Regardless, we were still quickly making our way down until eventually we got to the upper junction between the stock trail and the spur trail leading to the first Chilnualna Falls. Just then, I realized that my etrex handheld unit wasn’t sitting in my tactical pouch, and right then and there, I knew that it must have fell out during the bouncing up and down from all the quick hiking…
- Day 1 (June 15, 2017 – Yosemite West, California): “Traffic and Errands”
- Day 2 (June 16, 2017 – Yosemite West, California): “Chillaxing Kind Of Day”
- Day 3 (June 17, 2017 – Yosemite West, California): “Fathers Day Updating”
- Day 4 (June 18, 2017 – Los Angeles, California): “Fathers Day Celebrating”
Day 1 (June 15, 2017 – Yosemite West, California): “Traffic and Errands”
It wasn’t until about 1:40pm when we left the house. It was a hot day, and I had to take a half day off from work so I could get home just in time for our post-lunch departure. With such a late start, I suspected that we had to struggle with the LA traffic, which meant there was no way we’d be getting to Yosemite in time to do anything other than checking in and getting settled (along with a grocery run).
Sure enough, the drive along the 5 Freeway was sluggish as expected, especially in the downtown LA area, which also carried over through Burbank. The traffic then freed up momentarily before slowing down again as we got to Valencia. The traffic then continued until we approached the Pyramid Lake and Lake Castaic area, which was around where the I-5 was making its steepest climb.
The traffic started speeding up with all the uphill driving as there were lots of spacing between vehicles struggling with the climb and those with more powerful engines (hopefully with the AC turned off). We had to temper our high catchup speed with the CHP presence, however. There was one moment where I thought one cop who was hiding out by an onramp started moving after we had passed a truck in the fast lane, and when the cop was right behind us, I moved over from the fast lane to the next lane on the right.
As fortune would have it, the cop proceeded to zoom faster than us on the fast lane so I knew at that point he wasn’t interested in pulling us over.
Finally, once we made it to the Grapevine, the pace of the traffic was more or less smooth though it was still a pet peeve of mine when people clog the left lane instead of keeping right except to pass.
The traffic in LA probably costed us on the order of 30-60 minutes.
During the drive up to Fresno, Julie did some internet researching about Yosemite, and it was starting to hit home all the place name changes that were made because somehow DNC (Delaware North Company), the long-time Yosemite concessionaire, had somehow patented or trademarked the traditional Yosemite place names.
Apparently, some judge or authority didn’t do their job in allowing the concessionaire to trademark all the familiar place names that they didn’t even come up with like The Ahwahnee, Curry Village, Yosemite Lodge, Wawona Hotel, etc. I don’t know how it was even possible that Native American names could be trademarked by a vendor that was using it as leverage in the event that they’d get replaced (which was exactly what happened not that long ago).
Regardless, we knew that our condo at Yosemite West wouldn’t have any internet nor phone reception (or at least very minimal reception on the order of one bar or something). So that meant all the coordinating that we had to do with my parents (who were bringing Joshua along on this trip) would have to be done on the road before making it to Yosemite.
So we agreed to meet up with them at the Sprouts in Fresno. We ultimately wouldn’t get there until about 6pm, where it was still in the 90s. Even though the parents were ahead of us by about 15 minutes while driving through Los Angeles, it turned out that we wound up making it to Sprouts before they did.
The traffic in the Fresno area was a bit on the dense side because it was rush hour over there. However, it wasn’t as excruciating as the LA traffic. In fact, when we were stuck in the LA traffic, it was not even rush hour on a weekday. We couldn’t imagine how much worse driving in LA would be DURING rush hour!
Julie went crazy buying up all sorts of produce and foods in anticipation of cooking while we were spending three nights in Yosemite West. She ended up buying organic ribeye steak (in celebration of Fathers Day) while also buying ground meat to aid in preparing pasta for the kids. She even bought pretty expensive organic vanilla bean ice cream, where we were a bit concerned about whether it would last the 90 minutes or so of driving to get to our condo.
We wound up spending quite a bit of time at the Sprouts buying up cherries, organic grapes, and all the other stuff that Julie anticipated the whole family would be eating on this weekend trip. So it wound up being a very hefty grocery bill at around $162, but I guess when we look at it from the standpoint of feeding 6 people over multiple meals, I guess that grocery bill wasn’t too bad.
Finally at 6:55pm, we got back to the car and loaded it up. We moved Tahia’s car seat to my parents’ car so both Joshua and Tahia could ride in the car together. That left Julie and I to keep each other company on the drive up to Yosemite just like old times.
It wouldn’t be until about 8:40pm when we finally made it to the Yosemite West Cottages Office, which was quite a drive along Henness Ridge Road then Park Way. On multiple occasions along the Hwy 41 through the south entrance to Yosemite West, we saw deer by the road. One actually darted across the road in front of us, which was fortunate for us that I saw that deer within the trees before it made its move. I guess my experience in hitting a deer in the past (as well as a kangaroo on a separate trip) forced me to respect the hazard.
There was also a family of 4 deer on the way to the office as well just as the skies were really getting dark. I guess that was proof to us that deer tended to come out in the sunset to evening hours, and most likely in the pre-dawn to dawn hours as well.
Once Julie checked in and got the keys, we then drove all the way back towards Henness Circle, where we then continued up that road to the Yosemite West Condos complex. There, we found parking and then got into the familiar two-story building where we once stayed nearly 15 years ago in a loft with our friends Stacey and Andy along with my parents. Well now, we have a party of six except it was now my parents with Joshua and Tahia.
At 9:30pm, we finally were settled into our loft, which felt quite a bit smaller than we remembered from our first loft experience 15 years ago. So it felt a bit tight and cramped, but we knew we were paying nearly $300 per night for the location and not so much the amenities (as Julie and I had gotten used to IHGs, Marriots, and Hyatts over the years).
And after gorging on the food as we were quite hungry and cranky at the time, we’d finally sleep by 11:30pm. Of course, on my mind was doing an early hike with Mom out to either Carlon Falls or Foresta Falls. But knowing that it would be tough to go all the way to Carlon Falls tomorrow morning, I decided that we’d have to do Foresta Falls as the early excursion before we’d all be going down into Yosemite Valley for the rest of that day…
Day 2 (June 16, 2017 – Yosemite West, California): “Chillaxing Kind Of Day”
It was about 4:45am when I awoke. It was still dark outside but from my days of having to get to work early, I knew that it wouldn’t be that way for long; especially since the Summer Solstice was coming in a few days (so we’d be experiencing the longest days of the year).
Mom and I wasted no time in getting ready while everyone else was sound asleep. We had a quick meal of oatmeal while I also added some bought kefir. And after ensuring we had enough water, we then loaded up Julie’s car at 5:35am. By that point, it had already been pretty bright.
Since I knew that Carlon Falls would take a while to do, I decided to punt that for tomorrow. So we headed out to Foresta Falls, which was also probably best done in the afternoon from a lighting standpoint, but knowing that the rest of the family would be moving slow, this seemed like the only logical time to fit it in without being impacted by the inevitable slower pace of traveling with a larger group.
Aside from driving by a deer grazing along Henness Ridge Road on the way to the Hwy 41, the drive down to the valley and then up the Big Oak Flat Road was pretty uneventful. I guess what was eventful was the amount of road construction that was going on along the left lane of Northside Drive essentially blocking off the viewing spots of Bridalveil Fall with Leaning Tower across the Merced as well as the Valley View.
We knew that this would be a congested traffic spot later in the day so it was a good thing that we got our early start.
Eventually at about 6:20am, we made it to Foresta, where we followed the road into the burned community. There were a handful of lodgings and private residences that appeared to still be in operation though the majority of the community had been decimated by the A Fire a while ago, and we could totally see the effects of that big fire as there were still dead and bare trees standing with little to no forest cover there.
At first I was worried about not knowing when to make a left turn to get onto the road leading down to the Foresta Falls, but shortly after passing over a bridge that was surely traversing Foresta Creek, it then became obvious to turn left at the first opportunity, which then led to the familiar unpaved road. A sign there said that there was a bridge washout which made me a bit concerned that we might not be able to get a good view of the falls.
So we slowly drove the unpaved road as it got narrower and a bit rougher. There was some kind of campervan or mini-RV that was parked at a pullout, and as we continued further, the road really got rough. Eventually, it got to the point where I felt it would damage Julie’s car (it was already damaged from the southwest trip over Spring Break by taking it on 4wd roads) so I had to back up to that pullout that was already occupied.
Eventually after making it back there, we then parked the car and proceeded to walk that rough stretch. There was another guy in a beat up van, but I told him that the road was pretty bad up ahead which was why we were walking it. He thanked us for the heads up, and then Mom and I promptly started our morning walk.
As expected, the lighting was pretty nice was we looked downslope, but it was totally against the sun whenever we looked over to Foresta Creek or anywhere upstream. The road bent to our right where the terrain was even rockier and narrower. It was definitely a good thing that we opted not to push our luck by driving further. I didn’t recall if we took my parents’ car all the way to the switchback that I knew we were approaching the last time we were here some 13-14 years ago or so.
Anyways, as we made our way down to the switchback, Mom and I were amazed to see a low-clearance BMW parked at the switchback. We thought whoever drove down here really beat up their car. Still, we pushed on as we then descended in the morning shadows towards the familiar Foresta Falls, which was still in the early morning shadow.
Eventually, we got to the bridge which appeared to be still intact though the railings looked like they were burned off. I wasn’t sure if another fire had swept through here because this bridge looked a bit more beat up than the last time we were here. Still, we were enjoying our time alone here as we took several photos of the familiar falls.
The guy and his dog from that van eventually made it down to us before continuing his walk well past the bridge. I still didn’t know where this trail led to, but I had no intention of pursuing it since we had to get back to the condo so they wouldn’t be waiting on us to get started on what a surely going to be a hectic day competing with the crowds in Yosemite Valley.
There was another guy that also came by from the other side before passing us just as Mom and I were leaving the falls. So I guess we weren’t totally alone here even at around 7am. This was surprising considering just how unknown this falls was, but I guess this just went to show us that even the most unknown of spots in Yosemite could still attract people.
As we hiked back up the rough road, we saw that the guy that had passed us earlier had gotten into that BMW and proceeded to drive out up that road. We both thought the guy was nuts of doing that to his car, but we didn’t seem to have any qualms about doing it, and he seemed pretty skillful in his navigation of the rocky surface with some undergrowth that was surely scraping the underside of the car.
By 7:30am, Mom and I made it back to the car, which was just in time for that RV to make its way out. With our early morning excursion out of the way, we then promptly drove back to Yosemite West. We were quite amazed at how many cars we were seeing going into Yosemite Valley along the Hwy 41 at the time, so that got me anxious about things like finding parking in the Valley. It also reset my expectations in terms of trying to fit in the usual excursions like Lower Yosemite Falls, then Mist Trail, then Bridalveil Fall, and finally Tunnel View.
Well, when we got back at around 8:10am, the family took its time to get ready so it wouldn’t be until around 9:10am when we were finally back in the car ready to go. By then, the parking lot was pretty empty. And so that mentally made me think that we probably have to nix Mist Trail today given our late start.
As we drove down into the valley, we sure enough had to be behind slower cars where not many were using the pullouts to let faster traffic pass. I guess this was to be expected.
At 9:45am, we finally made it down to the parking area for the Swinging Bridge. Unfortunately, there was no parking at this spot as there were a few spaces that were closed. However, we really lucked out when one car on the far side of the parking area was pulling out. So we naturally took that spot and counted our blessings that we at least got a spot to enjoy this best-spot-to-photograph-Yosemite-Falls at this time.
Naturally, we all went down to the Swinging Bridge, which was really a sturdy bridge over the Merced River. Just before reaching the bridge, I noticed a spot to the right where there was a real calm part of the river that provided mirror-like reflections with a nice view towards Yosemite Falls. So I took advantage of this spot and got quite a few shots noting to myself to let the rest of the family know about this spot when we’re done with this break.
Once I got onto the bridge to join the rest of the family, I got the tripod set up in the hopes of getting that familiar family portrait right in front of Yosemite Falls. It was tricky because both Tahia and Joshua weren’t terribly cooperative. Plus, there was a lot of bike and foot traffic going across the bridge as we were doing this.
Still, we managed to get what we could before the kids and parents promptly went all the way to the other side where they spotted another calm part of the river that was shallow enough for them to play in. Meanwhile, I still had the tripod set up so Julie and I could take some couple shots just like old times before we had Tahia.
We then spent some more minutes watching both Joshua and Tahia getting their clothes all wet from all the splashing. We were now fretting that they might have a change of clothes, but with today being a hot day, perhaps it wouldn’t be much of an issue.
Julie and I were conversing with some family from Rhode Island where they also had a daughter playing in the water. They were apparently at the end of a week in the park. Of course they were recommending the usual Yosemite Valley spots that I was quite familiar with though we politely indulged them in their recommendations because we knew that just about everyone who visits this place does so leaving with the enthusiasm of having just acquired some precious moments and were willing to share them with total strangers.
After having our fill of the water play (little did we realize just how much the kids would start to look for every opportunity to play in the water from this point forward), we then took some photos at the reflective spot just on the front side of the bridge. Then, at 10:40am we were back in the car just as some other lucky person was about to claim our spot (though we did notice someone parked in one of the closed off spots behind us).
Next, we went looking for the next photo spot, which I thought would be the Cook Meadow view of Yosemite Falls, but when I saw that the long pullout along the Southside Drive was completely full, I knew that I had to shift my thinking from driving from place to place to just picking a spot to park for the rest of the day then walk and shuttle to everywhere else in Yosemite Valley.
Having to deal with crazy crowds was one of the primary reasons why I generally didn’t like visiting Yosemite Valley in Summer, but now that we had kids involved, we had to adapt to constraining our trips to Summer vacations, Spring Break, and Winter Breaks. And that meant doing things at the same time as just about everyone else.
So at 10:45am, we were fortunate to have found a parallel parking spot somewhere between Yosemite Village, Cook Meadow, and the Yosemite Visitor Center. The latter was a place that I don’t think we had ever stepped foot in after all these years (now nearly 16+ years) of visiting Yosemite National Park.
Sure enough after parking the car, we then haphazardly walked towards the Yosemite Visitor Center. Again, when it came to kids though, we now had to do things we had never imagined doing. And now we found ourselves spending quite a bit of time checking out the displays while indulging the kids with the Junior Ranger booklets. The forecast here said that it was going to be 90F today and 93F tomorrow!
We then checked out the displays where we had read about the various aspects of the park from glaciers to Native American life here to the fateful Mariposa Battalion that forever changed Native American life as they were unceremoniously killed and evicted from their lands all the way to the mission of restoration and education through the National Park Service.
We even spent some time watching the end of a movie in the theater, which turned out to be an excerpt of one of the Ken Burns documentary about Yosemite and its relationship to the start of the entire National Parks system. We happened to catch the part about Hetch Hetchy. I guess for people who haven’t seen this before, it was probably a very moving and very convincing presentation of the park, but since I had seen this before, I was ready to get moving.
Next, we promptly walked through some re-creation of Native American villages before walking over to the Lower Yosemite Falls. Although there were paths leading directly to the base of the Lower Falls, I knew that it would be more atmospheric to take the path right across the street from the Yosemite Lodge (now the Yosemite Valley Lodge).
On the way there, at 11:45am we spotted some picnic tables so we promptly went there to eat a picnic lunch while some of the tables still had some shade (though I knew it wouldn’t be shady for much longer). That helped to lighten our load knowing that we couldn’t leave any foodstuffs in the car nor bring a cooler as we knew bears breaking into cars would be a problem otherwise. So at least after this picnic lunch, we wouldn’t have to carry as much footstuffs around the park on this hot day.
At 12:25pm, we were finally going to the base of the Lower Falls. Sure enough, the atmospheric walk provided views of both the Upper and Lower Falls together between the tall trees flanking the paved walkway. The walkway itself was crowded with loads of people from individual parties to giant tour groups from all over the world. Of course it was next to impossible to get those signature views without people in them at this time of year, but these folks served as subjects to convey the scale of the big falls.
During the walk, the kids had found another play area where the water was shallow enough. But we wanted to get to the falls first before finding a spot to chillax in. So we continued further eventually getting to the base of the Lower Falls where we were getting sprayed. Not surprisingly, there were loads of people here, but it was the spray that was making taking photos a bit on the difficult side.
We were also a bit too late to catch a rainbow at the base of the lower falls as I knew that we had to be here in order to see the rainbow at a more reasonable enough angle. The only other opportunity to see rainbows at this time of day was to hike towards the Upper Falls and look down at the mist thrown up by the Middle Cascades. But there was no way we’d be doing that on this hot day.
So we didn’t spend much more time at the Lower Falls and we promptly headed back. Along the way, we found a quieter spot to chillax while letting the kids do some more water play at 1pm. Now, we were just sitting on some flat rocks while keeping a watchful eye on the kids to ensure they didn’t hurt themselves.
Indeed, we were just chillaxing. It was something that felt a bit foreign to me because my focus would usually be to seize the moment and spend it doing as much as we could to get the full experience. But with the kids, even chillaxing under the hot Summer weather was sinking in and becoming equally as valid. As sometimes it’s more about the experience and the precious family moments than hitting the bucket list like a grocery shopping list.
After having our fill of this little play area for the kids, we then walked across the Cook Meadow in search of a few more photo spots. However, with this being the height of a pretty hot day, even this flat walk was taking a bit out of us. That said, along the way, we got nice meadow views towards Half Dome and North Dome as well as looking back at the Yosemite Falls. We also looked ahead towards the Sentinel Rock as we eventually got to a bridge over the Merced River.
The water on the river was running quite high as we could see quite a few inundated trees. I’m sure with a day like today, there was a lot more snowmelt and this was probably the weekend where the snow was rapidly depleting.
By about 2:15pm, we found ourselves near the Yosemite Chapel, where we then walked over along the Southside Drive looking back towards Yosemite Falls across the meadow. We didn’t go all the way to the cars because we didn’t think the views would improve. So we then headed back the other way towards the Sentinel Bridge.
Along the way, the kids had some trouble keeping right so it would frequently frustrate people on bicycles. In one instance, Tahia almost got run over. Anyways, we’d eventually make it to the Sentinel Bridge where Julie got her views of the iconic Half Dome fronted by the Merced River running high.
Next, we then walked back towards the parking area for Cook Meadow where we then got the views over the meadow with both the Upper and Lower Falls looking separated. Once we finally were done with this view (and overhearing some people incorrectly believe it was impossible to make it to the top of Yosemite Falls), we then promptly walked back towards the parked car along the Northside Drive.
As we made this walk, we could see the traffic jam right where we were parked so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to that experience. Still, we finally made it back there at about 3:10pm. Even with the shade up and the windows cracked open, the interior of the car was still scorching hot.
Just as we pulled out, another lucky person held up traffic waiting for us to leave. So that allowed us an opening to get into the flow of traffic. And it wouldn’t be until about 3:35pm when we finally made it to the main car park for the Bridalveil Fall. Now we were about to sit and wait for one of the limited spots, but instead, we backed out and went across the street to park in a rather precarious spot where there was a blind turn.
Once we did that, we then walked right up to the base of the Bridalveil Fall where we were getting sprayed by the falls. We came prepared with raincoats and rain ponchos as well as a GoPro, but it turned out that the GoPro wasn’t good because its cover got lots of waterspots on it, and I learned right then and there that the GoPros were only good for being underwater and not so much for being sprayed above water.
After having our fill of this misty spot, the kids then found another calm part in the Bridalveil Creek so they could play. In the mean time, I walked the half-mile towards the Southside Drive where I got views of Ribbon Falls and El Capitan. Unfortunately at this time of the afternoon, Ribbon Falls was starting to become half in shadow so the photos of it didn’t turn out anymore.
It wouldn’t be until about 4:40pm when we returned to the car. Luckily the cars parked next to us had already vacated so I could reorient the car and make it easier to leave. Next, we drove up to the Tunnel View where there were some available spots to park the car and proceed over to the obligatory view of the Gates of Yosemite. We had gotten there about 4:45pm
The sun was almost in a perfect spot though the harsh lighting of the Summer sun ensured we wouldn’t get the soft glow that would normally come in the Winter months. At least Silver Strand Falls was still flowing though it definitely looked like it was well past peak flow.
So we didn’t linger here for long, and after getting back in the car at 5pm, we proceeded to drive back into Yosemite Valley as we were now headed to Yosemite Lodge for our 6pm reserved dinner. The traffic going back to the valley wasn’t as bad as apparently most of the visitors were now on their way out of the park.
At about 5:20pm, we parked right at the Yosemite Lodge now that there were a lot more open spots. We then promptly walked over to this spot called the Mountain Room Restaurant, which was where Julie had made her reservations. But since we ultimately wound up getting there at around 5:30pm, we’d have our dinner a little early.
It turned out that the dining room had an obstructed view of the top of Yosemiten Falls, which made for a nice dining experience. It turned out that the food was decent as the ribeye steak and kids’ burgers were not good, but the trout, salmon, and cider brined pork chop were quite good.
So we shared another precious family moment as we basked in the not-so-packed yet fulfilling chillaxing day. And eventually by around 7pm, we finally finished the dinner where we then drove over to the Yosemite Village so Julie could pick up some bacon and pancakes so the kids could have brekkie tomorrow. Of course, getting there was a bit tricky as most of the roads going directly there were closed.
Instead, we had to drive a bit of a U before finally reaching the familiar Village Store. By 7:10pm, we parked the car and waited for Julie and Mom to do their errand while Dad and I were trying to keep the kids in check in the car. It turned out that Julie had to wait in a bit of a long line before checking out with her produce.
Anyways, we headed back to condo afterwards, and by about 8:15pm, we finally made it there. But just before making it to Yosemite West Condos, there was a bear that had run across the road right in front of us! I commented aloud that there was a bear, but only Mom and I saw it. Everyone else weren’t paying attention and they missed out.
That was the first time I had seen a bear in many years, and it was the first time we had seen one in Yosemite since around 2004 or 2005. So that was quite a treat. But it was too bad we didn’t get a chance to take a picture of it. That would have been the holy grail!
So back at the apartment, we spent the rest of the evening relaxing and getting cleaned up. Julie took the opportunity to make mug cake as dessert, which also went well with the ice cream that we had bought from Sprouts in Fresno last night. Indeed, it was a great way to wind down this eventful day. But tomorrow, we were going to divide and conquer as Mom and I would be doing a couple of hikes while the rest of the family would be taking it easy playing in the water somewhere while also visiting Glacier Point.
For the point of tomorrow was to avoid Yosemite Valley knowing it was a Saturday in the Summer. If Friday was already as busy as it was, then we shuddered to think how much worse tomorrow would be. And hence, we mentally prepared ourselves to be going against the grain…
Day 3 (June 17, 2017 – Yosemite West, California): “Fathers Day Updating”
It was about 4:30am when Mom and I awoke to the alarm. Given that we had a long day of hiking ahead of us, we knew that we needed the early start to beat the heat as well as the crowds. But realizing just how hot it had gotten yesterday, we decided at the last minute to do Chilnualna Falls first (which was a much longer 8.5-mile hike) and then try to do Carlon Falls (a shorter 4.5-mile hike) in the afternoon. I had previously had the order reversed thinking that Carlon Falls would be the early excursion while the Chilnualna Falls could be done as a family. But then I came to my senses and realized just how brutal that hike would have been with the kids let alone at the height of the day, when it would be uncomfortably hot.
So after having the obligatory pick-me-up brekkie of kefir and some instant oatmeal that Mom provided, we loaded up the car and were off by 5:10am. It was still somewhat pre-dawn so the sun had not risen yet, and so I did the drive south on the Hwy 41 pretty deliberately as we made our way to the Chilnualna Falls Trailhead knowing the everpresent hazard of the possibility of deer dashing out in front of the car.
The surprising thing was that there were already quite a few cars making their way into Yosemite Valley at this hour. So I could only imagine just how much more crowded the valley would be by the time Julie and company would finally be ready to leave the condo. Actually, we encouraged them to check out some water play area around Wawona instead of the valley as we knew that it would be a zoo down there.
By about 5:50am, we made it to the familiar Chilnualna Falls trailhead parking. However, the car park looked a bit different than last time, and I figured that was because of some building that was erected adjacent to the parking area. It was definitely not there before (it was more like an empty lot), but I guess lots can change in the 13-14 years since we were last here.
As Mom and I had gotten geared up and started, we decided to follow the paved road. I guess my memory had faded me because I thought that the trail we had taken before was along that road. But when we descended down to the bridge over Chilnualna Creek, which was raging, I knew that we were on the wrong trail.
There was some kind of informal trail leading up to what appeared to be the first Chilnualna Falls higher up the cliffs, but Mom and I backtracked instead and went up the other fork. Almost immediately at that fork, there was a signposted foot trail that left the stock trail and then went along the familiar path towards the first Chilnualna Falls.
It’s funny how fallable memory can be.
By about 6:25am, we finally arrived at the first of the Chilnualna Falls. As expected, everything was under the long morning shadows so it wasn’t all that photogenic at this time. I knew that throughout the hike, we’d always be looking against the sun.
Basically, we made a trade where we decided on getting the early start to get the hard part of the hike (i.e. all the climbing) out of the way under the morning shadows at the expense of good photos when the sun would be behind us in the afternoon. I knew that this was a pretty relentless uphill hike so doing it at the height of a day in the 90s was just asking for trouble.
After having our fill of that first falls, where there was one lady that passed us here as apparently Mom and I weren’t the first nor the only ones here, we then proceeded to go up towards the trail junction with the stock trail. At that point, the trails merged once again and we were going up a couple of switchbacks before reaching an area where we got to see Wawona Dome as well as the Chilnualna Creek down below at 6:50am.
As it was still too early in the day to take meaningful photographs and there were quite a few mosquitos buzzing about, it didn’t take long before we continued on.
The next part of the hike remained in the morning shadows but we were now walking through some forested terrain. At about 7am, I noticed on the trail that there was something small with patterns on it that was slithering. When I got a closer look at it, I saw that it was what appeared to be a baby rattlesnake or something. Mom was glad that she had walked by and didn’t step on it or get bit by it.
Regardless, I managed to get just one shot at it before it went into the foliage. I’m sure the snake already knew we were there long before we even were aware of it. This was probably the first time I saw a rattlesnake on a trail in Yosemite since we did the Rancheria Falls hike in the Hetch Hetchy area many years ago.
Not long after that, the trail then went alongside Chilnualna Creek again where I noticed a spur trail went towards a turtleback rock-like thing as the creek slid over it while another short tier gushed just above it. In my book, this should count as one of the Chilnualna Falls though I had never really paid any attention to it all these years (thinking it was just rapids). But with my more experienced and discerning eye for waterfalls, it seemed to make sense to take some time to check it out.
So Mom and I took some videos and photos in long exposure given the low light conditions. I saw one trail runner zoom past on the main trail so that made the third person we’ve seen on this trail so far.
After having our fill of this second Chilnualna Falls, we then embarked on the familiar long dry uphill stretch that went through a long field of low-lying shrubs and wildflowers before climbing even more steeply with partial glimpses (against the sun) of the now-fourth Chilnualna Falls high up on the top of the cliffs in back of Wawona Dome. I knew it was the largest and most impressive of the Chilnualna Falls of the lot, but we would never get a satisfying view of it except the distant ones between the trees along the trail.
As the morning shadows persisted, the mozzies were quite relentless. We kept moving to keep them from getting clean shots at us, and even though Mom and I both wore long-sleeved tops (my Les Stroud shirt and Mom’s jacket), I knew that the mozzies were precise enough to bite through the fabric and still draw blood from us (and hopefully not passing diseases like West Nile or something).
As we got even higher up the climb, the sun started to penetrate the horizon and really heat things up. This really made the morning mozzies even more relentless so both Mom and I definitely slapped on the DEET to at least try to deter these critters from getting pot shots at us.
It wouldn’t be until about 8:20a when we finally made it up to the third Chilnualna Falls, which wasn’t on Chilnualna Creek. Given the high snowmelt, we had seen other overflow ephemeral falls along the trail (also causing swamps to really spawn the mozzies), but this one was a more obvious falls just like we had seen before. It was also quite cool at this spot, which was very welcome as we had gone nearly 80 minutes since the last waterfall we were near.
Meanwhile, we also checked out the 4th Chilnualna Falls up ahead as the vegetation was a little more open up here. Unfortunately, the morning sun all but assured us that taking pictures at this time was futile. We’d have to come back down here on the way back when the sun would be in a more favorable spot.
And so the climb continued as we left the third falls. Now, the morning sun was a bit more persistent though there was still enough shade to keep me from needing to wear my heat (and trap some of that heat on my head). As we’d get higher and higher up the trail, we’d start to get nice views towards Wawona.
I remembered in the past where the granite stretch of the climb had snow and ice when my parents went with us on this hike many years ago. Still, this hike felt a lot harder than it did back then. I wasn’t sure if it was the heat that was starting to take a toll on us or if we were just younger and more spry back then. Regardless, I did notice in my writeups that I tended to up the difficulty level bias of modest-lengthed waterfall excursions like this one, and now instead of being a 4 in difficulty, it was starting to look more and more like a 5. Maybe I have to re-evaluate how I’m evaluating the difficulty of the hikes in our database.
Anyways, at 9am, we finally made it to the top of the fourth Chilnualna Falls. In the mist down below, we could see a bold double rainbow appearing. It was hard to get a meaningful photo with both the rainbows and something interesting in the background, but we did what we could.
As I looked further upstream, I could also see the fifth Chilnualna Falls like before. I kept thinking the whole time that if the park service would have put a bridge over the top of Chilnualna Falls and then let us walk to where we could get an edge-on view of the falls (ala Illilouette Fall), then I would have made the scenic rating of Chilnualna Falls a 4 instead of a 3.5. It was a pity they couldn’t do that, which ultimately denied intrepid hikers going through with this trail the ability to fully experience perhaps the best of the six waterfalls of the lot.
After spending several minutes trying to capture the experience between the 4th and 5th Chilnualna Falls, we then went up a couple more switchbacks as we then found ourselves feeling like we were now on top of the world (as we could get even more commanding views towards the Wawona direction).
Just as we had pretty much gotten somewhere close to the top of the 5th falls, we then could see further upstream the 6th and final Chilnualna Falls. This time, this multi-tiered cascade was much wider than I had ever remembered seeing it. So the drop into bowl into drop characteristic of this last falls wasn’t quite as apparent as before.
Still, Mom and I looked for scrambling paths that would get us past the wet overflowing parts of the granite before allowing us to get right up to the base of this last falls. After getting both the direct view and then the angled view of the last falls, we then reached the plunge pool at its very base at 9:50am.
At that point, Mom and I decided that we would relax here for a bit for our well-earned picnic as it took us nearly 4 hours just to make it all the way up here. But with the hard part of the hike over, we knew that the return hike wouldn’t be as painful despite being in the height of the heat of the day as it would pretty much be all downhill from here on out.
Anyways, Mom and I had a picnic of eggs, cheese, cherries, grapes, and apples. We dipped our feet in the icy cold pool, which was uncomfortably cold. I felt compelled to do it because my left ankle bone felt bruised once again. It seemed like it was an unavoidable condition for as long as I’m hiking (it started ever since our Salt Lake City Trip a couple of weeks ago).
So I figured that dipping the left foot in the painfully icy cold water might have the same effect as icing the foot to keep the swelling down. But I couldn’t keep the foot in the water for long as it was way too painful to do so. Plus, I was starting to get worried about getting frostbite as a result.
Mom and I ended up chilling at this spot for nearly an hour. It wouldn’t be until about 10:45am when we finally started to leave. We saw a trio of guys brave the icy cold water a short distance downstream as well as a pair of ladies who also made it to the falls. So with us no longer being by ourselves here, we figured that now it was time to head back down and be back at the condo in time for a lunch before continuing later in the afternoon to do the Carlon Falls hike.
Mom was already thinking about calling it a day after finishing this hike as apparently 8.5 miles round trip now feels much harder than it did some 13-14 years ago. But I also knew that we had to do Carlon Falls to improve the writeup from way back then. Besides, I’m sure the experience would be different given how conditions change over time.
And so we proceeded to hike back down the trail. Along the way, I tried to take advantage of the better lighting to capture the 6th falls as well as the 5th and 4th falls. I was surprised to see that there was still a rainbow in the mist of the 4th falls.
There were also quite a few more people on the trail heading up to the falls. So even though this was a relatively quiet hike compared to anything in Yosemite Valley (which would be a zoo today), it was by no means secluded and isolated.
It wouldn’t be until about 11:35am when I finally made it to the 3rd falls. Now, there was no more shadow on the falls and when I looked back at the 4th falls, it had much better lighting than before. Mom was way ahead of me since she moved ahead of me back at the 5th Chilnualna Falls.
It probably didn’t help my cause in that I took my time taking pictures and even conversing with a guy who observed that ever since he bought a DSLR to replace his broken point-and-shoot, he took much longer on the trails.
I never thought of it that way, but now that he mentioned it, I was definitely taking much more time on the hikes than ever before, and perhaps it was that DSLR that did it as I would keep stopping to take trail shots and try to notice more subtle things along the way than ever before (when I took fewer pictures and notes).
After getting my fill of the better lighting conditions of the 3rd falls, I then continued hiking downhill in an effort to catch up to Mom. She must have been so far ahead of me because I kept doing a combination of trail jogging and fast walking as I was using my downhill momentum. It was a good thing that this dry downhill stretch in the heat of the day was indeed downhill instead of uphill like so many other folks who had gotten much later starts than we did.
Definitely it was a smart move on our part to get the early start despite the bad lighting agains the morning sun. Because the people making their way up right now certainly didn’t look like they were having fun.
I’d eventually catch up to Mom when we got into the big flower and low-lying shrub path with the Wawona Dome in the background. We figured out that most of the heat was radiating up from the ground as opposed to the hot air.
As we were about to be within earshot of the Chilnualna Creek near the 2nd waterfall (the one with the turtleback slope), some hikers were making their way up and inquiring with us about how much further they had to go.
I wasn’t sugar coating it telling them they had at least another hour or more just to even get up to the 3rd Chilnualna Falls, which would be the next opportunity to cool off. One group of Indian hikers sounded discouraged when we told them that we had gotten started at 6am and we were on the way back down (noting that it was around 12:20pm at the time).
Regardless, we were still quickly making our way down until eventually we got to the upper junction between the stock trail and the spur trail leading to the first Chilnualna Falls. Just then, I realized that my etrex handheld unit wasn’t sitting in my tactical pouch, and right then and there, I knew that it must have fell out during the bouncing up and down from all the quick hiking.
So while Mom was waiting behind at the trail junction, I had to hike back up at least one switchback before I saw a group of hikers heading down. I asked them if they had seen a yellow GPS unit, and they confirmed that there was a group further up the hill watching over it. And when I eventually got up to that other group at about 12:50pm, they graciously handed the GPS unit to me after telling me it was next to some tree.
I guess I was fortunate that no one played finders keepers losers sweepers and swiped it for themselves. It was indeed a close call!
And with that, I followed the group back down to the stock trail junction where Mom was waiting and conversing with the group there (undoubtedly about the missing GPS unit that I had just recovered). At that point, Mom decided to follow the large group of hikers back down to the first waterfall instead of taking the less scenic stock trail.
Despite the dropoff exposure and steepness of this trail back down to the first falls, we didn’t regret our decision as the lighting was much better than this morning. There were also dozens of people cooling off in the spray of that first waterfall, which we also managed to do for some temporary relief from the high heat of the day.
Eventually at 1:15pm, we made it back to the busy trailhead where our car was still in shade. With our feet very sore and my ankle still suffering from what I suspected might be a bone bruise or spur or something, we promptly took off and followed a long caravan of vehicles (as the head vehicle refused to use the pullouts to let faster vehicles pass) until we eventually made it back to Yosemite West at 1:50pm.
It turned out that the rest of the family was already in the condo so we pretty much had a late lunch together. It was a replenishing meal knowing that we still had an afternoon hike to Carlon Falls right after this. But at least we gave ourselves a moment of recovery time after the pretty difficult Chilnualna Falls hike.
It wouldn’t be until about 2:40pm when we finally left from the Yosemite West condo. I knew that it took over an hour to drive up to the trailhead, which was outside the northern entrance to Yosemite (on the way to Hetch Hetchy on Evergreen Rd). So with the round trip drive and 4.5-mile round trip hike, I had a feeling that it wouldn’t be until after 7pm when we’d be back at Yosemite West again.
It would be another divide-and-conquer thing going as the rest of the family would be going out to Glacier Point and back while Mom and I went to Carlon Falls. And as much as Mom wasn’t looking forward to additional physical challenges after the Chilnualna Falls hike, there was no way we could fit in this excursion tomorrow morning before going home.
The drive into the valley took quite a bit of time, and there was quite a bit of traffic at all the major lookouts and pullouts in addition to drivers not using the turnouts to let faster drivers pass. At the Southside Drive, they had this thing going where the right lane was prohibited to private vehicles to let shuttles have that lane.
There was some $280 fine for clogging up the right lane.
I had never seen this instituted before, but it must be a mechanism to alleviate the traffic and congestion of Yosemite Valley on the Summer weekends. After all, we hardly ever visit Yosemite Valley this late in the year.
Eventually, we then followed the Northside Drive, where the left lane that was unpaved was actually open for traffic. Then, when we headed up on the Big Oak Flat Road, we noticed that the gate for the Hwy 140 was also still closed due to the landslide that happened earlier in the week.
The drive up to Crane Flat and then the Big Oak Flat Entrance was pretty uneventful though we did see a handful of cars get traffic tickets from rangers playing the role of CHP apparently. At the entrance (or exit gate), the employee checked our pass on the way out, which we were prepared for, and then we promptly got back onto the familiar Evergreen Road where after a mile on the road was the familiar bridge by the Carlon Day Use Area and Carlon Falls Trailhead.
We got there at 3:45pm, and we happened to take the last parking spot on the trailhead side of the bridge. There was actually more commotion on the other side of the river as there was some picnic and play area there. Mom and I thought that Tahia and Joshua would have loved it here.
Regardless, we left the National Parks pass hanging on the dash (knowing now that the Interagency Pass also works in National Forest lands like this one being the Stanislaus National Forest), and then we promptly got onto the Carlon Falls trail, which was fortunately well shaded from all the tall trees flanking us despite the reported fire damage that had occurred here back in 2013.
The trail was mostly flat as it followed along the river that the falls was on, and aside from a few minor uphill and downhill stretches, we made good progress. It wasn’t until we were well into the hike that there was a more concerted uphill stretch as the trail started to get a little rougher.
Already weary of climbing from the Chilnualna Falls Trail, this climb fortunately wasn’t too long, and by the time we got to the top, we then had to descend alongside a really eroded part of the trail. One person told us to keep left which was easier than the right path which went right down to the fallen trees and had to clibm up a badly eroded section.
Once we got past this obstacle, we then had to negotiate a bunch of false trails leading close to some intermediate cascades. But it was clear from memory that it wasn’t wise to boulder scramble alongside the rushing creek. So we had to backtrack, and then negotiate more eroded and steep sections as there were more use trails leading up to the final descent for the Carlon Falls. We ultimately got there at 4:50pm.
Just like the last time we were here, the falls had that slanted appearance as it was wider than it was tall. However, there was also a rainbow in the mist of the falls as well as lots of people (seemingly a big Latino family) bathing in the cold waters or at least dipping feet in one of the potholes alongside the plunge pool.
Mom and I did the same briefly to at least enjoy the fruits of our labor for getting here. The granite was a little on the sandy side, but we didn’t care. We just cared that we were cooling off before making the 2.25-mile hike back to the trailhead. We also had to apply some DEET as I knew that the forested terrain also meant a lot of mosquitos would be around at this time of the afternoon.
The longer that Mom and I lingered, the longer the shadows were creeping into the falls on the left side of the falls. So the falls became less and less photographable given the high contrast between the bright zones in the whitewater and the shadows right next to it.
So eventually at 5:15pm, we left Carlon Falls. After having a brief conversation with one of the elder Latino men at the falls (making small talk in sort of a broken half-Spanish half-English awkwardness as only these moments can provide), we then hiked back along the same way that we came in from.
During the return hike, the long shadows yielded mostly shade so we didn’t need to keep our hats on. Plus, not many words were spoken as we were more focused on getting back to our condo in time for dinner. This gave us the opportunity to listen to the serenity of the sounds of the forest from the flowing river to the birdsongs.
Eventually at 5:55pm, we returned to the Carlon Falls Trailhead where surprisingly all four cars were still at the trailhead. We then promptly got out of our hiking boots and into the comfort of our sandals, and then promptly drove back into Yosemite National Park through the Big Oak Flat Entrance.
With Julie’s car low on gas, I filled out just enough to add around 3 gallons (at over $4 per gallon) which should hold us over until at least Fresno. We also made a quick stop at the pullout with a view of Bridaleil Fall and the Merced Canyon along with the Upper Cascades which were now in shadow (it was perfect lighting when we were going in the opposite direction earlier in the afternoon).
After following a red car that refused to use the turnouts (turned out he was headed to Glacier Point), we’d eventually make it back to the Yosemite West loft at 7:10pm. Indeed, it was just in time for some organic ribeye steak dinner along with some soup and salads. Meanwhile, the kids had pasta.
It was such a simple get-together, and yet the dinner was delicious and the company was priceless. It was the best day-before-Fathers-Day moment that a father could ask for.
And so we basked in our accomplishments while regaling each other with the stories of how our afternoons went. It was a good thing that we went against the grain and avoided Yosemite Valley on a day like today. Even on Julie and company’s short visit to Glacier Point, they actually had to take a shuttle from Badger Pass to get all the way to Glacier Point because finding parking at Glacier Point would be pointless.
The last shuttle was said to be at 5pm so they had to crowd in to catch that last shuttle. Apparently a couple of women from Florida were gracious enough to let Tahia and Joshua squeeze in and sit on their already tight seat spaces. The rest of the shuttle bus was packed like sardines.
So in that sense, as physically demanding as it was for Mom and I, it was more or less crowd free and peaceful on both our Chilnualna Falls and Carlon Falls hikes. Indeed, leaving the crowds behind yielded benefits even though our jaded selves had been to Yosemite so many times that we felt comfortable seeking out alternatives without feeling like we were missing out on anything.
Well, when all was said and done, we rested our tired bodies and called it a night without needing to sleep too late.
All that was left for tomorrow was to pack up and drive home. And perhaps, have another shot at celebrating the real Fathers’ Day…
Day 4 (June 18, 2017 – Los Angeles, California): “Fathers Day Celebrating”
At 5am, I woke up and spent some time trying to fit in some blogging where I knew time would be hard to come by. I always had that feeling that when trips like this were finished, there was still a lot of work to be done in terms of getting all of the new content composed and/or getting up-to-date.
While all that was going on, everyone else eventually got up some time after 6am where we then had one last breakfast in our loft. Then, everyone got packed up and ready to go. At that point, it was about 8:30am when we finally left the keys in the room and headed out.
The original plan was to eat at Chipotle in Fresno while also making a gas stop there. But since Chipotle still wouldn’t be open by the time we’d get there, we changed the plans and decided to stop at the Chipotle in Tulare while making a gas stop there.
The drive out towards Fresno was a little bit delayed because Tahia was apparently car sick in the parents’ car. Julie and I could only speculate what happened because she was never carsick whenever she was with us (and we had already gone on many road trips involving mountain roads) so we suspected that the grandparents must have given them screen time (i.e. iPhone or iPad to play).
So we met up in Fresno to make sure everything was OK, and there wasn’t too much of a mess made. Then, we followed each other all the way to Tulare, where we got to the Chipotle at 11:25am.
While driving south on the 99 to get to Tulare, we saw there was noticeable snow above the haze looking to the east. Clearly, that was where Sequoia National Park was. There also appeared to be some thunderclouds budding out of the snowy mountains out there.
We wouldn’t be affected by this, but it underscored the amount of snow that the Sierras had accumulated this year (that there could still be that much snow visible from the Hwy 99 this deep into June).
Maybe some other time, we could visit Sequoia National Park while bringing the kids along. But that one would be more of a challenge from a carsickness standpoint given how twisty and slow the Generals Highway would be.
Eventually at 12:10pm, we were done with the Chipotle lunch and finished the long drive back from Yosemite to the parents’ place. We’d eventually get there at 3:25pm, where Julie and I also picked up an ice cream cake to celebrate Fathers Day as a family.
After about 90 minutes of getting our cars organized (including Tahia’s car seat), we’d then drive out to the Earthen Restaurant to try to beat the Fathers Day rush for one last dinner. My brother and his wife and daughter joined us and it became a very pleasant family affair before the workweek would begin again starting tomorrow.
Now, all three kids were together making commotion at the restaurant while the adults were getting caught up on the hot weather as well as the goings on while we were away.
We pretty much stuffed ourselves silly as we had probably ordered too much food, but at least we were all happy in each others’ company.
After the dinner, we then chilled out some more at the parents’ place, where we enjoyed the ice cream cake as well as Julie’s mug cake. The kids still were expending a lot of energy as they showed no signs of slowing down.
I don’t know how many more of these gatherings we’re going to be having going forward, but I’ve learned to cherish them as they come and never take them for granted.
Indeed, this weekend was so full of precious moments that regardless of what happens at work (with all the uncertainty that had been going on there), we can rest assured that we still have family and such priceless moments. And so it came time to return home, get settled, and get back to life, back to reality…