Friday, April 10, 2015


After taking refuge in Madera, CA to wait out a passing snowstorm we headed North to Yosemite National Park. The recent snow event caused some roads closure including Glacier Point where had planned to spend the afternoon so we headed into Yosemite Valley instead.

I'm overwhelmed by the amount of people here in Yosemite Valley. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like in the summer time. Even in early April, traffic is bumper to bumper. Short trails leading to popular attractions are nearly shoulder to shoulder. There are lines for a deli. There is a grocery store. Lodges. I understand these things exist in a National Park, but to experience the reality of it is a bit of a shocker. I feel like I'm in an amusement park.

Still the sight of El Capitan was enough to put a smile on my face. The wall appeared to be free of climbers as we drove in. I'm guessing yesterday's snow storm and lingering ice are keeping climbers down today (I have no idea what I'm talking about though so dont take my word for it). I couldn't help but think of all our rock climbing friends back in Boone. I feel like I'm in their mecca.

We set up camp in Yosemite Valley at "Camp 4", a "primitive" campground filled mostly with rock climbers. Each site is shared, allowing up to six people per site and there's about 30 sites. Based on how packed out it is I'm guessing there's over a 100 people camping here tonight. After spending the night here I can definitely confirm that I prefer the back country experience. Too many people freak me out and keep me awake. No bueno.

What is really nice about staying in the Valley is how centrally located we are to almost everything. On our first night here we walked to Yosemite Falls and Mirror Lake before returning back to camp (about 6 miles of mostly flat walking). We also saw a Bob Cat on the way to Mirror Lake but I had no luck getting a picture.

And we got great views of Half Dome and a beautiful sunset.

After a sleepless night we crawled out into the chilly morning air and walked 1.5 miles to the Visitor Center to get information on other campsites within the park. We had found the best time to be up and walking around in the Valley! No one was around. No traffic on the road, and aside from the obnoxious beeping of construction trucks working across the street from camp 4 it was peaceful. We went in and talked with Sarah, a short, tan girl with big brown eyes and a soft spoken personality. I told her everywhere we had already walked in the valley and asked her opinion on anything we haven't seen yet. "Honestly", she said in nearly a whisper, "the fact that you've already spent more then four hours here means you've seen more the most people." Four hours!?! Really?!!? I feel like you could spend a life time in here and still see something new everyday. "Don't leave without seeing lower Yosemite Falls" she said with a smile. We said thank you and walked back to camp, gathered our things and went on the hunt for a new campsite for the evening which turned out to be the most epic struggle. We had to locate the oParks NPS office which was tucked away in the corner of some obscure parking lot. By the time we got there everything in the Valley was full except Camp 4. Hell. No. So at the advice Mr. Ranger boy we headed toward the parks northern exit to Hodgdon Meadow Campground. It would have been perfect if the sites weren't covered in six inches of melting snow. I imagined waking up in a puddle and my sleeping bag heavy with water. Whatever. We would figure it out later. The road to Hetch Hetchy had been plowed so we took a detour to give us some time to think about where we would end up for the night.

Our drive down to the reservior wound us through Stanislaus National Forest and remnants of the Yosemite Rim Fire of 2013. Even now, nearly two years later the forest trees sanded the burned out match sticks.

Many of the stops we're making are exciting not just because they are some of America's most iconic places, but also because these are places I've learned about as an undergraduate studying Outdoor Recreation Management. One of these places is the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir located in the north western corner of Yosemite. This is the site of one of America's first large scale conservation battles. Developers wanted to dam the river in order to supply San Francisco with water, and John Muir along with the Sierra Club, wanted to preserve the river in its natural state. Muir believed that the Hetch Hetchy Valley was a "wonderfully exact counterpart to the Yosemite Valley. " He lost his battle and now the Hetch Hetchy reservoir supplies water and hydroelectric power to San Francisco's 2.4 million residents . For me, seeing this in person was to see a significant piece of conservation history.

The image above gives the names of the peaks shown in the picture below. There should be two waterfalls visible from this viewpoint but the Tueeulala Falls is almost dry at a time when it should be running at its peak. You may also be able to see the old water line around the lake to get a sense of how low the water is.

Ironically enough, I had spent part of the morning pondering how Muir would feel about the amount of development in Yosemite Valley. There is no doubt in my mind that the level of development has helped conserve many of the surrounding resources as well as provide opportunity for public enjoyment, but I just can't help but wonder what it was like through the eyes of Muir himself. The serenity that must have been present. It's wildness.

After an hour of wandering the trail around the reservior we headed down the mountain to Groveland to grab a dinner that wasn't dehydrated beans. Afterwards we head over to The Pines campground located in the National Forest that borders Yosemite. Since its still technically the off season, the site was free and barely occupied. A good night sleep was upon us. Tomorrow we head North toward Mt. Shasta Recreation Area.


  1. Sorry you got snowed out of Glacier Point - and I think you hit spring break week, with a lot of families traveling. But still, even the most crowded national parks (Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon) can offer quiet and even solitude, the more you walk away from the road. Stellar photographs!

    1. Yeah it only took walking about half mile onto any trailhead to get some peace and quiet. What's great about this trip is its giving us a good idea of where we would like to come back to and spend more time in the back country. Doing the tourist thing is a nice change and a chance to see some iconic places but I love my time in the woods :)

  2. Yosemite is such a massive crowded place. My first and last time there was when I was trying to thruhike in 2009 with Dwreck and we had just spent 2 weeks in the Sierra's. We were only able to get a camp spot the week before July 4 was because some lady was hawking her extra campsite. I think everywhere else you two plan to go will be less crowded.

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