Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Yosemite Loop Day 1: Little Yosemite Valley by way of Glacier Point and the Panorama Trail

I've been wanting to get back to Yosemite for awhile now. My last trip was late in the season and I was hopeful to actually see the park full of water. With our lack of winter an early summer trip sounded perfect.  
Being a ridiculously popular national park means backpacking in Yosemite is all tied up in a permit system and since I certainly hadn't made these plans 24 weeks ago I was hoping for walk up permits. I had no real plans but I figured I had 4 or 5 days and was hoping to cobble together a 50ish mile loop. I decided I wanted to be a little touristy and see the big waterfalls in the valley which means I picked the most popular starting point possible for permits. Online forums and the NPS website suggest getting there pretty darn early for 1st come permits otherwise you can wait around until 11 and hope someone calls and cancels their reservations or snag one for the next day. Basically lots of time in line if you want the popular spots. 
I left Reno later than I intended, hitting the road at 1 am. The beauty of night driving is no traffic and soon enough I was passing through Tioga Road and realizing that I wasn't going to get to the permit station until at least 5. Darn, 4 had sounded like a much better idea. I rushed into the park, quickly filling my bag with snacks and water anticipating waiting until 11. As I rounded the corner I had to laugh. I love Yosemite Valley in the off hours, there is no one around. And my morning was no exception, deserted. A park worker bicycled by and after a quick bathroom stop I settled down on the porch. 
Maybe 30-45 min later I was startled by two guys running and shouting as they arrived at the office, they didn't see me and thought they were first (their faces were fantastic when they finally saw me). A few minutes later two dudes with lawn chairs appeared and we spent the next few hours bs'ing and wasting time. 
The rangers finally opened the doors saying there were absolutely no permits going in the direction of half dome (hmm ok then), that is except one spot going from Glacier point. She let us in and we signed our names on the cancellation list and I perused a map and thought about glacier. With only 2 hours of sleep the day before I had actually thought getting a permit for the next day would be nice letting me take a nap and get organized. But I recognize my restless self and knew I wanted to hike. After waiting in line again (I was annoyed, I had been first but somehow 3 people got alternate permits before me) either way soon enough I had a permit out of Glacier point. I was told I had to stop at Little Yosemite Valley my first night but had no other restrictions. I declined the half dome permit as I was planning on clouds rest and after buying a map I headed back to my car. 
Long term parking and actually sorting my food had me on the way to the trail sometime close to 10 or 11, not the early beat the heat start I usually like. I had no desire to hitch and start at Glacier Point itself (at least an hour drive away), instead I plan to walk the few miles from Curry Village then the 4 mile trail up to Glacier Point. From there I would catch the Panorama Trail to Nevada Falls and then over to Yosemite Valley, all told around 13 miles and over 4000 ft elevation gain. A good start to my mystery loop. 

The way to 4 mile trail is along the main road. I laugh at all the tourist who pull over take the obligatory photo and speed off down into the valley, what a different week I am aiming for.

Although I do understand the photo op, Yosemite Falls

A little over 2 miles down the road I am finally at the 4 mile trail, and so begins the climb out of the valley.

As I climb the valley unfolds to my side. Yosemite Falls grows in size as the trail endlessly switchbacks up. I see no one the first hour and then only one couple after that. As I finally near the top it starts to get crowded and I get to feel slightly smug as I pass multiple groups of people, I am the only with a backpack. Definitely enjoying my week so far. 

Yosemite Falls
I turn a corner and suddenly half dome looms into view
Glacier point is a zoo, make anything accessible by cars and it becomes ridiculous in this park. I stop to take a break in the shade, 90 degrees and 5 miles of climbing is hot business. I lose patience watching people feed squirrels and in general act moronic. I head to the bathroom and am frustrated to see a line winding down the sidewalk. No thanks, I'll pee in the bushes no problems. Then it was on towards the Panorama trail where I could grumble in peace. 

Looking out right after Glacier Point

not much springtime but a few things were blooming

Illilouette Falls

After the falls the trail started heading up again. I was grouchy, it was hot and I was tired of all the people. Something that I knew was just going to get worse at Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite Valley. Oh well, tomorrow would take me deeper into the park and away from the hordes of day hikers and half dome hopefuls. 

looking back to where I started, tiny Yosemite Falls on the right

Nevada Falls 
I head down the final descent to Nevada Falls. No pictures, I can't handle the overwhelming number of people. I admire the view and start to book it to the campsite, only one more mile. I meet up with the two lawn chair guys, they grabbed cancelled permits and were able to head up the Mist trail, 3 miles to my 13. I'm glad I took my route, the 4 mile trail and panorama trail were well worth the mileage. 
I walk in circles once I arrive at Little Yosemite Valley. There are people and tents scattered every which way. Some nice folks finally take pity on me and mention they are heading out and I am welcome to their spot. I set up camp and wander aimlessly for a bit. I end up talking to some fellow bay area folks about gear and nursing and get invited up Half Dome in the moonlight. I decide I'm sticking with my early Clouds Rest plan. I've had 2 hours of sleep in 48 hours and I really want to see sunrise on clouds rest. This turns out to be a good decision. The chatter was good but I am dead asleep and drooling at nine pm. I hear the hikers stumble back to camp well after midnight, I am happy I've been asleep and will soon hit the trail on my own full moon adventure. 

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