Yosemite National Park

August 2, 2010 – 3:30 pm

A week in Yosemite National Park can cleanse the spirit, invigorate the body, and focus the mind. I was nervous about photographing Yosemite - a landscape whose photos really helped spark the creation of the National Parks. How could I possibly capture anything new? With my 30lb backpack, and 7lbs of camera equipment, I was at least going to try.

Day 1 : We drove down from Carson City to Lee Vining and Mono Lake. After a hearty lunch at The Whoa Nellie Deli, we headed up over Tioga Pass to the eastern entrance of the park. Checking in with the permit office, we rented our bear canister, packed our food, and hit the trail. The plan: Take four days to hike 21 miles on the John Muir Trail from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley.

We were prepared for everything - hot weather, cold weather, wet weather, bears, rough terrain, difficult navigation - everything. Or so we thought.

As the day progressed, powerful thunderstorms rolled through the Sierras. The thunder was echoing and the lightning was illuminating the darkening skies. The storms passed by us on either side, without actually getting us wet at all.

From Yosemite 2010

A few miles in, we encountered our first warning of our trip: a few hikers coming the other way said to be sure we had DEET - the mosquitoes were fierce. A quick check of our supply list revealed DEET was packed and ready for application.

As we got higher in elevation, nearing our first night’s camp at Cathedral Lakes, the ground was saturated with standing water - a breeding haven for blood suckers. We applied a hefty dose of DEET and hiked on, but it wasn’t much further before we realized we might have a problem. These mosquitoes were fearless and were out for blood.

Swarms of DEET resistant mosquitoes aside, we setup camp at Cathedral Lakes and enjoyed a beautiful sunset over Tanaya Lake. The salmon hued granite softly faded to grey as the sun went down, and we grabbed our first night in the back country - completely alone.

From Yosemite 2010

Day 2: We woke to a gorgeous sunrise breakfast on a granite ledge, overlooking Tenaya Lake. The swarms of mosquitoes were still at us, and our DEET supply was running low, so we broke camp and headed on towards Sunrise Lakes.

From Yosemite 2010

After a few more magnificent miles in the back country, we saw a ridge that promised a striking view - so we climbed it. A breathtaking panorama of the snow capped Sierras spread out in all directions - a perfect place for lunch.

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This was, unfortunately, a turning point in our trip. While resting for lunch, the mosquitoes had found us and were as adamant as ever. Both of us had numerous bites that were swelling, some right on our eyelids. Preparing for another DEET application, reality hit: we were out of mosquito repellent. Our pump spray bottle had either been leaking, or the alcohol based solution was evaporating - either way, the bottle was empty.

Sunrise Lakes was less than an hour away, but with a heavy heart we turned around and hiked back out to Tuolumne meadows in search of industrial strength DEET. Our options after getting out of the woods and getting some heftier DEET were to hike in at Tenaya Lake to Sunrise Lakes and continue with our trek as planned, or drive back down to Lee Vining and crash for the night with my parents in their RV. Swelling faces, itchy skin, and sore legs from the unexpected 8 mile trek out, we opted for the night in the RV.

Day 3: Up early, we drove back into the park and continued all the way in to Yosemite Valley. We were really ready for anything this time so we started up for Little Yosemite Valley by way of the Mist Trail. The main challenge on the Mist Trail was maneuvering around other people - the trail is narrow and steep, and hikers of all levels were making the trip. For the most part, people were gracious and considerate of each other.

From Yosemite 2010

The crowds thinned out above Vernal Falls and there were only a few people on the way to Nevada Falls.

From Yosemite 2010

With most of the climbing done for the day, we stopped for a water break along the Merced River before arriving in Little Yosemite Valley. Despite the Day 2 detour, we ended up at the right place for this night. We had a mosquito free dinner and went to sleep - preparing for our early departure to climb Half Dome in the morning.

Day 4: Up at 5AM, we heated up some water for coffee, gathered our gear and hit the trail headed for Half Dome. The rangers warned us that since they instituted the permit process for Friday-Sunday, that Mondays have become very busy on the famous “Cables” - we’re slower hikers so wanted to beat the rush a little. Walking at this time of day is beautiful - quiet with soft lighting.

Once we made it high enough to see beyond the trees, we were treated to amazing views that only got better. By the time we made it to the base of the Sub Dome, the sun was well up and the valleys were beautifully lit.

Half Dome: Neither one of us were sure if we were going to tackle climbing the dome itself, but when we got to the base, it was difficult to resist. The path to the top is a narrow, nearly vertical climb over slick granite, bounded by steel cables at arm height for stability.

From Yosemite 2010
From Yosemite 2010
From Yosemite 2010
From Yosemite 2010

The climb itself is fairly intense, but the view from the top is absolutely worth it.

From Yosemite 2010


From Yosemite 2010

By the time we started climbing down the cables, they had become saturated with people - going up and going down. It made the descent a little tricky, and the fellow climbers were mostly in good spirits - but unfortunately there were some vocally impatient people near the bottom.

As we hiked back down to Little Yosemite Valley we were grinning from ear to ear. After another relaxing water and lunch break by the Merced River we broke camp to head back down the Mist Trail.

Our original plan was to hike one way, 28 miles, mostly down hill. Instead, we hiked 30 miles, up hill (both ways!). But it was worth every step and every mosquito bite.

The Rest of the Week: We spent another 4 days camping in Upper Pines, taking in Day Hikes and drives. The view of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point really illustrated the path we had taken the week before.

At some point during the trip I reflected on the photos I had been taking - the attempts to capture every facet of a sparkling jewel. I realized that even with the millions of photographs taken by millions of visitors, of every nook and cranny of the valley and its surroundings, it was impossible to capture the whole essence of the valley in a single photograph. The steadfast granite changes appearance with every moment and with every tiny variation in the weather.

Yosemite Valley

The best I could hope for was to capture the way Yosemite Valley was, on the days that I was there, in the way that I saw it - and hope in some way those photos might encourage one person to go and see their Yosemite for themselves.

  1. 2 Responses to “Yosemite National Park”

  2. What a great story. I am proud to have been a part of your adventure. Dad

    By Bob Council on Aug 2, 2010

  3. Chad, you convinced Christine and I to go. Only question is when. Love the pics!

    Doug

    By Doug Smart on Aug 4, 2010

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