August 4, 2014
John Muir Trail (JMT)
Day 1 – Happy Isles (4,040ft) to Half Dome junction (6,980).
6 miles plus 3 miles for the detour to the sub-dome.
Camped about one half mile past Half Dome junction towards Sunrise Creek.
Gray day number 2. Is this really Yosemite? Where is the sparking blue sky above the granite cliffs? The grayness wears on my mood as we climb up the paved Mist Trail to Vernal Fall. Yes the falls and massive bluffs are impressive, but the overcast sky significantly lessens the impact.
Past Vernal Fall we opt to take the JMT to Nevada Fall rather than continue on the Mist Trail. Great views along this stretch first looking back over Vernal Fall and then toward Nevada Fall, massive rounded peaks looming overhead.
At Nevada Fall make sure to take a peek down over the edge to view the falls straight below you, an awesome sight. The area has a groomed park feel with appropriately placed trees growing out of large rock slabs.
Past Nevada Fall the trail climbs on a well graded track through mostly forest to Half Dome Junction. Despite the overcast conditions and darker clouds developing over some of the peaks, we decide to try to make Half Dome before the thundershowers. We stash our heavy packs and take just a day pack up the two-mile spur.
At the upper end of the trail, but before the sub-dome, we run into the ranger who checks our permit* and then tells us that thunderstorms are expected and that we should not go up the cables if it looks like rain. When we reach the overlook a short ways beyond dark thunderheads are accumulating in three directions and closing in. Not a good sign. A clap of thunder and we head back down to look for a campsite, saving Half Dome for the next morning. By the time we set up camp the threatening clouds begin to dissipate and the sky returns to the general overcast condition we started the morning with. It never does rain.
Our campsite, between Half Dome junction and Sunrise Creek, was away from most of the other sites along the creek. Don builds a fire in the established fire ring and we take care to cook, clean-up and store our bear containers (made of a hard plastic with a screw-on lid) away from the tent site. Pity we can’t eat by the fire.
The ranger we encountered at Half Dome had warned us that is an active area for bears and suggested that we leave the bear container just 50ft from the tent, instead of the recommended 100ft, with some rocks on top of it so we could hear if a bear was trying to get at our food. We could then come out and yell at it to scare it away and save ourselves the trouble of having to look for our bear container the next morning.
Don put the cooking pot along with some rocks on the container so it would make lots of noise if messed with. Hopefully this would sufficiently scare the bear so he wouldn’t have to come out of the tent in the middle of the night to yell at it. Thankfully it remained undisturbed until morning.
We did, however, wake just after dark to tree limbs crashing in the forest. Don tells me it is just other campers looking for firewood. It’s not until the next morning at breakfast that he admits that it was more likely a bear foraging for grubs. I’m sure I slept sounder thinking it was the former rather than the latter.
*The cable section of Half Dome is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite. To control the congestion on the cables, a permit is required restricting the number of climbers to about 300 per day, 75 backpackers and 225 day hikers.