A Visit to Yosemite
Our reporter Ron Johnson hits one of America's most storied national parks
Yes, the place to be is still Camp 4, the first-come-first-serve public campground in Yosemite. Yes, climbers still try to stay in Camp 4 and Yosemite as long as the long arm of the law will allow. And to those untrained in the school of rock, ahem, the park (established in 1890) continues to be ground zero for the sport and its advancement.
All of the major developments in climbing seem to happen here. It was the home of the late climbing legend Dean Potter, the storied solo ascent of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan that captured the world’s attention. But, it is not just for the rock inclined.
Yosemite offers everything from leisurely bike rides along the valley floor and strolls to stunning viewpoints to true wilderness experiences worthy of the great John Muir himself. The naturalist and author who once said “Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge from the roar and dust and weary, nervous, wasting work of the lowlands, in which one gains the advantages of both solitude and society. Nowhere will you find more company of a soothing peace-be-still kind.”
In 2016, the U.S. Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Surprisingly, visitors to this natural wonder east of San Francisco spend, on average, just five hours in the park. Five hours! Most drive to a scenic lookout, and embrace the wonder of Tunnel View as the valley unfolds through their iPhones before looking with their naked eyes. But wilderness takes time. And Yosemite deserves it. Here are just three ways to enjoy the Yosemite area as well as nearby Stanislaus National Forest this fall.
Two words that fly fishing guide Rick Maier says the Spanish call the leisurely pursuit. It’s the excuse to get outside, to spend a day in the wild, to take the time to be.
Fly fishing is not plunking your butt on the end of a pier with a bucket of cold beer at your side watching a red-and-white plastic bobber all afternoon. It’s active and meditative at the same time. It’s knowing the river, reading the riffle, moving up and down the banks to find that perfect location, wading waist deep in cold rushing water to find the sweet spot and watch the magic happen.
The best way to learn about fly fishing is by hiring a local guide such as Maier’s company Yosemite Adventures, which covers Yosemite as well as some fine rivers in the Stanislaus National Forest including the majestic, must-fish South Fork of the Stanislaus River. Maier has been guiding in and around Yosemite and Stanislaus for decades. It’s not like traditional reel casting, and hooks hurt, especially when it’s your ear.
A guide will kit visitors out with a stylish pair of hip waders, a rod, and a variety of flies. Casting is not as difficult as one might imagine given the number of movies that feature the humorous side of the sport. Maier even compared the basic cast to taking a wrist shot in hockey. Yes, that’s right, a fly fishing guide in California is a huge fan of the Boston Bruins.
Most enjoy the sport for its Zen quality. Engaging with the elements and losing yourself in the pursuit of a singular goal. Daily stresses of life have a habit of melting away in such instances.
Dirtbag for a day
Climbing up a wall of granite is scary. It can also be a thrilling, life-changing experience. And climbing is said to be unique in its ability to not only allow someone to learn something new about the mountains and pick up a new pastime, but also to learn something new about themselves along the way. It requires some fitness and technique. Sitting in the Yosemite Valley surrounded by miles of granite, one cannot help but be inspired.
Here is where the sport began. Where it has and continues to evolve. Where the legendary Camp 4, one of 13 public campgrounds in Yosemite, continues to draw climbers from around the world. Those new to climbing should check in with the local mountaineering school run the the park. One does not need to know how to handle one’s bodily functions while suspended on a porta-ledge off the side of the Dawn Wall.
Obviously Half Dome and El Capitan are the most recognizable names in the park, and for good reason. They are epic, and amazing. The Snake Dike route on Half Dome offers much for visitors to Yosemite. Royal Arches is another great spot with something in the range of 15 routes. Climbing in the fall is the best time of year to tackle Yosemite.
Take a hike
There are trails to scenic viewpoints that last minutes, moderate day hikes and others that last for days.
One of the most popular and moderate day hikes offers amazing views from high up in the alpine. Traipsing to Sentinel Dome is an easy-to-moderate jaunt that winds through forest before a relatively easy scramble up some rock to the top of the Sentinel. From here, one has an impressive view of Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest, and El Capitan amongst others, and comes with its own famous Jeffrey pine tree linked to the great nature photographer Ansel Adams, one of the most photographed trees (although long dead) in the park.
But 95 per cent of Yosemite is actually bona fide wilderness. And there are few backpacking trails better than the one that begins at gorgeous Tuolumne Meadows. The Cathedral Lakes trail is a highlight for many, links up with the long-distance John Muir Trail and also views of Cathedral Peak, another of Muir’s favourites. Hiking to Clouds Rest, almost 10,000 feet up, is another winner and includes incredible views in all directions at the end of the seven-mile trail. It’s strenuous, but not off-the-charts. Trailhead is off of Tioga Road.
But, there are other hikes that demand attention. Hiking Half Dome is kind of a big deal, famous for the last 400 feet that require the use of steel cables as an aid to combat the incredible steeps. Combine Half Dome with the Mist Trail for a 14.2 mile epic round-trip adventure. And, yes, you need a permit. And it ain’t easy, so have backups.
There is Yosemite during the day, and then there is Yosemite when the sun starts to set and the world slows, time bends and eager outdoors lovers climb to the perfect perch upon which to observe the sunset. It’s a thing. And it’s wonderful.
Where to stay: The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (yes, that it is actual name, although most people still use the original name Ahwahnee) is just that. It’s a grand old hotel with stunning views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and much more. It is very luxurious, and will remind Canadian travellers of hotels such as the Banff Springs and Chateau Lake Louise.
Evergreen Lodge is an 80-year-old stunner, with everything from glamping to the most luxurious of cabins available to those looking to visit Yosemite. There is no end to the activities available either at the resort, or through their activities concierge. Sky meet limit.
For something different, try staying just outside the park at Pinecrest Lake Resort, offering up a serious range of accommodations and a sweet little restaurant dubbed The Steam Donkey, after a piece of logging machinery used in the area. Ask the waiter, he’ll explain it all.
Photo credit: Max Whittaker