Hiking and Bicycling Greeneville & Greene County Tennessee
Yosemite National Park
Eight members of the Greeneville Hiking Club spent a week in Yosemite National Park in August of 2010, experiencing one of our nation’s most beautiful and unique places. Yosemite National Park, one of the first wilderness parks in the United States, is best known for its waterfalls and sheer granite cliffs. Within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias and a vast wilderness area. Yosemite is located in central California in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
The group consisted of Rob Sanders, from Knoxville and Andy Daniels, Danielle Price, Ned Sanders, Shelby “Chip” Miller, Peggy Moore, Lana Hensley, Pam Shelton, all from Greeneville.
Renting an eight passenger van in San Francisco, the first stop the group made was at the famed Golden Gate Bridge, with beautiful views of San Francisco Bay, they then crossed the Golden Gate into Marin County at Sausalito. The route chosen also crossed the double decker San Rafael-Richmond Bridge and passed through Berkeley and Oakland before heading east for the 170 mile journey to the Bear Creek Lodge just outside of Yosemite.
On the first day, after a short drive, the group entered Yosemite Valley and were overwhelmed by the many huge granite cliffs, highlighted by El Capitan, the largest block of Granite in the world. “El Cap” is over twice the size of Gibraltar. The cliffs at the far end of the valley were dominated by Yosemite’s most imposing feature: Half Dome, a distinctive granite rock with a rounded top and a sheer, flat face which rises nearly a mile from base to summit.
Before the day’s hike, a shuttle/tour was taken from Yosemite Valley to a high overlook at Glacier Point. Along the way, the group was told about the history of Yosemite and how the Ahwahnee Indians were driven from their beautiful home during the Gold Rush. The area was first promoted by famous naturalist, John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club. Speaking of Yosemite, Muir made his famous quote, “As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.”
At Glacier Point, the views of the Yosemite Valley were unforgettable. The group got their first close-up view of Half Dome, which was to be climbed later in the week. The trailhead for the five star rated Panorama Trail, was located and the group started their ten mile descent into the valley floor. The trail spiraled downward to a footbridge crossing Illouette Creek just above a magnificent waterfall. Just above the creek, a rattlesnake was sunning in the trail and about a half mile later, a huge cinnamon colored bear was feeding just a short distance from the path.
The Panorama Trail ended at Nevada Falls and the group chose the John Muir Trail to finish up at Happy Isles in the Valley. This dusty trail provided very good views of the falls along with many wildflowers, ground squirrels and lizards.
The second day of hiking was a moderate six miles in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. These towering, ancient trees are a world class attraction and are the largest living things in the world. Sequoias live up to 2000 years and their trunks can exceed 25 feet in diameter. After the hike, the group had a wonderful lunch at the famous Wawona Hotel dining room and viewed Bridal Veil and Yosemite Falls while returning to their lodge.
Arising at 3:30 on the third day, the group set out for the most ambitious venture of the trip: the climbing of Half Dome. According to most authorities, the Half Dome hike is rated among the top five hikes in the world. With an elevation gain of nearly a vertical mile and a total length of seventeen miles, Half Dome has been called, “The one hike a hiker doesn’t want to die before doing and the one hike a hiker is likely to die while doing!” Through the years over 70 people have died on the trail to Half Dome, most from falling, drowning and lightning strikes. On a scale of one to ten, the group’s hiking book rated the hike an eleven!
With headlamps on, the group hit the trail at 5:00 a.m. The first section of the Half Dome Hike is called The Mist Trail because of its close proximity to Vernal and Nevada Falls. During the spring and early summer, this trail is usually very wet when the wind is high and hikers must wear raingear. Luckily, for the group, the wind was quiet although both falls were running very briskly. The four mile Mist Trail , with 780 steps cut into the granite wall, is very steep and strenuous.
At a midpoint in this segment, the trail nears the top of Vernal Falls and then crosses the Merced River on a footbridge then continues the stairsteps to the top of Nevada Falls. The trail then intersects with a section of the John Muir Trail and the path becomes less strenuous and enters a sandy section called Little Yosemite Valley, which is used as a backcountry campground.
The trail to Half Dome then leaves the John Muir and climbs steeply again on many switchback in a heavily forested area. Finally the Sub-Dome, the preliminary section to Half Dome was reached. The Sub Dome is a very steep, rocky section consisting initially of 24 short switchbacks and finishing with a rock scramble, with no handholds, to the base of Half Dome.
At one time, Half Dome was considered impossible to climb without technical climbing gear but in the early part of the 20th Century, members of the Sierra Club, installed a rope and pole system allowing hikers with a lot of nerve and upper body strength to reach the top. These ropes were replaced with the present system of cables, poles and a wooden step every ten feet. The climb up the cables is 425 feet and is very demanding and dangerous, as the rock is slick and has steep grades up to 45 degrees. A hiker fell to his death from the cables in 2007.
The summit of Half Dome, with as elevation of 8,842 above sea level, has an area that is the equivalent of 17 football fields with panoramic vistas of the Yosemite Valley and surrounding mountains. The many hikers attempting the climb up the cables made the going very slow and 45 minutes were needed to reach the top. Another problem than can be encountered is electrical storms as the huge rock acts as a giant lightning rod and can send static electricity down the metal cables. There was a famous incident in the mid 80s when three hikers were killed by lightning and several other seriously injured on the Half Dome Summit when they ignored the black clouds forming to the north. Luckily the weather was good on the day of the hiking club’s climb. Coming down the cables and rock steps was much slower and more dangerous than the climb but everyone was back at the trailhead by 9:00 p.m. making for a 14 hour day of hiking.
The following day, after a breakfast in Mariposa, an old gold mining town, the group drove up the Glacier Point road to do two moderate hikes to different vantage points on the east rim of Yosemite Valley. The first trail led to Sentinel Dome which, at an elevation of 8,122 feet, is the second highest point on the east rim. Sentinel Dome is the location of the Jeffrey Pine made famous by outdoor photographer, Ansel Adams. Called the most photographed tree in the world, the Jeffrey Pine, succumbed to drought and vandalism in the mid eighties but the trunk remains and is still a very imposing sight. Sentinel Dome furnished great vistas of the upper section of the valley.
The group next took the trail to Taft Point for a viewing of the lower part of Yosemite Valley containing El Capitan, Cathedral Rock, The Three Brothers, Yosemite Falls and many more interesting rock formations. Taft Point has a very unique feature called “The Fissures” which are five vertical, parallel fractures in the solid rock with a sheer drop of 3500 feet to the Merced River. This was not a good place to leave children unattended.
After the two hikes, the group returned to the valley for dinner at the world class Ahwahnee Hotel, built in 1920 by famed architect, Gilbert Stanley Underwood. The destination of queens and presidents alike, The Ahwahnee, built of stone and timber, was designed to blend in with its woodland surroundings.
For their final day in Yosemite, the group took a long drive on the Tioga Road, the only road that completely crosses the park. Their destination was Tuolumne Meadows, a wonderful pastoral setting on the eastern side of the park with an average elevation of 8600 feet. The first hike chosen for the day was the top rated hike in the area, the climbing of Lembert Dome. This dome was very similar to Half Dome, but at 9750 feet above sea level, nearly a 1000 feet higher. Lembert Dome was named for John Baptist Lembert who raised goats and collected butterflies in Tuolumne Meadows in 1865 and was later found murdered by indians.
The group then stopped at Lake Tenaya considered to be the most beautiful lake in Yosemite. Lake Tenaya, is named after the Ahwahnee Chief Tenaya, who met the Mariposa Brigade near the shores of the lake before surrendering and moving his tribe to a reservation. The highland lake has clear, azure waters, sandy beaches and is surrounded by white rock domes and woodlands. After a picnic lunch, the trail which circles the lake for about three miles was taken.
Leaving the park, the group took a southwestern route through wine country to reach the Pacific Coast near Cambria, then took California Coastal Highway 1 through Big Sur. Experiencing the most picturesque mountainous coastal scenery in the world, the group viewed Elephant Seals on the beaches and, then had lunch at Lucia’s Seaside Restaurant, and had their famous “fish and chips”. Reaching Monterey, the group drove the seventeen mile tour at Pebble Beach then continued to their motel in San Francisco covering nearly five hundred miles during the day.
The final day of the trip was spent in the Bay Area doing the normal tourist things: Lunch in Chinatown, a boat ride to Alcatraz, a ride on a streetcar, a drive on Lomabard Street, the crookedest street in the world, and the climbing of Coit Tower. The trip ended with wonderful a seafood meal on Fisherman’s Wharf and a return flight the next morning.