Image curtesy of National Parks Association
“The worst decisions often lead to the best stories”
Yosemite wasn’t part of the plan, in fact I’ll admit to not even knowing that it was in California at the time.
The plan was for myself and Luggage (Not his real name and I’m sure he hates me calling him that but to me that’s his name. I may reveal the story behind it in another post) to celebrate our birthdays together by flying out to San Francisco, hiring a convertible Mustang and driving it along the coast to Los Angeles before flying home. I cannot tell you how disappointing that car was. Looked the part, sounded great but had no guts in it.
We had a couple of weeks and it’s not a long journey so after a series of bizarre mini adventures in and around San Francisco we headed out to the Coast Road, the wrong way!
That’s right we obviously hadn’t bothered to look at a map and we didn’t have smart phones back then so we figured that it was natural to leave San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge. As it turned out driving over the bridge and into Marin County was awesome. I’ll never forget the smell of pine as we drove into the bright green forests. In fact, all I recall of that journey was Green trees, orange rooves and the smell of pine. I attribute my hazy memory to the fact that I was insanely hung over and Luggage was the only one with a driving licence. To this day, I still don’t know how I convinced him to take a road trip with me when he was going to have to do all the driving.
So, after many twists and turns that would have fried a TomTom’s circuits we found ourselves headed towards Sacramento, we stopped off at a gas station where reading through the brochures and looking at a map identified that not only were we heading away from LA but also that Sacramento looked about as much fun as fish with tits. What we did find on the map were pictures of the half dome in Yosemite and of course the stupid gene kicked in (surprise surprise). It was like a movie, Luggage and I turned to face each other in almost slow motion. Our eyes met each other’s, lighting up like star crossed lovers as I loudly pronounced; “Dude, we are going to climb that!” to which Luggage replied; “Yeah, I know!”
The map said we could make it to the Yosemite Valley by nightfall, (obviously, we didn’t) so off we set stopping halfway for a Subway sandwich & a discount shopping trip at a Home depot. I should mention at this point that it was January, so buying the cheapest two-man tent & foam mats in Home Depot was never going to suffice for camping out. Especially since we had only packed our summer sleeping bags which were equally as cheap and unsuitable. Talking of unsuitable a bright red mustang with a now stuck open convertible top is pretty useless in a snowy mountain setting with icy roads
I remember the roads being busy until we entered the park on the 140. Once there, we literally didn’t see another car until we reached the campsite. Thankfully there was sign informing us that the last gas station before the end of the world was approaching and more thankfully we weren’t stupid enough not to fill up as we wouldn’t have made it to the campsite.
Ok so this next bit may sound a bit naughty but in our defence, it was dark when we arrived so instead of going to a visitor centre we just parked the Mustang up beside the SUV’s & all-terrain vehicles (surely no one would not notice right? They didn’t) and put our tent up in the first spot we found. This ‘spot’ turned out to be the empty bit of land next to the bear bins rather than the actual campsite a few hundred metres away which was full.
Now, I know what you are thinking. WTF is a bear bin right! (Well, if your British like us you are!). The tent went up fine, even in the dark and we took the time to read the notices about bears telling us to keep all food in the boxes provided. So, after having a chuckle to ourselves at the idea of bears wandering around in the campsite (Seriously we didn’t think for a minute bears would bother coming into the valley, I’m sure in our heads we had pictured Yogi bear not the hungry bastard from the revenant.) that we stashed all our food in the nearest bin and crawled into our glorified parachute house and went to sleep.
Two hours later Luggage was back in the car with the heating on where he slept for the rest of the night. Being a stubborn idiot I waited until just after dawn when I could no longer feel my feet and nose to join him.
In the morning, the sun rose and we saw what a beautiful place we were in. Our first sight of the Dome bathed in sunlight was stunning.
Our next surprise was more of a pants warmer (handy in the cold snowy weather). A brief visit to our tent found some very large footprints all around it and by large foot prints I don’t mean clown shoes. We were now not chuckling at the thought of bears of wandering around the campsite and went to retrieve our food from the bear bin secure in the knowledge that those pesky but very large animals couldn’t get inside them. Now it’s true to say that bears can’t get inside the metal food bins but having a vent at the bottom for airflow means that other things can.
In just a few hours our stash of granola bars and half eaten subway sandwiches had become home to a small band of Guerrilla / Ninja like field mice. They were quite cute and I’ve shared food with worst looking things so we divided up the food evenly with our new friends and went on our way. (It’s probably more accurate to say that we didn’t have the balls to disturb the furry critters and their no-doubt needle like teeth so we took what we could without coming any closer than we had to.)
We never returned to the tent which undoubtable caused a missing persons alert at some point after we left when the Park rangers found an empty tent surrounded by bear prints.
We set off to explore, hiking up the pathways beside the Dome but luckily, we failed to get near to the climbing face and instead our interest was taken by the huge waterfall (Yosemite Falls) in the distance so we just had to explore that. By early afternoon we had reached the top and stopped for some lunch. It wasn’t long before the stupid gene had kicked in and we decided to free climb down the side of the waterfall to the enclosed valley below. We had to walk a fair distance from the falls to find a section we could descend safely (ish).
It was a fun climb if a little hairy at times but we were both experienced climbers so we made it down wet but in one piece. It took us a good 2 hours to reach the bottom as we took the easiest and safest sections which lead us a good distance from the falls themselves. (You’ve probably guessed that I’m trying to make this sound less dangerous. Failing miserably, I imagine)
As cool as it was to reach this secluded valley it was extremely rocky and windy, there was no sign that anyone else had been there recently so we didn’t loiter long, the spray from the waterfall seemed to be able to reach us no matter how far away we were.
This is the point in the story where we started to wonder if we were going to be able to get out. Clearly, we were not going to climb back up, mainly because we were exhausted and now realising just how high the falls were. There was no obvious route up the sides of the valley and they were littered with huge boulders making it a perilous choice. We followed the river downstream presuming it would lead backdown to the valley and luckily spotted a pathway so after a bit of an exposed cliff traverse we manged to get back onto a trail that led us back down to the campsite. (There may have been more falling and scrambling then climbing involved)
When we finally made it back to the valley campsite we found a thriving tourist area that we had missed the day before. There was a huge visitors centre and rangers station as well as a rather out of place looking food court. We were both surprised by just how many tourists there were in the area and how we hadn’t noticed on our arrival. I stopped for the loo at the ranger’s station and left Luggage looking at the map of the area. Upon my return, I found Luggage deep in conversation with a ranger, looking resplendent in his uniform, hat and all. As I drew closer I couldn’t help but notice the beaming smile on Luggage’s face which normally meant he was relating a tale of misadventure. What concerned me more was the look on the ranger’s face, it wasn’t one of glee or interest at hearing a good story but rather one on consternation. It turns out that the ranger had helpfully approached Luggage to see if he need any advice on the areas trails and sights and had been subjected to a retelling of the day’s events. Luggage had pointed out the areas we had visited on the map and the ranger had told him the locals names and some useful bits of interest until that is they discussed our descent to the bottom of the waterfall.
Understandably the ranger wasn’t too impressed at what he considered to be an act of high folly but things went from bad to worse when Luggage asked what the name of the valley was below the falls. The ranger replied; “it’s the lost valley” (I never did establish if that was a joke or if the valley just hadn’t been named) to which Luggage joyfully replied; “Oh well, it’s not lost anymore, we found it! In fact, we planted a British flag there and have claimed it as British soil.”
Now for most people I’m sure that it would have been more than obvious that Luggage was joking but this wasn’t the case for ranger Ron. He was livid, his face swelled up and went bright red, the pointing fingers came up and he was demanding to know exactly where the flag was and declaring how dare we invade his valley. It was all quite amusing to Luggage and although I did try to calm our new friend he was having none of it, he clearly didn’t have a sense of humour so I left Luggage to do what he does best and keep on digging.
When we finally managed to escape the irate ranger we quickly concluded that our time in the National Park was over so we beat a hasty retreat in our convertible Mustang.
My parting memory of this little adventure was seeing the ranger stomping across the campsite with his colleagues all looking like they were off to war, muttering loudly about the bloody Brits who had the audacity to plant flags all over the valley.