And the Thunder Rolled As the Hail Fell

11 July 2013 in Memories, Reviews, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

Washburn Point, Glacier Point RoadSo I made it through sixty hours of work and was rewarded with a spell of cold and rainy weather. I made the best of it the first day, but was determined to set foot to trail come hell or high water on the following day. The night before we packed our lunch, filled our water receptacles, and mapped our route. In the morning we were out the door bright and early.

Glacier Point Road, a well treaded access road to the south wall of Yosemite Valley had just opened a few days ago and we wanted to hit it early before the swarms of summer descended upon it. The sun was peeking out at us as we drove up the winding route to the point. At first we were hemmed in by tall trees, but soon views of the distant high country revealed themselves in short intervals. Eventually, after a few quick stops we arrived at Glacier Point. A large parking lot and the facilities necessary for substantial summer crowds let us know we had arrived at this very popular destination.

Washburn Point, Glacier Point RoadI could see the reason for it’s allure. The view was breathtaking. Here far above the valley floor visitors are awarded an unbelievable view of Half Dome, North Dome, and Vernal as well as Nevada Falls. All set high above the valley with a magnificent backdrop of the snow laden peaks of the High Sierra. We made our way amongst the tourists that lined the rock wall barrier squeezing in open gaps here and there to snap a picture. While it was something to behold, perhaps one of the finest views we’d seen so far it was lacking. The hoards of people clustered about, the paved walkways and concession stand robbed this spectacular vista of it’s connection to nature. It was tainted by too many manmade items. Too much convenience and it was too easily accessible. I had driven to this point while sitting in comfort. I had barely stretched my legs before I was presented with this scene at which to marvel. I could get a hot dog or a hot pretzel with goopy, processed nacho cheese mere steps away from this natural wonder.

If I had strained and struggled to get to this point I would have gladly spent the afternoon here, amongst a few committed hikers, munching on the small sandwich and trail mix I had hauled up. But this was not a reward for my effort. It was merely something handed to me far too easily. We took it in, took some photos and then set off in search of quieter pastures. First we ascended Sentinel Dome. A fairly easy hike, but difficult enough to dissuade a good portion of people. This viewpoint was set above Glacier Point and provided a 360 degree prospective of the surrounding area. Again an ideal place to eat your lunch and spend the day, but the crowds coming and going overwhelmed the subtle sounds of nature. Plus it was still a little early for lunch and so we soldiered on.

Taft Point, Glacier Point RoadDown off of Sentinel Dome we marched catching the trail to Taft Point. One of two routes, this route was longer, but as we would find much more scenic than the alternative. On this path we shouldered the rim of Yosemite Valley and were granted several stunning views of Yosemite Falls. So many in fact that at one point Lindsay began to restrict herself photographically. It seemed like each opening in the tree line was just another amazingly spectacular vista.

After crossing a creek and meeting up with the alternative route we were led back into the woods and up and over a large hill then down onto a massive outcrop of rock. This was Taft Point. On our way out to the tip we stopped to admire the fissures which are deep—I’m talking one hundred feet or more—narrow crevices in the granite. At the point we were given an astonishing view of the valley. Here with a few other hikers we had our small lunch and sat listening to the wind and watching the clouds rise up from the peaks across the way. It may have not been as incredible as the view from Glacier Point, but the lack of people and facilities more than made up for that.

Dewey Point Road, Glacier Point RoadOriginally our plan had been to continue onto Dewey Point. But after reviewing the map we found this point to be much more accessible via another trail that split off from Glacier Point Road. It would shave a few miles off our hike and considering we would have already hiked 8 miles by the time we returned to the truck and that the precious daylight was quickly burning we decided this was our best option.

After returning to the truck and driving to the other trailhead we set out right away for the point, eating our sandwiches along the way. About a mile or so in we heard thunder. It was way off in the distance and the sun was still poking through a scattered mass of gray, non-threatening clouds overhead and so we continued on. More distant thunder would roll through here and there, but it wasn’t raining and we were determined to reach the point and so onward we went.

Eventually the rain did begin to trickle down on us. Even though we weren’t properly prepared for it as far as clothing our hurried pace kept us warm and the rain was so insignificant we continued on without hesitation. We crossed a few very small creeks along the way and a few fellow hikers. The trail was fairly flat and so we made good time. The last pair of hikers we passed had told us we were close and that it was well worth the effort to continue. Then it began to rain a little harder and the clouds dropped down upon us literally blanketing the tops of the trees. Undiscouraged we stomped on, hell bent on making it to the point. As the trail took us towards a thinning of trees I knew we were there. Unfortunately the clouds appeared to have beaten us. I dropped my bag and ran ahead to the point. Nothing. I couldn’t see a thing. The air around me was so heavily shrouded in cloud that I couldn’t see 50 feet in any direction.

We were wet and tired. With 12 miles on our weary legs and 4 miles between us and the truck the thunder rolled in once again. Harder and closer than before. We quickly consumed some trail mix and the last of our water, then safely packed away Lindsay’s camera. As we set off on our return the rain came down in heavy drops, at an increased rate. It was steady now and before long we were thoroughly soaked. I tried to look at the bright side stating “well it could be worse”. I must have tempted the gods. Shortly after, just a quarter of the way into our hike the rain turned into hail or freezing rain. I guess I don’t really know the difference, but little white balls, the size of BBs pelted us in a heavy barrage. We took to running when we could. When the trail was not too steep and muddy and when we had the physical resources to do so.

Our feet begged for mercy. Our bones creak and clattered. And our muscles were bound as tight as cables. It took everything we had and the thunderous rumblings above to keep us moving. We transitioned back and forth from running to speed walking. At times, when we had to cross open areas and felt the very real threat of lightening we sprinted. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Lindsay run so fast. I could hardly keep up.

Tunnel View, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National ParkIt took us less than an hour to get back. It seemed like an eternity, but eventually there was the road and there was our truck. We stripped out of our soaked clothing and cranked the heater. Luckily we had some dry sweatshirts in the truck and soon the feeling came back into our hands and arms. Thankfully the running had kept our core and our legs warm.

With all that had happened we were now smiling after reflecting on our day overall. We had seen some wonderful places and despite the struggle and disappointment of the last couple of hours or so we had a great story. This would have been enough had we not returned to the valley just in time to see a wondrous and short-lived phenomenon blossoming before us. Clouds from the change in temperatures paired with the smoke from a controlled burn had developed into a miraculous and chance scene. It only lasted a few short moments, but the clouds framed Bridalveil Falls and bordered El Capitan along the top and bottom. It gave the valley a mystical, ancient and virgin appearance. I think I’ll just let Lindsay’s photos succeed where I am currently failing.

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