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Yosemite Falls Hike

This is the map I was given at the information centre:

Yosemite Map

The map shows the road and various amenities around the valley floor, the Yosemite Falls hike starts in the upper left hand corner of the map, and goes off the top edge into the wilderness of the mountains. I came across a couple who were also walking to the Yosemite Falls trail, I was invited to walk with them which was certainly OK by me! They took my photo, I took theirs, however since it was cold and raining they probably had terrible camera shake! While we were still near the valley floor there were plenty of people around, big groups on organised tours no doubt; just before leaving the safety of ground level we heard the tap tap tap of a woodpecker, but for the life of us couldn't see it. As we climbed further up the number of people we saw became fewer, and most of them were on their way down. It was about 12pm by the time we reached the switch-backs and this is where the lady in our party started to experience difficulties with the altitude - certainly the Yosemite View atmosphere was thinner already, and there was a steady mist falling from the falls nearby. Here I had to leave my companions behind, we were not yet past the snowline but people coming down said that it was just a little way further up. We had been under the trees all this time, until a brief gap gave me my first glimpse of the scenery.

The switchbacks were like a kind of torture - back and forth they wound, always upwards. Progress seemed painfully slow, and the rocky nature of the trail meant that you had to concentrate on every step, one false move could mean a twisted ankle and a long hop down. By this time I was soaked through, not only from the mist but also from my own sweat; taking off that ruck sack for a few minutes for lunch made it very chilly to put back on! But I soon regained my composure and continued on my way. The air was noticably thinner now and breathing became difficult, I had to stop fequently to remove sweat from my brow and catch my breath.

Reaching Lower Yosemite Falls I was greeted by a spectacular view of the snow cone - the water from the falls turned to snow before it reached the ground, but somewhere underneath it must have melted again in order to flow down to the valley floor. Up and up I climbed, I met a few more people coming down. The mist turned to snow, gradually, and I began to notice snow on the ground. Just thinly to start with, but as I climbed upward so the snow grew thicker! I had already read 'Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring' and likened this hiking experience to that of Gandalf and The Company of the Ring as they tried to make their way through the snow and ice. Eventually it was snowing quite heavily, and I was truly up in the mountains.

Looking back at where I had come from, and then at where I still had to go, I took a couple of pictures:

Yosemite Path

Yosemite Switchbacks In the picture above the path has emerged up the ravine down in the bottom right hand corner via switchbacks, the path had come gently uphill and along to this next steep part where more switchbacks (a corner of one can be seen in the left hand picture) made up the last stretch of the hike to Yosemite Falls Top.

Although it was cold here I still could not bear the heat under my woolly hat, it was a fine balancing act between keeping the top of my head and ears warm, and not overheating!

The path literally goes straight up and around the slope in the left of the picture. Here I came across a group of hikers who were obviously up here to camp for the night, they all had big heavy ruck sacks on and some were slipping about on the compacted snow; I followed them for a while and eventually hiked past them. Once I finally reached the top it was snowing very heavily, on and off, and there was just a handful of footprints leading to the falls. Here the trail split, there were various choices denoted by sign posts and all were totally covered in snow. I made my way towards where I knew the falls were, to the right. This is the view I had at the top - some footprints lead away through the trees in the deep snow, I followed them to the, well, the end of the earth...

Yosemite Top This was the end, man. The sheer drop was only yards away, 1000 feet down was the snowcone which I'd seen hours earlier. I came across a curious guy sitting by the falls with his back to a rock. He didn't say much, I assume he had come up here to get away from it all. I made my way to the falls - there was a little ledge with a railing, which I promptly stood on the other side of and, leaning over the falls themselves, took a photo.

Yosemite Falls

It was about 4pm by this time, dusk was about to set. I wondered if I should ask the group about camping with them, I wasn't sure at all if it was safe to hike back down so late. Their answer was clear: if I didn't have a good sleeping bag (which I didn't) I would have to go back down, so I had no choice.

The hike down was quicker than the hike up, but more painful on my still-injured knee. Indeed dusk was setting, and I could see the weather turning foul. When I was nearing the bottom of the uppermost switchbacks I could hear a cracking sound and something tinkling away in the distance, when I looked around I couldn't see anything at first but then I saw it: huge icicles were cracking and falling from the towering granite cliff face just by the path lower down. When I reached that part of the path I discovered chunks of icicle no less than six inches thick on the path! I counted myself lucky that I hadn't been there at the time and hastened my way down, for some reason still holding on to this chunk of ice. I talked to myself ("Yoda not far! Take you to him, I will! Meh hehe hehe!" was a favourite) and sung odd verses from songs, such was the deathly quiet nature of the place, just for some company.

Two hours later and I was almost at the bottom, only the lower-most switchbacks to negotiate. Dusk had now set and it was becoming quite dark, I could see lights down below in the valley, they still looked so far away though. When I finally reached the valley floor I had no idea where I was, as I had come out of the trees behind some lodgings. I tossed the ice chunk aside and made my way to a road where I eventually found my locker; my bus was not due for a while yet so I relaxed a while in front of a fire in a communal lodge and sorted out my stuff; nearly everything I had with me was wet - how my camera (let alone the film) survived I shall never know!

Sunday

Having spent a chilly but comfortable night at the hostel I rose moderately early and caught the next YARTS bus into Yosemite Valley. There was noticeably more snow on the ground now, the weather forecast was for more snow in the next few days - just right for snowboarding! I noticed a few more people on the bus this morning, obviously this was an easier bus to get out of bed for.

So what was on the cards for the day? I picked up a leaflet about snowboarding but it was too late to start the one-day course, the bus left for the Badger Pass ski area at 8.30am and it was now past 11am; that would be something for another day. I decided to do the other short hike, Vernal Falls.

I went to buy some supplies for the days' hiking; while I was there I enquired again about my lost hat and gloves and as luck would have it the lady I asked knew exactly where they were, she had taken them and put them in the store room only minutes after I'd left them! This was my lucky day!! Now armed with renewed vigour and hope, and my fantastic new gloves, I set out to see what the day would bring.