It was July 4th weekend. But rather than joining the crowd in Yosemite Valley (aka Yosemite National Park’s “Disneyland”), we opted to hike in the Yosemite High Country.
We had spent the earlier part of the trip checking out Leavitt Falls, Devil’s Postpile National Monument, and Lundy Canyon, but all that was to acclimate ourselves and prepare for the North Dome hike before us today.
So we made it to the Porcupine Flat Trailhead at around 8:30am. The hiking group consisted of my parents, Julie, myself, and young cousin Caroline from Taiwan. I don’t think Caroline had ever been on a hike like this before (nearly 10-miles amongst the thin air of the high country), but she seemed like she was game.
The trail immediately descended into a forested area. There was plenty of shade along the trail so we didn’t feel stifled by the intensifying morning heat. Wildflowers were growing in meadows while the trail had the odd snowflower blooming here and there.
This shady part of the hike undulated through at least a couple of hills and it was fairly long and featureless (by Yosemite standards). It seemed like we were being passed by quite a few hikers and backpackers (meaning we were probably going pretty slow).
In any case, it probably took us nearly 2.5 hours from the start to make it to the top of Indian Ridge, which was where the forest opened up and the trail started to descend in earnest. By this point, our stamina was tested given the thin air and the hills we had to go through just to get to this point.
We passed a spur on our left signed “Indian Rock.” We were going to take this spur on the way back. While on the ridge, we started to get direct views of Half Dome in shadow as well as views of Tenaya Canyon. We also got our first glimpse of North Dome. It was kind of funny that we had to hike down to North Dome instead of up, but we weren’t complaining.
Somewhere in this section we seemed to have lost the trail because all of the sudden the trail got really steep and slippery from the loose gravel on the granite. We opted to push forward seeing how the destination was clearly in front of us. And after a few minutes of somewhat harrowing friction pitches, we eventually regained the trail.
After passing a pair of trail junctions (I suspect they were part of some high country trails skirting the rim of Tenaya Canyon), the descent continued to steepen. By now it was about 11:30am and it had been a while since we left the shade so the unrelenting sun and heat continued to bombard us. To make matters worse, our progress was hampered when my nose started to bleed.
After stuffing some torn tissue paper up my nose, we continued down the trail. As we continued to descend down granite switchbacks, my nose was starting to bleed through the tissue.
Even at over 8000ft, the summer heat intensified, my breathing got heavier, and my nose kept bleeding. We ran through at least a dozen or so tissues, each drenched with dark red blood. This was not the mountain high I was looking for. In hindsight, I was clearly dehydrated and altitude sickness started to creep in.
I seemed to be the only one suffering so I proceeded to chug lots of warm water (no longer cold after all the time in the sun). Eventually, we would move on again. When the trail stopped descending, we were in a pocket of forest. We took this opportunity to hydrate a little more and cool off a bit in the shade.
Next, the trail gave way to the open air again, and now we had to climb the last quarter-mile to the top of North Dome. By the time it was 12:30pm, we finally made it to the summit!
Up here, we had plenty to see. Amongst them were:
- an in-your-face view of Half Dome
- interesting views of Tenaya Canyon
- Basket Dome
- a distant profile view of Illilouette Fall
- Sentinel Dome
- Mt Starr King, which sat behind Half Dome
- and Yosemite Valley
We easily spent 90 minutes up here in a mini-shade we had found. We had our lunch while making sure sneaky plague-carrying squirrels didn’t get any piece of us nor our food.
At 1:30pm, my parents and Caroline already started to make their way back. We had arranged to meet them at Indian Ridge.
It was 2pm when Julie and I finally got up and headed back up the trail to join the rest of the party. It was still hot, but now some clouds have formed and made the skies a bit hazy and grey with a few pockets of sun.
I knew the walk back wouldn’t be easy since we now had to go uphill to get back to Indian Ridge. On the bright side though, we wouldn’t lose the trail we had lost earlier in the morning.
After an exhausting return to Indian Ridge, it was 3pm. We rendez-vous’ed with the parents, and we all took the steep quarter-mile spur to Indian Rock.
I was excited about seeing a rare natural arch in Yosemite, so that gave me a second wind. In addition to waterfalls, I’m also into arches and natural bridges since they’re usually in places where waterfalls aren’t around, and they gave us a reason to see more nature when dry season came around.
So I thought this was going to be quite a treat. However, the trail was a bit steep and it was brutal on my knees, which started to give me a little discomfort (on top of other ailments like my heavy breathing and nosebleeds from altitude sickness).
At about 3:40pm, we finally were in front of the arch. It was pretty cool, but I wanted to see if I could look through the arch towards Half Dome. I had read in my research that it was possible and now I was about to find out…
On the other side of the arch, I had to do a little bit of bouldering to get up to its span. Once I was up there, I had to sit on a precarious ledge and scoot my way in front of the span to see Half Dome through the arch. This concerned Julie and my parents, but it looked worse than it really was.
By now it was 4:30pm and we all started the final stretch of trail towards dad’s MPV. About an hour later, the parents and Caroline were way ahead of us. Julie and I were sucking air as we had trouble taking deep breaths. It was kind of like that feeling you get when you’ve been exercising in stage 1 smog, which I had experienced plenty of when I was in elementary school.
Finally at 6pm, Julie and I made it back to the trailhead. There were my parents and Caroline already relaxing and napping in the car. Were we really that far behind?
Anyhow, I can’t tell you how relieved both Julie and I were when we got out of our hiking boots and into Chacos. My progressively hurting knees finally got a rest. The AC felt real good. And even in our rested state, breathing was still a little difficult. At least there wasn’t any more hiking to look forward to for the rest of this trip.
After having a couple of stops at Olmstead Point, Tenaya Lake, and Tuolumne Meadows, we eventually made it back to our condo in Mammoth Lakes.
Even inside the condo, I still felt high and dry. I was constantly tired and sore. My nose would continue to bleed on and off. I would even be out of breath going up and down the stairs. This was probably the worst I had ever felt after a hike. I think Julie experienced similar symptoms. But Caroline and my parents put us to shame. They were still as frisky as a fish.
I would continue to have nose bleeds on and off for the next two days with shortness in my breath. Eventually I’d make a full recovery from what was apparently altitude sickness. The big lesson learned from this trip was to drink plenty of water and don’t put it off. Being high and dry is not the way to go…
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