One of the classic Yosemite hikes is to Half Dome passing through Little Yosemite Valley. I’d have dearly liked to have done the hike, but a return day trip to the top of Half Dome from the Yosemite Valley floor seemed a little out of reach. Following the same route takes you to Little Yosemite Valley – which is definitely manageable in a day – and must count as one of the most beautiful walks I’ve done.
Jumping off the national park bus at the Happy Isles Bridge, the well-marked John Muir Trail led off between the trees and alongside the Merced River. Not too far along, the trail crosses the river and gives you beautiful views up towards Vernal Falls. There’s probably not a bad time to view the falls, but they are at their best in late spring when swelled by snow melt.
So far, so good, but shortly after crossing the river the trail cuts steeply up the cliff to reach a spectacular view point at the top of Nevada Falls. It’s a challenging but steady climb, and I was surprised to find myself alone on the trail. This is one of the most popular routes in the park, to be enjoying it in splendid isolation was very fortunate. Strangely, I only saw a handful of people all day, perhaps the bears had got them all?
Every turn of the climb seems to offer better views than the last, and I found myself stopping to appreciate the landscapes. About half way up the climb, I heard something approaching behind me on the trail. My mind turned to bears, but it was a line of pack horses led by a park ranger. It was a scene straight out of the Gold Rush era, but this is how they transport materials for repairs in the park.
Nevada Falls is worth the trek. The views back down towards the valley are incredible. I stood at the top of the falls, water rushing over the edge, and had the entire landscape to myself. Nearby there’s a small bridge and the John Muir Trail heads into Little Yosemite Valley. The whole scene is overshadowed by a massive granite monolith called Liberty Cap.
Away from the waterfall the landscape suddenly becomes eerily quiet and calm, or at least as calm as it’s possible to be if you are walking along imagining that every shadow in the trees is a hungry black bear. The route follows the Merced River through to a camp ground in Little Yosemite Valley. I’d clearly arrived after most people had set off for the morning as there were only a couple of tents there.
I carried on the trail for a little while further before deciding to return to the valley floor. On the return journey I took the Mist Trail route down from Nevada Falls. This route passes close to Vernal Falls and offers great views back up to NevadaFalls. It also crosses an area known as the Silver Apron. It looks innocuous, but the river flows fast here and it’s easy to be swept away when in flood.
It was here that I finally found all the people that had been conspicuous by their absence further up the trail. The hike to Vernal Falls isn’t very demanding and is rightly popular. After three or four hours of solitude, I suddenly found myself in a traffic jam. Bizarrely, given the ease of reaching it, and how close it is to the valley floor, the Mist Trail accounts for an unusually high number of deaths.
Back down in the valley floor again, I walked to where I could catch a bus back to Half Dome Village. If there’s one thing you can say about Yosemite, it is that it’s very well organised. Something I was grateful for as I wearily climbed the steps unto the bus. I was looking forward to having a cold beer to celebrate not having a close shave with a bear.