Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yosemite Valley Getaway

It's been a long time, over ten years since I've been to the Valley, and Ruth was a little girl (cute, I'm sure) since she last visited. It was time to go back, and what an outstanding weekend it was. We crammed a bunch into our four night stay.

First, there's the gob-smacking view exiting the South Entrance tunnel. Bridalveil Falls, Leaning Tower, Sentinel Rock and Glacier Point on the right. El Capitan, Royal Arches, and Washington Column and North Dome to the left. The centerpiece, of course, is Half Dome, right in front. Welcome back! As I mentioned before, it's been a while since mine eyes have seen the glory of Yosemite. In those days I was climbing routes, showing disdain for tourists, and escaping the Valley the moment I was back on flat ground. Those days were fine, but things change, and I found (ironically) that I was eager to be tourist, and to share the experience with my lovely wife. I was finally going to see the "mundane tourist shit", to paraphrase just about any elitist Valley rock climber.
Above: Bridalveil Falls and The Three Sisters
We were staying in Curry Village, the tent cabins (eg: big canvas tent on plywood floor with beds) were surprisingly nice, however, there are hundreds of them crammed atop each other like a well organized refugee camp (and we're all refugees from something, aren't we? In my case, work.). We lucked out and got a tent on the end, in the smaller and quieter side of the Village. So many of our neighbors were French that Ruth and I came up with names for our little town; the French Quarter or the Champs Elysee, for instance. It was much more civilized than living next to fat Americans, of which there were an alarming number.

Living arrangements settled, we got on our bikes and tooled around, eventually winding up at Mirror Lake (pretty enough, but does not compare to the Mirror Lake under Oden's Throne on the Whitney Trail). Later we rode through sun-dappled glades and lush meadows, stopping for a dip in the Merced. We had a most pleasant evening, eating cold mediterranean-style foods, and fell asleep to the sound of little girls ridiculing their brother in French.

FYI: Almost anywhere one could want to go in the Valley is easier and prettier on a bike than in a car. Trying to drive, let alone find parking in the Valley is a lesson in patience. Watching your vacation slip by while breathing car exhaust is no way to see Yosemite. Besides, people drive by wildlife all the time without seeing anything. Bring your bike.
I had this bright (dumb) idea to do a "very strenuous" (in Yosemite's words) trail. I knew that taking the Half Dome Trail would just suck, so I picked the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. We started early and beat the crush of people who, 80% of them, would never reach the top. The early start did not, however, help with the heat, which would stay in the 90's all day. The stats on the Falls Trail are a warning enough: 3.5 miles (Yeah, right. In a straight line maybe.), greater than 3,000 feet elevation gain, the average time to the top is 4-6 hours. We made it, under a brutal sun, in a little over 2.5 hours. The top of the Falls is pretty neat, it's the gateway to the Yosemite high-country. The views are unparalleled, and standing a bit below the top of falls at the overlook is quite an experience. Would I hike that trail again? No, here's why. 1.) It's hot, in direct sun all day. 2.)It's not a scenic trail and for most of the hike you cannot even see the falls. 3.) there are much prettier places to walk in the neighborhood. It's a one trick pony in that the only rewarding part is at the top. That's it. Oh yeah, we did get to watch YOSAR pluck some unfortunate soul off the top of El Cap in a Stryker basket. Most victims rescued this way, if not dead, immediately puke when the prop wash of the helicopter starts the basket spinning.
Above: the top of Yosemite Falls
Below: these inviting looking pools atop the falls are death to swim in
Below: a view of the Yosemite Falls
Below: Half dome from the Falls
Below: YOSAR to the rescue
Above: Yosemite Falls swings in the wind
We spent our second day in "relax" mode. We rented a raft and drifted down the Merced River, nice enough, but the real treat was simply laying in the sun on the sand bars and beaches along the banks of the river. Life was pretty good. We dined at the Ahwanee, Yosemite's most historic, and beautiful hotel (below). We ate too much only because it was good.
On our third day Ruth and I woke a bit late, had our coffee, and decided what to do. I suggested another hike. I hoped that the Mist Trail would be an all-around winner, and I was right. The Mist Trail climbs steeply out of the Valley following the Merced. This trail is simply gorgeous. Yes, it's steep, and the lower portions of the trail are very high traffic, but this does nothing to diminish the experience. The trail climbs through forested boulder fields, up into the high pines, and soon the noise, and mist, from Vernal Falls commands attention. Rounding a corner one finds a drenched staircase climbing steeply beside the a massive waterfall. Whole torrents of water smashed on the rocks below creating a mist so heavy it might as well have been raining. What a grand spectacle.Atop the falls we took a break to enjoy the views. I pulled out some lunch and my map. I was sucking on a nectarine and showing Ruth where we were and the general layout of the area when she pointed at the map and said, "What's this? It's really close.". "This" was Nevada Falls, and she was absolutely right. It was just another mile up the canyon. So off we went, and I would have really kicked myself if we hadn't. As you can see below, in a picture I took from the trail between Vernal and Nevada, Nevada Falls is epic in size and scale.
Above: beside Nevada Falls
Below: Looking down Nevada Falls
Above: the lip of Nevada Falls
Below: the Nevada water lounger
Above & Below: Ruth on the Nevada Falls Trail
What a sweet getaway weekend. I was impressed all over again and it was so nice to just enjoy the Valley for what it is...a National Park, a treasure available to all. Yosemite is an awe inspiring place, and opportunities to explore are nearly endless. I think we had such a good time because that's what we were there for. I think places like Yosemite mirror and amplify the energy one brings to them, and we were ready to explore and relax and bask in the majesty of the place, and we were rewarded.
Below first: some big granite thingy
Second: Leaning Tower and Bridalveil Falls
Third: The 150 year old Wawona, a very nice place for a relaxed breakfast
Bottom: Vernal Falls

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