Yosemite in the Fall Part I: A Day Hiker’s Dream
Yosemite is one of those places that should be on your bucket list. Might as well add Yellowstone too. This would be our first trip to the Sierras with a week full of day hikes. The previous year we went to Sequoia National Park for a few days. This area was unlike any other and we were in awe of the mammoth trees.
The trip up from San Diego through the Central Valley revealed one of the breadbaskets of this state. The rich, flat land on the western side of the Sierras is not quite as scenic as the eastern side, but still a welcome change from the drive through LA. Not yet campers, we chose to stay outside the south entrance of the park in Oakhurst, a small mountain town. The hotel was a quaint Best Western, complete with an in room mural of the most recognized views in the park. Tacky, but cool because someone took the time to paint it. We mapped out a few day hikes ahead of time ranging from 5-10 miles per day. Each day, we planned to head deeper into the park over the curvy, meandering state road 41 that passed through Yosemite.
Four Mile Trail
Our first hike would take us to the Four Mile Trail, a moderate hike from the Yosemite Valley floor to Glacier Point, with some of the best views in the park. Starting out near the visitor center, we would park and catch the shuttle to within a half mile of the trailhead. It was a brisk morning, in the low 40s. The Merced River was lazily winding its way through the valley, the current fairly slow this time of the year. We crossed over Swinging Bridge and began a casual stroll to the trailhead.
Timber is abundant throughout this trail and it takes awhile for the scenery to open up. The first view of upper Yosemite Falls was excellent. Normally fairly dormant in the fall, a recent rainstorm produced decent flows. It didn’t take long to encounter our first critters of the day, a couple of deer munching on the flora. They almost ignored us as we made our way up the switchback. In the summer, I’ve read that this is a crowded trail. With the kids in school, we didn’t see many people today. There seemed to be quite a few “blowdowns” on the way up, each a photo op as we scrambled over them.
To the west, we could see Cathedral Rocks and the other side of El Capitan. As the switchbacks headed east, we would receive a stiff, cool breeze. On the westbound trek, it would get hot from the exertion. We would peel layers off and put them back on all morning.
Passing Sentinel Rock, I thought about how great the view must be from up there. Approaching 5,000 ft, the number of switchbacks increased as the altitude increased more rapidly. The trees started to thin out and became larger. What is really impressive about this trail is each turn reveals a new angle on the amazing scenery. It is difficult not to stop and take pictures every 5 minutes.
Half Dome came into view and the trail became narrow as we would wind around the trees. I can see why they close this in the winter, some spots if covered with snow or ice would be fairly treacherous. Nearing 7,000 ft. walking around the Ponderosa Pines, we felt pretty small. Breaking out of the woods, we came out at Glacier Point, a popular destination with an awesome panorama.
At this point, we were just like any other tourist and took lots of pictures. The views to the west of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and the valley below were enjoyable. We refilled our water and started the 4.7 miles back down. Weird, the constant downhill made my boots feel small. As a novice hiker, I didn’t realize that your feet swell the longer you are on the trail. My toes starting banging against the front of the toebox. What should have been an easy trip down, became a painful experience. On top of that, an old knee injury reminded me that it was still there.
Before we leveled out in the valley, I was sidestepping my way down, looking like a landlocked crab. Within a week, both of my big toenails were a shade of dark blue and would hang on for another six months before falling off. By the time we reached the car, we had hiked over 10 miles and 6,400 ft. of elevation change. All in all, a good way to start our Yosemite adventure.
Lessons Learned: 1. Get hiking shoes at least one size larger. 2. Use two hiking poles, it makes it easier on the knees going downhill. 3. Fall is a great time to escape the crowds in Yosemite.