Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Father’s day Weekend in Yosemite – June 17-19, 2011

With John Muir
In an effort to build some family traditions, I booked this weekend this year also, back in January, to hike few trails in Yosemite. First time, two years ago, I hiked Half Dome with Som on this day, next year I hiked till Nevada Falls with Prem while Promila hiked Half Dome with Liz. This year I did not reserve the permits to hike Half Dome (now permits are required every day for hiking Half Dome) as I wanted to hike other trails in Yosemite.

Since I have been hiking with Paul and Chetan most of the time for any new hikes, I never really developed any map or trail reading abilities. These skills are getting important for me, as I found out during my Mt Whitney hike last year. And also, going forward, I want to hike more with my family, I needed to learn quickly. Though these skills are easy for most normal people, but not for someone absent minded as me. And only way to acquire them was to do hikes alone.

Bear always at Curry Village
I looked at Yosemite hiking map to decide which new hikes I would like to do. Two hikes stood out, one was to do Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point (3200 ft elevation gain) and then come back from Panorama Trail back to valley floor, it was over 16 miles from Curry Village with views of three waterfalls. Other was to go up to top of Upper Yosemite Falls and then further up to Yosemite Point (3000 elevation gain), total round trip of over 12 miles. I chose the first one.

Chetan, on earlier discussions, mentioned Panorama Trail, recommended that I take bus up to Glacier Point and hike down on this trail. He further mentioned that it was on opposite side of Yosemite Falls. I had no idea what he meant by opposite side. Reading the map, I soon found out. At 6 AM, when I started out of from Curry Village, with map in my hand, first challenge was to find the Four Mile trailhead. The free shuttle bus does not start till 7 AM. This trail was not as popular as Mist Trail or John Muir Trail. 6 AM was a late start, the sun was up already.

Soon, after following the map meticulously for 2 miles (as per my GPS watch), I ended up right in front of Upper Yosemite Falls trail head. Yes, opposite side ! I told myself, all is not lost, if I can reach to top of Falls and Yosemite point, that should count for something. I did not see anybody on trailhead. In spite of not trying to think, I remembered two years before when a bear chased Som and me, we saw a rattle snake on trail. It would be good to have some company on the trail. (Note: After I came back from this hike, I came to know a hiker got lost on this very trail just a day before and was still not found. ) Armed with knowledge that Black bears of Yosemite are really not known to hurt humans, I was relaxed. I reminded myself, as if I could do something every now and then, which was out of my comfort zone, I would bring that attitude to other facets of my life. Then I thought about people who first climbed El Capitan or put cables on top of Half Dome, my adventure was nothing. I thanked all these path-breakers, pioneers as because of them so many of us are enjoying these trails now.

Helicopter Rescue
Just in quarter mile into hike, I found 4 kids huffing and puffing on hike. On asking them, though they looked quite fit, I found out that they did not hike regularly, and thought that they would be fine. They had four other kids in their group who were ahead of them. I guess some people have natural ability, but not all. I was not the one with natural ability. Leaving them behind I found their other four one mile ahead. This group was keeping a good pace. Took some photos of them with the falls, still a long way to go, however trail was great as you get to see the falls at different points. This was probably the best weekend to do the hike, as falls were running at 300% of their normal capacity from last year. I enjoyed drenching in cold icy water. Trail was well marked so far, with few ups and downs. I knew coming down would be harder because of slippery granite stones. At top, on Overlook of the Falls, saw some rock climbers crossing the falls. For 20 minutes, I stood there watching, one climber barely moved one feet. I could only imagine how much patience is needed besides other technical skills. I told to myself, probably not going to happen for me in this life time.

Half Dome
I decided to go further to Yosemite Point, one more mile after crossing the falls, on wooden bridge, of course. There was no body going further on this trail. Soon I got lost. I applied lessons learned from Mt Whitney, and traced my steps back to trail, and then looked around, I found out I missed a turn. I was learning to read the trail. There should be some man-placed stone on trail or on both sides of trail to distinguish it from the surroundings. Some time tree trunks and branches are carefully put to keep you on trail. Do not always follow the foot marks which takes you beyond the trail to some backpackers campground, as there were plenty of them. And most important, if you do not think you are on trail, then most likely you missed a turn, so trace back.

Coming down, as expected was harder. I slipped 3 times, but hiking pole helped keeping me from falling. I was down before noon, total took less than 6 hours, including all the breaks. I thought I did pretty good in terms of reading the trail. And further applied my map reading learnings (read fiasco) from early morning and started walking in opposite direction to take me to Village Grill, to join my family and friends for lunch. Soon I was with them. Prem had lot of fun with Alexa, as Maria-Anand decided to join us for this whole trip. Both of them were proud Yosemite Jr Ranger. Promila was keeping them busy in various activities like drawing, Curry Village scavenger hunt and Ranger shows.

After my Marathon in March, my left knee was bothering me. I did couple of big hikes with the gang, and it would start hurting in 3-4 miles, so I was taking it easy, still running 3-4 miles every now and then. After coming down from this hike, I did not feel anything. I think it is healed up now. I feel that there are lot of good which came out of this injury. I got more aware about stretching and strengthening exercises of different parts of my leg. And I was amazed to see some of them worked so well. Also it reminds me how frail I am as human, and fortunate to be able to do what I enjoy.

After lunch, did a very good Geological hike with family and friends. Came to know that Mr Whitney and John Muir hated each other, as Whitney (studied at Yale and Harvard) proposed that Yosemite Valley was created by cataclysmic sinking of valley floor, which turned out not to be true, while John Muir(never graduated) argued for glacial action; How all peaks are named after guys and lakes after their wives. Half Dome was one of very few peaks which was not named after a person, as Mr Whitney thought, at that time, that nobody would ever be able to stand on top of Half Dome.

Watched another great show in amphitheater in Curry Village in evening from Steven Riley who draws and writes kid’s books and live in Yosemite Valley with his family. Slept early, to be ready to hike Vernal and Nevada falls next day with family. Prem had done Nevada Falls last year, and wanted to do the same this year. We decided to do Nevada Falls by John Muir Trail, and then loop back to come down by Vernal Falls. We packed our stuff in car and did our goodbyes to Grover family.

Top of Nevada Falls
Though Promila and I had seen black bears in Yosemite couple of times before this trip, Prem never did. As the luck would have it, we saw two big bears on the John Muir Trail. Just like last time, though I was leading the trail, I did not see them, and Promila warned me. The bears were some 20 meters ahead of us. We waited for them to get off the trail for couple of minutes. Now, we decided to try to stay with some other hikers on the trail. At top of Nevada Falls, the water stream was twice as much in width than last year and sound of fall was deafening. We took our break, ate some snacks, took pictures and videos.

Top of Vernal Falls
Coming down on Mist Trail, as expected, we all got soaked. In hind sight, we should have gone up the Mist Trail and came down from John Muir Trail. Mist Trail was real crowded in afternoon, probably the most popular trail in Yosemite Valley. It took us around 5-6 hours with all the breaks. Prem was tired so we dropped the idea of going to Mariposa Grove. He immediately slept in the car.

I am looking forward to go back to Yosemite Valley and do Clouds Rest hike, Four Mile Trail and Panorama trail; and at some point would like to do some backpacking.