Yosemite in the Spring – Part III
Memorial Day weekend 2012 got off to a rough start for those in Yosemite. A spring storm was in the forecast with snow above 5,000 ft. and temps dropping below freezing in the valley at night. The original plan for us was to hike Yosemite Falls on Friday and leave Saturday. My friends (the smart ones) decided to pack it up and head south after lunch. I had other plans and wanted to get another hike in. The thought of hiking in the snow alone was exciting. Having arrived in the valley a few days prior, I got my first glances of Yosemite Falls. Fed entirely by snowmelt, the dual falls were around their peak flow.
In the valley, temps were in the low 50s, perfect for hiking. I packed enough food, snacks for an overnighter and hit the trail. Today, I would give my new SPOT GPS messenger a try and do this one solo. This is a well-traveled trail and I expected to run across a lot of people.
The trail starts out fairly mild and changes to a moderate climb with about 60 short, steep switchbacks from the valley base of 4,000 ft. Not much of a view at this level as the tree cover was about 90%. My pace on the trail is slow and steady. It usually helps to have my hiking partner (and love of my life) setting the pace for me. Today, I would take more breaks and focused on making it to the top. Passing 5,000 ft. the air quickly got colder and the wind picked up. Within 30 minutes, the occasional flurry drifted through the trees. Views of the valley below and Sentinel became more frequent.
The flurries turned to small ice pellets and I broke out the jacket. For some reason, I doubted the distance on the trail marker. It seems like when you have to pick your way around rocks it adds another 10-20% to the length of a hike. Another thing I noticed was how unprepared people are on the trail. Many of them were in shorts, t-shirts with sandals or walking shoes. Most didn’t carry enough water or were prepared for the snow that was now coming down at a steady pace. I’m at the other end of the spectrum. A daypack with almost a gallon of water, food, cold/wet weather gear, 1st aid kit, survival kit – I know overkill, but always prepared – never a Boy Scout. Oh well, one day it will come in handy. Actually, the heavier day pack is part preparation for the upcoming long distance hike.
The light snow continued as I broke out of the woods near the falls. A deer near a fallen log, ignored me until I got within 20 ft. or so and magically disappeared. It was quiet up here and noticed two other hikers making their way up to Yosemite Point. The creek that supplied the falls was steadily flowing; crossing the bridge it would suddenly end into the abyss that makes Yosemite Falls. I decided to continue another 8/10 mile to Yosemite Point. The trail was very wet and hard to make out at times as it crossed the massive granite slabs. Eventually, I would enter a section of a small forest and the snow was quietly drifting down through the pines. A Stellar Jay was playing hide and seek with me as I made my way through the trees. They seem to be comfortable around people, probably because of the food. A spider web was dusted in snow as the peacefulness enveloped me. Solo hiking in this area is simply cool. Temps up here dropped about 16-18 degrees and it was a nice 34 degrees.
Coming out of the woods, the sky opened up and the clouds were partially covering the valley. 3,000 ft. below, the complex of Yosemite Village seemed to sprawl over the lush green valley floor as the Merced River wound its way west. I got up to the railing which was on the precipice hoping for a view of the falls, but was not able to from this angle. Venturing out, I took advantage of my camera remote and snapped a few silly shots.
After hanging out for a while, I bundled up and started my way down. The snow was starting to come down at a steady pace and changed into large, fluffy flakes. By the time I reached the bridge at Yosemite Creek, it had a good dusting. The trail was harder due to the wet, slippery granite chunks. My 5-10 shoes clung to the wet rock like glue – these things are amazing. They definitely are not waterproof, but are great for scrambling over wet rocks and scree. My hiking poles were priceless too, helping me to “spider” down the trail. Earlier, once the snow started, many hikers turned around and now the trail was empty.
Descending, the snow would continue. Reaching 4,500 ft it changed over to a light rain. I was glad, not wanting to try and make it out of the park on snowy roads. Wanting to get home and see my wife, I started home – a 7-8 hr. drive ahead of me. I know, after hiking 11 miles, making a long drive is no fun. Nothing a Red Bull or two couldn’t fix. Making my way to San Diego County, I would cut left at Bakersfield and head east through the desert to avoid the LA traffic. As dusk fell on Hwy 58, I found myself passing through a strong group of storm cells and the rain came down in torrents. I can’t remember the last time seeing it rain this hard in California, but the Lord took care of me as I scooted through and went by Mojave. The rest of the trip was uneventful and the energy drink did its job.
If you were to ask me which season is best in Yosemite, I would have to say all of them. Each is different, all of them displaying the grandeur of a beautiful landscape. If you do go to see the waterfalls in the spring, I would recommend between May 15-30, when they are at the full Monty.