Out Of Thin Air

1 January 2014 in Hiking, Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park


Camping at Vogelsang Backpackers CampWhen you are down before the sun it’s pretty easy to be back up before it rises. Last night was maybe the first time since I was a child that I was sleeping before the sun even went down and Lindsay was snoring right there with me. So this morning it was inevitable that I would be up before sunrise — Lindsay slept a little longer.

I went ahead and put the tea on — meaning I assembled our camp stove, filled the pan with a little water, tried to light the burner, knocked it over spilling the water, swore, refilled the pan, and got it properly fired up. Then I took in my cloudy surroundings. The dark mass that was looming over the sawtooth peak directly behind us had not moved an inch. It had released a small drizzle the previous evening, but it was certainly capable of more. There were wispier clouds floating by below it giving the illusion that it was moving, but it was not. Every inch of sky seemed to be covered in various forms of cloud with varying threat levels. Some where a dull haze barely interrupting the rays of the sun, others were a heavy fog that crowned the distant peaks, but nothing shouted “get out quick, there’s a storm a brewin!” And so we stuck with our original plan and exited upon the longer route via Lyell Canyon.

Cathedral Mountain RangeLyell Canyon — and the subsequent Mount Lyell which it leads to — were named after Sir Charles Lyell a famous geologist and contain one of the park’s few remaining glaciers. We would not be heading to another summit though, but rather descending deep down into the canyon. Initially, before entering the canyon, we passed a few additional lakes, their cold, clear waters numbing our hands as we filled our water bottles. Then we crossed a stretch of rocky trail that wound through a sparse forest of gnarled and dwarfed cedars that refused to submit to the harsh conditions this location readily provided. At the end of this portion the view exposed another amazing scene of mountains and valleys, clouds and sky. These new worlds you visit while crossing the High Sierra make all the leg straining, body breaking effort worth it. Even when I’m on weary feet there’s a jump in my step when I realize I’m approaching another amazing view.

Descending into Lyell CanyonAfter absorbing the beauty of the pass we made our descent, down into Lyell Canyon. The path was choked with pine, both standing and fallen. If you had to bushwhack through this area it would require a chainsaw. It looked like a trail crew had done just that a short while ago. I’m not sure if the winter felled these trees or a giant ogre, but large stands of mature trees were scattered about like toothpicks and where they crossed the trail openings were cut. I would not have felt comfortable sleeping in this threatening forest. Every creak of a tree in the wind would have had me trembling.

As we made our way through this dense forest the trail seemed to be leading us down into a ravine of impossible depth. It certainly hadn’t felt like we had conquered this much elevation on the previous day’s climb, but down, down, down we went. And just when I thought we had hit bottom we plunged deeper. I was certainly glad we hadn’t hiked this loop in reverse, trekking up this trail would have been unpleasant to say the least.

In time though—a much shorter time than it seemed—we were released from the confines of pine and the trail flattened out and followed a winding creek. Here we once again could clearly see the sky and it was finally blue. Mountains of bright white clouds grew above the mountains of ancient rock, but in the middle was the pure, blue sky of a sunny day. The creek glistened and the green grass danced in the breeze.

Marmot Village in Lyell CanyonOne of the first things we encountered upon entering this new ecosystem was a marmot motel. A large and flat slab of rock stretched out across the meadow and under it were a wealth of holes and caves. Out of these holes and on top of the rock itself were several young marmots. They’re just as cute as can be. Chubby little fur balls who often stand at attention on their hind legs—when they’re not sprawled out on their bellies sunning themselves on a rock. If we weren’t eager for the end of our hike we might have stayed here all day watching the little twerps, but we were ready to be off the trail and so we continued on.

We could almost tell how close we were to civilization by the amount of day hikers we crossed. The concentration steadily grew and grew as we approached the end. A stream of freshly showered folks in clean clothes greeted us with energetic smiles. We, on the other hand were covered in dust, in sweaty, two day old clothes and weary, but still smiling.

We had passed a wonderful set of swimming holes when we started yesterday and I knew they were within reach now so my pace quickened. When we got there I had my shoes, socks and shirt off in an instant and I dove into the icy, cold waters. I didn’t stay long, but the effect was rejuvenating and lasting. Laid out upon a rock in the sun we ate our PB and Js and couldn’t have be more happy with ourselves or the day. It was the perfect ending to another perfect weekend in Yosemite.

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