Sunday, August 10, 2014

Yosemite 2014

First of all, it's no wonder that Yosemite was critical in the development of the National Park Service.  The shear size of the cliffs surrounding the valley is absolutely breathtaking.

The Digs
August 1-3, 2014
Yosemite Valley - Lower Pines Campground

This was my first trip to Yosemite and I promise it won't be my last.  A few friends and I reserved two campgrounds in the Lower Pines Campground inside Yosemite Valley.

If you have never gone through this process, good luck!  The campground reservations get released a few months in advance and they get completely filled up a few seconds later, especially on the weekends.  If there is any tip that I could give to that end, it would be to have a good idea on what campground you want to stay in, and have multiple people try and get reservations.  Move quick and have a good internet connection.

The Place
Yosemite Valley is absolutely gorgeous!  You're surrounded by iconic landmarks such as the infamous Half Dome and Glacier Point, as well as huge shear cliffs in the Royal Arches, El Capitan, and Sentinel Dome.  If you've never been to Yosemite, I strongly recommend you stay in the valley for your first round.
El Capitan
Yosemite Falls from Four Mile Trail (not flowing)

As an added bonus, the Merced River snakes its way through Yosemite Valley, offering you a cool relief from the hot summer sun (or whatever sun you decide to get).  We spent quite a bit of time soaking in the water after our big hike.  I thought it was extremely frigid but others I went with called it "refreshing".  Either way, being able to take a dip added a whole new level to your typical camping.

One thing that definitely took me by surprise was all the development in the Valley, and I'm super impressed by how well they have kept everything hidden.  It's hard to tell, but there are two hotels, The Yosemite Lodge and The Ahwahnee (both most likely much to rich for my blood).  There is also a Village, which has a small grocery store, a few restaurants, a pool, and some heavy duty tents.  All this makes sense when you realize that almost everyone that works there lives there.  Don't worry, it's all there to keep Yosemite Valley as accessible as possible while maintaining the beauty of the wilderness.  Basically those buildings are there to make sure you don't mess up everything.

The Hike
So I know you're thinking, "Well you stayed in Yosemite Valley, you obviously tackled the Half Dome Hike."  But alas I did not.  I hope to eventually, but there are good reasons I didn't during this trip.  First of all, the Half Dome hike is permitted.  Not only that, it's a lottery to get a permit.  Not only that, each permit allows a maximum of 6 people.  Now with the stage set, we had 9 friends go to Yosemite, and were only able to get one permit.  Since I've never been, I had no qualms relinquishing my claim to the Half Dome Hike.  There are hundreds of other hikes that I also haven't done.  Additionally, I went hiking with a good friend, Kyle Frost (, who go to Yosemite multiple times a year, so I knew I was in good hands without doing Half Dome.

We decided to hike Four Mile Trail up to Glacier Point, and take Panorama Trail around the Valley, and come back down the Mist Trail.  I know is sounds complicated, but it just forms a huge loop.  For reference please click on over to the GPS Page and check out the Caltopo map.  I'm not Yosemite Trail guru or anything but if this loops wasn't the next best thing to Half Dome for trails within the Valley, it's pretty close.

Four Mile Trail

The Four Mile Trail begins just south of the Yosemite Lodge.  There's a pretty noticeable walking path that takes you from the Lodge straight to the trailhead.  From there the trail zigs and zags and goes straight up the side of Glacier Point.  As the name suggests, its about four miles of constant climbing, averaging about 15% incline.  For much of the trail you're in the forest with a good view of the trees, but every time the view opens up, its even more spectacular than the last.   You'll notice the prominence of smoke in most of my pictures.  That's from the El Portal fire that was burning in Yosemite, east of the Valley.  The smoke was pretty bad in the morning, but pretty much dissipated by the afternoon.

We kept a pretty good pace for the four mile climb, getting to the top of Glacier Point in just about two hours.  By the time we got to Glacier Point (around 10am) it was swarmed with people who either drove or took the bus to the top.  Admittedly, that would have been easier, but not nearly as rewarding.  Once at the top, we stopped by the store, got some water, walked out to the point for a few pictures, and then transferred to the Panorama Trail.
Glacier Point

The Panorama Trail was simply stunning.  For most of the trail, you get an amazing view of Half Dome from every angle.  It takes you through beautiful forest, Illilouette Falls, and Panorama Point, which is a little detour away from the trail, but worth every step.  The trail itself begins with a pretty constant decline all the way to Illilouette Falls, which was a very nice relief to the Four Mile Trail.  It then climbs back up, much to my dismay, at a slightly less 10% grade for another mile passing Panorama Point.  The trail then winds back down to the Mist Trail.

At this point you have a choice to either take the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail back down to the Valley.  The John Muir Trail is less steep, but the Mist Trial takes you over both Nevada and Vernal Falls.
Panorama Point
We of course opted for the Mist Trail to see the popular waterfalls, but I've heard the John Muir Trail doesn't leave any beauty to be desired.

Coming from the top along the Mist Trial, you reach Nevada Falls almost immediately.  Never having been to Yosemite, and I'm not even sure I've seen a raging waterfall before, this fall was breathtaking!  Many people die every year, either falling off the edge trying to take a picture, or being swept of the edge by the water so be careful!  After passing Nevada Falls you climb down a rather steep stair like trail offering beautiful side views of the fall.

The next fall is the amazing Vernal Falls, which usually proves to be the namesake of the trail.  Typically, when the falls are running full, there is so much mist being created at the bottom that the trail is soaking wet and full of mist.  This was not the case while we were there.  Being late in summer and drought upon drought, Vernal Falls was nowhere near flowing full.  Nevertheless, the views of the fall did not disappoint.

This point of the trail is worth special mention.  If you're sill following along Caltopo, I can assure you I did not proceed to climb Grizzly Peak.  We were in rather narrow canyons climbing down steep stairs while others were trying to climb up.  I think the GPS got a little disoriented and had a few misreadings.  Very lame, but as long as this doesn't happen every time the trail gets narrow I'll be happy.  Definitely something I'll have to monitor and for you to be wary of when relying on GPS unit.  Remember, always carry a paper map too!  We were on a very popular trial, so it was rather amusing this time, but if I start to more remote locations this could be more serious.

After Vernal Falls, there just a short two miles back to camp!

All in all:
15.2 Miles
Min Elevation: 3511
Max Elevation: 7422
Total Accent: 7836

The Sunrise
It's not everyday you get a chance to see the sunrise over Yosemite, so of course I'll wake up after three hours of sleep to see it!  We decided that Glacier Point would be the easiest location to get to since there's a road that takes you up there.  Unfortunately for us there was some overcast that hid the sunrise, but the gradual lighting of the valley was still incredible and worth every hour of sleep lost.

All in all Yosemite was amazing and I cannot wait to go back!

Glacier Point
Supplies: Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, lantern, head lamp, ten hiking essentials, camp food, hiking food, lots and lots of water.