After 3.5 years living in California, I finally made it north to Yosemite National Park earlier this month. Yosemite is rightly one of the most famous and widely visited national parks in the country. I had been looking forward to this trip for quite some time and it did not disappoint. I already cannot wait to return.
As the summer months are some of the busiest, I lucked out on my lodging arrangements. I have long-time family friends (we go all the way back to preschool) who live in Mariposa, just outside the park entrance. Peter and Cheryl welcomed me into their home with open arms. Their home is located on 98 acres of property in a very secluded spot down a dirt road. They have been told there is a mountain lion and a bear living on their property. I don’t think I would like to find out for sure. They have two dogs and 6 chickens, a garden and orchard, a small pond with hundreds of tadpoles, and a tractor 🙂 (more on that later). And their home is entirely run by solar energy! They actually are in the process of transforming their home into a bed and breakfast. It would be a great place to stay if you aren’t interested in camping in the park.
While we ate dinner that night, Peter broached the topic of the time of our departure the next morning for our planned hike in the park. When he said 430 AM, I sputtered for a second; when he said early, I was thinking 630! While it was a slow morning, I was glad we ended up leaving so early in the day.
The next morning we ended up leaving closer to 445 AM. 🙂 Their home is only about 10 miles from the South Gate entrance of the park but with the drive on single, windy roads we didn’t arrive to the start of our hike at Glacier Point until around 630 AM. Standing at the top of Glacier Point, it took me a moment to take it all in. The sweeping, panoramic views of Yosemite and Nevada Falls and Half Dome with the rising sun behind were breathtaking. The sound of the falls was thunderous but not distracting, it only added to the magic of the view.
We would be taking the Panorama Trail which starts at 7000+ foot elevation and is mostly downhill, taking us past 3 waterfalls. The first 5 miles of the hike were relatively easy; it was a wide trail surrounded by trees with the occasional climbing over small rocks. We first passed Illilouette Falls as it dumped into an offshoot of the Merced River. After a quick stop, we kept on heading downhill until we hit Illilouette Creek which was rushing like rapids. Peter remarked for the first of many times that day on how shocked he was at how much more water there was than past years. The winter storms had a huge impact on the water flow.
The one part of the trail where I struggled the most was the only uphill section, with a 700 foot elevation. I’m not in the best shape for hiking but usually I can keep up so when I had difficulty breathing, it took me by surprise. I had to make a few quick stops to catch my breath. At this point we were almost 7000 feet above sea level which I realized I had never actually hiked at before. I didn’t think it would affect me but I was definitely wrong.
On those few short stops, it was hard to ignore the changing view. Every spot had a different vantage point. There was Yosemite Falls in the distance with closer and closer views of Half Dome and Liberty Cap. Every time I looked at Half Dome, it solidified my decision to never hike that trail. It was so much steeper in person.
After 5 miles we made it to Nevada Falls and ate our lunch (at 10 AM) at the edge of the waterfall. No fences or anything to stop us. But as long as you’re smart, you shouldn’t fall down the nearly 600 foot(!) drop. Again, Peter remarked on how much water there was, it was even spilling over into areas on the trail that were fenced off. There was one particular spot that was a little dicey as there was a steady flow of water rushing across with a big drop only 5 feet away. And as we made our way down and looked back up at the falls, the water wasn’t just falling off the edge; there was so much force, it was shooting off. It was pretty incredible.
Although we had made it more than halfway, unfortunately this was where the hike became the most challenging. The trail winds down next to the falls (but a good distance away) at a much steeper incline with only rocks making up the trail. It was also at this point that we started running into many more hikers. Up until then, we had only seen about 6 other hikers on the trail. I was already not entirely comfortable on this part of the hike but the amount of people walking past me definitely didn’t decrease my anxiety.
We finally made it to the bottom and had a brief reprieve from the downhill until we got to Vernal Falls (this was also the point at which Cheryl met up with us; she had hiked up from the bottom where she had parked the car). This was the busiest part of the hike as most people hike up to this spot and then turn around. It’s hard to describe but there is a giant flat rock face, situated next to the drop off of the falls, that you have to walk up before getting back to the trail, past hundreds of sunbathers. At this point, the trail is between a rock and a 90 degree drop and at times only 1 person could fit through (there was a rail thankfully). And then you have reached the Mist Trail, which winds down a very steep hill right next to the falls. It’s called the Mist Trail because on most days you get a little wet from the mist of the waterfall. But with the amount of water this year, within seconds we were soaked through. There were moments when gusts of wind blew a sheet of water into us. This hike is steep but luckily has built in steps, which despite being very wet with many puddles was easier to hike.
I wish I had a picture of this part of the hike but besides being slightly terrified the entire time, I was so focused on just getting my legs to make it down this hill I couldn’t stop. Being on the last 1.5 miles of the hike, my legs were incredibly tired and shaky. Luckily, Cheryl and Peter had an extra set of hiking poles that I was able to borrow and were most definitely a life saver. The last mile was tough but I was so proud and happy that I had not only completed the most difficult hike I had ever done but had conquered a few fears on the way.
After taking the shuttle back to the car, which was parked at The Majestic, we stopped into the hotel for drinks and smoothies before getting back on the road.
Driving out of the park, we passed closer by Yosemite Falls and El Capitan. While sitting down at the hotel, we finally had a chance to look at our phones and saw that just that morning, world-renowned climber Alex Honnold had completed the first solo free climb of El Capitan in just under 4 hours, which was documented by National Geographic. Driving past El Cap, my first thought was “that man has to be insane.” The sheer enormity of El Capitan is amazing and beautiful and completely overwhelming in person. I’ve seen pictures, but I’ve never seen anything like it up close.
A couple tips if you are visiting for the first time (disclaimer: I am obviously not an expert but I learned a few things on my trip): First, if you are climbing the Panorama Trail, make sure to check the shuttle schedule because if you make it down and there isn’t a shuttle back, you’re walking that 8 miles back up. Second, you can also climb the trail in the opposite direction but be mindful that it would be mostly uphill. Third, the summer months are crazy and so you should expect lots of crowds if you are going during that season. Lastly, be careful and mindful of your surroundings. The water is beautiful but it can be deadly if you aren’t smart.
The next morning, we met some friends of Cheryl and Peter’s in “downtown” Mariposa for breakfast. Despite being extremely sore from the hike, we spent some time after breakfast walking up and down the street checking out the shops. Mariposa is an old gold-mining town and so has a lot of history. Most of the shops are modern but are located in buildings from the 1800s. Peter explained the whole history to me but I told him he would have to record it and send it to me. It was really fascinating but I would never be able to tell it like he did. But this is a quick read about the town’s history.
On the way back we made a quick stop at Mariposa Coffee Company.
The rest of the day was spent lazing around and reading on their screened in back porch, while everyone else napped. I also had the chance to dig up some tree trunks with the tractor (very satisfying), and hold a chicken!
All in all, it was such a nice trip. It was wonderful to be able to catch up and spend time with Cheryl and Peter and I was so grateful to them for hosting me and taking me into the park. I had an amazing first experience with Yosemite and I’m looking forward to returning in the fall. Being in the mountains was so relaxing and was a very welcome escape from the craziness of Orange County. Sometimes I think I could be a country girl.
Hope you enjoyed reading (sorry for the length of this post).
Next up: my drive through Sequoia National Park