A Week in Yosemite National Park

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When I was planning my adventures for the Summer, I had the crazy idea to spend a week in Yosemite. I had visited twice before, but always felt rushed, so I thought this year that I would take my time. I was at my computer at the exact moment in February when the campsites for July became reservable and snagged a spot in North Pines.

The campsites in Yosemite are cozy. I had about a fourth of the space I’d had in Sequoia and was never more than 10-feet from my neighbors, but you adapt quickly to no privacy. I was there by myself, but still experienced plenty of family drama. The spots in North Pines are in the valley right by the river. I arrived on Sunday afternoon to find the park as crowded as ever.

I set out the next morning for Nevada Fall. On my first trip to Yosemite, I’d found it to be one of the most peaceful places in all the National Parks. I only had a moment to stop there on my last trip, because I was racing the sun after hiking Half Dome, but this time I planned to spend as much time as I wanted up there. I packed my journal and my book, even knowing that despite how wonderful it sounds, I almost never read or write on the trail.

The Mist Trail was very misty this year, making the stairs extra slick and forcing me to decide whether it was safer to go without glasses or with lenses I could barely see through. I dried out quickly when I reached the top of Vernal Fall. The squirrels were out in full force, but they seemed more interested in the backpackers who were responsibly trying to keep their food safe than the visitors trying to feed them. I hate to see people feeding the animals, but to date I have never asked anyone to stop. I want to think it is a lack of information and not defiance of the rules.

I continued on to Nevada Fall. As I hiked up the stairs, I could remember so clearly how painful it had been to come down them after hiking Half Dome. I did apply again for a permit this year, but was not successful. I would have loved to hike it again, but I can wait for another year. The top of Nevada Fall was exactly as I remembered. I like sitting on the warm granite and pretending I am not uncomfortable with how close people get to the edge. I did write, but could not concentrate long enough to read. I took the John Muir Trail back down to the valley; it is another I hope to hike one day.

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I have always been a snack bar camper. Sleeping outside, sure, but having most of my meals prepared warm. I took this trip late in July only a month after going vegan and it was a good opportunity to start preparing my own food. I mostly ate peanut butter sandwiches and pasta, but I still considered it a success and saved some money.

I got it in my mind that I wanted to complete the 13-mile hike of the valley floor. In the past this had always seemed too boring to attempt when there are far more interesting hikes, but I had a small injury that made elevation a challenge, so I decided to go for it. I started from my campsite and followed the Valley Loop Trail to the village. As crowded as Yosemite is, there was almost no one on the trail.

I hiked past Yosemite Falls and Camp 4, which I had seen before, but was much more interested in after watching the documentary Valley Uprising. It seemed to be taking me a long time, even though the trail was mostly flat, but I was still optimistic about completing all 13 miles. I stopped at Sentinel Beach, which I was surprised to find existed.

Finally I reached El Capitan where you could look up and see climbers on the wall. This was several weeks after Alex Honnold had completed his free solo climb. That is where things went wrong. I was on a trail, I was on what I thought was a trail, and then I was definitely not on a trail. I still am not sure what happened, but I found myself fighting my way through the brush. I could see the road into the valley, but there was a river separating me from it. I thought about trying to cross the river, but it looked too dangerous, so I kept going until finally I saw traffic stopped on the other side. I walked up to the side of the road and asked the guy holding the stop sign if I could walk down the road. He said no, but that the trail was just on the other side, so I crossed and finally found where I was supposed to be.

I hiked to Bridalvail Fall. I was relieved to know where I was going, but my feet were really starting to hurt, so I sat on a rock deciding whether it was worth it to make the half-mile detour to the Fall. I decided no and continued on the Valley Loop Trail. I was outside the range of the shuttles and still a long way from the village. Each step became so painful that I didn’t think I’d make it another 5 miles. When I saw a sign pointing back to El Capitan, which because I was on a loop trail was not very far away, I took it and waited for the shuttle there. I was defeated by the Valley Loop, but still grateful for the experience.

Back in North Pines, I grabbed my camp chair and dragged it down to the river where could rest my feet. I had planned to hike to the top of Yosemite Falls the next day. I’d been on my last trip and hadn’t stopped thinking about it since. But my injury persisted, so I decided to spend the day reading by the river, exactly the kind of thing I had hoped to have time for spending a week in Yosemite. I took quick trips to the Visitor Center in Yosemite Village and Bridalveil Fall, and then I spent the rest of the day reading. First Sherman Alexie’s new memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and then Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick.

The next morning I hiked to Mirror Lake, which I had previously known only as a stop on the shuttle. The lake itself was not so impressive as the sandy beaches and views of the granite walls above. It was interesting to learn about the history of the lake and the way that visitors were once charged for admission. I then returned to the campground to again take up residence next to the river. Watching people float down, I regretted not bringing an inner tube and vowed to next time.

A week was more time than I had ever spent in a National Park and I worried that it would be too long, but when it was finally time to go home I wanted to stay another week. If only to catch up on my reading.