Glacier Point to Happy Isles – The Panorama Trail
Before I get into the hike, let say a word about Glacier point, itself. WOW. The view from Glacier Point is almost indescribable. It’s like looking at satellite map of the east end of the valley – live. The “point” is fenced off so you can go right to the edge and look straight down, over 3000 feet. Half Dome is so close, it seems as though you can reach out and touch it. Clearly visible is Tenaya Canyon in front of Half Dome and Little Yosemite Valley behind it. Both Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls are easily seen.
All three sections of Yosemite Falls are visible you can almost see the tributary that feeds it. There is a large parking lot and small gift shop with food available. There is a small “discovery kiosk” that presents some of the habitats you may encounter.
Occasionally, at night, a ranger provides a star watch from this point.
Glacier Point is also the trail head to three significant hikes, The Pohono Trail, 4-Mile Trail and this one, the Panorama Trail.
Glacier Point is about sixteen miles in from Wawona Road along Glacier Point Road. On the way, there are some turnouts to various trailheads and a cutoff to Badger Pass, a Ski Area. As you get closer to the point, the road has a number of hair-pin turns that will keep you on your toes. So be cautious. There is one turn that is stunning. Just as you make the turn, dead head is Half Dome, bigger as life. The road goes straight to the edge of the cliff with no guard rail and then hair-pin turns away. Be careful here. The biggest killer in Yosemite is traffic accidents. This is a point that is just waiting for one.
The wild life is abundant in Yosemite. Most notable are the Black Bear, Mule Deer and the ever-present ground squirrel. If you don’t stray far from the beaten path, you probably won’t see too many bears . But if you see any of these critters, it’s because they are foraging for food. Most obvious are the ground squirrel. These guys are truly “hambones” and will try almost anything to get you to feed them, short of dawning a straw hat and bamboo cane and doing a little “soft-shoe” routine. One guy got close to doing that, which I caught up at Glacier Point one summer. He was up on his hind legs and little front paws hanging half curled as if to say, “I pose for food.”
I discovered, with this hike, that I’m not in good enough shape to be doing this kind of thing. It is now three years later (than the last hike); August 2006, I signed up for a “photography” hike. I took my grandson, Nick. This hike intrigued me for two strong reasons and one weak one. It would take me past Illouette Falls, which I’ve never had a chance to photograph. And, it was, for the most part, all down hill. The third reason was it would give me a chance to brush elbows with other like-minded individuals. The hike was offered by Yosemite.org and was guided by Bob Campagna, a photographer from Iowa. The pace was faster than I wanted to do, but I was slower than even I expected to be, so they had to wait for me to catch up. It was a bit disappointing for me because I couldn’t spend the time I wanted taking pictures. I image it was more than a little disappointing from them because “the geezer” was holding them up. When the terrain didn’t slow me down, I had to move at a higher pace to catch up and missed taking the photos I wanted. To be fair, I was definitely holding people up because I wasn’t in the shape I needed to be in. Though most of the trek was down hill, there is a mile after Illouette Falls which did a steady incline of about 1000 feet. I was taking advantage of the incline by stopping frequently, actually to rest, but justified by finding anything to photograph. For instance, isn’t it uncanny how much the back of Half Dome looks like Hedwig, Harry Potter’s owl?
Though there were a few people there that seemed to be somewhat serious amateur photographers, most of them were there with point-and-shoot cameras and had no inclination to stop a compose shots. So there were not many with whom I could “brush elbows”, so to speak, even if I did keep up.
The trail is just short of 8 miles from the trailhead at Glacier Point to the end at Happy Isles. It starts at about the 7200 foot level and steadily declines to just short of 6000 feet at the Illouette Bridge about two and half miles along. It ascends a little over a thousand feet during the mile past the bridge to about 6700 feet and then it’s a steady decline for the next mile and a half to about 6000 feet at Nevada Falls. Finally down to Happy Isles at about 4000 feet two and a half miles after that.
We took a shuttle bus from Yosemite Lodge at the Falls at about 10 AM to Glacier Point. We left on the hike about Noon. We got a nice view of Illouette Falls from a vantage point just prior to the Illouette Creek Bridge at about 2 PM and stopped for lunch at the bridge twenty minutes later. The trek up the hill after lunch was taking its toll on me. When the rest of the group made it up to the top of the incline (I was WAY behind), Bob suggested to Nick that maybe he ought to go back and, “…help your grandfather.” He did, the sweetie. I didn’t need any help. I was just cogitating my shot of Hedwig (the sixty-something retired nurse disagreed. She took my pulse and said, “Wake up and smell the coffee. You just took a stress test and FAILED.” Well, maybe). Anyway, Nick volunteered to carry the tripod.
Now, let me go on record that though his current phobia with anything with three legs may have begun sometime in the summer of 2006 and the fact that this hike was in August of 2006 is purely coincidental. I firmly believe that he was pre-disposed to a tripod phobia and, maybe, just maybe, this event might have brought it out. But to say it was the CAUSE? Horsefeathers!
So Nick and I (Nick for the second time) continued the trek up the incline. About three and a half miles into the hike, we crested this incline. It was about here we ran into the guys from Texas returning from their trek up Half Dome (see the discussion on Half Dome). I still have trouble believing it. Image. Running UP hill, when I’m having trouble just walking DOWN hill!
About 5 PM we reached the top of Nevada Falls. The rest of the group had been there since, like Thursday, or so it seemed to them. Bob felt it would be a good idea for me to rest too, so everyone waited a little longer for me to catch my breath.
About an hour later, on the way down, Bob showed us this little, hidden alcove from where you could get a nice picture of Nevada Falls…with a rainbow, even. That was nice. Back on the trail, I’m starting to really feel fatigued (it must be the thin air).
We got to Vernal Falls and down the stone steps where the light was fabulous. This is where I got my parting shot for the trip. It was a nice shot with the grass and mist backlit. Nick is right in the middle still holding the tripod (poor kid). This shot is what convinced me, should I take the Happy Isles to Nevada Falls hike again, to take the long way around to Nevada falls, then come down the Mist Trial.
Just past the Vernal Falls Bridge, I had to take another break. While I’m sitting there, with Nick, this young family treks on by. Both the mother and father, each, have a papoose pack with an infant on their backs and, maybe a 10-year-old is also hiking with them. She had to be 6 or 7 months pregnant. Boy, did I feel old. Briskly pounding up the hill (while I’m resting going DOWN the hill) and the mother, leading the group, calls back, “C’mon, guys, we want to get to the bridge before dark.” I looked at Nick and he looked back at me as if to say, “Do you smell the coffee, yet, Gran’pa?”
We finished the hike at Happy Isles at about 7:30 PM; just a bit later than Bob’s targeted 5 PM. Would I take this hike again? First of all, I’m not going to be going on anymore “group” treks. It’s just not fair to those who are actually in respectable shape. And I truly think Bob was scared to death that I may keel over any minute and as the man in charge….
But, if I was to take this trip again, sure I would. I would do it with some close friends or relatives. One of us would leave a car at Camp Curry and another of us would drive us all up to Glacier Point and head out on the hike at, like, 7 AM. And take it SLOW. This would give me the chance to actually search for, study and take pictures I passed up or flat out missed the first time. I would want to spend at least 12 hours on the hike. Upon completion, whoever left their car at Camp Curry, would drive the other up to retrieve the car, then, or first thing the next morning. I already have a lighter tripod (Nick has since moved to the Midwest where there are neither mountains, nor, I suppose, the need for tripods. Consequently, he won’t be joining us). And, I may consider carrying less camera gear.
I wonder if I can find a T-Shirt that says, “I Made It to the Bottom of Panorama Trail.”
Incidentally, I did see the doctor and he just said I should get out more. And, of course, I walked like a chaffed Weeble for about three days after the hike.