If we thought a successful climb of Half Dome was the end of adventure, we were sorely mistaken. Once we reached the Valley floor, we had the issue of getting back to our cars in Tuolumne Meadows.
The walk to Yosemite Valley was a pleasant downhill walk. The closer we got to the Valley, the more people we began to see. Some, in our opinion, seemed woefully under-prepared for their one-day, round trip, climb to Half Dome. Namely, they were not carrying enough water, or appeared to NOT have any way in which to filter once they reached Little Yosemite Valley where they could fill up at the Merced River. Maybe they think the water is parasite free because it is clear and cold. Having suffered a lengthy bout of giardia during our 2014 PCT thru-hike, I/We will never be without a filter again, nor trust “icy cold” “clear” water.
By the time we made it to Nevada Falls (which is a 591 ft/191 m tall water fall), we had seen at least 10 times as many people as we had seen over the past 3 days! Nevada Falls, for those heading up from Half Dome Village is the last “drinking fountain” and opportunity to fill up water bottles or water bladders without the need to filter. Even though there is a restroom facility, there was evidence a-plenty of people failing to follow Leave No Trace (LNT) principles. So sad.
We took a short break to check out Nevada Falls and gaze at the “back-side” of Half Dome and the apparent climbing route, before we continued our trek back to “civilization”.
As we continued down the “wide” trail of engineering amazement, you could see evidence that this route at one time had been almost fully paved with asphalt, all the way to Little Yosemite Valley.
We wondered whether at one time vehicles or wagons traveled this route. Highly improbable now, as it is fairly rugged in parts. The morning was warm, and we did not envy the people headed up the trail. We pass a Ranger heading up to check permits for people climbing Half Dome. Having told him we hiked it the day before, he asks if we “mind” if he checks our permit. Paul of course replies with a smile, “Yes I do mind, cause I’ll have to take my pack off to retrieve it”.
The Ranger then insists that he get it out, even after we tell him that we were checked the day before. Soon we reached Vernal Falls, and masses of people from all walks of life, most out-fitted with “selfie sticks”. They looked at us oddly. Did we really look and/or smell that bad. We took a “bath” the day before I wanted to say.
The crowds became so thick we literally had to weave our way through the throngs of people who were slowly making the .5 mile, fairly steep, yet paved “climb” to Vernal Falls. Paul and I, to the utter amazement of some people, actually trotted (just short of running) down the trail all the way to the valley floor. We found it much easier on our knees, as opposed to the jarring thud of step by step. Once we all made it to the Valley floor, our first stop was BEER, (and pizza), and to figure out if there was indeed a 5pm YART bus running from Yosemite Village to Tuolumne Meadows. The resounding answer was probably NO, or at least as far as the Ranger at the Wilderness Permit office could figure. Even HE couldn’t get a concrete answer. No worries. We’d find a way back, but again, first BEER…and pizza.
Sandy and I rustled up some “home town brew” at the Yosemite Valley Store, while the boys secured pizza. Who’d a thunk that they would have Left Coast Beer, specifically Una Mas.
Between the four of us we sucked down a 12 pack, and could have done more, but we figured it would be a good bet that no one would pick up a pack of obviously drunk, and smelly backpackers. The remains of our pizza box lid was transformed into a “Tuolumne Meadows…please” sign to hold while another puts their thumb out. The Ranger suggested that we get as far as the Valley bus would take us, which was to the road adjacent to the El Capitan parking lot, thus we did. (We were long gone and home from Yosemite, before the recent tragedy of rock fall at El Capitan. As it was a one-way street, and people would most likely now be headed out of the Valley, our chances of getting a hitch fairly quickly had increased, especially with Sandy and I on the curb and the boys hiding in the bushes. Nearly 10 minutes later, a car pulled over. That was easy we thought. The driver, who happened to be the out-going Park Superintendent (she was literally out-going having secured a transfer) and was in the process of moving, only had room for 2 people and could only go as far as Crane Flat (the gas station). Considering Sandy and Scout were fairly new at this backpacker hitch-hiking thing, we had them take this ride figuring that we wouldn’t be that far behind. Also, the likely-hood of getting a ride the rest of the way to Tuolumne Meadows would be much easier for them from there. Worst case scenario, if we didn’t get a ride, they could get to their car and come back and pick us up. Now left to our own devices, we stood in the hot sun, ride-less for quite some time. People stared, waived, took pictures, and a few pulled a “dick” maneuver slowing down slightly, appearing to pull over, then speeding off. A nice couple from the UK finally pulled over and offered us a ride, unfortunately we had them drop us off way too early from our turn-off to Tuolumne Meadows, and ended up in an even worse position than before with no cell service in order to communicate with Scout and Sandy. In short order however, we were able to Yogi a ride with some young men from the Netherlands, in a rented motorhome, who were unsure on their directions. As a “reward” for helping them, they offered to give us a ride to our turn-off. We got in, happy to be on our way, but to our dismay the driver had gotten turned around, and was now heading in the complete opposite direction we needed to be going. As they did not want to turn around, again, they had decided to now continue to Bodega Bay. We were welcome to join them. If we didn’t have people to meet and a car to get back to we might have joined them and figured out later how to get home, but as it was, out onto the side of the road we clamored once more. Now we were at least 5 miles further (in the wrong direction) from where we had first hitched, had completely NO idea where we were (except next to the Merced River and what appeared to be a very nice swimming hole), and absolutely NO cell reception. Better yet, the sun was starting to set. With sign in hand, we tried our luck at hitching once more. At a minimum, we had to get back to the fork in the road that at least led to the next fork in the road, that headed to Tuolumne Meadows. This was going to be hard. Even if Scout and Sandy had gotten a ride to their car and were headed to pick us up, they would never think to look or find us here. We were now glad that we had two dinners and a breakfast left in our bear canisters, and had decided that if we didn’t get a ride within the next hour, we would climb over the cement barricade, go for a swim, set up camp, and try the next morning. In no time, a car load of people actually pulled over… to ask us directions. Really?! Stuff like that happens to us all the time (being asked directions). No matter where we are in the World! We either must be really approachable, look like we know what we are doing, or blend in like “locals”. It constantly amazes us. Being the nice people we are, we gave them directions and sent them on their way. At least we now knew where we are at and how to get where we needed to go. Another car pulled over to ask for directions. This was starting to get silly. Maybe it was the sign? Not quite sure. We were, for all practical purposes, in the middle of nowhere, considering the lack of cell coverage. This time we truly asserted ourselves and got the people to allow us to squeeze in with them. The ride they gave us was a little further than they would have liked, but it got us past the tunnels and closer to our turn- off to Crane Flat. From here we started our hitch once more. At least here, we could be found, even if we needed to camp there for the night. More vehicles passed, some occupants waiving, some staring straight ahead pretending we didn’t exist, others frowning at us making the “money” sign, like we were “homeless” or “Travelers” (people traveling…on the extreme “cheap” with no particular destination in mind). Having faith in God and humanity, we knew we would find a way back to our car…eventually. Soon a white truck with a homemade shell passed us. Ten minutes later, we see the same truck headed in the opposite direction now making a U-turn right in front of us. Great, we think. More directions. Turns out, this fine young man is on a “walk-about” (but driving to the places he wants to hike of course), having recently graduated from Washington State college (Go Cougars!). He saw our sign, was headed in the direction we needed to go (Tuolumne Meadows), and thought, “if I were hitching, I’d want to be picked up too”, so he turned around and came back to pick us up. Travis, it turned out was heading to Tuolumne Meadows to hike to Cathedral Lake and spend a day or two there. Well he certainly picked up the right people! Directions and knowledge we were glad to impart. He also had planned to hike Mt. Whitney as well, but was not sure on how to go about it. Right people, again. We talked and shared travel stories, and by the time he dropped us at our car, we had invited him to our house to learn to surf, which as of last week, he called us and took us up on our offer. He had since hiked to Cathedral Lake; Climbed Mt. Whitney (in a day); Completed Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon; and was now spending a week with his parents in San Diego. Once back at our car, we happily found Scout and Sandy waiting patiently in theirs. Their story back to their car was interesting as well. Once dropped off at Crane Flat, they got a ride in a white van from a “unique guy”, (who didn’t say a word the whole ride) and his girlfriend, and later learn were only going as far as Tenaya Lake…because that’s where they stopped and parked. Oddly from there, they got a ride from a YARTS shuttle bus that only goes back and forth from Tuolumne Meadows campground to Tenaya Lake. Strange indeed. Not even on the bus schedule. They had been at their car for about 40 minutes and were beginning to wonder where we were. Wonder no more! We told them of our adventure in hitching, and had a hearty laugh. Rather than camp another night in Yosemite, we headed to Scout and Sandy’s Mammoth house for a hot shower, and a good night’s sleep in an actual bed before heading home the next morning.
Another memorable trip in the books. So glad to share it with our friends. Hope they will join us again, on another adventure. In the meantime we are preparing for yet another trip, as it is time to restock our freezer with venison. Considering we did not get drawn for our usual spot in southern Utah, Wyoming here we come! Stay tuned for those adventures as things assuredly will not go as planned.
Why would they?