Panorama Trail - Yosemite
Hiked: August 19, 2006
My entry for this hike requires a few disclaimers. First: I know Yosemite isn't exactly in Los Angeles. I also know that this is supposed to be a blog about hiking L.A., but you're going to have to cut me some slack. In truth, Yosemite isn't all that far from Los Angeles. If people travel from all over the world to see Half Dome and El Capitan, Angelinos certainly can jump in there car and check it out. (According to Google Maps, it's 311 miles from Los Angeles to Yosemite.)
More information: I grew up in scenic Fresno, the raisin capital of the world that's currently run by Capt. Bubba Skinner. Dad still resides in the 'no, and he likes to take advantage of its close proximity to Yosemite. He had hiked the Panorama Trail once before and had been recommending it to BF and I for quite some time. After a lot of scheduling mishaps, we finally decided on a mutually-agreeable weekend to hike the trail. Our plan was to come up to Fresno on a Friday night, sleep a few hours, then head up to Yosemite Saturday morning. After the hike, we'd return to Fresno, sleep, and then head back to L.A. on Sunday. That way we wouldn't have to miss work.
Here's who joined BF and I on this hike: dad, mom, Panda and Xmas. You may remember my dad as the guy who took pictures of his Toyota Prius on the Mishe Mokwa Trail. Even though my parents have been divorced for ten years, dad invited mom to come on the hike, too. They're friends now. It's all very progressive and mature of them, don't you think? It seems like the premise for a sitcom on the ABC Family channel.
Panda and Xmas are two of my friends that I met in grad school. I could call them by their initials, like I did with EVG, but calling them by these names is much more amusing to me. Regardless, Panda and Xmas are best friends and roommates, they're both from Connecticut, and they're both fiction writers. I originally only invited Xmas to join us on the hike, not because I don't like Panda, but because she was out of town when we originally planned the hike. Luckily for Panda, dad and I had scheduling conflicts that pushed our hike back to a day when she could join us.
Once Xmas got home from her fancy showbiz job, and after we took care of a little foster cat drama we got on the road to Fresno. We arrived at my dad's house around one a.m., just in time for three hours of sleep.
In the morning, Panda and BF complained that they both didn't really get any sleep. Xmas and I had slept some, but three hours isn't exactly enough to make you feel bright-eyed and chipper. Nonetheless, we all somehow managed to get dressed and on the road by 5:30.
The Panorama Trail is a one-way hike. To get started, you park in Yosemite Valley and take a bus from Yosemite Lodge up to Glacier Point. The bus ride took about an hour. Our driver was a well-intentioned but nonetheless annoying woman who insisted on talking about mountain elves and referring to all pines as "Christmas trees". Luckily, the seats were comfortable and we all nodded off for most of the drive.
Once at Glacier Point, you are suddenly accosted by the magnificent view of Yosemite Valley below you. Here's what I'm talking about:
It's certainly an awe-inspiring place. The six of us walked around Glacier Point taking pictures for about a half hour before we realized that we'd have great views all along the trail. It was getting on to noon, and we really needed to get on the trail.
As you may have noticed, BF has a very nice digital SLR camera. My dad also has a similarly nice digital SLR from a different manufacturer. BF even has a fancy telephoto lens with a gyroscopic stabilization system that allows him to take very detailed pictures of far away things. Case in point: the hikers on top of Half Dome:
Those little specks of people were barely visible through binoculars from Glacier Point.
As opposed to dad and BF, with their multi-megapixel contraptions, Xmas had brought along two disposable cameras. Now, I'm the first person to celebrate the merits of disposable cameras. The investment is small so you never have to worry about breaking them. The only problem is that once you've taken 36 pictures you're done.
This becomes a distinct problem on the Panorama Trail because every step you take brings you to a new, amazing vista. I believe Xmas finished her first two cameras in the first mile of the hike.
The Panorama trail takes a wide loop from Glacier Point and curves around past Illouette Falls, then behind Half Dome past Nevada Falls, and finally Vernal Falls. Dad had told us that the trail was "mostly downhill, with a little uphill part in the middle." Seeing as we started at Glacier Point, 7274 feet above sea level, and we'd be ending at Yosemite valley, 4000 feet above sea level, I believed him. How much uphill could there possibly be? The trail was only 8.2 miles long, after all.
As we got started on the trail, dad gave mom one of his hiking sticks—essentially a collapsible ski pole—to help her with the hike. This would become a very important tool for mom as the hike wore on. But first, the initial views:
The upper waterfall is Nevada Falls, and the lower one is Vernal Falls. This was mid-August, so the falls were supposedly on the weaker side. You could have fooled me and Xmas—we both thought they were pretty big.
The beginning of the hike takes you gradually downhill towards Illouette Falls. We stopped often to take pictures and enjoy the views, but we were making good time. Here's a picture of Illouette Falls as we approached it:
We arrived at the crystal-clear pool above Illouette Falls around noon, and we decided to sit down and eat lunch. The water looked inviting, so Xmas took off her shoes and waded in ankle-deep. Dad decided this would be the perfect time to test out his new UV Water Purifier. (I had stumbled upon this device reading over other hiking blogs, and when I showed it to dad he immediately wanted one.) Dad took a sample from the river and, after sterilization, I had a sample. The water was refreshing and tasted quite good, and to this date (over a week later) we haven't gotten sick.
One of the reasons I had encouraged dad to take water from the river was because I was concerned we didn't have enough bottled water to go around. BF and I packed our usual large amount of partially-frozen water, more than enough for the two of us. Dad had plenty, too. Xmas and Panda reassured all of us that they had enough, so we didn't press them for details.
Mom, on the other hand, clearly didn't have enough water. When I asked her if she had water, she pulled a small bottle of diet pepsi and a bottle of club soda out of her fanny pack. I told her this wasn't enough, but she didn't seem to agree with me. It turns out that dad hadn't quite explained to mom just how strenuous the hike was going to be. In fact, he hadn't quite been accurate in his description of the trail to any of us.
After leaving Illouette Falls, the trail began to climb uphill. Jokingly, we immediately started razzing dad about his claim that the hike was "mostly downhill." Our tone became less humored and more accusatory as the trail kept climbing. Mom and I climbed the trail slowly, the rest of the crew having hiked ahead of us at the beginning. Every couple hundred feet, mom would stop and say, "it keeps going up!" I was trying to use positive thinking to my advantage, and my mantra was "it couldn't possibly go much higher." Mom was the pessimist, I was the optimist. In the end, mom was right. It did keep going up.
I can understand why mom was exasperated. Three months prior, she had fallen sick and ended up in the E.R. with a raging case of sepsis. According to my stepdad, there was a point during the night she was admitted when she was very close to death. My mom is a doctor (as are my dad and stepdad) and the infection that knocked her out was a particularly gnarly hospital infection. These are bugs that generally only hang out in hospitals, where they mutate into antibiotic-resistant monsters that are difficult to kill.
Luckily, mom survived her ordeal and had been on the steady road to recovery all summer. But all was not back to normal. Most notably, her hemoglobin levels were still low. Hemoglobin is what transports oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Hiking uphill at 7000 feet, you better have your hemoglobin working full-force. Unfortunately for mom, this wasn't the case.
And so, we took the uphill part slowly. It turns out that dad's "little uphill part" was a little more substantial than reported. According to yosemitefun.com, the Panorama Trail actually has 1964.8 feet of elevation gain.
Mom is a trooper, though, and we eventually made it to the top of the climb. We got some great views of the back-side of Half Dome during the climb:
BF switched his camera to black-and-white mode in what seems to be a tribute to Ansel Adams:
And so we started back downhill towards Nevada Falls. Up to Nevada Falls, we had only seen a dozen or so other hikers on the trail. Even though it was the height of tourist season and a Saturday, the trail was pleasantly unpopulated (unlike the valley and Glacier Point). But, when we got to Nevada Falls, we were suddenly confronted with hordes of other humans! Well, I may be exaggerating a bit, but there were definitely more people to be found. We soon figured out that this is because you can access both Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls by relatively short hikes from the valley floor.
Regardless, we took a much-needed rest at the top of Nevada falls:
We then doubled back and hiked alongside Nevada Falls towards Vernal Falls and got this great view:
And then as the trail approached Vernal Falls:
The trail leading up to Vernal Falls was beginning to get quite steep, and we were all feeling it in our knees and ankles. It was getting late, so we didn't dawdle at Vernal Falls. Instead, we decided to head down. There was only about a mile left of the hike, so we were getting excited about the prospect of a big dinner and a soak in mom's hot tub.
Little did we know that the Mist Trail steps were ahead of us. Below Vernal Falls, the trail consists of countless stone steps that wind steeply down the side of the waterfall. In 0.3 miles you lose about 1000 feet of elevation. After hiking from Glacier Point, this descent is killer on your joints. Mom, dad, and I all had to take our sweet time hobbling down the stairs. Mom had to stop at one point and lie down because she was so exhausted. My legs were trembling as though I were shivering, and my knees were aching with each footfall.
In the midst of all this, the sun hit the mist off Vernal Falls and BF took this amazing photo:
And, no, that is not photoshopped in any way. Well, I resized it in Adobe Photoshop, but that's it! Isn't it a great shot?
So, we somehow made it down to the valley floor in more or less one piece. We took the shuttle bus back to the Yosemite Lodge where our cars were parked. The sun was just going down as we arrived at the lodge, and apparently that meant it was time for the raccoons to come out in full force.
There were a few raccoons wandering around the grounds of the lodge, completely unfazed by all us humans. But what was more disturbing was the horde of raccoons on the roof of the lodge. I first noticed about six of the masked furballs wandering in a pack on the roof, and someone said, "they're coming out of a room!" Well, that made me pay more attention, and we watched as the group went to the next window, quickly pulled off the screen, and went looting. Here are some grainy action shots:
I decided that the responsible thing to do would be to go tell the front desk. As I approached, I noticed there was a raccoon standing guard outside the front door. Apparently he was their lookout. Eventually, he wandered away, and I told the manager that raccoons were systematically breaking-and-entering into guest rooms. He sighed, picked up the phone, and unenthusiastically told me, "this has happened before."
After admiring the raccoons' ingenuity for a few more minutes, we all decided it was time to get on the road. We stopped in Oakhurst for dinner, having found a lovely Italian restaurant that was still open and would take six sweaty, grimy, tired hikers. Unfortunately, I had started to feel quite ill on the drive home. I had eaten plenty of food and imbibed plenty of water during the hike, but somehow my internal equilibrium was not right. At dinner, I was hungry but incredibly nauseous and unable to eat any of my delicious-looking chicken piccata. I did manage to eat a few bites of salt-laden baked potato. My mom had suggested I try that because she suspected I was low on salt. I now think I had a mild case of hyponatremia. Whatever it was, I felt awful and I was embarrassed that I was such a miserable dinner companion.
I also inadvertently insulted my mom by suggesting that I drive home with dad instead of her. I only suggested it because I know dad drives slower than my mom, and I was hoping this would curb my nausea. Unfortunately, I think mom took this as a judgment about her driving. In all honesty, I was feeling so awful that I wasn't really able to make such a judgment. I just wanted to get home without ralphing.
I succeeded, and actually felt much better once I got home. The salt I poured on that baked potato must have kicked in.
The next morning, Xmas, Panda, BF and I all slept in late, working off the exhaustion and sleep-deprivation we had accumulated since Friday. After waking up and enjoying some coffee, we all went over to mom's house for a huge brunch of cheese, smoked salmon, hummus, scones, fruit... you name it, she had it. Then we all retreated to the back yard and took advantage of mom's fabulous pool and hot tub before heading back to Los Angeles.