May 1, 2011

Yosemite! Hikes! Photos!

For the past four days, I went with our Boy Scouts troop to Yosemite Valley. It's hard to believe that this was only my second time here; I have lived less than four hours away for 25 years. Not only is it spectacular, but compared to most campgrounds, the facilities are worth ten times the price.

The drive to the park, once you get past Merced, is beautiful in the spring. Much of it is along the river, with lush glades and meadows and dramatic rapids. When you finally get to the park, you're treated to a deep green and granite wonderland. We lucked out with the weather--although it was hard to get out of a cozy sleeping bag into a chilly 25 degree (Fahrenheit) morning, by 10 a.m. it was in the 50s and hovered around 60 most of each day, with only a few wisps of cloud above.

Maria stayed only the first night, but the rest of us were there three nights. The campsite was pleasant--open and spacious, with a stream gurgling directly behind.

The campsite also had spectacular views of Half Dome and other peaks, if you found the right spots to look up between the trees.

Three nights camping in Bear Country taught us a lot about bear safety. In fact, we got an extensive lecture and Q&A from a pleasant but stern ranger who gave us the ins & outs of bear safety. "A fed bear is a dead bear," they say. That is because if a bear gets any human food, over time they lose their natural inhibitions and invade campsites more frequently, eventually moving on to aggressive actions that are dangerous to people. At that point, the bears get put down. We learned the lessons well, but still we had one bear encounter and two raccoon ("little bear") encounters in the night.

I went on three separate hikes. The first was a pleasant walk along the Merced River past Yosemite Village (wonderful mini downtown of Yosemite), up to the Lower Yosemite Falls. We walked 2 or 3 miles and took the shuttle bus back to camp (the buses are quite nice and convenient), and it was a good introduction to the valley at 4,000 feet elevation.

We saw a few deer in Yosemite Village, right there in the middle of the parking lot.

The second day we went on a hike to Vernal Falls, up the Mist Trail. It was recently opened for the season.  The first mile or so is a good effort up a paved path to a wooden footbridge. Leaves you a little breathless at this altitude, but not terribly challenging. At the footbridge, most of our contingent turned back because they weren't sure they could make it to the falls and back in time to cook dinner.  Eight of us, however, pushed on with the intention of going that last 0.3 miles and double-timing it back to camp.

So we started up.  And up.  And up.  This was like climbing the back steps into Mordor, only without the orcs and Sauron and Gollum, and the scenery was stunning.

And it was misty.

Mostly the trek was like this, so that third of a mile took a bit longer than we expected.  But we powered through and made it pretty quickly, up to the final section, then took five minutes to enjoy the view.

On the way down, we caught a few rainbows.

We made it back to camp about 20 minutes later than we'd hoped, but it was well worth the extra effort.

On Friday we made an assault on the trail to the top of Yosemite Falls.  About 3.5 miles each way, with a 2,500 foot vertical ascent (roughly).  It's a trail with so many switchbacks that it looks like the cartographers used a seismograph to draw the map.  We first took the shuttle bus to the trailhead, where we had a good view of our destination:

Oh, sorry.  Some clarification:

Halfway up we stopped for lunch, in a shady place with a slight descent.  A good resting point before the second set of switchbacks. And pretty much the last good look at the falls along the trail; the trail curves up and to the left, so you lose sight of (but not sound of) the falls the rest of the way.

... and more rainbows!  Unfortunately, my photography skills can't possibly show how glorious these rainbows were.  They are huge, and so close you feel you can touch them, and brilliant and unwavering.

At the top, there is an overlook that is essentially insane.  To reach it, you inch down a sand-covered, treacherous, 24-inch-wide Ledge o' Death. Two of the scouts ran down there before I could stop them. Here's the view from the last part of the Ledge o' Death. Doesn't look too bad from here, but Mr. Scaredy-cat Adult-In-Charge (me) made those two leave and did not let any of the other scouts go down to the overlook.  I feel bad about not letting them go there, but to be honest I found it terrifying.  Not "thrilling and terrifying."  Just terrifying.  It is really quite dangerous, and you essentially have to be out of your mind to go there.  Or a kid because kids have no sense of their own mortality.

The climb was still quite an accomplishment.  The view from the platform is not as spectacular as you might imagine, and looking down on the water as it curves over the lip of the granite is not as dramatic as you might think.  But making it to the top and reaching that physical goal... that was cool.  Plus, at the top there was quite a bit of snow, and the boys had a great time with an epic snowball fight.

We double-timed it back to the bottom.  The climb took nearly 3 and a half hours, but the descent took a little less than two hours.  As we reached the bottom of the trail, I noticed a sign I failed to see on our ascent.

All in all, it was a phenomenal three days in one of the most gorgeous places on Earth.  The visitors center museum is engaging and simple, with history and nature laid out clearly and colorfully.  The ranger programs were interesting each night.  The campsites were in great condition, the bathrooms were heated and clean, and the free, hot showers at the Curry Village camp were a welcome relief at the day's end.  I can't wait until we go back.  Maybe Nevada Falls or one of the peaks next time--El Capitan, North Dome, or Half Dome.


Sylvia said...

Wow, wonderful! This makes me want to sleep in a tent, which is a pretty amazing achievement! What a great time (and I'm sure those boys will remember that trip forever!)

Sarah Hina said...

These photos are wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

I was fortunate enough to go to Yosemite as a 13-year-old. I only wish I knew then how truly lucky I was to have that experience. Loved the falls, loved the meadows, loved the wildlife. Been wanting to go back ever since and pull a John Muir.

I'm happy your scouts will have these memories for the rest of their lives.

pacatrue said...

It looks quite gorgeous and I'm happy that there are still places with bears.

PJD said...

Sylvia, glad my photos could make you want to sleep in a tent. Maybe the bears and raccoons will cure you of that desire. :)

Sarah, thank you! You should definitely return to Yosemite some time. I recommend midweek at the end of April or early May. Crowds get big on weekends and in the summer.

Paca, we are also happy there are still places with bears. I have mixed feelings about the California Grizzly, though. If that was still around in California, we might do less camping.