2 Days in Yosemite

Where: Yosemite National Park, CA

When: Late May 2011

We unexpectedly arrived in Yosemite in complete darkness after a monster drive from Vegas.  What should have taken 6-hours in our shiny red convertible, ended up more than double that – pulling up at our motel in pieces at 1:30am!  We learnt a key lesson that day: Always check ahead with US Highways Department for road closures.  Our intended route into the park through the west entrance was still closed in late May due to snow.  We only discovered that key information mid-afternoon once at Mono Lake.  The diversion?  Well the Sierras are not overly navigable in snow, so we had no choice but to head hours north, up nearly as far as Lake Tahoe, circling far beyond the park’s borders to get west.  Having left Vegas that morning in t-shirts and sunglasses, our surroundings changed dramatically, and taking it in turns behind the wheel we completed the journey with windows open in the frigid night air, filled with gas station coffees fighting to stay awake.  It wasn’t a good start.

I knew that two days in Yosemite wouldn’t do the park justice; an area roughly the size of the US state of Rhode Island!  It was to be a whirl-wind tour, and hopefully a place we could return to in the future to discover the back-country trails.  Due to the weather conditions of prevailing snow, the northern Tuolumne Meadows section of the park was off-limits, accessed by the main Tioga Road (Highway-120).  We therefore decided to split our two brief days accordingly.

 

Day 1: Yosemite Valley Highlights

Due to the cost of staying in the park over-night we based ourselves at Yosemite View Lodge, a simple but adequate motel a couple of miles outside the eastern Arch Rock entrance.  From there it was a slow, windy drive into the main valley area, passing through the famous narrow passageway that gives the entrance station its name…

Arch Rock

Yosemite valley is renowned for spectacular waterfalls, dramatic rock formations, and crowds of people!  In late May, due to rapidly melting snow, the waterfalls really were in their full glory.  If only I had been more skilful/ patient with the camera I could have perhaps captured their ethereal quality better.  Only a short (and accessible) half a mile wander from a car park, took us to Bridalveil Fall.  One of the most-viewed of Yosemite’s wonders, the fall plunges 620-feet, famously wafting a mist in the breeze that resembles a bridal veil.

Bridalveil Fall

Given to the ever-increasing number of visitors to Yosemite, the main road through the valley is one-way.  Slowly making our way along it headed west, we were struck with the monolith El Capitan granite peak, which looms prominently into the valley.  A world-renowned hot-spot for rock-climbers, we peered up bewildered at the very idea that people could climb such a vertical rock-face.

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El Capitan

At the Happy Isles trailhead we joined the Mist trail – Yosemite’s signature hike.  Our intention was to make the 2.4-mile round trip to the top of Vernal Fall, and then if feeling fit, continue onto Nevada Fall (5.4-mile round trip), OR even take the intersecting John Muir trail back to the trailhead to make a 6.5-mile loop.  This did not pan out.  I blame the crowds.  But the constant up-hill climb up the ever-increasingly slippery trail didn’t help!  What we covered of the Mist trail did offer spectacular, up-close views of Vernal Fall, following along the scenic Merced River.  Most people turned around after reaching the footbridge 0.8 miles in.  Probably a good move because that was a great ‘photo point’.  But we didn’t take much pause, eager to reach the top.

Vernal Fall
The Mist Trail

The trail soon became a steep granite stairway, with little to no place to hold on, and living up to its name, spraying us with a fine – but very wet – mist.  After a slow couple of hundred feet past the footbridge I chickened out (lame I know), and retreated.  I was feeling uneasy with the slow, precarious footing, with people squeezing past.  I didn’t know this at the time, but according to the Park’s website, more people die on the Mist trail than anywhere else in Yosemite.  Statistically this is probably something to do with it being so well-trafficked, but ultimately the deaths were due to the often deceptively strong currents.  Less than two months after we walked that very trail three people in their twenties fell to their deaths together in the cascade of Vernal Fall. The group had disregarded safety fences and signs to cool off, before two slipped into the water and a third tried to save them.

Half Dome from the Valley floor

Feeling hungry we headed to Yosemite Village, where a group of deer were roaming the parking lot.  The place is not exactly what I would call a ‘village’; the site is home to the park’s headquarters/ visitor centre, residences for park workers, a post office and a few concessions.   After a deli sandwich lunch, we gave the exhibits in the visitor centre a quick browse, then  watched the short Spirit of Yosemite film in the auditorium.  It proved a good introduction to the park, and more importantly, a nice little post-lunch rest stop.

Completing our tour of the village, we popped into The Ansel Adams Gallery to look at the collection of photographs – old and modern, then headed across the street to Yosemite Cemetery.  Home to the Pioneer graves that were originally scattered across the Yosemite Valley before the national park was formed in 1864, Native Americans – including a tombstone that simply read’s “A Boy” – and more recent park visitors and dignitaries.   Cemeteries hold a certain morbid curiosity for me.  I always wonder what the lives of those whose remains rest there held.  Good or bad, they certainly ended their time in a tranquil, natural place.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached Yosemite Falls, one of the world’s tallest cascades.  The falls are made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet).  Short of time, we took the 1-mile loop trail that took us to the base of the lower fall.  The ‘strenuous’ all-day hike to the top would have to wait for another trip!

Yosemite Falls

We ended our visit to the park that day with a drink in the Ahwahnee Hotel (now renamed The Majestic).  The grand, historical hotel is famous for providing interior inspiration for the sets of the fictional Overlook Hotel in the horror film The Shining.  The giant Grand Hall fireplace and huge tree-truck vaulted ceiling definitely felt familiar!  Having spent a decent amount of the evening (after a few drinks) posing for predictable tourist photos around the place the unthinkable happened… we lost the camera!  Many of our Yosemite shots were therefore never seen again, including all those from that evening in the hotel.  It wasn’t an overly expensive camera – a simple point-and-shot – but the loss of so many memories is something that still kicks me today!

 

Day 2: Mariposa Grove

The next day we were destined for the Park’s southern borders.  According to Google Maps this was a simple 1 hour-15 minute drive into the valley, before turning south along the Wawona Road.  In reality it was a painfully slow drive that involved lots of single-track sections where construction workers patched up the winter-beaten road.  Over 2-hours later we arrived in the parking lot of Mariposa Grove, and instantly felt like we had left the sun in the valley behind us!

The Grove is home to about 500 mature giant sequoia trees, which by total volume are the largest known living things on earth!  The parking lot was much less busy than those in the valley, but with a handful of families – and carrying very little by way of supplies – we hit the shaded Lower Grove trail.

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The California Tunnel Tree

As the trail slowly progressed in elevation, the number of fellow visitors dwindled, to the point that Conrad and I found ourselves completely alone.  Aside from the truly monstrous trees – including ‘Grizzly Giant’ – the thing that struck us was the ever-increasing amount of snow!  By the time we reached the [closed] museum 2 miles and 1000 feet in, the air was biting.  We sat on a wooden fence (because the picnic tables were buried under snow) and ate some crisps and Pop Tarts in eery silence.

The Wawona Tunnel tree which collapsed in 1969 due to a record snowfall that took down its weakened base

We continued uphill towards the Wawona Point Vista, which I think we got to, but am not certain due to the amount of snow on the ground.  Regardless, the trail got steeper as we switch-backed our way upward and I couldn’t help but feel very alone.  I was on high-alert for any sounds that could possibly have indicated bears!  Yosemite is famous for its Black Bear population, thought to be around 300-500 strong.  Signs throughout the park warn campers and hikers to be vigilant with food and disposing of rubbish safely, but sadly people can be stupid and not follow rules.  This can led to bears becoming conditioned to associate humans with food.  When this happens and the bears get a little too ‘friendly’, rangers have no choice but to follow protocol and kill the animal for public safety.  So hiking that day, we made sure to take all rubbish with us, and kept talking so we didn’t startle any animals going about their business.  We didn’t see a single bear in Yosemite, but from our other [limited] experiences so far we have found black bears to be curious but skittish.

I came away from Yosemite wanting more time.  It is spectacular, and despite a few closures, we felt lucky to visit during the less busy season.  Yosemite is notorious for being the most frequented park in the Summer months, and I prefer to enjoy nature with minimal reminders of humanity.

Day 13: Crater Lake Rim Killer

Saturday 2nd July

Start: Crater Lake Lodge

End: Bushcamp, mile 1845

Miles: 18

We are going to sleep on it.  That’s what we have agreed.  After a very difficult 18 mile day carrying the most heavy back-breaking packs yet we are in no place to make any hasty decisions.

The day started much better than it ended.  We had a cooked breakfast in the lake lodge, and headed out around the PCT Rim Trail ‘scenic’ alternative.  The lake had an enchanting mirrored effect in the early morning light, casting reflections of the castle-like caldera walls in the water.


Our strategy for the long waterless section was to carry 4 litres each, and melt snow when needed.  Our particular backpacks are not designed to carry these weights, so the resulting day-long pain did not make for a happy hike!

Crater Lake Rim Trail

For the first 6 miles the blue lake water teased us from beneath (it is inaccessible).  Water rationing was harsh given the hot temperatures, and when we did stop to melt snow it took us an hour to get a few measly litres.  The snow patches ended not long after the lake, so we have had to carry our full capacity for the entire afternoon just so we have the minimum water needed for camp and tomorrow’s hike.

Melting snow is the most tedious job in the world

Late afternoon as I was walking in a zoned-out state I started to become really angry.  How can we be walking through a National Park and there be no water facilities whatsoever?! I passed the time mentally writing a letter of complaint to the authorities.

The trail itself weaved up and down around the crevices of the lake to begin.  At The Watchman, the highest point this trail reaches in Oregon and Washington at 7676 feet, the snow became very icy and we were forced to head for the parallel Rim Road.  Of course this being America the road had no safe sidewalk designed for pedestrians so this was no safe option!  The Watchman trail itself which crosses the Rim Trail and heads to the peak we discovered was closed.

The Watchman
The Watchman from The Rim Road

The rest of the hike became much drier, (just when we needed the snow), even passing through an area called the Pumice Desert named after the dry airy-like rocks. It contrasted against the landscape that we had been in a few hours before.

Someone please give me a drink!

So sore feet, fractured necks (well probably!), coupled with dehydration and our constant friends the mosquitos made the day fairly unbearable.  We linked up with Dan at around 6:30pm who was sitting by the side of Highway-138 eating his dinner in an attempt to reduce the bug pestering in the forest.  Not exactly a scenic spot.  He is also in a bad place.  He said he was hoping that someone would just pull up and offer him a lift anywhere!  We are now camped just off the road as we couldn’t walk any further.  For today we are done.

Not far to go then!

Day 12: Nero to Crater Lake Lodge

Friday 1st July

Start: Mazama Village

End: Crater Lake Lodge, off mile 1820.5

Miles: 4.9

I admit that we did consider catching the free park trolley ride up to the Rim Village this morning, and hiking back down without our packs on to complete those PCT miles!  But a feeling of cheating prevailed so we set out up the steep Annie Springs connector trail to rejoin the PCT fully loaded up.


I feel like a broken record, but it was hard-going.  We climbed 1420 feet in a short space of time and had to use GPS to find the path through the snow.  Our packs now have 5 days of food in them, so we choose to carry only half a litre of water each to compensate.  What’s 5 miles anyway?!  We could have stopped at a few streams to refill, but once again the mosquitos were terrorising us.  Luckily a generous young couple from Colorado gave us an application of 100% deet which did seem to help towards the end.  We need to get hold of more of the stuff – why don’t the United States Postal Service offer road-side deliveries?! Water and deet please.

Trying to keep my feet dry – then we hit snow!

During the hike we bumped into Dan who had decided to take the trolley up and hike back downhill without a pack! That guy makes me laugh!

Conrad with Dan at Mazama Village

On arrival at the ‘historic’ Rim Village we guzzled about 2 litres of soda each from the ridiculously over-priced and understaffed cafe.  It’s the beginning of the July 4th weekend so the RVs are out in force, and kids played around slushing in patches of lingering snow.

Outside the cafe & gift shop

Just beyond the gift shop we scoped our first view of the famous Crater Lake. Wow it really is blue.  A trip to the small visitor centre taught me that Mount Mazama is a stratovolcano with caldera, and decreased in height by nearly 5000 feet when it collapsed after an eruption 7700 years ago.  The resulting lake is the deepest in the US.

Feeling pretty happy to have made it this far!
Wizard’s Island – named because it resembles a wizard’s hat

We tried to speak to a Park Ranger to find out more information about the trail conditions in the next section.  The resulting conversation was staggering for the sheer lack of any insight of information that he could provide.

Sinnot Memorial Overlook

We hung around the lake taking pictures and waiting to check into our room at the Lodge.  The veranda area overlooking the lake has wooden rocking chairs which made for a tranquil resting place.


Whilst there we received an email from a lovely lady called Joan who is a friend of Loren’s – the seasoned hiker we meet last week at South Brown Mountain shelter.  It was a real surprise to be told that Loren was about to come off of the trail at Shelter Cove this evening, some 200 miles short of his target destination.  He had said that he COULD get through, but that it was no fun, and that there is no point “doing it the hard way”.  This did make us think once again – are we doing the right thing by continuing?

The Lake Lodge
At sunset

Some ‘interesting’ facts for you!

Day 11: Crater Lake Zero Day

Thursday 30th June

Start & End: Mazama Village

Miles: 0

My feet are overjoyed today – zero miles!  And a bed. And a shower.  No 5:30am alarm call.

After 4 days of no phone signal and contact with the outside world, we took the opportunity to check emails, the news, and catch up with messages to friends and family.  It felt good to hear from people.  Mostly it was amazing to Skype my mum, albeit for a short time as a power outage in the village cut the call short!

Sitting in the darkness of our cabin, we worked on our plan for the next section.  Up until now our focus had just been getting here.  We now need a plan.  We want to push on, but the next section starting around Crater Lake’s rim trail has a massive 26 mile stretch without any water sources.  Except maybe snow!  That’s a bit scary for us novices.

After sorting out our food resupply box and donating surpluses to the hiker box, we sat outside the store talking with the other hikers.  One lady and her dad were waiting for a very expensive taxi to arrive to take them back to Klamath Falls.  They have had enough.  Jessie, the guy we met briefly at Hyatt Lake pulled up in a car – he had skipped from Fish Lake.  There is still no sign of Brandon and Maya.  I do worry about them.

Whilst enjoying not needing to be in a rush for a change I took some time to reflect on what I have learnt in the last 10 days…

  1. I mustn’t wear a retractable penknife on the outside of my pack in the future unless I want to stab myself (again)!
  2. Carry more deet
  3. And more water
  4. A kindle is not an essential piece of hiking equipment
  5. Mosquitos are evil
  6. But people are very kind

 

Day 10: Hello Crater Lake

Wednesday 29th June

Start: Bushcamp, mile 1811.5

End: Mazama Village, off mile 1818.4

Miles: 8.1

Our exit from camp came fast today – it helps when you have no fuel to cook anything.  We were also motivated to make lunch at Crater Lake!

The packs are finally feeling a lot lighter – containing just a day of food and 1 litre of water.  We hiked as fast as we could but we’re both experiencing jelly legs.  They were just non-responsive!  I think it was largely dehydration.  I was stumbling all over the place.  We need a rest.


It felt good to enter the park boundary a mile in, but we were still a way from anything.  At 5.5 miles from our destination I threw myself down into the dirt of the trail and just laid there.  Conrad came and sat with me.  It was a low point!  We stopped more than every mile after that to eat small bits of food for energy.  We were the walking dead.


Snow and trees remained our nemesis.  Those and the mosquitos who love the snow melt.  The snow got more plentiful and softer the closer we got, to the point it felt like we were walking through sand. They were the slowest miles despite the effort we were putting in!  When we finally saw highway 62 ahead I exhaled.  A small van was parked across the street and a girl from it started walking over to us as we looked at the map.  I was sure she was about to offer us a lift into the campsite village, but no, they had broken down and was asking whether we had phone signal!

So off we trudged for the last stretch off the PCT into Mazama Village.  It is not actually much of a village, but just the sight of the two small wooden buildings made me want to cry with happiness!  We had made it.  Hot food and a shower awaited us!

After a satisfying lunch of burgers, we were told our cabin was not ready yet.  So we joined a small group of hikers sat outside the camp store, including our new friend Dave.  Dave was loitering around drinking beer – I’m not sure what time he had started drinking but he was very animated.  I found him intense in my fragile state.  Maybe hiking alone can drive a person a little crazy?  He referred to our collective group as ‘Hikertrash’.  He can speak for himself – we may smell, but we’re not there yet!

We met two friendly ladies called Lori and Vicky who have hiked the Californian section previously.  They told us that Alfred ‘Speedball’ had arrived the day before and quit the trail.  He said it was just miserable.  We were completely shocked as he had been so confident, had a super light pack, and was very well-built.  They also revealed that in their opinion this had been the toughest section they have ever walked because of the conditions.  This made us feel some solace.

Whilst sitting in the sun wearing our hot rain gear (clothes in the washer), Dan from Kentucky arrived following his 2 days of road walking.  He looked very tanned.  He was joined not long after by Jesus lookalike Habit, who brought further news from Fish Lake that Dirty Hippy had pulled out.  Another shocker!  This guy was a determined 19-year old about to join the marines who was making record time from Mexico.  He was even climbing further mountains on the side with an ice axe just for fun.  His reason for quitting? He had got bored.

Thanks to Chris and Leslie in hiking HQ we received our first resupply box of food and essentials.  What a relief!  With it we retired to our cabin to shower and take a nap.

It arrived in tact!

Later in the evening whilst waiting for a pizza, Micah and his parents walked into the restaurant.  He actually was barely walking.  Conrad called him Sheriff!  He had walked solid to complete the section in 2 days.  I thought that we were broken, but he showed us!  He had counted 803 blow-downs since Fish Lake!  His parents were there to take him home.  He was out.  I hope he enjoys some time away and maybe rejoins us at a later date.  I don’t blame him.  It is disheartening to see so many of the hikers we have befriended opt out so early on.

The last 10 days have been brutal.  I wasn’t expecting it to be easy, but I also wasn’t expecting this.  The combination of blow-downs, snow, and mosquitos have taken their toll.  We will rest tomorrow and plan our next section with a clear head.  Thanks to everyone so far for all your support.

Lassen National Park let down

16th June 2016

Lassen National Park to Redding

Continuing north on our journey to Oregon we had just one day to do a quick ‘highlights’ tour of Lassen.  We had our plan.  It was going to be intense.  We would drive the park road from the southwest entrance exiting through the north.  This would allow us to marvel at the geothermal wonders, take lots of pics, and hike the famous Bumpass Hell to Kings Creek trail.  Hiking up Lassen Peak was also a potential option. Continue reading Lassen National Park let down