Initial posts to this blog showcased C and I in Red Rocks, with our group of climbing friends on our annual New Years trip. This group also has an annual summer trip down to the Valley of Yosemite. As in traditional fashion, I packed up my running, climbing and river-lounging gear soon after I finished my last final of the quarter and headed to the mountains.
Even after having spent several weekends already this year on the drive to the valley, I still can never shake the huge grin that spans my face the instant the valley grasses turn to trees and the smell of pine trees and forest soil permeates the car. My trip started with a lazy day hanging out in the hot sun, with periodic dips into the snow-melt river. I was relaxing in preparation for a long run the next day.
My run started later than planned, since I had little motivation to get out of my sleeping bag into the chilly morning air of camp 4. Oh well, this would just give me a little bit of intense, high elevation sun training. My initial plan, based on a recommendation from a friend who knew the trails well, was to run from the valley out to Merced Lake and back. It sounded perfect, since there would be lots of runnable miles once I was out of the valley and well populated enough that I didn’t have to worry over the issue of running alone.
I was prepared for whatever fate wanted to throw at me that day. In my Nathan hydration pack I managed to squeeze in: 5-6 luna/ cliff bars, 4 GUs, 1 PB&H, 2 Liters of water plus a pack of iodine pills for treating stream refills, a cell phone, and a lighter, just in case I was out there longer than expected ;). A little bit of overkill? Maybe. But the feeling I had from being comfortable enough to last a couple days out there? Totally worth it.
I started my way up the crowded mist trail, yearning to get out away from the theme park-like lines that crowd the trails close to the valley. At the bottom of Vernal Falls, I decided to take the JMT instead of the mist trail to get to the top, in favor of less people. As my luck would have it, I missed the turnoff to continue towards Little Yosemite and ended up going the opposite direction, towards Glacier Point. After realizing my mistake and looking at milages for various points, I then changed my plan to run out to Buena Vista Lake and then back the same way.
I ran over rolling hills in a hot, exposed area that had recently burned. I could really feel the intense rays and I slowed down quite a bit. Once the trail took a downward path, back into the trees, I could once again feel comfortable and pick back up the pace. About 7mi in, the trail wound down close to a large river, raging from the large amounts of snowpack that was now melting. I immediately hoped that my trail wouldn’t dead end at the river, but in my gut, I knew it was probably true. The river was completely impassable where the trail intersected, but I decided to follow the water upstream for awhile in attempt to find a calmer section.
I saw a few other footprints on the bank, and hoped that they’d lead me to a safe crossing. After about 20 minutes of bushwhacking alongside the river, I was about ready to turn back.Then, up ahead, I saw 4 guys who were obviously backpacking, looking to cross the river. “Can I cross with you guys!?!” I yelled as I clumsily made my way through some bushes to get over to where they were standing. The look that they gave me was obvious that they doubted my abilities to be out here in the mountains. “Where is all of your gear?” they replied, obviously skirting the question. To them I must have looked crazy. Some girl, all alone in the backcountry, with tiny running shorts, a tank top, and a very small pack on my back(little did they know how much power I had from that pack), trying to go for a “jog”, as they put it.
After a little bit of convincing, they agreed to let me cross with them. They informed me that I’d be able to take an alternate trail around the river after I crossed and wouldn’t have to go through it again. I started making my way across, following what seemed to be the strongest guy in the group. Once I got to the middle of the river I panicked a little. The river was bitter cold, mid-thigh depth and moving faster than I’ve ever felt water push. Having just seen the last mile of river below me, I knew that I didn’t want to be carried away. I reached my hand out to this stranger as he looked back to check on me. I tightly gripped his hand as I shuffled my way to the other side. After much thanks to the people who were the reason I was able to continue my run (in case your wondering, no, I would not have tried to cross if they weren’t there. I would’ve sucked up my pride and turned around), I wound my way back down the river to hook back up with the trail.
I saw the intersection where I’d be able to get back to the valley by going out towards Glacier Point to avoid re-crossing the river. I took the other fork towards Buena Vista Lake, now excited for a refreshing mid-run swim that didn’t involve fearing for my life. This section of the trail had obviously not been used very often. There were so many downed trees from the winter’s storms, which left travel slow and difficult. It was
beautiful, though. I couldn’t help taking a few minutes to stop and soak in my surroundings. Huge, snow-covered peaks surrounded the ridge that I was following. I was in awe. As I started nearing the lake, I could practically smell the refreshing water that I’d soon be jumping in. The expected just isn’t my style, though, and I guess an easy run to the lake just wasn’t in store for me today. I came upon one particularly large log across the trail that I had to climb over. Just as I got to the top, feeling like whale, trying to kick myself over the large object, I noticed a new friend on the trail. Right there in front of me, but facing the opposite direction and moseying along the trail, was a huge black bear! At first I was a little stunned. I’ve only seen a few bears in the wild before, and they were always along the road while I was driving or really far away. After a minute I came back into my head and sat in wonderment of how cool this was! I felt in no way threatened- this guy looked like he’d much rather take a nap then mess with me. I clapped my hands a few times so he’d know I was there, but he barely even looked back long enough for me to catch a glimpse of his long, brown snout. (I apologize for the lack of bear pics. He had already turned the corner by the time my brain remembered to pull out the camera!)
Even though he wasn’t looking for a confrontation, I decided that it would be best to make my turnaround at this point, rather than trying to wait for him to get off the path. I reached the fork and headed out to Glacier Point, on recommendation from the people who helped me cross, but after just a few miles, I hit another river! I couldn’t believe it! This one wasn’t nearly as big, but the water was still moving way faster then I felt comfortable with. I took the same course of action as last time and headed upstream in search of a calmer path. Much to my surprise, I came running up on the same 4 guys! Luckily, there was an easy crossing and I spent a few minutes talking and marveling at our chance meeting. After thanking them again, I continued on my way. This section of trail was much more forested and although the hill was pretty steep, I had a lot of fun. I reached the intersection of the Panorama Trail and knew that it would take me back towards Nevada Falls, where I could follow the same trail I had come up.
This section was absolutely gorgeous. It had such expansive views of the valley that I just soaked in. Because of the heavy snows this winter, the waterfalls were massive! There were also several other smaller waterfalls that normally don’t even exist. The meadow far down below looked as if it was a perfectly manicured golf course, the way it was so green. I passed over Illilouette Falls, the eventual outlet of the two forks of river I had crossed earlier in the day. Crossing the bridge over the crest of the falls capped a truly epic run. The rest of the way went (fairly) smoothly. I wasn’t a huge fan of the climb after crossing the falls, but other than that, I cruised back down to the valley.
After being on my feet all day, I greatly appreciated the decision of a few friends to buy some pizza and beer and relax for the evening. My brain and body needed it.
I’ve come to learn that the longer of distances I try to run, the more likely I am to face unexpected and exciting challenges and adventures. Even though this run led me through some scary moments, they are what will motivate me to get back out on the trails and explore. This is what’s fun. This is why I run.