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

Day Trips from Jasper National Park

Places to visit from Jasper National Park

Last year, we were lucky enough to spend some time in Jasper National Park.

Waking up early one morning, we heard hushed voices right outside the cabin. Peaking out, a herd of elk were lazily wandering down the embankment. We must have watched silently with about ten other travellers as they made their way from the river to the thick tree coverage.

What a beautiful way to start the morning!

Although we weren’t in Jasper for long, we did get chance to take a couple of day trips. These are our ‘don’t miss’ suggestions:

Athabasca Falls

The view from the top of Athabasca Falls

A furious waterfall on the upper Athabasca River, this was a great way to spend a morning. It was only around a half hour drive from our base in Jasper and was fairly easy to find. The force of the water is incredible, as is the noise as it crashes down into the gorge below. Over the years, the water has channelled a way through the softer cliff walls, creating a twisting, turning chasm.

The water thunders down into the chasm at Athabasca Falls

The viewing areas for the waterfall are well thought out, jutting out at a variety of places across the water. Athabasca Falls is located just off highway 93A, making it a great little stop if you are visiting the Athabasca Glacier or driving down the Icefield Parkway.

Looking out over the Athabasca Falls

Jasper Town Centre

If you are heading through Jasper, you can’t miss a trip to the town centre. Set out on a long stretch of road, multiple little shops await, full of the usual souvenirs and bear spray. This is not why you should visit the town centre. I have a bit of a pet hate of natural parks and remote places adding lots of shops (I’m looking at you Banff). I can completely understand the need for a couple of little stores, stocked with essentials and set up to blend in with the surrounding area – however national parks don’t need shopping complexes in my opinion. Anyway, with that in mind: go to Jasper town centre, find the shops and then turn your back on them. Look in exactly the opposite direction and you will be greeted by an incredible view of the Rockies.

Set against the cars, the backdrop of the Canadian Rockies looked like a cardboard cut out.

I’m not sure if it was the contrast of the mountains against the shops and cars, but this was truly an amazing view. It looked just like a cardboard cut out of a storybook skyline and it was breathtaking.

Athabasca Glacier

This was a slightly longer drive from where we were staying (about two hours). Try to keep your eyes peeled on the drive down the Icefield Parkway as early morning trips are likely to reveal lots of wildlife spotting opportunities.

Standing on a glacier was incredible! A real ‘bucket-list opportunity’

The weather change from Jasper town centre to the glacier is huge – we started in shorts and ended up wrapped up in layers and winter coats! You can read all about our Glacier Trip here.

Maligne Lake

This was the underdog of the day trips from Jasper. I didn’t know much about the lake and we’d not really done much research about the visit, deciding our destination on the spur-of-the-moment.

A view of the glaciers in the distance across Maligne Lake

If you plan to visit the lake, it’s worth trying to have as long there as you can – you won’t want to leave! What a setting this place is! Emerald waters stretch away from the sandy shore, framed by the glacial mountains in the distance, it’s clear why this location is one of the most photographed in the Rockies.

Maligne Lake has such a beautiful of the glaciers and mountains - I really didn’t want to leave!

One of the main attractions is Spirit Island – reachable by one of the many over-priced boat rides on the lake. The Stoney Nakoda First Nation believe that the Island is a spiritual place, particularly as it is overlooked by three of the glacial mountains, which they believe to be their ancestors. As you can’t actually set foot on Spirit Island, we chose to do a walk around the lake instead.

Canoes on the bank of Maligne Lake

A trail follows the outline of the lake, giving glimpses of the mountain range through the tree line.

The emerald waters create a musical setting for walk around the lake

I found Jasper to be far prettier and much more relaxed (and cheaper!) than it’s much-discussed Banff neighbour. Lots of other travellers told us to spend longer in Banff than Jasper, but I’m going to be rebellious and suggest that longer in Jasper would have been better. This might have been something to do with our little log cabin stay at Jasper House Bungalows which, although fairly expensive, were in a gorgeous setting, looking out over the Athabasca River.

We had some incredible sunsets here too, it was such a tranquil setting.

Getting Lost Close To Home

Feet sinking into the snow, we realised that there was no path anymore and getting down off the hill was going to be a bit of a challenge.

We’d set off for a wander around Ullswater and Aira Force, following the Aira Force and Gowbarrow Trail. The promising views from the summit of Gowbarrow had tempted us out from warm spots by the fire into the snow and wind.

Aira Force is about 1 hour 45 minutes from where we live. We’d packed the car up and headed off to play tour guide for a couple of friends who hadn’t visited before. We were all feeling a bit restless, having been kept inside recently through the bad weather.

We started off towards the falls and even though it was really cold, the sprinklings of snow really highlighted the magic of the falls, making them seem otherworldly.

The Old Norse name of Aira Force translates to ‘the waterfall on the gravel bank river’.

Following the path, we headed towards the open hillside where the snow was much thicker. Due to the depth of the snow, we couldn’t see the path properly and we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. A small fence led up the hillside and we navigated uneven ground as we walked, the snow sometimes giving way to reveal holes made by a hidden stream. We were all being very careful not to hit one of the drops wrong and twist an ankle as we ascended the steep hillside.

At the top of the hill, the view was stunning. It was hard to believe that we were less than 2 hours away from home. The snow-topped hills in the distance, surrounded by a shimmering lake were reminiscent of any trip to Canada or Europe or the USA.

After snapping a few photos. We quickly realised that the path down wasn’t clearly visible and that going down was going to be much harder than coming up. Although we were all feeling warmer following our trek up the incline, the snow was thicker and it was harder to determine where the drops in the landscape were hiding. After walking some distance towards the gleaming water of the lake, we came to an sharp edge, which would have certainly seen one or more of us loose our footing.

Leading the charge, one of my most confident and positive friends encouraged us all to shuffle-slide down the hill on our bums. It was one of the best parts of the walk and really sticks out as a highlight of the day- the four of us taking turns to help each other down the steep embankment, sliding through snow on our bums, soaking wet, but laughing and triumphant as we reached the bottom.

I love the pictures from this hike more than any others taken on local treks. They prove to me that beautiful scenery can be found close to home if you know where to look. They remind me that travel doesn’t always have to mean the other side of the world and they encapsulate a day that was filled with love, friendship and adventure – the best kind of days you can have.

Lokrum Island and the Iron Throne

Peacocks and the Iron Throne – all in one location!

During our stay in Dubrovnik, our bedroom window looked out across the sea towards Lokrum Island. Every morning we would wake to the ships passing by, taking visitors to and from the island. Although the island looked fairly small, our Croatian host had told us tales of peacock inhabitants and Game of Thrones scenery, making us curious and eager to explore.

Lokrum is an island nature reserve, around 15 minutes away from the Dubrovnik coast. Boat rides run regularly throughout the day and cost around 35HRK, which also includes entrance to the island.

As we were visiting in Autumn, the weather was a little hit and miss, so we waited for a sunny day and headed off to the boat. Visiting in Autumn did us a huge favour, as the boat was only about three quarters full, giving us room to spread out. The motion of the boat and the sun reflecting off the deep blue waters made for a stunning ride.

There are no overnight stays allowed on Lokrum and cars are also banned, so the first thing that struck us when we got off the boat was just how quiet it is! The second thing we noticed was the abundance of the island’s only inhabitants – the peacocks! Introduced to the island around 150 years ago, these stunning birds now rule the roost. There is something quite majestic about them and the colours they display are captivating. Just be sure to follow the usual rules of photographing / observing wildlife – don’t get too close or you might find that they take a snap at you!

Exploring, we stuck to the coastal path, which took us most of the way round the island. The views were stunning, made even more impressive by the sparkling sea surrounding us. Having this nature reserve on your door step must be amazing for people living in Dubrovnik – no wonder people were really proud of it. It was immaculate and felt just the right mix of natural and well maintained.

Nearer to the centre of the island sat the Monastery, with elements remaining from a number of eras, it was fitting to its surroundings, tucked away in exotic gardens and plants. Inside the monastery, more information on the island’s history was available, including the telling of the curse on the island, placed by the Benedictine Monks who were forced to leave by the French army. Legend says that on their last night, they walked single file around the island three times, dripping wax from their up-turned candles, placing a curse on anyone who tried to seek the island for their own in the future.

A more modern exhibit in the monastery focused on Game of Thrones. The botanical gardens on Lokrum and parts of the monastery were used for the city of Qarth in the show. A full sized Iron Chair stood in the corner of the exhibit for visitors to sit in and take pictures. Given that Wandering Beeb is a big fan of the show, we took some time there for him to play at being Ned Stark (at least it wasn’t Geoffrey!!).

Although it was used as a set for one of the most famous shows of this decade, it was still the beauty of the island itself that stole my attention. Without a doubt, it’s a stunning place to visit. I’d love to go back in the summer and try out the Red Sea pool – it was a little too cold for this when we went!

Have you visited Lokrum? What was your favourite part of the island?