Day 83 & 84 – El Cap, free soloing the nose
Saturday 20 July 2019
Rather than hike straight down into the valley we decided to take a scenic route via Glacier Point. We didn’t have proper topo maps but expected the trail to traverse around the outside of the valley to Cascade Point where we would have views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and El Capitan. The trail ended up being spectacularly beautiful but there was a little more climbing involved than what we first anticipated.
We were off hiking by 7.30am, starting out on the Mist Trail. This is the trail that hikers take to get up to Half Dome. Hiking up Half Dome is extremely popular (hence why we couldn’t get permits), we passed dozens upon dozens of would be half dome hikers en route to Nevada Falls. Their combined smells of coconut oil, bug spray, sunscreen and laundry detergent was a little overwhelming, as was the culture shock of seeing so many other humans in one place.
We were relieved to get off the Mist Trail as we made our way to Nevada Falls. The water was in full flow, the falls were putting on a spectacular show for us.
After Nevada falls the trail began to climb up a series of switchbacks. After all of the climbing we’d been doing over the past few days we breezed up the mountain.
As we climbed we gained magical views back over where we had come from, Nevada Falls and below them, Vernal Falls and as the backdrop to it all, the beautiful curved granite back of Half Dome.
We naively thought that would be our climbing done for the morning but the trail dropped in elevation as we reluctantly hiked down to Illilouette Creek, crossing above another series of waterfalls.
As we began to climb back up the other side of the creek both the number of day hikers, unprepared tourists and the grandeur of our views began to increase.
Half Dome came back into view and as we rounded the corner up to Glacier Point we began to lay our eyes on the face of Half Dome for the first time.
The hordes of tourists were almost as overwhelming as the views. After a 30 minute line up for the toilets we enjoyed a few ice creams from the gift shop at the top of Glacier Point and made the most of some shade and a conveniently positioned power outlet where we charged our electronics.
The wildlife in the area are definitely more accustomed to tourists than the critters we’ve been meeting on the PCT. A dirty street squirrel and a punk chipmunk did their best to try to steal food from us and our packs. After recently being reminded that these critters can carry the plague we did our best to ward them off. They definitely looked like plague carrying rodents.
After a generous break it was time to begin our descent into the valley. We snapped a couple more photos of the spectacular half dome and headed down into the valley on the four mile trail.
The trail was busy with day hikers coming up from the valley floor. We passed a good number of people who seemed to have underestimated what they had got themselves into.
A few switchbacks down the trail we got our first glimpses of the spectacular El Cap. It looked magnificent in the afternoon light.
The trail down took us a solid couple of hours. We were hoping to be able to catch a ride on the valley shuttle service once we reached the trailhead but unfortunately it was full. We opted to walk the couple of kms into the valley instead.
It was a warm afternoon so we stopped off at the river (under my demand) and had a quick dip to cool off. Adam wasn’t as keen on having a swim so he dipped his toes in instead.
Feeling refreshed (I a little more so than Adam) we made our way to Degnans Deli to have a bite to eat and finish charging or devices.
Adam was worried about us bagging a campsite in the backpackers camp ground (as it runs on a first come first serve basis) so he headed over with our tent to reserve us a spot. The plan was that we would then head out on the shuttle, see El Cap from the valley floor then get a shuttle back to the village store so we could resupply for our next leg of the PCT. We would then get the bus back up to Tuolumne Meadows first thing in the morning.
Our plan got derailed when we got out to the bus stop to find the El Cap shuttle finished at 6pm. Instead we went to the store, resupplied and very sleepily made our way to the backpackers campground.
It was dark when we arrived so I was very grateful Adam had set the tent up in advance. We shoved our newly acquired food into a bear box, made our beds and crashed out for the evening.
Sunday 21 July 2019
Location: Mile 946.3
Distance travelled: 3.8 miles / 6 km
Our alarm went off just before 6am and we were prepped to throw on our clothes, pull down the tent and jump on the 8am bus out of the valley but we had a last minute change of mind. Having run out of time to see El Cap yesterday we didn’t want to regret not seeing it so we decided to stay another day and get the 4.15pm bus out of the valley. It was a good decision.
Given we were already awake we lazily walked our way over to the Deli for a breakfast sandwich and a coffee. That alone would have made my morning.
After breakfast we jumped in line to be first on the first shuttle to El Cap at 9am. Whilst the shuttle which drops people from the campsites to the village runs from 7am until 9pm, the El Cap shuttle only runs from 9am to 6pm. We were surprised to find that we were the first ones in line and the bus wasn’t full.
It was a quick but scenic ride around to El Cap bridge. We jumped off the bus and gaped in awe at the huge slab of granite towering over us. All of the epic climbs that we’ve seen tackled on the docos seemed even more epic once we were standing so close to the rock itself.
After admiring it for a little while we took one of the approach trails and walked our way to the base of the wall. We had absolutely no idea where we would end up but knew we wanted to get up close and personal with the rock and it looked like we were headed in the right direction.
I wanted to see some chalk marks on the rock, to see the starting point of a route or two. We managed to find our way to what we think are two different routes.
One at the base of the nose had an easy start so we played around climbing up a couple of meters which were more of a scramble than a climb. There were some definite chalk marks on the granite.
After mucking around for a while we made our way to the right and found the start of another route where we spotted old bolt holes and a couple of bolts in the wall. The starting holds for this climb were ridiculously tough crimpers. There was no chance we were moving anywhere on this route.
Having had our brush with climbing royalty we made our way back down to the meadow, snapped another couple of photos for good measure and headed back to the village were we had very trustingly abandoned our packs.
We spent the afternoon eating, charging our electronics and making use of the incredibly slow wifi while we had the chance.
At 4pm we jumped on the bus back up to Tuolumne Meadows which was unexpectedly busy and enjoyed a scenic ride out of the valley. The bus ride takes a couple of hours so after a few more snacks from the Tuolomne Meadows store we headed back out on the trail.
It was already late in the day by this point so we were only looking to hike the minimum required 4 miles from the trail head before we were legally able to put up our tent.
It turned out to be a very beautiful walk through a meadow and past a magical lake.
It was the perfect time of day to be walking, the temperature had cooled off and the golden hour light was making everything look spectacular.
We found the perfect camp spot right on 4 miles from Tuolumne Meadows where we could watch the changing colours across the mountains of Yosemite as the sun set in the sky. It was the perfect way to end a beautiful, relaxing day.