Yosemite – Why Do We Love It So? – Part Four

A year later starting in the summer, of 1998 we’d visit twice as we celebrated my graduation from grad school at Loyola Marymount University.  We camped with Irene, Ric, Debra and others at a campground just off Tioga Road over the 4th of July weekend.  We’d L.A. late in the day and it being pre-cell phones and not knowing exactly where the group was camped, we ((Joanna, Jessica, niece Kristen and myself) elected to spend the night in Bakersfield before continuing on.  We picked a motel at random and when we woke up the next morning, realized we were in a sketchy part of town.  As nothing happened perhaps St. Christopher was keeping watch over us?

Kristen and Jessica in 1998

The next day we found the group and set up camp in a site that was likely well beyond approved capacity.  But it worked out for us anyway.  Some of the group attempted to hike to the top of Half Dome, getting most of the way there before having to turn around.  It was an interesting time for me, having just finished a big goal and adjusting to the extra time I now had minus the stress that comes from constant study and testing.

Venal Falls from Above – 1998

To compensate, I’d fill up the rest of the year with a boatload of travel, including our return to Yosemite with Irene in the fall, headquartered at the Best Western in Oakhurst, for another assault on Half Dome.  Joining us would be our friend Norm, who met us in the Curry Village parking lot to start the trek.  It was a very hard day, hiking a total of 18-plus miles round trip with an elevation gain of 4,800 feet.  Starting the morning at 5 am at Oakhurst would also mean that by the time we got to the top, the change in elevation would make it hard for our bodies to get enough oxygen. 

We met Norm and his wife Colleen (who would just hike to the Vernal Falls bridge), likely around 7am and hiked the ¾ miles to the John Muir Trailhead (this distance at the end of the day would be longest mile of my life).  We kept up a constant pace as all of us were in good shape at the time and although we were moving quickly, found ourselves in the early afternoon not yet ascending the cables, a worrisome prospect as we wondered if we’d have enough time to return to the cars before it got dark.

It was quite congested there (the Park Service would later implement a permit system to eliminate the dangerous crowding) and we took our place in line and began the ascent, made longer as people would freeze in place from fright or exhaustion and hold up the line.  We eventually gained the summit and as our happy smiles attest, there is no feeling in the world like it.

Norm, Jerry, and Irene At the Top Half Dome

Gravity was on our side on the return, and we made it to Happy Isles as dusk was settling, I hit the market at Curry Village for some beers waiting for the rest of the party to gather.  By the time we were ready to leave Norm had not made it back so I hid two cold beers under his car with a note.  I’m hoping after all this time he appreciated those cold ones as much as I did.  The drive back to Oakhurst was brutal, one which requires concentration on a curvy two-lane road when they are dead tired, but as this post proves, we made it back and later, after a very good dinner of Mexican food and margaritas, all was right with the world. 

The Valley Below Us From Half Dome

A year later we’d find ourselves on a bus with Irene as part of a Sierra Club sponsored backpacking trip to the North Rim of the Valley.  If I recall, we spent a couple of nights in the backcountry, spending one of them near Yosemite Creek which feeds Yosemite Falls. 

Joanna, Jerry, and Irene North Dome Backpack 1999

Nothing out of the ordinary would occur on this venture, no epic assaults of domes, no hungry bears and yet it is one of those rewarding memories one carries with them, of a younger self able to carry weight and hike distances.  Those days are far behind me now, but the knowledge of them is a satisfying reassurance of a life fully lived. 

We would make five more trips in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006, four of them camping at Upper Pines Campground along with Jessica’s good friend Chelsea.  At that time, a friend of family had worked out a system for nabbing those ever-elusive campsites and we just tagged along.  It would be the last time we’d camp in the valley, a tradition sorely missed. 

For the fifth one, in 2003 we stayed in Housekeeping Camp with Francois and his kids, Lisa and Axel.  It was a big trip for them, having taken them down to Ensenada to start, then up to the Bay Area, then Yosemite, Death Valley and finishing up in Las Vegas.  One sweet memory of the trip is that Lisa, just a teenager, called her Mom in France from the phone in her room at the Excalibur, generating a multi-hundred-dollar bill.  It took Francois almost all of his considerable persuasive powers to mitigate the charge, leaving a still substantial balance to settle. 

Jerry, Lisa, Joanna, Jessica, Francois and Axel in 2003

Several years would lapse before our return in November 2015, mostly due to our move to Charlotte and the distance in between.  This, and other subsequent visits, are covered more fully in this blog.  For this one, we spent three nights in between two weekends with Jessica and Kris in Oakland, lodging in the tent cabins at Curry Village.  This form of lodging provides scant protection against the cold, necessitating that we run the electric heater all night just to survive.  It was a good visit none-the-less, full of hiking and passable food provided by the departing concessionaire, Delaware North.

J and J at Yosemite Falls in 2015

In 2018 we embarked on a three-month road trip from Charlotte and along with other stops along the way, we arrived in Yosemite in June with Jessica and Kris where we met Kim and Marty, again lodging in the tent cabins, warm spring weather making sleeping a bit more pleasant.  Joanna, Kim, and I would hike the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls, always exciting and more so with a full river creating considerable moisture.  We’d enjoy a memorable meal at the Ahwahnee and much walking as the valley shuttle system was completely overwhelmed, leaving folks stranded at each stop for long periods of time as they waited for space on the bus. 

Our most recent visits, recounted in recent posts, in 2019 (Housekeeping Camp) and earlier this year (Yosemite Lodge in 2021) bring this story to a close.  As I count back, I come up with 22 trips to Yosemite, not including any of those with my parents when young and any I might have missed in counting.  The park has changed over the years, most impactful to me is that the intrusion of cell phone coverage and introduction of wi-fi hot spots in some locations reduces the feeling of isolation once used to enjoy. 

Many of my memories of Yosemite run together and yet, each evokes the same feeling, of that first glimpse of the valley from tunnel view, Bridalveil Falls on the right, Half Dome in the distance.  You’ll soon descend into what I’ve often referred to as Shangri-la, a peaceful world away from today’s noise and troubles.  Why don’t you join us the next time we go?  You won’t regret it. 

View from the Tunnel in 1983

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