Its embarrassing, but I am a big enough man to admit it. My name is Ryan, and at 28 years of age, despite living just hours from the park my whole life, I was a Yosemite virgin. I was determined to solve this problem, so with a week off in October the date was set.
First nights accomodations
I work the night shift at one of California's fine correctional institutions, so my adventure began at 8 am after getting off work. I decided to take the scenic route, opting for 395 to Tioga pass not knowing it would add about 5 hours to my drive. I finally reached the Tioga Pass entrance at about 4 pm thinking I would make the short drive to the valley and find a camping spot. The drive through the park was beautiful, but I had been up for 24 hours by this point. When, after 45 minutes of driving got me only half way to the valley, I got a bit discouraged. I arrived in the valley at about 5:30 with the sun already dropping behind the valley walls. I was already cursing myself for turning a 3 hour trip into an 8 hour one when I hit the construction detours. God this looked easier on a map!!! I parked in the main lot and headed for the campsite reservation building. Anyone who has ever been to Yosemite knows what is coming next... all valley campgrounds full. All of the colorful words learned in my years as a prison guard were put to use. After a trip to the grocery store for some much needed alcohol, I found my way to Hodgdon Meadows and finally settled into a camp site about 9 pm. Six beers and a hot meal later, I passed out after a 30 hour day.
Half Dome and the valley from Sentinal Dome
I woke up at 6 am and had a good breakfast, I was definitely in no hurry after my marathon on day 1. My agenda for day 2 included Sentinel Dome and Glacier Point, since this was to be in essence a rest day. Sentinel Dome was spectacular, I have never in my life gotten such an amazing view for so little amount of work, and marked the point at which I fell in live with Yosemite. All of the problems from the previous day fell away as I took in the panorama that is Yosemite National Park. After what must have been an hour on the dome i hiked back to my truck and proceeded to Glacier Point. I followed the paved trail to the viewpoint and took advantage of all the creature comforts that this tourist destination provides. After lounging around for a couple of hours at Glacier Point, I returned to my campsite and called it a night.
Me on the summit of Clouds Rest
Day 3 began with an early morning drive out to Tenya Lake and the Sunrise Lakes Trail head. I was heading for Clouds Rest, and with yesterdays experience still fresh in my mind, I was fired up. I got on the trail by 7 am and made great time. I reached the summit by 9:30 feeling very good about myself. I met a great couple from Holland that had just completed a four day backpacking trip of Little Yosemite Valley. The summit was beautiful and offered some new perspectives. Many people say this is the best viewpoint in Yosemite, and though I am not yet convinced on this point, it was gorgeous. I returned to my truck and drove to the Porcupine Flat trail head for a good nights sleep. I quickly realized how much difference the change in altitude makes when I woke up at 2 am frozen to the side of my tent.. That was a cold night, but a good set of thermals and a beanie make all the difference.
Fresno Dome from the tourist trail
I decided that on day 4 I would look for a change of pace. I started the drive to Fresno Dome with the same ignorance I brought with on day 1.. Three hours later I was at the trail head pissed off and ready for some action after the long drive. The hike to the dome via the tourist trail was uneventfully yet scenic. I ended up leaving my prescription glasses on the top (if you found them please email me for address) and had an attack of irritable bowel syndrome on the way down, but my overall impression was favorable. I returned to my campsite at Porcupine Flat with another six pack and had a good evening.
Alpine lake on trail to North Dome
Cool granite arch on trail to North Dome
I woke up this morning with the intention of climbing north dome and resting in anticipation of a big day 6. I started the day with a quick drive to Porcupine Flat trail head, and donned my gear thinking I was embarking on a nature hike with benefits. I completed the hike to North Done without difficulty and enjoyed the view from the summit. For some reason, after looking at my map, I decided to extend my hike with the intention of continuing on to the top of El Capitan. I made it to the top of Yosemite Falls and was rewarded with a beautiful view of the valley. After careful consideration of the weather and my map I decided that my attempt for El Cap's summit was destined for failure. I followed the Yosemite Falls trail to the valley floor with the intention of hitch-hiking back to my truck. I reached the valley floor at about 4 pm and headed towards Camp Four thinking that would be the most fertile hitch-hiking area. I hitched a ride with a couple of Yosemite Valley employees to the junction with 120 (I was offered a hit on the old peace pipe during this ride, I kindly refused). After being dropped off at the junction, I started hitching again. I was picked up by the first passing vehicle, which just happened to be a motor home stocked with beer. So by this point I had been offered weed and beer (I took advantage of the later) and was feeling pretty good about hitch-hiking in this national park. Unfortunately, the motor home was not continuing up Tioga Road, so I was dropped off at another junction. Not very many vehicles travel Tioga Road in the month of October at 7 pm, but I did not know this important piece of information when i started hitching. Fortunately for me, after waiting 20 stressful minutes for the first vehicle to pass, a kind citizen of Mammoth picked me up and offered me a ride to my vehicle. I settled in at about 8 and fell asleep.
View from the summit of Mt Dana. Mono Lake in the background
Day 6 was my big day, the finale of a great week. I drove to the Tioga ranger station and started my climb of Mt Dana. This was the most rewarding and difficult climb I have experienced thus far. I enjoyed the hike immensely, and was challenged by it after 4 days of hiking. The summit of Dana Peak should be experienced by everyone before they die. The views of Mono Lake and the Yosemite high country are unbelievable, you cant describe them if you have not been there. I could not think of a better way to end my trip to Yosemite then a visit to this peak. I returned to my truck about 2 pm and started my trip home.
I have no idea why it took me 28 years to get here, but i guarantee you I will visit this piece of earth every year of my life. There is no other place on the planet with the allure, the energy, or the attraction of the Yosemite Valley. Although my first experience may seem insignificant in comparison to yours, if you disagree we need to talk, I firmly believe that no matter what your story is, your first visit to Yosemite is something you will never forget.
Here I live in stunning scenery with fjords and mountains all around, yet we still get to Yosemite at least once a year, even though it's quite the journey to get there. If I would make up a list of where to go and what to do for 6 days, it would be very similiar to yours, except you never got to do the finest (and most crowded) hike in the park: Half Dome from the Happy Isles trailhead. The waterfalls and summit on that hike make it a one of a kind.