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Another Perspective

Yosemite Hike

It was on Father’s Day that I made the climb to the bridge halfway to the top of Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park. Vernal Fall is part of the Merced River which runs through the heart of the Park. The footpath that leads to the bridge is called the Mist Trail for obvious reasons. My hiking companions were Katy, my second-born; Chris, her husband; Sarah, Emma and Megan, their three daughters; and Barbara, my wife. We ranged in age from 68 to 2.

A sign at the start of the trail cautions all climbers that the Mist Trail is responsible for more “incidents” than any other place in the Park. Just a few years ago a teenage boy went into the river at the top of the Fall to cool off from the climb. He lost his balance and was swept over the waterfall. This warning was sobering and the story of the boy’s death jarring and sad. This wasn’t the upbeat beginning I wanted.

The first few hundred yards of the trail are on level ground. Then the trail turns to the left and begins its ascent. The path goes up 400 feet in elevation during its eight-tenths of a mile trek to the bridge. Some reviewers categorize this rise as moderate while others identify it as strenuous. I suspect how it is regarded has to do with the age of the reviewer.

Younger folks motored right up the trail, a couple of them even running. Those of us under 5 and over 50 however needed several stops for rest. It was during one of these stops that I saw squirrels running along the outside edge of the trail. They were taunting us for needing rest. They didn’t need to do that. I could see I wasn’t in shape for the hike without their heckling. But we persisted, even passing some hikers who’d sped past us in the beginning who were now winded, sitting on rocks beside the narrow trail.

Sneakers were the preferred footwear, but veteran hikers wore hiking boots. I foolishly wore sandals, which did not grip the path very well. Because there is no guardrail I needed to be very aware of the edge of the path and the plunge that awaited a mishap. I didn’t want to be another incident.

The tall pines John Muir loved so much provided us with shade from the warm mid-morning sun. As the trail meandered around the granite outcroppings, distant waterfalls came into view. A baby diamond-backed rattlesnake lay on a rock in the sun not too far off the trail. The rock on which it rested overlooked the river several hundred feet below.

When we arrived at the bridge it was crowded with picture-takers. Watching water drop 317 feet is exhilarating. There was a lot of snow and rain in Yosemite this year. This made Vernal Fall and the Merced River full and swift and wild. This put everyone in good spirits. Unlike the others I was drawn to the opposite side of the bridge, the one facing away from the waterfall. I was attracted to the view of the Merced River in its unrestrained state, beating boulders that were in its way. I also saw adventurous parts of the river leave the main flow to explore inlets. What ambition this water has, I thought. It is as if the droplets, freed from their confinement as snow, were highly energized for what lay ahead.

My Father’s Day hike peaked with a memory that brought a smile to my face. As I watched the river race down the mountain, I realized that I identified with those freed droplets of water. I felt the same way when I was in grade school and the hands on the classroom clock crept toward 3:00. When the magic moment arrived, I’d bolt from my desk, out the classroom door, ready for what lay ahead.

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