“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” ~ John Muir
Even the powerful words of John Muir do not offer a full perspective to an outsider looking in. Until you have sunk yourself deep into the heart of Yosemite there will always be a certain unknown, only answered to those who experience it’s grandeur first hand.
Our first day was an early one, as were all of them I suppose. We were staying in a hotel about 2 hours from the park and wanted an early start. After an hour in our go-kart powered mini van we began tracing the Merced River. The true beauty however, was still hiding behind the hills in the distance. The transformation was almost instant, as we crossed the park entrance we immediately found ourselves surrounded by water falls and granite walls.
The Yosemite Valley can be somewhat confusing to rookies like us, if you plan on visiting I highly recommend taking a few glances over the valley map and pick out your parking areas ahead of time. There are loops, one ways, and closed roads all over the place. We needed to pick up our permit from the wilderness office, but had some time to kill. The Village Store was a open early and a great place for some souvenir shopping as well as any last minute items you may need. They had a pretty fair mix of food and supplies, however they were defiantly more pricy than a normal store, comparable to gas station prices.
TIP – If you are waiting at the Wilderness Office they will send a ranger out just as it opens. If you already have a permit reserved there is no need to listen to their speech.Just skip the line and go in. If you need a same day “walk up” permit you will want to hear what they have to say.
The ranger helping us with our permit was a little more than helpful. Her passion for Yosemite was engaging and exciting, but a little overwhelming at times. There became a point when she wanted us to improv a bear attack and start screaming at her. This is when I started saying “just give me my permit already” in my head over and over.
The permit was in our hands! We walked back to the car and found a spot in the “Trail Head Parking Lot” All of our food was going with us, but if you have anything in your vehicle that might attract a bear, ditch it in one of the bear lockers (they are all over the parking lot). Wicked Witch has a thing for silliness. If you have ever traveled with her you will find it impossible to escape the shenanigans, and usually best suited to just join in the fun. We strapped on the packs and out came the goofy hats & glasses. Our packs were already heavy enough as it was so the hats stayed in the van, but the glasses might make an appearance later on!
From the parking lot there was a short walk to the trail head and from there it was game on. Although the Mist Trail is probably considered the most popular trail in Yosemite it is not one to take lightly. The first mile or so is paved, but will test your abilities with several steep inclines. As you come to the base of Vernal Falls the nicely groomed pavement vanishes and the steps begin. At least a mile or so of steep uneven steps delivers you quickly from to the top of Vernal Falls. This is where it deservingly gets its name “Mist Trail” We were there on a calm day but the gentle breeze was still enough to fill the air with a fine mist. Some parts were heavy enough to soak through your clothing like rain. The lenses on our iPhone’s were foggy with water droplets, and the sun was painting rainbows from one side of the canyon wall to the other.
The top of Vernal Falls was a perfect pit stop for lunch. There were plenty of trees offering shade, Emerald Pool was flowing in the distance, and our bodies were in need of refueling. Apparently the critters in the area had the same idea. The animals in Yosemite are comparable to ones of a petting zoo. They literally have zero fear of humans and will take no hesitation when trying to steal your food. Squirrels in particular can be found jumping from lap to lap in a kamikaze food leap. If you turn your head for one second you might as well be holding a neon flashing sign that says FREE LUNCH.
After leaving Vernal Falls we continued to head up to the top of the trail passing Nevada Falls on the way. Nevada Falls is larger, more powerful, and louder than the below Vernal Falls. However, at least in my opinion, nothing will compare to the pure beauty of the small section of trail misted over from Vernal Falls. On the way up there was a sudden halt in traffic from both directions. It turns out there was a rattlesnake getting some sun on the trail and the day hikers above and below were to scared to move. I have spent 25 years of my life in the deserts of Arizona and seen my fair share of rattlers. I walked up to the snake and encouraged it move to the side. With no sign of aggression or fear the snake slowly moved off the trail.
When you make it to the top the trail you are not directly over the falls like Vernal Falls. The top of Nevada Falls is off to the right about 1/4 of a mile. There are bathrooms and a ton of signs since the trail splits in several directions from here. This would be the spot where we made a 2.4 mile mistake! Apparently you can reach “Yosemite Valley” from any of the trails so it is on every single sing. Little Yosemite Vally on the other hand can only be reached from one direction on one trail and we picked the wrong one. Looking back at it now we made every possible mistake, so much in fact I knew we were going the wrong direction, passing the wrong landmarks, and surpassing the expected distances. Throughout the trip we were often calling Yosemite a place of sensory overload, and this is exactly what happened here. We were so busy trying to absorb the views we stopped paying attention to where we were going.
As part of our “Scenic Route Detour” we crossed over the top of Nevada falls and dropped down into a trail that happened to be flowing a decent trickle of water above us. The water was cold, the ground was wet, and it made for a perfect surreal spot to cool off. Standing under the falling water we had a perfect panoramic view of Half Dome, Mount Broderick, and Liberty Cap as well as Nevada Falls filling the Valley floor below. Eventually we got back on track followed the correct trail and made it to Little Yosemite Valley.
Little Yosemite Valley is a backpackers campground and requires a special permit to stay overnight. Other than the fact we did not have a permit, we would have chose to camp somewhere else anyway. “LYV” can get pretty crowded and resembles somewhat of a KOA in the middle of the back country. We pressed on and got outside of the 2 mile “day use only area” and set up shop. We found a perfect spot resting between Moraine Dome and Bunnell Point. The rushing water combined with the setting sun illuminating the granite walls made for the perfect ending to a perfect 9.4 mile day.
Tomorrow we conquer Half Dome!
Below is a Video Slide Show of our first day.