We left Lake Tahoe in search of Big Bend Campground in the Inyo National Forest. This was our first experience with bear lockers; in addition to the typical fire pit and picnic table, this camp side had a large metal locker designed to keep food and scented products in and bears out. This would also be our first time using the new tent. Throughout the evening threatening clouds were moving in and the wind was picking up; we were all praying that the new tent would be able to handle it. As it turned out, it did rain that night and we remained snug and dry inside the safety of our paper thin home. Although the new tent was a success, I can't say the same for my thermarest; during the night it somehow deflated leaving me to sleep without much padding and I awoke the next morning with aching hips and a grumpy attitude.
Big Bend was located just 10 minutest outside of Yosemite, so the following morning we simply wove our way around Tioga Pass and started exploring. We paused at Tenaya Lake and marveled at how the crystal clear water perfectly reflected the stunning scenery above. From the lookout from Olmsted Point you could see the top of Half Dome in the distance. We carefully edged our way off of the trail and out onto the edge of the smooth, sloping rock face where we encountered a Yellow-Bellied Marmot and took in the the scenery. We briefly stopped at Yosemite Creek before heading to the Tuolumne Grove trail head. We hiked down about a mile to see remnants of a giant sequoia forest. Some impressive trees were still standing tall, but the largest and most incredible were fallen. One was actually completely hollow on the inside and Sean crawled about half way through it before encountering some spiders and turning back. The return hike was a race against time as we rushed to beat the coming thunderstorm that was bellowing overhead. It seemed that we had been outrunning the storm the entire day. It finally caught up with us as we walked to Yosemite Lodge in the pouring rain to eat lunch. Before heading to the condo that would be our home for the next two nights we hiked to the base of Bridalveil Falls and stopped briefly to enjoy a breathtaking scenic overlook of the valley.
The condo suited us perfectly. We were so excited to have a kitchen with a sink, a stove, pots, pans, counters, etc. I prepared black bean burgers, potato wedges, and broccoli that we ended up eating for lunch the following day. I had my first experience with a Murphy bed, which was actually really comfortable, and Sean and Andy each took half of a trundle bed. Right when we got there we noticed there was something wrong with the doorknob; once you closed the door you were essentially locked inside. We had to have a maintenance guy come up and replace the knob otherwise we wouldn't have been able to close our door! There was also a gas fireplace, a balcony, and a resident coyote who seemed to be constantly lurking in the back yard searching for scraps.
Our second day was dedicated to hiking the Mist Trail. Labeled as the best day hike in Yosemite by Backpacker magazine, the Mist Trail was truly incredible. We hiked up from the base of Vernal Falls and got soaked by the dissipating mist amazed at the beauty of the cascading water. The sunshine illuminated the floating mist creating a beautiful rainbow that was so close you could almost reach out and touch it. We rested for awhile at the top of Vernal Falls before continuing up to the top of Nevada Falls. We were all having flashbacks of the Grand Canyon at this point as we passed switch back after switch back on our way up wondering if we would ever make it. We finally completed the four mile ascent and sprawled out across the smooth rocks to regain our energy for the hike back down. It took us about three and a half hours to make it to the top and only an hour and a half to descend the four miles back down to the base of Vernal Falls via a much flatter, tamer trail. In total, we hiked eight miles that day and ascended 2000 feet in elevation.
Initially we had anticipated going back out for a second round of sightseeing after returning to the condo for lunch, but it became obvious after about an hour that we weren't going anywhere. For about three days now it had been nearly impossible to get either cell phone or internet service and Andy and I were getting a little peeved. We drove about 20 minutes to a little town within Yosemite called Wasona hoping to find wireless service but were crushed when we weren't able to connect anywhere. We returned to the condo for dinner which consisted of rice, beans, fish, and a delicious mango salsa that Sean had prepared while we were out on our uneventful search.
I was surprised at how little wildlife we encountered in Yosemite, seeing only the yellow-bellied marmut, a few deer, the occassional bird, and of course of neighborhood coyote. Words can't even describe how dissappointed I am that we didn't get to see a bear; I am truly crushed. My hopes remain high however, that someday, somewhere I am destined to meet a bear, hopefully in a friendly context. Despite the lack of critters, Yosemite was a truly unique and inspirational place. The Mist Trail is by far my favorite hike we have endured to date, and I would dare to say that Sean and Andy agree with me. Although our time in Yosemite was incredible it was also exhausting, but we had to collect ourselves and prepare for the coming attractions; we still had all of California to look forward to.