Sunday, June 5, 2011

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail Hike

Me and Kristi at the bottom of Yosemite Falls. We climbed the whole way up!

So, as I said last post, I did it. I climbed up to the very top of Yosemite Falls and it was really no small feat: 7.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 2500 ft (that’s twice the height of the Empire State Building for those keeping track at home). And let me tell you...I don’t think I’ve had a more physically demanding experience in my life, or a physical demand with such a huge emotional high at the end. Let me chronicle the journey for you.

I got up at 3 AM Friday so I could shower and catch my 6 AM flight. I flew to Reno, where I rented a car. Google maps told me I had a 4.5 hour trip to Yosemite ahead of me. What it didn’t know about this trip is that it would actually be 10 hours due to navigational errors and seasonal road closures I wasn’t aware of, and that I’d get the first speeding ticket since I was 18 (I guess we'll be glad for the 13 year streak…). Sigh. I finally made it to Yosemite Friday at 10 PM, and was frustrated, disgruntled and tired. That all went away, though, when I saw my friend Kristi who I hadn’t seen since our November trip to Disney. It is always so very very great to see her, and was even greater when I learned some exciting personal updates about her life! She and I stayed up until 1 AM chatting and catching up – and yes, for those of you keeping track of the time difference, that is a full 24 hours of being awake for me. That’s really not the way I roll (I get 7 hrs of sleep/night like clockwork). It was a small price to pay to see Kristi and to have arrived in such a beautiful place (even though I could not tell it was beautiful under cover of darkness!).

The next morning I woke up at 7:30 AM. The good thing about being so tired was that I acclimated to Pacific time from central with no problem! Kristi and I got a slow start – eating a big breakfast, making sure to pack a healthy lunch and a lot of snacks for our hike, checking out the visitor’s center, seeing Yosemite Falls from the ground – before we finally started up the trail around 12:30. The hike was supposed to take 6-8 hours, so we all figured we’d be fine and back on the ground by sunset around 8 PM. And I would be remiss if I did not mention that the weather was perfect -- very slightly overcast with a high of around 60-65. PERFECT weather to be outside.

An overview of the trail. 135+ switchbacks. 7.6 miles roundtrip. ~2600 ft elevation gain.

When the hike started, I had serious serious stomach issues. I was not feeling well AT ALL and was not even sure the hike was a good idea because I felt so badly. I knew deep down that I would regret it if I did not at least TRY the hike so I decided to go despite stabbing stomach pains. About ¼ - ½ mile into the hike let’s just say the spirit moved in a major way (TMI) and I was feeling a whole lot better. I was glad that I had decided to press on and was now sure that I would make it up the mountain. A little bit later we stopped for lunch. I had the first PBJ I’d had in probably 3-4 years and wow it was great! I also had some fruit and a string cheese, and then we soldiered on up the mountain. The first 1-2 miles were not that bad. Some switchbacks, yes, but the rocks weren't slippery or unstable feeling, and I was grateful for whoever had constructed such a cool trail to the top. We made it to an overlook and I was feeling pretty good. I definitely wasn’t fast, but I thought “I’ve so got this.”

Us at the first big outlook. It is after the first set of switchbacks. A lot of people quit the trail here, but not us!! Great view of Half Dome in the background.

We then hit an odd part of the trail that took us downhill for like ¼ mile. For anyone trying to reach the top of anything (mountain, waterfall, whatever), you know that extended stretches of downhill are not good when your goal is to go uphill. Finally, though, we started to go uphill again. This is where things got bad.

The last part of Upper Yosemite Falls trail is steep, long, and has lots of slippery, unstable rocks. My psoas was spasming with nearly every step I took. It hurt so so badly.

…and this stretch of the trail was where I learned I was not in as good a shape as I thought I was and that my friend Kristi may truly be the most patient person on the planet. I googled it and found that there are more than 135 switchbacks to the top of the falls. I started off able to do 2-3 switchbacks before needing a break. It got to the point where I would need to rest once or twice EACH switchback. Kristi never got annoyed or impatient, and was incredibly encouraging. It was incredible. Although I seriously (and I mean it literally and not for dramatic effect) considered turning back twice, I didn't. And it was due in no small part to Kristi's encouragement. She is such a great friend and was so kind to be so helpful and patient.

This might give you an idea how steep and rocky the trail was. But probably not -- I think you have to see it to believe it.

Finally we made it to the top. And would you believe I did not get a single picture? I am virtually certain we had some taken, but I think the camera was switched to the wrong setting because I'll be darned if I didn't get to the bottom and learn that we had no pictures. So so sad.

But I will never forget it at the top. To actually get to the overlook you had to go over these extremely scary stairs (with no guard rail) cut out of the side of a rock face. Despite my exhaustion and fear of heights, I DID IT and Kristi and I enjoyed a beautiful dinner at the top around 5:30. We enjoyed it and I almost cried because I was so proud of myself. It was a full circle moment to have made it to the top of the falls; the fact that I used to not be able to climb a single flight of stairs without getting winded certainly wasn't lost on me.

Scary scary stairs to get to the overlook -- yes, you had to go downhill after climbing and climbing uphill. Crazy. But serious gratitude and props to those who made this trail and these stairs!!!

The way back down? I thought it would be a lot easier than it was. And I definitely thought it would be a lot faster than the way up. I will say this: it killed my knees and we didn't make it to the bottom until 9:30. Fortunately I had bought a headlamp and I had it with me because, even with the headlamp, it was one of the scariest things I'd done in my life. However, we made it unscathed and I was so so proud.

View from the top of the Falls. Yes, I stole this picture from someone online (as I did with the pictures of the trail and the stairs).

And more than being proud I was sore. My psoas was killing me (the uphills). My hamstrings killed me (the uphills). My quads killed me (the downhills). My knees killed me (the downhills). My back was killing me (the stress and exhaustion and the fact that I just have back problems). It. was. rough.

I thought I would be ravenous but honestly I just wanted to go to stretch and go to bed. I did have some pizza, but only two or three pieces -- my body just was not up for more, despite the fact that I'd done 9 hours of hiking. I thought I'd go to bed and sleep for 12 hours; however, I just slept for 7. I guess that's all my body wanted/needed. Strange.

I will say that this is the toughest thing I think I've ever done physically. I felt pushed to and past my limits. Though I wanted to die at times, I made it. And it was sooo worth it. I won't forget it. It makes me want to get in shape and be able to breeze up the falls next time -- and I will be SURE to get a picture before I leave :)


  1. wow...what a dream activity! just fabulous and soooooo cool to do with a good friend.

  2. awesome job!! it sounds like a really challenging hike.. i was just browsing around looking for posts about hiking in yosemite.. i'm going in 10 days! i can't wait. this is one of the hikes on my list so I really enjoyed reading about it :)


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