I’d have brought an ice pack for my neck if I had known better.
The next handful of days were spent cranking our necks upward, gawking at massive sequoias and granite slabs erupting from the earth in varying contorted ways.
Yosemite Valley sits at about 4000ft, with the surrounding wilderness reaching heights over 10,000. Rather quickly, you realize why John Muir considered this the most magnificent of nature’s creations.
After dropping Charley off at Bonnie the Boarder’s house (Big Creek Boarding) in Groveland, just west of the park, we spent a night in Buck Meadows before entering Yosemite Valley the following morning.
Our first stop after entering the park was, naturally, at Yosemite Village to grab a map and inquire about some good trails, with consideration given to the soft blanket of smoke that had settled in over the valley. Moving forward, we’d plan our day and hope for the smoke to oblige us with some views when we got where we were going. The smoke pattern, at the mercy of the winds, would shift throughout the day, and a smoke-filled morning did not always mean the same for the afternoon.
To get our feet wet, Jamie and I checked out the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias, situated in the northwest of the park. As I mentioned before, we spent so much time gazing up at these silent, living giants that we left with sore necks. Worth it.
It was interesting to make note of the difference in the pines between our time in Colorado and in Yosemite. The high elevation pines of Colorado, needing to conserve heat and protect from the elements, kept a shaggier look, with dense, short branches in a tight formation. But in Yosemite, down maybe around 5000ft give or take, the pines spread their arms and seemed less concerned about protection from long and frigid winters.
Walking through the grove of Sequoias, I started to understand just how dry the area is this time of year. The thirsty earth sucked the water out of me every step of the way. Making sure to replenish our water stores, we walked about a mile and a half down the path to twenty or so GIANT sequoias, had a look around, and scooted back to the car.
When we arrived at our North Pines camp, it was time, yet again, to roll everything out and set up shop. By this point, it’s no big deal. Our neighbors, Tom and Bob, provided some excellent stories, advice, and many cupfuls of homemade wine. After a few camp nights along our road trip with rather unpleasant neighbors, I think we were due to have some friendly folks around. In fact, prior to leaving camp the day of our departure from Yosemite Valley, Bob gifted Jamie a wooden bear which now sits on the dash of the car. And thus marks the beginning of Bob the Bear.
With the evening sun lighting up the massive granite monoliths and vegetation in the valley, we climbed on our bikes (that had made it the entire trip thus far without being ridden), and rode the valley loop, about 11 miles of easy riding.
Dinner for our first night in the Valley: Chicken tacos with onions and peppers, and rice on the side. Tom had whipped up some mashed potatoes and salmon, so he and I had a bit of a potluck.
Tioga Road climbs up from near the west entrance of the park to Tioga Pass, the eastern entrance. The pass sits nearly 10,000 feet up, and is surrounded with impressive High Sierra vistas.
On the morning of our first full day in the park, we drove up out of the valley and onto Tioga Road, toward Tenaya Lake. The lake sits on the distal end of Tenaya Canyon from Yosemite Valley, and also serves as the trailhead for Cloud’s Rest. This is likely my favorite name for a mountain. The hike to Cloud’s Rest would take us up along the side of Tenaya Canyon, through forested wilderness and up onto rather bald granite, save for sporadic pines, both living and not-so-living. Finishing up, a spine of rock boulders leads the last quarter mile or so to the summit.
It’s important to note the need to remove food from your car when hiking in these areas. It being so remote, and bears being so hungry, they have and will break windows to get to the food. At the trailheads there are bear proof iron boxes for food. Keep wildlife wild.
We crossed many dry creek beds along the path, a lake with not nearly as much water as it should have, and countless horses being ushered up the trail carrying all sorts of supplies.
Both Jamie and I offered few words during the hike. The wilderness, and our soft steps against crushed rock and earth, were all the conversation we needed.
We passed by several haunting forests of charred pines. These massive trees, once proud, were now hanging their heads, defeated by the fire.
When we reached the top of Cloud’s Rest, with our fingers crossed for no haze, we were greeted by the backside of half dome, about a thousand feet beneath us. Certainly not a crystal clear day, but the silver lining was that it kept many people away. A relatively empty summit gave us the opportunity to relax and enjoy lunch while soaking in views of the high Sierra and valley below. Lingering a bit longer than most folks that summited, we also were the only witnesses to a marriage proposal at the top!
Returning the way we came, Jamie and I again separated a bit, giving each of us a solitary experience within the time we were sharing together. About 7 miles and too many steps later, we arrived back at the trailhead, climbed in the car, and set off back to the valley to make dinner and get off our feet.
Dinner for night two: cancelled. Bad beef was the result of a poorly sealed package, so we forewent the protein and settled on pasta with sauce. There are worse things.
We spent the rest of the evening scheming for the following day. Tom and Bob were nearby at their camp, reminiscing and talking about this and that, and the background of conversation provided a kind of warm comfort to the night.