Monday, November 21, 2011


Whenever I see the word "Yosemite," I pronounce it in my head as "yo-seh-myte," which then spontaneously makes me think of the lyric "vegemite sandwich" from this song:

So I had Men at Work stuck in my head for the duration of my stay in Yosemite National Park. That isn't why I cut my stay short to three nights--by far the least time I've spent in any park. I just couldn't take camping in the cold and snow, and more precipitation and storms were forecast for the end of the week.

Yosemite Valley, home of most of the famous scenery, is an extraordinarily steep gash, barely a mile wide, with towering granite cliffs all around. All the hikes worth doing climb out of the valley one way or another, putting you well into the snow line. All of the back country is also at high elevation, now covered in snow. So instead of backpacking, I decided to stay in a campground in Yosemite Valley and just do day hikes.

Only two campgrounds were open this late in the season--one was a standard RV and tent campground, and the other was "Camp 4," which was tents only and walk-in (meaning there's a parking lot where you leave your car, and the tent sites--with picnic tables, fire pits, and a bathroom--are a short distance away). It was much smaller and far more primitive, but only 5 bucks a night, so I parked at Camp 4 for the duration. Later, I learned that Camp 4 is right at the base of El Capitan, one of the premier rock-climbing destinations in the world. The camp is famous for squatter rock-climbing bums--some of the people I chatted with were there for months at a time. I privately dubbed it "Camp Hardcore." Unfortunately, it was so cold and so damp that the only way to stay warm after dark (like five p.m.) was to get inside my tent, inside my sleeping bag. Not very social. Yet another reason I didn't stay long.

According to the few people I did meet, I squeezed in the three premier hikes in Yosemite--Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, and the Mist Trail. I didn't take a whole lot of photos, especially since the scenery was of the waterfalls-and-distant-vistas variety that almost never come out, but everything was quite beautiful, especially with a smattering of snow.

Glacier Point is an overlook of the entire Yosemite Valley. On my way up, I ran into a couple and overheard the girl lamenting that she was wearing her porous summer hiking shoes in what turned out to be nearly seven inches of snow at the top. I offered her one of the foot-warmer packets I carry with me, and we joined up to hike to the top of Sentinel Dome, just above Glacier Point.

Upper Yosemite Falls, with a rainbow. Normally, Yosemite Falls is dry by autumn, but melting snow let it run during the day.
Snow on the precarious trail
The next day, I climbed to the top of Yosemite Falls, pictured above. It led to a really nice view of the valley, but you couldn't actually see the falls from the top--perhaps when the flow is more powerful in the springtime, they spray into view. There were several nice views on the way up--if you don't mind lingering amid the near-constant sound of chunks of rock eroding from the face of the cliff.

The natives have transformed this warning about rockfalls into a totemic artwork that brings a successful bat hunt.
In cold temperatures, the water freezes in the air on the way down, building a snow cone at the base.
The best "view" of the falls from the very top; this is with my camera held way out over the edge.
While I was at the top, an Australian couple arrived and had lunch. I noticed a little stuffed frog in her backpack. After eating, they positioned the little guy against the dramatic backdrop and took his picture. "He's quite the adventurer--our friends love seeing his picture. He's much more interesting than we are," they said.

Crap! I should've gotten some little travel proxy to take pictures of so you don't have to endure more out-of-focus timed shots and hand-held self portraits. Too late now.

The frog is holding a Wheat Thin. Because "He's having lunch!"
I took an extra mile to another overlook, from which you also can't see the falls. Views of Half Dome were everywhere.

Top picture was taken on the outcropping on the left in this photo.
The last hike I took was up to Nevada Falls on the Mist Trail. This is the most popular Yosemite hike; it continues on to another, larger waterfall and eventually to a trail that climbs Half Dome itself. Cables assist climbers ascending Half Dome, but they take them down after the first snowfall. This trail was also the site of several fatalities in Yosemite this year--three people who went over one of the waterfalls, and one woman who fell off Half Dome. I was hoping to hit the road that afternoon and get out of the Sierras before the bad weather, so I just went to the lower waterfall.

That was it for me and Yosemite Sandwich. This is the first park where I felt like I made only a cursory visit, rather than really hanging around to get to know the place. Yosemite is beautiful, but almost everyone I talked to said it's only after the snow falls that the traffic and crowds thin out to a tolerable level. I could totally see how this park could be Yellowstone-style overrun in the summer. So either you see Yosemite surrounded by crowds of tourists, or you see Yosemite covered in wet snow. Even though I feel like I wasn't there long, I think I saw most of what there is to see. By the end of three days, all I could think about was the warm, dry sunshine of Death Valley. Onward!

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