Saturday, April 26, 2014

New Yosemite Adventures

Looking down Yosemite Falls.
The floor of Yosemite Valley is about 4000 feet above sea level.  At the top of Yosemite Falls, the elevation is about 6500 feet above sea level.  It's a tough trail to the top, and a knee-jarring slippery descent, but JC and I made the round trip hike in about 5 hours.  Solid hiking shoes and a walking stick helped; but the desire of accomplishment and the views' effect on the adrenal gland pulled us through.

So, there were actually plenty of people on the trail – not nearly as crowded as the Valley floor or the Mist Trail – but enough people to make the accomplishment seem less than extraordinary.  A man of about 28 with an infant strapped to him was slower than us, but mostly because he stopped frequently to calm down his child.  A teen girl with her younger brother marched past us down the trail wearing everyday sneakers.  The boy slipped and the girl casually grabbed the hood of his sweatshirt and pulled him up; neither paused their forward progress.  Still, it is not an easy trail (marked "strenuous" by the 2 sources on trails we had available), and several people we saw near the bottom abandoned the hike early on; others only went halfway up to see the stunning views of the Falls from a midpoint without continuing the trudgery of the remaining switchbacks to the very top.

A rainbow in the mist of Yosemite Falls.
Somehow this trail was built: there were stone steps in areas, evidence of blasted rock in others; and at the very top, clinging to the side of the cliff, overhanging the rush of frigid water and facing the sometimes fierce winds racing through Yosemite Valley, there is an observation area with a metal railing that appears to be little more than half inch pipe.  It seemed solid, but I was not about to test it.

Climbing up to the top of Yosemite Falls was largely how we spent our 3rd day in the Park, besides stopping at the base of El Capitan for a beer and some soup for dinner.  The prior day we traveled down the Wawona Road to Mosquito Creek and an unmarked trailhead.  The goal was to find Alder Creek Falls – a waterfall not nearly as spectacular as those entering Yosemite Valley, but one that would easily be a feature in the region had glaciers not carved out Yosemite Valley over the last 3 million years.  The highlights of this hike were seclusion and history.  We encountered not a soul on our hike, unless you believe deer, birds, lizards and the like have souls.  Plus, the last 3rd of the walk to the falls is along an abandoned, and largely disassembled, logging railroad.  Various relics litter the area.

El Capitan was also our destination that early evening with a stroll to the base, looking up at rock climbers.

Looking up at El Capitan.
The day before that, we arrived at our cabin in the National Forest just outside Yosemite, which was beautiful despite being surrounded by the remains of a large, devastating fire that burned the previous year.  Half the day gone to car travel, and being in the vicinity of San Francisco's water supply – Hetch Hetchy – we decided on a short hike downstream of the O'Shaughnessy Dam.  The Poopenaut Valley Trail is short but very vertical.  Walking down the trail often involves sliding down the trail; and the further you go, the more the hike back up becomes a concern.  But on the valley floor along the Tuolomne River, you can relax for a moment in a peaceful meadow that few visitors to the National Park ever enter.  Like the trail to Alder Creek Falls, we passed no other hikers.

Taft Point
Fast forward to day four – the day after our hike up Yosemite Falls.  We weren't really up for anything super strenuous, but Glacier Point Road was open, after being closed earlier in the week because of snow and ice, so we headed up there for some moderate exercise.  Unfortunately for me, I left my camera battery charging at our cabin, so I was left with only my phone to take pictures in one of the more picturesque parts of the Park.  Still, I got some good shots, and took advantage of the mobile phone's panoramic option which was unavailable from my SLR.

It's not that I'm afraid of heights as much as I'm afraid of death.  You're pretty far up at Taft Point and only one small portion has a railing.  Much of the area along these cliffs over Yosemite Valley is just one unprotected dizzy spell away from a 4000 foot drop onto a group of tourists getting off their bus for the first time since the stop in Fresno.  As I approached the edge I found myself wanting to get on hands and knees to minimize any chance of such an accident.  But I really wanted to look over the edge, in part because the view was amazing, but also because it was something few people do, and something I wouldn't have many opportunities to do in my lifetime.  Yosemite is an amazing and rare piece of earth, and this area around Glacier Point is a prime viewing spot.

Leading up to Taft Point are The Fissures – cracks in the earth that wedge into the sides of the cliffs and add another dimension to the anxious wonder of this part of the Park.

Beyond all of this, you can follow a trail – the Pohono Trail – around the edge of the cliffs and over the Sentinel Creek on your way to Sentinel Dome.  The day before we had seen Sentinel Dome from the other side of Yosemite Valley above Yosemite Falls.  I had hoped the road would open before the end of the week so we could climb to the top – to a height even greater than the top of Yosemite Falls.  And indeed, as we moved closer to the Dome, we could look across the expanse and see a thin, zigzagging line along the left side of Yosemite Falls and several thousand feet below us.  This was the trail we could still feel in our legs as we walked up a much less rigorous incline towards the top of Sentinel Dome.

Panoramic view from Sentinel Dome.
Finally at the summit, the reward was a 360 degree view of a half dozen wonders of the world (official and non-official): the snow-capped high peaks of the Sierra Nevada, Half Dome, El Capitan, Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls, and Yosemite Falls.  The windy cold would normally lead you to go inside and get under a blanket, but being present here was just too incredible for worries about hypothermia.  If I believed in God, I would think he placed this perch here on purpose for humankind to take pictures and post them to their blog and such.

That was the climax of this visit to Yosemite.  We drove back down into the Valley after that and scrambled up the lower part of Sentinel Creek for a mini-picnic looking up at Sentinel Falls and marveling at the fact that we were way up there just a few hours ago.  The next morning, any hope of one last hike was dashed by rainfall.  By noon, we were eating bean burritos in the Central Valley and looking forward to reuniting with our dogs.