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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Disappointment in Yosemite

I stood at the Valley View overlook and felt a twinge of disappointment. The view was one of the most impressive I had witnessed during my short stay in the Yosemite Valley, but I was disheartened nonetheless. And it had nothing to do with my departure. It was because I failed at my attempt to hike to the top of the highest waterfall in North America, the Yosemite Falls. It angered me that I couldn’t complete the hike, unlike others who I’m sure did on the same day, and I was leaving with a sense of having unfinished business in Yosemite National Park.

Cascading nearly 2,500 feet down into the valley, I was enraptured with the Yosemite Falls the moment I saw them. I could hardly unload my car into my lodge room for want of going right up to the falls. And I didn’t feel any differently about it late into the night, as I could hear the water crashing murderously upon the rocks at its base.
I fell asleep on my first night in the Yosemite Valley with dreams of raising my arms in triumph as I stood high above the valley where the Yosemite Creek rolls over into the valley, spilling into the Merced River. It would be an accomplishment of which I could be proud. After all, climbing nearly 3,000 feet in approximately 3.5 miles is definitely something to write home about it.
I hit the trail early with my bag packed with a lunch, snacks, and plenty of water. I wanted to be prepared to spend the whole day on top of the falls, enjoying what would most certainly be a spectacular view, and I wasn’t going to overlook a single provision. So, I checked it, check it again, and checked it for a third time before climbing into bed. And then, in the morning, I checked it one more time before I walked out the door toward my destination.
Despite a map, I was turned around searching for the trailhead. It seemed like it should be right toward the bottom of the falls, but it was a long walk over flat ground through the trees and past rocks larger than my home. The air was crisp and the valley was just beginning to come to life with the sound of birds singing their early morning songs. It was a beautiful day and I was zeroed in on success. I had no doubt I’d make it to the top of the falls…if I could just find the trailhead.
I added at least another mile on my hike before I finally came to the correct spot. It was hidden amongst the rocks surrounding the open grass of Camp 4, which sits just to the west of the Yosemite Lodge. And so, with a deep breath and exhalation of readiness for the challenge ahead, I took the first step.

I counted a series of seven or eight switchbacks on my map. But just a short distance into my hike I was cursing it for its inaccuracies. There were a lot more switchbacks (below) as I climbed the valley wall. My lungs filled with air, but never as much as I would have liked. It was a difficult climb. I was prepared for it, though, and pleased with the exhiliration it offered. Here I was, in Yosemite National Park, hiking to the top of the Yosemite Falls on a beautiful spring day. I could hardly be more pleased with all of the opportunity the trail ahead would present.

I savored the views during the occasional momentary stop to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my brow. The slight glimpses I caught were simply appetizers to the vast panoramas that would be available at the top of the Yosemite Falls. I was excited for the feast that awaited my eyes. My imagination ran wild with thoughts of what I would see.
And then a roadblock in the form of a seasonal waterfall presented itself.

The waterfall wasn’t large, no more than fifteen feet across and a foot or two deep, but the fall to the bottom of the valley was daunting. I had climbed nearly 1,000 feet from the trailhead at this point and I knew it was a long way down – both hiking and falling. So, I stopped to weigh my options and decide if the risk was worth the reward.
On one hand, a marvelous sense of accomplishment would be mine if I made it past this waterfall and to the top of the Yosemite Falls. The view would also be well worth the reward. I could see that from where I stood, as the trees parted to reveal the Sentinel on the south side of the valley.

On the other hand, I could very well have several broken bones requiring emergency evacuation from the valley wall if I slipped while trying to make it across. And that was if I didn’t kill myself trying.
I stood at the side of the small waterfall for what was no more than fifteen minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Having made it this far, I knew I could reach my goal. And it was heartbreaking to think that I would have to turn around and find a second hiking option on my one full day in the valley during my first visit to Yosemite. I yearned to continue on and reach my goal, but common sense over took me thanks to the warnings I read in Ranger Confidential.

With a broken heart I followed the switchbacks down the side of the valley to the trailhead. My options were limited in the spring to a few trails on the valley floor, since I refused to drive anywhere that day. So, disheartened I chose to explore the valley on foot, smelling the trees and relaxing in the simple sounds of the Merced River as it flowed past El Capitan.
I tried to remain content in my consolation prize, but the feeling of failure scratched and clawed at me. Hiking the valley loop, albeit a good several miles through some of the most beautiful scenery in California, was not where I wanted to be; I wanted to stretch to the heavens at the top of Yosemite Falls. But, I was stopped near the top of the trees (below – middle of picture), so, with my head cast down, I strolled the loop thinking of what could have been, opposed to what was there now.

My disappointment stuck with me through the night and into the next day. Despite the stunning view made famous by photographer Ansel Adams, I could not feel content in my first visit to Yosemite National Park. I was most certainly pleased I didn’t break anything or kill myself, but I could only wonder wat what might have been if I had stayed a couple of more days in the park. That was impossible, though, since I was now heading south to the warmer climates of San Diego to see my sister and her family.

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2 Comments on “Disappointment in Yosemite”

  1. Slimms March 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Wow, so close 😦 My friends and I have a big Yosemite trip planned for June and we plan on getting to the top of the falls as well…do you have any advice for us?

    You can read about our journey as we prepare for Yosemite here http://thebackpackingjournal.wordpress.com/

    • Jason's Travels March 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

      Nothing more than just take your time, pack plenty of snacks and water, and enjoy it. The falls should still be beautiful come early summer.

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