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Memorial Weekend in Yosemite

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Joan and I met up some new outdoor friends to go camping and hiking in Yosemite National Park. Jeff A., our third partner in our upcoming John Muir Trail adventure, introduced us to a terrific group.

I had never attempted to visit a national park on Memorial Day weekend, but it turns out to be a sort of unofficial start to the summer season. Yes, I would do it again if the opportunity came up. And yes, I would pick a different weekend if given a choice (it was crowded… more on that later).

Gear for four

The twelve of us had two campsites in the Upper Pines campground. We left Orange County at 6am on Saturday morning, reached the park entrance at 11:30am, and were waved right through without paying. That seemed odd until we left on Monday afternoon, and they collected our $20 entrance fee upon exiting. Apparently they sometimes wave people through to minimize traffic backups on entrance, and instead collect the fees when you exit.

I slept under the stars
I slept beneath the stars

The drive from the south entrance to the valley is about 40 miles, but once we hit the valley, traffic ground to a halt. We didn’t reach the campground until 1:30pm. We claimed our sleeping space and unloaded the gear, taking care to empty the Xterra of anything that had any scent (gum, toothpaste, and food, of course). With everything safely locked in the bear boxes, we put on our boots and prepared to hike.

Our original plan was to hike the Upper Yosemite Falls trail to Yosemite Point on Saturday afternoon, and then on Sunday, hike the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point, then back down to the valley via the Panorama Trail. Unfortunately, the Four Mile Trail was still closed due to snow and ice, which the ranger station confirmed on Friday. Some of the group had permits to hike up Half Dome on Monday, but the cables were not up (and in fact, the NPS web site says two weeks before they’ll be up). So we had to be flexible and adjust our plans.

By the time we headed out, it was 3pm — a little late for the Upper Yosemite Falls trail — so we opted instead to hike the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Falls, then loop down via the John Muir Trail back to Happy Isles. This is a fantastic, scenic hike most any time, but with this year’s above-average snowfall, the waterfalls were really spectacular. I’ll post a detailed trail report later this week, but suffice to say this is a great hike that’s well worth doing, even with the crowds.

Pint glasses for the locals

Afterwards, we fought the crowds at Curry Village and somehow managed to grab a couple stools at the bar for a well-earned cold ale and a hot pizza. We met the locals — the employees who often end their day here — including Larry the Baker and Jarod the Carpenter (it was his 15th season working in Yosemite). Jarod explained that there are about 2,200 employees living in the valley, and this weekend is the busiest of the year with about 25,000 people in Yosemite. At times it looked like most of them were sitting in their cars.

Traffic at a standstill

On Sunday, we headed out about 9am and took the shuttle to Yosemite Village. We found the Wilderness Center where we will pickup our JMT permits the day before our big trip, and walked to Yosemite Falls.

I’ve been to Yosemite six or seven times, but I have never seen so much water flowing through the falls. Most of the times I’ve been there in the past were later in the summer when the creek starts drying up. This was very different. And spectacular.

Our Sunday hike was the steep Upper Yosemite Falls trail, which gains nearly 2,700 feet of elevation in 3.2 miles and another 300 feet over 0.9 miles to Yosemite Point. Another terrific hike that I’ll write-up this week. Crowded, but worth doing at least once.

Monday, we drove up to scenic Glacier Point (the road had just opened the day before), soaked in the views, took some photos, and headed homeward. Getting out of the park wasn’t too bad, but we still hit stop-and-go traffic heading down the 5 that afternoon.

Many, many thanks to our outdoor friends, including Jeff A., Wendy, Tanya, Chhai, Carlos, Matt, Linda, Ramona and Wendy’s two friends (whose names I cannot recall). As true of most everyone I meet on the trail, everyone was really friendly and we all had a great time!

Photo Gallery

Click any thumbnail for a larger version. I’ve also posted a few highlights on Flickr and more people-oriented shots on Facebook.

Expert Advice

  • Do you use Twitter? Follow @YosemiteNPS. I sent out a tweet about the Four Mile Trail and got a response via Twitter within minutes!
  • One of the best unofficial resources I’ve found for hiking in Yosemite is The provide great trail guides complete with maps and witty narrative. Highly recommended.
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