"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Upper Yosemite Falls - Trail Run - September 2019
We arrived in Yosemite quite late in the day - traffic coming out of San Francisco had been heavy and we'd stopped to swim in a lake to cool off at lunch time so that ate into our travel time. By the time we were checked in to our tent/shack at Curry Village with our food stashed in the bear locker it was around 4pm. No worries, plenty of time to run up to the falls!
Sadanand and Vajin went off confidently and I foolishly tried to stay with them - a few years ago I could have handled their training pace (more like my race pace though it is) but I was getting out of breath pretty early on. Behind us Pavaka and Granantan were taking it at an easier pace, saving some energy for a bigger adventure the next day.
The shot above was taken from Union Point and shows the Lower Falls and Upper Falls - the trail we took cuts out of shot to the left at first then zig-zags back in following the line of the trees until you emerge in the saddle above the Upper Falls. I didn't have much of a map (just a fuzzy photo of a trail sign on my phone) and Vajin had been speaking about a loop route that brought you back down via a different trail after Yosemite Point, so I decided to head up and see how much time I had when I reached the top.
In the late afternoon sunlight there were amazing views of the Yosemite Valley and the imposing Half Dome. The trail was dry and dusty and I would have been fine in road shoes, though the studdy trabucos I was wearing probably helped a lot on the way down. The hares up ahead of me were out of sight after half an hour or so, but I was loving the sensation of gaining height and managing to keep running on a trail where most other people were hiking. The views at every turn were incredible, and I probably took two dozen shots of half dome in all - it's hard not to!
Once I arrived in the narrow zig-zags through the trees that marked the final ascent I caught sight of Vajin and Sadanand again on a higher stretch of the trail and estimated they must be 5 or 10 mins ahead of me - I wasn't sure if they'd wait at the top or kick on around the loop or head straight back down, so I kept on pushing myself on the climb, wondering if it was normal exhaustion I was feeling or the effect of altitude. After all I was heading for somewhere between 2 and 2.5k above sea level which my metabolism certainly isn't used to.
Once at the top I had a few moments to get my breath back and gaze out across the valley. Ignoring the overlook that was signposted to the right from the top of the trail, I took the bridge across the pools above the falls and carried on along the trail towards Yosemite Point. It was less steep but very rocky and the trail was hard to pick out - in fact in places there seemed like no trail at all. I took a look at my map photo and there was no way of telling if there really was a circular route leading back to the car or not. I looked around at the lovely tones of the evening light falling on the sparsely-wooded plateau around me and began to ask myself questions about when the light would fail. I knew sunset was around 7 but with the valley so deep and steep-sided would the dusk come sooner? I made a decision to turn back and re-run the trail I'd ascended on back to the car, as it was the safest and simplest option. In fact I think it was the only option as later looks at the trail map suggest there wasn't an obvious loop route. I detoured to the overlook for a selfie and then began to jog down the mountain. The trail had been well populated on the way up but there were only a handful of hikers still out now that evening was drawing on. There were also a couple of runners making better speed than me, but no sign of Vajin and Sadanand or of Pavaka and Granantan. I was on a solo mission.
I'd brought enough water and bars to keep myself fuelled but I was still pretty fatigued as I ran into my third hour of testing terrain. I was aware that one wrong move up here leading to a twisted ankle or something worse could mean a cold night out with bears for company. The light grew dimmer but my eyes adjusted well and I made it down just before dark. I headed swiftly across the valley floor to the line of portaloos we'd parked by, only to find the car had gone. Well, I was pretty sure I was looking in the right place but I was tired enough to be mistaken! It was getting properly dark now and I was in a tee shirt and shorts with no extra layers and only half a clif bar left for fuel, so when I saw the Yosemite Shuttle fire up its engine ready to pull out from the nearby camp I ran straight over and got on - it's a free bus that circles the camps and the driver said it would drop me at Curry Village - eventually!
On the way I was swaying a bit from tiredness and trying to work out my phone - I turned off airplane mode and was ready to pay the extortionate US roaming rate for a quick call or text to the guys to let them know where I was, but my call to Sadanand's number only got me a "not permitted to connect this call" message and Pavaka's went to voicemail. Whatsapp and text were both failing as well. Then Sadanand called me and I was able to pick up and let him know what had happened. Turns out the faster pair had missed me at the top because they went to the overlook first and then down whereas I bypassed it then backtracked to the overlook. Not seeing me on the way down and with darkness approaching they went looking for me, but not before moving the car a couple of hundred metres to be nearer the start of the trail - so I had missed them again by arriving at the car park in that minute or so they took moving the car! What are the chances? Oh well we got back together at the camp site and they had no misadventures looking for me in the darkness on the lower slopes of the trail by the light of their phones. Fortunately!
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