Going Big in Yosemite
Going Big in Yosemite
Let me preface this by saying that there may be a few feathers ruffled by this post and I just want to make it perfectly clear that Yosemite is a huge and impressive addition to the trip, one that I would not miss out on if I were to do it again. The simply magnificent granite rock faces and, at this time of year at least, thunderous waterfalls were spectacular.
The park is somewhat limited in its attractions, and despite being a reasonable jaunt from the major population centres of Sacramento and LA, is remarkably popular with the otherwise indoor-oriented general public. The park administration also has a somewhat tired aesthetic, that popularity weighing heavily on its enthusiasm to deal with people or keep the park looking sharp. It simply doesn’t have the zest that somewhere like Zion has. It’s tired, but what it does have is certainly breathtaking.
The drive into Yosemite was amazing. A winding mountain road drops you into a panorama called ‘Tunnel View’ (above), which showcases some of the sights we were to get up close and personal with over the next couple of days.
We chose to camp within the park itself, there were a couple of free camp areas we’d heard about just outside but for ease of exploration, we opted to hit up one of the campgrounds to the North end of the park.
There is simply no way to show the scale of El Capitan in a photo. It’s a hugely impressive slab of rock and, along with Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, makes up one of the big three things in the park. It’s massive, it’s impressive, it’s a big chunk of stone. People stop and take pictures and then move on.
I am not sure how impressive Yosemite Falls is usually but when we were there someone had turned up the dial. Impressive stuff. After a nice 16km tempo run through the park in the morning we sis a 3-hour hike at around midday. We then skipped lunch (can you see where this is going?) and went on a 3-hour hike to Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. At this point I started to get a little light on sugar, making the remainder of the hike more of an endurance sport than I had hoped for. My British reserve the only thing that stopped me begging for food from passing hikers. A great hike. Take a protein bar or two if you go.
An absolutely stunning valley clearly designed by a mid-century modernism lover – a few exceptional pieces and a great use of space. The crowds, although not unruly, seemed ill-suited to an outdoor vibe. It’s strange sucking on your water pack whilst watching someone struggle along a cliff-side trail wearing furry boots and a Loius Vuitton bag. On the flip side, Camp 4 (tens only) resembled a small refugee camp and looked a fun place to hang out, Maybe my reduced focus on personal hygiene was making me paranoid.
Dialling the clock back a day or so; we had struggled to actually get close to Yosemite at all.
A poetically titled ‘Sky River’ had swept mercilessly across California, dropping more rain than the landscape knew what to deal with. Creeks flooded, rivers flooded, dam operators gave chilling warnings that they were about to burst and destroy homes downstream.
The wet mayhem didn’t actually seem that bad to be honest, maybe we just missed most of the action, but the end result gave us some issues. Yosemite was surprisingly out of the way, and certainly out of cell service, for a large portion of our drive South East from Sacramento. The rolling green countryside certainly gave no indication of the grandeur that Yosemite is famous for. The landscape was cut by small winding roads and streams that had, due to the inclement weather, decided to burst their banks, sending soil, small trees and anything else close to their banks into places it shouldn’t be.
We managed to time our route through the area perfectly, just soon enough to miss the road crews putting up road closed signs as we merrily drove miles onward, only to be stopped at the impassable locations. With no cell service, we dragged old-school paper maps from the glove compartment, holding them wide armed, stupidly waiting for the GPS to pinpoint our location. After some degree of vehicular back and forth we gave up, heading away from Yosemite and towards Modesto Reservoir.
Some of you may have heard the story. It’s late; we drive by Modesto Reservoir; it offers camping. We pull up alongside a church and decide that the car park is too busy to try and camp so head back to the reservoir. We pass the gate, head into the camping areas and pick which lovely bit of green grass will be our home for the night. Unfortunately, the green grass is very much waterlogged, the slick surface only just allowing us to escape with 4 wheel drive. We head to the only piece of asphalt, a day use area next to a toilet block. The reservoir is pretty huge. There are zero people there. We set up camp and go to bed.
I wake to hear a car on gravel, My iPhone tells me it’s 3:30 am. Seconds later a police siren let out a ‘woop-woop’ and a stereotypical police PA system pierces the night “.. Occupants of the camper, come out with your hands where I can see them ..”
For fuck’s sake.
Some pretty big fires hit California in recent years and Yosemite wasn’t spared. Once we finally arrived at the outer edges of the park we hiked into the forest. It was rumoured ‘giant sequoias awaited you’ at Nelder Grove. We had to park at the trailhead as snow and a fallen tree would make the journey off road a bit sketchy, and we were learning that getting yourself into trouble was a lot easier than getting yourself out of trouble. A heavy camper, snow and steep drop-offs are not a great combination at the best of times. When the camper is also your home then you tend to err on the side of caution.
Nelder Grove was probably quite nice once. It is now blackened and charred and no less beautiful for it. Sometimes it’s the things you least expect that give you the uplifting feelings you search for. The weight of expectation can be a burden, even for somewhere as magnificent as Yosemite’s valley floor.
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