The Drive to Yosemite
I woke at 4am, after about 3 hours of sleep to leave San Fran in the pitch black, in a truck that I had never driven and make my way out of the city into the wilderness…all on the wrong side of the road.
To be honest, there was a little bit of ‘what the hell am I doing’ running through my mind as I struggled to find the indicator and light switches. But this was dulled by my anticipation of what was to come.
I began to climb into the Sierra Nevada mountain range just as dawn began to break.
Meandering through the mountains on such narrow roads in a big truck, with fatal landslide drops either side, was something I was a little weary of before hand; But it was surprisingly straight forward and didn’t take long either- no doubt because I was embroiled in the surrounding scenery.
Eventually I got my first glimpse of the Granite tip of Half Dome- the only region of the valley currently illuminated by the sun.
It was an incredible drive into the valley as I dropped down from above, giving me a panoramic view of the carved valley floor that I would spend the next 3 days exploring.
I reached the Yosemite Ranger Checkpoint to find the usual entrance fee of $20 was nulled as it was National Park Week- things were definitely falling into place!
Yosemite: Captain Cook Meadows
Driving through the valley with the enormous cliffs dwarfing you either side, really does leave you speechless. There is literally nothing in my vocabulary to describe how incredible and surreal Yosemite is. Its a definite must see.
All I can do is quote John Muir, who was a naturalist who devoted his life exploring the Sierra Nevada; ‘The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.’ Well Yosemite provides even more than a typical forest Wilderness- huge waterfalls, lakes, an abundance of wildlife and some of the most amazing mountain and rock formations are just some of the other add ons that are associated with the valley.
I pulled up and got out of my car at the first checkpoint and walked around the meadows for about 4 hours, trying to take in as much as I could. It was still very early so there was hardly anyone else around apart from the herds of deer who were breakfasting through the greenery and seemed completely undeterred when I sat literally next to them. As I sat facing Yosemite falls, I then glimpsed the movements of 3-4 miniature figures, who were half way up from scaling the El-Capitan cliff face.
Sitting with the deer
I photographed my way through the morning in Captain Cook meadows and then headed to the village at lunchtime, to obtain a Wilderness Permit, enabling me to scale and camp in the complete wild at one of the mountain peaks the next day.
Yosemite Wilderness Permit and Campsite
The Wilderness Permit fee was $5 and also included a free night camping at the base of the Mist Trail, which also solved my problem of sleeping as the other camps were fully booked.
I was hoping to climb up the four mile trail to the top of the Panoramic View, sleep there and then climb down the panoramic trail the following morning, merging with the popular mist trail.
However the Ranger explained that the Panoramic trail was largely inaccessible and would require specialist equipment as it was still heavily covered in snow.
I opted instead to climb to Eagle Peak, some 1500 ft above Yosemite Falls- which was highly recommended by Joel -who spent a month in Yosemite -and the Ranger herself.
With my permit secured I headed over to the camp site to set up my apparatus and claim my spot. The camp was incredible- a quiet opening in the forest, right next to the Merced River- it was awesome and a far cry better than being crammed in next to hundreds of R.Vs.
The Mist Trail
As afternoon began to kick in, I decided it to hike the famous Mist trail- The trail we had previously scaled as a family on my only other visit to Yosemite.
The first section of the Mist Trail is a relatively tame trek (compared to the others in Yosemite) and follows the Merced River the whole way up to the Nevada and Vernal Waterfalls and then eventually to the imperious Half Dome.
It took about 1- 1½ hours to climb to the steps of Vernal Falls. In April, the trail really does live up to its namesake-the waterfalls are generally at their most powerful during this period as the glaciers begin to thaw- and the mist produced from the thundering Merced river is spectacular. Furthermore as the evening sun was relatively low, the light refraction created about half a dozen rainbows, scattered around the falls.
The hike along the Mist Trail
The steps were pretty slippery but continued up to the top of the falls.
There is one particularly exhilarating section of the trail as you have to trek out onto a narrow track, carved to the edge of the cliff-face, with only a steel barrier between safety and a 1000ft drop into the waterfall base.
At the top of Vernal there are several pools for those who can brave the ice cold temperatures and the prospect of being washed away and down the waterfall.
It is also at this point that most people will turn round and head back down.
I sat for around 30-40 minutes taking in the surroundings and watching the sun dip below the mountains before also flocking with the other hikers back down to the camp.
The Top of Vernal Falls along the Mist Trail
Camp and Climbers
I ended an incredible day with dinner and a beer by the camp river and watched as the stars began to reveal themselves and as the headlights of the El-Capitan rock-climbers progressed higher up the granite face- It amazes me how people climb that at night and will sleep dangling some 2000ft above ground!
Tomorrow I will be venturing on my own climb- 7800ft above the valley!
Ending the Day at Camp watching the climbers scale El Capitan