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Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley – Day 3

September 17, 2012

FYI: To start at Day 1, go here. If you just missed Day 2, go here.

Almost to our disappointment, we heard no bears that night. We were much more efficient the second morning of our hike and had an earlier start. There are two options to get to the end of the trail. One is the take the JMT and the second is to take the Mist Trail past the waterfalls. The ranger we spoke to the night before had explained that the Mist Trail is fewer miles but more difficult. He described it as slippery especially with packs on, and he said there were lots of stairs. We asked some hikers if the slipperiness was too dangerous, but with the park dry as a bone they all agreed that the mist was not a problem. Cali and Sis both wanted to take the Mist Trail, especially in light of the fact that we had not gone to Cloud’s Rest or Half Dome. I was concerned about the stairs because I don’t do well going downhill, but I too wanted a more scenic hike.

Backside of Half Dome through the trees.

Never say I’m not a trooper. Ever again. No, really – I’m a troopiest trooper that ever trooped.

Cali wisely selected some sticks that she fashioned into walking sticks. It was a blessing and the only way I made it down in one piece. She rocks. In my defense, I have some pretty significant knee damage. The trail was scenic, it was not slippery (at least not because of water) and it was an amazing hike. It was also almost exclusively stairs with 12″ risers – in other words really freaking tall stairs. I’ll get the negative out of the way – I was in tears at points from the pain in my knees and all of us had shaky legs. This is not hyperbole. Our legs were literally shaking with exhaustion by the end of the day. This was also the point of the hike where we entered the popular parts of the park. The quiet solitude we had enjoyed for two days was over. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people joined us near the bottom, most of them looking distinctly unprepared for the serious hike up the valley to the top of Vernal Falls. Some of them were too young to understand that a slight push while rushing past the tired, aching backpackers could be enough to shift their 30 pound packs and topple them over the sheer face cliffs –  never mind their own mortality.

Our first view of the valley.

But enough of the negative. Let’s talk vistas. The switchbacks down the cliff that Nevada Falls overflows started very quickly into our trek. It was our first view of Yosemite Valley, despite the fact that we had entered the park three days past. We all took a moment to take in the breathtaking panorama. Halfway down, we stopped for a snack and to enjoy the landscape. Nevada falls was still flowing, albeit not as strongly as you usually see in photographs. This was one time I was really glad I had such a wide-angle lens.

Dark chocolate cheesecake – more pudding than cheesecake, but it was good

By the time that we made it to the Emerald Pool we were already exhausted, and our elevated metabolism had burned through the anti-inflammatories we had taken. But the view over Vernal was lovely, even if I was unable to enjoy it fully.

We saw some hikers that had camped near us looking up at Half Dome. One of them had some binoculars that they let us borrow so we could see the rock climbers making their way up Half Dome. Even with the binoculars, these people looked like tiny ants climbing a giant rock. It was very impressive. I have no interest in rock climbing, but I can understand why people do. What a challenge that would be.

We took a wrong turn and walked a different trail on accident for about 10 minutes. Originally I was upset, but when we turned around I was able to get the best picture of that day’s hike, so I’m glad we made that mistake. To be honest, I have no pictures past Emerald Pool, because I was in such pain I was afraid to stop. Cali and Sis took shots, which I’ll add once I have them.

We had just descended down the trail that is in the dip between the falls and the granite mountain, shown here.

Half Dome is the white rock on the left. Nevada Falls to the far right.

The kids we passed, with their typical energy, were running up the cliffs with little regard to those going down. I understand in a way, because it seems so much harder to go up than down, but I promise it is far more difficult for me to go downhill than uphill.

The trail is very narrow at points and we had wide packs. Hundreds of people were going up the trail, passing us as quickly as they could. I don’t recommend doing this with wide packs, in hindsight. I would recommend taking the JMT trail, instead. It’s longer, but I’ve heard it’s easier. Also, you are more likely to run into other avid hikers, who understand that they should respect the weight of others’ packs. Even small bumps can shift weights in unexpected ways. I’m glad we saw the lovely views, but it was hairy at points.

Nevada Falls, taken by Sis

Almost at the end, we passed a guy on his way up sitting on a rock to catch his breath. As we passed he stared incredulously. ‘Wow.’ he muttered under his breath as Cali passed, looking her heavy pack up and down. ‘Wow’ again, as I passed, and then a final ‘Wow’ for Sarah with a shake of the head. It was a humorous moment, and helped us feel a sense of accomplishment despite our fatigue. Eventually we found ourselves on a paved trail. Cali commented that  pavement equaled civilization and it couldn’t be too far.  She was right. ‘Car!’ she screamed, about a half hour later. ‘Car. It’s a car! That means we’re done!’ I’ve never been so happy to see a bright blue Ford Focus in my life.

Done like dinner

We limped into Happy Isles and a small child ran past with a fruit popsicle in one hand. Sis and I glanced at each other. I knew how this would be settled in the animal world.  (Name that movie.) I had visions of tackling the kid, ripping the popsicle out of his hand and enjoying sweet strawberry nectar while he cried and bled on the concrete… … … but I think we both decided that it would be too much effort. Better to preserve our limited strength and pay for our own.

We, our packs, and our newly purchased frozen fruit bars took a bus to the permit station in Yosemite Valley where we quickly found a woman who we could hitchhike with back to our car at the trailhead where we had started.  She had room for all three of us and our packs, which was more than we could have hoped for. We got our first views of El Capitan on the way out.

It took so long to get the car that by the time we made it back the sun had set and I wasn’t able to get the picture of El Capitan that I had been looking forward to all weekend. This means I’ll have to revisit. Darn.

Terrible light, but it’s all I have.

In truth, our experience of the park was pretty limited in some ways. We saw almost none of the spots that you so often see on travel sites or travel shows. We spent no time in the Valley, which is where 99% of visitors go. According to  statistics, only 1% of visitors to Yosemite see the high country. I would like to go back in the spring and take my husband. It’s a beautiful place. In fact it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to.

I miss the forest; I love the mountains. Sis and I discussed how forest living is so integral to our childhood that being in a forest – any forest – feels like going home.

Finally, Cali provides the numbers:  3 girls, backpacks 26-34 lbs, 27.3 miles, 2.5 days. Started at 8,150 ft went up to 9,400 ft day 1, down to 6,120 ft on day 2, and down further to 4,035 ft on day 3. Whew! I’m tired just reading it.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2012 8:47 am

    Sounds like you had fun despite the pain. I use trekking poles whenever I’m doing an incline/decline for the same reason, sore knee. They really help. Re: Bears–I haven’t seen a bear in two years! I told my husband when we were at Elizabeth Lake on Saturday that I’d love to see one. Two years ago each time I hiked I saw one. You’ll definitely need to come back and do the high country. It’s the best.

    • September 17, 2012 9:04 am

      I’m going to invest in a good pair of poles as well as some knee braces. I love hiking way too much to give it up. I had the same problems on my way back from Everest Base Camp. It’s time I stopped pretending it isn’t a real problem.
      Thanks for following along and for commenting. People are always so afraid to comment, but it really helps liven the place up, dontcha think? 🙂

      • September 17, 2012 9:42 am

        Yes, I do. And thanks for following me. 🙂 My husband really dislikes using the poles and often leaves them home. He says they’re just another thing to carry.

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