Day 2: THE STAR OF THE SHOW
Not surprisingly, Tahia awoke at 5:20am, and both Julie’s mom and I were ready to feed her. After all, she took far less than 20 oz. yesterday, and she missed a feeding as she slept through the night. So we figured she would be hungry and voraciously drink perhaps 5oz of both breastmilk and formula.
But alas, Tahia stopped after 3oz, and she screamed whenever we tried to keep the bottle nipple right at her mouth. I guess this is what happens when a baby is thrown off her routine, especially for a long distance trip like this.
We didn’t get quite the early start that I was hoping for, but we were still out the door at 7:05am after getting together our stuff to prepare for the day as well as squeezing in a brekkie.
The skies were sunny, but we knew that only a few spots around Yosemite Valley were good to photograph early in the morning. And fortunately, Swinging Bridge was one of them. So we made a beeline for Swinging Bridge knowing that Tunnel View wouldn’t be good against the sun as well as other stops around the Valley.
At about 7:30am, we made it to the familiar car park and picnic area for Swinging Bridge. There were already a few other people at the bridge armed with tripods taking photos of Yosemite Falls reflected in the Merced River.
At first, Julie anticipated a pretty quick stop so she opted to leave Tahia in the car with her mom. But after seeing the bright green colors of the foliage backed by the awesome Yosemite Falls and the rippling reflections in the river, we opted to spend a little more time here getting Tahia out of the car and into a stroller to face this cold morning.
While Julie went back to the car to get Tahia and her mom, I only realized at the moment that I could see Lehamite Falls from this spot. I guess with the telephoto zoom capability of the camera, I could finally bring it in reasonably without losing resolution. So naturally, I capitalized on this little photo op to add to my already huge library of waterfall images captured around Yosemite Valley.
And when we finally got around to taking family photos while playing games to get Tahia to look towards the camera, we got some gorgeous photos that I could totally see being framed and put somewhere in a highly visible spot in the house.
Anyways, after a few more minutes of playing games with Tahia and the timer on the DSLR, we had our fill of this spot and continued onwards towards Yosemite Falls itself.
We could tell from the plethora of cars zooming along the Southside Drive (while we were on the Swinging Bridge) that it was going to be quite busy around the falls. But to our surprise when we got there, there was plenty of parking right around the lodge.
So once we claimed a spot, we put Tahia in the stroller again and proceeded to follow a large Korean Tour Group (that dominated the foot traffic at the time) towards the falls.
It seemed like Tahia was the star of the show because hardly a moment went by when someone from the tour group or just passing by would try to get Tahia’s attention. There were numerous occasions where people would compliment how cute she was. And this didn’t stop when we were right at the misty viewpoint for the base of Lower Yosemite Falls.
The waterfall itself was still in shadow and it probably wouldn’t be until much later in the morning when the sun would at least shine on the mist and produce rainbows. But we weren’t going to wait around for that.
After having our fill of the falls (and the crowds), we returned to the car. This time, we were headed to Curry Village. The original plan was to do a loop around the valley for some quick roadside photo ops, but given the volume of traffic flowing into the park, we mind as well defer the roadside stops for later in the afternoon after most of the main activities were done.
And the activity du jour (as far as I was concerned) was to do the 6.6-mile loop from Happly Isles to the top of Nevada Falls by going up the Mist Trail and down the John Muir Trail. I never actually did only this loop exclusively, and the last time I did this trail in full was the trip to do Half Dome back in June 2003.
Julie, Tahia, and Julie’s mom remained at Curry Village, but I encouraged them to at least take Tahia on the stroller to Mirror Lake. But given how much trouble it was to just tend to Tahia’s fussiness and her basic needs, it wouldn’t surprise me if they just remained in Curry Village or the car the whole time I was out.
Anyways, it was about 8:55am when we got lucky and found a spot somewhere not far from the tent cabins.
Initially, I saw how well Staircase Falls was flowing so I seized this opportunity to walk over to Stoneman Meadow and snap photos and movies of both Staircase Falls as well as the Royal Arch Cascades.
This interlude didn’t take long, and when I returned to the car park, I showed up just in time for one of the shuttles headed in the direction of the Happy Isles Nature Center.
It was about 9:30am when I got the Happy Isles. I noticed there was a snack bar here, which was something I never noticed before. There also wasn’t a bridge crossing over the Merced River from the side with the toilet (thanks to the 1997 rock fall near Curry Village) so I backtracked to the bridge where I snapped a shot of the Merced River flowing beneath North Dome, and then proceeded to go right onto the long loop trail.
There were already lots of people on the trail, and I was quite surprised at how I was already sucking air in the mostly uphill paved path. Well, at least I was able to notice a surprise waterfall that I had never noticed before somewhere not far south of Glacier Point.
In fact, I swore this waterfall never flowed in all the years I had been to Yosemite, so perhaps the 200% snowpack from this Winter and Spring season brought this one back to life.
Perhaps that flooded part of the Panorama Trail that I traversed yesterday might’ve been part of the source for this waterfall?
In all the years I had done this trail, it never occurred to me just how much uphill hiking was required to even get to the Vernal Fall footbridge. With me already going quite slow thanks to the aerobic workout, this was already not a good sign.
At least this gave me a chance to notice other stuff along this paved stretch of trail. One was all the jumble of talus and giant granite pieces flanking much of this section of the John Muir Trail. In years past, we never really paid much attention to our surroundings, but I guess with these observations, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Curry Village rockfall event in 1997 would happen.
Once again, I also checked out Illilouette Fall from down here as well. In the past, I would only be one of a few people who would notice the falls. But on this day, given the amount of people on the trail, I was definitely not alone in this observation.
It was hard to tell if Illilouette grew any from how I had seen it in the past (at least from this vantage point). But it was still photogenic and I wasted no time snapping more of the familiar shots from here. Besides, I had already seen it directly yesterday and I knew it was definitely flowing as well as I had seen it before if not more so.
Anyways, it didn’t take long before I finally reached the Vernal Fall bridge and then proceeded to waste no time continuing on towards the Mist Trail. But by the time I made it to the familiar Lady Franklin Rock (where I could see Vernal Fall up the Merced River), I had noticed the skies were mostly overcast already. Looked like the forecasted storm for tomorrow and Sunday was well on its way here.
Something I hadn’t done in the past was to take movies from this spot. Thankfully with my camera’s ability to do this, I went ahead and did this as well.
By about 10:20am, I got to a part just before the trail got misty. So I seized this opportunity to have some snacks, put on the waterproof pant, and don the rain poncho. And after a few minutes, I followed scores of other people (most of them came prepared with rain gear) up the wet and steep granite steps with Vernal Fall doing what it can to make it feel like a downpour.
After the snack and gear break was over, I too joined the bursty traffic braving the spray from the high flow of Vernal Fall. And as the granite steps were getting wetter, I was half expecting some serious spray reminiscent of the conditions from my previous June visits. After all, shouldn’t the 200% snowpack make it so as well?
But oddly enough, I felt like the mist wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. And with the way-above-average-snow-pack, I was a little perplexed. Could it be that it was still colder than the seasonal average for this time of year that was keeping most of the snowmelt locked away in snow?
Although in this case, I wouldn’t consider the conditions as a disappointment.
Nonetheless, this misty zone still did require my waterproof pants and rain poncho. And by and large, my DSLR was kept safe. For those times when I did want to take a photo in the swirling mist, I used Julie’s old Sony Cybershot since it seemed to behave a little better under these wet conditions.
It wasn’t until about 10:50am when I got out of the misty part of the trail and wasted no time taking off the rain poncho as well as the waterproof pants. Still, I couldn’t help but think about how it seemed like my Half Dome hike back in June 2003 underwent even wetter conditions than what was experienced today. This all led me to believe that peak snowmelt hadn’t occurred yet, and perhaps it was due in a week or two when I’d expect the weather to really warm up to more seasonal temperatures.
My legs were already starting to feel fatigued but I still had to push forward since there was a lot more to go on this day. And it wasn’t until about 11am when I finally made it up to the top of Vernal Fall. So that was over 2 miles down, but still another 4.6 miles to go. And I still had to contend with more uphill hiking to get to the top of Nevada Falls.
But before I pushed on, I snuck in a quick view of the brink of Vernal Fall. I didn’t tarry long here since I knew more people were waiting to have their pictures taken at the very corner of the falls.
Actually, come to think of it, I had recalled that my past experiences with this waterfall definitely had more water because some of its flow actually flooded that desired photo op corner. So clearly despite the 200% snowpack, this was further evidence that we were still here before the peak snowmelt.
At about 11:10am, I chanced upon a section of the Merced River known as the Silver Apron and Emerald Pool. For some reason, I never really paid attention to this in all the years I had been to the park, but that was until now. For I could see how these features got their names.
The Emerald Pool was basically a seemingly calm part of the turbulent Merced River between Vernal and Nevada Falls. Feeding this pool was an interesting sliding sheet of the river forming the apron part. And now I could see why people would be tempted to play in the water here (at least in the past). But now it was strictly forbidden since it could result in someone getting swept over Vernal Fall.
Continuing on, I eventually got to the familiar junction where going left meant continuing on the Mist Trail and going right would hook up with the JMT. I first went right because I wanted to get back to that viewpoint where I could see all of Vernal Fall with people being dwarfed right at its top. It was too bad that it was overcast because I really wanted to get a photo from here with a rainbow in the mist.
There were a pair of ladies who wondered why I was going back, but I told them that I was doing the long loop. I also recommended to them to continue heading towards Nevada Falls on the JMT because they could get nice views of the Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls beneath the Panorama Cliffs.
Anyways, I continued going back downhill and then proceeded beyond the footbrdige above the Silver Apron. I had it in my mind to take another break (a lunch break) at that spot where I could get a frontal view of Nevada Falls. I figured not many people knew about it since I had skipped that spot (unknowingly) almost every time I did this trail in the past.
Well, at 11:55am, I was back at that spot. And I snapped a few photos and movies of the front of Nevada Falls, but it was rather misty so I couldn’t quite get the photos I wanted done in a leisurely pace. But at least I got some decent photos in between wiping waterspots off the lens.
And for the better part of 15 minutes, I was alone at this spot except for a squirrel or two aggressively looking for a handout from me.
Anyways, at about 12:10pm, I had noticed that my secret spot wasn’t so secret after all as there must’ve been at least a dozen people that checked this spot out. And I figured it was now time to embark on the next gruelling part of the hike, and that was the drier Mist Trail alongside Nevada Falls.
Once again, my legs were feeling heavy. And with some of the steps being quite steep, I found myself having some trouble even getting my legs up that high. Indeed, I felt like perhaps my legs were about to cramp.
I wasn’t sure what was the deal with me this time since I never recalled having this much difficulty on the trail. Was I getting old? Or was the backpack a bit heavier than when I last did this trail?
In any case, I was huffing and puffing with legs sore.
I’d frequently take a photo breaks even though it broke my momentum. But when my legs were this tired and I was breathing as heavily as I was, I wasn’t sure if momentum was the priority or if rest was the priority.
Well, it wasn’t until about 12:40pm when I finally made it to the top! It was a relief knowing that the rest of the hike would be predominantly downhill.
The next order of business was to get back up to the viewing area right at the brink of Nevada Falls – a viewpoint that I nicknamed Yo-wy-we because the Native Americans associated the falls with some kind of worm, and watching the falls shoot down below from that vantage point made me think it did have somewhat of a slinky-like behavior.
So I returned back to that overlook for some more photos as well as a movie. Why not? We were here before but didn’t document it as thoroughly as I do now so now we don’t leave our experiences up to the vagarities of our lossy memories since I now have more definitive proof of what we had seen and heard.
At 1:05pm, I made it past the footbridge above Nevada Falls, and then spent the next 20 minutes having yet another lunch break. This time, I used this time to finish off my grapes and cherries while also eating most of the delicious jack links jerky (probably one of the best tasting jerkies I ever had).
This time, there was only one squirrel around. But it appeared to mind its own business. Or maybe it was just scheming for a sneak attack. You never know with these guys…
At 1:25pm, I was back on the trail and this time I was now able to trail run since it was mostly downhill. I did have to watch for some slippery spots as well as some flooded spots. But it felt good to be going downhill for once since I almost exclusively went uphill this whole time.
Nonetheless, I wondered how much worse the flooding would get when the weather warms up.
Probably about 5- to 10 minutes later, I made it to the Panorama Cliffs where there was some snowmelt dripping onto the JMT as if it was raining. I made sure I sheltered the camera but I came out of there not too terribly wet.
I wasn’t sure about some of the other folks who ran this section not wanting to get another drenching. I even noticed some other guy who actually slipped and fell here. I did have one moment where I slipped but didn’t fall thanks to the wet granite footing.
But at least just beyond this stretch, I was able to get that familiar view of Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap together. It was just too bad that the skies were overcast so it was a lot of white on white in the photo (save the foliage below).
It wasn’t long before I was done with the Panorama Cliffs section and proceeded to trail run since the trail was definitely switching back at this point. I did make one final stop near the trail junction with the hook-up trail linking the JMT with the Mist Trail between both waterfalls on the Giant Stairway.
After I took what photos I wanted to from up here, I pretty much put the camera away and then continued to trail run. Since it was all downhill, I tried to capitalize on my momentum to jam my way down.
I found myself passing lots of people as it seemed like I was the only one trail running. It made me feel weird, but I knew what I was doing, and I knew I had to get back to Julie within my promised window of 2-3pm.
Probably the one time I did completely stop was for some horses to get by.
Eventually, I made it back to the Happy Isles Nature Center at 2:35pm, which was just in time to take a much-needed potty break and to catch the shuttle back to Curry Village. So I ended up going about 3.3 miles in about an hour, which was probably the limit to my hiking speed as far as I was concerned.
By about 2:50pm, I was back at Curry Village where I saw Julie, Tahia, and Julie’s Mom indoors next to the Pizza Deck. That was when I rejoined the family, spoiled myself with some pepperoni pizza, and then proceeded to get back in the car as a group at 3:35pm.
With tomorrow forecasted to have bad weather, I tried to use this last part of the day to get what photos and movies I could from within the Valley. So I made sure to get shots of Sentinel Falls from Leidig Meadow, Royal Arch Cascade, Bridalveil Fall from V10 and Valley View from V11, plus Widow’s Tears, which seemed to flow pretty well (at least like I had never seen it before), and Ribbon Falls, which was flowing harder than I had ever seen it.
At Valley View, my lens had enough wide angle to get Ribbon Falls as well as the rest of the valley. It wasn’t a balanced shot, but at least it showed how capable this EOS 7D was in that there wasn’t noticeable distortion.
This idea dawned on me when we were at Valley View and I caught a glimpse of Widow’s Tears looking thicker than I was used to seeing it.
However, making the U-turn from the pullout where I took the photos to return to the east-bound lanes into the Valley proved to be non-trivial as the heavy traffic from this time of year and the proximity of the weekend conspired to keep up stuck in the pullout or keep heading west.
Getting a view of Sentinel Falls was difficult because there was no legitimate parking spot near the area. Perhaps that was why I never really saw much about Leidig Meadow in the literature – because it wasn’t very straightforward to access without a willingness to walk a bit.
So to Julie’s dismay, I decided to make another loop through the valley determined to get this view of Sentinel Falls from Leidig Meadow. At least along the way, we made a stop at the Southside Drive between both Ribbon Falls and Bridalveil Fall.
Ribbon Falls definitely looked thicker than I remembered it. There were even artists chilling out at a group near the Southside Drive probably painting their subjects whether it was El Cap, Ribbon Falls, Cathedral Spires, the Three Brothers, or Bridalveil Fall.
Whatever it was, I had to get my shot of Ribbon Falls even if the granite blended in with the overcast skies.
When we looped back to the Northside Drive, we made a stop a Cook Meadow. My shots of this in the past were only with the brown grass of Winter so it was nice to be back here under more Spring-like conditions for a change.
There was a guy who had a pretty heavy-duty cam-corder or camera mounted on a tripod with microphone here. I wasn’t sure if I messed up his footage or something because he wasn’t in a talkative mood and he had already claimed the desired photo spot. So I shot something slightly less optimal but no less pretty.
Then, I stole one last glimpse of Lehamite Falls looking very puny in comparison to the iconic Yosemite Falls.
Finally on the second go around for Leidig Meadow, we just parked in a makeshift pullout near V6 and then got my shots of Sentinel Falls. It didn’t look like a formal spot but we didn’t see any sign prohibiting its use. Either way, we stopped briefly here, which allowed Julie to get another pumping in.
I actually walked further along this trail, which the signs indicated would eventually make it to Bridalveil Fall. And judging from how quiet it was here, I don’t think this trail got very much use.
So once again, it was just me and my effort to improve my views of Sentinel Falls. There were some clusters of gnats, but from what I could tell, there were still no mosquitoes. Again, this was unusual for June since they’re usually out by now, but the cold weather must have something to do with it.
The view from here wasn’t quite as open as I had imagined given the trees in the immediate area. Still, my curiosity was satisfied, and I guess that pretty much concluded this valley run.
On the way back up out of the valley, we finally stopped at Tunnel View. But with the overcast skies, it wasn’t the gorgeous afternoon-lit view I had hoped for. Still, we brought Tahia out for this one and got a few more money family shots.
From looking way up between Tunnel View and the Wawona Tunnel, Silver Strand Falls looked like it had pretty average flow. We don’t often see this one flowing too well in all the times we’ve tried to photograph it. Maybe it was still too cold.
Nonetheless, we captured it for posterity.
The last stop on this go-around was at Turtleback Dome where I sought after the familiar view of Cascade Falls as well as a movie since we never took one before. But the rocks piled up on the other side of the barricade seemed a bit lower than I had remembered it so I knew it wasn’t as straightforward to get back to the car. But it still shouldn’t be that bad, I reckoned.
The whole time I was here, I started to wonder if that barricade was built there on purpose to discourage more people from scrambling atop Turtleback Dome. I figured the view of Cascade Falls from here was much better than the M1 view along the Hwy 140, but it seemed like this one was less visited thanks to that barricade.
I guess now that I was more sensitive to environmental impacts of scrambling, maybe this place was the way it was for a reason.
Looking further up Cascade Falls, I paid more attention to the cascade further up the slope. And upon further inspection, I concluded that the cascade up there was from Tamarack Creek. Cascade Creek was harder to see, but I knew they would converge to make the dramatic Cascade Falls beneath one of the Big Oak Flat Road bridges.
The Yosemite Road Guide said Wildcat Creek combined with Cascade Creek to make Cascade Falls, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Wildcat Creek was on its own drainage making its own waterfall. And this time around, Wildcat Falls didn’t look like it was flowing well (if at all).
And by 5:50pm, I was back in the car and by 6:05pm, we finally returned to Yosemite West. At least on this day, we were finished over a couple hours earlier than yesterday.