Friday, August 2, 2013

To the Top of Vernal Fall

Vernal Fall, a view from the side
Date: June 17, 2013
Place: Vernal Fall, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California
Parking lot trailhead coordinates: 37.73568, -119.56578
Length: From Curry Village parking lot to the top of Vernal Fall and back is about four miles. 
Difficulty: strenuous

School was out in mid-June and summer camp would not begin for another week. A wonderful chance to go camping! Papa Quail could not come with us but I had made plans to go with friends. We had originally planned to go north but when I learned that my friends had never been to Yosemite, I changed the plan.
While Yosemite hasn't been the first National Park I visited in California (a special star to anyone who guesses which one), I did visit it many times. (But posted here only about Hetch Hetchy and Eleanor Lake). Yosemite is not represented well in this blog, because most of our serious hiking we did in our pre-chika days without proper cameras. In later years our visits to Yosemite would amount to showing off the park to our numerous out-of-town visitors, where we would visit the same 'must see' hot spots, over and over again. Our latest June visit was along the same lines.
Don't get me wrong: Yosemite is stunning any time of year, even at the hundredth visit. Even with the constant crowds.

This visit too we spent much of our time there sightseeing, but we also did some hiking. The trails we did are well known and there are many descriptions of them in books and online. Here I add my own experiences.

We parked at the farthest parking lot in Yosemite Valley, placed all of our food in the bear boxes, and headed on the trail towards Happy Isles. Across the bridge the trail splits left toward Mirror Lake and Tenaya Canyon. We took right, toward Vernal Fall.  
Almost immediately the trail starts ascending. Between the woods one can catch glimpses of the Merced River, down below.
Cascading Merced
The trail goes up and up for about 0.8 mile. We walked slow, encouraging the children along the way. At the observation bridge we stopped for a welcomed rest and a snack. There are restrooms there, and a water fountain. And most importantly: a distant view of Vernal Fall.
Vernal Fall, a view from the observation bridge.
People who come to Yosemite for brief sight-seeing usually don't even get this far. For many others, the observation bridge is a turning-back point. However, there are thousands of visitors in Yosemite everyday, and of those, many chose to continue on. So did we.
The granite mass that towers over Yosemite Valley.
This trail is also part of the John Muir Trail. It is also used by hikers who climb Half Dome the traditional way - with their feet on the trail. Either way, we were embedded in a long line of hikers who made their way up, and often had to squeeze ourselves to the rock to allow those coming down to pass.
A lovely place to grow roots
The trail between the observation bridge to the top of Vernal Fall is narrow and very steep, including many rock-carved steps. These steps are giant-size. I had difficulty ascending them. The chikas, particularly the young one, had to go on hands and knees more than once.
Vernal Fall, a view from the trail.
The trail is also constantly wet because of the mist from the Fall. (They don't call it 'The Misty Trail' for nothing :-) ). At some points it was so wet that I had to hide my camera inside my shirt to protect it. I had climbed this trail before on colder days when the wetness was very unpleasant. This time, though, we were blessed with a beautiful warm day, and the cooling mist was very welcomed.
It also produced a magnificent rainbow.
Rainbow at the bottom of Vernal Fall
The wet rocks under the mist were green with ferns and grasses.
The final stretch to the top of Vernal Fall was very slow. The trail becomes so narrow that the multitude of hikers must go single file and squeeze hard to allow counter traffic to go by. There is sheer cliff on one side and the abyss, thankfully fenced, on the other. Our little group got separated and I found myself lagging behind with the little chika, helping her climb step after step.
We did it, eventually, and the view from the top of the Fall is absolutely magnificent.
Merced River, below Vernal Fall.
The top of Vernal Fall is fenced off to prevent accidental falls. Sadly, though, people do fall down Vernal Fall. We were there barely a week after the tragic fall of a young man who entered the river a bit upstream and got caught in the flow. A few days before that incident, it was two young children who were swept over the precipice. Needless to say, falling off Vernal Fall is always lethal.
The precipice of Vernal Fall
There are signs all over the place, warning hikers about the risk of swimming upstream of the Fall. The Emerald Pool, where the unfortunate fellow entered the water is about 150 yards upstream of the Falls. It looks calm and inviting, and after the grueling climb in a hot day I can understand the temptation to go in for a dip. I use this platform to spread the warning - this promised refreshment can, and has several times in the past, cost lives!
I extend my condolences to the families of the deceased.
Emerald Pool
The Merced River, which is the main river that run through Yosemite Valley, is fed from snow melt far in the Yosemite Wilderness. It runs year-round and its waterfalls also flow year round. Above Vernal Fall, about 2 miles upstream, there is also the Nevada Fall. Twice in the past we had been there, taking the nine-miles trail from Glacier Point to the Valley through Little Yosemite Valley where the Nevada and Vernal Falls are. On one former visit we climbed up the trail and made it to the bottom of Nevada Fall.
This time, though, we turned around at the top of Vernal Fall and headed back down.
The Merced River at the top of Vernal Fall
But not before I took a photograph of this lovely bush that was in full bloom:
Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale)
It has a fantastic, and very intense fragrance. I sniffed it for a long while. Not the one in the photo below, though.
Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale) entertaining a visitor
Going down was just a bit faster than going up. Once again we were slowed down by traffic, which was now even more busy than before. Once again I found myself lagging, having to assist the little chika down the huge rock steps.
At the bottom of the trail the children were so exhausted that we decided to take the Yosemite Valley shuttle back to the parking lot. I was exhausted too, which is my only excuse for getting off the bus at the wrong stop and all of us having to walk an extra mile at the valley floor back to our car.
The way down back to Yosemite Valley
Yosemite is one of the most visited parks in United States, second only to Yellowstone. There's very little chance, certainly not at the Valley, to enjoy solitude. With excellent reason Yosemite is also considered one of the world's natural wonders. No wonder we go back there every time with people who have never been there before. I am still getting feedback from our friends who thought it was the most amazing place they'd ever been to.
Appreciating Yosemite takes more than one day. Or one weekend. I have been there many times and still haven't seen enough. I strongly recommend to take the time and be there. Not just for sightseeing, but to actually BE there. To hike, to swim (where it is safe), to inhale the mountain air. To experience.
And I totally recommend this hike. Strenuous and crowded as it is, it is worth every second and every drop of sweat. 


  1. Yosemite is indeed a magnificent place. I've been there twice, but unfortunately both times were only short visits. In the blog I see some of the views I missed.

    One day...

    The rainbows pictures are wonderful

    1. All of my recent years' visits have also been too short. I hope to explore more of the wilderness areas in the not too far future.

  2. What I find amazing, is that you managed to take all those pictures eith no humsn being in sight... ;-)
    Yosemite is indeed amazing. I hope I will get to see more of it some day. ..
    I loved the azalea

    1. Sure there are humans! Look all the way down at the trail under the Fall and you'll see them ... crawling like ants up the Misty Trail :-)
      I hope to see more of Yosemite too, not just the regular tourist stops.

  3. איזה יופי, ואיזה צילומים נהדרים!
    מזכיר לי שכבר הרבה זמן אני מתכנן להגיע לשם שוב. אז באמת שהגיע הזמן.
    תודה על היופי, יקרה