In By Road and Out By Trail

21 May 2013 in Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

Today is our very first full day in Yosemite and with the trailer in good standing and a twitch in our legs that yearned for the trail we headed down to the valley. The short drive along winding roads, bordered by tall pines eventually opened up to reveal the majestic views of Yosemite Valley. The road ahead and beauty below fought a biter battle for my attention that ended in a forfeit when I decided to take the first pullout I came across.

20130407-DSC_1010_low-resHere perched high above the ravine far below we stood, mouths agape, eyes peeled in awe. In the distance a waterfall cut a white line down a sheer granite face and a river wove its way through the forest floor, over and around massive boulders left static since the last glaciers cut through thousands of years ago. This was our welcome. This made every long mile across the country, every night spent at a truck stop, every bout with traffic along bumpy, overpopulated roads, every penny pinched and want neglected, every comfort and stability left behind, every possession sold or donated, every sacrifice made was all worth it. We had made it. In two years, on a hope and a dream, we had gone from volunteers to paid employees and our reward laid itself out in front of us at that pullout. We would make little pay and had nowhere to go come October, but we would spend our summer in this epic wonderland of natural beauty helping others enjoy and protect its resources and spending our days off enjoying and protecting them ourselves.

20130407-DSC_1041_low-resAfter a swell of emotion had finally began to settle we proceeded onward where the waves of joy continued to crash intermittently over our tear laden eyes. There is no way to articulate the monumental nature of the scenery of Yosemite. Others have tried and failed and I will hopefully learn from there mistakes. The best I might do here is pass the challenge to Lindsay. Her photos—though marvelous—will only provide a fraction of the essence that is Yosemite Valley. The monolithic behemoths of rock ascending to the heavens at dizzying heights, the waterfalls sending white locks of water plunging hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet to the ground below, and the overwhelming realization that all this grandeur inhabits one, central valley. Look at the pictures, take in the visual reproduction and then recognize all that is lacking. Pictures, words, paintings, films, nothing compares to standing at the base of El Capitan or Half Dome, or peering up at Yosemite Falls as the mist from the Lower Falls graces your sun drenched skin. Well almost nothing.

Much like the Grand Canyon or Zion National Park, or really any park for that matter – you are robbing yourself of a life-altering experience by looking up from below or down from above. Gaining a sense of scale requires scaling up—or down depending on where your journey begins. Ours began at the bottom and so up we would need to go.

Never timid we embarked on a fairly strenuous hike, originally planned to be about 7.5 miles roundtrip we’re guessing the trek across the valley’s floor from where we parked and the additional section of trail added past the summit put us around 10 miles and a little under a 3000 ft ascent and descent. Not bad for our first day.

20130406-DSC_0961_low-resStarting at Lower Yosemite Falls we located our trail head and took our first amongst many steps. Initially we covered a set of rolling hills that cut through a canopy of forest which allowed in very little sunlight. These long switch backs next carried us to a set of very short and steeper zig zags. It was here we joined the small horde of hikers we’d spend a good part of our day passing and later being passed by, over and over. Each interaction we exchanged subtle smiles of acknowledgement or sarcastic jokes about almost being there or a tiny stream that cut the trail being Upper Yosemite Falls. “It looked bigger from below,” I said in one of these instances.

But despite the stain of our legs bound in tightly stretched muscle and tendon we all slogged on and couldn’t be happier. The trail erases all. The repetition of motion and ever-changing terrain below your feet is hypnotizing. The trance like state you find yourself in after a mile or two is almost meditative and is only broken when a corner is rounded and a view saluting your effort is revealed. Some trails are unrelenting, offering few if any rewards until the very end, but the trail to Upper Yosemite Falls was littered with breathtaking views—which after a long stretch can nearly leave you completely breathless. We were climbing up and out of the valley we had just driven into and nearly every bend of trail awarded more amazing views and a better idea of the magnitude of this sacred place.

With considerable effort we found ourselves at the base of Upper Yosemite Falls. The top tier of Yosemite Falls, it sits above the Lower and Middle sections of the falls. Here we bathed in the spray that floated away from the crashing water at the base. Freshly melted snow from the high country provided a cool shower that attempted to rinse away some of the dirt emanating from the mostly dry trail. The falls roared at an unbelievable volume, overcoming any sound that echoed from the busy valley below.

After paying proper homage we continued our ascension. We had another 1400 ft to climb to the top of this massive falls. The next section was where the fatigue made its case heard and through perseverance a smaller selection of hikers—though still many—continued. Its disheartening to see the cuts of the trail all laid out before you with specks of hikers dotting the edges far above. So we kept our eyes on the cobble stone trail at our feet, taking refuge in the outward views of the valley. The roads and cars shrinking to scales beyond that of any model. The area below began to take on characteristics most often associated with the view from a plane that is taking off or landing. Back and forth. Up and up. Nothing flat lie ahead of us and absolutely nothing down. An unforgiving trail. And yet the pleasure of such an experience overrode all of the pains and anguish.

As we summited the final sections we were light as feathers. Bouncing our way over to the cliff’s edge. Here set high above most of the valley the spectacle that presented itself erased every single step. My mind was so engulfed by the surrounding scenery it had little capacity to respond to the blisters on my feet, my high strung calfs or my aching knees. Every sense and neurological pulse was directed outward or dismissed. Out into a view that should be available only to birds or the more courageous mountain climber types. Here—and so far only here—we began to grasp the true size and offerings of Yosemite Valley. Down below a river cut through the humble green meadows, the thinnest lines denoting roads spread from one end to the other and buildings dotted the landscape represented by tiny little squares. Directly across the way huge stands of solid granite erupted upward in powerful stances, the most imposing of which is Half Dome. And beyond them peaks of greater stature lay dormant and snow covered—a few shrouded in clouds—all of which was separated from the valley by stretches of alpine forest.

In time the cold wind cut through the daze we were enraptured by and chilled us enough to stir movement. We took a brief, but hair-raising jaunt down to the overlook along a tiny footpath not much wider than my two feet and then decided we hadn’t had enough climbing for the day and continued up the trail to Yosemite Point. We cut through a few snow covered paths and found our way again to the edge of the cliff. This time we were a little higher up and we were afforded a more all encompassing view of the valley. This is where we sat for some time. The sun had reappeared and the wind died down. So outside of the ticking of the clock reminding us that we had a two hour hike back down we were once again arrested by the the view. Together, but in solitary confinement, our thoughts ventured outward surveying the seemingly endless beauty time and nature had sculpted for us. I could have spent the whole day and night there—and we promised ourselves a some juncture this summer we would—but with no provisions and daylight fading we freed ourselves from the tranquility of this heavenly summit and began our march downward.

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