3. A JUNE JAUNT IN THE YOSEMITE

[NOTE: This is an essay I wrote around 1957, describing my first backpacking trip in Yosemite. I think I was planning to write a book to eventually go on the shelf next to John Muir’s volumes, so the descriptions are a bit larger than life. Hey, I was only 16                                     years old at the time.]

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    When the summer of 1956 rolled around, I was eager to follow up my one-day hike in Kings Canyon with something bigger. Therefore, when my friend Charlie told me of a Sierra Club trip to Little Yosemite Valley, my rucksack and sleeping bag were ready in an instant.  We rode to Yosemite with some Sierra Clubbers, arriving in the Valley at about 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning in June.

   I had been in the Valley once several years before in August, when it was dry and dusty, with the falls barely running and with millions of people crowding the area. It was worth seeing, even in those conditions, but it was an unexpected pleasure to see the Valley as I saw it in the light of a rising sun.  I saw what John Muir, Joseph  LeConte, and others of Yosemite’s friends had seen - a world of booming falls, green waist-high grass, beautiful flowers and, most of all, a land of gigantic rock gods watching over the valley since the time of the great ice rivers. It was truly a wondrous and unforgettable scene.

  After a hearty breakfast, we drove down to the Happy Isles trail head to meet the rest of the “Clubbers.” Happy Isles certainly lived up to its name -  an exuberant bit of water, boiling and frothing around islets of friendly trees. 

   But the best was yet to come! Leaving almost everyone else behind, Charlie and I climbed past  Vernal Falls – maybe the nicest of the falls, both in shape and setting – and up to the top of Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail, walking in a living stream and becoming sopped from a “rain” that fell over us from the nearby falls.


    From the Top of Nevada Falls

Beyond Nevada Falls at the junction of the Merced Canyon Trail and the Half Dome Trail, we came to a stop. Which way had the leader said camp was to be? He’d said two miles above Nevada Falls, but which way, two miles above Nevada Falls? We decided in favor of the Half Dome Trail and trudged onward. We passed one  group of Sierra Clubbers who informed us that they were going to sit down and wait until someone came who knew where camp was. Charlie and I decided we’d push on a bit farther. Another mile. Still no camp. Finally we came to the junction of the Half Dome and Clouds Rest trails. After coming this far we decided to make the climb of the Dome that day instead of waiting for the morrow. Dropping our packs we pushed onward, up and up, until there were patches of late snow around us. Upward, until the people were visible climbing the Dome by the cable. Upwards till we had left the trees and snow plants behind, and finally we were on to the cable on the mountain itself. What a place! I can think of only a few Sierra views that are better than the Clark Range and Mt. Starr King from the cable – and that’s saying a lot, considering the many great views I have seen since.

   The climb up Half Dome is simply a matter of holding the cable and putting one foot in front of the other. It’s steep, but perfectly safe A huge welcoming party greeted us at the top, consisting of Sierra Clubbers and other hikers, several Rosy finches flitting from rock to rock, water from a melting snowbank and, best of all, the view north and east of the Dome to Hoffman, the Cathedral Range and straight down into Yosemite Valley. Awesome is the only word for it.

   It was getting late, and we still had no idea where our nighttime camp was to be, so we stayed only a short time on Half Dome. Back down the cable we went, out of the bare granite into the world of evergreen trees and snow plants and on to the trail junction and our packs.

   We had walked only a short way when we met several hikers coming up. “Have you seen the Sierra Club camp?” we asked. “Have we seen it? You can’t miss it. There are millions of people there!” And sure enough, just a ways below, we came to the campsite and enjoyed a steak dinner and a big campfire around which we sang songs for some time.

   Early the next morning, most of the Clubbers set off for the summit of Half Dome. Charlie and I decided to see some of the Merced Canyon. Making arrangements to meet our party at 3:30 at Happy Isles, we set off with the morning sun and the most blood-thirsty mosquitoes I had ever encountered. Yosemite does everything in superlatives, from mountain cliffs to mosquitoes!

   The Merced River was still so high from the record snows of the preceding winter that at times we thought we were wading in the river - in fact, we were! It wasn’t long before we left most of the damp forest and vicious mosquitoes behind and came into a country of groves of trees interspersed with meadows and granite boulders. Water simply poured from the surrounding cliffs and it wasn’t possible to walk more than five minutes without crossing some stream or streamlet.

   We sat down to eat a lunch of sardines, rye bread and nuts. On consulting our watches, we found it was 1:00 o’clock. One o’clock! We had to be in the Valley by 3:30 to catch our ride, and we had eleven miles to go! What speed we made - that is, until Charlie’s sole came off his boot. We secured it with friction tape, but a half mile later the sole was flapping free. Tape it again and walk another half-mile. More tape! But just one more time, and the tape was gone.

   Next we tried tying on the flapping sole with some cord from one of our packs. That worked pretty well until the smooth granite wore the cord until it broke. From then on, we continued with a flapping shoe sole. Had we come this far in the morning? Mile after mile after mile and finally there was the trail junction and a bit farther the top of Nevada Falls.

   What time is it? Edging 3:00! The Mist Trail is shorter, so what are we waiting for? Down, down, down through the forest, through the windblown mist of Vernal, down the last mile to Happy Isles. Fifteen minutes to 4:00. Maybe they left without us. What, they haven’t come yet!

   As the time  neared 4:30, in trudged the first of the Clubbers and in another twenty minutes we were eating minestrone by the banks of the raging Merced, the meal which ended our June jaunt in the Yosemite.

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[AFTERWORD, 2004 - Other than the grandiose language of some of my descriptions, I recall this as a pretty straight-forward, only lightly embellished account of the trip. One thing I left out  was our evening climb on Liberty Cap, near camp. Liberty Cap is a typical  Sierra granite dome, easy to scramble around on but very steep. At one point, I lost my footing and slid a long way - maybe 30 feet - and only saved myself from a much longer and possibly serious slide by grabbing onto a small tree growing out of a crack in the granite. I thought about this a lot after I took another dumb, un-roped (but not injurious) fall on Unicorn Peak a year later.

   I don’t have any photos of our climb up Half Dome or our walk the next day up Little Yosemite Valley. I’m not sure why, but I recall that on one trip in the mountains I didn’t get the film threaded correctly in the camera (remember putting film in cameras?). I snapped pictures all day with the film failing to advance. It might have been on that trip.]

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