Should Have Packed the Ice Cleats and Hired A Sherpa

18 June 2013 in Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

Yosemite ValleyBack down to Yosemite Valley we traveled in a continued mad dash to hit the most popular trails before the masses flooded the gates and diluted the experience. It’s great that so many people flock to Yosemite, leaving their TVs, computers and phones behind—sometimes—but I am a bit selfish and would prefer to take in the many wonders in solitude. Well Lindsay is a fine companion and the occasional homo-sapien doesn’t detract too much, but the first time we visited, a few years back, this park was less of a National Park and more of an amusement park. Parking was impossible, lines formed at trailheads, the ground was littered with garbage of all sorts, and short of carnival games and rides I felt as though I was at Six Flags Sierra Nevada.

But today, a short distance from the campgrounds, grocery stores, delis, and otherwise central attractions (or distractions) we—amongst other hikers—were fairly spread out. And after the first view of Vernal Falls, from the base, we left the families with strollers and the less dedicated photo hunters burdened by heavy gear behind. Beyond the strategically placed bridge—directly below the falls—the trail turned from steep, but wide and paved to a narrow foot path of dirt and rock that grew more vertical with every step. As the trail rounded a bend the mist of the falls wet the ground and cooled the air.

Mist Trail Icy ConditionsAnd as we reached the extent of the sunlight, stepping into the shadow cast by the towering wall on our right side the conditions really changed. The trail now steeper than ever, void of all dirt and composed of hundreds of stone steps of varying widths and heights was covered in ice. Maybe “incased” would be a better word for these were not patches of ice set in concave crevices scattered about. Everything, almost every square inch of trail was coated in a thick and very slick layer of ice. Not only the trail, but the tall grass and moss that grew in pockets in the rocks and to our left in large expanses. Long thin blades of grass, coated in the frozen spray from the falls looked like hundreds of boney, icy fingers reaching out to grab you. This aspect of the scenery was really quite striking as we stood shivering and debating our climb.

Slowly we made our way up. Almost every step provided the tiniest foot hold of dirt set right at the base of each step. It was just enough to dig your toes into, check for grip and step. It was a slow moving process, definitely the slowest I’ve ever moved on a trail, but it was also probably the most dangerous section of trail I have traversed. We were almost entirely alone. We had passed one, very slow moving couple that was headed up, we were passed by a more steadfast or stupid hiker who seemed to be unaware of the potential dangers of a slip, and then we encountered a young couple descending with full packs. That was it. Eventually we crossed another young couple with full packs who upon receiving our analysis of the conditions awaiting them on their descent turned back and took an alternative route.

Mist Trail - Icy ConditionsIt might sound like I’ve exaggerated a little here, but to prove the dangers have not been overstated for literary purposes let me offer this – the trail was closed shortly after our ascension. Gates were closed and nobody was allowed to go up or down that portion of trail. This doesn’t happened that often in National Parks. It is policy to allow individuals to access dangers and abilities on their own, and not to attempt to protect them from themselves. But despite the potential dangers we made it and we were glad we got through it before they closed the gates because the ice glazed landscape was probably a chance, once in a lifetime opportunity for us to behold.

Cresting the summit of Vernal Falls we were once again in the warm embrace of the sun. On the large expanse of rock beside the falls we ate a snack and looked down upon the trail below and the valley cut by the crashing water. Then we continued over to Emerald Pool the waiting area for the water that will eventual throw itself over Vernal Falls. This pristine bath is almost too inviting to pass up. The clear bluish green water is tranquil and beckons you in. But posted no swimming signs and a temperature just above freezing keep you at its edge. We followed this perimeter up and around to a sheet of swift moving water passing over a long wide section of slick rock. Something akin to a giant water slide.

Nevada FallsAfter breaking again for a small snack and basking in the warm sunlight and the relaxing roar of rushing water we proceeded onward and upward. High above where we sat stood Nevada Falls – another towering gusher of icy white water. From here just a faint, but audible static, but as we approached the volume provided proximity. Another stretch of forested, dirt path, followed by an exposed series of cobbled stone steps led us to the top of the falls. Here, peering down over the cliff’s edge we had a commanding view of the valley below. Perched upon a large stone I once again felt like a bird. Views like this are not often afforded to those of us who have been denied the freedom of flight. It’s a long, hard voyage upon bipedal transportation, but it’s worth it. The greater the sacrifice the greater the reward. And my mind would spend the next stretch of time convincing my aching legs that it all was worth it. The peaceful solitude and grandiose view calming every screaming nerve.

Our eventual departure to lower elevations took us down along another trail and led us to one last amazing view of Vernal Falls. Then all the way down to the valley’s floor. We stopped briefly at the rivers edge, removed our shoes and submerged our feet in the freezing waters. A minute was all I could take and that took a substantial feat of endurance and will, but the therapeutic temperature drop was just what I needed. Numb, but refreshed and free of pain I hobbled on peg legs back to the truck.

Tags: , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a comment