Yosemite Valley felt completely out of this world. It’s hard to describe how I felt when I was walking through those meadows. I think the best words to describe it are surreal and ethereal. It honestly seemed like I was dreaming. Eventually I had to pull myself away from the beauty of it all to scope out the visitor centre.
I wanted to inquire about bear activity throughout the park and just how safe it was to leave food in my car without bear proof containers. See, I had read a lot about Yosemite’s bears and just how active they seem to be. So much so, that it actually spurred me to stay at a hostel that night, as opposed to camping alone underneath the stars.
After what seemed to be an eternity of trying to find the visitor centre and some parking, I spoke to a ranger who gave me the green light to head up to Taft Point without anything to worry about.
At that point it was about 5:30pm and I had a little over an hour to drive up to Glacier Point to access Taft Point and Sentinel Dome’s trailhead. The drive up there was long and entailed serious elevation gain, but was also absolutely gorgeous during golden hour. I eventually arrived with enough time to spare to chase the sunset. In my frenzied state, I forgot to bring my headlamp, whistle and first aid kit. Whoops. I immediately began running west to catch the sunset at Taft Point.
Prior to my hike/trail run, I was a bit nervous. I wasn’t entirely sure how many people would be up there with me and I was hoping that there would be people to hike back with in the dark. After not seeing anyone for a while on my way there, I was fortunate to run into a woman around my age. We got to talking and accompanied each other for a couple hundred metres but she was making her way up to Sentinel Dome, which meant a longer hike and a different route. We eventually reached a junction in the road which led to our parting, but all fears were cast aside during our short hike together.
As I was alone again, I began to run to Taft Point. I’m happy I did so, but at the same time too, I basically missed out on all the spectacular scenery along the way. I suppose that’s sort of the paradox of trail running. You’re running in such beautiful places, but you can hardly admire it as you constantly have your head down so as not to trip on all of the rocks and roots.
The distance from the trailhead to Taft Point was only about 1.75km or so, meaning I got to the lookout with plenty of daylight to spare. Interesting to note was the elevation (7500ft) I was uncharacteristically out of breath even just from light jogging. It reminded me of my time on Tunnel Mountain in Banff, although there would be no acclimatizing this time.
As I reached the end of the trail, I emerged from the forest to see that brilliant Yosemite sun hit me in the face. I was on top of a very large cliff with a reassuring amount of room between myself and the edges with their sheer drops. I excitedly ran down the slopes towards the lookout points. Along the way I passed by giant fissures, some of which led directly down to the valley floor. With no guard rails or warning signs around, you really had to watch your step and keep your wits about you.
Up to one of the main lookouts I went, and fortunately it had guard rails (only one that did). I went right up against the short rail and peered down. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. If I could attach my GoPro footage to this post I would but oh my god, it was incredible. I was level, if not slightly above El Capitan, with exceptional views of El Cap and the Valley floor, as the sun was setting. I briefly spoke to two older gentleman at this particular spot, who were just as in awe as I was.
Moving on from this point, I decide to explore the rest of the area. I made my way to the western edge and sat for a moment taking in all that I could. My only gripe was the ridiculous amount of wasps up there. Trying to make time to sit still for a while basically meant that they were all over you.
As the sun was setting, a newlywed couple actually hiked up to the point in their attire! They would later be joined by another newly married couple, although I’m pretty positive that they didn’t know one another, and it was just coincidence.
I took it all in for a while. I reached a point where I didn’t care about the wasps, or how I was feeling throughout the day, or the fact that I was alone. I just felt so fortunate to be seeing what I was seeing. To be in a place that I had always dreamed of immersing myself in. Eventually, I had to pull myself away from the setting sun and make my way back to the trailhead.
This part was a bit of a struggle. Making my way back up the slopes, I had attempted to find the main trail, but it was nowhere to be seen, especially with the dying light. Everything looked the same and there was no discernible path. A headlamp would have been nice eh?
As I kept wandering, I looked behind me and was relieved to see another solo hiker. I called out to him and we happily agreed to accompany each other. His name was Taiki, about my age and from Japan. He was going around the Western states on his own solo adventures. A bit of a language barrier was present but that didn’t stop us from hitting it off. We got to talking and found that we had several common interests. We were both also very relieved to have had each other’s company. At the point, it was pitch black in the dense woods. Funny enough, he didn’t have his headlamp on him either, meaning we resorted to using our phones flashlights. (Total noob mistake).
About a hundred metres into the woods, I saw a figure moving in the dark. Not too large, but not small either. My heart instantly skipped, naturally fearing the worst. Upon taking a better look we both realized that it was merely a deer. Taiki excitedly exclaimed that he hoped to see a bear, to which I cringed.
The rest of the hike went tremendously well. We shared the various stories we both had of our travels and had each inquired about each of our respective countries. It was still a bit unnerving being in the dark for a few km’s without strong light, but we eventually caught up to the newly wed couples, and had a group behind us as well, which was very reassuring.
Upon arriving at the trailhead we breathed a sigh of relief and marvelled at the stars that were beginning to shine. We said our goodbyes, but not before he requested that we get a picture together, to which I happily obliged.
I truly believe that there are good people everywhere, you just have to be open to putting yourself out there and meeting them. I also firmly believe that you meet the best people in the outdoors. This occasion was no exception. Though I was just in Yosemite for not even a full 24 hours, I had an unforgettable experience and made a new friend out of it.
Despite the long hours and days of solitude, my first true experience travelling by myself was amazing and I know without a doubt, that there are plenty of more solo adventures awaiting me.
Thanks for reading, as always.