was too knackered to pull myself up those cables, and I’m not sure if I’d have been entirely ok with the height, but I was determined to meet my goal of reaching the Sub-dome.

After some challengingly steep switchbacks through the forest, we passed through the section of the trail where a permit was required and broke above the tree line.

Being that high up, and that close to the Sub-dome was incredible. Despite feeling broken, it was probably one of the biggest highs of my life!

The views were incredible. Snow-topped mountains in the distance, blue skies and harsh granite surrounded us from all angles. It felt like we were in the sky and Wandering Beeb was in his element, snapping pictures of anything and everything! We had achieved our goal and it felt amazing to have been successful at something so physical.

After spending some time taking in the views (and catching our breath), we decide to retrace our steps and head back down the trail. By the time we hit the bottom of the waterfalls, it was almost dark. Torches on, we continued to navigate our way down. There were few people left on the trail and as it got darker, we realised that we must have take a wrong turn somewhere. We could see the lights from the toilet block across the river but there was no way we could see of reaching them. The path had gotten narrower and we were both starting to feel panicky. Afterwards, we admitted to really understanding the dangers of the park at this point, given that we were in bear territory and unsure of where we were.

Trying to remain calm, we hiked back up the path, eventually realising that we had taken a hidden fork in the trail and had headed down a bridal path instead of the main trail. It was such a relief to find the right path and head down past the toilets and water fountains, knowing that we would soon by back in the Valley, surrounded by people rather than bears and mountain lions.

We eventually arrived back in the valley at about 10pm. We were hungry, knackered and sore, and still had a 45 minute drive back to Wawona to our tent. It didn’t matter. We’d reached the Sub-dome, we’d pushed ourselves to the limit and we’d almost touched the sky.

Wash your spirit clean

– John Muir

Half Dome: Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite Valley

You can read part one of our trip up half dome here.

The two trails up Half Dome split at the top of Vernal Falls. The Mist trail takes a short detour to the top of Nevada Falls (adding a little distance on to the journey), whereas the John Muir trail is a more direct route. We never want to miss anything (especially as it takes so much effort to climb Half Dome!) so each time we have taken the Mist Trail.

It’s about a 2 mile hike from Vernal Falls to Nevada Falls, characterised by switchbacks and some rocky pathways through a forest area. The sunlight weaving through the trees and the light reflecting off the water at the bottom of Vernal Falls created beautiful little rainbows in the mist.

The top of Nevada Falls is a beautiful place to sit and chill, having gained an extra 1000ft above Vernal Falls, taking us to a total height of 6000ft above sea level. On our first trip, this was as far as we got. We’d set off far too late in the day and didn’t really want to hike in the dark, so we chose to stop at Nevada Falls, spend some time exploring and then headed back down the trail.

One of my best memories of that particular trip was taking off our shoes and socks and paddling in the calm water of the Merced River before the waterfall. It was a perfect way to refresh ourselves after the steep climb!

Our subsequent trips have seen us hiking much further up the trail. Leaving Nevada Falls behind, Little Yosemite Valley is a much flatter part of the hike. Surrounded by trees, it offers some welcome shade from the blistering heat. I loved the surroundings here; the sounds of the forest and the smell of the trees. The scent was almost overwhelming and it makes me think of adventure every time I smell it. This was a stunning walk with glimpses of Half Dome through the trees.

Little Yosemite Campground was a big milestone for me – I hadn’t expected to make it that far!! If I was to do the trail again, I would definitely consider camping at this campground to acclimatise to the altitude and rest up before attempting the climb to the top of Half Dome.

The Mountains are calling and I must go

– John Muir

Top of the Rock Vs Empire State Building?

Visit New York and one of the questions you get asked is always “did you visit Empire or Top of the Rock?”.

Of course we are talking about the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Building. It seems like people are always talking up the virtues of one over another:

“Top of the Rock gives you a view of Empire all lit up at night”

“You get to do the famous ‘beam walk’ at the Rockefeller” 

“Empire State Building is the most iconic”

You get the point. I have a completely different take on this conversation – why would you want to choose between the two? Yes – both are tall buildings with amazing views; but for me, that’s where the comparisons stop.

The purpose behind the buildings are very different and although they are both Art Deco in style, it comes through in the design in varying ways. Empire has the decadent style that I (and other gamers) have come to associate with the Bioshock games; beautifully ornate but slightly creepy. Rockefeller seems to be less overstated and quietly absorbs the Art Deco touches into a more sleek exterior.

The atmosphere of Empire is one of historic importance, with ushers in costume and rope style queuing systems to fit with the carved ceilings. There was a sense of expectation and entitlement within the building, feeding into the style of the day. Rockefeller however, was different. Giving nods to the history and the working class people involved in the development of the building, it had a much more ‘down to earth’ feel and there was more of a fun element to the visit. In particular, the Skyride (otherwise known as an elevator which looks like it will catapult you through the ceiling, Charley and the Chocolate Factory style) and the Breezeway – where you have your own colourful squares following you across the room as you stand just inside of the observation deck, were lots of fun!

Views of Central Park are incredible from the Top of the Rock in the day time (you won’t see anything of Central Park at night – although the huge expanse of darkness where you know the park sits is also pretty cool, but not particularly photogenic!). Night time from the Top of the Rock will also give you amazing views of Empire, lit up in its full glory.

Empire is something else. All that nostalgia, Hollywood movie screen time and old elegance combine to create an experience that is hard to forget. The views across lower Manhattan are stunning and it’s here that you can put your panoramic photography skills to good use. I challenge you to take a bad photo from the top of Empire – it just can’t be done!

So, if you plan a visit to New York and someone asks you which building you are heading up, or which was better, please give them a sharp tap on the nose from me – there is no comparison; do yourself a favour, visit both and collect experiences that will never leave you.