June 18 – 20
Our plan for the day was to hike out of Happy Isles and take the Muir Trail towards Vernal Falls. Some folks in the group were either recovering from knee surgery or on their way towards it and so it was agreed that those who felt like it would go as far as they could, say the bridge over the Merced River (with its iconic view of the falls), just before the turnoff to the Mist Trail and the others would shoot for the top of the falls.
We foolishly walked out to the shuttle stop thinking we’d catch a ride up to Happy Isles, but soon concluded that the wait would be longer than the walk and so retraced our steps to the path near the tent village and began walking. We arrived at the trailhead, on the other side of the Merced and began the real hike.
This is a steep section, relentlessly uphill and not for the faint of heart, yet is always amazing to me to see folks not used to any kind of hiking managing it in flip flops and other not so appropriate hiking gear, along with a stroller or two. With a bit of huffing and puffing we made it to the bridge where Jessica, Kris and Marty opted to return, while Joanna, Kim and I agreed to press on.
Why this hike and this trail? I (along with Joanna) have hiked it countless times as part of my more than thirty visits to the valley and I never tire of it. Along the Mist Trail, the Merced River is a tumultuous mountain stream, lying in a U-shaped valley. Enormous boulders, some the size of a house, are dwarfed by the sheer faces of exfoliating granite, which rise 3,000 feet from the river.
To the side of Vernal Fall, the mist from the river blankets the trail, which was improved during the WPA projects of the 1930s. In the springtime, if the falls are full, raingear becomes handy as hikers often become completely drenched from water sprayed off the falls. Close to the top the trail crosses a sheer face which is made somewhat easier by a single guard rail. At the top, the river traverses a shelf of granite on which hikers frequently sun themselves to dry off.
Every year some foolhardy souls, lulled into complacency by the stillness of the pools at the top attempt to cool off in the swift moving water (which is not that noticeable), are caught in the current and swept to their demise over the falls to the rocks below, their bodies not recovered until many miles downstream.
Unfortunately, my long layoff due to the knee injury and the fact that I’m no longer a spry youngster made this one of the longer hardest hikes I’ve done in a long while. Much of the trail is composed of granite steps, all uneven and some with large heights to traverse. We arrived at the top and took a break to eat the sandwiches we’d brought along, and all agreed that due to the treacherous and uneven steps, there was no way we wanted to go back the way we came up.
So, we opted to walk back on the Muir Trail, which involved ascending a mile or more up vertical switchbacks to meet up with that trail before beginning the more gradual, but still steep 3-mile return to the valley floor. Of course, in true Mann Family fashion (no, Jenny Manetta did not have a hand in this one), we’d totally underestimated the time and distance involved and the need for water, bringing only three bottles between the two of us (Joanna and I) when we could have used double that.
When we reached Happy Isles, so glad to be on flat ground, we refilled our bottles at the lone fountain (along with twenty others waiting in line) and drained them in one long swig. Back at the tents, Joanna and Kim walked to the Curry pizza joint to join the others, who’d been waiting quite some time for our return. I, too tired to walk anymore, opted to stay at the tent where I promptly drained a 20-ounce Coke Zero (at that moment, an elixir and honestly one of the best liquids I’ve ever consumed, at least right then) and afterwards icing my knee, began the process of serious re-hydration by systematically eliminating a number of the cold beers in our cooler.
Fortunately, before I’d killed all of the beers, the group returned with an abundance of left over pizza. I felt like royalty with loyal citizens attending to my needs. As many of you know this group, that is far from the truth, but the food helped me regain a sense of being human again, not some lump of worn out protoplasm.
Later, we all attempted one more time to take the shuttle over to Yosemite Village, thinking we’d outwit the masses by walking back down to Happy Isles. Fat chance. After a longish wait, Jessica, Kris and I bailed and as we began our walk back to camp saw three shuttles pass us by, at least finally offering the others that shuttle ride we’d been seeking all weekend.
The following morning, we broke camp early, so to speak, heading over to the food court at Curry to get our Peet’s fix (they have pretty robust operation there), and then bade farewell to Kim and Marty as they were heading back to Henderson by taking Highway 120 over Tioga Pass, then down US 95 to home.
The rest of us drove over to the Village, parked and checked out the store, then walked up to the Deli for a cup of coffee and a snack, then a little further to the Ansel Adams Gallery, a must stop for us on any visit (we own a print of his off a negative). Finished browsing (I did buy some notecards) we went next door to the Visitor Center to check out the Yosemite Conservancy gift shop and Donor Wall, where we honored my Mother’s love of the park after her death in 1997 by raising enough funds to have her name listed on the Wall in perpetuity.
From there we made the drive home, arriving back in Oakland and fortuitously finding street parking to last us until the next morning at 10:00am. We relaxed a bit before heading down to Alameda for a much-anticipated return to a place prominently featured in this blog, Speisekammer.
James accompanied us and not long after we arrived at the restaurant, Lydia and Walter arrived, as would Carol and Jacques towards the end of the meal. As varied as the menu is here, given our love of specific German dishes we almost always order the same things and tonight would be no exception.
After a starter of the delicious Crispy Potato Pancakes served with Apple Compote along with a serving or two of the Grilled Petit Nürnberger Sausages and Sauerkraut, Joanna opted for an entrée of Geraucherte Forelle (Smoked Trout with Spinach Salad and Horseradish Sauce) while I invariably order the Jagerschnitzel vom Schwein (a Veal or Pork Cutlet in Mushroom Sauce with Spätzle).
As has been mentioned previously, the beauty of Speisekammer beyond their fantastic assortment of draft German beers and authentic atmosphere, is that most of the entrees can be ordered as a half portion, the perfect amount of food for us, particularly given the potato pancakes and sausages we wolfed down at the start of the meal.
Another bonus is that it had been ages since we last met up with Carol and Jacques, and likely a year for Lydia and Walter (they came to the wedding last August) so catching up was a joy. We’ll be returning to the bay area at Christmas and hope to spend even more time with them then. We settled up our tab and said our farewells outside, each heading to their respective domiciles.
The next day, our last in Oakland would be one of errands as we prepared for the next couple of months of travel. Our first stop was at REI to pick up a new lantern for the tent, a Nite Ize Radiant 300 Rechargeable Lantern, as the older Coleman non-LED rechargeable was too bulky for the dismal amount of light it put out. As we came to use the new light later in the trip we were amazed at its brightness along with adjustable settings, enabling you to maintain battery life if you so choose.
We also stopped at BevMo to pick up a case of scotch for Tom/Heir Angst (who we would be seeing in a week) as California liquor prices are decidedly cheaper than buying from the state-run stores in Oregon. To finish up our stay, we stopped in at Gordo on Solano, a small Mexican restaurant just a store front wide that Lydia and Walter recommended in the past, as it is just a few blocks from their house.
Joanna got a carnitas soft taco and I, hoping to go light the chicken quesadilla. I had desired the corn version assuming it would be smaller (at half the price of the flour) but my order got confused and instead I got the full size one. Regardless, this is really good stuff, generous portions, savory meat and just the right proportion of additional ingredients.
And that would wrap up our time in Oakland with Jessica and Kris. Leaving this time would mean we wouldn’t get to see them until October when we all planned to meet in New Orleans to celebrate Jessica’s birthday. It was a low-key last evening closing out with more People of Earth. Which reminded Joanna and I that we were about to embark into alien territory, Oregon, Washington State, and Canada. What new lifeforms would we encounter along the way? Only time would tell.
Ansel Adams Gallery: http://anseladams.com/ansel-adams-gallery-in-yosemite/
Yosemite Conservancy: https://www.yosemiteconservancy.org/
Nite Ize Radiant 300 Rechargeable Lantern: https://www.rei.com/product/120586/nite-ize-radiant-300-rechargeable-lantern