The hike to Nevada Falls was definitely the highlight of the trip even though our Lucky 13 group got split up.
The plan for Monday was to get up by 6 am and have breakfast and be ready to leave for our hike by 8 am. That didn’t happen. It takes a while to get 13 people dressed, fed and ready for a day hike. Also, bear boxes make eating and cleaning everything up a big production.
We left the campsite around 10 am in all three cars. Before the trip, we agreed we’d do a day hike to Nevada Falls. It’s a popular hike, but not nearly as popular as Half Dome. Some of the campers in our group wanted to do Half Dome, but we lagged in getting permits until they were no longer available. Half Dome is a challenging hike (18 miles roundtrip, 4,800 feet of elevation climb) and we knew not everyone in the group would want to do hike it. Nevada Falls, with its 6-mile roundtrip and 2,800 feet ascent, seemed much more manageable for a group of mixed fitness and hiking experience. The night before we agreed to take the shorter Mist Trail up to Nevada Falls (about 1 mile shorter roundtrip) rather than the John Muir Trail (JMT). I was okay with the decision, but would have preferred the switchbacks of the latter.
By the time we arrived in Yosemite Valley, parked, took the free shuttle to the trailhead at Happy Isles, stretched and all went to the bathroom it was past 11:30. I was getting antsy and annoying my fellow campers.
I just wanted to get up to Nevada Falls early. It was already warm and sunny, with highs projected to get up to the 80s. It’s great weather, but I prefer to work out when it’s cooler and darker. Thankfully, a lot of the trails were shaded.
From the beginning of the hike, I set out from the rest of the group. Sean followed close behind me as we hiked up the first leg to the Vernal Falls footbridge (~1 mile, 400 feet elevation climb). This first leg is paved, steep and quite crowded. It was a bit frustrating to walk around slower hikers, kids and tourists amazed by a dumb squirrel on a boulder. We stopped a few times to take some pictures of the Merced River and the view as we ascended.
Soon, we were ahead of the other campers except for Adrian, De’Shaun and their girlfriends. We all paused at the footbridge to take in the sights and enjoy the cool air and mist rising from the river. Just beyond the footbridge, we encountered a fork. The two trail markers showed the same destinations with slightly different mileage. Rather than wait for the rest of the campers, we chose the longer route. I later found out that if I would have led my small group to left, we would have ascended via the crowded and popular Mist Trail.
Our hike was fun an uneventful (except when I dropped our PB&J sandwiches on the trail… we ate them anyway, they were just a little grainy). Adrian said he felt we made it up to the top rather quick because I was pushing the pace. I had my Garmin watch on and tracked mileage which helped us mentally. I could tell the others, “We’ve done a mile! Only two more to go.” We stopped to catch our breath, take pictures of the sights and eat. We all had plenty of water and had no problem staying hydrated. The JMT wasn’t too crowded, but it was stinky with lots of mule droppings in the early part. We didn’t see many people but heard several languages. We joked that Yosemite was like Disneyland, an international draw (with lots of lines and crowds too!).
After about an hour and a half, we made it up to the top of Nevada Falls. We admired the scenery of the falls, Half Dome in the distance, Mt Broderick and neighboring Liberty Cap. To cool down, we dipped our legs in the cold water for the ice bath effect. We re-applied sunblock and ate more of our snacks. I’m wary of heights, so I kept my distance from the open ledges. When I did try and look down at the water crashing down over the falls from the ledge with the rails, I got dizzy. Yeah, I’m a weenie.
We waited atop Nevada Falls for an hour for the rest of the group to show. Even if they had ascended the other trail, we all had the same destination. They never showed so we began our descent via the Mist Trail. At the top of the trail, we encountered Rene and Vero.
They told us that they split from Lori, Vanny, Valerie, Nancy and Junior who took up the JMT. We chatted before continuing down the Mist trail. Unfortunately, Rene and Vero didn’t warn us that the trail was tough, steep and very technical. At least we saw another beautiful waterfall.
The Mist Trail takes you closer along the Merced River and the two falls, hence it’s name. In the early summer the river is quite full and you get drenched with mist as you hike near the falls. The Mist Trail is very crowded; one of my friends described it as the 405 at rush hour.
At several points we stopped and pulled to the side let hikers pass us on their way up. Although the trail is shorter, it’s tougher since it’s crowded, narrow, steep and rocky. There were points when each of us almost slipped on the rocks and the guys complained about knee pain. Needless to say, we took our time coming down.
We took a short break at the top of Vernal Falls, which was crowded with lots of hikers taking breaks and enjoying the sunshine. Then we continued down the wet steps and hoped we didn’t slip. There’s parts of the trail that have handrails and others where it’s just steps (of varying heights) and a ledge overlooking the rough waters of the Merced. I’m not sure we could enjoy the views since we were so busy looking down at our steps. We put our cameras away so they wouldn’t get ruined by the water.
Four hours after we began, we made it down to Yosemite Valley. In the last mile or so, some of us ran down the trail just to get it over with. We took the shuttle (which almost ran me over) back to our car where we dug in to salty snacks. It took us longer than expected to get back to Hodgdon Meadows due to Yosemite Valley gridlock. Once at the campsite we took “showers” in the woods and made cheeseburgers for dinner.
The other half of our group didn’t arrive for a few hours. They had a good time too and returned with stories to tell.