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* A Winter Visit To Yosemite National Park

Published by Barry in On Location · 29/1/2015 02:06:51
Tags: californiayosemitenationalparkwinterUSAlandscape

Having paid 5 visits to Yosemite National Park in California during 2014, you would think that I would be exploring other places around California in January instead of returning there again.  However, Yosemite is one of those special locations that can appear completely different from week to week, never mind from season to season, and with me only ever visiting California's favourite national park in winter once before, it seemed only fair that I take the opportunity to visit while the park experienced a few mild days in a row making many of the different locations I wanted to visit easily accessible.

I had just flown into San Francisco on the Friday evening from a quick couple of days visit to Albany in upstate New York earlier in the week, and wasn't quite sure if I would be able to drag myself out of bed early enough to get up and head to the park early enough to capture sunrise.  I decided to play it by ear, and thus set my alarm for 8am, so that worst case I'd be there before lunchtime and have the afternoon to do a few of the hikes and snap some photos of the park in a less tourist-populated state that the Winter months supply.

I may have secretly hoped that I'd wake up with the alarm going off by my ear at 8am, but as I pretty much expected to happen I was wide awake around 3am, and after a quick shower and bite to eat it was into my Mustang hirecar and pointing it East towards Yosemite, with the hope of arriving at the "tourist-tastic" Tunnel View overlooking the valley before sunrise at around 7:15am.  The final 60 miles or so to bring me in through the North West entrance gate were at somewhat of a snails pace due to some thick soup-like fog which blanketed the countryside, but thankfully it cleared up just before I reached the entrance gate to the park, at which point having said ta-ta to the fog the road had some nice patches of frost and ice dotted around to keep me awake as I headed into the valley floor.

I arrived at Tunnel View around 6:45am to give me a full half hour of shooting the pre-sunrise light, and made the most of this 30 minute period to capture the colours lighting up the sky and skitterings of clouds which floated effortlessly over the top of Yosemites huge granite peaks.  By the time the sun was up, the main car park for this viewpoint was almost full with cameras and selfies galore on the go.  I stopped off on the valley floor to shoot the LeConte Memorial and have a walk over the wooden bridge and along the banks of the river before heading to my next main location for the day.

I drove down to the trailhead parking for the Mist Trail and parked up the Mustang where it would remain for the first few hours of my day in Yosemite.  From the car park I hiked up to the start of the Mist Trail and decided that with it only being around 7:45am I would leave the hike up to Vernal Falls until a little later on in the morning when other people were around, as I didn't fancy doing the few miles of uphill hike on my own without passing anyone the whole time.  So, plan B was brought live and I was soon hiking up to Mirror Lake to see if the surface of the water present was frozen or not.

While the view at Mirror Lake was a little less impressive than I had hoped for, the road from the valley loop up to the lake showed clear signs of how little traffic visits this location during the winter months, with the leaves and other forest goodies making the road seem less than half of it's normal width, a nice motive to shoot photos of along the way, which I did plenty of.

I didn't think through my first "plan B" hike properly and quickly realised that the light was very harsh after arriving at Mirror Lake, but after some wandering around and waiting for the light to tone itself down a little I was able to shoot plenty of nice photos from the lake which was much, much emptier than my visit in Spring last year (yes, I am stating the obvious here).


After leaving Mirror Lake around 9:30am I passed several other people heading up to the lake, and decided that I would head directly to Vernal Falls now to put that hike into the bag before lunchtime too.  It's not until I start hiking uphill that I quickly realise how unfit I am these days, but I powered on regardless and arrived at the bridge view looking up the almost dry river bed to Vernal Falls just a few minutes before 11am.

With the 600-odd steps that ascend the side of the river to the top of Vernal Falls already closed for the winter season, I decided against taking the longer trail which winds it's way up to the top of the falls, deciding instead to leave that hike for the warmer months that lie ahead later this year.  After getting back to the Mustang in the trailhead car park where I had left it 4 hours or so earlier, I headed back into the main valley floor and decided that my second to last stop for the day would be a short hike to Lower Yosemite Falls.

By now it was only around 1:30pm, but that 3am start to my day was already starting to kick me in unwanted ways, so I decided to already leave the main valley floor behind and head up to Hetchy Hetch reservoir in the North West of the park, somewhere I had yet to visit having popped into Yosemite so many times over the past 13 years since I made my first visit in 2002.  

A short walk along the dam and around some of the reservoir called my latest visit to Yosemite to a close and it was time for the 3 hour 30 min drive back to Sunnyvale for a well earned pizza and beer with my feet up, with my phone letting me know that I was only a few meters short of 20km of hiking for the day, not bad going at all.

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