Sunday, December 11, 2005

Chapter 8: Yosemite Valley

Sue and I left the cabin and headed, via shuttle bus, to Yosemite Village to do some light souvenir shopping. I found some postcards and a couple of tee-shirts. One for me. One for Ken. Then we went to a pizza restaurant that was perhaps less than a quarter full. Wine and pizza hit the spot and we headed back to the cabin for bed. The night was dark and it was still raining. It rained all through the night, and although I thought I slept well, I do remember hearing the rain on the canvas of the tent cabin most of the night. It was very nice.

Sue got up during the night to go to the bathroom, and so did I. But, while she got dressed and went all the way to the bathrooms in the center of camp with a flashlight, I must admit that I just stepped outside the tent and peed against a tree. Oh the wonders of nature!

In the morning, Sue went out to take pictures and we met over by the restaurant for coffee and apple pie (that we had brought). It was foggy, but the fog lifted soon enough and we were on our way to the trailhead for the hike up to Vernal Fall. At one point I wanted to get the camera out to take a picture and... the camera wasn’t in the camera bag. We panicked. Did I leave it on the arm of the chair outside the restaurant? Shit. Then I looked in my backpack and there it was, inside. Not where it was supposed to be, but at least it was there. Whew.

The hike was great; easy at first, but soon steep and more difficult. We stopped on a rock in the river after a couple of hours for the snack we had packed. Sue had been to this rock before, and we spent a few minutes looking for it. We considered it a special, private place, but of course there have probably been thousands of people on the same spot before us. We had a great view of Vernal Fall from the rock. However, on this day, there was no one there but us. It was magical.

The lower part of the Vernal Trail - the big rock you see in the middle of the riverbed is where we had our snack.

Sue sitting on the rock.

After recharging, we headed up the Mist Trail that, in spring, lives up to its name. At this time of the year, however, there isn’t enough water in the fall to make enough mist to get climbers wet. This section of the trail is very steep and it’s slow going.

Vernal Fall and rainbow.

We got to the top, huffing and puffing, and I posed at the very top of the waterfall to commemorate the occasion. We found a quiet spot near the stream and broke out our packed lunches. The simplest food tastes so good after a couple of hours of uphill hiking! Needless to say, the trip back down was quick – although going downhill requires using a whole different set of muscles from those used to go up, so I was still working and stretching and knew that I would be quite sore the next day.

Walt at the top of Vernal Fall.

Sue and I finished off the day by visiting the Ansel Adams gallery, sending a few postcards, and stopping at the Ahwahnee Hotel for a drink (or two). We sat outside the hotel bar under some beautiful oak trees. Suddenly, we heard a loud clunk on the sidewalk next to us. Acorns were dropping out of the trees and, as we found out, they were dropping pretty regularly. A woman next to us got bonked pretty good on the head. Squirrels dashed about at our feet picking them up and stuffing them into their cheeks. After a few sips of wine we sat back and enjoyed the show. At one point, Sue ran into the hotel gift shop and came back with a little present (pictured here) to commemorate our experience: a tiny silver acorn!

Our waiter offered to take our picture together:

Walt and Sue at the Ahwahnee.

With light heads we jumped back on the shuttle and headed to Yosemite Falls to see what little water was tumbling down. Sue wanted to show me the new access paths that the Park Service had installed since I had been there last. They had eliminated a parking lot and added bathrooms, benches, and some interesting interpretive stuff (which includes a touchable bronze relief map of the Yosemite Falls area of the park – pretty cool). It was all much nicer than it used to be and without the parking area it felt more like wilderness than one of the most visited tourist attractions in California. It didn’t hurt that it was an early evening in late September and there were at most 10 people there with us.

We went over to Yosemite Lodge to have dinner (burgers and fries) and then walked back to our tent cabin. Along the way, as the light in the valley was just about gone, the view of Half Dome, still partially glowing in the late evening sky, was spectacular. I took this picture, but of course I needed to use the computer to lighten it up; that’s why it’s a bit grainy. The light faded pretty fast and we walked the rest of the way in the dark.

Half Dome.

On Wednesday, we took a short walk along the river after breakfast, then I packed up and said good-bye to Sue (who was staying for a third night) and hit the road back to the Bay Area for my last night in California. The next day I would be on the plane headed back to Europe, and home.

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