I did a lot of hiking in Yosemite. Short hikes and long hikes. One of the short hikes was to the top of Yosemite Falls. Long hikes were to Cloud’s Rest and Merced Lake.
There was a pattern to many of my hikes. I would start from my room. Or sometimes after a meal. Thinking to myself, just a short hike. Then I would get started and not want to stop. At some point I would see I was almost to a certain point. Then figure, why not.
When I planned to hike to Basket Dome for example. I left and went up the long switch-back trail to the top. There were still patches of snow. But I made it to the dome. Sitting there it was amazing. On my way back I saw a sign for El Capitan. Well, I already hiked the hard part. Getting over there wouldn’t be hard. So I hiked over to El Capitan.
Standing at the top of El Capitan was hard to describe. There isn’t a sharp edge. But there is a point where you can look down into the valley. This is more than 3,000 feet. I felt like I was flying. The breeze was soft, and I wondered about climbers coming up the side. I wanted to get closer and closer. But feared slipping off the face.
On the way back though it got dark. By the time I was on the switch-backs to the valley floor I was hiking by moonlight. No one noticed much when I wasn’t around.
The hike to Merced Lake was a planned hike. I got up and left early. It wasn’t a set goal, but a soft goal. Which means I didn’t know if I would make it to the lake and back. But I did. One thing I loved about hiking in the back country was drinking from small streams. I’d never drink from the Merced River. But small cold streams close to their source aren’t hard to find. The water just has a different taste to me.
The day I hiked to Merced Lake was a long day. And I got a rash. For days afterward it nearly drove me crazy. In fact there was a day I almost went to the clinic. I thought it would itch and itch forever. But it stopped after a couple days.
The fastest hike I ever did was half-dome. Most people take their time. Along the path stopping at the two waterfalls. Taking pictures at various points. Resting and eating and enjoying the views. And on most of my trips I did the same thing. But one day I decided to see how fast I could hike it. I took almost nothing so as to be quick. And I hit the trail early and hard. In about two hours I was at the base.
It was early in the day still, and I had energy to burn. So I pointed my hiking feet towards Cloud’s Rest. The sun was just setting when I arrived. Wanting to make it back before it got too dark I turned and burned. But most of the trail back was in the dark.
In my time in the park I hiked almost every trail out of the valley. Including a closed trail. At times I would be alone out in the wilderness. The fact if I got hurt no one would know where I was, how to find me, would sink in for a moment. I’d be stuck like Aron Ralston. One hike which was scary was to Mount Star King. Sounds like something out of Super Mario. My goal was the top. But I didn’t see a safe way to hike it. A climbing friend had told me you could hike to the top. I made an attempt but it was bare rock. I tried some basic climbing but I didn’t have the skills or the tools.
I didn’t always hike alone. Some of the best hikes were with my friend Sheree. We hiked Half Dome in the moonlight. And we hiked a closed trail to Glacier Point. One of the most adventurous was Mount Conness.
When we hiked Half Dome I had worked all day. I went home and took a short nap. It was the Harvest Moon. One of the last chances to hike Half Dome under the full-moon light. The granite of the valley glows in the moonlight. The moon wasn’t up when we left. But when we arrived on the top it was bright. We stood looking at the valley. The High Sierra bathed in the moonlight. It was just the two of us on top of the dome. We talked about the people in the cities far away. You could see the lights from Fresno or Merced.
Then the moon started to go down. We left and headed down the trail. It was dark going through the wooded sections. But I found the trail using my feet. You can tell when you are on the trail by the feel of the ground. Towards morning I started to get tired. At one point I fell asleep while hiking. I woke up touching the mud of a wall next to the trail. But we made it back just in time for work.
Yes, after hiking all night I worked all day without sleep. It was a long day and I didn’t get things done fast. Before starting work I had talked to my manager about calling in or not. He asked me to work.
The next two hikes with Sheree could have ended badly. The shorter of the two was a closed trail to Glacier Point. I’m not going to tell you how to find the trail. But anyone who has looked at Glacier Point can see much of the route. It was closed due to rock falls and it being dangerous. The trail climbs across the face of the point. This is the part I thought would be scary. But it wasn’t bad. After this you enter a ravine and a steep climb to the top.
It was here we had trouble. Going up the creek I was in front. A large boulder was blocking our path. No, there wasn’t a path. But we had to move around the rock. It looked loose to me so I advised Sheree not to touch the rock. And I was just getting around it when it slid. About the size of a small desk, it could have hurt her. But Sheree jumped out of the way. From there we made it to the top and hiked down the Four Mile Trail.
Going to Mount Conness was Sheree’s idea. It is on the east border of the park. While driving to the trail head I heard Jack Johnson for the first time. Things started out good. We knew where we were headed and making good progress. But near a small lake we lost the path. At this elevation, around 13,000 feet, you are hiking over boulders and rocks.
We could still see the peak. Somehow we had gone up the wrong side of a ridge. Now we had to climb over and down the ridge. The mountain was too steep going forward. Going down the otherside was also steep. At one point we couldn’t see any easy way down. We found a point and thought about jumping. Or looking for another route. In the end we decided I would brace myself and lower her down. Then she could help me down.
She lowered herself and jumped down. She landed and rolled over. She was fine, but now I could see just how far the fall was and it scared me. It was too far for her to assist me. Time to find another route.
From there we started to hike back up the mountain. I thought there was a good path and started to take it. She went another direction. Soon the path I was on got steep. And then I was climbing up cracks. Not real climbing, but a bit more than hiking. There were a few points along the climb I cut myself off for going back. Rocks were loose as I climbed up on them, and they slid. Meaning they wouldn’t be there to use if I tried to climb down. It was scary and I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t fall like the rocks. Sheree couldn’t see me and later told me she was scared. But at the top we found each other. But it was late and time to start back.
Going down we actually found the trail with little problem. Back on the trail we made our way to the car.
There are so many grand moments I will never forget in Yosemite. Things I will miss forever about working in the park. It was a place so big in so many ways. But also so small in so many ways. There was only a small staff of people year around. It was a tiny village. And it was 30 minutes to the nearest town. I had no car at the time. But the housing was also small. There are times it is tempting for me to return to the valley. And maybe someday I will.