After John Muir, Ansel Adams is probably the next famous name that people think of when they think of Yosemite. While Ansel Adams has many stunning shots of the park, perhaps one of his most famous shots was that of the lone Jeffrey Pine atop Sentinel Dome. If you haven’t seen the shot because you’ve been living on the moon, it looks like this: http://www.anseladams.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=5010114-u. This shot inspired thousands, if not tens of thousands of people to make the trek up to Sentinel Dome and to take their own pictures of the lone Jeffrey Pine at a variety of angles, either seeking to emulate the master, or to try and provide a new iconic shot. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/46457020@N00/224779782/). Sadly, the tree died in 1976, and ultimately collapsed in 2003. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentinel_Dome).
At this point, you may think, “Well, now that the tree is gone, there’s no reason to go there.” To this assertion, I merely say this: “Au contrere, my friend, au contrere”. While the tree was special, magical, and amazing (I would know, I spent a night under it while it still stood, and despite the four feet of snow atop the dome and around me, had a spectacular night of stargazing and discussion), the Dome is also pretty interesting on its own. For starters, it’s the second highest peak in the valley at 8,122 feet, coming in a close second to that other well-traveled mountain – Half Dome. Second, it is easily accessible from either the Four Mile Trail in the Valley, or the Sentinel Dome Trail off of Glacier Point Road. Third, it has an amazing three hundred and sixty degree view of Yosemite Valley, and the park (similar to the amazing panorama from atop Mt. Hoffman, in my opinion). And fourth, it has better views and is less croweded than the Glacier Point Overlook, in my opinion.
Either route to the top of Sentinel Dome is easy to find, and easy to follow. The Four Mile Trail from the Valley is definitely the more strenuous option, as you will be gaining over four thousand feet of elevation, and covering a distance of over ten miles round trip. The route I would recommend for most people is from the Sentinel Dome Parking area, immediately off Glacier Point Road. (http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/glacierhikes.htm). From the parking area, it is a 1.1 mile hike to the top of the dome, and you will only gain 500 vertical feet. I’d rate the hike as easy, as it meanders over mostly flat terrain before there is a slight scramble to the top of the dome for the last tenth of a mile. At the top, there is that aforementioned three hundred and sixty degree view, the remains of the Jeffrey Pine, and the sense of accomplishment of having likely bagged your first Yosemite summit.
I was in the park in mid-November of this year, and since we’ve been having a dry winter, I was able to again summit the peak with little to no difficulty, as the trail was mostly free of snow. As it was a perfect bluebird day, I was able to shoot this panoramic video: http://www.youtube.com/user/lstad1#p/a/u/0/4X_niPQCxJY
Tips: Take a meal and enjoy the view! For the more adventurous, head on up on a night with no moon, and be prepared for some amazing stargazing. Or, for a change of pace, head up the dome under the Full Moon, and be ready to see the park lit up in phantasmagorical black and surreal white.
See you on the trail!