My Trek to the Top of Yosemite Falls, June 2003
Yosemite Falls is the “Grand Poobah” of Yosemite’s waterfalls and one of the tallest in the North America. It drops 2425 feet in three parts; Upper Falls, Lower Falls and the Middle Cascades. There is a short trail that leads up to the foot of the Lower Falls. A ball of mist is kicked up at the base of the falls. The falls quickly wanes in strength during the year, noticeably so by the end of June and to a near trickle by fall. The water from the falls winds its way across the valley floor to join the Merced River just west of the Chapel Bridge at the south side of Cook’s Meadow. At the beginning of the short, paved trail to the base of the lower falls is an excellent vantage point to snap a photo of all three sections of the falls. Even at night, by moonlight, you can capture this waterfall if your camera can be set for a long exposure and, maybe, even capture a “moonbow”
Yosemite Falls is the Son of Big Kahuna when it comes to hikes in the Valley. I took this hike in June 2003 and in spite of the fact it nearly killed me, I’d take it again if the circumstances arose (like if I did all the other hikes I want to do and, maybe, Hell has frozen over). This trail is about 7 miles round trip from the Valley Floor at the parking area near Sunnyside Camp and goes to the top of the falls. It has an ascension of 2630 feet and, they say, is a strenuous 6 to 8 hour hike. It is closed in the winter.
Much of the hike is under tree cover, so you won’t have the sun beating on you; however there are spots where you can get out into the sun and look around. Columbia Rock, about a mile into the hike, comes to mind. We stopped and witnessed some hang gliders come in for a landing in one of the meadows (I didn’t now you could do that in Yosemite…maybe they didn’t either) . Another nice spot is just short of two miles up where the trees open up and there, in all its glory, is Upper Yosemite Falls! Magnificent. You will be able to feel the spray (if you take the hike during full snow melt) . Speaking of spray, you will be accompanied on the hike by mosquitoes, so bring bug spray or expect to be severely anemic by the time you return to the parking area.
I had a backpack that had my camera gear, a heavy tripod and a number of water bottles. Consequently, I had to take frequent rest stops because of the weight I was packing (I shall ignore the snickers from those of you thinking that the fact that I was an overweight desk jockey may have played a roll in necessitating my frequent stops). We met up with a young girl who was on the hike with some friends from work. They were software developers from the Bay Area. She was in her early 20s, I suspect. She said her friends were experienced hikers and wanted to move ahead and she wondered if she could tag along with us because she couldn’t keep up with their pace. Well, if Slow is what you want, Slow is what you get. I make frequent stops to take pictures and, occasionally, breathe. So, yes. You’re welcome. She lasted about 20 minutes with us and after finishing her third crossword puzzle waiting for my “photo opportunities”, decided she could make it on her own. A couple hours later, one of our group members couldn’t stand it anymore, either, and took off for the top by herself. She got up there about an hour or so before the rest of us.
But, we finally, made it, though.
The view from the top is magnificent! There is a small (very small) viewing area along the face of the ravine next to the falls itself. It is cabled off. People could pass each other, but just barely. I saw someone up there that, apparently, had taken off their shoes as they were barefooted. Now there’s a sales opportunity! T-Shirts that say, “I Hung 10 at Yosemite Falls.”
Looking over the falls, which is an image all by itself and gazing across the valley isn’t the only scene at the top. I saw a young lady sitting cross legged under a tree looking east out over Clouds Rest’s snow capped peaks. What a picture of serenity!
It was a grueling trek for me. It took six hours for me just to get to the top and I was beat. I just sat down, grew roots and hibernated. It was an hour before I could get up and look around. But it was worth it. It made it all the more enjoyable knowing the rest of the trip was all down hill. I figured I would be able to get down in 3 hrs, more or less. Wrong again. The trek down was also slow and arduous. Much of the trail is exposed rock covered slightly with sand and it so it was easy to loose your footing. My toes inside my shoes kept curling to try to grab the trail.
There is a sign at the trail head that says, “Yosemite Falls 3.4 miles”. I remember passing it on the way up just as we started the hike. It was 8 AM on the dot. When I got back to it at the conclusion of the hike, it was 8:01 PM. I thought I was beat when I got to the top, but now I looked a felt like the walking dead. When I got back to the hotel, my wife freaked out. From the looks of me, she thought I died and was just too stupid to lie down. I took a long hot bath in the whirlpool tub, massaging my knee, for an hour. Then I got out and had dinner.
I didn’t die and I did get some nice pictures. Of course, I walked like a chaffed Weeble for a week, but it was all good. Seriously, I would definitely take this hike again.
 The setting you use will depend on the phase of the moon. I took a shot a week prior to the full moon and set it to 30 seconds, the aperture all the way open, with an ISO of about 1650. The hardest part of the shot was the auto-focus. I had to turn around and focus on light near The Lodge at the Falls, then leave it there when I turned back around to shoot the falls. Even then I wasn’t sure I got the shot until I got it back home on the Computer.
 Actually, there is a web site for Yosemite Hang Gliders Association (YHGA.ORG) that organizes such ventures.
 This is the only “down slope” on the way up. At the bottom of it, if you go off trail, you might get access to a cave behind Upper Yosemite Falls. I’ll discuss that when we get to the “4-Mile Trail”.
 It’s hard to image he would have walked up 3.4 miles barefooted.