So precious are the moments of being completely and utterly alone. I experienced one of those moments in the beautiful Yosemite National Park today. As I was standing in front of the magnificent Cathedral Peak, I realized not a single other person in the world was enjoying the same view I was. I was alone in one of the most popular parks in the United States, and it was amazing.
I’m not a fan of winter. Not at all. That’s why I moved 2000 miles away from it for the season. BUT – winter is the perfect time of year to visit popular parks like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Inside the park I encountered probably less than 200 people, and on my hike I ran into 2 people. On a 9 mile hike I ONLY SAW 2 PEOPLE! I can’t imagine sharing the trails and lookout points with crowds. It would take away from the wilderness experience. So I’m happy with winter, even though I froze my toes.
The trail I chose to hike is the Yosemite Valley Loop; A trail that is 13 miles long (in a loop, of course) and goes to the base of the Yosemite Falls, Three Brothers, El Capitan, Cathedral Peak, Cathedral Spires, and more points of interest in the Yosemite Valley. I chose this because it is fairly level (easy winter hiking) and it has gorgeous, intimate views of almost all the landmarks. The only one it is missing is Half Dome, which you can see in the distance from a few angles.
My hike began eventfully, with an 8-point buck casually eating a fallen pine 10 feet away from me. After many pictures, videos, and talking (me to the deer), I walked past him and further up the trail. He didn’t even flinch. Next I passed the Yosemite Falls, a series of two waterfalls spanning down the cliffside. The Upper Falls is staggered from the Lower Falls, and together they propel water from the top of the cliff to the bottom of the valley, an awesome sight to see.
On my way to El Capitan I saw an animal behind me. A fox? A coyote? I’m leaning towards a small coyote. It stopped about 50 feet from me and was staring off into the distance. I whipped out my camera and called to it like a dog. Much to my surprise, it turned and started jogging towards me (all on video!). I yelled “hey!” and it veered off the trail and scurried away alongside me. A buck, a coyote…I was a little weary after the ballsy carnivore with how comfortable the animals are in Yosemite. What if I encounter a cougar or a bear on my solo and remote hike? The thought quickly melted away upon sight of El Capitan.
Woah. People climb up that thing?! El Capitan is huge. Like 3600 feet tall kind of huge. My postcard just taught me that El Capitan is the “world’s largest monolith of exposed Granite.” It’s a big deal. A really BIG deal. The granite has beautiful streaks running vertically on the rock, making for some beautiful sights. After peeling myself away from the largest exposed granite monolith in the world, I lost the trail. Apparently when there’s 2+ feet of snow on the ground, little used trails disappear. It reappeared across the river and down the road, but I accidentally shaved off a mile or two (hence my 13 mile trail only being a 10ish mile hike). Oh well, no one liked that part of the trail anyways.
On this side of the river I was facing more giants, like the Cathedral Peak and Sentinel Rock, and hiking through deeper snow, deeper into the woods. This part of the trail is even less frequented, and I found myself questioning if I was on the trail or not most of the time. A few miles in the hike on this side, my shoes starting squelching with all the water they had absorbed from the creeks the trail crosses. The rivers have bridges but the creeks do not, and sadly I could not jump across every one. After a few more miles of wet feet, I spotted the Yosemite Falls across the Valley (where I had parked) and made a straight line towards it.
My time at Yosemite was well spent, and I have plans to return several more times to tackle climbing/hiking each major landmark, as well as exploring the other hundred miles of park. I did some exploring yesterday, plus a road trip last week that I will write about soon. It feels great to be back in God’s country, where I’m a guest in the magnificent and humbling landscape.
Also, side note! I’m staying at an Airbnb place called Acorn Haven Master Suite in a nearby town. It’s ADORABLE. I included a picture of the jacuzzi tub on this post, because it’s so darn cute. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay on your visit to Yosemite, check this place out!