Feeling blissful and accomplished from my hike to the Merced Grove, I drove back down to the Valley, enjoying weather that I had not experienced in far too long. The drive down was much quicker than the way up and I soon found myself in the Valley, with the intention of stopping by the visitor centre. The walk over to the visitor centre was bit longer than I would’ve liked but I couldn’t complain. Up high, as far as the eye could see, were towering cliffs with waterfalls cascading down hundreds of metres. If I didn’t feel small enough beside these trees, the enormous granite cliffs certainly did the trick.
Being by myself, I had a ton of time to think about anything and everything but mostly about how much I adore the place. Everything is so peaceful there and it almost seems impossible to not be happy while you’re there. If I could, I’d live there year round.
Upon arriving at the centre, I spoke to a very friendly ranger who gave me a handy map with his recommendations for some tougher hikes, as I cited that I was looking for serious elevation gain. To this he suggested the hike up to Yosemite Falls, but added the caveat that it probably wouldn’t be the safest hike to have done solo with all of the flooding and overly strong waterfalls. I mentioned my interest in scoping out the Mist Trail to which he mentioned that it’d be safe and spectacular with the water levels, so it was decided. But first, I just had to buy myself a Yosemite Nalgene bottle and some stickers, just because.
Finishing up at the centre, and not wanting to waste any time, I began to run back to the truck, while encountering a deer grazing in a nearby meadow. The poor animal just wanted to eat in peace, but throngs of tourists soon circled it, hoping to get that perfect selfie with it, causing the deer to nervously run away. I try hard not to be judgemental while viewing such things but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the animal. Also, I love deers, but it’s just a deer, man.
With the access road to the Happy Isles and Mist Trail trailhead closed, I impulsively opted to take the shuttle, saving me a decent little walk, and dropping me off right where I needed to be. I crossed the bridge over the Merced, readied my pack and straps and began the hike to my first destination, Vernal Fall.
The initial part of the trail wasn’t quite what I’m used to. The ground was paved and hard on the feet, and was quite busy, reminding me of Johnston Canyon in Banff. I got many funny looks from people for reasons I can only speculate, but most probably because I was beginning my hike as everyone seemed to be ending theirs, and because I was by myself. That and because I had so much energy that I basically ran to the bridge just downstream from Vernal Fall. The incline was actually quite noticeable but it felt really good to be sweating and exercising, especially since the Merced Grove hike was anything but taxing physically. It’s funny how familiar and yet novel my first glimpses of Vernal Fall were.
See, this may seem a bit random but one of my favourite bands is My Morning Jacket, and their most recent album ‘The Waterfall’ actually features a beautiful image of Vernal Fall on its cover. When I first checked out the album I wondered if the place on its cover actually existed. Following a quick google search, I found out that it was in fact a real place and that it was in Yosemite Valley of all places, giving me even more incentive to revisit (as if I needed any more).
So when I reached that bridge and walked halfway across it, I stopped and turned my gaze towards the fall and saw exactly what I had seen that first time I listened to the album (a great one by the way). Some of my favourite songs from that album started playing in my head and it was just a really cool experience.
I had also seen some pictures of this trail that were posted by my friends Luc, Chander, Dawson and Rachel, who had been here just a few months prior, on a trip that I had intended to go on. The main difference between then and now was just how rampant the river was and how dry it had been back then. Knowing that I was following in their footsteps was a pretty sweet feeling to say the least.
Following my brief stop at the bridge, I carried onwards, passing a junction leading to the John Muir Trail (which I intend to hike in its entirety within the next two years – shoutout to Luc and Dawson).
I followed the trail towards the falls and with each step forward began to feel evermore the cooling mist spraying my skin. This next segment was a ton of fun but I had to ensure that I watched my footing and tread carefully. Wearing my asics runners, while light, had the disadvantages of having inferior traction and no water resistance compared to my trusty Merell hikers. Knowing this, I made an even more concerted effort to watch my step here, as the ground was very rocky, uneven and WET. Many large puddles were formed on steps of slippery rock. To my left lay a pretty sharp decline that led straight towards the torrenting river. A wrong step here could have proved fatal. Not wanting to think about such a scenario, a stayed as far to my right as possible and walked slowly but confidently, no longer running. At a certain point I reached a tiny tunnel, that once passed, led to a brilliant view of the falls. The view, the sounds, the feeling of the water on your skin, all of it was energizing. I felt as alive as I ever have.
Beyond this portion the trail veered sharply to the right and rapidly began to rise, at an incline so steep, that it felt like I was on some of my favourite mountains back in the Rockies. I moved very well on this, not feeling the effects of fatigue and the extreme incline. An encouraging sign as I have many mountains on my list to tackle this year. I was, however, wishing that I had my poles, or at least a sturdy stick with me. Reaching the top of these ‘stairs’, the trail switchbacked sharply to the left, leading to the top of the falls. This section was unreal. The mist was so strong that you may as well have been caught up in a rain storm, all the while holding onto the precious railing (thank god) and carefully placing your feet so as to avoid a tumble. It would have been incredibly sketchy on this segment were it not for the railing that was sturdily installed.
Completing this portion, I had made it to my first goal! The top of Vernal Fall. The view all around was spectacular. To my right lay the stunning Liberty Cap, rising high above all in its vicinity, and to my left lay the trail that I had just hiked, along with the Merced. Right in front of me, as loud as thunder, was Vernal, cascading down in a torrential fury. This whole section, comprising sheer drops and entry to the water was fenced off, much to my relief (and many others before me I’m sure). I paused here to take some pictures and to refuel with a couple of quick bites and some water.
I pondered my next move, as I still had plenty of daylight to work with. In minimal time I had arrived to the top of Vernal, and not wanting to call it a day, I decided to make the trek to the next sight – Nevada Fall. I excitedly got up and began to run over the dirt and granite, making my way up some gentle hills towards my next destination. As soon as I left the top of Vernal, I found myself alone. That same nervousness I felt during the initial stages of my hike to the Merced Grove reappeared. Despite the daylight, the hikers that I was sure I would run into, and my other rational thoughts, there was still a part of me that felt like I was going to run into a bear or some other adverse form of wildlife. For the time being, my rational thoughts won the battle and I pressed forward, eventually coming across a really cool yet imposing bridge over the mighty Merced.
Not caring to look down or even stop on the bridge, I hurriedly crossed it and walked into the woods awaiting me on the other side. Alone still, and with the trail seemingly branching off in many directions at this point, I veered right, followed the sound of crashing water and came across a glade. Seeing what looked like a large dam off in the distance, I walked forwards and took in a ridiculously pretty sight. Nevada Fall was right before me, with two other cascades, far to the right of the strongest falls, gently streaming down this massive and bare rock face. Even this far away from its base, the mist was still flying in the air, pelting me with its coolness. I stood here for a couple of minutes, in awe at what was before me, yet also low key paranoid about a bear startling me. This was the moment that I decided to turn around. I was content with having seen Nevada and told myself that I’d be atop it the next time I was here, as I intend to summit Half Dome on my next trip down. Initially, I questioned my decision but came to peace with it, turning around and looking for the route from which I’d came.
In no time I was back at the bridge, this time opting to stand in its centre for a few moments and to take it all in. It was a bit daunting but overall not as bad as you’d think. It helped too that it was a sturdy bridge and not simply a rope one. On my way down the switchbacks and onwards following that golden light, I ran into another solo hiker who turned out to be a pretty cool dude. He spoke to me about wanting to hike to Half Dome’s cables, during which he’d call it a day and head back down. At the point the sun was setting quite quickly so he fully acknowledged that he’d be up there alone and in the dark. He was, however, a very smart seeming and well prepared man, despite wearing jeans on the hike. We spoke at length about hikes and sights throughout the Sierra Nevada and he seemed to get the impression that I was a local, with how much I know about the region. I told him I was actually from Canada, to which he seemed much less familiar with. Talking at length and exchanging stories, we eventually went our separate ways and wished each other luck.
Soon enough, I was right back at the top of Vernal, and began to descend the ‘stairs’ and the venture through the cave. Much care was taken on the descent, slowing things down for safety reasons but to also get some GoPro footage. From this point on, the rest of the hike, as beautiful as it was in the last light of day, was uneventful.
Within less than half an hour, I found myself back down at the trailhead, and happily made the walk back to the truck – soaked but elated. I began to write in my travel journal, but my pen’s ink ran out, leading me to create a blog style video on my Sony A6000, which I may post here at some point.
I had successfully completed a portion of the Mist Trail, fully knowing that I’d be back someday to complete it in its entirety, to summit Half Dome, and to tackle the whole John Muir Trail.
As the evening wore on and the darkness grew, the frogs began their songs and the stars came out to shine. I spent many more hours out here again this night, taking shots of the milky way from the Half Dome meadows but also venturing up to Tunnel View to attempt to capture the famous view at night. To see what I saw that night, made me wish that I could share that view with everyone. It sounds silly but I truly believe the world would be a better and happier place if everyone took the time to get out to places like these and to relish all that it has to offer. Some of my happiest experiences and some of my most profound lessons learnt have come from my immersion in the natural world. So as I’ve said before, believe me when I say that you HAVE to visit this place. Seriously, please do. It’s an experience that will undoubtedly stick with you for as long as you live.
Thanks for reading!