It was my second month of working and living in Yosemite and I had absorbed enough information to begin challenging myself. I began to think of bigger hikes and more importantly where they would take me. Part of my job as a volunteer was recommending hiking trails so getting down all the specifics about them came easy.
My biggest challenge in the form of a hike was taking on the monstrous 15.8 mile hike combining the first 4.8 miles of Four Mile trail to the top of Glacier Point then descending back into the valley via the 8.5 mile Panorama trail to use the final 2.5 miles of the Mist Trail back to camp.
After a couple weeks of cardio training along with enough carbs to feed a developing country I felt ready enough to tackle the loop. I knew a lot more about hiking in Yosemite at this point, most importantly that I had to start early to avoid crowds. Starting sharp at 5:30 AM I began my journey by riding my bike that very cold morning to the trail-head. By the time I had completed the first series of switchbacks on Four Mile I was beginning to get into my zone. Despite sweating immensely in multiple layers of clothes in the cold the distance to Glacier Point was growing smaller with every step.
Each series of switchbacks climbed to a progressively better overlook of the valley floor below. Once I was level with Sentinel Rock I realized just how high I’d climbed in those short first miles. Three and half hours later at the top of Glacier Point my body felt like it had enough reserves to keep going. I rested for a couple of minutes before finding the Panorama trailhead, starting my descent shortly before lunchtime.
Crowds had already begun to swarm Glacier Point so the notion of only staying briefly before continuing became more attractive. After taking a small lunch break I began my descent back towards the Mist Trail. Smoke from the Empire Fire could be seen from the multiple small spots fire starting to kick off.
Accentuating gold autumn color, the wave of rolling white smoke came and went over the smaller peaks surrounding Tenaya Canyon. In the distance, just around the corner I began to hear the familiar roar of Nevada Falls. At this point in the season the water being exponentially lower still didn’t detract from it’s looks. A short break later I began winding down the rock steps to the top of Vernal Falls before finally getting back on the Mist Trail home.
Late afternoon light began to shift the shadows projecting across the valley. Getting down from Nevada to the path back towards camp was still another two hours of downhill.
In my opinion, the last portion of the Mist Trail back to my bike was probably the hardest part. The most direct route down meant taking the knee pounding Vernal Falls staircase down this time. It’s incline descending those rough stone stairs began to rattle my endurance. My calves and glutes, aflame seeing the beginning of the paved part of the trail gave me an extra boost to keep pushing.
At this point I felt my body starting to really run on fumes as I closed the distance to the shuttle stop. Say what you want about hiking, but I personally hate going down hill. Occasionally I would carefully side scoot down just to avoid the pressure of normally stepping. My mind was focused on getting back home and until I sat down smelling like death in that bio-diesel shuttle I wouldn’t stop.
I side stepped whenever I could to get downhill faster, skirting the occasional hiker until the trail began to flatten out.After seeing the shuttle stop bike rack, I began to finally relax. At 4:45PM my journey was finally complete and after almost ten and half a hours of hiking I was down for the count. The bus ride back I fell asleep until the older couple seated behind me woke me up to ask if I was alright. “Just tired and stinky”, I replied until my shuttle stop came, prompting me to exit.
Being able to experience the valley so frequently and personally is something that I will always appreciate. Whether it was walking around Cook’s Meadow as the morning sunlight bounced off low clouds of fog or going thousands of feet higher via a series of blistering switchbacks.
There are small moments of peaceful beauty that are unique to a place such as Yosemite. Special moments in time where the mind is at rest and can finally focus on the here and now. The reason I enjoy Yosemite so much is no matter where you are you can find something stunning.
It’s a place where I’ve been able to reflect a lot about my own life and more importantly what I’m going to do with it. There has been a lot of new perspective gained from this journey that started from just an application and a couple of phone calls. If you would’ve told me six months ago that I would be willing to live in a tent for three months for a volunteer position I don’t think I would’ve even considered it.
While my comfort zone was nice to live in I felt like I wasn’t growing in the direction I wanted. Yosemite was my attempt to correct a longstanding mistake of not pushing myself to grow. Reflecting on all the different parts of my stay there I have to say that no matter what hardship I went through in those three months; it was worth it.
As I I sit at home now and stare off into the mountains like before I am grateful that such an opportunity presented itself. The time I spent in Yosemite will not be my last, rather I see this as just the beginning of my relationship with it. There is no doubt in my mind anymore about what draws people to the Yosemite Valley because I have now experienced it.
Time will progress but the part of me I that built while living there will remain permanent. All the thousands of people I’ve interacted with, miles hiked, and photos taken were the culmination of one decision that helped me clarify what I want from life, and more importantly how to approach the challenges it brings.
In my heart and mind there are a few permanent special places, ones that even when I leave them they are still firmly a part of me. My first example of this were the mountains surrounding the desert I grew up in. As long I as exist I will respect them with every ounce of my being. Every time I am near home I can feel their presence, silently watching over the bustling cities they encircle. At sundown I begin to enter a gaze and watch the fading orange light cast shadows over the natural folds and creases in their structure. Beautiful hues of purple combine with the swirls of orange daily to create the iconic Mojave sundown. It’s something that’s been burned into my memory, a view that I’ll never forget no matter how hard I try. It is a reminder of the size of the world, more specifically the perspective I’ve acquired after absorbing all I could from it. Each day, no matter wherever I am or go to the desert is with me.
I’ve come to realize that my time in Yosemite has also made it one of these places, somewhere that I feel instantly gravitated towards no matter where I am. It has become a part of me just as the desert mountain ranges have. It’s a place that represents a challenging transition in my life. Where I’ve met some of the most incredible people, pushed to new limits not only physically but as a person, along with immersing myself in a place that is without a doubt, one hundred percent special.
Each and every one of you represents a part of what makes this place special. We are the underpaid, sometimes overworked, and most of the time under appreciated but still we continue on our paths because we’ve all had the same realization about this place. About the beauty that encompasses it and what makes that beauty real. About all the people past and present that are passionate about protecting it. We are part of a lineage that stretches both ways in the spectrum of time but will always continue forward because of the drive of the individuals within. It’s easy to forget about sometimes but this is what Yosemite has taught me. I will never regret coming here or volunteering my time to this wonderful national park.
You’ve all in your own ways have taught me valuable lessons that I will carry with me the rest of my life.