So we spent some time having Jack Links and fruits as part of our snacking before the return hike.
And as we both stood there and admired the scenery before us, it dawned on me how the conditions from June 2002 could have been achieved…
Day 1: ONE DELAY AFTER ANOTHER
Tahia was fussing and crying since 4:30am. We were in the midst of trying to sleep train her and coerce her to naturally wake up at around 7am. So that meant ignoring her cries hoping she’d fall back asleep.
But on this day, she was up for good, and by 5:30am, we all decided it was time to get up and tend to her needs. In hindsight, I wished we woke up with her at 4:30am knowing that it would take a while to get prepared for our long drive to Yosemite.
Complicating matters was that we would most likely be encountering the infamous LA rush hour by the time we were out of the house.
Anyways, we did the obligatory changing and feeding of Tahia along with loading up the car (which was getting quite packed). It’s amazing how much more you have to bring with you when a child is involved. Plus, we were bringing along Julie’s mom to help with Tahia while also letting her experience Yosemite for the first time.
Sure enough, it was 7:30am by the time we left the house. Had we gotten up with Tahia an hour earlier, we surely would’ve been out by 6:30am which would’ve been a little more tolerable from a traffic standpoint.
So it took a while to navigate through the nasty LA traffic, but eventually when we got to Burbank, the traffic really cleared up. There were lots of CHP on the I-5 (even in the mountainous area beyond Magic Mountain), and we also saw places where at least three or four instances of pullovers were witnessed in succession. I guess California really needed the money and saw a golden opportunity to make it here.
By 9:30am, we mercifully made it to the Grapevine. But since it was time for Tahia to have another feeding (and she awoke from her nap as if on cue), we decided to pull into the Jack-in-the-Box there so we could comfortably feed and change her while having a little bit of a more substantial brekkie than the fruits and oatmeal we had at home.
It was pretty quiet and empty in there, which was perfect for tending to Tahia’s needs while also adding to our sparse brekkie from earlier this morning.
It was 10:15am when we finally resumed our drive. Not surprisingly, these delays were adding up, and for sure we could no longer be on the move and into Yosemite Valley by midday like we used to. At the rate we were currently going, we would be in Yosemite West area by about 2pm only if we didn’t stop. And going non-stop was not going to be likely.
The drive along the 99 in Central Valley was mostly uneventful. Again, we saw lots of cops so we made sure the cruise control was close to the speed limit and we were following people for the most part.
At 12:30pm, we made it to Fresno. I assumed we ought to fill up gas in the city since I thought it would be cheaper than around Yosemite. So we got off one of the exits when Julie noticed an In ‘N Out Burger joint. Unfortunately, it was very crowded with very long lines for both the drive through and the dine-in. We eventually abandoned the effort to satisfy Julie’s craving, but there was so much traffic on the way out, that we wasted another 20 minutes before even getting to the Shell Gas station across the street!
We fed Tahia on the move, and after cruising (more or less considering how many cars there were on the 41) towards Oakhurst, we started a quick grocery run there at 1:25pm knowing that it wouldn’t be easy to have dinner once we were in the park (especially since we weren’t staying in the Valley).
However, Julie’s grocery run took much longer than expected, and it wasn’t until 2:25pm (about an hour) when we finally left Oakhurst and headed to Yosemite.
The drive into the park was for the most part uneventful. A friendly lady at the gate tried to practice her Chinese with us, and even gave us one of those familiar NPS guides except this one was in Chinese. I figured Julie’s mom would appreciate that.
As forecasted, the weather was partly cloudy, but it was a shame that we couldn’t really capitalize on the good weather today since we arrived at the park so late. It wasn’t until 3:45pm when we finally arrived at our Yosemite West condo, where we would be staying for the next three nights. However, Saturday was supposed to have 70% rain, and that only left tomorrow as the only real day to allow the quintessential Yosemite experience in Yosemite Valley.
After unpacking our stuff at the condo, we decided to leave for Glacier Point at 4:15pm. We mind as well salvage at least some sightseeing on this day.
The Glacier Point Road opened on Memorial Day weekend (last week). And we could see that there was still quite a bit of snow banking the roads. So a lot of those signs marking points of interest along the road were hidden in the snow.
Eventually at around 5pm, we made it to Washburn Point. There, we took some photos of the backside of Half Dome as well as Nevada and Vernal Falls. Plus, we saw a part of Illilouette Fall, which a visitor to our website noted to us (and we had overlooked all this time).
I guess there’s always something new and different with every visit to this place.
With this being June, I guess it wasn’t too surprising that the car park was nearly packed and the lookouts were sprinkled with lots of people. It seemed like an indicator of things to come on this trip, and re-affirmed why I generally shied away from June visits (though June 2002 was because I didn’t know any better, and June 2003 was because we had to make sure the cables were up to do Half Dome). This year was because I heard of the 200% snowpack and decided that perhaps our usual favorite months might actually be a little early.
At 5:15pm, we arrived at a very crowded Glacier Point. I couldn’t believe how many cars were here this late in the day as we were lucky someone pulled out in front of us though we still had to walk quite a ways to even get to the end of the car park let alone the viewing area. And if it was this crowded here, I shuddered to think about how much busier the Valley would be.
Anyways, we tried to take that much-desired photo of Tahia in front of Half Dome. Unfortunately, it was cold and Tahia didn’t appreciate the intense sun too much. So with her fussiness, Julie and her mom didn’t spend very much time here (which was too bad considering how much time we spent on the road). Oh well, at least we did see a pair of deer after one of the visitors spotted them and alerted us.
I guess being the Yosemite veterans we were, we knew that deer were pretty much a dime-a-dozen. Bear sightings would’ve definitely excited us.
So as the headed back to the car, I told them that I was going solo to Illilouette Fall, which was a 4-mile return hike but was an upside down hike. And since I was going solo, I knew I could gun it for the most part so perhaps I could return to the car in less than two hours (this hike typically would take me 2.5 to 3 hours leisurely given the elevation changes and upside down nature of the hike).
The hike was mostly in shade, and I did have a little trouble finding the trail thanks to the patches of snow concealing the Panorama Trail. But eventually I got on the right path and didn’t have too much difficultly doing the familiar trail.
Of course conditions were a little different this time around as some of the snow melt caused some minor creek crossings and trail flooding. But by and large it was peaceful and quiet as I could hear some sounds that I wasn’t sure if they came from deer or bears. They sounding like some kind of ogling sound. Either way, they weren’t seen. Plus, I could hear some of the familiar bird songs (like the one that says “fee-bee-bee”) I hadn’t heard in so long.
When it’s just you and Nature like this, it’s easier to take the time to notice the things around you. In this case, the Giant Stairway was always commanding my attention on my left. I figured I was probably beneath Washburn Point by this point.
I only saw about three other people going the other way on the trail. It made me wonder if I had gotten too late a start.
The lengthening shadows darkening the trail and all the immediate surroundings this side of Illilouette Creek also amped up my sense of urgency not to tarry for too long to avoid hiking out in the dark. The only things being lit up now were the distant landscapes further east and higher up in elevation. Clearly, the sun’s rays were hiding behind the mountains at this time.
Somewhere before the last of the switchbacks descending down to the overlook of the familiar waterfall, I noticed a long fallen tree that served as both a trail marker and part of the trail itself. I didn’t recall this on any of my previous visits here, but then again, that was at least six years ago!
Eventually by about 6:15pm, I made it to the familiar (albeit precarious) overlook for Illilouette Fall.
I didn’t quite remember the exact configuration of the sloping ledge where I was able to get very unobstructed views of both Illilouette Fall and Creek, but from where I was standing it was close enough. The view didn’t seem quite as commanding as I had recalled, but at least the whole waterfall was visible at this spot.
Another cool thing that I hadn’t noticed earlier was that I was actually able to capture both Half Dome and Illilouette Fall together! Good thing I finally had a DSLR camera with wide angle in Yosemite for a change! I was still wishing that stupid EOS 20D had shown up BEFORE we went to Yosemite in February 2006 so we could’ve used it to get the firefall! That was the last time we were here.
I was also able to take some movies of this waterfall, which we also hadn’t done in the past.
By 6:35pm, it was time for me to go. The shadows were growing even longer and I could see that the sun was painting the granite peaks around me a darker shade of orange.
It was all uphill on the way back so I methodically worked my way up (as opposed to my trail running on the way down).
Somewhere near the half-way point, I encountered a trio of Romanians who wanted to get to the waterfall and back up to Glacier Point in time for sunset. Even though they seemed young and energetic (during our small talk, they said they were studying at Berkeley), I let them know that they still had a ways to go and they probably wouldn’t catch the sunset in time.
I guess since I was decked out in hiking attire, they also asked me about the Mist Trail and the Four Mile Trail. I gave them the low down on the realities they would be facing on these trails, but also offered them some alternatives (like the JMT since they weren’t equipped to handle the mist on the Mist Trail nor the dropoffs on the Four-Mile Trail).
Anyways, I eventually made it back to the car at 7:45pm. Apparently, Julie, Tahia, and Julie’s Mom never left the car. I guess Tahia kept everyone busy the whole time I did the hike.
At 8:25pm, we finally made it back to Yosemite West. Now, we could finally unwind, shower, have dinner, and hopefully get some much needed rest.
And hopefully, tomorrow won’t turn out to be as delayed (nor even rushed towards the end) as today – especially since it might be our last day of good or fair weather on this trip…
Day 2: THE STAR OF THE SHOW
Not surprisingly, Tahia awoke at 5:20am, and both Julie’s mom and I were ready to feed her. After all, she took far less than 20 oz. yesterday, and she missed a feeding as she slept through the night. So we figured she would be hungry and voraciously drink perhaps 5oz of both breastmilk and formula.
But alas, Tahia stopped after 3oz, and she screamed whenever we tried to keep the bottle nipple right at her mouth. I guess this is what happens when a baby is thrown off her routine, especially for a long distance trip like this.
We didn’t get quite the early start that I was hoping for, but we were still out the door at 7:05am after getting together our stuff to prepare for the day as well as squeezing in a brekkie.
The skies were sunny, but we knew that only a few spots around Yosemite Valley were good to photograph early in the morning. And fortunately, Swinging Bridge was one of them. So we made a beeline for Swinging Bridge knowing that Tunnel View wouldn’t be good against the sun as well as other stops around the Valley.
Along the way, we made one stop at the trailhead for Four Mile Trail since it happened to be just in front of Swinging Bridge and it looked like Sentinel Falls had a very healthy flow.
At about 7:30am, we made it to the familiar car park and picnic area for Swinging Bridge. There were already a few other people at the bridge armed with tripods taking photos of Yosemite Falls reflected in the Merced River.
At first, Julie anticipated a pretty quick stop so she opted to leave Tahia in the car with her mom. But after seeing the bright green colors of the foliage backed by the awesome Yosemite Falls and the rippling reflections in the river, we opted to spend a little more time here getting Tahia out of the car and into a stroller to face this cold morning.
While Julie went back to the car to get Tahia and her mom, I only realized at the moment that I could see Lehamite Falls from this spot. I guess with the telephoto zoom capability of the camera, I could finally bring it in reasonably without losing resolution. So naturally, I capitalized on this little photo op to add to my already huge library of waterfall images captured around Yosemite Valley.
And when we finally got around to taking family photos while playing games to get Tahia to look towards the camera, we got some gorgeous photos that I could totally see being framed and put somewhere in a highly visible spot in the house.
Anyways, after a few more minutes of playing games with Tahia and the timer on the DSLR, we had our fill of this spot and continued onwards towards Yosemite Falls itself.
We could tell from the plethora of cars zooming along the Southside Drive (while we were on the Swinging Bridge) that it was going to be quite busy around the falls. But to our surprise when we got there, there was plenty of parking right around the lodge.
So once we claimed a spot, we put Tahia in the stroller again and proceeded to follow a large Korean Tour Group (that dominated the foot traffic at the time) towards the falls.
It seemed like Tahia was the star of the show because hardly a moment went by when someone from the tour group or just passing by would try to get Tahia’s attention. There were numerous occasions where people would compliment how cute she was. And this didn’t stop when we were right at the misty viewpoint for the base of Lower Yosemite Falls.
The waterfall itself was still in shadow and it probably wouldn’t be until much later in the morning when the sun would at least shine on the mist and produce rainbows. But we weren’t going to wait around for that.
After having our fill of the falls (and the crowds), we returned to the car. This time, we were headed to Curry Village. The original plan was to do a loop around the valley for some quick roadside photo ops, but given the volume of traffic flowing into the park, we mind as well defer the roadside stops for later in the afternoon after most of the main activities were done.
And the activity du jour (as far as I was concerned) was to do the 6.6-mile loop from Happly Isles to the top of Nevada Falls by going up the Mist Trail and down the John Muir Trail. I never actually did only this loop exclusively, and the last time I did this trail in full was the trip to do Half Dome back in June 2003.
Julie, Tahia, and Julie’s mom remained at Curry Village, but I encouraged them to at least take Tahia on the stroller to Mirror Lake. But given how much trouble it was to just tend to Tahia’s fussiness and her basic needs, it wouldn’t surprise me if they just remained in Curry Village or the car the whole time I was out.
Anyways, it was about 8:55am when we got lucky and found a spot somewhere not far from the tent cabins.
Initially, I saw how well Staircase Falls was flowing so I seized this opportunity to walk over to Stoneman Meadow and snap photos and movies of both Staircase Falls as well as the Royal Arch Cascades.
This interlude didn’t take long, and when I returned to the car park, I showed up just in time for one of the shuttles headed in the direction of the Happy Isles Nature Center.
It was about 9:30am when I got the Happy Isles. I noticed there was a snack bar here, which was something I never noticed before. There also wasn’t a bridge crossing over the Merced River from the side with the toilet (thanks to the 1997 rock fall near Curry Village) so I backtracked to the bridge where I snapped a shot of the Merced River flowing beneath North Dome, and then proceeded to go right onto the long loop trail.
There were already lots of people on the trail, and I was quite surprised at how I was already sucking air in the mostly uphill paved path. Well, at least I was able to notice a surprise waterfall that I had never noticed before somewhere not far south of Glacier Point.
In fact, I swore this waterfall never flowed in all the years I had been to Yosemite, so perhaps the 200% snowpack from this Winter and Spring season brought this one back to life.
Perhaps that flooded part of the Panorama Trail that I traversed yesterday might’ve been part of the source for this waterfall?
In all the years I had done this trail, it never occurred to me just how much uphill hiking was required to even get to the Vernal Fall footbridge. With me already going quite slow thanks to the aerobic workout, this was already not a good sign.
At least this gave me a chance to notice other stuff along this paved stretch of trail. One was all the jumble of talus and giant granite pieces flanking much of this section of the John Muir Trail. In years past, we never really paid much attention to our surroundings, but I guess with these observations, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Curry Village rockfall event in 1997 would happen.
In fact, I bet it smaller versions of it were happening all the time as the talus evidence would suggest.
Once again, I also checked out Illilouette Fall from down here as well. In the past, I would only be one of a few people who would notice the falls. But on this day, given the amount of people on the trail, I was definitely not alone in this observation.
It was hard to tell if Illilouette grew any from how I had seen it in the past (at least from this vantage point). But it was still photogenic and I wasted no time snapping more of the familiar shots from here. Besides, I had already seen it directly yesterday and I knew it was definitely flowing as well as I had seen it before if not more so.
Anyways, it didn’t take long before I finally reached the Vernal Fall bridge and then proceeded to waste no time continuing on towards the Mist Trail. But by the time I made it to the familiar Lady Franklin Rock (where I could see Vernal Fall up the Merced River), I had noticed the skies were mostly overcast already. Looked like the forecasted storm for tomorrow and Sunday was well on its way here.
Something I hadn’t done in the past was to take movies from this spot. Thankfully with my camera’s ability to do this, I went ahead and did this as well.
By about 10:20am, I got to a part just before the trail got misty. So I seized this opportunity to have some snacks, put on the waterproof pant, and don the rain poncho. And after a few minutes, I followed scores of other people (most of them came prepared with rain gear) up the wet and steep granite steps with Vernal Fall doing what it can to make it feel like a downpour.
After the snack and gear break was over, I too joined the bursty traffic braving the spray from the high flow of Vernal Fall. And as the granite steps were getting wetter, I was half expecting some serious spray reminiscent of the conditions from my previous June visits. After all, shouldn’t the 200% snowpack make it so as well?
But oddly enough, I felt like the mist wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. And with the way-above-average-snow-pack, I was a little perplexed. Could it be that it was still colder than the seasonal average for this time of year that was keeping most of the snowmelt locked away in snow?
Or could it be that my mind was playing tricks on me? After all, when you come in with expectations, more often than not, you set yourself up for disappointment.
Although in this case, I wouldn’t consider the conditions as a disappointment.
Nonetheless, this misty zone still did require my waterproof pants and rain poncho. And by and large, my DSLR was kept safe. For those times when I did want to take a photo in the swirling mist, I used Julie’s old Sony Cybershot since it seemed to behave a little better under these wet conditions.
When I got far enough along the Mist Trail, I snuck a peek backwards and saw a somewhat faint rainbow even though the sun was mostly obstructed by some thin clouds.
It wasn’t until about 10:50am when I got out of the misty part of the trail and wasted no time taking off the rain poncho as well as the waterproof pants. Still, I couldn’t help but think about how it seemed like my Half Dome hike back in June 2003 underwent even wetter conditions than what was experienced today. This all led me to believe that peak snowmelt hadn’t occurred yet, and perhaps it was due in a week or two when I’d expect the weather to really warm up to more seasonal temperatures.
My legs were already starting to feel fatigued but I still had to push forward since there was a lot more to go on this day. And it wasn’t until about 11am when I finally made it up to the top of Vernal Fall. So that was over 2 miles down, but still another 4.6 miles to go. And I still had to contend with more uphill hiking to get to the top of Nevada Falls.
But before I pushed on, I snuck in a quick view of the brink of Vernal Fall. I didn’t tarry long here since I knew more people were waiting to have their pictures taken at the very corner of the falls.
Actually, come to think of it, I had recalled that my past experiences with this waterfall definitely had more water because some of its flow actually flooded that desired photo op corner. So clearly despite the 200% snowpack, this was further evidence that we were still here before the peak snowmelt.
At about 11:10am, I chanced upon a section of the Merced River known as the Silver Apron and Emerald Pool. For some reason, I never really paid attention to this in all the years I had been to the park, but that was until now. For I could see how these features got their names.
The Emerald Pool was basically a seemingly calm part of the turbulent Merced River between Vernal and Nevada Falls. Feeding this pool was an interesting sliding sheet of the river forming the apron part. And now I could see why people would be tempted to play in the water here (at least in the past). But now it was strictly forbidden since it could result in someone getting swept over Vernal Fall.
Continuing on, I eventually got to the familiar junction where going left meant continuing on the Mist Trail and going right would hook up with the JMT. I first went right because I wanted to get back to that viewpoint where I could see all of Vernal Fall with people being dwarfed right at its top. It was too bad that it was overcast because I really wanted to get a photo from here with a rainbow in the mist.
There were a pair of ladies who wondered why I was going back, but I told them that I was doing the long loop. I also recommended to them to continue heading towards Nevada Falls on the JMT because they could get nice views of the Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls beneath the Panorama Cliffs.
Anyways, I continued going back downhill and then proceeded beyond the footbrdige above the Silver Apron. I had it in my mind to take another break (a lunch break) at that spot where I could get a frontal view of Nevada Falls. I figured not many people knew about it since I had skipped that spot (unknowingly) almost every time I did this trail in the past.
Well, at 11:55am, I was back at that spot. And I snapped a few photos and movies of the front of Nevada Falls, but it was rather misty so I couldn’t quite get the photos I wanted done in a leisurely pace. But at least I got some decent photos in between wiping waterspots off the lens.
And for the better part of 15 minutes, I was alone at this spot except for a squirrel or two aggressively looking for a handout from me.
Anyways, at about 12:10pm, I had noticed that my secret spot wasn’t so secret after all as there must’ve been at least a dozen people that checked this spot out. And I figured it was now time to embark on the next gruelling part of the hike, and that was the drier Mist Trail alongside Nevada Falls.
Once again, my legs were feeling heavy. And with some of the steps being quite steep, I found myself having some trouble even getting my legs up that high. Indeed, I felt like perhaps my legs were about to cramp.
I wasn’t sure what was the deal with me this time since I never recalled having this much difficulty on the trail. Was I getting old? Or was the backpack a bit heavier than when I last did this trail?
In any case, I was huffing and puffing with legs sore.
I’d frequently take a photo breaks even though it broke my momentum. But when my legs were this tired and I was breathing as heavily as I was, I wasn’t sure if momentum was the priority or if rest was the priority.
Again, I was lamenting the lack of blue skies because the skies looked like they blended in with both the falls and the granite surroundings. Bummer.
Well, it wasn’t until about 12:40pm when I finally made it to the top! It was a relief knowing that the rest of the hike would be predominantly downhill.
The next order of business was to get back up to the viewing area right at the brink of Nevada Falls – a viewpoint that I nicknamed Yo-wy-we because the Native Americans associated the falls with some kind of worm, and watching the falls shoot down below from that vantage point made me think it did have somewhat of a slinky-like behavior.
So I returned back to that overlook for some more photos as well as a movie. Why not? We were here before but didn’t document it as thoroughly as I do now so now we don’t leave our experiences up to the vagarities of our lossy memories since I now have more definitive proof of what we had seen and heard.
At 1:05pm, I made it past the footbridge above Nevada Falls, and then spent the next 20 minutes having yet another lunch break. This time, I used this time to finish off my grapes and cherries while also eating most of the delicious jack links jerky (probably one of the best tasting jerkies I ever had).
This time, there was only one squirrel around. But it appeared to mind its own business. Or maybe it was just scheming for a sneak attack. You never know with these guys…
At 1:25pm, I was back on the trail and this time I was now able to trail run since it was mostly downhill. I did have to watch for some slippery spots as well as some flooded spots. But it felt good to be going downhill for once since I almost exclusively went uphill this whole time.
Nonetheless, I wondered how much worse the flooding would get when the weather warms up.
Probably about 5- to 10 minutes later, I made it to the Panorama Cliffs where there was some snowmelt dripping onto the JMT as if it was raining. I made sure I sheltered the camera but I came out of there not too terribly wet.
I wasn’t sure about some of the other folks who ran this section not wanting to get another drenching. I even noticed some other guy who actually slipped and fell here. I did have one moment where I slipped but didn’t fall thanks to the wet granite footing.
Traditionally, this part was prone to falling icicles, which was why it wouldn’t be open during the Winter and early Spring. Better water than falling ice, I reckon.
But at least just beyond this stretch, I was able to get that familiar view of Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap together. It was just too bad that the skies were overcast so it was a lot of white on white in the photo (save the foliage below).
Still with the DSLR in Yosemite (finally), my lens did have some wide angle capability so I could get the backside of Half Dome along with the Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls all in one frame.
It wasn’t long before I was done with the Panorama Cliffs section and proceeded to trail run since the trail was definitely switching back at this point. I did make one final stop near the trail junction with the hook-up trail linking the JMT with the Mist Trail between both waterfalls on the Giant Stairway.
After I took what photos I wanted to from up here, I pretty much put the camera away and then continued to trail run. Since it was all downhill, I tried to capitalize on my momentum to jam my way down.
I found myself passing lots of people as it seemed like I was the only one trail running. It made me feel weird, but I knew what I was doing, and I knew I had to get back to Julie within my promised window of 2-3pm.
Probably the one time I did completely stop was for some horses to get by.
Eventually, I made it back to the Happy Isles Nature Center at 2:35pm, which was just in time to take a much-needed potty break and to catch the shuttle back to Curry Village. So I ended up going about 3.3 miles in about an hour, which was probably the limit to my hiking speed as far as I was concerned.
By about 2:50pm, I was back at Curry Village where I saw Julie, Tahia, and Julie’s Mom indoors next to the Pizza Deck. That was when I rejoined the family, spoiled myself with some pepperoni pizza, and then proceeded to get back in the car as a group at 3:35pm.
With tomorrow forecasted to have bad weather, I tried to use this last part of the day to get what photos and movies I could from within the Valley. So I made sure to get shots of Sentinel Falls from Leidig Meadow, Royal Arch Cascade, Bridalveil Fall from V10 and Valley View from V11, plus Widow’s Tears, which seemed to flow pretty well (at least like I had never seen it before), and Ribbon Falls, which was flowing harder than I had ever seen it.
At Valley View, my lens had enough wide angle to get Ribbon Falls as well as the rest of the valley. It wasn’t a balanced shot, but at least it showed how capable this EOS 7D was in that there wasn’t noticeable distortion.
We even spent some time getting onto the road to El Portal trying to capitalize on the fair weather so we could properly photograph Widow’s Tears and Silver Strand Falls.
This idea dawned on me when we were at Valley View and I caught a glimpse of Widow’s Tears looking thicker than I was used to seeing it.
However, making the U-turn from the pullout where I took the photos to return to the east-bound lanes into the Valley proved to be non-trivial as the heavy traffic from this time of year and the proximity of the weekend conspired to keep up stuck in the pullout or keep heading west.
Getting a view of Sentinel Falls was difficult because there was no legitimate parking spot near the area. Perhaps that was why I never really saw much about Leidig Meadow in the literature – because it wasn’t very straightforward to access without a willingness to walk a bit.
So to Julie’s dismay, I decided to make another loop through the valley determined to get this view of Sentinel Falls from Leidig Meadow. At least along the way, we made a stop at the Southside Drive between both Ribbon Falls and Bridalveil Fall.
Ribbon Falls definitely looked thicker than I remembered it. There were even artists chilling out at a group near the Southside Drive probably painting their subjects whether it was El Cap, Ribbon Falls, Cathedral Spires, the Three Brothers, or Bridalveil Fall.
Whatever it was, I had to get my shot of Ribbon Falls even if the granite blended in with the overcast skies.
When we looped back to the Northside Drive, we made a stop a Cook Meadow. My shots of this in the past were only with the brown grass of Winter so it was nice to be back here under more Spring-like conditions for a change.
I even got out of the car and took a short walk on the boardwalk along Cook Meadow to see if I could get a decent shot directly of Yosemite Falls’ upper and lower sections.
There was a guy who had a pretty heavy-duty cam-corder or camera mounted on a tripod with microphone here. I wasn’t sure if I messed up his footage or something because he wasn’t in a talkative mood and he had already claimed the desired photo spot. So I shot something slightly less optimal but no less pretty.
Then, I stole one last glimpse of Lehamite Falls looking very puny in comparison to the iconic Yosemite Falls.
Finally on the second go around for Leidig Meadow, we just parked in a makeshift pullout near V6 and then got my shots of Sentinel Falls. It didn’t look like a formal spot but we didn’t see any sign prohibiting its use. Either way, we stopped briefly here, which allowed Julie to get another pumping in.
I actually walked further along this trail, which the signs indicated would eventually make it to Bridalveil Fall. And judging from how quiet it was here, I don’t think this trail got very much use.
So once again, it was just me and my effort to improve my views of Sentinel Falls. There were some clusters of gnats, but from what I could tell, there were still no mosquitoes. Again, this was unusual for June since they’re usually out by now, but the cold weather must have something to do with it.
The view from here wasn’t quite as open as I had imagined given the trees in the immediate area. Still, my curiosity was satisfied, and I guess that pretty much concluded this valley run.
On the way back up out of the valley, we finally stopped at Tunnel View. But with the overcast skies, it wasn’t the gorgeous afternoon-lit view I had hoped for. Still, we brought Tahia out for this one and got a few more money family shots.
From looking way up between Tunnel View and the Wawona Tunnel, Silver Strand Falls looked like it had pretty average flow. We don’t often see this one flowing too well in all the times we’ve tried to photograph it. Maybe it was still too cold.
Nonetheless, we captured it for posterity.
The last stop on this go-around was at Turtleback Dome where I sought after the familiar view of Cascade Falls as well as a movie since we never took one before. But the rocks piled up on the other side of the barricade seemed a bit lower than I had remembered it so I knew it wasn’t as straightforward to get back to the car. But it still shouldn’t be that bad, I reckoned.
The whole time I was here, I started to wonder if that barricade was built there on purpose to discourage more people from scrambling atop Turtleback Dome. I figured the view of Cascade Falls from here was much better than the M1 view along the Hwy 140, but it seemed like this one was less visited thanks to that barricade.
I guess now that I was more sensitive to environmental impacts of scrambling, maybe this place was the way it was for a reason.
Looking further up Cascade Falls, I paid more attention to the cascade further up the slope. And upon further inspection, I concluded that the cascade up there was from Tamarack Creek. Cascade Creek was harder to see, but I knew they would converge to make the dramatic Cascade Falls beneath one of the Big Oak Flat Road bridges.
The Yosemite Road Guide said Wildcat Creek combined with Cascade Creek to make Cascade Falls, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Wildcat Creek was on its own drainage making its own waterfall. And this time around, Wildcat Falls didn’t look like it was flowing well (if at all).
And by 5:50pm, I was back in the car and by 6:05pm, we finally returned to Yosemite West. At least on this day, we were finished over a couple hours earlier than yesterday.
Day 3: CRACKING THE RIDDLE
Once again Tahia awoke at 5:30am. Apparently even in the midst of a Yosemite trip where Tahia’s routine was all thrown off, she remained consistent about waking up at this time. I guess her circadian rythms had already been established.
It took us a while to get things ready for the day. We weren’t in any hurry given the forecast for bad weather so it wasn’t until about 8:30am when we finally left Yosemite West.
The plan for today was to visit the base of Bridalveil Fall as well as the waterfalls at Hetch Hetchy. Tahia and Julie’s mom would stay back at the condo since the excursions for today weren’t conducive for a baby nor for an elderly person not accustomed to long walks.
So far, it looked like we were experiencing light rain. It didn’t seem like anything horrendous, and we figured since the forecast was for showers, it wouldn’t make much difference if we were to be drenched by waterfall mist anyways. Of course with potentially foul weather like today, it would certainly be much cooler than if this had occurred under sunny skies.
It was about 8:55am when we arrived at the pretty busy car park for Bridalveil Fall.
At least it was more than half full, which was surprising considering how rainy the weather was. Still, we wasted no time donning our rain ponchos and waterproof pants and wasted no time walking the nearly 0.25-mile paved walk right up to the base of the waterfall.
With Julie’s old Cybershot handy, we didn’t mind the mist too much since her tiny camera could still take decent photos under the bad weather. With my DSLR, I’d be constantly drying off the lens while new droplets from the sky flew right towards it.
We didn’t spend a whole lot of time here, but we did manage to get the obligatory photos as well as some movies of the scene (which was something we didn’t do long ago). I expected there to be quite a turbulent display of the falls blasting its mist onto onlookers at the end of the trail. But somehow this falls didn’t seem too bad – at least compared to June 2002. This was despite the 200% snowpack, but perhaps it was too cold at this time so the volume on Bridalveil Creek wasn’t quite there as it was still locked up in the snow (which we observed driving Glacier Point Road on Thursday afternoon).
By 9:20am, we left and proceeded to loop back around and head over to Hwy 120/140 west. The drive was pretty uneventful though we did notice a few occasions where numerous people were pulled over observing something. Julie figured they were probably looking for mountain goats (or maybe bats) on the face of El Capitan.
Earlier in the drive, there was a ranger trying to either control traffic or discourage people from getting closer to wildlife. We weren’t sure what it was, but it might have been a bear. In any case, most of the people were headed back to their cars so that was a sign to me that there was nothing to be seen anymore.
As we went up the Big Oak Flat Road, we saw even more cars seemingly looking at nothing across the Merced River Canyon. Again, Julie thought they were looking at goats or some kind of rare bird.
As we passed over the bridges traversing both Cascade Creek and Tamarack Creek, we thought we could take a rain check for stopping here since we were determined to get to Hetch Hetchy to do our hike.
When we left the Big Oak Flat Entrance, the rangers there were actually checking for receipts for people leaving the park. That was something new. We weren’t sure if they were making sure everyone who got into the park paid their much-needed dues or something.
Whatever the case, only collecting $20 per vehicle considering the amount of maintenance required to clean up after each visitor while ensuring the park remained wild was probably insufficient. And we could tell this was the case since the park was resorting to donations and volunteers just to keep the park afloat – a clear indication that the entrance fees didn’t meet the total cost of visitation.
Anyways, we then drove Evergreen Road, which bridged through Stanislaus National Forest before junctioning with the Hetch Hetchy Road at Mather. The road was much rougher than I had recalled (I believe we were last here 6 years ago).
With waterproof pants and ponchos at the ready, Julie and I wasted no time in getting on with the hike.
As we crossed the dam, we glanced some of the familiar interpretive signs they had. One thing that made us go BS was the “clean, renewable energy” sign. Sure this dam was harnessing the renewable resource of rainwater or snow, but we didn’t think it was clean when you factor the sacrifice of Yosemite Valley’s twin in order to have this scheme. It could even be argued that methane emissions from drowned flora and fauna meant a much more potent greenhouse gas was emitted.
Regardless, one thing I was disappointed with when we arrived was the wispiness of Tueeulala Falls. It was reminiscent of our trip around this time last year in Switzerland when Seerenbach Falls behaved like this despite the unusually wet Western European weather they had that year. Even with the record Sierra snowpack from this year, we found it perplexing that Tueeulala Falls would still struggle to flow (even the unnamed one to its left was flowing better).
So with that in mind, we continued on through the tunnel and then proceeded to embark on the 5-mile walk to Wapama Falls. This was the first time Julie re-visited this place since our first time here back in early June 2002.
She did remember the flooding on the trail between the main waterfalls here, plus she definitely remembered how scary it was traversing the bridge beneath Wapama Falls when it was flowing with crazy volume.
I was left trying to figure out what exactly caused the conditions we experienced nearly 9 years ago. We originally thought those were normal conditions, but now with this being the fifth time I personally was here, that kind of perspective hinted to me that perhaps our first experience here was more of an anomaly.
The hike was mostly uneventful though it always seemed like we learned something new or noticed something different every time we re-visited a familiar old haunt. And this one was no different. In particular, we saw some trees that looked like someone painted their bark a waxy brown. It almost didn’t seem real, but we were sure it was natural. We just didn’t know what caused it.
The rain started off light and pretty tolerable, but as the day progressed, the rain came down harder and harder. That kind of made the footing on some of the granite sections a bit slippery, but it wasn’t too bad as long as we were watching where we were going.
Along the way, we noticed a park ranger taking his time with one of the field guides in hand. No doubt he was enjoying the subtleties of this part of Yosemite National Park and the weather just came with the territory. We could tell by the smile on his face that he was really taking it all in.
I’m sure he was supposed to be checking backcountry permits or something, but he didn’t come across that way with his happy-go-lucky demeanor and his real slow pace.
For the most part, the hike was pretty quiet – at least compared with Yosemite Valley. But with this being a Summer weekend, there were still lots of people on this trail. So as “hidden” as Hetch Hetchy Valley was, it was still a pretty popular place.
With Tueeulala Falls struggling as mightily as it was, I knew the stretch between this falls and Wapama Falls wouldn’t be flooded as was the case back in June 2002. Therefore, I didn’t expect it to be too terribly misty at Wapama Falls either.
It wasn’t until around 11:45am when we finally made it to Wapama Falls. There was some trail construction or maintenance going on between the footbridges of Tueeulala and Wapama Falls respectively. I wasn’t sure what they were doing, but perhaps they were trying to make sure new talus that got onto the trail was to become part of the trail.
The footbridges at Wapama Falls were misty, but they were nowhere near as powerful as we had remembered back in 2002. Again, that wasn’t too surprising considering how much Tueeulala Falls was struggling. Yet it was still perplexing why 200% above average snowpack couldn’t reproduce the conditions from 9 years ago.
Still, Julie was having an interesting time trying to reach back into her memories to try to see where the flooded sections of the trail were. The dangers of that day were nowhere apparent on this day.
So we spent some time having Jack Links and fruits as part of our snacking before the return hike.
And as we both stood there and admired the scenery before us, it dawned on me how the conditions from 2002 could be achieved.
Basically, two things had to happen in succession. First, there had to be high snowpack, especially in the drainage that sourced Tueeulala Falls (which was apparently small according to the maps). Second, the snow in the drainage had to be quickly dissipated by a hot weather. If it doesn’t happen soon enough after the presence of snow, then Tueeulala Falls would always be in either a wispy or trickling state.
Consequently, Wapama Falls wouldn’t be in a flooded state.
So back in June 2002, there was a late season storm (kind of like what we were experiencing today) that produced snow at the higher elevations, including the drainages feeding the Hetch Hetchy waterfalls. And when we showed up, the weather was very warm (possibly in the 90s in Hetch Hetchy Valley), which melted the fresh snow fast enough to bring up the flow for both waterfalls.
Perhaps if this storm produces more snow and it’s immediately followed by very warm weather, then the conditions from the past would occur once again. But alas, it wasn’t to be on this trip.
It was about 2pm when we finally got back to the car. The rain came down even harder and our rain ponchos were very wet. The clouds looked like they were getting lower and lower, and they even started to cover up the tops of Tueeulala and Wapama Falls as well as Hetch Hetchy Dome and Kolana Rock.
The drive back to Yosemite West was once again pretty uneventful. The only nuissance was that some slow drivers refused to use pullouts. There was one instance when we got past the Wawona Tunnel and we were stuck behind a long train of at least a dozen cars all because someone refused to use one of the many pullouts on Hwy 41.
This is the main reason why I think mountain driving can be dangerous because inconsiderate or unknowing drivers can force others to pass onto oncoming traffic (with blind turns and all). I couldn’t imagine how bad it would be to continue like this for another hour to the Southern Entrance, and I was glad we only had to leave this caravan near the Chinqapin Junction for Yosemite West.
It was 4pm when we returned to the condo under pretty heavy rain. Julie and I hadn’t eaten a decent meal since breakfast so we were really looking forward to spaghetti and meatballs. We were also looking forward to seeing Tahia again.
Yes, even though having her limited our options in terms of where we can and can’t go as well as slowing us down and forcing us to have shorter trips, we always thought about her whenever we were away from her. And we’d always imagine her smiling and how cute she was in general. I guess such was the give-and-take relationship new parents must be having with their child or children. And we were no different.
Anyways, we still had lots to do in terms of packing, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be stuck in traffic on our way out of Yosemite tomorrow given all that has to happen to care for Tahia. We had originally planned to visit the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees on the way out of the park, but I’m pretty sure we’ll just gun it home as best we can (Tahia-willing).
So that first visit to that section of the park still remains…
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