Is it clever to try to reach the top of a waterfall in a thunderstorm? The answer is NO. Is it clever to hike through the wilderness after dark? The answer is probably NO, but some people still do that. What did we do?
Monday morning came earlier than I would have wished when I got up at half past 3 after the whole night of waking up and falling back to sleep that never lasted longer than 30 minutes.
Ella lasted until the last possible minute – I was a bit jealous but on the other hand, at least I didn’t have one of the crazy mornings when you are in such a hurry that you would forget to bring your own head.
We left home at 4.20am and our big adventure could start.
Warm welcome to Yosemite
When the light started to come, we were already more than halfway to our destination. Ella was in charge of entertainment – audiobooks, music, and conversation while I had my eyes fixed on the road.
Tuolumne Meadows welcomed us with its beautiful morning light, firstly blue and cold but turning warm and orange within few minutes. We found our campsite, built a tent (while supplying our bodies with electrolytes – I did not desire to experience fainting again) and hopped back in our car to get to Yosemite Valley before the always-present traffic jam in late mornings and afternoons.
Thanks to the time of the year, we found parking easily and waited for the shuttle to get us to Happy Islands. Our goal for that day was to hike the Mist Trail to get up on Vernal Fall and maybe even Nevada Fall. I know, I know – I was there already – but I promised Ella I would take her there as it was her first time in Yosemite and so this choice was pretty obvious.
Let’s say it didn’t end up as planned. After surviving the hill and quite a few steps that lead to the first sight of Vernal Fall, I was honestly surprised – over the two months I wasn’t here, the waterfall shrunk to third or quarter its original size. I knew it wouldn’t be the same so late in season but I was still really taken aback. And poor Ella who saw it on my video from Yosemite on YouTube must have been quite disappointed after climbing all these steps.
The good thing was that we didn’t get all wet from the waterfall “rain” that used to cover the steps constantly.
And to be honest and fair, it had its beauty this way too. We could see the rock, its colourful layers. The raging water able to kill has changed into a soft veil of white threads. We could see the deep blue pool under the waterfall, not visible in spring when the water was too wild. I could enjoy the other side of this wonder, the calm and mild one, the more mature one, getting ready for winter.
It was amazing seeing the nature in two completely different states – in its peak of youth, raging and wild, and only two months later, wise and mature. You can’t help but think about the round of life and death we are constantly part of when you see something like this.
The “Cold Shower”
We still wanted to reach the top and see the waterfall from above. But. Yes, you can see the “but” and you know we haven’t reached the top.
When we were almost on the “ramp” leading along the smooth rock, we heard it. Yes, exactly the thing you are thinking.
If you are at least a bit familiar with how the mountains work in this time of year, you know that afternoon thunderstorms are pretty normal and expectable thing.
And yes, one of them caught up with us.
Now, I don’t know if you are this type of person who enjoys it (no judgment at all!) but we didn’t really desire to be crisp-fried in a strike of a lightning and so, after waiting for a while if the storm passes in a quite safe place, hidden partially under a rock and partially under some trees (not wise either) and eating some of our chocolate, we decided to go back rather than to risk our lives.
Partly running down the stairs (with the thunderstorm right behind our backs) we made it back to Happy Islands and walked back to our car, stopping in a shop in Curry Village (or Half Dome Village, as it was renamed) so Ella could get her Yosemite T-shirts.
The thunderstorm moved more to the North-East and it was giving its best. It took me another at least thirty minutes to realize the bitter truth – it was raging right over our camp.
With my heart sunken deep we made it back to Tuolumne Meadows. I had this bad feeling about our tent – even though we did our best to build it well, using stones to make really sure the stakes wouldn’t move at all even in high winds, I had this tiny voice in my head telling me that something was wrong.
And it was right. I mean the voice was right. Our tent wasn’t all right.
It didn’t fall, it wasn’t ripped, it was all right in this way – but the rain was so strong up in Tuolumne Meadows that the drain that was supposed to lead all the water out from our campsite and away from our tent, got filled with needles and grass and other stuff. And our tent was taking a bath in a pool of water.
Immediately, we took all necessary steps to save the situation, including moving the whole tent and making sure there was no way the water could reach it.
I give you one advice here. If you ever camp in Tuolumne Meadows, don’t take campsite B27. (I hope I remembered the number well.) All other campsites have the possibility of putting the tents on some kind of higher terrain but this one is just flat.
Well, glad our stuff wasn’t soaking wet (actually, our sleeping bags remained completely dry!), we re-arranged the campsite, doing our best trying to give the tent somewhat better isolation from the ground with what we found, like small coniferous branches.
Satisfied with the outcome, we decided to go to Dog Lake.
But, somehow, I miscalculated the time of sunset – and halfway to the lake, dark caught up with us. There was still some hiking along a rock-edge and none of us felt like risking our lives and the possibility to meet Mr. Bear. And so, after our second fail of the day, we called it a day, turned around and returned to the now pitch-dark camp.
Did you think this was the end of our failure? Or misfortune? Or whatever it was…
Well, how wrong you are! As wrong as we were…
The “Cold Shower” Gets Colder
We wished each other good night, wrapped up in our sleeping bags with one blanket under our sleeping pads and one all over us – it was supposed to be a really cold night.
And at the time, when I was about to slip into sweet unconsciousness, while Ella was already somewhere far away, I heard it.
What a nice sound to hear at night, in a wood, in a tent in a campsite that is literally a dried-out pond waiting for some rain to come…
During next three or four hours, I was slipping in something you could call sleeping only if you have quite a wild imagination. And somewhere in the middle of the rain, I started to hear really suspicious sounds.
Ladies and gentlemen, you can probably guess already.
There was a pond forming next to my head, under our tent again.
I could hear splashing every time a raindrop fell into the flood that I was protected from by the thin tent only.
Of course, the protection didn’t last long and the rest of the night, I spent trying my best to keep at least my sleeping bag dry, when everything else – the blanket under me, my sleeping pad and the clothes that I changed in my sleeping clothes from and then was too lazy to put in our car – was soaking wet, and slipping in and out from uncomfortable crazy dreaming while Ella was still breathing peacefully, probably dreaming about unicorns in a sunny day.
And then, when the light started to crawl into our tent and I was finally able to fall into the deep sleep out of pure exhaustion,… Ella shook my shoulder saying: “Get, up, get up, my alarm didn’t go off, I have no idea what time it is, we need to get up so we’re not late.”
The previous Our-Little-Road-Trip article is HERE.
The following one is HERE.
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