When I was little I used to watch cartoons religiously, every morning and every afternoon. Sometimes school and homework was just something you did so you were allowed to turn the television on. I can recall hundreds of shows that I used to love, Captain Planet, Care Bears, Transformers, everything and anything on the Cartoon Network. One such show was the adventures of Yogi Bear and his side kick Boo Boo as he tried to steal picnic baskets from campers in Jellystone Park, usually to the great displeasure of Ranger Smith. Little did I realize how much this cartoon is based completely on fact and not fiction (besides a talking bear perhaps, Hanna-Barbera may have exaggerated that part).
A couple of weeks ago we made our own long weekend to escape work emails and mobile phone reception (though in hindsight that would have been nice when we had a flat tyre!) and visited Yosemite – home of the picnic hungry bears. We stayed in Yosemite Valley at Curry Village, in what one could only call ‘glamping’ – glamorous camping; where your tent is more a canvas/cabin hybrid with a full double bed and a door, very comfortable. Not that I’m one to shy away from real camping, I love nothing more then sitting around a camp fire and enjoying the fresh air of the outdoors. This however was my first exploration into the wilderness of America, the real wilderness. And I am definitely glad we had a sturdier, warmer and bear proof accommodation to come back to each day instead of a small plastic tent.
Firstly, upon arrival we were instructed that no food or even cosmetics could be kept in our ‘tent’, we were now in bear country. Instead, everything had to be kept locked up in our bear proof locker outside that even I had trouble opening due to the incredibly difficult locking mechanism – these bears were obviously smarter than your average. Here, in the absolute wilderness, with hundreds of people and cars and cafes around, there are bears everywhere apparently, and they are able to smell out any food or sweet smelling hand moisturizer and hunt it down. Not convinced how real this possibility was, whilst waiting at the visitors lodge we watched footage of cars being completely ransacked by inquisitive and hungry bears. The cars did not win that fight – smashed windscreens and ripped upholstery.
Secondly, given that we visited two weeks before the official beginning of winter – it was cold. The nights especially. Each morning when we would set off the ground was covered in frost and the roads with ice. I am a frog in winter, I feel the cold down to my bones and was so very thankful for the hot showers and gas heater we had in our tent. The trip may have been a lot less pleasant without both. Glamping was definitely the way to go.
Yosemite Valley itself is a tourist haven, thousands upon thousands of people flock here every year to enjoy the beautiful natural landscape. This place epitomizes alpine, and everything I had imagined the wilderness of America to look like. Giant pine tress towering over you, crystal clear lakes, cascading waterfalls and snow-capped mountains. I don’t think we could have picked a more beautiful time to visit either. Because it was still Fall, the leaves had not yet fallen to the ground, they still clung to their branches and framed the valley with rich golds and burnt oranges. The best way to experience this natural landscape we found was simply walking through it. Luckily, there are different grades of walking treks and trails to follow from easy, moderate, difficult and then the ‘I hope you brought your rope and rock climbing tools’ trek.
It seems this place is a mecca for rock climbing. And it’s not difficult to see why. Everywhere you turn in the valley you are surrounded by sheer rock faces that stretch endlessly to the sky. Every time I stepped out of the tent, even four days into our trip and looked up at the rock cliffs towering over it continued to take my breath away. The Half Dome especially, which stands guard over the valley is a destination for climbing enthusiasts worldwide. Cleaved in half by glaciers long ago, the incredible sheer face is said to be for both avid and adventurous free climbing. Needless to say, I didn’t attempt either when I was there. We did however hike to the top of Nevada and Vernal Waterfalls at the top of the valley, the base camp if you will of the Half Dome climb.
This was a popular walk, there must have been at least a couple of hundred people climbing the steps ahead and behind us. Climbing to the top of the falls the steps got narrower and higher, curving alongside the wall of the valley as we followed the waterfalls upstream. Steep, rubble steps are actually a lot easier to climb up then climb down, I do have a tendency to fall either on my knees or bottom, sometimes both on descent. The view at the top was breath taking though, the perfect place to stop and have a picnic lunch by the pool at the top, as the Nevada Falls rush over the cliff face 600 feet up. Whilst it was definitely too cold for me, the pool at the top is a popular swimming spot for people who would like to cool off after their hike to the top of the falls. This is of course is in spite of the strong current that flows over the edge of a cliff 30 feet downstream which has resulted in many deaths as recently as last year.
Our second hike I briefly described in my ‘The Climb‘ post where we hiked to Glacier Point 7000 feet above Yosemite Valley. This walk was completely different than our first. Here, it was quiet, we only saw a handful of people coming down and going up. The climb was so strenuous that everyone had their own pace, and own number of rests up the mountain. The path was quiet, and as the altitude increased the temperature dropped dramatically, so much so that there was ice on the ground. It was a continuous vertical climb, but completely worth it. When we reached the top, Glacier Point, it was if we were standing on top of the world. Yosemite Valley was sprawled below, carved through the high rock walls by glaciers in the ice ages and the erosion of streams and rivers today. It reminded me so much of of Milford Sound in New Zealand, only the valley floor has been left exposed, with the Merced River flowing through its centre surrounded by towering pine trees.
Yosemite is a beautiful corner of the world, one that serves as the perfect retreat for Northern Californians. I will definitely be returning for further adventures. Much to the not-so-secret disappointment of my husband, we managed to stay clear of any bears or mountain lions that were present in the forests. Perhaps it’s because we all had teddy bears and watched the likes of Yogi and Boo Boo on television that we might want to see a real bear in the wild, despite how dangerous they are. I’m secretly glad we didn’t stumble across any on our journeys and got to keep our picnic basket.