In the words of John Muir: “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.”
A Prologue |
The time was around 6:45 pm when the clouds started to roll in. Having experienced blue skies all day, this could only mean something interesting was coming our way. I sat on a lichen covered boulder and sipped my wine. I reminisced about the incredible day I had been having, all the while, clapping my boots together; releasing the frozen snow from my microspikes.
I watched as the haunting grey mist slowly intertwined itself between the Lodgepole Pine trees. It was something incredibly eerie, yet beautiful to see. We were at the top of Yosemite Point, so there were no significant structures to block whatever was about to come our way. Whatever it was, no mountain hemlock could stop it.
As we continued back to our tent, that was when the wind started. Before closing our eyes for bed, we did a quick vestibule tightening to ensure wind entry into the tent would be minimal. At this point in time, this blustery weather had only been going for about 30 minutes, and its winds had already picked up to about 40 km or so. Shit.
It was about 8:00 when we finally settled into our sleeping bags and attempted this sleeping process (which I knew wasn’t going to happen with this wind going on outside). By this time, the fog had disappeared and we were left with a clear, starry night. Beautiful as it sounds, that also meant it was going to be even colder. Not only were the blusters incredibly loud against the tent, it was actually pretty scary to witness. Two mid-20 year old girls winter camping alone in the middle of Yosemite; you can say we had to put on our big-girl pants on for this one.
Both of us kept waking up every 2 hours or so; 10:30, 12:30, 2:30…etc. I honestly don’t remember dreaming at all. All day I had been craving this amazing 10 hour sleep. My body was warm enough, but my sanity was slowly diminishing. Around 12:40 in the morning, the winds were probably at it’s highest speed. I felt as if we were camped out at Everest Base Camp. All we needed were prayer flags. All I could think of was our gear that was currently being stored inside the vestibules. I could hear the walls of them flapping uncontrollably. Unzipping ourselves from our sleeping bags, we hauled in everything from the outside. Everything was stone-cold, but accounted for. Thank god. Another 6 hours of night to go. How were we going to do this. We desperately needed sleep for our days hike tomorrow.
When I think of my time in Yosemite, I think of this magical land. Driving into the park, felt like walking into Disneyland for the first time. You hear so much about the place, but seeing it in your own eyes for the first time – words can’t describe the feeling. I remember the time I couldn’t even pronounce it properly (“Yo-seh-might”…oh god). I have never experienced so many emotions with one place. Laughs, tears, and reflection.
It took about 4.5 hours to reach the park from San Francisco. The drive takes you through all kinds of terrain. We started off at sea level with farm land, that then turned into nut tree groves that eventually mountainous landscapes. The last hour stretch situates you on an incredibly winding road, with a whole lot of elevation gain. The highest point you get while driving into the park is about 6000 feet above sea level. Eventually this drops back down to 4000 once you enter the valley.
The Yosemite Valley reminded me of a super, super tiny Whistler Village like we have here in Canada. There are multiple campsites, a hotel, grocery store, and cabins. Before parking at Camp 4, we went for a quick plunge into the Yosemite River (yes, it was freezing. Colder than Wedgemount Lake in my opinion). We chose to sleep at Camp 4 because the Upper Falls trail head was situated at the parking lot there.
The next morning we hit the trail at 9:10am. In total, the Upper Falls trail is 3.2 miles in length (5.1km). We hiked the extra mile to Yosemite Point to camp that night. Elevation gain is about 3000 feet. At our camp spot, we sat at approximately 6000 feet. The hike starts off with your lovely switchbacks for about a mile until you reach Columbus Point (a nice lookout of the lower valley).
The rest of the trail is more switch backs but at higher grade – lovely, eh? Don’t fret, I remember the moment I first laid eyes on the falls. They completely took me by surprise. You turned a corner and BAM there they were. So majestic, and completely breathtaking. There was actually snow the last mile up, so we threw on our microspikes to make life a bit easier. Once you reach the top of the falls, it’s breath taking. Mountains upon mountains surround you. Looking down, your eyes can follow the winding Yosemite river that cuts through the valley. There were about 10 or so people who joined us at the lookout. For a moment we contemplated setting up tent here, but where was Half Dome? In both our minds, we had this vision of pitching tent so we would have the perfect view of Half Dome to wake up to. Thus, we continued to climb higher into the alpine. Camping in the snow isn’t that bad. It can actually be a lot of fun. I can prove it to you here!
About 3/4 of a mile from Yosemite Point, we ran into three hikers who were descending towards us. They mentioned how the tracks ended a few feet up, and that if we wanted to continue hiking higher, we would have to break trail ourselves. Well…I’m sure you’re not surprised to know what we did. Thunder thighs engage!
The treacherous trail-breaking was all worth the sweat, because we got our envisioned view. How cool! The time was now 1:00pm. The snow wasn’t too deep so we luckily didn’t need a shovel. After pitching tent, I tackled my hammock. I hung it in the most obligatory spot you could ever hang a hammock in Yosemite. Bliss I tell you. I journaled and napped for about an hour, all the while I was seriously sweating from how hot it was! It felt like 25 degrees (that’s summer temperatures for a Canadian). It was so hot I stripped down to my bathing suit top and underwear and tanned for the afternoon. I threw down the blue tarp I brought and use that to lay on. There I was, surrounded by snow and half naked – sleeping. I had to turn over every 3 minutes or so because my butt and heels would go numb.
I lounged and meandered around in my “tanning attire” and shelter booties until dinner came around, that’s when I threw actual clothes on again. I’m sure if strangers saw me, they’d think I was this psycho nudist-wannabe or something. I couldn’t believe this weather. Cous cous and vino was on the menu. I added some dehydrated vegetables I made at home to our cous cous mixture: mushrooms, shredded zucchini and celery!
Night time came around the the sun began to set. The skies were gorgeous, and incredibly photogenic! There was this one raven who hung around us for a while cawing and chatting up a storm. It was going to be a starry night indeed. I snapped a few shots before crawling into my sleeping bag.
The winds were incredibly loud, and scary that night. As mentioned in the prologue, there was a story to tell. Though the night was rough, the morning couldn’t have been more peaceful. Blue sky again! I couldn’t believe this weather we were having.
Still, no civilization in sight. It wasn’t until around 8:30 while we were brushing our teeth by the pee tree when we saw two boys summit. Turns out they started the hike at 4:30 am and followed our tracks to the top. They were both incredibly nice, and from Texas. Yosemite was a portion of their interstate road trip. All the stories they told us convinced me to see Utah one day. I noticed that they were only wearing some gore-tex running shoes to hike in. They looked pretty cold, so after a few “hello’s” and a quick chat, they turned around and disappeared down the mountain.
It wasn’t long after that we followed them down the same trail back to Camp 4. It took us an hour and 40 minutes to hike back to the car. We practically were skipping down the mountain. I felt like a child of the Von Trapp family.
Once back at the car, it was a quick bag unload, change, and shoe swap into runners. El Captain was our next mission. Well…not to climb it, but to see it! What we thought was only going to be a 3 mile walk turned out to be more like 6 – by accident. Some how, the trail we took didn’t exactly take us to the picturesque spot we intended in seeing, so we took a gander and found a view of our own.
It’s a pretty incredible rock figure. Reminded me of our Squamish Chief in Canada. This huge, massive granite rock face just towers over you; making you feel incredibly small and insignificant. It only made me want to become a mountaineer even more. Jimmy Chin I’m coming for you!
Yosemite, you stole my heart. You are a true gem. I will be back. Remember, it’s not a place you don’t have to experience in the balmy summer months. Take your adventure to the next level and try it out in their winter months (just make sure you are prepared!).
In the mean time, take a look at a little movie I threw together of this hike here!
Keep exploring out there,
Have you even visited Yosemite? Have you tried Hiking to Upper Falls? Suggest any other must-do hikes in the park? Let me know in the comments below!
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