El Capitan Yosemite

Yosemite: Mirror Lake, El Capitan Meadow & Bridalveil Fall

If someone had told me I would go to Yosemite twice in the span of a year, I would have thought them overly optimistic.  But thank goodness for friends who love to travel because last September, I went with Alicia and we scouted the place out.  Along for the ride this time were my husband Rob, and friends Solomon, Aidan, and Myra.  The two trips could not have been more different.  In September, California was struggling through a long drought.  Yosemite Falls was dry as a bone and the other waterfalls and streams in the park were at their lowest, some with just wisps of water blowing in the valley winds.  We were also able to travel up Tioga Road to Tuolomne Meadows and spend some time at Tenaya Lake.  In June, however, the tune of the wilderness had changed to one of rushing waters and birdsong, with wildflowers bursting, rivers sprawling out into campgrounds and meadows, and bears munching their way through grasses.  Toiga Road was closed due to the continued plowing of a record snowfall year.

We flew into Oakland, rented a car and drove to Yosemite where we stayed in the North Pines campground.  We had snagged a reservation in an RV-only site, and while I was initially apprehensive about this, the site worked out just fine for tents.  It was a postage stamp of a campsite and we were pretty much on top of our neighbors, but it didn’t matter one bit.  We had made it to Yosemite.  Since we got there later in the afternoon, we pitched our tents and headed over to the Village store to pick up some provisions.  They have everything you could possibly need in the way of food.  For this trip I had packed a lot of dehydrated meals, some which I’d cooked myself and others like Mountain House.  I’d also brought enough bars, jerky, and packs of nuts for all of our day hikes.  The nice thing about the Village Store is they sell cold beer individually, have regulation firewood, and lots of meat options if you prefer not to keep a cooler at your site since space is limited in the bear locker.

The next morning we headed out to Mirror Lake and Happy Isles, a short walk from the North Pines Campground.  This is one of the easiest hikes in the park and is usually choked with people, so early is best. While I wanted to crush every hard trail in the valley, Rob and I were still recovering from a rough 23 mile weekend in the Smokies, which is less than we’d normally do.  Rough because the trails we did were mostly downhill and my body took a beating.  My hips were still sore and I had two heel blisters on each foot, one which was starting to feel painful and possibly infected.  Starting off on the easy trails gave me some time to recover while still getting out. The last time I was at Mirror Lake the ground was dry and we walked across the sand, around the grasses to  the other side.  This time, we could see perfect mirror images of the rocks above.  We continued on the trail to the rock fall below Half Dome, but opted not to go much further since hikers coming back were saying there was a swift stream crossing with nothing beyond it.  Along with the swarms of mosquitoes on this trail, we saw a pair of western tanagers, which are striking yellow birds that have a red head, plus a deer and some steller’s jays.

That same day we decided to take it easy and acclimate to the elevation, so we headed into the valley on the shuttle system and went to the visitors center, then headed to the El Capitan Meadow to see climbers and enjoy the perfect weather.  It’s nearly impossible to see climbers on El Cap with the naked eye.  Being the largest granite monolith in the world and standing as tall as three Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other, it’s hard to get perspective on how massive the wall is until you see a human attempting to scale it.  I brought binoculars with me and we were able to view different groups of climbers on the various routes.  As rangers set up telescopes and prepared to answer onlookers’ questions, we also watched the climbers through Solo’s badass camera setup.  The week before we stood in this spot, Alex Honnold had achieved the first free solo climb of El Cap (as in he didn’t use a rope).  National Geographic is making a documentary about it and I am freaking excited to see it.  If you’re interested in climbing or want to get a better appreciation for Yosemite’s history Valley Uprising on Netflix is a must-see.

We stopped at Bridalveil Fall on the way back.  This waterfall never dries up, but it does does get down to the point were it merely blows mist off the cliff.  This time around, she was waving in the wind and soaking everyone gathered at her feet.

The rushing river below…

That night, Alicia and Myra were arriving late, so we headed out with Solo to get some night shots.  It’s always fun to have a photographer along.  He inspired us to see some different perspectives on the landscapes looming around us. That night we sat next to a river that had a view of Half Dome and another rock face to the right of us.  We could see climbers on both with their headlamps scanning the walls as some of them were descending.  The most enviable of all positions were the climbers camping on the sheer face of Half Dome just underneath the top of the dome.  We saw shooting stars and  listened to the constant roar of the stream, anxious to continue on its way, helping us send our worries about work and home along with it.

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