Just got back from a couple days in Yosemite. This trip was quite a bit different from those of the past.
I’ve been going to Yosemite since before I was cognizant. Probably been there around forty times total. This was Daughter’s third trip and she just turned six. So if there are two things I know in life, they’re probably Yosemite and being a snarky asshole. The latter I’ve done far more than forty times.
Used to camp there with my family every summer, when it was still possible to get reservations. They used to sell them through Ticketmaster (or maybe Ticketron?) on a rolling basis, whereby tickets became available eight weeks before the date of travel. So some would be released every day. My dad used to camp out at the local record store to get in there the minute they went on sale.
Nowadays they release an entire month’s worth of reservations online at the same time. If you take the time to consult your calendar six months out to ensure that day isn’t somebody’s birthday or something, you’ve already lost them to somebody else. And whereas it used to be first-come, first-served as to which campsite once you got there, you now have to pick the specific numbered site when you reserve. The one time I tried to reserve, I went off to find a campground map to make sure I wasn’t getting the one right next to the shitter, and by the time I came back, it was taken. I guess next time, I’ll learn to love the vault toilets.
So ever since the age of twenty or so, it’s been day trips. I used to live a couple hours from the park gate. Nowadays it takes a solid three/-and-a-half hours to get to the valley floor. That necessitates a bit more planning, usually a stay over the night before or after. Because the last thing I want to do after four hours in a car is the 2,000-foot elevation gain hike up to Nevada Falls.
Last year, it was just Daughter and I who went. Wife had an excuse called “having to go into work.” Clearly that’s not a thing anymore. I packed Daughter in the car shortly before her bedtime and drove through the night while she slept, because three hours in a car with a five-year old is torture for her and I. We stopped at a B & B in Groveland around 10 pm, and we were in the valley by 10 am the next morning, “hiking” up to Mirror Lake. If you’ve never been, the walk to Mirror Lake is literally on a road, a leftover from when they allowed cars more places. The road is also still usable if you have a disabled placard. The hike is 1.2 miles with an elevation gain of a whopping 100 feet. But this was enough for Daughter to ask “Are we there yet?” fifteen times and bloviate about the horrific workout I was forcing upon her. That’s about the time I scrapped the whole Vernal Falls idea.
The Vernal Falls hike was a rite of passage for me. From when I was about my daughter’s age, my dad would hike us up to the footbridge, the first spot you can see the actual falls. The following year we went a little further. The first time I made it to the top, we took the back route, but my dad showed me the infamous Mist Trail. It’s effectively a staircase made out of misshapen granite that’s slippery as shit because you’re under a constant deluge of splash from the falls. You’d think it’s rain. My dad didn’t think I was able to ascend the Mist Trail that year (good call – at forty-five, I’m still a klutz), and promised we’d attempt it the following year. The following year we went to the Grand Canyon. And Zion the following year. Bullshit! Three years later I made it up.
The only problem with making it to the top of Vernal Falls is you then realize it’s not even the cool waterfall on that hike. Nevada Falls, an extra two miles and another 1,000 feet up, after already going up 1,000 feet in the last mile-and-a-half, is one of the quirkiest waterfalls in existence. It’s crooked like Bill Clinton’s penis. I might’ve been in junior high by the time I conquered it. Nevada Falls, that is. Not Bill Clinton’s penis.
After that we found a cool trick. Get up to Glacier Point and take the Panorama Trail DOWN instead of up. Of course, that’s when I was a teenager. Nowadays I feel like going downhill is worse than going up. Not as strenuous, but it moves muscles in ways they’re not supposed to move.
My original plan was to try the Vernal Falls footbridge this year, then start Daughter on the same Trial by Hike my dad put me through. Except this year, the shuttles aren’t running as a result of COVID. Which is the impetus for this post. Obviously I can wax nostalgic for thousands of words about Yosemite, but that would be exciting for an audience of one. I know it usually seems like I only write this shit for myself, but it’s not entirely masturbatory.
After closing for three months, Yosemite opened to the public a few weeks ago. As soon as I saw they were reopening, I jumped online to get a reservation. We planned to go up Sunday morning, stay overnight near the park, then go back in Monday before driving home. As an added bonus, Yosemite was limiting entry! Yosemite without visitors is about as close to heaven on Earth as it gets. Just like John Muir intended. Unfortunately, a lot of other people had that same notion. And those rat bastards were parked EVERYWHERE!
Obviously they weren’t limiting entrance too much. They were aiming for half of the usual summer crowd. So the trails and meadows weren’t super full, but without the shuttle buses to get us around, we were on our own. Usually you drive to one of two or three parking lots and then ride the bus around everywhere. This time it was find a spot and walk as far as you have to.
When I heard there’d be no shuttles, I grew curious about a bus-only loop at the east end of the park. On it are two main attractions, the Mirror Lake “trail” I mentioned earlier and Happy Isles, which is where the trail to Vernal Falls, et al begins. Surely they can’t block those spots off, can they? Or are they going to make me walk the mile from Camp Curry just to get to the trailhead whence I have to hike another couple miles straight up? I mean, I’ll happily climb the 1,000 feet in elevation gain over a mile and a half trail, but adding on an extra half-mile of flatland? I think NOT!
Our first day there, a Sunday, before we parked at Camp Curry, we drove ahead to check out the bus-only loop.. It was now car accessible. Sort of. We could drive to Happy Isles. Tons of cars were parked there. But we couldn’t get all the way to Mirror Lake. Not surprising. There’s plenty of space at Happy Isles for a makeshift parking lot. I don’t know how they’d do that at Mirror Lake. We went the other way on the loop and found the farthest we could get was North Pines/Stables, which is how far you can drive under normal conditions.
Okay, no problem. It was late in the day by then. I was mainly using Day One to figure out what was open, what was closed. Make some plans for tomorrow when we could hit the ground running. And maybe, if we could drive all the way to Happy Isles, but not Mirror Lake, this would be the year we tackle Vernal Falls, after all. Start Daughter on the same rite of passage as me.
Except when we came back on Monday, the road to Happy Isles was closed. What the fuck? And naturally, the parking lot at North Pines was jam packed. So back to Camp Curry we went. At least there was a yummy-looking food truck there the day before. Its version of chicken & waffles was served in a waffle cone with a maple drizzle. Delightful. We passed on it because we had picked out a dinner spot near the hotel, but we were looking forward to it for lunch the next day.
But sure enough, that shit was as closed down as Happy Isles on Monday. What the fuck, people? It’s COVID time. Nobody’s working. There shouldn’t be huge differences between Sunday and Monday. The taco truck was open both days. But when you’ve got your heart set on chicken tenders in a waffle cone, carne asada ain’t gonna cut it.
Perhaps we could get around the loop on wheels. I had the brilliant idea to bring Daughter’s scooter about the eighth time we stopped on the way to Mirror Lake the year before. But we forgot to pack it. Oops. So we looked into renting bikes. Twenty-four bucks each for a half-day. Okay, so seventy-five bones for the three of us? It was a distinct possibility. After all , it’s not like we’d be spending money on scrumptious lunch options. Only one thing dissuaded us. The extra five bucks for her to rent a helmet. It wasn’t the cost, five bucks is excessively reasonable after the exorbitant cost for the rental itself. But something about putting something that’d been worn by every other kid on the face of the earth seems a bit too far these days.
Ironic, I know, since under normal circumstances, they probably wouldn’t have cleaned that shit since last century and it would be filled with colonies of every head lice ever invented. This time, they’re probably disinfecting it every night. And yet…
In the same vein, Sunday night was the first time we’ve been in a hotel since the beforetimes. It felt weird. The one thing going for us was that, while Yosemite was closed, this hotel was either closed or getting very little action. But I never realized how the carpeting in a hotel room looks straight outta 1979, which was probably the last time it was cleaned. That’s probably Jack Tripper’s chest hair down there.
On the other hand, it’s refreshing that the feces and DNA left behind by previous guests are no longer my primary concern. Go ahead and bring in a black light. Spooge splats are fine as long as there aren’t any Mexican-beer-drinking viruses in the man batter.
After discovering that there was no parking close to Happy Isles or Mirror Lake, we parked at Camp Curry and walked through one of the empty campsites to the river. There’s only one campsite open in the whole park. Man, if I had been one of the lucky few to reserve one of the other sites back in February, I’d be pissed. That’s like winning the lottery only to find out that you won the wrong lottery and the money’s going to somebody else.
I don’t see why they only open one campsite. If they’re trying to encourage social distancing, shouldn’t they open half of two different campsites? Then again, as I’ve opined before, camping is about as socially distant of an activity as we’ve got in this world. Especially if we’re to believe the newest reports that it’s very difficult for the virus to spread outdoors. True, Yosemite camping isn’t as socially distant as most campsites. Even though there is zero campsites available when you try to reserve, they jam ya in like sardines once you’re there. When I camp there, I actually have to pee IN THE BATHROOM! The Horror!
Just as John Muir intended.
Speaking of which, halfway across the abandoned campsite, Daughter decided, as six-year-olds are wont to do, that this time, and no other time, was the proper time to vacate her bladder. But it’s cool, even if the campsites closed, they can’t be locking the bathrooms, right? Turns out that yes, they can. Could she make it across the street to the open campsite? Maybe three minutes? If you’ve ever encountered a kid in early elementary school, you know the answer was a resounding no.
Of course, this was also the moment that a few rangers were walking through the campsite, checking it for, I don’t know, viruses and such? So we took Daughter behind a tree to hide from them, which probably was doing no such thing, and it was off to the races. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to peeing in public. I’m a guy, the world is my urinal. But that’s why I usually camp out in the middle of nowhere. It’s crowded at Yosemite. If I randomly whip it out, I’m liable to splash on hundreds of people. But I guess society is a bit more forgiving of a six-year-old than a mid-forties dude.
When we finally made it through the campsite, I finally had that “passing it on” moment. We were standing on the rocky bottom of the frigid Merced River, throwing rocks and sticks into the current, and Daughter absolutely loved it. Couldn’t get enough. Sure, my feet were slicing and dicing and turning into icicles, but Daughter’s eating this shit up. And I’m reminded of all the times I walked across or laid down on an inflatable tube or mattress, with nary a thought of internal temperature or why the fuck couldn’t they put some goddamn sand at the bottom of this stream as John Muir intended.
It’s such a rare feeling, that I’m doing this parenting thing right. Sure, I might’ve exposed her to spooge marks and COVID the night before. And sure, I let her play on her Nintendo for all three hours both ways. But dammit, we gotta take the wins when we get them, right?
She even said she’s excited to go back to Yosemite next year.
I’m sure that’ll change once I make her hike Vernal Falls.