Throughout my life, I've heard whispers about Yosemite National Park. But it wasn't until I moved out to the mountains and began immersing myself in the climbing community and culture, that the destination gained more weight. Now, the allure of the park was too strong to deny.
I arrived in the light of the full moon on a crisp fall evening. My first vision of the massive Half Dome (4,787 feet tall) appeared lit by moonlight as we descended the windy road into the valley. I've lived through some pretty amazing full moon experiences the past few months (including the Netherlands, and an all-night float through the last stretch of the Grand Canyon ) but entering Yosemite for my introductory pilgrimage was possibly the most spectacular so far.
There are many ways to experience Yosemite. I dirt-bagged it all week with my partner, Drew, in his van in the quaint residential area of the park, behind a friend's house. Various campgrounds are sprinkled through Yosemite, offering tent, van and RV camping, while nearby hotels and cabins also beckon.
Summer is the busiest with tourists, but spring and fall are when climbers invade to challenge themselves on many of the thousands of granite routes available. Why is Yosemite Valley a mecca for rock climbers? There is arguably no place on earth with the same combinations of size, rock quality, good weather and accessibility. Late October and November still see climbing traffic, although it had begun to wane during our visit, and we felt fortunate to romp around with a less abundant population.
The following is Jo Savage’s dispatches from Yosemite National Park.
The beta at Yosemite is to bring a bike. Traffic can get congested; By avoiding it with a bike, you feel the breeze through your hair, take in all the smells and get to see so much more. Bikes were our primary mode of transportation during our week-long stay, and I loved every minute. The road system throughout Yosemite is very developed. Unlike a car, you can also ride your bike through the sophisticated pedestrian pathway network and cut through areas you otherwise wouldn't necessarily see.
After enjoying my first breakfast cooked on a van stovetop, we biked with our packs to the base of a rock wall, hiked up a ways and proceeded to climb for a few hours.
Once we topped out, we rode to spend sunset in the field in front of El Cap, watching climbers on their multi-day routes via binoculars. Some watch from the field as others make their way up the big wall. Some create art, enjoy a brew or simply kick back on a blanket.
As the sun fades, tiny specks of light from headlamps dot the face of the 3,000-foot wall. It's akin to looking at an ant farm, with many “miniature” bodies working toward a similar goal.
My second day in Yosemite delivered an epic opportunity: the chance to fly over Yosemite in a small Cessna airplane. Soaring above the park is an extremely rare, special experience. Many people who visit Yosemite throughout their lives never see the landscape from above, freckled by towers of rocks.
Our flight took us on multiple laps around Yosemite proper. Then, it was time for a change of scenery. As the co-pilot kept an eye out for trees and other obstructions, we flew low through a canyon toward our landing spot on a desolate lake. Through the plane’s open door, we took photos excitedly.
After touching down, we hung out at the beach as the sun lowered in the sky. A pair of Bald Eagles shared hunting tasks, flying high above the lake. We hung out at the beach as the sun lowered in the sky.
We enjoyed the isolated wilderness, and then departed before sunset to head back home. Through the open door of the Cessna, I watched as the sun disappeared under the horizon, with a full heart, soul and SD card. I was incredibly grateful to have experienced Yosemite from above.
Seven days there provided time for several climbing adventures. Although Yosemite is typically known for its gushing waterfalls, at this time of the year the waterfalls can run dry. We seized the opportunity to climb the dry rocks in the Lower Yosemite Falls area.
The park is also known for an endless amount of hikes. One day, we decided to hike and scramble our way to an amazing spot overlooking the valley, with waterfalls and natural pools to swim. The water temperature in this elevated area was a crisp, 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Diving head first into the top pool, the water shocked my body. I felt the blood tingling across my entire epidermis, like pin pricks. I let out a few panicked yells, lingering longer than I wanted for a photo Drew wanted to capture. I obliged, albeit with difficulty.
After naps in the sun on warm rocks, snacks and banter – it was his turn. He de-robed, timidly approached his point of entry – and then proceeded to slide down the waterfall, of course. Although he jumped out fairly quickly, I did, however, persuade him to dive in for a second photo opportunity (see below).
My sixth night in Yosemite marked the last; it was bittersweet, after days packed with adventuring. Fittingly, I enjoyed the final hours of daylight by bike. It was Halloween, and I snapped one last photo, seen below, through my zombie coyote mask. Spirits were high around the park for the holiday, and the sunset was incredible. Seeing Half Dome lit in hot pink was the perfect send off.
If you have a chance to go to Yosemite – in any season, for any reason – I strongly encourage you. It's magnificent.
All photos by Jo Savage.
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