Yosemite is Mecca for rock climbers, but this particular trip left me with mixed feelings.
I’ve been to Yosemite a bunch of times. I grew up going there with my family, and have gone back several times in the last few years to rock climb. The thing is, I’d never hiked to the top of Half Dome before. It was voted by Backpacker magazine as the best dayhike in the country, and is one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. I was by myself on this road trip, so I wouldn’t be doing any rock climbing in the Valley, so I figured I’d hike Half Dome.
I left Mt. Shasta the night after I climbed it, spent the night in Redding, and headed down to Yosemite early the next morning. Driving into Yosemite Valley is always something akin to a religious experience for me, and this time was no different. It’s without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in the world. I walked to the base of Bridalveil Fall. I spent some time walking along the Merced River. I chilled in El Capitan Meadow for a bit. It was nice, but the longer I stayed in the Valley, the more uneasy I became.
There were a lot of people there. Like… a lot. This got to me because I go into the mountains because I love the feeling of solitude I get when I’m there. Yosemite Valley is a city, not wilderness. The last couple times I’ve been to Yosemite, it was October. This was the end of August, right before Labor Day weekend, and there were just way, way, way, waaaay too many people there for my liking. Even a stunning place like Yosemite can become so much less appealing when it’s crowded.
I left the Valley thoroughly disheartened. I then headed to one of the smaller and lesser-known giant sequoia groves, called Merced Grove. That was great. You have to hike to this particular grove–you can’t drive there. The result is a much less crowded experience when compared to the more heavily-traveled (though spectacular) Mariposa Grove.
I camped that night at Crane Flat and woke up early the next morning for my Half Dome hike. I hiked the Mist Trail past Vernal and Nevada Falls, and it was early enough (I’d started at around 6) that there were few people. The hiking went by quickly, and I passed several parties. I made it to the top of Half Dome (7.1 miles one way and 4800′ vertical gain) in 3 hours.
I was amazed at just how hard the “cables” section of the route was. I mean, I’m a rock climber, so it wasn’t too strenuous or scary. But man, if I were a normal hiker or tourist, I’d be scared out of my gourd. It’s a lot steeper than I thought it would be. If you slip on the cables section, you could fall and die. It’s definitely extreme hiking.
I’d planned on spending a few days in Yosemite, but I had an epiphany on the summit. I’d been on the road for 3 weeks, and here I was on top of this magnificent piece of rock with a gobsmacking view. I realized that it couldn’t really get any better than this. This was the perfect literal and figurative high point to end my trip on. I was ready to go back home to Utah and move into my new apartment. I checked my watch and realized that I could get home that night. I ran down the trail, got back to my car, drove back to my campsite, took down my tent, and then drove the 10 or 11 hours or whatever it was back to Utah, arriving at 1:30 am.