“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
After Sequoia, the next big thing on my itinerary was to explore as much of Yosemite's vast wilderness as I could. You don't see California if you don't see Yosemite National Park.
The dramatic peaks, beautiful valleys, and tremendous waterfalls make Yosemite iconic, but it's also known for abundant wildlife. These sights, in addition to the ample opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, camping, and more, make Yosemite America's 4th most-popular national park. It brings in tens of millions of visitors each year, mostly from May - September.
More people equals more traffic. To avoid it as much as possible, I shuttled in from an outside city just like I did with Sequoia. YARTS, the dedicated bus service, picked me up at the Fresno Transit Center around 5:45 a.m. After 3 hours of rural pickups and winding mountain roads, I arrived at the Yosemite Visitor's Center ready to go!
I wasted no time. Several people had suggested hiking the Half Dome and the Mist Trails, but, since I had to be back at the Visitor's Center by 5, they would have taken too long to complete. I quickly decided that taking on the Upper Yosemite Falls would be the best option, and, after refilling my water bottle and scarfing down a fig bar, I headed off.
The composition of the trails varied anywhere from root-heavy, to sandy, to wet with dribbling brooks. Every portion required mastering the rocks. Throughout the climb, redwoods and other pines sprouted from the bedrock, stretching to the sun. I saw lizards and eagles and plenty of squirrels.
As the morning grew hotter and the climb became more difficult, I watched some families turn back down, but most of us would take turns passing each other between breaks. I met a photographer named Ron (IG: @rw412) and we kept each other company for a mile or so, or about 2 hours. We traded photo ops once we got closer to the photogenic portion of the falls. We marveled at the volume of the white water billowing over the peak. I got lucky: with the unusually wet winter, there was a lot of melting snow making its way down this year, and I was told June would be the best month to see it. I wasn't disappointed!
After a few minutes of feeling the mist on our faces, Ron turned back. I still had another 1.5 miles to go, so I reapplied sunscreen, tightened my pack, and carried on.
3.4 miles of uneven, high-altitude stairs takes a longgg time to mount, especially when you have to stop at the end of each switchback to catch your breath. I had already ran out of water and food halfway up. Each step was exhausting, but at least I had the most gorgeous views around.
I didn't reach the top of the falls until about 1:45 p.m., but I forgot my fatigue once I caught sight of the jaw-dropping vistas.
I remained on the landing for twenty minutes, breathing in the crisp air and listening to the thundering of the falls. Friend and family groups took a break for lunch, while others napped in the sun. The calm, the wonder, the universal satisfaction--it was a shared, simply amazing atmosphere.
Suddenly realizing it was already past 2 o'clock, I hastily made my way back down the mountain. I didn't push myself, though--I had already witnessed plenty of people slip. Though it was easier on the lungs, the decent was tough on the knees, calves, and ankles. At some point I just blocked out the pain because I could NOT miss my bus.
The good news was that I made it back to the Visitor's Center with a half hour to spare. While sprint-jogging, I even passed a mule deer, his impressive rack just a few feet from me on the path.
The bad news was that I was famished, dehydrated, in pain, and close to passing out. Every inch of my skin was plastered in sweat both wet and dry, to the point where the salt had formed a gritty layer all over (sorry for the TMI). To top it off, I hadn't eaten much of a breakfast and had zero room in my bag for lunch (do not follow my example!). But unlike Sequoia, this park had a place to buy food. Thank goodness. I bought two Clif bars and some pretzels and hummus from the store and demolished them while waiting for my YARTS bus, chasing them down with an entire bottle of water.
Despite my physical condition at the end, my heart was full of triumph. I think it's pretty accurate to say that this trail--the climb up, and the slide down--was probably the hardest thing I've ever done by myself. It required patience, tolerance, focus, and millisecond calculations. I'm so happy to have completed a feat like this, so I could really get a taste for what the Sierra Nevada wilderness is like.
Stay tuned for my next post, which will be about places less rugged and more "stereotypical" Cali.
Thanks for reading!