The Lazy Hikers’ Scenic Viewfest

Published: August 3rd 2012
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Half Dome from Glacier PointHalf Dome from Glacier PointHalf Dome from Glacier Point

Every visitor to Glacier Point has this perfect photo.
Most people have encountered a thought experiment called the “deserted island game”.

The experiment states “if you were stranded on a deserted island with survival supplies but little else, what few things would you want to have with you to pass the time until rescue appears?”

I bring this up because a variant exists for wilderness hikes: If I could only hike one trail for the rest of my life, what should that trail be?

I’m now sure I know the answer: The Panorama Trail in Yosemite National Park.

I woke up this morning in a sea of pine trees and other tents.

This is not special at all.

I then went to get water for breakfast.

I reached an open area in the pines, and had a perfect view of Half Dome towering over the campground.

THAT is special.

Going a little further revealed a perfect view of North Dome on the other side of the valley.

This is why people go through so much effort to sleep in this valley, and it’s worth it.

The Panorama Trail starts at a famous overlook of Yosemite
Half Dome from North PinesHalf Dome from North PinesHalf Dome from North Pines

My view while getting water this morning
Valley called Glacier Point.

Glacier Point has a long road to the top.

Visiting the point is so popular that the park runs a paid shuttle bus from the valley to the point and back.

Many Panorama Trail hikers take the bus to the point and then hike back to the valley, an eight mile trip that is nearly all downhill.

This is the reason this hike has the name mentioned in the title.

Yosemite Valley has notorious traffic problems.

A lot of people try to squeeze into a narrow valley, leading to all sorts of stopped traffic.

Unlike the wildlife jams of Yellowstone (see Welcome to Wonderland), these are caused by too many people trying to fit in limited parking spots.

The park created a shuttle system in the middle 1970s to ease the load.

They look like oversized busses.

For a convertible driver, the reduced views are obvious.

Much better is the famous park valley tour, which is done on a flatbed truck with seats bolted on and a ranger to point out the various sights.

When the weather cooperates, this is likely the best motor tour in any national park.
North Dome from Upper PinesNorth Dome from Upper PinesNorth Dome from Upper Pines

North Dome as seen from close to my campsite

It costs money, though.

Unfortunately, the Glacier Point Shuttle is a normal bus.

Tunnel View

The shuttle’s first order of business is climbing out of Yosemite Valley.

We went to the west end where the road splits into three forks.

I drove in the northern route yesterday.

The bus took the southern fork and climbed the valley wall.

It reached a curve in front of a long tunnel, which has a huge parking lot.

This marks one of the most famous and photographed views of the Valley, Tunnel View.

Many people think the name refers to the view from the tunnel (which would be awesome if true) but actually refers to the view after the turn beyond it.

The view is even more overwhelming than the one I saw last night.

Our guide pointed out the highway rising along the cliffs on the other side.

It follows the original wagon road to the valley built by the earliest settlers.

Beyond the tunnel, the road goes through the exact same landscape I saw yesterday, a sea of pine trees.

During this stretch,
Tunnel ViewTunnel ViewTunnel View

The famous photo that every Yosemite visitor wants, and usually gets
our guide talked about Yosemite drivers, particularly bad ones.

The park attracts a large number of people who are not used to mountain driving.

In addition to the usual car trouble, they take a toll on the park’s wildlife.

Wild animals do not know to look both ways before crossing a road, and many are killed every year.

Park managers first responded by lowing speed limits, but this proved ineffective.

They then hit on the idea of using guilt, by putting up signs where bears were killed along the roads.

These do work to some extent.

Likely more effective is the web of speed traps the park uses every summer, including one right at Tunnel View.

After a bit, the bus turned onto a side road and began to climb.

The scenery did not change any.

We passed through a burn area, and our guide had a story on one of Yosemite’s more notorious fires.

Yosemite, like Sequoia, uses controlled burns to keep the forest healthy.

In 2009, the park planned a small burn to remove deadfall near a meadow.

The area proved drier than expected,
Tenaya CanyonTenaya CanyonTenaya Canyon

Tenaya Canyon, to the left of Half Dome
and the controlled burn became a much larger one.

By the time firefighters finally contained it, the fire had burned an entire mountainside, including the part we are traveling through.

During this stretch, we also got our Yosemite bear story.

I already know about them from Sequoia, but the ingenuity of bears in the Sierra is still impressive.

They will break into cars to get anything which has a smell.

People have had break-ins due simply to leaving an empty candy wrapper on the floor.

Most bears break in by hooking their claws on the door top and peeling it like a can opener.

They break back out by smashing a window.

Some have learned to rip out back seats to get into trunks.

When the devastated car owner then tells a ranger about it (which they are required to do) they get a nasty surprise.

Said ranger will listen as sympathetically as a human is capable of, and then write a rather large citation for improper food storage.

The lesson from all this is that the signs about bears in the park are no joke!

Little Yosemite ValleyLittle Yosemite ValleyLittle Yosemite Valley

Little Yosemite Valley to the right of Half Dome, from Glacier Point. Liberty Cap appears on the right

Another story concerned the park’s first superintendent, Galen Clark.

He visited his doctor in 1856 and was told he would almost certainly die within six months.

He decided to spend those months in the most beautiful place he had ever been, Yosemite.

Clark moved here, dug a grave in the valley’s pioneer cemetery, surrounded it with sequoia saplings, and waited for the inevitable.

A year later, he was still waiting.

The environment must have agreed with him, because he survived for another fifty years!

Ironically, at the time of his death park regulations had closed the cemetery, so it took an act of Congress for him to be buried in his own grave.

Further up, the trees gradually thinned.

Now, bare stretches of granite poke through the trees.

We passed Sentinel Dome, a large open granite dome near the highway with open sky beyond.

The road then passes through a series of tight switchbacks.

The bus barely fit through them, stretching from one end of each curve to the other.

Large vehicles are normally prohibited because they invariably get stuck.

Our guide pointed out
Illiloutte ValleyIlliloutte ValleyIlliloutte Valley

Illiloutte Valley in Yosemite, with Sierra peaks behind
the tree totaled by a cement truck fifteen years ago; it was carrying supplies for a new visitors’ center.

The road ends at a parking lot next to said visitors’ center, and the ride is over.

Glacier Point

A short trail leads from the parking lot to the point itself.

The first part passes boulders and some trees.

After that, a view of granite peaks appears in the distance.

As the trail gets closer, the view grows and grows to encompass glacially carved cliffs under the peaks.

It ends at the point, where the view is simply overwhelming.

As good as Tunnel View is, the view from Glacial Point makes it look average.

Glacier point is likely the single best scenic viewpoint in the United States, if not the world.

The left side shows a series of incredibly steep granite walls reaching from eye level to the valley floor 1800 feet below.

The walls show the cracks and grooves of rocks split by glaciers.

Rounded granite domes appear behind them.

One cliff face has an incredibly long and thin ribbon of water running down
Yosemite Falls from Glacier PointYosemite Falls from Glacier PointYosemite Falls from Glacier Point

Yosemite Falls in very low water. Most years it dries up by now
it, Yosemite Falls.

The central area shows a perfect view of a high granite dome with a nearly vertical face, Half Dome.

A U shaped valley surrounded by high granite peaks stretches off to its left, Tenaya Canyon.

Further right appears a series of granite ledges leading to a high valley surrounded by yet more granite peaks.

Two tall waterfalls drop from the ledges.

These are Nevada and Vernal Falls.

Finally, another valley snakes away to the far right, surrounded by yet more granite domes, Illiloutte Creek.

High Sierra peaks appear on the horizon behind it.

Pictures can’t capture the vastness of this scene (but I still tried!).

For visitors with no fear of heights (repeat, NO FEAR AT ALL), the point provides a special treat.

The cliff below Glacier Point has a sixty degree slope.

Brace a hand on the safety fence and look over the edge, over half a mile down!

This view is Yosemite Valley as only the eagles normally see it, tiny buildings amidst a sea of pine trees sandwiched between towering walls of granite.

I could clearly pick out
Yosemite VertigoYosemite VertigoYosemite Vertigo

Curry Village from 1500 feet above at Glacier Point
landmarks like Camp Curry (directly below the point), the Merced River, and my campground.

I held the camera with a death grip while getting these pictures.

Glacier Point is the former location of one of Yosemite National Park’s strangest spectacles, the fire fall.

Until the park service stopped the practice in 1968, employees from Camp Curry would build a huge bonfire on the point just after sunset every day in summer while a huge crowd gathered below.

The employees then pushed the entire fire over the cliff!

A huge waterfall of red embers ran down the cliff as visitors cheered.

Panorama Trail

The point also shows the entire route of the hike to come.

The trail starts to the far right and drops down the side of the Illiloutte Creek valley.

It reaches the floor of the valley at the top of a cliff, which contains a waterfall.

After crossing it, it climbs the other side, finally reaching a cliff above the valley containing Nevada and Mist Falls.

This is Panorama Point, which gives the hike its name.

From there, the trail drops some
Yosemite VertigoYosemite VertigoYosemite Vertigo

Another view of Yosemite Valley and the Merced River from Glacier Point
more to the top of Nevada Falls.

It then drops down the series of cliffs to the Yosemite Valley floor, and back to the campground.

The total hike is eight miles long.

The first part of the trail passes through the area of a former forest fire.

The slope is covered in bushes, making it completely exposed.

The view is nearly as good as Glacier Point, although it only covers North Dome and southward.

In some ways it’s even better, due to having it to myself.

The trail then entered an area where open burn area alternates with clumps of trees.

The jaw dropping views continue, just on and on.

I had to force myself to stop looking and keep hiking in many places.

The trail reaches one of the few places on land to see Half Dome in full profile.

The vertical face is one of the steepest cliffs in the world, a mere seven degrees from vertical.

It’s obvious from this view that the mountain should really be called ‘Nine-tenths Dome’, but that wouldn’t sound as good in
Panorama Trail ViewPanorama Trail ViewPanorama Trail View

A COMMON view on the Panorama Trail
the brochures 😊

Slowly but surely, the floor of the side valley gets closer.

The trail enters forest and passes through some switchbacks.

It then enters another sloping mountainside covered in nothing but bushes and big rocks.

The view shows that Illiloutte Valley is a hanging valley, which ends at a cliff.

The creek falls down the cliff forming Illiloutte Falls.

This area also has an incredible view of Nevada and Vernal Falls, which appear head on instead of the slightly sideways view available at Glacier Point.

Hiking this next stretch shows the big downsides of all those views.

The view appears because the trail has no trees.

The lack of shade means the sun beats down relentlessly.

Even with well spaced water breaks, hiking in the hot sun is wearing me out.

Bit by bit, the trail works its way down the hillside.

Big burned stumps appear in places, showing that this too is the former site of a forest fire.

At lower elevation, clumps of young oak trees appear.

They are reclaiming
Half Dome in ProfileHalf Dome in ProfileHalf Dome in Profile

Half Dome in full profile from the Panorama Trail
this hillside for the forest.

The clumps get larger, and then pine trees appear.

The pines grow closer together until the trail is once again in a pine forest.

Although hiking that stretch is exhausting from the sun exposure, I wouldn’t trade its views for the world.

Illiloutte Falls

Now firmly back in pine forest, the trail passes through another series of switchbacks.

It finally reaches a side path, which goes to an overlook of Illiloutte Falls.

It looks much like other waterfalls in Yosemite Valley, a narrow ribbon of water down a tall granite cliff.

The difference here is that this waterfall is buried in a side valley that relatively few people reach.

The viewpoint also has a view of Half-Dome, now looking like a huge thumb sticking up from the surrounding ridge.

Finally, the trail reaches the floor of the valley.

It hits a junction, turns toward the creek, and reaches an open area.

Illiloutte creek flows across a ribbon of smooth open granite.

Rocks and fallen trees block it in places, creating little pools.

The trail crosses the creek
Illiloutte ValleyIlliloutte ValleyIlliloutte Valley

View as the Panorama Trail descends into Illiloutte Valley. The trail itself is roughly halfway up the valley wall.
on a bridge.

The bridge has a pretty good view of the fire burned mountainside I just hiked through.

The downstream view reveals the top of an obvious cliff, the waterfall.

Walking on the granite near the cliff is highly tempting.

It’s a fatal temptation, because falling in the water means a certain ride over the waterfall and death.

Illiloutte creek is far from the only waterway in Yosemite with this issue.

Past the creek, the trail reaches the hardest part of the entire hike.

The hike down the mountainside revealed a steep slope on the far side of the creek.

The trail now climbs up that slope, through a series of switchbacks.

These switchbacks are long, and completely forested.

Not only is the climb uphill, there are no progress markers so it feels endless.

Finally, it reaches the top of the valley.

From here, the trail continues to climb, now near the edge of the cliff opposite Half Dome.

While the trail is still climbing, it now passes openings in the trees with some
Nevada and Vernal FallsNevada and Vernal FallsNevada and Vernal Falls

Nevada (upper) and Vernal (lower) Falls as seen from the Panorama Trail
pretty good views.

One shows the burned slope on the other side of Illiloutte Valley.

Some others show Glacier Point.

Yet more show the back side of Half Dome, where it looks even more like a giant thumb.

As the trail progresses along the cliff, it crosses areas of sloped granite.

These provide a view down Yosemite Valley, including Yosemite Falls.

The trail finally stops climbing at a junction for Panorama Point.

A short spur trail leads to an open area.

As far as I walked down to cross the valley, I’ve had to climb back up, because Panorama Point is nearly as high as Inspiration Point.

The point is semi-forested, so the view is not as good.

The left part shows a view of Yosemite Valley, including Yosemite Falls.

A high valley surrounded by granite domes dominates the view to the right, with still more peaks in the distance.

This is the area beyond Nevada Falls, often called Little Yosemite Valley.

The back side of Half Dome dominates the central view, with a smaller granite dome directly in front of it, Liberty
Panorama TrailPanorama TrailPanorama Trail

Another of the glorious views along the Panorama Trail

This is a view of the valley that only dedicated hikers experience.

From the point, the trail levels out.

It is still following the cliff as it crosses the slopes of a granite dome.

This dome is fully forested.

Still, descent views appear in places.

All of them show Half Dome and the valley in front of it.

The trail travels a long way along the cliff until it reaches an area where the mountain had another forest fire.

Here, it joins the John Muir Trail and drops over the cliff side.

John Muir Trail

At this point, the character of the trail and views change.

Until this moment, the trail has mostly been on the rim of gorges, with long distance views from above.

Now, the trail enters the gorge, with close views of waterfalls and features from within them.

The trail also gets rocky, and very steep in parts.

I tried to enjoy the solitude of the initial descent, because once at the waterfalls it gets incredibly crowded.

The trail first passes through
Illiloutte FallsIlliloutte FallsIlliloutte Falls

Illiloutte Falls in low water, from the Panorama Trail
a very steep slope covered in huge boulders.

Pine trees grow between the rocks.

This area is the least steep part of the side of Little Yosemite Valley.

It twists down the slope through a seemingly endless series of tight switchbacks, all filled with rocks.

Parts of the trail pass groups of fallen trees.

As tough as the hiking gets, think about doing it in the other direction.

After much work, the trail reaches an area of smooth granite.

A little stream flows across it, supporting a huge area of moss.

The trail crosses the upper part of the granite, protected by a stone barrier.

The granite has little view, thanks to trees beyond it.

The switchback turn just beyond the granite has a view down the valley through trees.

A very unofficial trail continues beyond the turn.

This trail is for experienced scramblers only, because it ends on a bare granite ledge.

Anyone with a fear of heights should also stay away, because this ledge has no guardrails.

The ledge has an unobstructed view down the valley
Illiloutte CreekIlliloutte CreekIlliloutte Creek

Illiloutte Creek in low water, above Illiloutte Falls
below Half Dome, all glacially carved granite.

Half Dome and Liberty Cap rise above the granite walls on the far side.

Looking down shows a vertigo inducing view of the Merced River heading for an obvious cliff, Vernal Falls.

Unfortunately, trees block a good view of Nevada Falls.

Past the turn, the trail crosses the bottom part of the same granite slab as earlier.

A nice big pine tree grows from a crack.

The stream collects at the bottom (separated from the trail by a rock wall) and flows into a depression.

The trail follows it into a clump of pines.

Past the pines, the trail crosses more rock slabs.

These are forested, so they are covered in pine trees and bushes except for an open area along the stream and trail.

The stream is surrounded by moss.

Unlike the switchbacks from earlier, the trail gradually drops through this stretch.

Finally, the trail splits from the stream and enters an area of dense pine trees.

It makes a corner and starts to drop more steeply again, over a long
Panorama PointPanorama PointPanorama Point

View of Yosemite Valley from Panorama Point
series of little rocks.

It finally reaches the rim of a gorge, the one between Nevada and Vernal Falls.

The Panorama and John Muir Trails split here.

From now on, the trail will be quite crowded, because this is the most popular long hike in the park.

Following the gorge rim upstream, the trail crosses over more rock slabs.

Some have open views down the gorge.

One has an open view of the rock slabs I crossed earlier in the hike.

None of them, sadly, have a view of Nevada Falls.

The trail enters dense pine forest.

Starting here, the park service lined the trail with rocks to keep people on the official path.

At one point, the trail crosses another stream, and those rocks formed a nice pool in the middle of the trail.

The only way past is a careful rock hop along the side.

Nevada Falls

Finally, the trail reaches an area of completely open granite.

Unlike the earlier slabs, this stretch is smooth and almost completely flat.

A few pine trees grow in cracks.

Rocks and treesRocks and treesRocks and trees

Rock covered slope during the descent to Nevada Falls
huge view of glacier carved Liberty Cap appears at the far end, with the back side of Half Dome behind it.

The left side shows an obvious cliff top, with the gorge seen earlier beyond it.

I have reached the cliff containing Nevada Falls.

The trail quickly crosses the cliff to a deep groove in the rock.

Water runs down that groove to the edge of the cliff and disappears.

A bridge crosses over the river.

Signs warn to stay far away from the slanted granite.

Anyone slipping will fall in the stream, go over the waterfall, and die.

The water in the groove flows from a little pond.

On the far side of the bridge, the trail goes right by it.

The pond is fenced off.

It looks like the perfect place for a swim on a hot day, but such a swim would be deadly.

Careful observation shows the swift river current, passing right through the middle.

Anyone caught in it ends up stuck in the groove if they are lucky, and quite dead if they are
Merced ValleyMerced ValleyMerced Valley

View of the Merced Valley from the Panorama Trail near Nevada Falls. Glacier Point is on the upper left

Past the pond, a side path heads across the granite toward the edge of the cliff.

Near the edge, it reveals a lower rock shelf with a safety fence.

The gorge appears a long way down beyond the fence.

A pile of split rocks sits on the rock shelf, and the trail scrambles through them.

Given the long view, this feels more dangerous than it really is, even with the fence.

Finally, I reached the lower shelf.

It runs along the edge of the cliff to the top of Nevada Falls.

It shows the waterfall dropping a long way in open air until it hits the side of the cliff.

Here is spreads outward into fan and finishes the drop.

The river at the bottom looks incredibly tiny thanks to the perspective.

This drop is 594 feet down.

Back on the main trail, it leaves the open granite and enters more clumps of pine trees.

The granite wall of Liberty Cap gets closer and closer.

The trail stays near the edge of the cliff, visible through the trees.
Liberty CapLiberty CapLiberty Cap

The cliff above Nevada Falls, with a perfect view of Liberty Cap

Near the base of the wall, the trail reaches a stone cabin from the 1930s.

This marks the junction with the Mist and Half Dome trails, and the Panorama Trail ends.

The trail junction sits next to a wide crack in the cliff.

The Mist Trail heads right into it.

It proceeds to drop through the crack on a seemingly endless series of rocky switchbacks.

This part of the trail is closer to a rocky staircase than a normal hiking trail; many of the rocks are precisely aligned, showing this trail is completely manmade.

If that isn’t enough, some of the rocks have drill holes, from being blasted off the cliff!

The trail finally reaches the top of a pile of giant rocks.

These rocks fell from the surrounding cliffs.

Trees grow in cracks.

Through the trees, the trail gives a view of the glacially carved cliffs above.

The path picks its way down the rock pile, scrambling from rock to rock through yet more switchbacks.

The switchbacks seem endless, but the scenery does change.

The trail reaches
Nevda Falls from the topNevda Falls from the topNevda Falls from the top

Nevada Falls from the top overlook
the end of the crack.

Through the trees, a steeply sloping wall of smooth granite appears on the left.

Unfortunately, the wall curves just enough to block a good view of Nevada Falls.

Further down, the first good view of the waterfall appears.

The size is amazing, even compared to the views from earlier.

The water freefalls down the upper portion of the cliff where the rocks are steep.

It then flows down the less steep lower section as a narrow fan.

The junction between the two gives off spray.

From that viewpoint, the trail goes through yet more switchbacks down the same nearly endless rock pile.

The trail needs to drop the same distance the water falls, and I was sure feeling it by this point in the hike!

On the plus side, the views of Nevada Falls are nice, and the trail has good views of the downstream canyon too.

Sadly, those disappear further down, when the trail enters another pine forest.

Finally, mercifully, the trail reaches the bottom of the canyon and flattens out.

I was beginning to wonder if
Mist Trail DescentMist Trail DescentMist Trail Descent

Steep swtichbacks on the Mist Trail
I would ever see flat ground again.

Unfortunately, “flat” does not mean “easy”.

This is still a glacial canyon.

It is filled with boulders, and the trail goes over and around them.

Two unofficial scramble paths lead away from the trail to the river at different points.

Both require descent scrambling skills.

They both reach overlooks with incredible views of Nevada Falls upstream.

At one the waterfall looks close and overwhelming, while the other is far enough away to take in the whole thing at a glance.

Even in low water, this waterfall looks tall and majestic.

Silver Apron and Emerald Pool

The next part of the trail passes through pine forest alternating with sections of open granite.

The open parts give pretty good views of the cliffs above.

It then reaches a large section of smooth granite with a narrow ravine in the middle.

The river runs through the ravine.

The trail crosses over it on another bridge.

Just past this, the ravine ends above an area of wide gently sloping granite and the water spreads out into a
Nevada FallsNevada FallsNevada Falls

Nevada Falls from the second of the two overlooks at the bottom
huge fan.

The granite has signs on it marked “No Swimming”.

Past the granite slope, the trail renters the trees and crosses a talus slope.

This required some rock scrambling to keep balance.

The slope gives a long view of the river sliding down the granite slope in the distance.

This entire stretch has more “no swimming” signs.

The trail reenters pine forest and drops to the side of a narrow lake, with even more “no swimming” signs.

The lake backs up against the slanted granite from earlier, with the river sliding into the lake.

The “no swimming” signs exist because the slide and lake are yet another area for careless daredevils to kill themselves in Yosemite.

The long open slope of granite is called the Silver Apron.

It ends in Emerald Pool.

Silver Apron looks like the perfect natural waterslide.

It would be, except for all the sharp rocks at the bottom deposited by floods.

They hide just below the surface of the lake, but were visible today with careful observation.

Emerald Pool, like the little pond above
Silver ApronSilver ApronSilver Apron

Silver Apron, the slide above Emerald Pool
Nevada Falls, also has strong river current through the middle.

That current leads to something truly hazardous.

The trail follows the shore of Emerald Pool.

The view consists entirely of pine trees and granite.

This view has an odd feature, though.

As I got closer to the end of the pool, it became clear that the trees just end at a certain point, roughly ten yards beyond the end of the pool.

As I got closer, I started to see granite walls a distance away through the trees.

At the outlet, the hazard becomes obvious.

The river runs a short distance and then drops straight over a cliff.

People caught in that current will barely have time to scream.

Vernal Falls

Past the pond, the trail reaches a short open area of sloping granite.

A safety fence is visible at the far side, with a huge view of a glacial granite canyon beyond it.

Thanks to the slope, hiking on this granite feels dangerous even with the safety fence at the edge.

The trail goes right to it.

Peeking over
Emerald PoolEmerald PoolEmerald Pool

Emerald Pool with granite magisty behind it
the fence and looking to the left reveals a vertical curtain waterfall, Vernal Falls.

This is the most popular waterfall in Yosemite not located next to a road.

Its 318 feet high.

The cliff also reveals a vertigo inducing view of the rock filled canyon far below.

The rocks on the left side are clearly covered in green plants.

These plants thrive on spray kicked up by the waterfall.

A tiny ribbon of clear space runs through them.

The ribbon is the trail, right through the spray zone.

This trail is called ‘Mist Trail’ because hikers get soaked on it, passing through the mist of the waterfall.

Prepare for slippery footing too.

Past the waterfall view, the trail follows the fence along the top of the cliff.

The views are long throughout.

Unlike the cliff above Nevada Falls, this one is completely treeless.

The trail finally reaches a gate near the end of the cliff.

The gate blocks the trail, with a sign that passing beyond in icy conditions or heavy rain could be fatal.

Oh, I’m looking
Vernal Falls topVernal Falls topVernal Falls top

Vernal Falls from the top viewpoint
forward to this next stretch!

Beyond the gate, the trail drops down a narrow rock shelf.

Looking closely at the rocks shows that this shelf was blasted from the side of the cliff Vernal Falls drops over.

It’s about two feet wide.

The side has a fence for protection.

Although it’s possible to descend without touching the fence, I’m sure glad it’s there.

The upper portion has great views further down the gorge.

The shelf ends when it reaches the side of the canyon, at the top of yet another huge rock pile.

The trail climbs down the pile through a series of precisely laid rock steps, another rock staircase.

This portion is all in trees.

All at once, the trail bursts from the trees into the open area seen from the top of the cliff.

Vernal Falls appears in full for the first time.

The waterfall is a wide curtain falls where the water spreads out across the cliff and then falls.

The drop is quite long, which does not come across in photographs due to the lack
Cliff climbCliff climbCliff climb

The section of the Mist Trail blasted into the side of a cliff
of reference landmarks.

The bottom gives off tons of spray.

The one advantage of seeing it at low water is that it produces less spray, so the trail is not as wet.

From the view, the trail continues to drop down the boulders on the side of the canyon.

Both sides are now covered in plants.

The rocks are a little slippery, but easily handled.

The trail in this stretch is made of more precisely layered stairs, so this is more like descending a staircase than a regular wilderness hike.

Most staircases don’t have this quality of view, though!

At one point, the trail swings close to the canyon wall, where a set of huge rock slabs broke off and fell.

These slabs form a boulder cave (see California Beach Culture).

The trail goes right into it.

The cave in this case consists of one narrow vertical crack, and its over quickly.

Further down, the trail swings toward the river.

This part is quite wet, and during spring runoff it gets utterly soaked.

I picked my
Mist staircaseMist staircaseMist staircase

The section of the Mist Trail disguised as a stone staircase, in the spray zone of Vernal Falls
way carefully through the rocks, since the last thing I need is a twisted ankle.

The reward for hiking directly into the main path of the waterfall spray is a head-on view of Vernal Falls.

This is one of Yosemite’s classic views, a curtain of water falling a long way.

Due to low water level this time of year, the waterfall is thinner than most photographs I’ve seen.

Past that view, the trail leaves the rock pile (finally!) and reaches the river.

It follows the river to the base of a glacial cliff.

The trail then follows the cliff into a big patch of pine trees on the floor of the gorge.

This stretch of trail has a great view.

Since the waterfall is visible from Glacier Point, the point must be visible from here.

Sure enough, it appears on the far right end of the sheer cliff in the distance.

To think, I was there a mere six hours ago!

On the floor of the gorge, the trail turns into a true tourist trail.

It’s graded and paved.
Vernal FallsVernal FallsVernal Falls

The classic view of Vernal Falls from the bottom. This viewpoint is wet :)

The trail follows the river, weaving its way through trees and big granite boulders.

This scenery is rather familiar by this point.

The trail then reaches a bridge over the Merced River with a distant view of Vernal Falls.

Next to it is something I have never seen before in the wilderness.

The bridge sits next to another stone shelter from the 1930s, like the one I saw earlier at the junction for the Half Dome trail.

This particular shelter has been turned into a bathroom, with both flushing toilets and electric lights!

I’m looking at something I would normally find in a roadside campground, far from any road.

Next to the bathroom sits a huge water fountain shaped like a sink, with a big sign to fill up water bottles before proceeding any further.

During summer, this must be the most popular trail in the National Park system!

Past the bathroom, the trail continues down the gorge.

Most of it is forested with little view beyond rocks and trees.

These alternate with rock slides.

The slides provide a great
Glacier Point at sunsetGlacier Point at sunsetGlacier Point at sunset

Glacier Point overlooking Yosemite Valley, at sunset
view of the gorge, with glacially carved granite majesty rising on all sides.

One provides a view of the Illiloutte Creek valley, steeply dropping to meet the Merced.

Another slide shows a perfect view of Glacier Point, overlooking Yosemite Valley like a huge battleship.

Near the end, the trail passes a sign.

Unlike those found at most trailheads, this one is the size of a small billboard.

It lists all the hazards people need to deal with in the back country (bears included) along with a long list of required gear.

It also contains a list of popular hiking targets.

The shortest is the bridge with the view of Vernal Falls, and the longest is Half-Dome, seventeen miles round trip.

Soon after the sign, the trail reaches the road and the hike is over.

My camera holds over a thousand photos.

On this hike, I came very close to filling it.

What a day!


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