Wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God’s wild fields, we find more than we seek.
John Muir – My First Summer in the Sierra
The last day was bittersweet. Ready to finish our week on the trail, we broke camp after a light breakfast. We filtered water at the creek last night and the flow was just a trickle, full of water bugs. The mosquitoes were relentless at the creek and we were glad that we didn’t camp near there. Generally, it’s not a great idea to pitch your tent near calm or stagnant water. 🙂
The John Muir trail guide was very helpful as it listed plenty of campsites – all were spot on. Today, as we made our way toward the Half Dome spur we met a large group on their way back to their base camp. Seems that the area we stayed in is often used by those who climb the dome. This group must have left camp around 4 in the morning to climb the rock. I’m sure Half Dome is a neat experience, it just wasn’t on our itinerary. Remember, as they say on the A.T. – “hike your own hike”.
As we passed the spur trail to Half Dome, we started seeing a lot of people. Alas, the splendor and solitude of the JMT started to fade. Within the next 30-45 minutes, we would come across more people than we had seen all week. It’s probably the main reason we don’t do the main attractions, too many people.
Continuing through Little Yosemite Valley, it seemed like a decent place to camp, but looked crowded. We have enjoyed the ability to pick out our own campsite on the JMT. The Merced River came up beside the trail and the smell of jasmine filled the air. Well, I thought it was jasmine, but they were probably fragrant mountain dogwoods with beautiful white flowers.
The Merced at this point was leveling out prior to the leap over Nevada Fall, and it was deceitfully calm. Clear with a slight green tint, this water has traveled many miles from its’ snowy origin. We passed the junction to Vernal Falls and the Mist Trail and emerged on solid granite. Dropping our packs, we removed our shoes and dipped our feet in the cool waters. Some adventurous souls were wading out into the river. We were probably two hundred yards from the precipice, but it still unnerved me to see people in the water. Almost every year, someone gets too close and is swept over the edge. On the other side of the Merced River, a foreign tourist had climbed down and was within 6 feet of the edge. This was surely a Darwin Award candidate so I took his picture.
We filtered some more water as the day hikers watched. One gentleman asked me if it was safe to drink. I explained that if it was filtered, yes. After a while, my brother and I ventured over and took some pics. The whirling cascade just puts you in awe of the power. John Muir captured this with eloquence:
The Nevada is white from its first appearance as it leaps out into the freedom of the air. At the head it presents a twisted appearance, by an overfolding of the current from striking on the side of its channel just before the first free out-bounding leap is made. About two thirds of the way down, the hurrying throng of comet-shaped masses glance on an inclined part of the face of the precipice and are beaten into yet whiter foam, greatly expanded, and sent bounding outward, making an indescribably glorious show, especially when the afternoon sunshine is pouring into it.
Ready to complete our journey, we got back on the trail and began the longest stretch to the valley floor below. I’m not sure why it seemed long, maybe because we were mentally finished. The stretch from Nevada to the valley was tough on our tired feet.
The scene at Vernal Fall bridge was chaotic. People, like ants milled about seemingly without direction. At least ants have a purpose. We just wanted to get through the throngs of people so we trudged on. I am sure that we looked haggard after a week on the trail, but it felt good to be near the end.
The asphalt sidewalk on the Mist Trail was another reminder that we were back in civilization. It felt awkward to walk on it with our poles clacking about. “Move over people, make a hole, real hikers coming through!” I wanted to say that, but my subconscious did not prevail.
At the end, the sign that lists the various trails was our last photo-op. While the sign showed 211 miles for the JMT, we actually only did our 68 mile section. It still felt good and I was proud of my wife and brother for completing it.
The shuttle ride from Happy Isles to the Visitor Center was tough. Throngs of people made their way on the shuttle and we were separated from my brother. We eventually found each other and enjoyed a good sandwich from the deli. The YARTS bus stop is across from the Visitor Center. In the summer, it leaves once daily at 5 p.m. from the valley and makes multiple stops on the way to Mammoth Lakes. For $18, it was a wonderful ride, comfortable with amazing scenery. Google YARTS and you will find the various schedules.
For the next few weeks, the memories of the trip would resurface and we would laugh about things that happened. It was an amazing journey and one that created great memories. I did push my brother and wife hard on this trip, but they persevered and made it through. It doesn’t take an athlete to do backcountry hiking. It takes a desire to explore and the ability to push yourself a bit beyond your limits.
YouTube slide show of our trip:
Waterfalls have a special allure to us. Not sure why, maybe it’s just the sheer display of power. During this time of year in Yosemite, the volume of water is fairly low. Still, recent rains provided life to Yosemite Falls, so there was hope that Vernal and Nevada would put on a show for us.
This hike started on the valley floor as we parked in the Day Use area and walked the relatively flat couple of miles to the Mist Trail. We would pass the campgrounds where people were just waking up and cooking their breakfast. The smell of bacon wafted on the air as we passed by. I imagined a tall stack of pancakes with maple syrup and, oh I’m sorry this is a blog about hiking not food. Hiking just makes me hungry.
Early morning is the best time to start a hike, it is a different experience. The first part of the trail was asphalt and you got the feeling that you were in a municipal park somewhere. It gradually became a steady incline. You could hear the Merced River and occasionally get a peek at it as you make your way up. We crossed a footbridge with our first good view of the river as it made its way down the canyon. The sound of the water rushing over boulders was getting louder the closer we came to the falls. The path became less structured and the effects of erosion were evident. The sound intensity of the falls gradually increased as did the incline on the trail.
Soon, we could see slabs of rock carved out that was to be our path to the top. It was like the stair-stepper from hell. Often, you were almost crawling to get to the next slab. The closer you got, the wetter the rocks were. It was exciting and a bit disconcerting if you thought about what would happen if you would trip. We paused to take some pics, now noticing the mist from the falls. I imagine that at full flow, you would be drenched as you made your way through here. The last set of steps would be a narrow path cut out of the cliff with a railing to hold on to.
The area at the top of Vernal Falls has railings that will allow you to get within a few feet of the falls. The precipitous drop looked radical. Within a year, several more people would die here – being swept over the falls as they foolishly climbed over the railing. The water actually wasn’t that deep near the falls, but boy was it swift. We would have our lunch here as the ground squirrels bravely made their way to your feet for the crumbs. Ever the mischievous one, I threw a few breadcrumbs at Mary’s feet to see how close they would get.
After lunch, we started making our way to Nevada Falls. Most people would turn around here and head down. We ran into a couple and the man asked us if we had something to fix his shoe. I looked at his shoe, the bottom was flopping around like a beaver’s tail. After laughing at his predicament, I gave him some rope and he secured the sole. They took some souvenir pics with us and we continued up. On the way up, we were passed by a group of young German guys. The hike through the forest was peaceful with the leaves changing, the leaves bright green,yellow and orange.
We came to an opening and the falls popped into view. Thinking that we were close, we noticed that the top of the falls were actually a couple of hundred feet higher. The path there was another crawl over even steeper steps that required a break every 3-4 minutes. Well, at least there were steps.
The top of Nevada Falls really opens up like one huge slab of granite with a river running through it. There was a stiff breeze that would take your hat off. The sound of the falls was intense, like mega white noise. You had to yell to hear each other.
We spent some time checking out the area which we had to ourselves. So the trick is get on the trail late in the day, by early noon most of the people were gone. Of course in the summer with thunderstorms around the afternoon, this wouldn’t be a good plan. We would cross the Merced River over a footbridge. It took a little while to see where the trail picked up, but soon the John Muir Trail came into view. It was a nice descent down to the valley floor. A good 8 miles from where we parked and 1,900 ft. of elevation gain. This combo is a good cardio workout with some excellent scenery. But hey, where in Yosemite is the scenery not excellent?
This hike would be the last on this trip to Yosemite. Our goal is to be up here at least once during each of the four seasons. The Sierras take on a different character during each. Can you imagine snowshoeing to Sentinel Rock at night during a full moon? I can! Enjoy life friends, God has blessed you more than you could imagine. Get out and see what He has created.