We saved the best for last. The Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall is 3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 1000 feet. Not too long, but pretty steep. We’ve never done a hike like this before.
The really nice thing about camping at the Upper Pines Campground, among many, is that the trailhead to the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail is just a short walk away. After breakfast (french onion soup and stale Albertsons bread) we gear up and walk through the trees, out of our campsite, towards the trailhead.
The Mist Trail is a well groomed path for most of its length, until we get close to the bottom of Vernal Fall. From here, the trail becomes a granite staircase with steps of varying heights. In addition, the mist from the waterfall rains down on us and the slippery-when-wet granite.
Quads, calves, hamstrings… you name it, they’re all burning. Progress is slow, but we’re catching up to a group of elderly hikers that passed us earlier. Age versus weight, the battle of the hour. Wiping sweat and mist off our brow, we press on.
The sound of water pounding against boulders fills the air as the spectacular views of Vernal Fall (and poor cardiovascular health) take our breath away. The glacial water pours out over the edge and hangs in free fall for 300 feet as if in slow motion. Why is it that falling water is so magnificent? It might be the sheer volume of water falling down, or maybe it’s the immense force of the waterfall. I’m not sure why, but it is truly awesome.
In the final stages, the trail continues as a narrow ledge cut diagonally across the rocky face leading up to the top of Vernal Fall. The path is wide enough for two hikers to barely squeeze by each other and you have to really trust that the handrail will keep you from falling off the ledge as you lean on it to make space.
We’ve finally reached the top! Our hard work is awarded with a massive sense of accomplishment and a much-needed bathroom. We rest our weary legs and chew on some beef jerky as we take in the scenery around us. What an amazing place to be.
“My feet are crying,” says James as we return to camp. So are mine James, so are mine… My feet are aching and my knees feel stiff, but it was a great hike. All I need now is a hot shower and a nice dinner.
Since it’s our final night at Yosemite, we’re treating ourselves with dinner at the Mountain Room Restaurant. I’m having the roast duck and Phillip and James are having the lamb shank. I’ve never had half of a roast duck before, so I have to work hard for my food. Meanwhile, James regrets choosing the lamb shank over the ribeye steak and Phillip is enjoying his shank of lamb from what I can tell. I can’t believe how different duck is from chicken. I know my way around a chicken, but I’m completely lost when it comes to duck. Though challenging to eat, the food is especially tasty after our hike. On a side note, our server’s name is Sam, and Sam lives in Yosemite. Get it??
We roll back into camp for our final night at Yosemite. I’m sad it’s already our last night, but happy for having been able to spend the past four days in such a wonderful place.
It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter. -John Muir
We leave the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and as cell signal returns to our phones, we are absolutely bombarded by voicemail and missed call notifications from our mom. Phillip calls her back and her frantic voice can be heard throughout the whole car. We were too tired to Skype her last night and we left Yosemite later than planned. Our mom had thought that we had gone missing on our hike and was about to call the park rangers to go look for us. I honestly don’t understand why she worries so much. If we die, we die. Geez. Maybe one day I’ll understand parental anxiety, but right now, I just don’t.
Our lunch stop is at Jamie’s Broadway Grille in Sacramento, but we can’t find it. We’re at the spot the GPS led us to, but there are no signs of a Jamie’s Broadway Grille. We consult Google and it says we are at the right place. We park near the door with a green awning and look for any indication that this is a restaurant. Near the door reads “Guy Ate Here”, a mark left behind after Guy Fieri visits a restaurant on Diners, Drive-Ins and Drives. This must be the right place.
This place is truly a dive. You’d have no idea that it’s a restaurant by its external appearance. You could drive past this place everyday without ever knowing what’s inside. The bar is lively with local chatter and we’re seated in the dimly lit dining area to look at what’s offered on the menu. The New York steak sandwich for me, and the prime rib for Phillip and James. All three of us have a ridiculous grin on our faces and it’s clear that the prime rib made up for James’s disappointment from dinner yesterday. We consume our meal in a mad frenzy and and we’re back on the road towards Mt. Shasta.
I’ve got a spot picked out on the map near Mt. Shasta and as usual fashion, we’re looking for a place to camp in the dark. I turn the Xterra off the paved road and James scans the side of the road with a flashlight. My headlights dimly light the road in front of me as I slowly make my way down the road. Maybe I should get some off-road lights.
Up ahead on the road, there’s an animal, about the size of a large dog. It’s a bear! I stop the car. What do I do? I think this bear is too small to be full grown. What if its mother is nearby?
“What are we gonna do?”
“I don’t know.”
I flash my lights. Nothing. What do I do? The bear doesn’t seem threatened by us. In fact, it’s having dinner off the bushes by the road. Though it’s not afraid of us, it hasn’t shown any signs of aggression towards us. I’ll try scaring it away. I drive up closer to the bear until it finally runs away into the woods. That was a bear!
Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the bear. Fortunately, Phillip had recorded the encounter on his phone. Check it out!
Further down the road, the path becomes rougher and narrower. There hasn’t been any good spots to set up a tent so far, and even if there is a spot further down the road, we’re too spooked out by the bear to set up camp around here. It’s at this point that I execute the most important off-road driving skill in my limited arsenal. Knowing when to turn around. Phillip bravely steps out of the car with the flashlight to spot for me as I make a multi-point U-turn to turn the car around on the narrow road. We’re going further east to look for a place to camp.
“That was a bear.” As the tension fades, we begin to appreciate what just took place. Back on paved road, my body relaxes and my heart rate starts slowing down back to normal. We just saw a bear in the wild!
We find a spot that we’re happy with, double check for bears, and start setting up camp. We haven’t had dinner, but we’re not going to cook anything lest we attract any animals to our location. The forest is silent and sleep comes over me quickly.
Waking up in the woods has got to be one of the best feelings ever. Camping is so much fun! The air is crisp and there’s nothing like the smell of trees. A little ways off from camp, there’s a railroad track lit up beautifully by the golden morning sunlight.
Last day of the trip. We drive home tonight! But first, brunch.
Buttercloud Bakery and Cafe in Medford, OR has the most amazing biscuits ever. As the name of the restaurant implies, the biscuits are buttery and fluffy like a cloud. The buttermilk biscuit joins forces with bacon and eggs scrambled with rosemary and cheese to form one heck of a breakfast sandwich.
My favorite meal of the trip though was dinner at Screen Door in Portland, OR. There was a long wait (we got there an hour before they opened for dinner), but it was well worth it. Between the three of us, we ordered the Crispy Fried Buttermilk-Battered Chicken, the House Smoked Beef Brisket, and the Braised Pork Shoulder. We then rounded out the day with gelato at Bassotto Gelateria before our uneventful drive back home, thus concluding our Yosemite adventure.
Yosemite is a great National Park and is a must for anybody who hasn’t been there before. Additionally, what made this trip extra special was that I got to visit Yosemite with my brothers. Opportunities like this will become increasingly rare and I’m glad we got to share this experience. We’ve made a lot of memories together that Phillip and James will tell me about (I have a very bad memory) for years to come.
I encourage you all to get out and find your own adventures this summer and consider adventuring with your siblings if you have the opportunity to do so. Sorry for the long post, but thank you for following our Yosemite adventure and stay tuned as I explore locally in Washington over the summer.