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Vernal Falls Hike

The Vernal Falls hike started in the South East corner of the valley map which was some three miles from the information centre - I made use of the free shuttle bus and started on my way. Along I walked, following the trail signs and map; the only tricky part was recognising the path as it was under a blanket of snow, but so far there were plenty of footprints to follow.

The path wound around the lower edges of the mountains, up and down crevices and under the trees. When the path became exposed to the sky it was clear that I had gained altitude by the level of snow on the ground, it gave me a giddy feeling to think that I was venturing further and further into the snow line. Eventually I came to a bridge and a fork in the path - the shorter path, the Mist Trail, was closed, Vernal Hike but the longer John Muir Trail was still open. Looking at the map I decided that I didn't have enough time or energy to do the John Muir trail, which had many switchbacks, I hopped over the gate and took to the Mist Trail. I wondering whether this was such a good idea, what could cause it to be closed, and why there were other footprints already here in the snow.

At Lower Vernal Falls I could see my objective, and the distance I had come already.

So this was the last part of the journey to Vernal Falls Top, a slug up many granite steps and steep sloping paths. Shortly after joining the Mist Trail I noticed a lot of disturbed earth and chunks of ice on the ground, where were these from? Icicles! Overhead there hung huge icicles which had probably cracked in the morning sun and fallen onto the path.

Icicles

Hmm, I hastened past this part, picking my way through the ice chunks as best I could. Up and up, exposed to the elements and spray now, I could feel the weather coming in. It was a case of walking up many steps here rather than the switchbacks of the previous day; for obvious reasons I saw very few people coming down, only a family who were standing in an arch under a big rocky outcrop - I stopped to rest a while, and it seems someone had gone on to check out the route ahead, and subsequently returned with bad news. They didn't say anything to me, they just turned around and started back down. On my way up I discovered why they had done so...

Vernal Falls Ice Steps

The falls were quite a sight! The water cascaded down and was caught on many of the jagged rocks, creating multiple fast flowing riverlets and strange ice formations which were coloured by minerals in the surrounding rock; the mist must have been settling on the steps to the right which lead to the top of the falls, I had to traverse these steps unaided until I could grab the railing (in the picture). Just another exciting day in Yosemite!

The ice here was amazing, I noticed formations not only over the steps but over everything nearby - even the leaves on bushes had thick ice on them. Singing: "Hey, can ya hear me, Hey, something or other, a something something, something something, Walking in a Winter Wonderland!"

Ice Everywhere!

All this ice was beginning to make me feel a bit cold, and standing about wasn't something I wanted to do so I kept on going. The final few steps were almost behind the falls, along the same cliff face, and thankfully were covered in snow rather than ice.

When I made it to the top I was greeted by a group who had come around the long John Muir Trail, they told me it was a long and torturous route and they elected to take the risky Mist Trail rather than go back that way - I decided I would do the same once I had had a look around at the top there. It was very snowy; the Emerald Pool was covered in snow (right), even under the trees was covered in snow.

Vernal Falls Emerald, er, Snow Pool

I found a self-contained toilet which was so cold inside there was no smell - hurrah! In reality it was little more than a deep hole in the ground covered by a tube and a lid inside a little hut. I wandered around the top a while longer before returning to the falls themselves, I could see the people I had just met were already way down below, carefully picking their way down the snowy granite steps.

In Vernal Blizzard The weather took a turn for the worse. Now was a good time to get off this mountain before I froze to death in the blizzard, to be found years later as a frozen and perfectly preserved mummy in the ice...

The reason you can't see much in this picture is because of the blizzard, not mist or fog. I was really beginning to feel the cold now so hastened back down, and this time I managed to return to the valley floor before it got dark. I met the gang I saw at the top of the falls way down on the bridge at Lower Vernal Falls... Snowball fight!!!

On the bus back to the hostel I met a few of the people I had seen that morning - one particular guy told me of his day snowboarding, and since I already had that in mind I was more determined than ever to try it, I would have to get the early bus into Yosemite Valley if I was to catch the 8.30am bus to Badger Pass. Later that evening I was chatting with some people who had been skiing that day at Badger Pass, they told me that the weather was becoming ideal for learners - fresh deep snow which was forecast to continue for the next few days. I couldn't wait!