The Traveler in Yosemite
October 10 - 16, 2006
Each place we’ve traveled possesses its own character of adventure for Jayne and I, some more exotic than others.
From somehow losing the trail while hiking up a small mountain trail in Kauai, forced to scrape up and down the mountain, hanging onto trees and bushes to keep from sliding uncontrollably downhill, until the trail mysteriously reappeared just as suddenly as it had vanished; to insisting that the border guard at the Zimbabwe/Zambia border not keep our passports while we are driven across the border for a short air tour over the Zambezi River. Or perhaps the night hanging with the natives on Tobago, watching the cast of characters unfold as the night wore on… (what happens on Tobago stays on Tobago.)
Not the likes of David Livingstone, I presume, but adventurous enough for a couple of fat and happy Americans like us with an insistent twinge of wanderlust and an occasionally quirky view of the world.
Yosemite poses no dangers of foreign intrigue, and one need not be more adventurous, if one chooses, than showing up for dinner at the Ahwanhee Hotel without a jacket and tie just to see what the matri’d might have in the coat room for such occasion as to keep order and proper dress in the Grand Dining Room.
On the other hand, a person could grab a sleeping bag, a shovel, some matches, and take to the wilderness with only that and their wits to make it back out again.
We come down pretty much in the middle of those extremes with perhaps a bit of a slant toward the more comfortable in sleeping and eating arrangements. As in taking respite, on several occasions, for breakfast or lunch at the Ahwanee (after one early morning outing in full hiking regalia, including bandana, which, if I may say so, was something of a hit amongst the wait staff); but otherwise seeking out the quiet and solitude of majestic Yosemite that comes with some effort and contemplation.
In other words, we shut up and walk.
For the full implications of this philosophy we have developed over years of visiting natural places please stay tuned, and all will be revealed.
The Longest Mile
You’ll know you’re on the trail to Lower Yosemite Falls when you’re ambling along a reasonably flat trail through giant Ponderosa pine trees across the road from the lodge and suddenly notice that there are throngs of people all doing the same thing (unless you’re on the trail before 8am, in which case you have the trail all to yourself – relatively speaking.)
Only the people that get out of their car just to shop at Yosemite Village have not walked the one-half mile (round trip) trail to the footbridge at the base of Yosemite Falls.
You’ll know you’re on the trail to Upper Yosemite Falls when, just past the foreboding sign saying, in essence, “Caution all ye that dare venture forth into the wilderness” you find yourself huffing and puffing up the side of a granite wall on a trail of sixty switchbacks, rising through forest and finally breaking out into the sun with a glorious view of the valley some 2700 feet below. Very few, I dare guess, that have walked the short, flat path to the footbridge at the bottom of Yosemite Falls have hiked the 3.4 miles to the top.
Including, I must admit, Jayne and I. This is not to say that we didn’t find ourselves huffing and puffing up the side of a granite wall, plodding bravely up one switchback, then another, and another, ever deeper into the Yosemite Wilderness, for surely we did.
Take the steepest hill in San Francisco - they get pretty steep here - stretch it out for a mile and you’ll have an idea of the effort required just to make Columbia Rock.
Columbia Rock, a huge outcrop of Granite on the southeastern slope of the Three Brothers, is impossible to miss with its convenient railings along the sheer cliff edge to prevent stupidity, foolishness, and vertigo from initiating a hastened descent to the shimmering valley below.
It is there that I finally accepted that my left knee was starting to ache, the same knee that my doctor has advised me is “just wearing out as I get older” – thanks doc! – and realized that since this was the first hike on the first day, I might want to preserve what was left of my aging parts, and leave the top of Yosemite Falls for another day. Perhaps after some more conditioning training up and down the streets of San Francisco.
Besides, a guidebook acknowledged that climbing to Columbia Rock was a perfectly respectable little hike, having risen, I would estimate, about two-thirds of the elevation of the full hike to the top. We could hold our heads up high in our decision to consider turning around before reaching the summit.
So we staked our claim on The Rock, and I got out my monopod and camera to snap some photos of Half Dome, now more across than up in perspective.
Our claim to the rock was challenged about twenty minutes later when two French women came up and plopped down about six feet away from our quiet perch (I could tell they were French by the incessant chatter of which all I understood was the occasional “oui”). They sat facing us like vultures waiting for death to arrive, and thus, their reward.
One woman peeled a banana as they babbled on, perfectly content to wait it out. For all we knew, they were saying to themselves “Will these crazy Americans ever leave?” but for the sake of international relations, I shall assume they had better things to talk about.
It would have been nicer if they’d have just shut up and walked (or at least shut up), but we’d had our moment of quiet reverence in the sweet beneficence and fearsome beauty of one of nature’s grandest works, high above the valley floor; so that’s what we did instead.
Back down we went, every so often slipping on the loose rock and sliding an inch or a foot, my knee reminding me that I’m not a kid anymore; back down the longest mile.
Note: The trailhead for Upper Yosemite Falls is west of the paved path to Lower Yosemite Falls. If you are coming from the lodge toward Lower Yosemite Falls, look for the sign pointing to the left for the trailhead to the Upper Falls. You’ll walk about a quarter mile across the road from the lodge for the trailhead, which is above the parking lot for Camp #4.
Sometimes a morning of hiking gives a person a hankering for a good cup of coffee. So after an early morning hike to Vernal Falls and then a stroll in the autumn sun along the Merced River, we found ourselves at Yosemite Village in search of a cup. Perhaps it’s not very realistic to think that a simple cup of coffee could lead to a brief encounter with serendipity in the form of a Raven and a window, but we take our lessons in life where we find them, and they can be found in places you least expect. It’s all in how you look at it, which is, perhaps, the moral of this little tale.
It started as just a faint awareness, a sound of which I was barely conscious, with a random thought that there were certainly a lot of acorns falling on the roof of a building adjacent to the Visitor’s Center.
Jayne noticed that actual source of the sound first as we rounded the corner to the side of the darkened building, quiet and shaded from the noonday light.
On the railing of the second-floor fire escape landing a raven was perched, facing toward a window. In the window could be seen sun-washed pines and towering granite peaks, a reflection of the reality that lay to our backs beyond the shaded area in which we all stood, Jayne, the Raven, and I.
Suddenly the Raven spread its wings and took flight – straight into the reflected expanse of nature that was the window. For a moment the Raven struggled against the glass, wings flapping and claws clacking against the window before alighting once again on the silver metal railing, bewildered by the invisible barrier to the world it thought it saw just ahead.
Jayne and I stood motionless watching the Raven repeatedly struggling to take flight, only to crash against the limitations of its faulty perception of what was real; fooled by the reflection in the window, apparently unable to simply turn around and go another direction.
“Just turn around”, I thought, afraid that the Raven would end up injuring itself in its continued efforts to make real what was not.
Silently, I took one step toward the Raven and suddenly it flew off over my head into the trees, high into the air, as if the path had suddenly been revealed.
How many times, I thought, had I been just like that Raven, crashing into my own mistaken perception of what was real.
Will I find the simple truth of The Raven; tapping at the window, nevermore.*
*apologies to Poe
Some things overheard while visiting Yosemite Valley:
“Now we’re not really seeing John Muir tonight are we?”
“Each year passes by faster than the last one. Why is that?”
“Bernie, can you hear me? Bernie? Bernie?”
“Hand me my cell phone and my Blackberry, I want to see if I can get the Mets score”
“Folks, that sounds to me like the monster on “Lost”.
Not so long ago, this valley was unknown but to a handful of the Miwok tribe. Now we have families from New Jersey cursing their Blackberrys because they aren’t getting sports scores, people completely flummoxed at the thought of their cell phone not working, pile drivers summoning the specter of some fearsome monster from a popular television show, and an army of bikers ready to run anyone over that gets in their way.
The natives are getting restless.
It seems to me that people become confused when they get to Yosemite Valley. The popularity of the place, combined with all the amenities, gives it, to some I fear, the notion that this rugged valley is something of a theme park. Nature’s Disneyland.
Try putting your cell phone away and not talking. God forbid there be silence in this cathedral of granite. Just look around, let it surround you, give up to it. Let it consume you instead of you trying to consume it. And get off that damn bike! What’s the hurry?
Yes, I fear that many people really miss the point and meaning of this place. But to each their own I guess.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a hankering of a glass of chardonnay; dinner at the lodge is served!
Tomorrow morning we’ll be up bright and early, and we’ll just shut up and walk.
Published by TDS Information Service
©copyright 2001-2006. All Rights Reserved