Thursday, August 8, 2013

And When You’re Up You’re Up

Finally, a day free of drama. A day when we were finally free to do what we wanted, without constantly looking over our shoulders. In short, a vacation from what our vacation had become.

Of all the spots in the park upon which to center the day, today was about Glacier Point. It’s pretty remarkable that we could spend an entire day at it, around it, below it, and above it. And to think that some people go their entire summer visit without even seeing it.

We began at Taft Point. As my favorite single spot on my 2011 road trip, I wanted my family to have the same experience of creeping towards the edge of a cliff above a sheer 3,000 foot drop. I definitely got some “whoah”’s at the final fissure and the end of the trail, even though I thought the view was a bit lacking without Yosemite Falls as its centerpiece. Still, it gave us a chance to spread out and find our own spots along the edge, far from anyone else. And the random great cell phone service was a bonus.

Next, we made the obligatory stop at Glacier Point, itself. Even though the viewpoint itself is pretty incredible, my favorite part is still the point on the approach road where you go around a bend and are suddenly face to face with Half Dome for the first time.

But unlike last time, Glacier Point was to serve as more than a viewpoint today – it was a trailhead. I decided to push my luck and attempt the Four Mile Trail. It descends 3,200 feet from Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley in 4.6 miles, making it the shortest (and therefore steepest) valley-to-rim trail. All along the way, the views are said to be spectacular. I hadn’t considered this trail last time because a one-way trail would have required me to leave my car at one end and take an expensive shuttle the other. Luckily, this time we had my chauffeur mother to meet us at the bottom (yes, we went top to bottom. Climbing down 3,200 feet sounded infinitely more pleasant than climbing 3,200 feet).

Over the next 2½ hours, my sister and I wound our way down to the valley with minimal collateral damage. Along the way we gained a new perspective on many of the valley’s iconic features: We saw Sentinel Rock from above and then from below:

We were treated to a “reverse Tunnel View” for most of the top half of the trail:

And Half Dome occasionally popped out to say hello.

By the time we emerged onto flat ground, our knees were sore but we were otherwise unharmed. The hike down wasn’t as severe a cardiovascular workout as the climb would have been, so the rest of us didn’t feel like death upon arrival.

Because today was all about Glacier Point, we of course boarded a shuttle bus to immediately return to the top of the valley rim for a guided sunset / stargazing program. The sunset was almost identical to the one I witnessed two summers ago, but this time I could stay up at the Top of the World until after dark to enjoy the park’s dark skies. 

No light pollution but plenty of Perseid meteors and innumerable stars, thanks to the high elevation. Once the program ended we got back on the bus pretty quickly, probably because it was about 45 degrees outside and we were all dressed as if it was summer. I probably should have known better, since the memories of waking up with frozen fingers at Yosemite two years ago are still fresh, but I didn’t. Still, I was able to get off a couple of quick pictures before leaving. By sheer point-and-pray method, I managed to get Half Dome in all of them.

Tomorrow will definitely be lighter, since none of our feet can take another day in a row of hikes like today’s. So it’ll be Tioga Road and the quiet side of the park. But since it’s our last night in Yosemite, I have a feeling I won’t be able to let it go quietly without taking another crack at sunset or night sky pictures. Stay tuned…

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