Sept 3, 2012 — Happy Isles to Clouds Rest junction
Spent the morning driving around the valley with Lupita. I couldn’t help but include this picture of her eating ice cream. She sure loves it! We also stopped by Bridalveil Fall before she dropped me off, it was pretty much a mist.
It was a bit of a strange feeling being left alone, however many people were still around, my ride was leaving, the last tether. A feeling of freedom mixed with no turning back. Not that I even entertained second thoughts but usually when I go on a backpacking trip I leave and return to a car. If for some wild reason I was attacked by a bear and it ate all my food on the very day I began then trip (and there are some crafty bears in Yosemite let me tell you!), well there is a car waiting patiently at the trailhead, a means of driving back home if some disaster strikes. I guess it’s all mental. That’s when it finally sunk in. Lupita took my picture and was gone. Four weeks in the wilderness, months of planning, years of anticipation, it had now begun and it just hit me. Well there’s only one way to go I thought as I began my walk through the woods. Strangely enough there was a few minutes of no people, a brief moment I could record a quick video of myself beginning this memorable trip, well recording it without being embarrassed that other people were watching me that is.
The trail wound through thick forest cover and before long I was walking on asphalt. “Mount Whitney 211 miles, that would be quite a hike!” A man stopped to look at the big wooden sign with all of the trail distances with his wife. “That’s what I’m doing!” I thought to myself as I kept walking through the throngs of people, most of whom were not carrying anything more than small daypacks. There were definitely other people starting the JMT today, everyday I was sure, but they probably would have all started early in the morning. I was hanging out with Lupita but otherwise it makes sense to start early, if only to beat the midday heat, it was in the 80s sunny and I was sweating.
After about a mile, 400 feet of elevation gain and weaving through the crowds of people I came to the base of vernal falls and “restrooms and treated water, the last till Tuolumne” as my guidebook described it. There were people crowded around the two sinks like a hotdog stand at an amusement park. I waited and filled up my water bladder. I have a waterfilter but I figured if there was treated water I might as well fill up here. At least enough water to last a couple hours.
The ground squirrels hanging out here were plump, on human junk food no doubt. Always with a quick eye to snatch up a dropped piece of cliff bar or other morsel left intentionally or otherwise. I can see the draw of feeding them, they just look so cute, sitting on their haunches, tiny furry paws carefully grasping a piece of candy bar as they quickly chew it, turning it around, tiny teeth and whiskers feverishly working away at it, little nose sniffing around, moving quickly up and down. Stuffing it in their face as their cheeks expand, tail flicking up and down How can one resist!
After just 10 minutes I was alone. The trail split up, Mist Trail to Vernal Falls went left and the John Muir Trail went right. One minute I was surrounded by people and the next I was by myself. It was kind of nice actually. The trail kept climbing higher and the switchbacks started, people passed me but everyone was headed down, probably from half dome I guessed.
The tree cover was spotty and I was afforded higher and higher views of Yosemite Valley, climbing out. I stopped for a break at one point, almonds were the current snack of choice. I was feeling really good, so happy to be on the trail. I was a little nervous about going up half dome, Lupita told me when she went up it took her an hour to build up the courage. I had looked online to try and get an idea of what it was like, but it’s so hard to get a real idea from photos and videos. I even watched a video of a guys POV camera going up without stopping, on the outside of the cables no less. People were hanging on to the cables for dear life. I don’t think that really helped with my morale at all. What was I in for? Suddenly with a loud squawk and a swoosh a big Stellar’s Jay appeared from out of nowhere and snatched up an almond I accidentally dropped not 3 minutes earlier, right next to my foot. He caught me by suprise! How in the world did he see that?! It came so close too! I pulled out my camera and did a short video of it. His distinct squawking followed me along the trail for the next 20 minutes “I gotta be more careful with my food” I thought, some crafty buggers around here.
It wasn’t long before I got a view of a massive monolith of granite from between the trees. It looked like half dome. “This is Mount Broderick” I began to narrate a short video as I pointed the camera through the trees “It’s beeeaauuutiful! Exposed, polished granite. Kinda reminds me of half dome” Turns out there was good reason for that. It was half dome! As I found out about an hour later, overhearing a guide on horseback. No wonder it looked so much like half dome, I laughed to myself.
Reaching Clark point I got a prime view of Nevada Falls with 3 granite monoliths rising out of the valley like sentinels of the waterfall. Half Dome, Mt Broderick and Liberty Cap. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture until later on, almost to the top of Nevada Falls so they don’t stand out as much, but you can see it in the video…coming soon!
It was so refreshing taking off my shoes and wading into the frigid pool above NevadaFall. It was surrounded by some nice slabs of granite and seemed to be quite the popular spot. Lupita had mentioned that she saw fish when she was here a few years ago, sure enough, there were fish. I wished I could have hung out for longer, maybe throw some shorts on or do a little fishing, but I had to get to camp so I didn’t tarry.
The trail sign just passed the water fall indicated there was 215 miles until Mount Whitney, wait a minute, it was only 211 at the start of the trail…at this rate by the end of the day I would be even further from the end point than when I started! That’s not how you hike a trail.
I had a bit over 3 miles to go until I set up camp. I was going to get up very early the next day to go up half dome. I wanted to beat the crowds. I decided however to camp at the trail junction a half mile past the junction with half dome, there was supposed to be some good camp spots and and water, but nobody had warned me about the bear!
I was pretty wiped out by the time I arrived at camp that night. Not sure if it was the altitude or the bland taste but I was barely able to finish my dinner. I had to choke down the last few bites between fits of uncontrolled gagging induced with each new spoonful. It was about 9:30 pm, just as I was about ready to go to sleep when I heard it, a noise I was dreading slightly and one I would have been totally fine with not hearing the entire trip. “Hey! Get Outta here!” frenzied shouts and the banging of pans. It could only mean one thing…there was a bear in camp!
I have seen a bear once before this while I was backpacking a few years ago with my friend Nicholai in the San Gabriel mountains. The bear we had seen then however more or less ignored us, was relatively small and was in the light of the day. There is something about a 3–400 pound bear roaming around outside your tent at night that I find slightly unsettling, no matter how many people say “They are more afraid of you”. Tell that to the guy camped a hundred yards from me who got his backpack swiped from right next to his head while he was trying to sleep! I’ve seen photos of car doors crumpled like tin foil by a bear who smelled food inside. Oh and don’t even think about running, black bears have been clocked at 30mph.
It wasn’t ten minutes before I saw two eyes starring at me in the meadow, heading toward my tent. After I heard the shouts I decided to stand watch for a while. I was pretty sure the bear would be making his rounds, boy was I right. “Hey! Get outta here” I shouted as loud as I could and knocked my trekking poles together repeatedly. I was in for a sleepless night. That’s the last thing I needed after my first day on the trail!
I got back in my tent and into my sleeping bag, but before long…clang clang clang “Hey! Get outta here!” clang, clang. The bear seemed to be particularly fond of the the guys camped up on the ridge. Then it went quite. All of my food was safely inside my bear canister, a clear blue plastic barrel 8 inches in diameter and about a foot tall that is supposed to have been tested on bears. It’s essentially “bear proof” but I don’t want to put it to the test. I put my 2 small pots on top of it so if a bear knocks it over the clanging noise might wake me. I was almost drifting off to sleep when I heard the pots fall. My blood ran cold, the idea of a huge animal right outside my tent, only a thin nylon barrier between the two of us, it was terrifying. I jumped out of my sleeping bag, unzipped the fly and pointed my headlamp into the night. There he was, a massive (to me) black bear, probably 3 feet high at the shoulder, 5 feet long, gnawing at my bear canister. He glanced up at me, almost annoyed when I started shouting and banging my hiking poles together. Starring at me for a few seconds he then slowly turned around and meandered off back into the dark, perhaps he would have better luck at the next tent. I stood there for a few minutes, shaking. I hadn’t realized it before but I was shaking, my adrenaline was pumped up and my heart was racing. Like clockwork, ten minutes later the shouting and banging resumed. The bear had returned to the guys camped on the hill above. Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep that night. Every gust of wind and pine needle falling on my tent was a bear and made me tense up anticipating the dreaded noise of my pots falling over again or worse a big hairy beast ripping apart my tent looking for some almonds I forgot in my backpack, no longer afraid of humans after one too many encounters.
It wasn’t just the shouts from the other campers that kept me up. It did at first and for some reason the bear seemed to like the campsite up on the ridge, I heard them shouting the most. After 30 minutes or so the shouting died down and I heard a strange noise, a loud whacking sound, like someone throwing a rock or something hard at another rock, maybe at the bear I thought. However it went on for about 2 hours. There is no way someone would be throwing rocks at a bear for that long, at least not without also screaming at it and making more noise. It was kind of odd I thought. Over the next few days I would put the pieces together of what it was causing the noise and it sure surprised me!
I looked at my watch, it was past 1am. There was no way I’m getting up at 4am I thought. Maybe 6:00. I still wanted to get to Half Dome before the crowds arrived.