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An August Yosemite Visit in July

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So Cal
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An August Yosemite Visit in July

This is a very late, ridiculously long report. In fact, I'm still finishing it, and decided I'd better post what I have, and add the rest later. I lurked a lot here to get info, asked a few questions and was helped immensely. Perhaps this might in turn help someone else. ***I'll do each day as post, just to keep first page manageable.

This was our second visit to Yosemite; for this trip it was just my mom (early 70s) and me (early 40s). We’re both active, but not particularly athletic. I give ages for those who think they’re too old or too young for stuff. You’re probably not!

Also, I’m a chronic over-planner and over-scheduler, but I think I finally overcame that this time (with an assist from some miserable weather). This time, I scheduled days in areas, with multiple possibilities in mind for each day but few fixed plans. The result was an oddly relaxed vacation. Hm. Is that how everyone else does it?

Monday morning #1 - Arrival

After a few days in Mammoth Lakes, we re-stocked groceries at Schat’s and Von’s, and had time for the June Lake Scenic Loop, a nice long visit at Mono Lake and a short stop at Panum Crater. We probably could have squished Bodie in, but there were rainclouds lurking, and it was really hot – somewhere in the mid-90s. Ugh. Before I’d left, the long-range forecast had predicted upper 70s, so I was feeling somewhat cheated. We still enjoyed the awesomeness of the Sierras – it looked like this great big wall going straight up for miles and miles and miles. Next time someone asks why you can’t drive through, I want to put up a picture from that perspective. “Why? That’s why. Look at that vertical rise.”

We started heading up Tioga Rd around 2-ish. More mountain verticality – wow. WOW! Absolutely beautiful, and pretty dry, although snow was lingering on the high peaks. I didn’t find any of this drive scary at all – just keep an eye on the road, obey the speed limits (if my lead foot can, so can yours) and use turn-outs. We made a quick stop at the little Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center to pick up maps. While I was waiting, my eyes fell on the whiteboard behind the counter listing park info: Lodging Availability (very little), Temperatures (Valley today 88, tomorrow predicted 91) – wait, what? 88 degrees? 91? What happened to upper 70s? Yipes. The rest of the week, apparently, looked to be more of the same. We drove on, me mulling over our plans.

We made a very late lunch stop at the western end of Tenaya Lake. This was just lovely, and not really crowded. There are a bunch of picnic tables along the water, and afterwards we walked along the shoreline. The water was a lot warmer than I expected, and so, so clear.

We drove on to Olmsted Point, and spent a lot more time than I would have thought. Besides the fantastic views of Half Dome, there’s a nice view back into Tenaya Lake, and other domes along the road. Not too many people went out on the short little trail to a big rock with even more views. (There was a thrill-seeking tourist wearing entirely the wrong shoes getting much closer to the edge of the rock than his wife appreciated. Granite is slippery, folks.)

We drove on down…and down…and down. It felt like we drove 20 miles downhill without a single incline – nice on the gas down, killer on the way back up. Entering the still-bare burn area off Big Oak Flat Rd was a bit of a shock, and a sobering reminder of fire danger. But bare or not, that drive in was breathtaking. I hadn’t thought this would be better than approach from the 41, but I was wrong. Narrow road on a cliff, tunnels, view of the valley ahead – gorgeous.

I think we arrived at Housekeeping Camp around 6-ish. (Reviewed lodging separately. I’ll say that I love the idea of HKC, but Delaware North needs to give some attention to the place, and to how their staff runs the place.) We were given a riverside unit on the east side, #523. I think I preferred the non-river units on the west. This unit faced directly onto the parking lot, and didn’t have parking directly next to it (unless you were lucky and beat your neighbors to it each day). Oh well. Concentrate in the other direction, to the Merced and Half Dome. We set up, and had time for a little walk to power down before dinner. (One of the great things about HKC is you can cook, either on the firerings or on your campstove. Or in your electric frying pan, if you had remembered to bring it. Oops.) Music was provided by our neighbors, who did come by to explain they were being loud because it was their last night and they wanted to have fun. Um, ok then. We chased the squirrels away, enjoyed the stars for a while and with tickets on the first bus tomorrow, made an early night.

So Cal
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1. Re: An August Yosemite Visit in July

Tuesday – Panorama Trail

This was our only fixed plan for the week: I had booked spots on the 8:30 bus up. It’s supposed to be about a 20min walk from HKC to the Lodge, but either we took the wrong route or those people walk even faster than I do. We took closer to 25min, and in that time both hikers’ buses had filled (apparently over-booking isn’t just for desperate airlines anymore). After a very frazzled convo with both bus drivers and the tour people, a few of us were squished onto a Grand Tour bus (with a Pompous Failed Professor for a driver who was not exactly welcoming of these foot-propelled people on his Grand Tour; we got to be the butt of his jokes until he found something else to make fun of).

Once we were finally moving and the PFP was distracted, it was a pretty drive up. It took more than an hour, but 1) this was the slow bus and 2) a passenger had a panic attack a little after Mono Meadow and charged the door. Passenger:”…tgnrksr fgngwlk!” PFP: “Huh? Let you out?” Passenger: “Shtmkl!” PFP: “But…sir, how are you going to get back down? We don’t leave people behind on the Grand Tour.” He was let out for a few minutes, and I guess his wife persuaded him not to hot-foot it down the road, and we drove on. Grudging props to the PFP for negotiating those final hairpin turns every day. Eep!

By the time we started down the trail, it was close to 11am. What to say about this trail? Well, it was long, and gorgeous, and I’m glad we did it. It isn’t difficult, but there were sections that were challenging, and I wish I had done some things differently. The late start really couldn’t be helped, and with my mom being a slow-ish mover, we didn’t get to spend as much time just enjoying viewpoints as I’d hoped. The first couple miles were treeless (we were glad of the cloud cover) but really overgrown – lots of spiky bushes - and pretty rocky in places – hiking poles made a difference. Having had trouble with my hiking boots, I was stuck with shoes that had really grippy soles but not much ankle support – tennies probably would have been better. At the beginning we and a few other groups would lap each other, but they all left us behind eventually. That’s ok!

We had a better-than expected view of Illillouette Fall, and a nice picnic on the creek above the bridge. It’s just lovely there. The young man who went over Nevada Fall earlier that week was on my mind, and I found myself watching the river flow, trying to figure out why you would think it was safe to go in any of these rivers. Rocks and downed trees formed quiet, shallow holes (I dabbled my feet from a rock), but at some point you go past the safe zone, the current will have you, and that’s it. That riverbed is steep and the water was really moving fast. Got some nice pictures with ominous stormclouds overhead – time to get moving again.

We saw our first bear on the long climb up the other side - small, odd purple-brown (not cinnamon) color. I swear he looked both ways before ambling across the trail and continuing down the hill! And of course I had my camera off/lenscap on. Oh well.

My mom’s active, but she’s not a super-senior, and really takes the uphills slowly. I was very glad when we finally reached the top! The views of the valley were beautiful, even with haze from the Forbidden Fire. I gave up on the idea of looking for Panorama Point, though – no detours! We also started meeting a lot of people hiking up from the other direction, including several girls in short shorts. I found myself thinking they’d soon regret that clothing choice.

At the trail intersection before the switchbacks down, we saw Stupid Animal Interaction #1. A young couple we’d met were sitting on the fence rail, excitedly motioning us over (they had limited English). When we got closer, we saw they had a big fat squirrel on the fence next to them, which they were hand-feeding, and petting. Um. Let me repeat that: petting. the. squirrel! Like a cat! They were all, hey, pet the nice squirrel, and we were all, ngyah! Also, when that thing bites you, I’m not carrying you down the mountain. I think we managed to communicate that this was a Very Bad Idea.

The switchbacks were pretty, and I should have put on my knee brace at the start. There was a lot of shade now, and the clouds and occasional droplets were making me a bit nervous, but we cooled off a bit – the further we descended, the warmer it got. Now here was another thing I should have done differently: instead of turning left and taking the John Muir trail down, we went straight and detoured to Nevada Fall. My thinking was, 1) We hadn’t seen it on our previous trip, and 2) There’s a restroom, and you never turn down a restroom. Well, I am glad we went to the Fall – awesome! All that water exploding over the edge from that narrow chute – breathtaking. Oh, I wish we’d had more time here. Another spot where I had hymns running through my mind.

In retrospect, we should have retraced our steps back to the junction, rather than taking the Mist Trail down from here. Yikes! I had expected it to be like the Mist Trail going up to Vernal Fall, which we had done. No, no it’s not. It was longer (which I knew it would be), and seemed a lot steeper, and more slippery, and just rougher in general. I really, really should have believed other people – this was the point at which I really missed my boots, and was concerned about my mom slipping. We made it down in one piece (ok, one piece each), figured out where to go next (there are a lot of social trails down to the river, and no mileage signs marking the real trail) and went on.

There was another little squirrel (un-fed and un-pet) on the trail ahead of us and three big dudes pounding along behind us. Poor little guy was scampering down the trail for all he was worth, and finally pulled off to the side, stood up, and glared until they were around a corner. Yeah, stay off my trail! Punks.

At the next junction, we took the connector up to Clark Point rather than continuing on down via Vernal, and that might have been another mistake. We had gone this way on our last trip, but I didn’t remember this section being so long, slippery or steep (of course, we hadn’t already hiked 6 or so miles on that trip). I knew we were on the right trail and going in the right direction (kinda hard not to be), but I started to second-guess myself. We were so happy when we finally reached the viewpoint and sign. Something I definitely recognize – oh happy day!

And from there, of course, it’s simple – just a nice long walk in the forest. We noted the rock fall area from the month or so before – eep. How is no-one hurt when these things happen? Could you even get away from it if you were there?

We were happy to get to the bridge (never turn down a restroom). Vernal Fall was noticeably smaller, but there’s still a ton of water coming down, and moving fast. Best admired from dry ground, I think.

Shuttled back to camp, very tired and dirty but happy. I think dinner was soup from a can, then some spider & bug killing. If anyone was providing music, we slept through it.

So Cal
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2. Re: An August Yosemite Visit in July

Wednesday – Rest Day

Today was Lazy Day! Got up whenever, hung around camp listening to the birds and watching the squirrels – so many squirrels! Tuesday and Wednesday were over 90degrees, I think – ouch! Mom does not do well in the heat. So eventually we shuttled to Happy Isles and wandered around under the trees near the water. It’s very pretty and peaceful, and a welcome respite from the heat. Another spot to watch the river currents and wonder. The rock fall exhibit was interesting, but we skipped the fens (too many bugs). The Nature Center is geared for kids, but we enjoyed it anyway, and hey, air conditioning!

We thought about Mirror Lake after that, but opted for the Visitor Center and Ansel Adams Gallery (which has way too much stuff I love) instead, because souvenirs/gifts and A/C. Even with the oppressive heat, there were a lot of people wandering around the village, but it wasn’t quite the zoo I had expected. It had cooled off a bit after a late picnic lunch, so we wandered (slowly) over to Lower Yosemite Falls. Wow, what a difference from our previous, mid-May, post-wet-winter trip. The Falls, though much diminished, were still plenty impressive. What really stood out was the dry ground – the last time, I couldn’t imagine all the streams next to the paths being dried up, yet here they were. Oh, and all the people climbing all over the rocks at the bottom. When did flip-flops become part of climbing gear?

We shuttled to the Ahwahnee next – oh, to have a bigger vacation budget! Lovely. We wandered around the ground floor – look at the windows! The beams! The doors! Etc. There are private function rooms over the solarium – hm, wonder if I can convince the boss he needs to hold a function here? We weren’t hungry enough to justify the café, so we snacked on the benches outside the solarium and admired the views. Sigh.

Then a wander through Cook Meadow – last trip’s Circle of Awesomeness – waved at the chapel, and shuttled home again. Many squirrels attempted to crash dinner, but were fended off; we were less successful with the bugs. Oh, and I discovered a great big spider IN my bed. And what might be a tick bite. Eep!

So Cal
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3. Re: An August Yosemite Visit in July

Thursday – Glacier Pt

Well, today was supposed to be Hetch Hetchy. Unfortunately, today’s Valley high was projected to be well over 90 again, and HH would be even hotter. Plus, last night’s spider had me nervous about a bite on my neck which had developed rings. So we headed over to the clinic, where I paid way too much money to be told 1) it was almost certainly not a tick and 2) possibly a spider, but not a brown recluse, so don’t panic. Yet. :-/ Somewhat mollified, we drove up to Glacier Pt.

With a short stop at Inspiration Pt, it was a nice drive, both more and less stressful than the bus trip. Less, because there was no deadline, we had the windows and sunroof open and there was no commentary from the PFP. More, because there are some seriously careless deer up on that road, standing right there on the shoulder, in touching distance of your car, blending into the dirt. Yikes! Drive slowly.

There was absolutely no parking anywhere near Sentinel Dome, and it was very humid and overcast, so we went straight to Washburn Pt (many pretty pictures, some great clouds forming in the distance) before moving on to Glacier Pt. Wow, what a spectacular view! How do you describe it? I won’t – just go look at the pictures. There was haze from the still-burning fire, but that couldn’t take away the awe.

I was surprised at the number of visitors who had no idea what they were looking at, in any direction. (Have there ever been more interpretive signs up there?) My inner park ranger ended up coming out – yes, that’s Yosemite Fall, Vernal is that way; no, that’s the Ahwahnee, the Lodge is over there; those aren’t RVs, that’s Housekeeping Camp; yes, that’s Half Dome, but you climb up the other side; well, we can’t see El Capitan from here – etc. I tend to forget that not everyone plans and reads obsessively. And that you don’t need to know the names to be inspired by the landscape before you. (But I do like knowing a bit about it beforehand – looking for the glacial u-shape, rock falls, landmarks. Sigh. I’m a geek.)

It wasn’t long before the clouds in the distance became clouds in the foreground, so we nixed the idea of hiking out to Sentinel Dome anytime soon and hung around while the crowd thinned out. Thunder and lightning in the distance became thunder and rain overhead, and we scampered off to the geology hut to wait it out. So beautiful!

Eventually the skies cleared enough to head back to the snack shack. Stupid Animal Interaction #2 was stopping kids from throwing rocks at a squirrel. What is wrong with people?

We left some money at the shack and after another stop at Washburn Pt, headed home, v-e-r-r-r-r-y slowly behind a blue car – we debated whether he was scared or careful for the next 20 miles. When he sped up to about 60mph after the tunnel, we decided on “scared”. Which meant it was time for Stupid Animal Interaction #3 aka Bear #2: a young cub came FLYING out of the scrub in front of the blue car. I think his little paws hit the ground maybe twice as he raced across the road. Blue car hit the brakes in time, then immediately floored it and took off again. That seemed a bit reckless, no? I looked around for Mama Bear then drove on slowly.

It was so pretty driving under the cliffs – I let everyone pass me and we got a good eyeful. I would have liked to have spent some of the day at this end of the valley, but I know that Mom would have wilted before an hour was up. Oh well – next time.

We pulled in as the sun was beginning to set, and it turns out that big parking lot in front of our unit gave me a great view of the burning evening glow on Half Dome and the impossibly-blue sky behind, and perfectly lit the clouds beside it. So I have one almost perfect picture. :-)

There was also an RV in the lot, asking some guy to please move his car because the space was tight for the RV. Seriously? The neighbor’s music tonight was Sinatra then Streisand (live album), and the uninvited dinner guest was a raccoon.

Edited: 10 August 2013, 04:09
So Cal
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4. Re: An August Yosemite Visit in July

Friday – Mariposa Grove

Wow, another scorching day ahead! Morning entertainment was provided by the young boys next door hunting squirrels with their water guns. Note to self: Next time BYO 10-year-olds, or something to bribe them with. Second note: I don’t consider this undue harassment of wildlife. These little guys were definitely acclimated to people, and given how much time and energy we spent shooing them away from our food prepping, any harassment was entirely due.

We set off for Mariposa Grove late enough that I didn’t bother to try for a spot at the lot and turned straight in at Wawona. It was still early enough – 10am, 11 maybe – that I was surprised to find the main lot was already completely full, and we ended up parking at the horse corral. We didn’t have to wait long, but it was already hot hot hot, so the refrigerated bus was absolute heaven when it arrived. Turns out I probably could have parked at the Grove, but oh well. The driver was nice, and entertaining.

We picked up a map – there were absolutely tons of them in English, and many other languages too – and set off. I don’t remember exactly what route we followed – probably the common way up past Grizzly Giant, then on up to the museum at the upper grove, looped around up there, then wound our way back down. We took our time, resting in the shade and not reading a lot of the doubtless fascinating placards in the sun – actually, that says a lot about how hot it was. I’m that person in the museum who reads EVERYTHING! I’d forgotten how much of this area burned not that long ago, and it’s taking time growing back. So there are a lot of sections that don’t have much shade. I am so thankful we were higher enough in elevation here for the heat to be just a little less brutal.

I love the sequoias! So big and old, that beautiful cinnamon bark, so grand. I always wonder what God thought when He made them – “wait’ll you see this!” It’s like walking in a cathedral. And so quiet. You don’t have to go far to leave everyone behind. We didn’t see that many people between the upper and lower groves, and it kept on being the same people. There were more at the museum (most of them were on the tram tour, though), where we picnicked on the steps and talked with the docents. The museum would probably be nice if you could read any of the displays – something downed the power a while back and they haven’t come up with a replacement to get the lights on. I suspect lack of $$$ is an issue. [sigh]

(If this is your only chance to see giant sequoias, then take it. DO IT. But if you’re going to Kings Canyon/Sequoia NP next, you could skip it. Mariposa Grove is absolutely lovely, but the Giant Forest has it beat.)

We stopped at the Wawona Hotel for a little walk-through – lovely! Very different experience than staying in the valley, I’ll bet. I love old hotels with character, even inconvenient ones. I also asked at the desk about our Tuolumne stay – I hadn’t been able to reach anyone up there to make dinner reservations (which are required) – apparently they don’t answer the phone or email until actual opening day, which was today. The Wawona desk was able to get someone on the phone for me, so that was one worry off my mind. Then a long, slow, peaceful drive home.

No music tonight, but there was another RV who fired up the generator right outside our unit, like six feet away. Grr. Had to go down to the office to get someone out to talk with them. Oh, and all the big brothers of all the spiders we killed this week came out tonight – it was spidergeddon. I think I slept three hours total – not a good end!

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5. Re: An August Yosemite Visit in July

This is a great trip report! You had the all around Yosemite experience...the beauty...and the crazy. I'm sorry you experienced the park during the crazed heat wave that was going on, but glad you seemed to find much to enjoy despite it all! Thanks for taking the time to share.

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6. Re: An August Yosemite Visit in July

Thanks. Sounds like O Happy Day encapsulates your day perfectly http://youtu.be/-KPYdBK-WAA

So Cal
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7. Re: An August Yosemite Visit in July

Thank you! We did have a great time in spite of it. I still need to add the couple days at Tuolumne Meadows.

The link will have to wait till I'm at a real computer. :-/

Santa Fe, New Mexico
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8. Re: An August Yosemite Visit in July

Great report. We were lucky at Housekeeping Camp, had good neighbors, not super quiet, but also not annoying. Fun watching the families have a great time, wish we had known about this place when our son was younger. We didn't see any spiders, but those pesky squirrels were brazen! Can't wait to hear about your Tuolumne Meadows portion.

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9. Re: An August Yosemite Visit in July

Wonderful report. I, for one, love all the details (squirrels, trails, driving, blue cars, everything). It gives a real impression of what it's like and is invaluable.

When are you going to get over to Sequoia for more big trees? You might like the Lodge or Cabins in Grants Grove (Kings Canyon) but if you can work out getting a tent, two pads and two bags, you at least won't have *spiders* in your bed (if you remember to zip the tent or maybe even if you don't - as the campgrounds in Sequoia are at a much higher elevation and insect life is different).

Anyway, I think you'd love the trails out of Wolverton (up toward Heather Lake), still some steepness, but not rough, and should be lots of wild life (way fewer people too).

So Cal
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10. Re: An August Yosemite Visit in July

Biscuit, thank you. I have stayed at the Grant Grove cabins, but I haven't done any long dayhikes in SEKI. On my own I'm a rabbit, and I haven't been able to coordinate a trip with longer-hiking friends. Yet. Some day, somewhere!