Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Yosemite - Vernal and Nevada Falls (July 2011)

Late on Friday night, NJ calls and asks if I wanted to go to Yosemite and hike the Mist Trail and see Vernal & Nevada Falls first thing on Saturday morning. I've never been to Yosemite when the waterfalls were full, so I did want to go. In fact, last two times I've been in Yosemite, the Yosemite Falls were completely dry. We've had a very late snow this year and Yosemite was experiencing near record water flows in the rivers and waterfalls. I think my only apprehension was the 4 and 1/2 hour drive each way and that it's a weekend during the busy summer. I really don't like mobs of people. For me, the outdoors and hiking is for getting away from the city and crowds. I did cave in and agreed to go... I really did want to see the waterfalls in all their glory.

We made decent time getting to the park.. about 4 1/2 hours as expected, but upon entering the valley it was stop and go traffic. It took us about an hour and half to cross the valley floor and get to a place where we could park. Then we had to wait for a shuttle to get to the trail head. I think we started the hike at 4pm or later. It was going to be long day! After suffering through the traffic, I think I'm a fan of the Yosemite's plans of not allowing cars in the valley anymore and implementing a better shuttle service to take up the slack.

Bridalveil Falls

Yosemite Falls

Half Dome

Our plan was to hike up the John Muir Trail and cross over the Merced River above Nevada Falls, then hike back down the Mist Trail. This is pretty common as the Mist Trail has a lot of steps making the uphill climb tiring. The John Muir Trail has a gentler slope, but it is a mile longer. Since we started on the trail late, I realized going up the JMT meant we'd only get to see the water falls on the way down and we were chasing the evening sun. So, to maximize our visibility, we all agreed to go up and down the Mist trail. I'm glad we did.

As we started hiking to Vernal Falls, the power of the Merced was amazing. The amount of water flowing through it was stunning. The week before our hike, 3 visitors crossed the barrier at Vernal Falls and were swept away. As I write this a month later, only 1 body has been recovered. While hiking the trail, it was constantly in my mind that their bodies were still hidden deep in the river somewhere. It made the trip quite sobering at times. Photos of the missing trio were posted along the trail, and was a constant reminder.

Merced River

Once Vernal Falls comes into view, it becomes evident how the Mist Trail got its name. The mist from the water fall flows across the trail and it feels like hiking through a rain storm. There's also moss on the trail and it can become quite slippery. Earlier this year, another visitor slipped and fell into the river and lost his life. Later in the day, I fell on the way down, but luckily, several large rocks blocked the way to the bottom, so I suppose I was lucky. It's always tempting to go fast down hill, but that's usually when you're tired and it's so much easier to make mistakes. The trail soon hugs the cliff face and it narrows near the top, but cables make this section safer, even though it looks scarier. At the top, you're greeted with a large granite slab and the Merced river pouring over the edge. Metal railings allow visitors to get very close to the water fall. It's an amazing water fall, and I cannot fathom how anyone would think that it was safe to jump over the railing and wade into the river. I certainly didn't need the warning signs nor the railing to know not to get too close.

The crowds at Vernal Falls. :(

The mist.

Vernal Falls.

Top of Vernal Falls.

Looking down on the Mist Trail.

From Vernal Falls, it's a short to hike to get a first glimpse of Nevada Falls. Most of the casual visitors turn around at Vernal Falls, so the crowds diminished greatly at this point. The trail has a dramatic bridge crossing of the Merced and soon starts a steep of set of cut steps up the side of the waterfall. The falls are mostly out of view, but about the 3/4 mark you get a fantastic view. It was beginning to get dark and we decided this was a good time to turn around, and we convinced ourselves this was the last good view anyways.

Nevada Falls. Gorgeous!

Evening sun filters through the trees over the Merced just below Nevada Falls.

Nevada Falls up close.

By the time we reached Nevada Falls we noticed it had changed color from whitish blue to dark brown. It had also increased greatly in volume. The afternoon snow melt had finally reached the river and worked its way to the falls. We made great time back to the trail head and covered the 3 miles back in just under one hour. When we reached Vernal Falls on the way down, the crowds had disappeared and until my friends caught up, I had the entire top of the waterfall to myself. It was an amazing moment. On the way back down, I switched my Canon 5D to video mode and shot a bunch of short videos and stitched them together on Youtube:

Once we got back in the valley we stopped in Curry Village for a pizza then started the long drive home. We arrived back in Sonoma County close to 3 in the morning. A very long day, but well worth it. It's not often you get to see the waterfalls with that much water. In another sobering moment, the next day a hiker slipped and fell to her death on Half Dome. Another reminder that you're in the wild outdoors and you need to practice safe behaviors.

All photos are on Smugmug.

GPS track on Everytrail.

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