Words | Matt Thompson
Photos | Jeff Stockwell

With two days to plan and a willing adventure partner, Jeff Stockwell and Caydie McCumber rented a Westfalia camper, secured a Sunday-Tuesday campsite at Upper Pines campground then packed up and set off to pursue a lifelong dream.

Growing up, Jeff and his family spent months travelling the country in an old Volkswagen van and the brilliant memories sparked a yearning within him. He remembered the closeness and comfort, ultimate convenience and ability to go anywhere and be, for the most part, self-contained.

He’d wanted to do the same as an adult and with this trip, the pieces fell perfectly into place.

This was his chance to see Yosemite in winter – something he’s wanted to capture for years and do so in a fashion that makes his VW van dreams a spectacular reality.

Visions of Ansel Adams’ Yosemite Valley Winter was fueling his creative charge and the call of staying in and shooting the valley as it’s expecting 1-2 feet of fresh snow was something Jeff simply couldn’t silence.

As a professional photographer, Jeff is no stranger to the lure of a remarkable destination set in a visually-ideal climate but this was something different… It was the perfect place, the perfect time and the trip perfectly fulfilled a need to get out of the city and reconnect with the wilderness.

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Day 1: An adventure on the road

Even with a flashing check engine light, screeching alarm in the dash and a smoking engine bay, the Westie held its own and got the duo to their destination before night embraced the valley. Jeff and Caydie took their time shooting along the way, enjoying the journey and breathing in Yosemite’s heart-stealing beauty.

And almost like clockwork, snow began to fall just as the two finished setting up camp. They cooked dinner at the Westie’s camp stove, lit a fire at their site’s pit and settled in to embrace the crisp evening.

It was perfect… But without the comfort of the van, would’ve been unbearably cold.

Day 2: The Ahwahnee Hotel & Lower Yosemite Falls

Upon waking up in the valley after a night of fresh snowfall, Jeff & Caydie set out to find a little warmth and a meal. Sub 20-degree weather will wear you down pretty quickly so the two had an escape plan to reset and start the day off on the right (warm) foot.

Their pursuit led them to the Ahwahnee Hotel – a pillar of quality that has attracted those who long for a little comfort since the 1920’s.

Surrounded by iconic landmarks like Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point and offering four-diamond level service, it’s definitely worth visiting when you need to recharge.

After breakfast, they set off to explore the valley where they took in the sights and made their way to Lower Yosemite Falls. At less than a mile hike, they both agreed that it was more than manageable – even with snow on the ground.

For an easy day hike in the midst of winter, head to the falls. This is part of North America’s tallest waterfall and as you wind up at the final 320-foot drop, you won’t be disappointed. And, if you make the same hike in the spring and early summer (when the falls peak in volume), you can expect a little mountain spring water on your face.

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As the sun set, the campfire was re-lit, stove was used and friends came to visit. The van served them well as the conversation and community continued through the evening and kept everyone out of the elements.

The following day, they took a last look at their campsite, packed up and headed home with a renewed sense of appreciation for the powerfully beautiful landscape.

Mission accomplished.

PRO TIP: Rent a Westie.
The Westfalia camper van can be rented for under $150 a night, has around 120 mile/day allowance and enables you to stay warm & comfortable without forking over hundreds a night for a hotel. You can come and go as you please and if you don’t mind the adventure that comes along with any older machine, you’ll have a marvelous trip.

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