As we wake up and look out of our bedroom window, I think we both realise that we’ve made the right decision in making for the mountains rather than staying at the beach. A clear, if somewhat overcast, sky hangs over our head as I pack my day pack with food and water (plus a change of socks, showing I’d at least learnt something from our last adventure in the snow), lace up my boots and push out onto the Yosemite Falls Trail. The valley looks amazing in the early morning light and we get a much clearer picture of just how vast some of the rock formations can get in this part of California.
Much like the hike at the Arches, I’m keen not to let Nick slow me down as I know he’ll be stopping a lot around here - it seems like the sort of landscapes that will suit his photographic leanings, all mist covered peaks and desolate grey skies. So on I go, getting some good pace up on the ice covered tracks that twist and turn up the edge of the valley - the first point of interest is Columbia Rock, a jutting spike of stone that provides excellent views to the west of Yosemite, including Half Dome and Sentinel Rock. It’s a just reward for the climb though - this trail rises a thousand feet in just two miles, so the elevation gain is pretty intense and I’m already peeling off my outer layers by the time I get my oh-so-convenient iPad out to take some pictures.
Nick is nowhere to be seen, so I leave him a protein bar in a nearby snowdrift (which he manages to miss) and continue on to the next part of the trail. The track weaves around Eagle Tower and then heads down, before swiftly rising and presenting me with a pretty impressive view of America’s tallest waterfall, Yosemite Falls. The weather starts to worsen at this point, with freezing sleet forcing me to reapply the layers I’d only just removed. At this point of the journey, there’s an option to head back or push on up the mountain valley to try and reach the head of the waterfall - that’s not really an option when I’ve got all this gear on.
As I reach the start of the next part of the trail, I decide to wait for Nick and use the pause as an excuse to take on food and water - unfortunately, the protein bars we’ve been packing have gone rock hard in the cold mountain air, so every gnawed bite makes me fear hearing the crack of a tooth. It was at this point that Nick rounded the bend, unprepared for the majestic sight of me tentatively munching on my frozen cereal bar, and so he nearly keeled over in fear. Who would’ve thought I’d be so intimidating? Once he’d recovered, we set off, together this time, and head into a decidedly more snow festooned landscape than the lower trail.
The snow now comprises the majority of the track and the going is getting tougher as it snakes up the mountain in tighter and tighter coils. It’s getting steeper as well, made ever tougher by the increasingly icy conditions underfoot. Whatever’s at the top of this hellish route better be worth it. Exhausted, we reach a partially covered sign that isn’t really helpful as it doesn’t have any arrows on it but, after a moment’s pause to consult our map, we decide to head towards Yosemite Peak - the mountain from which the waterfall springs.
There’s a problem however - the snow here is almost chest deep and I have a sudden flashback to the frozen hillside in Colorado that robbed me of my phone. Clutching my iPad for dear life, we press on but it quickly becomes clear that it’s only going to get worse before we reach the peak. Nick describes these conditions as ‘depressing as f*ck’, a technical mountaineering term if ever I’ve heard one, so I think it’s a good time to call it quits. It’s a shame to be denied, as I think we’re actually quite close to the top, but this is yet another experience that’s made me consider buying snowshoes - that’s an expression I never thought I’d say.
As we head back down we pass quite a few people who are attempting the route we’ve just abandoned; the most entertaining was a pair of couples, one member of whom was wearing skate shows with ankle socks - she’s obviously taking this trek pretty seriously. The weather improves as we drop back down the trail at pace, which makes me worry for my knees, but I think we’re both keen to get out of our sodden boots and find a hotel with a hot tub as soon as possible.
Luckily, that’s exactly what we do in the small town of Los Banos. The La Quinta hotel we stop at has an excellent pool, complete with hot tub, so we have a brief swim and a soak before heading out to see our first film in the US - The Revenant. It’s excellent and returns us to the hotel after 11PM, where we gratefully collapse onto our (separate) beds.
San Francisco, and the end of our adventure, is really starting to close in fast now, and I’m feeling a little melancholy - it was a great day today and I’m reluctant to think about it ending.