A Mother's Day gift. Yosemite Valley. It's taken me about 15 years to get back to the Valley in spring. And when I return it's like seeing an old friend again. Which means even more when you're there with a true old friend. So we drive ALL night and get to Wawona about 5:00am. Ugh. We're a bit delirious--fun conversation, lots of laughs, and sleeping children. Good conditions, other than the total lack of sleep. We snooze for a bit in our sleeping bags in the car. Camp 4 (only first come first serve camp in the Valley) opens at 8:30, but there's usually a line. We get there about 8:00 and wait. And wait and wait. We get our campsite, just pass the famous "Ron Kauk" rock. After hours of hauling our stuff in from the car, we've got our camp set up. Whew. We cruise up to Bridalveil Falls. It's crowded on Mother's Day. But the the water cleanses me. We drive through the Valley, and I admire Half Dome and El Cap. Perfect granite sculptures that have been away from me too long. The falls are huge. Upper and lower rush forth, and the excitement and nostalgia of being back here fills me with joy.
Springtime Ahhhh. The valley is alive and in vivid color. Dogwood flowers open wide. Perfect white hands scatter over the branches. Highlight against the deep green of the Jefferies, Ponderosas, and Firs. Rusty red of the living bark.
The meadows are light and fluffy green, brilliant like the soft moss on a moist boulder.
Swallowtails flutter, and fuzzy caterpillars cross the road. We stop to look. To touch. To smell. (And our allergies go crazy. Sniff. Sniff. Sniff.) But it's worth it. Worth it to be alive in the valley. To be a part of something so old. So grand. And so perfect.
Okay. So we want to take the kids up on Mist Trail. We bundle them up. Pack snacks and extra dry clothes to put on after the falls. Eat a good breakfast. They can do 3.5 miles, we think. No problem.
Turns out they think differently the first mile of the trail. Hiking up hill without many distractions (other than the beautiful and delicate Illilloutte Falls off in the distance,) is not motivating by any means to three 5-year-olds. We stop. Drink water. Eat apples. But nothing works. Things aren't looking good until we discover a smashed millipede (yes, as flat as a tortilla) on the trail. We look at the hundreds of legs, and very, very flat body. It's a perk, and just interesting enough to make them forget about the pain of hiking up hill. We arrive at the bridge, and the Merced roars beneath us.
The start of the Mist Trail. Yes, we might actually make it to the top of Vernal. And then maybe, Nevada. Yeah, they can do it (we're very idealistic at this moment, who knows why.) It's fun. Wet. Splashy stairs. I sacrifice my waterproof shirt and hat, and Nova stays dry. Step by step, those kids trudge up the Mist Trail. The waterfall is huge. The mist is a gentle, yet unyielding force. It soaks us clean through. We round each set of stairs, and in front of me I see constant rainbows with each blink. I can't think of anything more beautiful.
We move up, up, up and with the water and weight of life pulling on our bones, we grace the top. Welcomed by a full and beautiful arc of color. Light and life separating out into the spectrum. I think about each color and wonder if each hue really represents a part of life. Introspective purple. Serenity blue. The yellow of excitement. The fiery heart of red. Orange when I laugh. And green when I come home. Together, those colors are my life. And I find it so odd and so perfect that unless bent, those colors disappear, and become the whole that makes me, me. Maybe I'm delirious. Too many steps. Too many 5-year-old complaints.
Or maybe I'm just at peace.
Lunch at the top brings joy. Relaxation. A sense of accomplishment for us all. We decide the kids can definitely do Nevada. It's not THAT much farther, and much easier than Vernal. So we think...
Turns out the trek up to Nevada is steep. Did I say steep? Well, I meant STEEP. The big bursting fall powers off to our right but it's out of reach, and brings no wet, muddy puddles to stomp through. The kids are tired, and with each rocky step, the weight of our decision weighs on us. Can they make it? Do we need to turn back? We make up stories. Take turns introducing characters like pandas lost in mysteries trees in the forest. It's enough to get us almost to the top of Nevada. Juice boxes. Chewing gum. Dried cranberries. Anything to motivate them. Nevada is gorgeous. The granite streaks frame the falls, and I never tire of the view.
The top is a nice respite. More juice. Cliff bars. Time to replenish these little guys (and a compost toilet...ya-hoo!) Linda and I are perplexed. It says another 4 miles back down. Wasn't the whole loop about 4 miles? Uh-oh. We've goofed. Must make a choice. Back down the steep, rocky steps, or take an easier trail down that's a mile longer. We choose the longer, yet smoother horse trail, and off we go. And go. And go. Gravity tugs us down. We rush by raining waterfalls, smooshy trails, and bits of snow. I feel the pull of the steep decline on my knees. We sing. We watch for "road apples," (we're on a horse trail after all.) And after miles (X4) of "are we there yet?" we make it back to the main "Mist Trail." The bridge. And more millipedes (living this time) crawl along with us to welcome us back.
It doesn't register in their 5-year-old brains. But they just hiked 8 miles with 2,000 foot elevation gain. We're so proud. Exhausted. Linda and I are happy and exhilarated from hiking all day in such a magic place, with three feisty, strong kids. We did it together 15 years ago, and now the thought of sharing the experience warms us. Passing the love and accomplishment on to our kids is spectacular.
Off the shuttle, and a stop at Yosemite Village. Mushroom and olive pizza. Ice cream and drinks. A perfect ending to a perfect day.
Here's a little we learned about motivating three 5-year-olds to hike 8 miles.
1.) smashed (and living) millipedes
2.) waterfalls, puddles, and horse poop
3.) snowballs thrown at mom
4.) bubble gum and stories
What didn't work:
1.) The phrase: "You're almost there!" (I think they caught on to that after mile 2)
Well, we find out we were pretty tired that next day. We hang out in Yosemite Village. Bookstore. Native American Museum. Picnic on "the rock" in Camp 4, and then off to Glacier Point. It's a beautiful drive. Deep, dark shadows amongst the pine and fir. Bits of snow, patches increasing as we get up. Sentinel Dome hike is misleading at first, but once on the trail, Linda and I are stoked. Happy to be at it again, and happy to be on a less-traveled trail. But the kids, on the other hand, feel differently. They're tired, and "done" with hiking. So we do what parents do best: bribe them. Trail mix is a good motivator, especially when it includes M & Ms!
We make it up to the viewing point. It's breathtaking, even at mid-day. Off the snow-covered edge, El Cap shines. A snow-covered Mnt. Hoffman stands proud and tall, shooting up through the azure sky.
The kids throw snowballs (at moms again) and make snow sandwiches. We eat crackers, carrots and humus. Full bellies and a full heart. We hike back down and drive to Clark Point. Half Dome, Vernal, and Nevada Falls. An intense, breathtaking view. The kids are all smiles when we show them the vastness of the 8-mile loop they made past Vernal and Nevada. We take group shots (barely.) Kids tired and ready to drive (and sleep...yeah, right.)
Back to Yosemite Village for mushroom & olive pizza to go this time. We eat out in the meadow, and as the sun sets, a slow, comforting breeze eases through us. Alpenglow on Half Dome wishes us well, and thanks us for coming home after all these years.
Our last hurrah is Lower Falls at dusk. We bundle up and reach the falls. Pure, raw power burst through, raining down upon us. The girls dance, and celebrate the mist with laughter. In the dark night, the electricity fills me, and once again I realize the potential of this place. This high sierra heaven.
The next day we make friends with Jesse (former Search and Rescue guy here in the Valley) and his son Dylan (age 3 and wears a chock bag on his hip!) in Camp 4. They rock climb. Collect acorns. Ride on a bouncy branch. Transformation from the young, rock-climber Camp 4 to the kid-friendly Camp 4. Political discussions with our neighbors. World talks. Climbers and hikers from around the globe.