Sometimes you’ve got to spend months planning an attack on a peak. Sometimes it takes researching trip reports, studying maps, and scouting out routes before you’ll feel confident enough to climb a peak. Sometimes you’ve got to wait days for the right weather and avalanche conditions before it’s safe to summit. Sometimes, though, you climb a peak on a whim.
Jon, Luis, and I woke up a bit late, hopped on the valley shuttle, and started up the Mist Trail at about 10:00. We half-ran to the Vernal Falls Footbridge, and lucky for us, this was the first day the Mist Trail was open between the bridge and the top of Vernal Falls. We ambled along at a quick pace and soon found ourselves at the top of the falls. By now, the area was pretty crowded, so we tried not to take too long here.
The base of Nevada Falls was way less crowded than its brother a mile down-river. We climbed this section without seeing anyone else, and found ourselves at the lip of Little Yosemite Valley. We took a quick break by the bathroom, then continued up into the Valley itself. I was shocked, here, at how dry the ground was. We couldn’t have found a snow patch here if we wanted to. Usually at this time of the year, we’d be hiking knee-deep in snow.
I hadn’t planned on going any further than the entrance to Little Yosemite Valley. All I wanted out of the day were a few views into it. Looking up to the left, though, at Liberty Cap, my mind got to scheming. The route looked dry as far up as I could see. We had plenty of extra time to kill. Mainly, though, we didn’t have a very nice place with a view to sit down and eat lunch. It was decided. We’d climb Liberty Cap.
Mostly we bushwacked our way up, but occasionally we had to navigate a light class three section. There were also a few snow patches that made the steeper spots a bit slippery. We made it up safely enough, though. I had done this before, so I knew that there was a small gully that leads to the top that comes into view the further off-trail you get. As we emerged out of the gully, bare granite slopes took us to the summit.
At the top, views across Little Yosemite Valley abounded. The back side of Half Dome towered above us. High country peaks like Mount Clark and Mount Starr King rose up out of the snow to the South. The summit was broad, so we could splay out, run around, and generally relax on top. There were even a few trees for shade. We ate our lunches (with a little box wine) and took a few pictures of the summit, then we headed down.
The hike down the mountain took longer than the hike up. We had to plant each step carefully to avoid slipping down the snow and loose rock. Eventually we got down to the trail, though, but not without a few cuts and scrapes from the spiny brush. Fortunately, Luis and Jon took the brunt of it since they wore shorts.
Like the day before, the hike back down the Mist Trail was overcrowded and slow. When one person walks slow on those slick steps, everyone else does too. One person we passed near Vernal Falls had stood to the side of the trail to smoke a cigarette. As soon as the trail widened out, we took off running, and made it back to the shuttle around 3:00. We met up with Bryan, then headed to the bar to top off our hike.
It seems to be a developing theme on this website that solitude is easy to find in Yosemite, even when you’re only a few miles away from civilization. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re willing to hop off the trail, even for just half-a-mile or so, Yosemite can become a wild place. It only takes a little extra effort and confidence, and you can enjoy the great views of Yosemite Valley without the crowds.