Yosemite 2011 Part 1 "The Hike In"
Sitting at the office one day, I got an email from the Yosemite High Sierra Camps letting me know that they had openings the last week of their season which is in late September. Well this is normally a lottery draw for reservations and nearly impossible to get …. So I jumped all over the opportunity. I have visited Yosemite National Park and even fished there previously, but here was a chance to hit some of the more remote back country areas… far from the crowds and the roads, which we all know is where I feel the most at home. All without having to carry tent, bedding and food because they supplied that for you as part of the “hike in” tent camp experience nestled in the Little Yosemite Valley area above the Tuolumne Meadows. I figured this was a great compromise for getting back deep in the backcountry but keeping pack weight down and keeping enough people around me that my cardiologist and family wouldn’t flip out on me if they knew where I was going. I knew the scenery was supposed to be outstanding but I wasn’t too sure about the fishing, but a trip to the woods is a trip to the woods and honestly even though the Maine trip hadn’t been that long ago…….. I needed another break from society and reality… … as I get older I seem to need my breaks more frequently.
I managed to do a little legitimate business early in the week so the trip could actually be called a business trip, but by Thursday morning I found myself standing somewhere in the Tuolumne Meadows parking lot strapping my backpack on. I had a fishing bum friend of mine with me, Bernard and between the two of us we had maybe half an idea of where we were supposed to go. But an adventure is an adventure so off we rolled… … “half cocked” as usual. It was a lighter backpack than normal but still a solid 35 pounds of clothes, camping and fishing gear and a few snacks…….. hey I like to be comfortable and us big fat boys do like our snacks. According to all of the literature the trail was supposed to be about 6 miles with only about a 300 ft elevation drop …… sounded easy…… which is normally is my first mistake. Well what they don’t tell you is the parking areas are about a mile or so from the trailhead so I was increasing the distance even before my legs got stretched out. Plus I got the added benefit of a few hundred of my closest friends and neighbors hanging around in that first few thousand yards closest to the black top roadway. I started off down the trail with my mind spinning a hundred miles an hour trying to solve some complex and fairly serious, personal and business problems that had been plaguing me for a long time. Marriages and careers can be a thought provoking conundrum even at “the best of times” and here lately … … well let’s just say it isn’t “the best of times”. So for the first half mile or so I was lost in trying to unravel the knots and tangles that are my personal life, and that tangle level would look a lot like a triple 15 inch dropper rig with two split shot that has been fished in a high wind for a few hours by a guy on his first day trying to learn to fly cast. So as you can guess the unraveling wasn’t progressing too well. But fortunately for me nature has a way of pulling you out of your own personal funks and the trail got harder and my aching legs and wheezing chest soon pushed all other thoughts from head. About that time I rounded a corner in the trail and saw some of God’s greatest handiwork spread out before me, and let me preface that with I have traveled all over our wonderful country and even hit a few foreign ones and always in search of fantastic scenery….. and this was truly some of god’s greatest handy work, which always manages to clear my head and leave me free to be “in the moment”…… and I am betting even my lousy camera can share just a little bit of that magic.
With scenery like that how you automatically stop and enjoy the view. After spending a few minutes letting some of that scenery seep deep into my soul, I settled into a nice slow pace and just picked and plodded my way up the trail. I was happy and content and feeling pretty good about all of my progress. I was getting lapped fairly regularly by the standard severely in shape, intense type “A” personalitied, two poled backpackers that we are all accustomed to seeing in the National Parks throughout the country, but that didn’t bother me because these were all young hot shot hikers right, well on my next water break I stopped and talked with a couple who had passed me a little while back and who had been practically doubling my pace, and during the course of our conversation it came out that they were almost 70 years old…….. well obviously I was inspired by that, if they could do that, at that pace then I think I was going to live through my hike as well…… but I must admit it does hurt the masculine pride a little to get lapped by a pair of seventy year olds who don’t even have the courtesy to act like they are at least breathing heavily.
I realized that I was starting to gain elevation at a pretty rapid clip, from the various physical warning system alarms that were clanging and ringing of oxygen deprivations and tortured muscles screaming to slow down or stop completely but also clearly I could see the scenery change from the tranquil serenity and beauty of the meadows to the much more rough and tumble sheer granite cliff faces and boulder strewn trails that are such a trademark of the Yosemite Area. At one point as I was stopped, pretending to admire the scenery while desperately trying to catch my breath, I heard the sound of white water roaring off unseen in the distance. Well since the river had been all meadow meanderings to this point that kind of caught my attention and I dropped the pack for a few minutes and we went off exploring to see what we could find…. which would hopefully be the water fall that I thought I had heard. Sure enough a few hundred yards away and just over a ridge line I saw a sight that made me forget my tired legs and aching shoulders and made me smile all the way through my soul and down to my toes.
I just sat and stared in awe for the longest time, just drinking in the scenery. Sometimes you find a stolen moment flash frozen into a private memory of perfection. The view was as pretty as anything I had ever seen and there wasn’t another person in sight but Bernard, who was worshiping in silent adoration just like I was. I actually spent a few seconds trying to think about how this could be any better and the only thing I could think of was if this was my final camping destination for the trip. By the time I had drunk my fill of that wonderful site and let my mental images develop to full exposure so that I knew there was no way I could ever forget that moment, I was as cool and refreshed as if I had been swimming in the chilly waters of the plunge pool. My pack felt ten pounds lighter as I shrugged back into it and I knew even if I didn’t catch a single fish or see another site … … the trip would have been worth it just for that one single solitary vista… … and somehow I knew Bernard agreed with me.
From there the trail started up a serious grade and we climbed consistently for the next few miles. The fact that the trail was a total drop of 300 feet in elevations made it apparent that I would have to climb to a ridgeline and then probably have a pretty long decent and drop down into the camp. Intellectually I had, I guess, always known that but for the short term my oxygen starved mind had assumed that I was almost there and that every curve of the upper meadows trails would bring a tent camp city into my field of vision. But from the cliff tops that surrounded me it was pretty obvious that I was still a long way from the bottom of the valley where the camp would be… … so I just keep plodding forward and let my eyes feast on the scenery around me and hoped that I wouldn’t pass out on the trail and roll off one of these cliffs.
We flattened out for a while and ran the ridgeline at the top of the valley following the river. My casting arm started to twitch in earnest as I walked along this beautiful river fishing opportunities and I was really in a hurry to get to the bottom now… … partly so I could get this d**n back pack off me …… but also so I could start fishing.
Finally we started our downhill decent, and I do mean decent as it was nearly straight down. That made for great scenic waterfalls, but I really hate downhill hiking for some reason, that angle actually hurts me as bad if not worse than uphill hiking so even with scenes like this next to me I couldn’t even enjoy them…. Well maybe I should rephrase that……. I couldn’t enjoy them as much as they deserved.
The rest of the stumble downhill and into camp is lost to a haze of painful complaining feet and sore tired screaming legs, but I am positive that I made it … … and the good news was that I lived to tell about it afterwards. We took a little while and let our bodies recuperate, which to an old man like me means I took a nap. I still say taking a nap is one of life’s greatest luxuries and should never be taken lightly. I mean how often do most of us get a chance to just relax and let our mind doze, not even pushing to fall into a deep sleep but just letting yourself drift off to a contented doze with the sound of the thundering waterfall right outside your tent. I stayed in that hyper-suspended state of rest until the twitching of my casting arm got so bad it woke me from my nap and demanded that I make some fishing occur … … and screamed that I should be pretty d**n quick about it as well.
There was a nice little stream that joined the main body of the river running right through camp. I do love little streams so if figured this would be the perfect little starter stream for our late afternoon fishing sojourn. I hadn’t been able to find any fishing reports about this little stream or even the big river in this part of the national park for that matter, and to be honest I wasn’t sure how much fishing success we were going to have as this area was famous for scenery and hiking but I hadn’t found much press about the fishing. But lack of press isn’t always a bad thing in the fishing department is it, so I just rigged up with a typical fishermen’s optimism and a natural skeptic’s sense of detachment. The two half’s of my personality warred against each other right until I felt the cold bite of my first wet wading step into a late September trout stream at over 8200 feet in the high sierras. At which point the extra pound or two the waders would have added to the pack started to seem like it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I had a royal stimulator and a small gray soft hackle dropper tied on, almost more out of instinct than as a specific well thought out fishing game plan. I flipped my first cast down a seam that ran under a series of brush, and was rewarded with a dark shape of reasonable size rising from the crystal green depths to slash at my dry. I missed him of course just as I miss nearly every first strike I get on a fishing trip. It is almost a warm up ritual with me. But I laughed to myself when I turned around and realized I could still see the front door of the tent and had already had a strike. 4 or 5 minutes of fishing later, and the skunk was banished back to Georgia and this pretty little jewel was lying in my hand bringing a natural chill to my palm and soothing balm to my fisherman’s soul.
And in quick succession I caught I half dozen of his friends and relatives, each one seemingly more beautiful than the last. My mind struggled to capture the beauty of each of these and to give them their due space in the mix of beautiful fish and beautiful places that my travels have taken me. I smiled when I remembered my worries about not finding fish in these waters and laughed right out loud when I remembered my worries that I wouldn’t be able to catch one. Here were ten or so in the first thirty minutes of fishing… …. Just like these.
Including one of these which as strange as it seems to be to a southern Appalachian brookie lover like me …….. are the true native of this stream …… and the brookies are transplants.
The little stream was as pretty as the fish that it held and I never could make up my mind which I was more impressed with … … the fish or the scenery.
The rest of the afternoon was the height of luxury for a small stream fisherman. Peacefully tag teaming the stream with a good friend, playing hop scotch over holes and trading off after each fish … … many times that meant trading fishing control after every cast. It is always a pleasure to see a good fisherman work but this type fishing was so relaxing and peaceful that I really didn’t even focus on him or what he was doing I just flipped my casts where I wanted them and reacted to strikes when they came, which was so often that I smiled and laughed at the misses just like the hookups… … it was truly a no pressure fishing afternoon. We fished till we got tired and then stopped to rest for a while and let the other one fish on alone for a few minutes then caught up traded places and did it some more. I spent enchanted minutes watching Bernard working a hole only to look up minutes later and find his watchful eyes observing me while I fished yet another hole. How long or how far we fished I had no clue. I wasn’t conscious of the passing of time or even of the existence of those same personal problems that had been the bane of my existence for the last few months. I just fished … … and for once the fishing was much more important than the catching, probably because today the catching was the easy part and that made the fishing “the art”. Casts rolled smoothly and the world was at peace. And for the rest of the afternoon I felt that peace deep in my soul and even more importantly deep in my brain, which meant that my brain shut off for a while and just let me be… … like my afternoon nap … tranquil and restful … … wrapped like a warm blanket in the beauty of the high sierras. It was still the first afternoon of our trip and I had reached that rare balanced state of nirvana when the catching is great, the fishing is just an extension of my soul and the scenery and the moment is the sole purpose of my existence.
I was where I wanted to be in the exact state of mind that I had been dreaming about for months ….I had arrived at my mental destination the very first afternoon, when it normally takes a few days to find the rhythm and the soul of a place… …. But Yosemite and I have always been close and I slipped into the skin of the place as comfortably as slipping into my old camp moccasins and it felt just as good. I didn’t think I could feel any more relaxed at peace and wonderful than I did as we strolled contentedly back to camp … … …. That is until I realized that I still had two full days to fish and one gorgeous day to hike out left in this adventure… … but I will save that part of the story until next time.
Wow! Thanks for the great trip report. I don't know which is better, the photos or the written imagery. The combination of the two really makes me want to book a trip out west. Thanks again for taking the time and making the effort to share your experience with all of us folks at home.
Wow what a report thanks you really took me there in this one!
Wow! What a beauty! Thanks for the great narrative and picture set...felt like I was there for a moment.:smile:
Incredible! I'm dying to go out west and get into the backcountry. The pictures were awesome and now I'm useless for the rest of the day dreaming of mountains and big sky. Thanks!
Fantastic report! I have been backpacking in that area before. We even got to watch a bear rip through my dad's backpack with surgical precision to extract a bag of M&M's he accidentally left in a pocket!
Did you guys ever hike down to the "water wheels"? It is a spot where the river glides down a long granite sheet and ramps up over some big humps. Apparently of the water levels are right it looks like the water is making a wheel shape?
Anyway, I agree that it is one of the most scenic parts of the U.S. and I would love to fish there some day.
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