TO THE TOP OF THE FALLS
My husband really wanted to hike to the top of Yosemite falls. I am usually the one who plans the hikes when we travel to places. But the last two visits he stated he wanted to go to the top. I had never suggested this hike because I felt it may be a little too strenuous. The hike is labeled “extremely strenuous” “take 5-7 hours to complete”. “But it is only 3.5 miles” he stated. Yes, 3.5 miles up with a 2800 ft. elevation increase, then 3.5 miles down with quad and knee busting grades.
The first time we attempted the hike was New Year’s 2014. We started at around 11:00 in the morning, not taking into consideration that the sun set early in the Valley. We huffed and puffed ¾ of the way up, admiring the views, talking to people and enjoying the rainbow we saw at the middle falls. At 2:00 we realized that it would take us at least another hour or longer to reach the top and it would get dark before we made it down. In wisdom, we decided to turn around and get back to the bottom. As Paul says “live to hike another day”. It was disappointing to get so far and not reach our destination, but we had made the right decision. It got dark at 4:30, just as we came off the trail. Now we had unfinished business with that trail.
We decided to go back to Yosemite in early December 2014 to try it again. Paul had a business trip to the area and I asked if we could fly out early so we could spend the weekend at Yosemite. Surprisingly, he stated he really wanted to try to the top of the falls again. We flew out on Thursday night and hiked to help acclimate ourselves to the altitude on Friday at Mariposa Grove. I cannot write this without mentioning the trees. Wow!
On Saturday morning Paul was convinced to rise early to watch the sun rise over the valley. It is easy to do even if you are not a morning person, since we just arrived in CA; we were awake by 5:00. “Might as well make the best of it” he stated. It was amazing to watch the first light hit such a beautiful stage with the ever changing mist lying on the valley floor. It moved and rose as if it were alive.
As we drove back to the Lodge at the Falls, we past a view of Yosemite falls. The sun had just hit the upper falls and turned them on fire with a dancing rainbow the entire length! At the bottom was the mist, still living in the darkness of the cliffs, but the top half was a dancing rainbow of light. We tore ourselves away from the view to head back for breakfast in our room and to get everything packed into the car, because when we finished the trail we had to head back to Fresno. I had a 6:00 flight back home in the morning.
We got on the trail at approximately 8:30, feeling good, strong and confident that this time we would make our goal.
The first 1.5 miles are within the trees with an occasional glimpse of the valley or Half Dome. At 1.5 miles we reached Columbia Rock. It is a great place to take a break from the grueling uphill climb. The sun was shining and warming the granite, it would have been a great place to spend the day, just enjoying the view and sunshine, but we had a goal, onward and upward!
The first view of the falls on the trail is the cascades of the middle falls and the rainbow. We knew at this point that we were about halfway. Then the switchbacks really got steep!
At each switchback I wondered where the next one would take us, looking up, it is difficult to pick the trail out on the cliffs above. Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving. 5 hours to the top, finally! It is a different world up there, now the trees were large and tall, the creek running off the end of the cliff, just amazingly beautiful, so worth the agony getting there.
Oh, but we must not tarry, it is winter and the sun sets early in the valley. But we had to explore a little, walk the “edge” to the overlook of the falls, check out the little wooden bridge over the creek, and take time to eat our lunch at the top of the world. The next thing we knew it was 3:00 and we had the steep 3.5 miles of downhill to go. It would be dark at 4:30.
The rocks and the switchbacks do not make it an easy trail to descend. Down, down we try to go as fast as our tired legs would go, get out the trekking poles for balance on the rocks, shaky legs holding us up. One dear lady, who walked with us for a while, asked if we remembered to bring lights, unfortunately it was the one thing we forgot to put back into our camel-backs. I remember a twinge of fear as I watched the last of the sun dip over the edge of El Capitan. It was still twilight when we reached Columbia rock again, but it faded quickly as we reached the tree line.
I remembered that I had been tracking the hike on my backpacker app with my phone and checked if I still had battery life. Surprisingly, it was still alive, barely, but I had power. I quickly turned off the GPS tracker and put it on airplane mode to slow the battery drain so I could use the little light it gave off. I was able to pick out the trail for a while with this small light, and then I lost it on a switchback. My light was not enough to find the trail! Paul kept assuring me that I was on it, but I could feel my feet sinking into soft dirt. We are both lost and wondering how we were going to get off that mountain safely. I remember thinking, “I guess I am dressed warm enough, I can survive a night up here, but I have a 6:00 flight in the morning, I must get down”. I also remember praying “Lord, we always try to help others we met, please let it come back around to us”. Just as panic started to set in we saw large spot lights coming our way up the trail. The lady who passed us earlier was concerned for our safety and asked two younger people to go back up and find us. We were only about ¼ mile from the bottom, but the switchbacks were tedious, even with the spotlights. We still had to stop several times to consider the trail for safety. The lady was waiting for us at the bottom, and told us that 20 years ago she got stuck on that trail in the dark and it took her hours to find her way down. She stated that it was a terrifying experience and that she could not rest without knowing we were safe.
I stated to Paul that I did not believe we would have made it off the trail that night, he said he believed we would have. I told him “God would not have sent us help if we did not need it.” “God is good all the time, All the time God is good!”
We now carry very bright headlamps with extra batteries in our camelbacks.