Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Yosemite Falls Hike

One of my personal goals this summer was to climb to the top of Yosemite Falls, for several reasons. It has been something I really wanted to do after seeing Soarin’ Over California for the first time. They have a scene where they take you over Yosemite Village and then to the top of the falls, but you can see hikers along the trail to the top of the falls. That inspired me. Also, before doing Half Dome last year my dad and I had thought about doing the falls as training. I am kind of glad we didn’t though because I think it would have discouraged me from doing Half Dome.

The Stats:
7.2 miles round trip
6.5 hours hiking time
2,700 foot altitude gain
88 songs played on the iPod

The hike starts at Camp 4, which is where all the El Capitan climbers camp. The trail is extremely strenuous and it doesn’t ever let up on you. From the first 0.1 miles you start going up switch back until you are about ½ up the granite wall, then it takes you along the wall, until you come out to a lookout. Someone long the trail told me it was 1 mile in. My guess would be a little further, like 1.5 miles. This overlook lets you look down both sides of the valley. It was beautiful, even if it was cloudy and overcast. It comes out on a cliff directly over Yosemite Lodge. The view of Half Dome along the entire trail was one of a kind.

I stopped and rested for a good while there. From there the trail goes up for a little while, then the dreaded thing, it went down quite a bit as the mountain had run out of dirt. So there was a granite wall on one side and a little bit of dirt on the other with a granite cliff below. I was cursing the path builders for this because I knew I would have to go back up that. Once you come down it brings you right to the base of Upper Yosemite Falls. This view is quite spectacular. I would recommend that if you are not in shape to do the whole hike that you go to at least this point. I think it is so great because most people don’t get to see the upper falls in the same perspective as Vernal Falls or Bridaveil Falls.
This point gives you a perspective of how far you have come up and how much further you need to go. So I kept plugging on. More switchbacks up and up and up, they take you along the side of the falls, so there is plenty of time to see and appreciate this huge wall of water. About ½ a mile from the top (but I didn’t know where I was in perspective of things at the time) I was really losing steam. A nice gentleman and his family stopped to encourage my by pointing out where the trail ends. On the left side, at the very edge was a little granite shelf with people standing on it. I kindly smiled and thanked them, then I thought to myself, ‘I am never going to make it.’ For a while I had been going one switchback and stopping to breath and then another, my glutes were fire (not just on fire anymore), and my energy was running low. But slow and steady I kept pressing forward. About 5 switchbacks from the top of the trail a couple of gentlemen encouraged me by saying I was only 30 minutes from the top. I got a little hopeful. At that point the trail went behind the granite face of the falls. I was so tired I was thinking, ‘It would be ok if the rest of the group has been up at the top for an hour and they turn around now, I would be ok with that, I’ve gone far enough.’ But I kept pressing forward. Soon I came to the top of the trail and took the hard right that headed to the edge of the granite wall and the falls. I had made it, despite complete and total exhaustion. When I reached the edge the rest of the group was there. They told me they had only been there about 30 minutes, so I hadn’t been that far behind them. They pointed me in the direction of the overlook. The overlook is a very thrilling decent to a granite ledge about 30 feet below the top ledge. In order to get down you come down several sets of stairs to a staircase carved out of the granite wall, where there is cliff on one side and a railing on the other.

Once you are down the hair-raising stairs the view is breath taking… or maybe that was all the energy I just put into getting to this point. The only two thoughts on my mind at that point were, ‘It was worth it’ and ‘This is so beautiful. I am one of few people who get to see this view!’
It was really cold at the top of the falls so I didn’t spend a ton of time there, especially since the rest of the group had been there for a while. Phil convinced us to hike over to the bridge that crosses the river. That was worth the extra effort as well. Then it was all downhill from there…well mostly. I was once again cursing the person who had us go up and then down at the base of the falls. And the constant straight down was not feeling great on my thighs or knees but it was much more welcome than the uphill ascent. It did give us time to make friends with a group of hikers who were going at our pace. It was a dad and mom backpacking a kid in and their friend. We had lots of interesting conversations. I love how that happens when you are hiking, it doesn’t happen anywhere else any more. We eventually made it to the bottom of the trail with much rejoicing.
Over all it was a great hike, I am glad I accomplished it. But like Half Dome, I may never do the hike again. It was just as strenuous of a hike as Half Dome, but half the length. If I were ever to consider it, I would need to be in a lot better shape, with someone else who really wants to go and it needs to be several years from now so I can forget the pain of the hike.

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