A few belated notes from New Year’s. It was my third in Yosemite and fourth since the revelation—possibly just a symptom of mild hypothermia on my first, ill-equipped snow trip—that it’s a holiday better spent in the woods than the city. The crowds are more manageable; plus I’m less likely to take the occasion to wallow in my own mortality if I watch the sun rise on the new year, rather than the clock running out on the old one. Tick-tock, people.

Nature photography pro-tip: travel with one handsome man per giant sequoia.

The lack of snow (versus last year) nixed our plans for Badger Pass, and crossing the stark and ashen path of the Rim Fire on the way into the park was a reminder that the dry winter will have consequences beyond a lousy ski season. This is why I’m not getting smug about the Polar VortexTM: come August, life will realistically end in an apocalyptic, statewide inferno. Get, uh … stoked.

On the bright side, the conditions (and my more competent friends’ gear and goodwill) meant I got to do Snake Dike. The climb had a great fun-to-terror ratio; despite this I was so focused on Not Dying that I was within a hundred yards of the summit before I remembered where we were actually going …

…the top of Half Dome!

That moment of realizing where I was—on the map and in time and on my own evolving bucket list—was humbling and gratifying at once, well worth the long-ass hike and a tense ten minutes spent downslope of a mountain lion in the dark. More of these in 2014, I hope.

(Reflective moments on granite, I mean, not lion sightings. Yeesh, those eyes!)