4. National Park Road Trip…April/May/June 2016

day 10…4.29
Todays trailhead was near camp, so after my morning routine, I was on the trail by 8:15.  The trail is to Upper Yosemite Fallsonly 3.5 miles up straight up with 2,700 elevation gain.  When you stand at the bottom of the Lower Falls & look up, its intimidating.  And I WAS intimidated, but it’s an out & back trail, so I could always turn around if I changed my mind.  The first part of the trail is 60 switchbacks continually up; stone steps & random rocks, dirt & sand.  You end up at a place called Columbia Rock with sweet views of Half Dome & the valley below & of the Upper Falls. This part of the hike went faster than I thought.  There were a couple of big groups at the viewpoint…an old man group & a young man one & one young strong hiker that took off in front of me.


The next little bit of the trail was dirt & sand with only a few rocks & went back & forth between up & down.  Then another big climb began.  The part of the trail is random granite rocks haphazardly (as rocks will be) going this way & that way, so your foot never lands on something flat.  Where the rocks are dry, that are coated with sand; where the rocks are wet from the spray of the falls….well, they’re wet & slippery as snot.  They seemed to all be one way or the other….nothing in between.  As you climb & approach the side of the falls the wind blows the water over you.  This is where you get some really nice views of the falls though!

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And, you just keep climbing.  Sometimes the steps weren’t too bad, but mostly it was just a grunt climb.  Pretty soon you couldn’t see the falls at all, just more rocks going up.

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Eventually, I made it to the top…kind of tired!  You hike about another 10 minutes to get to a couple of narrow set of stone steps that go down to the viewing platform.  You can see the river that creates the falls, & the water plunging on the other side, but you never see the actual top of the falls.  I didn’t expect the steep set of steps to the viewpoint…some have handrails & part do NOT….it’s just open air on the side of the falls…JUST OPEN AIR.  As I rounded the corner to climb down the second staircase, a little blond 5 or 6 year old girl popped up & bounced around me.  My heart stopped.  Then before my heart & I could get going, she bounced back by me …ON THE OPEN AIR SIDE & back down to the viewing platform.  I climbed down, noting the guy who’d been in front of me all along & one other guy…guess he belonged to the girl.  I snapped a few photos, but truthfully didn’t stay long.  I knew I could find a better view to sit & have lunch…& let’s face it, I can be a worrier.  I wasn’t going to enjoy any kind of break while she was jumping around the rocks.  Here’s the photos I shot from the top of Upper Yosemite Falls & one of the Sierra’s still covered in snow.

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I stole off to a nice big rock away from the viewpoint & ate some lunch, put my feet up & drank lots of water.  I quit worrying about the little girl, but didn’t quit thinking about her…I was TOTALLY amazed that she hiked all the way up here….wow!  

I knew that there were more trails up here; notably one more that goes to the Yosemite Viewpoint, another 1.1 miles & I’m not sure how much more elevation…maybe 300’ or 400’?  I wanted to hike it, knowing I’d probably never do this hike again, but was pretty tired & still had all the way back to hike.  The day was still sunny & nice…rain was in the forecast for later this afternoon, but for now, it was gorgeous.  It was a really beautiful area up on top surrounded by the snowy peaks & rushing water (& no jumping unsupervised little girl).  I finished my lunch & put on my pack, still undecided about the additional hike.  The young guy whod been in front of me during the hike up passed me & we visited about the view of the falls (or lack of) & then the Viewpoint Trail.  He was going.  He said the ranger had told him if he felt good at the top, he should go for it.  He did look like he still felt really strongbut did I?  As we were talking a Dad & his 10 or 12 year old passed me heading for the Viewpoint trail.  I can be so BEATEN by little kids.  I grabbed my hiking pole, & fell in line behind all three of them.  Thank God it was a trail of dirt & a little snow, but not rocks!

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It didn’t take long to get to the end & it was an amazing view of Half Dome & the surrounding mountains.  No view of the falls, but definitely worth the extra effort!


Now it was time to go down.  I was the first to leave of the 4 of us, tired & dreading the hike down.  Down for me is ALWAYS more difficult, but still at the top, I hadn’t guessed how really hard it would be. In National Parks, the later in the day the more crowded these trails get.  Uphill hikers have the right of way, so there were constant stops to let hikers go by, although many of them were happy to stop & catch their breath to let me pass.  Most all of them had looks of anguish on their faces & I had lots of them ask me how much farther it was to the top…all the way down they asked that.  It had taken me 4 hours to reach to the top…no one passed me that had started after me & the two groups of men I passed on the way up at Columbia Rock, I passed still climbing up as I hiked down.  But the tortuous part of the hike was the surface of the trail.  Your momentum going down is to slide on rocks…doesn’t matter whether they’re sandy or wet, sliding you go.  You feet go forward or sideways & your knees mostly follow but not always.  It felt brutal.  I was hiking down like an little old lady, being so careful.  I did not want to twist, turn, crack or break anything.  Fortunately for me, as stated at least once on every trip I’ve taken, I’m ‘gifted’ with a large butt, so when my feet slid out from under me the first time, I landed on my butt…on the sharp point of a rock.  I would enjoy a large purple bruise for the next couple of weeks, but no serious damage.  I got up & continued down.  I fell one more time, but this time caught myself with my hand which then slid down another rock, but slowing my fall & only scraping my hand.  Most all of the people I passed were on their way up.  I took one last view of the falls on my way down.

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To be honest, I was over this hike.  My feet were killing me because of the rocks.  I could handle the mileage 8.2; the elevation 3,100’; & the time 7 hours; but the rocks were making me grouchy!  As I neared the trailhead at the bottom at 3pm, a large group of backpackers were resting…resting near the start of their climb.  Wow…I was so glad it wasn’t me.  Happy to be off the trail & trying to feel the ‘joy’ of the scenery & the place I was lucky to be in….it wasn’t happening.  I walked back to the campsite, grabbed a quick bite to eat & crashed in the tent.  Hikes rarely end this way for me, but they can’t all be perfect days & this day did have perfect moments.  But, I doubt I’d ever do this hike again!

After my little ‘rest & re-set’ of attitude, I climbed out of the tent & visited with my camp mates.  They had a fire going & it was a beautiful evening.  I love how this little ‘group’ camp works….there all all kinds of people here.  After dinner, people clean up then just chill out.  There are campfires glowing all throughout & next to us someone played a guitar & another hand drums.  It was such a peaceful way to end the evening.  Alongside the music, you could hear bits of talking & much laughter.  This was a great place to camp & I felt so lucky to have gotten a spot & stayed in a place I’ve read so much about.  I know a lot has changed since Chouinard & Robbins & their friends climbed here, but in the glow of the campfires, starry skies, sweet music & melodious laughter, I think some things haven’t.  I’m a lucky girl.

day 11…4.30
It was check out day for me.  Every morning here, theres been a line of about 30-40 people waiting to see if they get a campsite.  I got up about 7amthe time in camp when you start hearing tent zippers, bear boxes opening, stoves starting & low conversations. Id decided I was going to pack & go, so thats what I did.  In the parking lot, while  loading up my car, the hiker guy in front of me yesterday was loading up his car too.  I thanked him for encouraging me to hike the extra 1.1 miles to the viewpoint & we visited awhile about the trail  He got back an hour later than me & also thought the trail was brutal.  He was off to hike another hike!   I always think because I’m old, or out of shape, or slow that I’m the only one who thinks these hikes are so hard (or because I compare myself to Dannyrobo-hiker, so strong, so tough, can tolerate so much pain, never complains & is super strong) & that Im just a wimp.  Probably not a good thing to admit, it makes me feel better to hear others think its sometimes hard, like I do.

I said good bye to my camp mates & headed toward Glacier Point roadwhich Im so happy just opened yesterday!  I noticed on the road sign near camp it had changed from closed to open & it was on my way out by the south entrance.  I stopped at the Tunnel View firstyou can see El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls & Half Dome all in one shot!  

Then I drove the long twisty road up to Glacier Point.  One side of the road several feet high with snow.  It was a beautiful drive.  
In the first pic below, you can see both Nevada Falls & Vernal Falls below it.  And big views of Half Dome…looking totally different from the valley view.  The third one is a shot of all of them together.  

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From another viewpoint at Glacier Point, you can see both Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls.  Amazing to think I’d hiked up to the top of all of the falls pictured here.  The viewpoint I hiked to above Upper Yosemite Falls is the rock to the right of the falls.

Just for ‘fun’ I zoomed in on the ‘torture’ trail to the top of the Falls I’d taken yesterday.  The zoom is the shot below.  You can see how the top part of the trail zig zags up the side of the falls.  As I was taking the photo, two couples were next to me talking about the Upper Yosemite Falls trail & how horrible it was to hike.  I just smiled behind the lens….’I am not a wimp!"

Love this park, it’s history, it’s diversity & it’s beauty!  

I drove down highway 41 towards Fresno.  I had some business to take care of.  First was the Sprint store…trying to figure out why I have the world’s crappiest service.  The guy pushed some buttons & hopefully worked some spells to turn it into a phone like I had with AT&T! I bought a new lens cap cover & a quick trip to REI…I just happened to find all these businesses in the same shopping area.  Then I went to Sequoia Brewery for a beer, lunch & some sprinkles of Trip Magic!  

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I ordered a flight…three of them I thought were really good, & one was pretty good. The fish & chips were really yummy!  There was a group of people my age sitting by me enjoying a Saturday happy hour & one started visiting with me, intrigued by my choices of beer.  He said his daughter was in the beer business.  Pretty soon, she showed up. He’d called her, asked her to bring a glass full of goodies from her brewery “Hanger 24" & that she would like visiting with me.  She later told me she was skeptical because her Dad drinks crappy beer & wouldn’t know good beer from bad.  But three hours later & tons of ‘beer conversation’ I thanked them all & called it quits.  She gave me her card, invited me to meet up with her next week on the coast if I was in the area.  It was so much fun talking with her & the group next to me.  I JUST LOVE IT WHEN THIS HAPPENS!

I’ve been plugged in to a Starbucks for the past three hours, it’s almost 10pm & I have no idea where I’m staying tonight.  But I loved MOST of my time in Yosemite.  I have read so many books by & about John Muir & his time living in the Sierra’s, & done so much reading about climbers, their routes & histories in Yosemite & of course still read books & blogs about long distance hikers on the PCT & JMT.  While I don’t want to hike the PCT, at least not as a through hike, I’d love & hope to hike the JMT.  

I guess I should probably find out how rocky the trails are first.

day 12…5.1  Happy May Day!
 A day in Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park; my first time ever to be here!  Its a two hour drive from Fresno to Kings Canyon National Park.  This is a lesser visited park than the others Ive been to.  The road into the park is twisty & winds up the mountain gaining about 3,000 elevation.  This was going to be more of a stop & see sights park, rather than doing any longer day hikes.  Kings Canyon does have some of the giant sequoias, one of their famous ones is the General Grant treeit was my first stop.  I know from trying to photograph the Redwood trees where Luke & Pete live, its pretty hard to do.you never get the real scale of these huge trees.  Heres the trunk of the Grant Tree.

My next stop was a sweet little drive off the main road & a short walk up to the Panoramic Point..it was a beautiful spot to see the Sierra Nevada mountains!  The forecast was for 70% rain today, & while I had blue skies & sun above me, you could see it snowing above the mountains.

Next up was a long drive down into Kings Canyon.  I’d read that there was a 30 mile ‘very edgy’ drive at this park, but silly me thought that was the drive into the park.  If you’re nervous about drives like this, you might skip this one.  It was a little harrowing in places, but what made it worse was the ‘threat’ of snow.  I never had more than some rain on this drive, & even that wasn’t a downpour, but what happens when you’re at 4,000’ elevation, isn’t always the same at 6,000’.  I definitely didn’t want to be on this twisty downhill (then you get to be on the outside going back up) edgy road in any kind of slick weather.  I kept driving, twisting my way down into the canyon.  It was really beautiful. with the Kings river below.

I finally made my way down & it started to rain more.  The river was amazing & flowing fast & hard…super powerful over the large boulders that sit within & all around it. I pulled over to snap a few pics of Grizzly Falls below.

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It began to rain harder & the temps were dropping & I was ready to head back up the road.  The storm was definitely heading my way.

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Back up at the top, I decided to drive the main road through Kings Canyon down into Sequoia National Park.  I am just barely making these ‘seasonal’ openings, but glad I am.  I LOVED SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK!  These trees are so amazing, & it’s jaw dropping to see them throughout the forests, rather than just a few (as in Kings Canyon).  The ‘famous’ tree that was on the tourist stop was the “Sherman Tree”….the largest tree in the world.  This is measured by the volume of wood; not height or width.  Although the tree measures 109’ around, it’s top is dead, so it’s not growing taller, but continues to grow in width.  It was a crowded paved trail.

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On my drive down, there was a crowd of people along the road & I knew right away there must be a bear.  I pulled over along with the mass of humanity & was able to watch it foraging in the meadow; it could have cared less it was being watched!  There was a brief shower of hail…the bear didn’t care about that either!

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I took a walk through the Museum…the most interesting part was watching an old film of tourists in the 20’s or 30’s.  We may do alot of damage to our National Parks today, but they were wicked back then; just not realizing what harm they were inflicting.  And while we can ‘wince’ when we see them hand feeding the deer or sawing off these trees so people can drive under them, I’m always fascinated that the men do it wearing ties & the women are all in dresses & heeled boots.  The next stop on the tour was Moro Rock.  I’m not sure why they originally made wooden steps up to the top of the rock, except to see the view.  But today, the 350 stone steps (complete with a rail or big stones…no scary edges) lead you to the top which is 6,725’ & a fantastic 360 degree view!  It was a really fun little climb! (And someone took my picture at the top!)

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My VERY FAVORITE part of the park was next…I drove into the Giant Tree Forest.  The Sequoia’s were everywhere!  I would so love for little Claire to someday see these amazing breath taking giants & just to hold her hand & walk all through the forest!  I asked someone to take a ‘cheesy’ pic of me so I could send it to her.  He took a Pano pic…then taught me how to do it.  Guess I should have learned this at the beginning of today rather near the end!

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The only ‘sight’ I missed was a meadow I wanted to see.  I had filled up with gas before leaving Fresno, but THERE IS NO GAS IN THE PARKS, so I was checking my gauge.  I knew I still had a little bit of a drive to make it out of the park, so I didn’t backtrack to the meadow….I’ll have to check it out someday when I come back!  The road is just as twisty going down & out of the park as it was going into Kings Canyon (see the second pic below the one of me on Moro Rock).  It had been a great day…I soooo wish Danny could have been with me.  I love these amazing giants of nature, but he REALLY LOVES THEM!  As I made my way down, I caught a view of Moro Rock above me.  The second pic is from a different vantage point, & I zoomed in so I could see the little people on top!  Way cool!

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On the drive to the next town, I passed an orange grove --actually it was a tangerine grove-- with a small road side stand across the road.  I hadn’t eaten much today, so I picked up a bag of tangerines & ate one while calling Danny.  I drove to the town of Visalia & found some dinner.    Tomorrow I will hit the coast….I AM SOOOO EXCITED!



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