Going hiking in Yosemite is one of the easiest things you can do. Trails are well marked. There are tons of people, so you’re never really alone. It is, however, so much more fun to hike a trail with someone who can make you laugh, or at least knows how to laugh at himself.
So it was with my favorite spur-of-the-moment, just-get-here-so-we-can-go-friend, Art. He is a former co-worker, but a longtime friend. When I discovered that he has always wanted to see parts of Yosemite that most of us take for granted, I thought, this is perfect. You see, Art is no stranger to camping and being in the woods. He supervised fire crews comprised of youthful offenders during part of his career as a correctional officer. He has proudly reiterated that he “stood on this very road” with a fire burning on both sides. What he hadn’t had time to do was to see the other side of Yosemite, the side that tourists and day hikers see routinely. Needless to say, hiking the Mist Trail was on his bucket list.
The day started as usual, well, except for all the things that can go wrong. I got up early, so early I’m pretty sure I cursed him for wanting to go in the first place. Day hikes in Yosemite, starting in Sacramento can make for a very long day. I made it to his house a little late, about 4 minutes after the opening and closing of the window I promised.
After poking fun at me, he showed me the progress he is making on a painting and we were off. Closer to the park, he toured a membership only campsite that he thought would be great to camp in for overnight trips to the park. It would be easier to acclimate to the elevation, and it’s relatively close to the park than the quite expensive hotels in the area. Then we searched for and found the gas station cafe that serves lobster taquitos, just in case we came out that way later.
Eventually, we made it to breakfast and into a grocery store to get sandwiches (pickles, tomatoes, and lettuce on the side, so as to avoid a soggy sandwich… LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR SOGGY SANDWICHES!
On into the park! Thrilled that I actually remembered my NPS pass I plummeted to earth when I discovered I forgot my hiking boots. No problem, I’m sure the sporting goods store sells them. If not, I have an extra pair of running shoes in my bag.
“Hey, I brought my thingy [telescope] so we can see if we can see anyone on El Cap,” he announced unexpectedly. Uh, I looked at my watch, sure. We can look. I keep saying, as long as we can start the hike by 12 o’clock, we should be fine.
I have conquered this hike on at least 6 occasions prior, and well, its a little tough, but no big deal. Having hiked with Art before, I was sure it would be a snap for him as well. I was a little worried about time. I didn’t want to have to rush or come out in the dark.
We stopped in at the Sporting Goods store only to find that it is closed for the season. Wait, it’s not hiking season yet? Holy crap…. what else is closed? We eventually found a mountaineering school open and willing to do business. In what may be a record for me, I bought a pair of boots in about 15 minutes. On to the trail!
We get the best parking ever, right at the beginning of a small trail about one mile away from the actual trailhead. I unplug my phone, grab all my gear, adjust my sticks, and off we went. I cautioned Art, remember we have to take this little trail to the left when we come out because otherwise, we will have to walk pretty far to find the car. At the end of the day, we will hate all this extra walking. “Sure,” he said. And I believed him.
I reminded him, it’s a little steep in the beginning, but the only really strenuous part is near Vernal Falls, the steps can be wet, and there are a few of them. As we started through the Boulder Garden I made fun of my cousin’s reaction to the elevation when I took her and her daughter there last year. Then it happened.
“I need to rest just a little, OK?” he said. Mind you we were only about a tenth of a mile from the start of the trail. I slowed and said, sure, just breath deep so you can get more air into your lungs. It’s the elevation. He leaned against a rock and made small talk with people as they passed us. I looked at my watch. This process was repeated over and again.
By the time we made it to the first bridge, I started saying things like, “You know, we don’t have to go all the way to Nevada Falls. We can stop at the top of this one.” Then I noticed that the bathroom was closed… for the season. That meant that the bathrooms along this trail would be closed all the way to the top and with that, my sense of adequate potty privacy was no longer.
Art refused to consider cutting our hike short, after all, we failed to summit Mt. Diablo when a wrong turn on a trail less traveled burned our daylight, and now we have to try again, or face it on our bucket list forevermore.
As we continued our slow upward trek, I hear, “ACK!” What the heck? Are you ok? Sounds like you have a hairball!
“I can’t drink water because I end up having to spit it back out. But I’ll be fine. Let’s keep going.”
So it went.
“I need to rest.”
“Ok, when you get to his rock you can rest. Drink water.”
“Count your steps. Do 25 and you can rest.”
Finally, at the top, we took pictures, talked to younger people who were bouncing off boulders like they hadn’t just climbed a mountain. Our need to document our success finally satiated, we prepared to head back.
I wanted to go down a different route in an effort to avoid the steps going down, and thus save my knees. We headed to the south of the falls, followed by another hiker, only to find that the trail was closed due to the danger of rock slide. NOOOOOOooooooo!!!
The woman with me was equally disappointed, and we headed down the way we came. Art said, “going down is easy.”
I rolled my eyes and said, ” I hate downs.” Sure enough, the sun started to set. Now it wasn’t late, but with the mountains in the way, we were already hiking in a shadow. I hurried him as much as I could without nagging.
Billy goats we are not, and the last remaining hikers on the mountain quickly passed us and we had the realization we were alone, in the dark, and still had a way to go.
I pulled out a headlamp and grew annoyed when I discovered that the batteries were weak at best and would soon be out. I kept talking hoping that any animals would avoid us rather than risk a chance encounter.
Art talked too. “That rock looks like a skull,” he said.
We rounded the last little bend before getting to the end of the paved trail when I noticed a man slumped over, perhaps resting his elbows on his knees. I whispered, “who’s that?” It turns out that it was no man at all. It was an abandoned motorized wheelchair. We walked up to it and looked around into the murky shadows around us. There appeared to be a thermos or coffee cup on a nearby rock. We looked around some more. No one could be seen or heard.
I decided that we couldn’t help someone in the dark with no equipment or light and we should go down and report what we found. We walked on, more briskly, and with a little more tension in the air.
As we made it to the bridge, and onto the main road, we hear someone running up behind us. Art, held his sticks like a side-handled baton, and in a move reminiscent of a Kung Fu Panda move, he swung around only to scare the life out of a trail runner who apparently didn’t make it out on time either. The poor man was terrified at the site of another man taking a swing at him in the dark. Luckily, Art restrained himself and no one was hurt. The look on the man’s face was hilarious, but I didn’t laugh. Instead, I asked if he saw the wheelchair. He gave me a puzzled look and indicated he did not speak English. He turned to run and I laughed as he waved goodbye.
We kept walking and eventually met two young Asian men who requested we look at a picture of a third, missing friend. They asked if we had seen him. We said no and advised them not to search for themselves, but to find a ranger instead. We asked them about the abandoned wheelchair and they indicated that a rescue team and ambulance had been dispatched earlier, perhaps to assist the wheelchair’s occupant. Both pairs of friends finding relief in the information the other pair provided went their own ways.
We passed the part of the trail we were supposed to follow in order to find our car, and we chose not to take it. We followed the road despite knowing it would add to our walk, secure in the notion that there were likely no bears on that road, and that we would eventually find the car.
Its about 8 PM and I know that we have one hour to make it to my favorite burger joint before it closes.
Yeah, that didn’t work out either. But we had a wonderful day filled with adventure, laughter, drama, spooky stuff, and the knowledge that next time we need to be on that trail much earlier.
As we drove home, Art said, “You can shave my legs, put me in a dress and call me a little girl. I lost my pride up there.”
I beg to differ, Art. Despite all the challenges, you did it.