Missing Yosemite…

It’s been a month since my first steps were taken in Yosemite and I miss being there everyday. During my first week back, I must have looked through all of the pictures that were taken at least 10 times during the day. If a picture is worth a thousand words, these pictures added up to one heck of a novel. The build up to Yosemite was a bit nerve racking as each day closer passed by. I had just gotten new shoes a week before and they were untested for this trip. Five days…an estimated 40 miles…feet and toes still mending from prior trips…I was scared and I wasn’t afraid to let it be known. The unknown is our biggest fear and if we let our minds wander too far in, we keep ourselves a slave to that fear.

First sighting of El Cap

Day one was an early morning! Up and out of the hotel…into the van…off to Yosemite. The drive seemed quick as I was silently anxious to be there already. I wanted to get the start over with and a few miles on my shoes. I figured then, I would feel less apprehensive. Upon driving in and seeing El Cap, all the fears I had were gone; vanished with the dawn as the sun was rising over the granite walls. I had in those first few moments discovered my heaven!

Waiting to start was excruciating. We had to get permits and we did a little shopping, which seemed to take way too long. After all the formalities were taken care of, we jumped back in the van and went to park. The lot was up against this beautiful “wall” of stone. My breath was taken away yet again and we had only been there a few hours and had yet to hike 100 feet. After some group pics, the packs were strapped on and it was time to get started! My pack was about 37ish pounds which is too heavy for me but I was managing fine. The day was filled with amazing views as we hiked up the Mist trail. The mist created by Vernal Falls produces lovely rainbows in the sun and provides a very welcomed cooling effect while hiking up. The stairs get slick so steps were carefully taken. I was the first of the group to get to the top of the falls…can’t help myself sometimes. The trek up to Nevada Falls was more of the same stairs yet very different scenery. The falls were still awesome to watch while hiking up. We ended up on a bit of a detour to camp but the views couldn’t be beat. No matter how tired I felt that day, the awe inspiring views, especially of Half Dome in the distance ended up being enough fuel to keep me going. All uncertainty in myself was gone. Camp was welcoming, minus all the mosquitoes, and I slept fantastic with sugar plum thoughts of day 2 ahead.

My inspiration…

Day 2 was by far the day I was looking forward to the most. Our trek up to the summit of Half Dome started early, but not as early as was planned. I believe we were going to try to see the sunrise from the top of Half Dome but the tiring day before had us sleeping in longer than expected. The trail is not hard but can be exhausting. By the time we got to where we could get a clear view of the summit, I was drained. But once I came around one bend in the trail, I could see it through the trees. I stopped, clapped my hands and yelled “yes”! I took a moment to snap a pic and then was off to the races. I made it up to a clearing before the trail up the grueling stairs begins. I had been so excited I didn’t realize I had left the rest of the group behind by about 5 minutes. I was amped to say the least and the 360 degree view of “everything” as far as the eye could see was phenomenal! Beautiful, inspiring, glorious…I took a breather and snapped some more pictures! My legs were shaky and we all needed a break before we tackled the stairs up. These were brutal! Once this part was done, a much needed break was necessary. Jittery legs and 400 feet of climbing left had gotten the best of me while sitting there gazing out and up at the cables. After everything, I was again, scared. There was about 15 minutes of debate inside me as to whether I was gonna go up. I wavered back and forth. My final decision was to go to the bottom of the cables, gloves on, look up, and go if it seemed “not so bad after all”. So that is what I did and our trek up began. It was intense and I was nervous…but through it all, I looked around quite a bit when we took breaks. I slipped a few times and my heart about stopped. The natural steps you encounter going up seem gigantic…the cables are slack in some places or feel as if they are touching the ground in others…it’s kind of a messy way to climb up I’m guessing. But once I got to the top, I knew the choice I made was the right one. If I hadn’t gone up, I would have regretted it the rest of my life…even if my life ended while up there or coming back down. I sat on the edge, took some pictures looking down of course. It was incredible. Half Dome was my favorite part of the trip hands down. Just so thrilling and I felt so alive being up there. I was in a state of numbness the whole way back to camp.

The view looking up the cascade

Day 3 would be a chill day! I won’t go into details about day 3 just yet but it was definitely a relaxing and fun one. It was peaceful, secluded, and the scenery was gorgeous as one would expect. I suggest getting off the touristy trails and finding some time to enjoy nature on its own. We ended up on a short hike to the Bunnell Cascades just outside of Little Yosemite Valley. If you ever camp in the area, a visit to the cascades is a definite must do. The day was spent relaxing, enjoying the water and the lovely views of the granite rock walls. We all were well rested after day 3 and day 4 was our hike back down to the Valley.

Day 4 was yet another early morning. I’ve learned waking up before the sun is just how it is anymore. Packing up camp was bittersweet. I didn’t want to go and wasn’t that happy we were heading back to the Valley just yet. The hike was just backtracking what we had already done. I lived up to my name on this day as I fell about 10 feet down the trail. I hurt my left ankle, right wrist, and most of all my pride. It’s not easy to stop falling once you start when you are going downhill. While the weight of my pack caused me to keep falling, the pack ended up cushioning my fall tremendously. It was quite rocky where I fell and I probably could have injured myself far worse. I got quite emotional and mad at myself. The rest of the hike back down was a slow one for me…I was lost in thought, cautious of my ankle, and sad we were ending the hiking already. I will keep day 4 details under wraps for now but it did rain that afternoon. We had luckily gotten camp set up in time to not have to do it while it was dark and rainy.

We made it and DONE!!

Day 5 was a bit silly. Our plan was to “hike’ to Lower Yosemite Falls and from there, decide if we wanted to go all the way up. We had no clue what it was like so we prepared for the worst. It was comical to say the least when we discovered it was but a short walk to get to the Lower Falls. While a sight to see for sure, it made the end of the trip very anticlimactic. While slightly disappointed, I was physically done even though my heart and mind wanted more more more. The trip was beyond words and I learned so much about myself while out there!! The group did a wonderful job. I was proud of everyone. There were highs and lows on the trip but so is life…we were experiencing new things, new feelings, new obstacles…to think it would be a walk in the park, would have been absolutely naive. I know I can not wait to go back. I can not wait for our next adventure. I will forever cherish my time there. I know this might sound a bit dramatic but I fell in love on that trip, with not only the land but myself.

Yosemite Day 1 of 5

“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.