Yosemite Falls Hike
This is the map I was given at the information centre:
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
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:
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...
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.
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!
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.