Picture: Hikers on the summit of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California
A couple days ago I returned home from a six day trip to Yosemite and the Mono Lake area. The trip was a mixture of triumphs and tragedies.
I left town fairly apprehensive. I originally planned to do a strenuous single day hike to Waterwheel Falls outside of Tuolumne Meadows. People that have known me for a few decades know that I’ve long suffered from knee injuries and chronic back pain, both of which have taken huge chunks of time to overcome. One of the ways I’ve overcome those problems has been by taking short 2-5 mile hikes in my local hills. But this hike to Waterwheel Falls was going to be 18+ miles in a single day. I like hiking, but I’m certainly no ‘super-serious’ hiker or backpacker like many that venture to the Sierra on a regular basis. I began by lengthening my ‘training’ hikes to 7 miles, then 9-10, miles, and a week ago I did a 13.5 mile hike in 5.5 hours. Ok… I think I was ready.
Then on a total fluke, a couple nights before I was set to leave, just for giggles, I checked online around midnight for Half Dome permit availability for later in the year. Nothing was available, save one permit for this last Tuesday. The process for obtaining a permit to climb Half Dome via the cables is convoluted, and sufficed to say getting one online is like winning a mini-lottery. The permit was only $1.50, so I grabbed it while I had the chance. Now the panic set in. Not only was I getting set to do the longest single solo-day hike I’d ever done, I now had a chance three days later to take what is considered the hardest day hike in Yosemite; a 16.5 mile RT hike to the summit of Half Dome, gaining 4,800′ on the way up, and losing the same 4,800 knee-smacking feet on the way down.
The total for those two day hikes came out at nearly 37 miles, and nearly a combined 15,000 feet of total elevation change. I survived. *Triumph*
(More on both hikes in upcoming blog posts.)
The Tragedies: (The small) Twice my truck hit wildlife on this trip. The first instance was near Tenya Lake when a young deer just leaped out off the side of the road in front of my truck. I slammed on the brakes and skidded toward the side of the road, just as the poor animal was desperately trying to change its direction away from my truck. With a sickening thud the animal was sent sliding back across the road. Fortunately the animal was able to get up and get off the road. I got out to check on the condition, and we just looked at each other for a moment before it turned and slowly started walking away into the forest. It wasn’t limping, but I could tell it was stunned and sore. I can only hope it got away with a few broken ribs and will survive. What really pissed me off no end, was right where the deer had jumped out from the side of the road, I found an apple that had been carelessly tossed out by some tourist. I can only assume the deer was trying to eat the apple when the sound of my truck caused it to try and flee. Instead of turning and running back up the steep slope, it bounded out into the road. I wish I could find that tourist to return their apple with a note indicating how their thoughtless action might well have cost a deer its life. (Aside: What do you get when you cross a tourist with a moron? Answer: A Touron.)
Then as I was leaving the park, two birds were whizzing in tight ‘chasing’ flight formation as they came right at my windshield. Again, I heard that thump as one of them connected with my truck just at the very top of the windshield. I looked in my rearview mirror expecting to see a tumbling mass of feathers falling toward the car behind me. Fortunately, I saw no such sight, so again I can only hope that the bird survived with only glancing blow. (But I doubt it.)
Picture: Vernal Fall and the Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California
(The Big) Death in Yosemite is unfortunately relatively common, and not just for the bears and deer which get hit along the road, but for visitors as well. They day I hiked to Half Dome, I went up the Mist Trail, which is arguably the most popular day-hike in Yosemite Valley. When I got to the top of Vernal Fall, it was clear that the water was still running much harder and faster than normal for this time of year due to the unusually wet Winter and Spring in the Sierra. I learned on my decent that several hours later, three people were swept over the edge of the waterfall, falling more than three hundred feet to their deaths. In an all too common circumstance, the people that lost their lives in front of horrified onlookers had climbed over protective barriers, and failed to head the warnings of prominently located signs and the repeated warnings voiced by other hikers as they tried to cross to some rocks in the middle of the river only 25 feet from the edge of the fall. When the first person fell in, the second fell in trying to help the first, and the third fell in while trying to help the first two. For them, it was all over in a few seconds. For the witnesses (especially those that saw the faces of the people as they went over the edge) and families of the three victims, the tragic impact of their poor choice will be felt over dozens of lifetimes.
That same day, a 16 year old passenger in a van with seven young adults / teenagers was killed when the van they were riding in ran off Tioga Pass Road. Apparently the group had just finished a week-long backpacking trip, and were all exhausted and driving home when the driver fell asleep at the wheel. Take it from me, someone that’s seen and felt the consequence of something similar; the goal of any travel should be to arrive at your destination safely, and not necessarily arrive ‘when you want to’. Spending an extra night on the road is far better than falling asleep at the wheel and becoming part of a road.
And finally, as it should be obvious to most, if you see a sign warning you to stay out of the water above a waterfall, take the sign seriously and heed the warning.
Image ID#: 110719_YOS-0162 (Hikers on Half Dome) & 110522_YOS-0137 (Vernal Fall and Mist Trail)
Hikers on Half Dome:
Vernal Fall and Mist Trail:
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