Growing up on the West Coast meant a lot of things, including trips to Yosemite. This holds true for both Ryan and myself, although Ryan has frequented this park more, and more recently. I had not been to Yosemite in about 20 years, and I have to admit that, while I was excited to come back to here I was unsure that it would measure up to the likes of Glacier and Olympic. I was so wrong! Yosemite National Park is the High Sierras at their best (minus a certain alpine lake named Tahoe, but that's a different story). The dramatic yet iconic scenery found here tells a visual tale of this region's glacial and volcanic past, and we set out to discover as much as possible in our week-long stay!
Yosemite has over 750 miles of trails so hiking is a must! During our stay, we hiked both in the front and backcountry, and were treated to sublime landscapes, sweeping views, and hauntingly beautiful but charred swaths of the park, ever so slowly being reclaimed by mother nature's greenery. Here are some quick notes about the hikes we did:
- John Muir Trail from Cathedral to Paradise Point: The Cathedral trail head is near the Tuolomne Meadows Visitor Center. We hiked the John Muir trail between these two points on our four day, three night backpacking trip; this stretch of the JMT was approximately 25 miles (excluding the spur to Half Dome) with about 3000 feet of total elevation loss - hooray for downhill! The trail winds through sprawling meadows, past towering granite peaks characteristic of the High Sierras, down into once green valleys blackened by wildfires from years past, near creeks and rivers that feed raging waterfalls, and past two well-established backpacker campgrounds. We opted to stay at the Sunrise backpacker's camp the first night, which is probably the nicest, most beautiful backcountry campground I've ever stayed at. Our second and third nights were spent in the Little Yosemite Valley, which offers an equally nice backpacker's campground; both have the requisite bear-proof lockers which also helps because bear canisters are heavy. Before traversing this or any long stretch of trail in Yosemite, double check water availability and plan accordingly as creeks, streams and lakes may be dry in this drought-ridden locale.
- Half Dome: This is probably the most popular long-distance hike in the park, so much so that permits are required. Obtaining a permit as part of a backcountry adventure is the easiest way to secure your turn at climbing up this iconic peak; otherwise, you can plan ahead and get reservations 6 months in advance, or hope to get lucky in the daily lottery. We began our Half Dome ascent from the Little Yosemite Valley, which shortened the otherwise 17-mile hike to a mere 7-mile round-trip hike, with about half the elevation. The shorter hike is still steep and strenuous (and in my opinion, scarier than Angel's Landing), but standing atop the dome is oh so rewarding. The last half-mile in particular requires sure footing and focus as hikers traverse steep granite steps, unforgiving switchbacks, and ascend the dome with the help of cables up an almost 45-degree-angled slope. I thought coming down was harder than going up, so we had no choice but to take a break and enjoy Hiker's Happy Hour.
Finally, I have to tell you about Camp 4. This is Yosemite Valley's only first come, first served campground, and you MUST get in line early (think 6 o'clock am early) to secure a spot. There are approximately 36 campsites, and six people are assigned to each site - this is the fun part! Ryan and I got lucky at campsite thirteen and were camping alongside Colin, a recent college graduate bike-touring the US; Carla-Paz, a Torres del Paine tour guide from Chile; Sophie and Yann, year-long travelers, bike campers, and peanut butter lovers from France; and energetic, outgoing, mountain-climber Janika from Quebec. What a mix! Ryan deserves a prize for enduring a night of loud, whisky-fueled banter, entirely in French! (Side note: I speak French.) Do yourself a favor a stay at Camp 4.
All in all, Yosemite was a great time, for lots a diverse reasons! We both feel so lucky that when we return to the Bay Area, this special place will be a weekend trip away.