We finally got to Yosemite this year. We had planned an ambitious backpacking trip from Tenaya Lake to Yosemite Valley with day hikes to Clouds Rest and Half Dome for the 4th of July weekend, but the weather did not cooperate. My oldest son and his fiancee could not make the rescheduled dates (18-23 August) due to other plans and very busy schedules, but I was set on getting to Yosemite and finding some way to go up Half Dome at a minimum. We got Wilderness permits online before scheduling the trip to be sure we had some sort of plan. The permit wasn’t for the trip we really wanted to do but it was available and we decided it would work if we couldn’t get a better one at the park. Our “back up” permit was to backpack from Glacier Point to Illiloutte Creek campgrounds and stay over night, and then to Little Yosemite Valley on day 2, a third day for day hiking and then hike out and drive home. Our real plan was to get better Wilderness Permits by showing up before the 11 am walk-up permit release at the Wilderness Center in Yosemite Village. As the trip got closer, I decided we should spend a couple of nights in the Valley to enjoy that part of Yosemite, and to be sure we would have a good shot at the walk-up permits that we really wanted. The start of our backpacking trip was Saturday so we took off work Thursday, and Friday to and drove up to Yosemite on Thursday. I have never stayed in the Valley before. Last year we stayed in Hodgdon Meadow campground and enjoyed it, but this year I wanted to be right in the Valley. There are several options in the Valley, but most fill up well in advance and/or are very pricey. I had not stayed in Camp Curry before and decided to get a tent cabin there for our stay before backpacking. Camp Curry was not really what I expected. Because it was a tent, I thought it would be more like camping, but there are several differences. One, you have to park quite a distance from your tent unless you are lucky. Second you cannot cook in Camp Curry. They have a bear locker for each tent, but if you stay in Camp Curry, do not plan on cooking unless you want to drive to one of the picnic areas in the Valley (quite a hassle). Bring food that doesn’t require cooking, snacks, and drinks but leave the stove and pans at home. Camp Curry is collocated with Curry Village which has many of the same shops, restaurants, and services that you’ll find in Yosemite Village, so plan on enjoying what Curry Village has to offer. If you forgot a piece of camping gear the Sports Shop is actually bigger and better stocked than the one in Yosemite Village. We got in late, but that isn’t a problem; the desk at Curry Village is open all night. We got our keys, parked as close to our tent cabin as we could, moved all our food and scented items to the bear locker, and hit the rack. Friday morning we headed over to Yosemite Village for a coffee, pastry, and got in line early for our walk-up wilderness permit. There were about 8 folks in front of us even 2 hours early, but they were waiting for different permits, so we got the permits for the our “upgraded plan”. The new wilderness permit allowed us to go straight from Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley on Day 1, and we planned to do day hikes to Half Dome, and if we felt up to it Clouds Rest from there. You can request Half Dome permits with no other reservation when you get a wilderness permit for that area, just remember to ask for them when you pick up your wilderness permits. Clouds Rest does not require a specific permit. With our permits in hand, we walked from the Wilderness Center in Yosemite Village to Yosemite Lodge to get our bus tickets for the ride to Glacier Point the next morning. I should have gotten those before we arrived, but did not. We were lucky and there were seats available on the 08:30 bus. On the walk back to Yosemite Village we took a detour to Lower Yosemite falls, took off our sandals and walked out on the rocks to get a good view. Unfortunately we didn’t bring the camera, but we got some great mental pictures!
Once we had the permits and bus tickets we headed over to the Ahwahnee to check it out. Our original plan for July was to stay our last night at the Ahwahnee but didn’t add that luxury to our new plan. However, we wanted to at least check it out for another time. It it a beautiful lodge right at the base of Half Dome. The granite wall is right there. Inside the lodge takes you back in time. I’d love to stay there for a night or two sometime soon. We walked around the grounds and through the public parts of the lodge. After relaxing for a while at the Ahwahnee we headed back to our Tent/cabin to ensure our gear was set up for a quick getaway in the morning.
After everything was staged and ready to go we still had most of the afternoon to play so we decided to hike over to Vernal Falls. We were planning to backpack down the John Muir trail, not the Mist Trail, and we didn’t want to miss seeing Vernal Falls up close. On the walk over to Vernal Falls we passed the trail head parking lot, which had a “FULL” sign up, but had some spaces and plenty of room in the common bear lockers. We were glad to see that we would have a convenient place to park and a place to store our scented items so a bear wouldn’t have a reason to break into our car. We decided to move the Jeep over there after our hike to be sure we were set to jump on the first shuttle bus at 7 in the morning.
We originally planned to at least get to the Bridge view of Vernal Falls before heading back, but once we got the the bridge we decided to go further. At the junction of the John Muir and Mist Trails we saw a sign stating it was only .3 miles to the top of Vernal Falls on the Mist trail so we decided to go for it, after-all .6 miles round trip couldn’t take that long. There was still a great deal of water flowing for late August thanks to the same heavy snowfall that caused us to postpone our July trip. The view of the falls in the late afternoon lighting was awesome! Just as we started to get hot and tired we started to feel the refreshing mist. Above the mist the hot and tired came back very quickly, but it wasn’t far to the top by then.
After hanging out at the top of the falls for a few minutes we decided to check out the John Muir trail on the way back. In order to do that you have to continue up the Mist trail for a short ways and watch for the signs that are always there when a trail splits/comes together. Neither of us had ever been on the connector to the John Muir trail so it was a new experience. It climbed much more that we expected, but there’s a payoff about halfway across there is a view point back down to Vernal Falls that gives a unique and spectacular view of the falls. At some point we must have quit looking around because there is also a terrific view of
Nevada Falls once you make the final switchback turn before reaching the John Muir trail. We didn’t see that until we were heading back down John Muir trail following the backpacking portion of the trip. We were more than a little surprised that we missed the view altogether. I think we were just glad to turn the corner and head back down to the Valley. Our short hike to see Vernal Falls had turned into a 4.5+ mile “warmup” hike. We headed right to Curry Village for some pizza, took a shower, staged our car, and settled in for a good nights sleep before the more challenging part of the trip. More about that in my next post!