A Travellerspoint blog

Yosemite Ho!


Better hit fast forward on that remote because I am going to skip ahead quite a ways in time to the present – July 8, 2019. I wish I could come up with some excuse about why I haven’t been writing in the subsequent weeks, but really, the truth of the matter is that I was working in Area 51 and had no access to the outside world during that time. And yes, I already know you’re going to ask about the aliens: they keep them over at Area 52, so I never got to see them.

Now that the pleasantries are aside, I suppose I can move on to what you’re really here for: a juicy recounting of the past 72 hours spent traveling across the California countryside to visit the incredible Yosemite National Park. Let me start from the beginning…

Our plan was simple, but that didn’t mean I liked it. For one, it required staying up until midnight on the 4th of July! What sort of sane person stays up past 10pm? Regardless, we would depart shortly after midnight and drive for four hours to reach our destination: a ‘first-come-first-serve’ campground that would undoubtedly fill up as fast as a line at Chick-fil-a around lunchtime. This place would be a madhouse (especially considering that it was around the 4th of July), so we wanted to make sure we snagged a campsite before anyone else.

Our two cars departed around 12:45am full of sleeping bags, clothes bags, tents, cooking equipment, and a variety of other odds and ends that would satisfy the camping needs of seven guys for two nights. After picking up one person from Stanford and partaking in a long detour to find ice for our cooler, we finally set off on the road at 1:30am.

The car I rode in is nicknamed “Grandpa Roach.” I need not say more than that, but I suppose I should paint a picture to give you an idea of how it got its name. Grandpa Roach is a dull, brown, Ford Explorer that is older than I am. The dents on it are so numerous that it looks more dimpled than a golf ball in some parts. When it goes above sixty miles per hour, it begins to shake harder and harder like a joyride at a county fair and the radio system in the dashboard begins to slide out of its socket. I swear its fuel efficiency hovers somewhere around 30mpg as well: that is to say, meters per gallon. Meanwhile, the fumes from the engine aren’t filtered out correctly, so the interior always smells like gas unless the windows on all four sides are down. The doors on one side won’t open, so the passengers in the back have to slide in one at a time to ride. The car stays locked unless the trunk is opened first and the unlock button is pushed from inside the trunk. Finally, as if you don’t already have a vivid enough description by this point, the suspension makes more squeaks than a pile of mice going through a slab of cheese. Every time Grandpa Roach hits a bump, it oscillates up and down for what feels like minutes and makes an angry squeak out of the ordeal. I hope you have a good idea of the contraption that we took to get there in now.

When we arrived at the campsite in the cold morning dawn, it was 5:30am. Our other car had gone ahead of us and was supposed to meet as at the first location to secure a campsite. We arrived to the site of an empty parking lot and a closed gate that said our first choice location was closed. While we stretched our legs out in the chilled air, we decided to backtrack an hour on our drive to see if they were at our second-choice campsite. When we rolled up to it, we were disappointed to find that they weren’t there either. What greeted our site was a group of other eager campers who had gotten in line (at 6am) to secure a campsite like us! I told you they were crazy people that we were competing against.

With our companions at neither the first or second campsite, and the closest cell service a half hour drive away, we made the executive decision to stay where we were and hope that they would pass by. If worse came to worse, we would snag a campsite and then come back for them later with the knowledge that at least we had somewhere to stay. The real problem was that they were the ones with all the food, leaving us to chew on what to do (with nothing to chew on!).

As we waited for them, a pickup truck that looked just like our companions’ zoomed on by us. On the inside, I could see two people sitting that seemed like the right build as well. I quickly shouted, “That’s them, they just drove by!” Our driver high-tailed it out of there and pushed Grandpa Roach to its limits on the windy forest roads as we went in high pursuit of the runaway car. Despite having nothing to eat and no sleep for the previous night, the adrenaline that pumped through gave us a surge of energy. As we caught up to the pickup truck, we began honking the horn and waving our hands out the window at it from 50 feet behind so that they would get the message to slow down. As we got closer to the truck that seemed like it was ours, we began to make out the license plate, which brought us to a frightening realization. This…was not our car. The license plate that should have read, “Arizona”, instead had “California” scrawled across it. We had tracked the wrong people.

Before the car in front could stop and question why some crazy, random lunatics were chasing and honking them, we slowed the car down as fast as we could and made as quick of a U-turn as we could legally do. With crushed hopes and our energy fading, we headed back to the second campsite point only to find that the line had grown from before. Even worse, a park ranger came out after waiting for 20 minutes and told every car up to the one in front of us that it could pass through for a campsite, which put us right back to where we started. The ranger assured us that he would be by in 30 minutes to check up on campsites and see about moving us up the queue.

Almost two hours later, just as we were about to leave, the ranger appeared back again and summoned us through the mystical gate to the campgrounds. We excitedly went the 3 miles down the windy traverses to reach the site of the campground only to find….another line of cars in which to wait for a campground. As we sat there and waited for another hour, we were all beginning to feel the gnawing effects of the hunger that comes with lack of food for over 10 hours. Suddenly, in what seemed like a miraculous turn of events, a pickup truck that looked just like the one we had chased after came rolling down into the clearing. Except this time, it didn’t have California plates on it: no, it had Arizona! Like a group of kids that had just won the Little League World Series, we ran up to the truck and began banging on the sides of it as we barraged our compatriots with questions like, “Where were you?, How did we not pass you?”, and of course, “Where’s the food?” In another streak of luck, another ranger approached us shortly thereafter and told us that a spot had opened up for us. The one bad piece of news was that the campgrounds could legally only hold 6 people, which would not fly for our 7 person group. After some debating and weighing of options, the group behind us offered to take in one extra person as a refugee for the two nights. By 2pm that day, we had finally reassembled our group, pitched the tents, had a delicious snack, and were ready to go hiking. And we were only 6 hours behind our original estimate!



The drive down to the Valley Basin had us pass through psychedelic tunnels that opened up into stunning views of the valley below with a river flowing through swiftly at the bottom. It was all fun and games until we hit our recurring theme for the day: a long line of cars. This one stretched for well over several miles and wound its way through the valley and down to the base camp where every available parking spaces were fought over tooth and nail by desperate families trying not to walk more than 2 miles with young kids dragging at their ankles. We weren’t quite that desperate, so we accepted a spot a mile from the base camp and walked along the side of the road at the same speed as the cars next to us. At the advice of an old couple that drove by us with more bumper stickers than space on the back of their car, we walked the “Valley Loop” trail, which was nothing more than a small, flat loop around the Valley that had been so hard to get into by car. Nonetheless, it offered stunning views of El Capitan and the other impressive monoliths around us. Although we had wanted to be more ambitious with our hike for the day, we were all beginning to feel the effects when you have no sleep, little food, and are crammed into a car for over 6 hours in one day. Our muscles were aching with every step and everyone was slow to act. The heat of the day only made matters worse: causing us to sweat profusely and fend off bugs who saw us as easy targets.



When we got close to El Capitan, we found a dry creek-bed to walk along that led us to the base of the world’s largest granite monolith. Looking up from the base of it was stunning: a sheer, smooth, rock face that stretched up so far it seemed impossible for anyone to attempt to climb. However, the impossible has been done: El Capitan has attracted the world’s toughest rock climbers who want to face a challenge and there are several documentaries you can watch about their impressive feat. We even found the remnants of some old ropes and carabiners that had been used by people much more courageous than us.

After we had our fill of gazing up at El Cap, we traveled back to the car around 5pm enticed with the thought that we would be able to fill our stomachs with some real food soon. The drive back proved to be far better than the first, with almost no traffic at all on the quiet ride to our little patch of dirt. As soon as we got there, we began setting up the small, propane traveling-grill and building a campfire. Within half an hour, we were munching down on some hamburgers and roasting hot dogs over the fire. One kid even brought a banjo and his bongos, so we had ourselves a campfire sing-a-long. Games ensued and soon enough the marshmallows and chocolate were pulled out for s’mores.

When it got dark enough, the stars appeared slowly in the twilight evening. One by one, the little dots joined the entire performance until it was a full symphony of light. On the black canvas of the sky, the multitude of these tiny holes created a patchwork of light that is impossible to see in a city. We climbed up to the flat top of a massive rock adjacent to our campsite and watched the stars come out while lying there in the slowly-chilling darkness. It was a surreal experience to be able to see Jupiter, Mars, and the Milky Way Galaxy out in full force. I felt like I was back in meditation and completely at peace with everything around me. That night I went to bed exhausted, dirty, cold, and exhilarated at what I had seen in the past 24 hours. Sometimes the most memorable adventures are ones that don’t always go as planned.

The next morning, we had planned to wake up at 6am, eat breakfast, be out by 7am and go hiking on a nice, long hike for the day. Once again, our time-management skills were not exactly top notch. Just figuring out how to make the pancakes without a mixing bowl for the batter took half an hour (we used water bottles filled halfway with water)! After eating pancakes that tasted suspiciously like the hamburger grease they had been cooked in, we set off at 8:30am to secure a parking spot for ourselves. Despite our late start, we were able to get a parking spot that was within a mile of the base camp. We made a quick pit stop at the Visitor’s Center to fill up on water and set off on our new challenge for the day: “The Mist Trail”.



The trail was named appropriately: it would require hiking up the sides of two waterfalls and would subsequently soak you in the fresh spray of the water that tumbled over the edges of these two gorgeous falls. The path started out paved and with several rest areas for less physically fit people. It was pretty tame and there were many hikers that were not wearing the appropriate attire at all, but were hiking up a little bit just to say they’d been hiking on their Instagram. We passed over a bridge and left behind half of the crowd that had been hiking with us beforehand. Now, we were on a dirt path that wound its way up through the mountains.


Soon enough, we reached a series of stone steps that looked just like the ones Frodo would have used to climb Mount Doom. Water trickled down them from the waterfall up ahead that began to peek out through the trees. The going got slow as only one person could pass up the stairs at a time, which made it difficult when others tried to come down. As the waterfall began to materialize in our sights, the spray from the mist grew stronger. Within a few steps, we were drenched and walking through a full-on raincloud. We took refuge where we could behind rocks, but there wasn’t much in the way to keep us from getting soaked from head to toe. After taking a group picture, we continued up the path and out of the misty spray to another wooded part of the trail. Some strenuous minutes later, we were up on top of the waterfall and watching the water flow over the edge and down onto the hapless hikers that we had been in the shoes of minutes before.


The water was a stunning blue-green color that was a result of it being pure snow-melt and mixing with the minerals in the rocks. It looked to be the cleanest water I had ever seen, but none of us were brave enough to drink it. As a result of our work to scale this first waterfall, we rewarded ourselves with an hour-long lunch and sun-dried ourselves on the rocks. The squirrels in the area were ruthless: they kept coming over and begging for food. It’s no wonder they were so fat!



When we felt that we were rested up enough, we began our trek onwards and upwards. Similar to the bridge, we left behind half of the other travelers who decided that the first waterfall was a sufficient hike for them. Man, did they miss out on an even cooler opportunity.
Making our way up the switchbacks, we continued higher and higher until it became dry, dusty, and hot. To keep sane, we debated important topics like, “What house would you be in Harry Potter?” The trail signs kept telling us that the second waterfall was only 2.5 miles away, but we would walk for what felt like forever and then be greeted by a sign that read “Only 2.4 miles away.” The hike stretched on as we shuffled our feet up the dirt path to the top of the second waterfall. The path we took didn’t take us directly under the waterfall this time, but rather, wound us around a ridge that gave us a beautiful view of the entire valley and the waterfall that was our endpoint. With our target in sight, we continued on to our destination.




When we got to top of the waterfall, we were greeted with views far better than the first one. We were little kids on nature’s playground as we clambered over rocks that brought us right up to the edge of the water and the falls itself. It flowed by us at a staggering rate, seeming to go almost thirty miles per hour and making a deafening roar as it surged and crashed into the rocks beneath us. I was able to get many jaw-dropping pictures of the view from up there.

After an hour of rest and taking in the incredible views as we were cooled by the misty spray, we decided that it was about that time to start heading back. We took a different trail to get down this time: this one much steeper, but about half the length of the first one. As we carefully side-stepped down the rocky trail, we could see the waterfall begin to rise up in front of us as we came to look at it from the bottom. We explored some caves and were greeted once again by the misty spray that seeped into our clothes. At the bottom we had to backtrack slightly and climb up the path we had been on several hours prior before finally getting to the right track downwards. The sign taunted us by saying, “Valley Floor, 2.5 miles”. The switchbacks we hiked down felt much, much longer than that on our tired legs.

Once we reached the bridge from this morning, we broke out into a full-on sprint for the last mile of the trail. The seven of us streaked past groups of confused tourists as we weaved in between them and cut our time down by a half. The one thing dominating our brains at this point was getting back and eating dinner. When we made it down and back to the car, we had hiked over twelve miles and for over 6 hours. Nonetheless, the exhaustion didn’t dampen our spirits as we made the journey once more out of the valley and back to our patch of dirt. We talked in excited voices at the prospect that soon enough we would be filling our stomachs with delicious, greasy food.

By the time we got back, it was almost 6pm. The grill was taken out in seconds and the skillet thrown the flames before everyone was even out of Grandpa Roach. Within fifteen minutes, we were chowing down on a delicious round of hotdogs, hamburgers, and s’mores for the second night in a row. After a filling meal, I climbed back to the top of the rocks and watched the stars come out again. Tonight was even more special, because I was able to see some falling stars and satellites! My friend pointed out the different sights to me and recounted which satellites were which and how they functioned. I ended up staying out even later than the night before because I was so engrossed in the spectacle above us.

We slept in the next day and cleaned up camp around 8am. By 9am we were on the road and saying “Sayonara” to ranger who had given us the hassle two days ago. Initially, our plan had been to do an intense twelve-mile hike that would have been just as long as the day prior and an hour drive in the wrong direction. However, after some debating, we chose to do a much milder hike that was only two miles and would be flat the entire way, similar to the Valley Floor Loop. We encountered little traffic on the way down and were able to get a premiere parking spot close to the Visitor’s Center today.


As we walked along the trail, we were stopped by a gaggle of tourists ahead. The group was poised with phones out and muttering excitedly in hushed voices. What had appeared on the trail was a small black bear! It looked to be 2 or 3 years old and somewhere around a hundred and fifty pounds. It approached some logs lying on the edge of the trail and proceeded to rip through them as it hunted for lunch. His paws were powerful clubs that ripped right through the dead wood and sent splinters flying back several feet. It was understandable that people would be scared. After the bear moved far enough away, we were able to continue on the trail to the lake that was famed for showing a perfect reflection of the valley we were in (hence the name, Mirror Lake Trail). Unfortunately for us, the lake was mostly dried up and filled only with stagnant water that was crowded with bugs skimming across the surface.

On the journey back, our new friend, Fozzie, made a guest appearance on the trail once more. It was great to see him again, but by this point, we were getting pretty hungry and wanted Fozzie to move along so we could get some lunch of our own. After a 15 minute delay to wait for him to move out of the way, we walked back to our car and keyed in the closest restaurant we could find that was on our path. Two hours later, we were sitting inside a Mexican restaurant just outside Yosemite National Park and chowing down on the special of the day: a decent-sized steak covered in grilled onions and peppers and surrounded by mounds of rice and beans. Although La Fonda would knock this place out of the water, it was amazing food for our empty stomachs.

Unfortunately, we weren’t quite out of the thick of it yet. The driver of Grandpa Roach had to do a tire rotation before we could leave, lest his tires pop on the drive back (they were getting pretty thin). He had parked on a slanted surface covered in rocks that made it difficult to get the car jacked up. In fact, the car almost slid back at one point when the first tire came off! The second set went on much more smoothly than the first, mostly because we pulled into the smooth, flat, concrete parking lot of a gas station.

By the time the tires were finished, it was 6pm and we still had a three-hour car drive ahead of us. Our initial planning had said that we would be back by 6-7pm at the latest. Instead, we got back at 10pm. You’d think for a group of engineers we would be good at making estimations, but this trip we were seriously off the mark almost every time. I guess it means that none of us should ever go to Vegas. That night I fell asleep immediately in a bed that I had originally considered to be hard and lumpy, but now felt like the softest cushion I could have ever lied down on.

The trip was an incredible experience overall and the seven of us definitely bonded and got to know each other in ways we hadn’t before. Staring up at the stars those nights was a memorable experience that I won’t forget any time soon. When you’re out in nature, it opens up a new side to life that is impossible to replicate in the city. I still consider it incredibly lucky that I’ve been given this opportunity to work out in California and that life has led me down this road. I love being able to go on eye-opening hikes every weekend and experience the beauty of the natural world. I think that John Muir would agree too: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

Posted by oklempay 12:52 Archived in USA Tagged hiking california nasa camping yosemite el_capitan mist_trail

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