Posted by: Jack | March 28, 2007

Epic Journey: Day 1 – Oregon, California, Yosemite

As this day began (literally at midnight) I was just finishing up Stephen Hawking’s The Universe In a Nutshell and beginning a series of lectures on the history of Buddhism. Eventually I found myself cruising through the numerous mountain passes of I-5 in Northern California. Feeling the fatigue of 24 hours of consciousness but knowing that my schedule required a steady Southern progress, I granted myself a 30 minute power nap just before the sun began to rise. I finally found myself rolling into the Yosemite Valley around noon and was immediately presented with astounding views of famous peaks such as Half Dome:

Shortly thereafter I was nearing the valley floor and gained a great vantage and appreciation for El Cap.

My old roommate, Travis Melin, and a mutual friend, Ben Ingman, have ascended the vast, exposed faces of both El Cap and Half Dome. While these pictures make it difficult to grasp the size, the photo below was taken at the same point and time as the picture above but with much higher zoom. What you see in the middle here is a portaledge likely containing two sleeping climbers as well as all of their gear sitting on the shelf below them. If you click to view the full size of the above picture you can just maybe identify the portaledge horizontally centered in the image and about 1/3 of the way from the bottom. When talking with Travis later on this trip, he told me that when he and Ben did this climb, they managed to beat the since-defeated 1992 speed ascent record by climbing it’s entirety in approximately 18 continuous hours. This means they started and finished in the dark of night. Very impressive.

After finding my way around the crowds of people in the valley, I arrived at the park’s visitor center. As it was already mid-afternoon I simply asked for directions to the most fantastic trail that could be hiked given the remaining daylight. Without hesitation I was sent to the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. Despite my lack of sleep, I put on my boots and hit the trail, consuming a meager lunch while in transit. This trail is an out-and-back climb measuring 4.5 miles each way with a 3500 foot elevation change. My recent exercise regimen seemed to pay off as I found myself flying up the continuous switchbacks. My only delays were the tempting views that grew more and more grand with every increase in elevation. Along the way I found myself conversing with another hiker, Jose, who was somewhat envious of my speed and decided he would push himself to keep up. As we continued I found that Jose had hiked this trail nearly 20 times this year and in fact, had lived and worked in Yosemite for nearly the past 20 years. I couldn’t have found a better hiker to randomly encounter. As the trail turned from loose rock to deep snow, Jose told me all sorts of interesting stories about the park and hinted at trails that might make for a great extended trip in the future.

The trail rounded a corner and we were given our first unobstructed view of the upper of three tiers which make up the 2,425-foot tall Yosemite Falls. This top tier alone is just less than 1500 feet in height which allows the wind to dissipate much of the water into an almost-floating, misty snow. The falls literally appear to be falling in slow-motion.

We continued our hike until the trail came across the river which fed the falls and then proceeded directly out to the very windy cliff overlooking the whole valley.

Preceding this overlook was a sign portraying a somewhat humorous picture but as seen in the second picture below, a worthwhile warning.

The above photo was taken directly from the trail which certainly seems hazardous to be available to the large numbers of casual hikers who complete the trek.

After a good snack and a stretch of time not nearly sufficient to take in the expansive view, we began our descent. About half way down, Jose led me to a lesser known vantage point from which all three tiers of the falls are easily visible. Lacking a wide angle lens, I instead took a number of photos and have shopped them together with a pretty good result:

We made it to the base of the trail just as the sun set–a very early setting due to the high canyon walls–and I made camp at the walk-in area known simply as Camp 4. After consuming some much needed nourishment and partaking in some equally necessary juggling and unicycling, I climbed into my tent, eager for a long night’s sleep. A short while later I found myself stirring about, very frustrated that even after being awake for 36+ hours and cruising along a strenuous trail, I still felt rather well rested. Just then my watch alarm went off informing me that in fact it was 6 am the next day and somewhere in there I had passed out for 10 hours.

Continue to Day 2



  1. […] Epic Journey: Day 1 – <b>Oregon</b>, California, Yosemite […]

  2. Glad you’re back!!!!! (and that comes from someone who is anti-over-punctuating.) Great photos & videos thus far. Seems like a good time to tell you I had a pretty graphic dream about you falling off a very tall cliff shortly before you left and spent the entire time awaiting your safe return. My last several ‘premonitions’ before that have come true (all good, happily), and it looks like you gave fate every opportunity to validate this one as well. Very glad I’m not entirely psychic after all. (By the way, I predict that your birthday gift will not arrive before April. Sorry for the delay.)

  3. […] – Upper Yosemite Falls Trail (Day 1) – A steep but rewarding out-n-back climb of about 4.5 miles each way. Especially worth while if […]

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