I woke at dawn and crawled out the tent to find a family of deer drinking from the river only 20 ft from me. Not the worst start to the day!
It took about an hour to pack everything together that was needed to relocate my camp- to the top of a mountain. This manifested itself to one of the only draw backs with being on your own- everything is designed for twos- the tent, the gear, cooking equipment ect. There was no one to share the load with and as result I was carrying the weight of a small child up to 7,800 ft.
Mirror Lake and Lower Yosemite Falls
Before heading over to Yosemite falls to begin my ascent, I decided to visit Mirror lake- a swift 3 mile round journey from my camp.
Again, as it was Spring, the lake was at its glorious best, reflecting half dome and the surrounding peaks in its waters.
Mirror Lake is a popular photo spot, but was relatively quiet during the 2-3 hours that I was there.
I headed over to Lower Yosemite falls for lunchtime-unlike Mirror Lake this was particularly crowded with tourists- largely because it requires no effort to reach the falls. There was even some sort of choir section going on with a group of about 30 people singing songs at the base of the lower waterfall- which reverberated their voices into an ethereal, echoing hymn-pretty cool!
I spent a short time venturing around the typical trail paths before stocking up on my water and food in preparation to climb to the Upper Falls and further.
Climbing to Yosemite Upper Falls
With all supplies fully stocked and my lift load even heavier I headed for the Upper Yosemite Falls a 3000ft climb.
The first hour was a series of repetitive hairpin cutbacks which climbed high through the forest overhead. Although tiring it was pretty straight forward with the only ‘hairy’ moment coming as a descending climber knocked into the back of my backpack, nearly throwing me into the trees below-fortunately he atoned for his error and grabbed me before I could fall.
The second hour was a lot tougher, mainly as the trail left the safety of the forest for the exposed, harsh climb which was being harassed by the midday sun.
After a few stops at some of the towering overlooks across the valley I reached the foot of Upper Yosemite Falls, where I bumped into two Australian Matt’s who I had met in a hostel in San Fran the weekend before. They informed me that I was barely half way from reaching the top of the falls- I of course though they were joking as I had been trekking for a good 2 and a half hours by now and I could see the way up to the top…They weren’t.
The next few hours were definitely the toughest. With the weight further pushing me down, the repetitive hairpins that I had started the climb with returned- only this time there was no maintained path, rather just a dust track and, more importantly, the cool shade was replaced by red hot heat- which was magnified by the altitude and disparity of oxygen. It also shouldn’t be underestimated how little control you have over your footing, not just due to the lack of paving, but when wearing a considerable mass on your back your momentum becomes so unbalanced when turning corners or navigating over and under rocks.
Nonetheless, after a good 4 hours of climbing I reached the top of the falls. I was absolutely beat, but the view was unbelievable.
I regained some of my lost energy by glorying in the panoramic views for a good hour or so, but as the sun crept closer to the mountain tops I knew I had to be on my way if I was to reach Eagle Peak- another 1000ft of climbing.
Climbing further to Eagle Peak
Of the 30-50 people who had made it to the top of Yosemite Falls, nobody ventured any higher. For 2 hours I trekked into a darkening forest, higher up into the mountain, without seeing a soul. It was incredibly eerie.
The climb was nowhere near as tough, or demanding as the first 4 hours or so, but it certainly had its challenges.
The first was my increasing paranoia of the prospect of bears. Armed with only a stick and with a bag full of food I didn’t really stand my chances. Its amazing how many tree stumps are shaped like bears as the night draws in!
The second was that there was absolutely no path- which again began to become a major concern. This was woodland wilderness which had been largely untouched from the thawing winter. Only infrequent footprints in the mulch and sawn trees indicated some form of a route. I began taking lots of pictures of certain tree forms and noticeable features to ensure I wasn’t walking past the same thing twice and doing circles.
The third was the ice cold swamps that were created from the melting ice. I decided to follow the routes where water was flowing downhill as I gathered the water would take the easiest and most worn down route- where people would previously have been walking.
I came to a huge knee high swamp, where the water could have been bottled up and sold- it was pure ice water-and it was freezing!
There was no other option other than to wade through, which although I was comprehensive about in the first place, was an incredibly refreshing feeling and numbed the pain in my legs.
Getting Lost Along the way
By now I was 1-2 hours into my final climb and I could barely see 30m ahead of me- the daylight was fading fast and night drawing in. Again I became increasingly concerned, not only that it would be pitch black very soon, but that I was even going in the right direction; I could only up the pace to try and reach my goal. Patches of snow became more frequent, but these were welcome as they helped illuminate my pathway through the forest thickness ahead.
I eventually hit another huge swamp, which was swarmed with hundreds of croaking toads and was presented with a sign, which was half covered in snow and the first I had seen for over an hour- Eagle Peak 1 mile. It was a relief, but one which presented my final challenge- The only way up was to climb up a steep snow hill- which had now become icy due to the drop in temperature.
Although it was only 200m or so it took me 30 minutes to navigate to the top-with multiple slips back down the icy slide to the start (like a game of total wipeout) adding to my frustrations.
With sheer persistence I finally made to the summit- Eagle Peak-the top of Yosemite-and an unrivaled view of the valley in its entirety.
The sun was already beyond the mountains and I could only rely on the last of the dusk hue and my headlamp to set up my tent and admire as the lights far in the valley below enlightened the only area that could be seen. This was pure wilderness; No people, (or trace that there was ever anyone), no campsite, no light, no food, no water. Just me, myself, my natural surroundings and of course the view, which was offered up with complete silence and the only thing that could top my sense of achievement.