This past Thursday, Jennifer and I packed up our Jeep Grand Cherokee and hit the road for a birthday weekend in Yosemite. I’d never been there before and with the still lingering possibility of moving out of state, I figured I ought to go now and see the place Teddy Roosevelt called the “most beautiful place in the world.” He knew a thing or two about the out-of-doors, so I thought his expertise bared harkening.
Our trip begin in a torrential downpour and I was already soaking wet from packing the car before we left our driveway. Freeway driving during a deluge is such a wonderful experience. Passing a semi-truck with 30% visibility on a slippery highway knowing that there is another car directly in front of you but not being able to see it because the idiot doesn’t feel that monsoon conditions warrant turning his lights on can only be described as utterly harrowing. It’s a white-knuckle guarantee. We finally outran the storm somewhere between Dublin and Livermore and had dry, if not clear, skies all the way to our destination of the cozy confines of the Cedar Lodge.
The first part of our first day was spent gawking. You know when people describe to you how amazing or incredible or great something is, and then when you finally experience it for yourself, it’s never quite that good? That is the exact opposite of what Yosemite is. No superlative is wasted on Yosemite. The place doesn’t look real. It looks like it was made on the inside of a computer for Lord of the Rings IV. I’m marginally surprised I didn’t rear-end a deer while driving, as I craned my neck and slouched in my seat trying to see the tops of the granite cliffs. It’s truly an incredible sight. Looking at the face of El Capitan or Halfdome makes you realize how small a person really is. To me, those cliffs represent the awesome power of God and His majesty. Whether it was the power of the water from the Flood, or volcanic activity, or if He just said, “Beautiful valley right…about….here.”, clearly this is a perfect example of His grace and commanding authority over nature. Like I said in my Desert Diary post, God didn’t have to make the world beautiful. After the Fall, He could have said, “OK, for punishment, not only will man now perish, but the sky is now black, trees are now peuce, grass is cadet gray, and mountains are pistachio.”
After catching our breath that first day, we started our exploration in earnest. Our first stop was a relatively easy hike to the base of Bridalveil Falls. The only downer about going in the fall is that most of the waterfalls are pretty puny. They still look cool, but it would be especially great to see them in full rage. Yosemite Falls was actually completely dry. After snapping some photos of the falls and Teddy Roosevelt, or at least someone that looked a lot like Teddy Roosevelt, we headed off to take our first major hike of the trip: up the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls. In the Yosemite visitors guide we were given upon entry to the park, all the popular hikes were listed and information was given on each one about how far, how long, and how hard. Had we consulted said guide before we embarked on this journey, we may have noticed that this hike was rated as strenuous. We did no such thing. As we were leaving the car Jen asked, “Should we bring our raincoats?” I looked out toward the light gray clouds and said, “Nah, I think we’ll be OK. We don’t want to have to carry them for nothing.”
At about the one-third mark we arrived at the Vernal Bridge from which you can see the falls still off in the distance. On the other end of the valley, I noticed some fog that seemed to be moving our way. As we continued on, I kept my eye on the fog as it moved up the valley creeping closer and closer toward us. It was then that I realized that it wasn’t fog at all. It was rain. Only half-way to our destination and it really started to come down. Without our burdensome raincoats, the best we could do to repel the water were sweatshirts, which by design soak up moisture. We took shelter under some tree limbs, hoping the cloudburst would blow over. It finally did, but not before we were both somewhere between damp and soaked. And still we pressed on.
Finally, the falls were in view. It was starting to get late and we had an inkling we should turn around and head back before darkness settled in. Well, I had an inkling, Jen was pretty dead set on it I think. To a very minor degree, I now know how climbers must feel. Even after coming a long way and accomplishing no small feat of hikemanship (yes, I made that up), I wanted to keep going, to climb higher. At this point in the narrative, I must say how completely awesome my wife is. Though she was tired and wet and would’ve liked nothing more than to head back to our warm hotel room, complete with cable television and a jacuzzi tub, she climbed the remaining 300 or so of the 700 or so granite steps left to climb to reach the top of the falls. And to the best of my knowledge she still loves me and enjoys my company. I was really very proud of her. Remember, this was a strenuous hike. The 700 stairs we had to climb were not unlike those scaled by Frodo and company in the Lord of the Rings. Except for the giant, killer spiders. But she did it. After we descended the granite stairs, which were now treacherously slick thanks to the rain, the hike back was much easier, though we did get back to the car in the pitch black. All told, I’d say we did OK for two uber-novice hikers.
The next days forced march was not nearly as difficult and was well worth it. The destination was Sentinel Dome and it allows a spectacular 360 degree panorama of the entire valley. It was incredible. I can write all I want about how incredible, amazing, stupendous, tremendous, zero cool and all that that Yosemite is, but until you see it for yourself there’s really no way to understand it. If you live in California, you should do everything humanly possible to go there as soon as is humanly possible. You won’t be disappointed. Even if you’re not a big hiker, which clearly we aren’t, there are plenty of easy trails and places to drive that will take your breath away. And it’s the perfect place to hone your photography skills. You could spend a lifetime snapping pictures in the valley and there would still be plenty left to take. So, do yourself a favor and go.
This is for Brian. There will be a short video of the trip soon. In the meantime I hope these pictures can tide you over.