Tuesday, September 20, 2011


On the first week of August, after one of the wettest winters in recent history we entered Yosemite National Park determined to scale forbidding Yosemite Falls.  It was getting late in the evening and every campsite in the valley was full.  Fortunately, we made our way to the backpacking campsite far from car campers; unfortunately night was falling ahead of us and we barely found time to grope through setting up tents before it was pitch dark.   Sleeping was instant and short.  We were stuffing food supplies into bear canisters hoping to thwart overzealous bruins from decimating our rations, when who should poke a furry head from behind the raspberry bushes?  A juvenile bear was foraging about forty feet away oblivious to our stingy ways.

Quickly donning our fifty pound backpacks heavy with tents, sleeping bags, clothing, emergency kits, food, and heaviest of all water filtration equipment, we hurried out of there and up to the trail head.

I was pumped from jamming a week's worth of hiking supplies into the backpack and feeling it before setting foot on the overwhelming path upward.

Trudging up the lower Yosemite Falls trail in relative morning coolness we scampered between rocks and shallow roots of conifers graciously shading our path.  Hours later we would segue into loose rocks and decomposed granite switchbacks under a relentless midday sun that hotter as we got closer to the top.

 After walking for hours seemingly going nowhere and thinking this was my craziest idea yet; while sweat burned a stinging path into my eyeballs, my throat swollen and dry making swallowing a scary rasping experience we rounded a corner and lo and behold: the dry trail was greeted by a the gentlest of tinkling springs caressing hard granite rock in an orgy of life.

Off came the backpack and in the company of gently fluttering butterflies in the midst of ferns and wildflowers my sweaty head sampled the cool water pouring down the vertical head high gush.  A baptism ensued replete with epiphany, such was the ecstasy that assailed me.  Shirt come off in a flash and for what seemed like one unlawful moment of carnal knowledge I was experiencing Heaven on Earth.  My swollen hands shrank to near normal and were soon putting that wretched pack back on.

We climbed ever higher, painfully stepping, methodically, stopping endlessly on butt-high rocks, resting our sore backs and catching our breath.  Finally, after in interminable stint we came around the bend and there it was: Yosemite Falls.  Not only did the site fill our entire field of vision, but our ears were inundated by a faint rumble and our nostrils alerted of a distant cool mist.

It was time for lunch. Break time.  Hiking boots off!  Dig for grub and lighten the backpacks by shifting the food we carried externally to our empty grumbling stomachs.

Once again cool, shod, refueled, and reloaded we resumed our climb.  But, we had rested too long and chilled muscles were cramping.  My upper thighs burned and threatened to clamp down each time I lifted my weary calves and aching heals up a rocky step.  My knees would be buckling soon.  We must stretch.  And so we did.  There were not many people on this pilgrimage to the sky, most having dropped off after seeing the waterfall, returning to the valley.  Stretching, we relieved ourselves of aches and pains.

We were more than half way up and very near the water now, having risen to the bottom of Upper Yosemite Falls.  A plume of white water was tumbling over a jet black granite rock face almost withing reach.

On we went. Each step higher, each time higher and steeper; hotter, breathless, swollen, sweating.  Were we there yet! I was afraid evening would catch up with us on the path.  We climbed out of the tree line and into just rock.  What a sight to behold!    Upper Yosemite Falls tumbling into white spray cresting and pouring over the granite top in one blue sky rush.

It was getting late. Would we get there before night fall?   Could we make it to the top, to the now mythical - in my mind - camping Shangrila?  Must we go on...?  Hurting and aching I reached a detachment where nothing seemed to matter: it would all work out even if night came and we had to camp on the edge of a cliff.  What about mountain lions and bears?  Who cared?

Interminable steps led us to the top with the last sun rays.

As the terrain flattened we were greeted by small tributary from Yosemite Creek which seemed to say: "Welcome, you have arrived, drink of these fresh waters and let me guide you to your chambers."  Wherever they may be was our next almost desperate question.  Dusk was here and night was practically upon us.  We were hungry, tired, and sleepy.  We could camp anywhere.  Yet something as seemingly simple as setting down backpacks and staking down tents soon became complicated as we selected a site by the water which should not be too close - for safety - but near enough to fetch a pail for cooking and filling up the filtering system for drinking.

Suddenly short tempers, not fully flaring, forced us to find a fantastic spot, slightly far from the river, but we managed.
Fire, man's best friend (never mind dogs), came to life above my match, comforting and protecting like a benefactor.  We cooked  the best tasting chilly of our lives, warmed the old bones, and found solace against real and imagined lions and bears.
Tents went up in record time and never did "hitting the sac" ring truer than when we crashed in our sleeping bags.  Mr. Sandman assaulted my vision with a sandstorm.  I was instantly asleep.

I woke up first in a pleasantly foreign, pristine day which said hello with the primordial and detached intimacy of a wilderness that could not care less if you lived or died, but which would be content with either condition and be complete with both.

It is Nature's uncaring detachment that we secretly hate.  We'll do anything to change her, to impose our will on her as if to say "care, bitch, or we'll destroy you".  And for good measure we ravage her with asphalt and chain her with concrete.  Only inaccessible places, reserved by visionaries from a long gone era offer us a glimpse of Grace, or be forever blind.

I stole away for a private viewing of the valley below.  Working my way along the river shoreline, avoiding its treacherous current, getting as close as I dared to the precipice, that sweet spot where water goes from horizontal to vertical.

Now dangerously close to the edge, I made my way to see the river do it's thing, like a depraved voyeur on the sidelines.  Too fearful (yes I was afraid of the overwhelming power of gravity at this point) of getting involved and being irresistibly dragged down this vertiginous fall into a bone crashing, blood splashing collision with the immovable land mass below.

My head was spinning and my psyche reeling, threatening, awakening my dormant survival instinct.   It was worth it.  Grabbing for dear life, adrenaline pumping, I experienced a sort of catharsis; an epiphany.  It was bliss gazing into the abyss.

I looked out into the alluring emerald void, the pastoral happy valley with the roaring waterfall soundtrack, a bird-less blue Imax sky and slow-motion time lapsed into a complete stop. I was alone with that Spirit some call God, and it was good.

No comments:

Post a Comment