Yosemite National Park is the the home to Sierra Nevada Mountain range, the tallest in Northern America (excluding the massive peaks of Alaska).
June 6th, Friday, San Jose- Woke up early the next day and drove to Yosemite. Lush green mountains on either sides made me forget that I was feeling like throwing up due to the extremely winding roads. Pretty decent scenery- I thought. But not as great as the Grand Canyon. This place had better live up to the high standard I had set last year. I had a feeling it wouldn’t. Then all of a sudden, Merced river with its gushing water came into view surrounded by huge granite walls. Spectacular waterfalls surprised me around every corner bringing a whole new spasm of delight. I was sold to Yosemite at this point.
We checked into our wooden cabins at Curry village for the night. We would get ready and hike the next morning. The initial trail we were supposed to take (and did three months of research on) was flooded waist deep with ice-cold water from the lake. It was early spring and the icecaps were melting. Change of plans. We had no other plan, so we just took whatever itinerary the ranger gave us. A trek up to Glacier Point along a trail called the Four mile trail (obviously 4 miles) and up to "Little Yosemite Valley" along the Panorama Trail (8 miles) From Little Yosemite Valley, we could get down back to the valley via the John Muir Trail (4 miles) or the Mist Trail (3miles). If we had time, we could climb the Half Dome ( a spectacular granite dome which dominates the landscape of Yosemite)
This place is home to a large population of Black Bears. They would sprinkle out like pepper if you turned Yosemite upside-down. The bears just like to mind their own business and don't like to interact with humans.. so we were told. Also we were told that the bears of Yosemite had developed a better scheme than hunting in the wild, they just take food from humans. So some bears will go to any measures to get the food. That’s not too good for the bear as the bear can die/become really sick eating the stuff we humans eat. The bears needed to be protected. Oh sure! The logic is that we were entering the bear’s home and we were to play by their rules. So we were instructed to store food away in bear canisters (black cylindrical containers with lids which can be opened with a coin). If a bear was to visit us, we were to stand ground and not run away. A bear can outrun a human any day. We were to make a lot of noise and shoo it away. Gulp! This whole thing didn't sound all that fun now.
Food should be locked away at all times, even toiletries and trash (everything that had a smell). Bears can break open cars which have left-over food. Anyway, we had bought bear spray (which was to be aimed at the bear’s eyes incase it tried to charge on us). It was basically made of pepper and something very spicy which would blind the bear for a bit while we could make our escape. I didn’t trust this mechanism one bit. It seemed to me that the bear-spray would serve more as a condiment for our intestines.
After renting four bear canisters (bulky, heavy stuff) from the wilderness office, we headed back to our cabin to do some last minute packing and store food in these canisters. Took us a while to rearrange and repack. Now our food supply had to be sorted and only the most essential things needed to be taken, as there was limited space now for food. The oatmeal raisin cookie box had to go.. so did 50 other food items we realized we could live without. Still all the food didn’t fit into our canisters. We removed yet another 20 items like toilet paper, extra fuel can, extra pair of clothes. Finally we were all set to leave the next morning with our backpacks as heavy as ever.
June 7th, Saturday, Curry Village- Checking the car for food items and storing the excess elsewhere, we set on the four-mile hike, which just went up and up. All along there was this great view of Yosemite waterfalls (4th largest in the world) and the granite cliffs around it. Though it was awesome, it was just one single view for 4 miles of ascent for 4000 ft! We were thrilled at first, then slowly with our backpacks weighing us down, we were trying hard to keep our spirits high. Treacherous was the word. We got bored of the Yosemite falls which we saw even when we were at the foothill. Our feet started aching and mosquitoes had us for breakfast and lunch. Even my photo taking was minimal owing to ONE SINGLE VIEW for 4 hours!
Huffing and puffing with 40 pounds or so in our backs, we finally reached the top. Our triumph was short lived. Glacier Point was filled with tourists eating ice-cream, buying souvenirs, auntie and uncles clicking pictures. Did we climb all the way just to be in civilization again!!! We could have just driven here in the luxury of our cars and started hiking from here! Cursing the sadistic ranger who sent us through this path and now realizing why we didn’t see many backpackers on the way, we just crashed on the ground and collected ourselves. No wonder we didn’t meet any other backpackers!
After the initial feeling of stupidity abated, we looked around. There was a 180-degree breathtaking view of the valley. The Half-Dome jutted out right in the middle in full glory. We could see the Nevada and Vernal falls, many unknown peaks acted like a backdrop to this scene. We were happy we couldn’t see the Yosemite falls anymore. That was on the other side of the mountain.
I desperately wanted to climb the Half-Dome this time. Seeing the dome in front of your eyes can do wonders. But we couldn’t get reservations for the trail, so we abandoned the plans. Now with this present trail, there was a chance we could accomplish this feat if everyone was in perfect physical condition. It was tough but it could be done. Ady was in pain from a joint ache, he was in no position to walk another 8 miles to reach the campsite. Even the idea of climbing any dome was repulsive to him.
Landscape dominated by Half- Dome
After a lunch of bread and cheese, we headed towards little Yosemite Valley campsite. A wonderful refreshing hike down towards Illouette falls (2 miles) had us rejuvenated. We decided to camp right next to the lovely falls halting our progress. It was like paradise. There was not a soul around and the only sound we could hear was the crashing waters of the fall. A deer walked by and posed for our pictures. We dipped our aching feet in the chilly water and sat on the rocks just imbibing the sheer beauty of it all.
Only Pi wouldn’t relax however much we told him to. He was all concerned about the bears. He assumed the position of a watchdog and kept vigil till we cooked, ate and stored away the remaining food in bear canisters 100 ft away from our tents. Also water bottles were kept away from the tent and clothes in which we cooked. We were very cautious. Not one bear came by and some started doubting if there were any bears at all.
June 8th, Sunday, Illouette Falls- I woke up after a good 9 hours sleep at day break around 5.30 am. Smelling the pine needles filling the crisp fair, I had a sudden compelling feeling. Took a shovel and some water to do the needy. Digging a hole was easy, but aiming right into it was the hard part. Comon! Everything can’t be pretty and glorious all the time. After cleaning and washing up near the river, I stretched and did some yoga atop a flat rock on the river. Never done yoga before. I just felt it was THE thing to do in a place like this. Feeling fresh, all my aches were gone…I was ready to start hiking.
The rest of the group woke up in some time and we had breakfast and packed to resume our journey. Since our water supply got over, we had to filter more water from the river to fill our water bottles. Back country water had to be filtered or treated. Otherwise there was a big chance that all of us would be using the shovel more than we bargained for.
We had a 6-mile trek to our campgrounds where we would spend the next night. As we started hiking out, talking loudly, I stopped mid-sentence mortified in my tracks. Just 10 feet away from me was this huge golden brown bear. Some people may argue it was a teenage bear, but I still believe it was an obese adult. It was 2 times my size! All that the ranger said seemed irrelevant, my first reaction was to retreat. I don’t think anyone should count on me in future.
I started stepping back, Pi came forward and looked at the bear eye to eye and made some hand gestures. He was following instructions from the book, which is very difficult at times like this. The bear ignored all of us and started moving away. Now that the danger seemed to have subsided, I ran to get the bear spray from Vicky’s bag (an emergency equipment was kept sealed inside the bag!!!) Now to find the freakin scissors which was somewhere in someone’s bag. After some frantic searching and tense moments, I cut the seal in a hurry and took position much to Vicky’s regret (and to everyone’s amusement). He was hoping to return the spray to the store in case we didn’t use it. Well, too late now!
Now the bear was really far and I felt safe to pull my camera out for a picture. If you see the photo, you’ll know what kind of a mental state I was in. In retrospect, we found the bear very cute and huggable. I guess our day was made. Ady’s leg got better, so did his spirits.
We walked on for another 6 miles amongst thick pine trees and heart-stopping views. The smell of juniper and mariposa trees tingled our nostrils. The pine cones scattered on the trails were of all sizes. Small streams and fallen trees were laden through out our trek. I wanted to stay here forever.
We reached Nevada Falls, a roaring high intensity fall which thunders down into another fall called the Vernal Falls. There were cliffs overlooking the falls. Gingerly I walked to the ledge and looked few miles straight down. It was amazing. The falls made a rainbow on its way down. One false step in the algae here and there’s not a way anyone would survive.
After another mile, we found the campsite. Somewhere along the way here, I twisted my right leg. I was now walking with immense pain each time I lifted my leg. We found a decent spot to pitch our tents and store our food. It was still 2 pm. Had Bisibelabath (readymade) for lunch. Everyone was excited about the prospect of climbing Half-Dome. Though I was in pain and knew that I could not make a 8 mile ascent and decent, I still agreed to go. For two reasons, I hoped that my pain would subside and if I didn’t agree, the rest of the group wouldn’t have budged. At 3 pm we started hiking, this time without any backpack. We were going make it back to the campsite before dark.
Though it was better without the backpack, I still wasn’t moving very quickly with my injured leg. I told the others to move ahead and poor Pi was stuck with me. We were lagging behind quite a bit when Pi made the call and insisted we retreat. I was really not willing to give up at any point, I kept pushing forward bit by bit. Our water supply was dwindling too. He was right. I guess there was no point killing myself. We couldn’t have made it before dark. So half way to the top, we started heading back to our tents. There is always another time like some people might say.
Half-Dome's reflection on Merced river
I was very disillusioned and could have cried at that point. I didn’t realize that I could get upset over such a trivial thing. I think it was more about the fact that the others in my group did it and I couldn’t. That they would come back and gloat about it and hurt me more. Pi should have been the one more upset, as he was capable of completing the hike himself. But he wasn’t the least bit bothered. I admire that and I am thankful that he brought me back. I had a chance to recuperate and the next day’s hike proved to be easy for me.
Once in our camp, a ranger warned us that there was some serious bear activity last night. One honey colored bear was pretty aggressive and if she came back today, they might have to kill her. So sad! The other bear was a mother bear teaching her cub how to steal food from humans. These three bears were of a concern to the local rangers and they told us to be careful.
Without the other 4 around, we were slightly shaken. Playing cards will have to wait for another day. Pi went overboard in trying to protect our food! He even collected weapons like pine cones, twigs and our walking sticks just in case. Keeping the bear spray handy we were ready to face the bears. We would have put Goldilocks to shame.
The others made it to the top and got back after dark with flashlights. They did a very risky thing but we were glad they got back safe. They had to climb using steel cables and some places the its was at least 50 degrees steep. They could have become a live conductor as there was thunder and lightening. I heard about their feat of climbing the Half-Dome amidst awe and regret. After dinner and a raccoon sighting (which was mistaken for the bear cub), we went to a half-sleep fully aware of every sound.
June 9th, Monday, Little Yosemite Valley- We leisurely prepared for our decent to the valley floor where our cars were parked.
Note-To understand this complex para below, you might need a paper and pen and draw the map.:)
We started taking the John Muir Trail down. It was a nice decent and then we came to a diversion. John Muir Trail - 3.6 miles. Mist Trail- 2.9 miles. Greed overcame us. The pleasure of reaching faster was more than the pleasure of staying in the wilderness longer. We took the Mist Trail. We soon realized why it was shorter. Simply because it was steeper. Was I glad or what that I wasn’t coming up this path. After going some 0.5 miles, we met a couple who were coming up the Mist Trail and told us that it gets very steep and wet and that with our backpacks, it would be really difficult to go down…esp down. We were confused. We regretted our decision to take the Mist Trail. Krishnan suggested we go up and resume our journey via the John Muir Trail itself. We agreed upon on thing, going up this 0.5 miles was close to impossible. So we continued down willing to take the risk.
Soon we reached another major falls in Yosemite, the Vernal Falls. It was as fiery as the other falls we had seen. We started going down the steps, which were flanked right by the falls. As we walked down, we were sprayed by tons of water from the Vernal falls making us completely wet from hair follicle to toe nail. We seemed to enjoy this hike the most. Since it was our last day, we didn’t care if everything got wet. The stairs were not all the slippery. We made it to the bottom and since the sun was out, being wet helped in keeping us cool for the remainder 1 dry/hot mile. We were completely dry by the time we reached the car.
The most awe-inspiring scene we saw in Yosemite was that of the climbers. Using just ropes and pegs, these adventurous people were risking their lives to get their biggest rush. My hair stood at the ends by just looking at them through binoculars, sleeping in their bivy sacks suspended by ropes at about 2000 ft from the ground.
El Capitan. Playground for rock climbers.
It saddened us to a great degree that another exploit came to an end. It was worth every mosquito bite!