Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Day 3: More day-hiking on the JMT

Once again, Amanda and I found ourselves waking up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 in the morning. For a vacation, we sure weren't getting much time for sleeping in!

I noticed that Karolina's tent was empty. She was gone! What happened to her? Did a clever bear drag her away during the night? No, she arrived several minutes later after having gone to the bathroom. In the dark, however, she had gotten lost in the campground and wandered around a bit before finding our camp.

Sunrise over Yosemite Valley.

The second question I had for Karolina--after asking what happened to her--was how her sleeping bag worked. I didn't have a thermometer to know exactly how cold it got during the night, but I didn't need a thermometer to know it got cold enough to give her new sleeping bag a good test. If it kept her warm during the night, it would keep her warm the rest of the trip. And she gave the bag a glowing two thumbs up saying she stayed warm all night. Excellent! There wouldn't be any emergency trips to an outfitters to find a warmer bag for her.

Karolina's main goal for the day was to see Yosemite Valley, which worked out well for me because I wanted to re-hike the first part of the John Muir Trail anyhow. Two days earlier, I had stayed true to the JMT and never even saw Vernal Falls--much to my surprise! So this time, I wanted to redo those first few miles and take the Mist Trail past Vernal Falls, then reconnect with the JMT at Clark Point. I really wanted Vernal Falls on Walking 4 Fun. At that point, we could just walk back down to the trailhead and do some other day hikes. I'd integrate today's walk from the trailhead to Clark Point via Mist Falls with my photos from Clark Point to Tuolumne Meadows from two days earlier.

Amanda, having already hiked to Vernal Falls two days earlier, chose to stay behind and meet us a few hours later after we finished the loop.

And the falls were absolutely breath-taking! At 317 feet (97 m) tall, it's the 860th tallest waterfall in the world according to Wikipedia. =) There's nothing I can say about the waterfall that photos can't show, although even the photos are a poor substitute for the actual falls.

Even as early in the day as we arrived, the top of the falls were already crowded with tons of people and some very aggressive squirrels. These squirrels knew what a backpack was, and if you set one day and turned your back for even a second, half a dozen of them would immediately pounce. Even if you didn't turn your back, a few would brazenly walk up and check out the pack.

Karolina and I chose not to set our packs down at all, but the squirrels were watching us. They never stopped watching for us to let our guard down.

Karolina was very excited to take her first steps on the John Muir Trail! Although she wouldn't be doing the section between Clark Point and Tuolumne Meadows since that was a little too much for her first day on the trail as a day-hike and our permits didn't cover that section. But she was happy to at least see the start of the trail!

Once we passed the summit of the falls, the crowds of people thinned out considerably. We continued on the trail towards Nevada Falls, but then cut off on a side trail to Clark Point from which we had a fantastic aerial view of Vernal Falls. Far in the distance, we could see Nevada Falls. It would have been nice if we had time to continue on to Nevada Falls and made a full loop of that waterfall as well for Karolina's enjoyment, but the hike was already taking us longer than we estimated and we were running behind schedule. Amanda would probably be waiting for us at the trailhead wondering if we got lost at the pace we were going.

Anyhow, there were a lot of other places in the park for Karolina to see. It's not like this was the only hike we had planned for day!

So we reconnected with the John Muir Trail and returned to the trailhead where, as expected, Amanda was already waiting.

Amanda spent the time checking out the Happy Isles Nature Center while waiting for us, and she suggested we should take a look as well so we did that. Karolina seemed most excited about a sign on the door saying that firearms were not allowed. "Is that a problem here?!"

Well.... actually, it probably wasn't a problem, but it's probably been known to happen. Karolina was fascinated with America's love of guns. Maybe if there was time after our hike was done, we could take her to a shooting range or something.

After admiring the exhibits, we returned to the car and started the drive back to Tuolumne Meadows. We stopped briefly at Valley View--one of the iconic views of Yosemite Valley--for Karolina's benefit, then stopped for the 2-mile hike around Tuolumne Grove.

Giant sequoias are the largest living things on earth, and although the John Muir Trail passes through Sequoia National Park, it doesn't actually come near any of the big trees so far as I could remember. This was probably our best bet for Karolina to see some big trees. Amanda did this hike as well since it was a new one for her. It was a new hike for me as well--I'd never been to Tuolumne Grove either!

Karolina love the giant trees and wanted to climb on them and through them. Amanda didn't feel the need to do that and took off ahead of us saying we'd catch up on the steep uphill back to the trailhead, which is exactly what happened.

That wasn't it for us, however. Nope, then we decided to do a few miles of hiking along the JMT in Tuolumne Meadows. Amanda dropped me off at the Cathedral Peak trailhead on my own. Karolina was tired and jet-lagged, and I had told her the next mile or so of the trail to the Tuolumne Visitor Center was a boring section largely in the trees. It is--I knew this for a fact because I had hiked it three days before when I walked from the visitor center to Tenaya Lake. It's not ugly, but there's nothing particularly special about it either. No scenic waterfalls or views or wildflower displays or anything. Just a relatively unremarkable section of trail.

But I had to hike it anyhow to get photos for Walking 4 Fun.

About a half hour later, though, I caught up with Amanda and Karolina at the visitors center. Amanda had already walked around Tuolumne Meadows earlier, but Karolina joined me for the rest of the day's walk through the meadow.

At this point, the trail opens up into the meadow where views open up and the scenery is breath-taking. This was not a section to be missed!

Vernal Falls is magnificent!

Karolina's favorite part was Soda Springs where carbonated water bubbles up out of the ground from the middle of nowhere. In Karolina's normal life, she's a water scientist. I'm pretty sure that's not her official title--I'm not sure what her official title is--but she studies all sorts of stuff that relates to water. Methods to treat it, turn waste water into electricity and--coincidentally enough--has recently been studying water from carbonated springs just like this one. She couldn't help but take a close look at the water, feel it, smell it, taste it, and rub the reddish dirt in the spring between her fingers. Her co-workers, she told me, would be very jealous of her right now.

I bet. *nodding* =)

The John Muir Trail intersects the Pacific Crest Trail at this point, and we soon saw our first PCT sign which thrilled Karolina to no end. She's been a big fan of the PCT and has even dreamed of thru-hiking it someday--maybe--and was excited to finally be standing on this until now mythical trail.

It was a homecoming for me as well. I remembered quite clearly the day I hiked this section of trail during my thru-hike. It was a day not unlike today, in fact. Mostly clear and sunny with beautiful, wide-open views. I'd walked to this very location all the way from Mexico, and continued on all the way to Canada. Both places seemed impossibly far away, but I'd walked it--that entire distance. One day at a time, day after day, for five solid months.

We finished our tour of Tuolumne Meadows at the Tuolumne "Lodge." They call it a lodge, but it's really more like a glorified tent. Amanda was already there waiting for us, although we didn't spot her car in the parking lot at first and it took us a couple of minutes before we realized that she was there.

At this point, dusk was quickly approaching and that was it for our hiking. Karolina got her first few miles of the John Muir Trail done. Tomorrow, we'd return to the trail at Tuolumne Lodge with our full packs and head into the wilderness!

In the meantime, we headed back to our campsite where we built a campfire. For dinner, we brought hot dogs and Polish dogs to cook over the fire, along with smores since Karolina had never done any of that before. We got the Polish dogs mostly as a joke since she's Polish. I'd joke that they were "made with real Poles! (And you're a cannibal!)" but Karolina never seemed to laugh at that joke. Hmm.... She insisted that they were nothing like the sausages in Poland and wanted to know why they were called Polish dogs and... well, I didn't actually know. I still don't know what makes a Polish dog a Polish dog. (Readers: feel free to answer in the comments if you know the answer!)

Welcome to America! Land of the smores and Polish dogs! =)

Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls was blasted out of a cliff of solid granite!
My favorite view of Vernal Falls was on the side trail to Clark Point which gave us what looked like a view from a helicopter. But no! We were standing on solid ground when I took this photo!
Just look at all the people near the top! And it's still fairly early in the morning. It'll probably be a heck of a lot more crowded even later in the day.
This iconic view of Yosemite Valley was taken from Valley View.

Amanda checks out one of the big trees at Tuolumne Grove.
Karolina checks out the view after climbing to the top of one of the giant sequoias that had fallen over.

Karolina climbs one of the fallen giant sequoias.

Karolina, the tree hugger.

Karolina was inspired by Superman doing handstands on every mountaintop along the Appalachian Trail, so she channeled her inner Superman to do this photo with Half Dome in the background.
Carbonated water bubbles up out of the ground at Soda Springs in Tuolumne Meadows.
Karolina, who works with such water at work, had to take a closer look that most people!

The bubbling spring--which you can't really see in photos.

Lembert Dome
Karolina was very excited to step foot on the famed Pacific Crest Trail!
Karolina makes her first smores over a campfire. "Just like in the movies!" she'd exclaim.
And Karolina burns her first smores. =)

Karolina eats a marshmallow she cooked.


Laurel said...

Really enjoying this adventure so far. At the end of December I visited Yosemite. It was the first visit for me in the winter as an adult. It was magical. There were a lot of people, but the mornings were quiet. We couldn't do much walking because it was so icy. When I saw your photo of the "ants walking up half dome, it was hard to believe I did that almost 10 yrs ago.

I don't think I've ever eaten Polish sausage, but I found this from The sausage sold in North American supermarkets as Polish sausage is marginally similar to the Polish old country sausage but generally contains many chemicals and differing combinations of meat.


KuKu said...

Wonderful shots of the beautiful Sequoias! I remember signs on Highway 101 south of Eureka winding around them: "Please drive sober. Redwoods don't move over."