Well, I hit the rowdy road
and many kinds I met there.
Many stories told me
of the way to get there.
So on and on I go.
The seconds tick the time out.
There's so much left to know
and I'm on the road to find out.
If you're looking for the Grand Central Station of hiking in the western United States, you'll probably find it at Happy Isles, Yosemite. Here lies the great convergence of human foot power. At shuttle stop #16, the hybrid-powered bus lets off, all the bicycles are parked, and legions of hikers embark on their 8-mile Pilgrim's Progress to Half Dome or the many other destinations along the way. The Mist Trail also connects to the 300-mile long John Muir trail.
No doubt, Happy Isles served some other purpose back in day when it got its name. (For more on this subject, see the previous post.) Today the asphalt path on the other side of the bridge runs more or less parallel to the Merced River from the trailhead, attracting several hundred visitors a day, all of them huffing it in one direction - up! Up and up and up and up… Trust me, this is no excursion for the faint of heart. Any climbing out of the valley into the high country naturally involves a rather taxing vertical ascent. That said, more than one small toddler managed to outdistance me when I did the trek in mid-July.
This Mist Trail cajoles its way along a granite ledge, where the farther you climb, the steeper the overhang gets. As you watch the river rapids splashing briskly below, at times the water appears to be boiling inside a witch's caldron. Or so I began to think as the noonday heat beat down on me. And still the trail wound up and up and up.
Capturing a second wind, I pressed on for the base of Vernal Fall, this time moving through a cool patch of woods. To my immense relief, it wasn't long before I arrived at a series of granite steps carved into the rock. These climb first to the base, then the top of the fall.
I didn't make it very far past the base, let alone up to the popular (and now fenced off) Emerald Pool. I discovered that I had lost my lens cap right about when it becomes obvious why the Mist Trail is called the Mist Trail. So I turned around and went back to the bridge to rest with the other day hikers.
The lyrics at the top of this post, incidentally, are from the song On the Road to Find Out by Cat Stevens. It's off an album from the early seventies which I recited from memory. Don't ask me what I had for breakfast this morning.
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By the time you reach the long manmade wall that encases the trail along a precarious cliff edge, you begin to ask yourself if taking a peak at a backcountry waterfall or two is really worth all the sweat, saliva and calories. But then you see Illilouette Fall to the southwest and that matter is put to rest. Trudge on awhile longer and you reach a shaded stretch where many of your fellow travelers have stopped to rest. Persevere still, and the upward slog mercifully ends at the Vernal Fall Bridge. It's only .8 of a mile from the start of the trailhead, but I thought a lifetime had elapsed since I had initially studied that trail marker, making plans to tackle the John Muir hike through the Sierras some other day. Yeah, right...
Starting out a hike to Vernal Fall as I did, at 11:30 on a hot summer day, was probably not the best approach to this venture. But we hapless wayfarers can always improvise our way out of a unpleasant situation, even if it kills us..