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Thursday, March 18, 2010

My first visit to Yosemite National Park

On the second of January 2010, I entered Yosemite National Park. Over the past several days I have attempted to recount this first visit. Every summary I have written seems to fail in sharing how this place gripped my spirit in a very different way from other places I have been so fortunate to experience. While in the park, and just before slinking down into my warm mummy sack each night, I wrote the days events into a small journal with barely legible handwriting. This may be a big no-no in the writing world, but hey, I'm not really a writer, just playing pretend. I've decided to type my journal word for word, mistake for mistake. Hopefully, this experiment will share my emotional response I recorded at the time.CLICK HERE to see the photographs I made on this journey.

January 2, 2010
My eyes have finally set their focus on the breathtaking Yosemite Valley. A truly unbelievable place. I hope a week will be enough time for me to comprehend what stretches before my vision. Wow!
I took a train from San Francisco to Merced. Then the YARTS carried me the rest of the way to Curry Village. After buying some fuel and bagels, I made my way to the historic Camp 4. I should mention that I have company as well. He calls himself Nathan. While taking the train from PDX to San Fran., I shared a row with a woman and mother named Lori. After sharing my plans about Yosemite with her, she shared her son Nathan's, passions with me. He contacted me that very day (2 days before leaving for Yosemite) and made arrangements to enter the Valley for his first visit as well.
He is a good fella with an incredible passion for Muir's vision. Having a companion limits my ability to take in the Yosemite I have dreamed of for so many years. Because of this, I plan on keeping my pursuits separate from his.
After staging camp, I threw my camera over my shoulder and set out to explore the "Range of Light." I only had about an hour and a half to venture, keeping my plan simple. Head for the closest trail, which happened to be up to Lower Yosemite Falls. The light wasn't good for a photograph, but the display was still amazing. I continued up the trail hoping for a clear view of the last light shaping the tall peaks around me. The area I was in was heavily wooded, but I did find one fairly nice view of Half Dome. The dome was incredibly warm and inviting. I framed a shot with bare branches acting as a veil over the magnificent mountain giant. I stretched my limbs well past sunset enjoying my new friend, Yosemite.

January 3, 2010
If I only had a single day in Yosemite, today would have been how I would choose to experience it. This single day contained a lifetime worth of experiences in the wild. It started off before sunrise with a lesson in John Muir's "Range of Light." I witnessed the always forming rainbows on Yosemite Falls and the ice which forms every night on either side of the falls. These elements host an impressive show each day when the sun's rays melt huge slabs into the abyss below. Then, I wandered back to camp for breakfast and a quick break before tackling the saunter up to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. An amazing journey carried along in true Muir fashion. Once above, and after enjoying a lunch, I decided to explore a bit. The exploration, unknowingly, took me to the summit of Yosemite Point. Incredible views of the valley from here. Several feet of snow covered this area making my progress slow and with the dignity of a frontiersman.
I made my rapid descent back to camp by 3:30pm. Just enough time to grab some water and head to the Leidwig Meadow to photograph Half Dome at sunset. After the sun went down, I headed over to the village to find firewood and then back to camp for a small, embracing, and hot fire. Spicy noodles for dinner, tea for refreshment, and chocolate for dessert. I should sleep well tonight, and dream of tomorrow's adventures.

January 4, 2010
A completely unplanned yet fully adventurous day. Today, I wandered freely and allowed nothing to dictate my existence. It all started with the thrill of seeing a new area for sunrise. I took the shuttle to Happy Isles where the bus driver gave me some invaluable advice and dropped me right at the John Muir Trail TH. Wow! Finally standing at the beginning of the JMT. I started up to the gated Vernal Falls trail. After ignoring the gate and carefully navigated my way over incredibly slick ice and snow to the top of Vernal Falls, I realized why they had this trail closed. But, it was worth every precarious step. You are granted permission to stare directly down into the pool at the bottom of Vernal. Not planning on such an adventure this morning, all I carried for nourishment was an apple and a 1/2 liter of water. I ate my lonely apple beside the emerald pool until two young adults approached me hoping for advice on how to get down to the valley. They decided to ignore the closed gate as well, however they didn't have proper footwear, survival gear, or a map of the area. Quite brave and foolish (thinking about those two kids now, I admire their adventurous spirit in a world gone too soft). I decided to help them route find, but left them to go about their journey alone. After making a few more photos and enjoying the falls and Emerald Pool, I made a plan to speed ahead towards this young couple and insure their safe return. I caught up with them quickly and discussed the necessity to respect wild nature by staying safe and prepared. They listened almost too well and followed close. It makes me smile knowing that they adventured carelessly, seeking rapture, and listened to criticism well. I left them once the trail freed from the treacherous ice and the route finding became straight forward.
My next move was to wander aimlessly towards camp still several miles away on the opposite side of the valley. My walk slowed to a turtle's pace with many trees covered in various moss and lichen to study and photograph. I found paths hardly traveled that wandered near creeks and through thick wood. Once near Curry Village, I caught a glimpse of a coyote being chased from an open carcass by a swarm of Ravens. The coyote gave no fight, and gracefully left the meadow, however defeated. I was lucky and able to snap several frames off before he left from my sight. After a short side exploration along the Merced, I made it back into Yosemite Village around 3. With very little food and water all day, my spirits rose sharply when I came upon Degmans Deli. Chicken noodle soup, meat sandwich, and a delicious chocolate chip cookie along with several cups of water and tea, replenished my strength. They also had a cozy fireplace to dry my feet and boots.
It is hard to think about leaving Yosemite, however I am beginning to miss Gina and Duke. I have 3 more days amongst these giants and plan on embracing them all.

January 5, 2010
Another wonderful Yosemite day. However, a slightly different pace. A much slower one indeed. I slept in an extra hour and leisurely made my simple breakfast. Then I packed a days worth of rations and strolled along the trail just behind camp. What beautiful forests Yosemite has. Gnarly oaks growing with and around mammoth boulders, granite boulders as old as the glaciers that carried them to their resting grounds. About 3 hours and 1 mile later, I noticed how incredibly sharp my senses were and clear my mind had become. When looking up at Yosemite Falls, which I did for some time, I could single out each gallon of water making its way from the top of the falls all they way down the face and into the pool below. To be able to see with such clarity always? I can only imagine all of the beautiful and amazing things I miss each day.
I continued my slow pace through the village and into the meadow just beyond, where I found a nice patch of needles beneath a Giant Sequoia that was dry and quite comfortable. The snow all around my little dry bed made me feel warm and secluded. As I ate lunch, a hawk perched high above on a nearby tree like the star that rests on a Christmas Tree. He looked over the valley for the better part of an hour and maybe more. I then sauntered past Happy Isles out to Mirror Lake. Half Dome looked impressive and inviting from such a close perspective. I photographed reflections and ice on the water until the light disappeared with the sun.
Several miles through the night air on my way back to camp are ahead of me. A fellow photographer, and his family I presume, accompanied me for the first mile and a half with pleasant conversation. They lived just down the road from the park and made frequent day trips here. After our separation, I headed past Curry Village and snapped a few twilight photos of Half Dome. The path back to the village was as black as night can get. A bit unsure what animal friends I may stumble upon without any light, I sang and hummed back to camp. A slow and clear day.

January 6, 2010
Today I ventured West towards El Capitan. What an amazing display of granite. Each, amazingly defined, feature strikes a different cord. I thought, "Would I ever be on the face of this intimidating and powerful mountain in my life?" Now, I would guess not, but lives and dreams are ever-changing. Maybe someday. I also became acquainted with, and photographed, Sentinel Rock. As you head West the pillar formation of Sentinel becomes more clearly known. Beautiful and pronounced. After making several photos and getting to know my new mountain friends, I thought about water and decided to head even further West on foot along the Merced. Bridalveil Falls was the draw. I didn't know this until I arrived. Quite impressive, some 600 feet from the top. The top rim has a beautiful bowl shape and the water dances elegantly from the low point. Only minutes after my arrival, the usually completely shadowed fall received just a kiss of light near her center. Again, truly the "Range of Light." After enjoying the spectacle, I returned East towards the El Cap Meadow hoping to catch the sunset. My hopes were to make several emotionally charged photographs of this area. On my way, I met two new Raven friends. They seemed to care little of my close presence. In fact, They kept moving closer, eventually to within 3 feet or so. I made many pictures of these curious fellas. Eventually they had enough of my camera trickery, and took flight just over my head. What a rush. I could feel the full energy from their wings. By the time I fired off a few frames and cleared my eyes of the camera, they were gone.
The sunset on El Cap was mediocre, from a photography view, but not from the human view. The sky was clear and the light was warm, however about 40 minutes before the actual setting of the sun, all went overcast and flat. I kicked back and waited. Then waited some more, hoping for the clouds to part and release a trickle of warm light dancing across El Cap's nose. At 5:05pm, I decided to pack up and start my stroll back to camp. But just then, the show began. No fee could ever purchase such a show. The sun released a fire across El Cap that would ignite LA and burn it to the ground, but not the mighty Yosem. Valley, for it thrives in such intensity. This is one of the few times I have scene an amazing light show turn completely off, wait most of an hour, and then re-ignite with more intensity than you could have ever imagined. I sang and hummed all the way back to camp. Can't wait to see what my last day in the Valley will bring.

January 7, 2010
Couldn't have asked for a better day to end my first visit to Yosemite National Park. I am incredibly honored and privileged to have this wonderful opportunity to explore one of the world's greatest natural wonders, therefore it seems disrespectful being excited to leave and get back to the company and love of my family. However, if my family were to be here with me, I could explore Yosemite for the rest of my life and be content.
Last night, I met a fellow wilderness explorer who called himself Brandon. I enjoyed his company and conversation while the 3 of us, Brandon, Nathan, and myself, took in the comforts a campfire can only offer. We all share a rapture for the natural world that goes way beyond the REI catalog image. I guess I should have half expected to meet kindred spirits considering my first trip to Yosemite is at a campground and in the winter.
I'm sitting on the train while writing this, heading North. All I can think about is the Yosemite I'm leaving. I broke camp early and made my way to Curry Village and the showers. My first shower all week, and it was absolutely necessary. I stored my baggage in one of the park supplied bear boxes and took only my camera for the day. It was another slow engaging day after hoofing all 90 lbs of my gear 3 miles to Curry Village. I ate a hearty lunch at Degman's Deli in the Village, then meandered through the Cooks Meadow over to the Tranquil Merced River. After 30 minutes or so of heading down stream, I found a soft, dry patch of earth to lie down on and enjoy the Upper Yosemite Falls, and after a short while, nap. I had removed my shoes and socks in hopes of drying them for my long train ride commencing in a few hours. A cool breeze on the bottom of my feet woke me to the sun hiding behind clouds. I remained on my back for awhile longer watching the soft light change on the North Face of the Valley. I couldn't watch too long however, the bus was to retrieve me at 5:40 pm. Just enough time to experience another Sierra sunset before my first leave. I made my way towards Sentinel Bridge, where the famous photograph Ansel Adams took of Half Dome reflecting in the Merced River was made. It is truly a great view and I couldn't resist setting up my camera in hopes of making my own Half Dome reflection. I should have known it wouldn't last long. Soon, crowds and crowds of sheep, just like me, gathered around in hopes of creating their own Ansel Adams masterpiece. The feeling of suffocation and disconnection overwhelmed me. Before the light disappeared, I grabbed my equipment and left the herd behind in a full sprint down the Merced in hopes of beating the setting sun. I found a nice secluded spot along the river to make my last photograph of the trip. Of course, the best shot involved setting my tripod up in the middle of the Merced River, requiring my self to enter the frigid water as well. I think my reasoning was more for the experience of feeling the river run over my bare feet more so than to make a better image. But whatever reason, it was a blast.
After my feet became numb and the light faded to a dull blue, I spoke to Yosemite and the Sierra in the most grateful manner I knew how. I'm hoping Yosemite will accept me back many more times, as I may enjoy her majesty.
I had to run the mile and a half to catch my bus, and did so with just enough time to collect my gear. The ride out was made quite pleasant due to the good and much welcoming nature of the driver named Dylan. His father was accompanying him on the ride to see how his son makes his living. I hope to meet Dylan again. I would enjoy sharing stories with him. I'm getting far enough away now to change my excitement and energy towards my soon to be wife, loyal pup, and inviting home. I'll live well, and return to the Sierra again. Thank You Yosemite......

CLICK HERE to see the photographs I made on this journey.

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