As reported in the last post, a couple of years would pass before we would return to Yosemite, but once we started again our visits would become a habit, a good one to have. In 1985 Rendy and I would backpack from Tuolumne Meadows to the Valley floor, hiking the 27 miles in four days, spending three nights in the back country. I’d get really bad blisters on the heels of both feet, making the experience pretty miserable, but still worthwhile.
A couple of months later, the week before Labor Day, Joanna and I would repeat the journey; by switched out footwear to a pair of Adidas Top Ten high top basketball shoes, when laced up tight they handled the miles with ease. We locked up our 1984 Rabbit Convertible (picked up in Germany the year before, yet another trip to Europe) and left it a bit concerned as one or more cars in the lot displayed signs of bear activity, evidenced by doors ripped open.
The first night starts out at roughly 8,600 and climbs up to around 10,000 feet (we’ll eventually descend about 4,000 feet to the valley floor) and the hiking that day took us through alpine meadows and boulder strewn patches of forest. In the days before the invention of bear proof canisters, we did a commendable job each night of hanging our food from trees to protect it from hungry critters.
On our second day of hiking, we stopped for a while on a broad, smooth bank of granite beside the Merced River to take a dip and wash the dust off of our bodies. It was cold in a refreshing way and provided a much-needed break in the routine of hiking mile after mile with weighted packs.
On the third day we pitched camp early in a site that had been used many times before (a rule in the backcountry is to try to always use previously camped in spots so as to minimize your impact) near the base of Half Dome, our destination for the day. We hiked up the trail to the base of the dome where we sat for a while staring at the ascent to the top, parallel stanchions planted in the granite with a two by four between each and a metal cable laced through eyelets at the top of each stanchion, a cross between steps and a ladder.
For some time, I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to attempt the ascent until an elderly couple, late 60’s early 70’s arrived and announced they were celebrating their anniversary by once again climbing to the top. Nothing like a little shame to provide the necessary motivation so we grabbed a pair of gloves each from a pile left at the bottom and gradually make our way to the top of the dome.
It is hard to describe the feeling of managing the cables as you are perched on the side of a big granite wall. Your reward though is magnificent as you stand on top of the surprisingly large dome field (at least a couple of football fields with a 360-degree view of the valley and surrounding countryside, one we would see again a few years later, but that is for another post. We descended the same way we came up, basically sliding butt first all the way down and returned to our campsite. We were now one fairly short day of hiking from the valley, but had enough food left for two days leading us to ponder whether we might backtrack to Tioga Road over Cloud’s Rest and hitchhike back to the car.
We went to bed that night not having made a decision, which would soon get made for us as our strategically hung food turned out to be a tedious, but ultimately rewarding exercise for a medium sized bear who subsequently ate all of our provisions, including the toothpaste. It’s disturbing and a little frightening to be out in the middle of nowhere without any help nearby as you wait for the bear to finish its work. But sleep eventually came and we arose the next morning a little tired and a lot hungry to break camp in order to make a hurried six-mile descent to the valley where we could find food. We camped a couple of nights more in the walk-in campground behind North Pines Campground, enjoying hot showers and food we didn’t have to cook.
Our next visit was in 1991 when Jessica was three years old, too young for us to do much activity wise, but a visit made memorable by our ability to share it with her.
We returned in late December of 1996 after visiting friends in Plymouth, Ca during a rainy winter, one that caused flooding at the lower elevations in towns like Sutter Hill and Amador City. We were driving in our 1987 Isuzu Trooper with 4-wheel drive, so weren’t too worried about getting stalled in the water, but it made for an exciting time.
We arrived in the valley with rain coming down as I recounted in the first post of this series, and eventually found warmth and comfort at the Best Western in Oakhurst. In the summer of that year, 1997, we’d visit with a more somber purpose, myself, Joanna, Jessica, brother Chuck, sister Bev, Jed and Dillon to scatter my Mom’s ashes (she passed away in July) at Happy Isles, one of her favorite spots in the valley. The daughter of an undertaker, she had stated she wanted no formal ceremony after her death, but feeling the need to honor her memory, we all felt that this would have been one way she would have appreciated.
We’ll wrap up our love of Yosemite in the next and last post of this series. Now fully vaccinated and travel restrictions loosening, we will soon be back out on the road traveling to new and old destinations. We’ll see you then.