"You know, there’s room for one more in the car if you want to come to Yosemite."
That’s all I needed to hear, of course. Instead of getting on a train back to Chicago the next morning, I’d be with friends in a loaded up rental car heading for the Sierras. Though we arrived late in the park, the following morning it was clear none of us had any intention of easing our way into our very short stay. For me, it’s just more of the same at this point. Hard life, right?
After getting the worst possible news that Yosemite Falls was completely dried up due to California’s severe drought, we quickly changed plans to hike Vernal and then Nevada Falls. Now, while I’d like to say this was a new, authentic experience, truth be told I have been to Yosemite before. From what my parents have told me, I was a baby and spent a lot of the car ride puking. Apparently my family did a lot of traveling when I was too young to remember anything, but at least they have stories to tell me about how I pooped here or vomited there. That, and I’m finally starting to understand why I have this deep-rooted desire to travel. Clearly, it’s to spite my folks for taking me to all these places when I was too young to actually remember a damn second of it.
Psychological issues thinly veiled in facetiousness aside, after just our first hike in the heaven that is Yosemite I now realize I would go to this park again even if I’ve been there a hundred times. For those inexperienced with hiking, the Vernal/Nevada Falls hike on the Mist Trail and *heart flutters* John Muir Trail may be pretty difficult, but it’s incredibly accessible with frequent water/restroom facilities. I was shocked by that part, and wondered if the park had truly been lost to development. If you’ve been on this blog any stretch of time, you know I prefer my time in nature to be as difficult and dangerous as possible, but seeing as this part of my journey wasn’t just about me, it’s a small concession to be able to refill water bottles instead of simply rationing what you got. Also, in writing this post I was pretty relieved to read that Vernal/Nevada Falls have like some of the most accessible trails in the park. Luckily, wilderness remains.
Another tradition I’ve come to have in my traveling is swimming in any body of water that’s near where I’m going, assuming the risk of me getting a disease is moderately low. At Vernal Falls, the water there was pure, chilly, snow melt. The shock of jumping in usually forces all the air out of your lungs, and if you stay in water that cold you’re sure to get hypothermia. So, naturally I stripped to my underwear and jumped in, swimming to either ends of the pool and attempting to climb up the slick rocks of the waterfall until I could feel all the heat leaving my body. People do weird things in nature. It’s a great mid-point refresher on the way up to Nevada Falls, especially in that late-summer heat. Going further up, though, and with just a little bit of off-trail hiking, we found an amazing swimming hole surrounded by huge boulders, secluding it from the trail and other hikers- minus some dude who was apparently on acid, which combined with hiking off trail seems like an incredibly bad idea. People do weird things in nature.
Though the hike up from Vernal to Nevada is steep and tough, the water up there (the same water of the Merced River which flows down into Vernal Falls) is somehow warm. It’s exactly the right temperature to sit in and forget about time, the sun’s eventual setting, and that you’re at the summit of the trail loop and the most amazing view is literally just around the corner. We would eventually put our clothes back on to further show off an impressive sock game, soak in the valley views, and stare at the unforgiving beauty of Liberty Peak and Half Dome, then saunter our way back down the John Muir Trail, but only after a little more time in the water.
When we descended Nevada Falls, we realized there was just enough time to get out to see the valley. It’s fine enough to get the view while driving in, though we arrived too late the night before to see anything other than silhouettes in the moonlight. But, if it’s okay, I would recommend waiting until you’ve actually experienced the park on foot first.
It’s a different feeling, I guess. But what joy can one really expect to experience when all they had to do to get to this spot was sit in climate-controlled box on wheels that plays their favorite music? If anything, I’m glad to have come to this point after a long day of climbing, sweating, freezing, swimming, and just taking in what this magical place has to offer. What can you really expect to take from this view if you arrive in any state but tired, hungry, and filthy? Sure, okay, it’s pretty and breath taking no matter the method of your arrival to this point. If that’s all you want, stop here any time until the sun goes down. Which in our case, it wasn’t exactly taking its time doing so. The shadows were climbing up the walls of the walls of the valley just as fast as we were, but there was a feeling of victory in beating them to the top.
Watching the last delicate brush stroke of sunlight fade away from El Capitan was bested only by the incredible explosion of the place’s magenta aura that came just after sundown. We were all quiet- fixed still and silent like the small cloud above Cloud’s Rest. Like I said, this isn’t the time to stop here, as was evidenced by the sudden exodus of all the cars in the parking lot to our backs. This is the time to exist here, staring out. This is the moment to be here.