Thursday, April 24, 2014

Easter Weekend at Yosemite National Park

April 18 - 19, 2014
Yosemite National Park, CA

The last time we visited Yosemite National Park together (infamous Kris Koeller-organized camping trips aside) was around 1999 or 2000 back when we were newly arrived Californians. Over this past winter and into the spring, we'd been doing a lot of hiking in the parks near our home and a couple weeks ago we hiked the popular "Little Yosemite" area of one of these parks. Although we continue to experience drought conditions here in California, it had just rained a bit and we were enjoying the small waterfalls and rushing waters flowing amongst the boulders so much that we decided that it was high time we returned to the real deal.  "Let's go to Yosemite," we said!  As luck would have it, Scott had a work holiday on Good Friday so we made it a date.  

We arrived in the park to gushing waterfalls. Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park
After our traditional road-trip-morning-departure McDonald's stop, we arrived in the park at around 10:00 am and there was already a line up to get a spot in the parking lot at the Bridalveil Falls lookout.  "Uh oh, this could be bad news," we said to each other.  Unsure of what we might find beyond the parking lots in terms of crowds, we decided to warm up for the big hike we had planned with a section of the Valley Loop Trail, a 13-mile flat footpath that offers stunning views of many of the park's main attractions such as Yosemite Falls, El Capitan and Half Dome from the valley floor.  

View of Half Dome from the Valley Loop Trail on a beautiful, sunny spring day
We ended up walking about 10 miles of nearly empty trails along a peaceful section of the Merced River, through pleasant and at times downright lovely grassy meadows and woodlands before heading to the Wawona area of the park to check into the Wawona Lodge for the night. 

The peaceful Merced River on the Valley Loop Trail
 The drive to Wawona from Yosemite Valley is about 45 minutes of pleasant if uninspiring terrain.  Upon our arrival at the charmingly historic lodge, the inviting wicker sofas on the covered porch where guests were already enjoying happy hour cocktails beckoned.

The historic Wawona Lodge
But discipline and adventure won out and after checking into our upgraded room (the front desk had just had a cancellation on a room with private bath!), we jetted off in the car to Mariposa Grove to see the park's famed giant sequoias before returning to the hotel for cocktails in the lobby and dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Grizzly Giant in Mariposa Grove
 While planning our trip, we agreed that we wanted to hike the Vernal/Nevada Falls trail, which we had done once before on our maiden visit to the park all those years ago.  After a good night's sleep, we rose early, breakfasted quickly and headed to the valley floor to pick up sandwiches and park the car at the trailhead before the hordes arrived.  

Walking to the Vernal/Nevada Falls trailhead with a friend
The crowds were indeed heavy on the walk from the parking lot to the trailhead but thinned significantly by the time we reached the Vernal Falls footbridge, only .8 miles in (albeit .8 miles of uphill climbing).  Thanks to the typical spring snow-melt, the falls were gushing and the trail was every bit as beautiful and awe-inspiring and even more misty, damp and strenuous than we remembered. 

Preparing to hike the Mist Trail section of the Vernal/Nevada Falls Trail
We took a brief rest at the top of Vernal Falls before continuing on for the most grueling section of the climb.  

Enjoying a break and drying out at Emerald Pool at the top of Vernal Falls
As we continued on from Vernal Falls, it was a punishing climb onward and upward.  If Caroline had remembered from the last time how difficult the final ascent was she may not have agreed to what felt to her like a fool's errand.  But Scott was patient and she stuck it out, putting one foot in front of the other...ver-ry slow-ly...  

A welcome pause on the Nevada Falls Trail
Caroline was handsomely rewarded for her efforts with some stunning vistas along the way.  

Nevada Falls
The views from the top weren't half-bad either.

View from the top of Nevada Falls
When we reached the top of Nevada Falls, we enjoyed a hard-earned, satisfying picnic lunch with a view before heading back down, finishing the steep 7-mile round-trip in about 5 1/2 hours.  

View from the top of Nevada Falls
Upon reaching the car back on the valley floor, we had our hearts set on resting our weary legs while enjoying bloody marys at the Ahwanee Hotel.  Unfortunately, traffic on the valley roads was at an all-time high over the Easter weekend and after sitting in stopped traffic for quite some time, we made a bee-line for the closest park exit and headed home.  

Despite the crowds, we had a wonderful reunion with Yosemite, creating additional memories that will last a lifetime.  However, the Fosters Freeze soft-serve cones we had on the way home, while tasty, were no replacement for the bloody marys that just weren't meant to be.

More photos:
Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls
Valley floor meadow
El Capitan
Valley Loop Trail
El Capitan
Wawona Lodge - photo bomb!
The Washburn Building, where our room was located at the Wawona
Mariposa Grove
Mariposa Grove
Mariposa Grove

Mariposa Grove

A first glimpse of Vernal Falls
Vernal Falls

Climbing Vernal Falls in the mist

Vernal Falls trailside rainbow
We were a bit damp after our hike up the Mist Trail at Vernal Falls...
Vernal Falls rainbow
Wet, but still standing - Emerald Pool/overlook at the top of Vernal Falls
Vernal Falls overlook
On to Nevada Falls!
On to Nevada Falls!
Nevada Falls Trail
Nevada Falls in all its gushing glory
Enjoying a photo op excuse to stop for a moment on the steep Nevada Falls Trail

Nevada Falls
We made it!
View from the top of Nevada Falls
Top of Nevada Falls