In six days in Yosemite National Park I had covered just under 132 miles (212 km), with over 30,200 ft (9,200 m) of ascent and 32,800 ft (10,000 m) of descent. Then on day seven I rested. Well, almost.
After six full days in the park I would depart on day seven out of the southern exit. On my way I would stop at the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias to check out the largest trees in the park. I drove out towards the exit and stopped beside the visitor center in order to gather some information. But then I noticed a shuttle bus heading out towards the grove and didn’t want to wait for the next one, so I decided to just hop on and work out my plans on the fly.
I stepped off the shuttle bus and found myself a map of the Mariposa Grove. It was considerably larger than I had anticipated and the possible walking distances considerably further. I worked out a loop that would include a number of the most famous trees including the Grizzly Giant (one of the largest in the grove), the California Tunnel Tree (cut in 1895 to allow horse-drawn stages to pass through), the Faithful Couple (two trees that have fused together at their bases), and the Clothespin Tree (where numerous fires have excavated a tunnel wider than a car). My route would cover about 2.5 miles of walking.
It was a nice walk with plenty of elevation change for a casual rest day. I completed my walk, took the shuttle bus back to my car and exited the park. My rest day had incorporated more exercise than most visitors to the park would include in their most strenuous.
After five days of running loops around Yosemite Valley I had tread every trail leaving the valley floor, many of them on both the ascent and descent. Therefore I realised that day six would not be able to include a single step of trail that I had not tread before. It was my final running day in the park, planned to be a little shorter, and the following morning I would leave out of the park’s southern exit.
I decided that I would roughly reverse the run I had completed on my second day in the valley. I would start with the same ascent as the previous day, climbing up Four-Mile Trail to Glacier Point. Then I would take Panorama Trail (where I had spotted a coyote) down to Illouette Falls and would end up at the top of Nevada Falls. I would take Mist Trail back down to the valley floor, which I had not yet descended, but I knew would be packed with a lot of day walkers.
Just as I set out from my campsite to cross the valley floor to the start of the Four-Mile Trail I ran into a lady who was looking for the same trail but headed in the wrong direction. I slowed to a walk and started giving directions but instead decided that I would walk her to the trail. So we set out towards the Swinging Bridge to cross the river and chatted as we made our way. We were both planning to follow the exact same route, although her walk would take 7.5-8 hours while I was planning to finish my run in under 4.5 hours. We walked and talked for a short way up the Four-Mile Trail until I decided to push up the pace, so we bade each other farewell, and I picked to running pace where possible.
I enjoyed a great climb up to Glacier Point and then stood at the viewpoint for my third time that week to take in the view of the valley below. With the shorter run, and with water fountains at two points along my route I was only travelling with two 17-oz (500-ml) soft flasks rather than a hydration bladder. I refilled my bottles and took off for my final descent into the valley.
I dropped down towards Illouette Falls on the Panorama Trail, with no coyote in sight this time. I stopped at the falls for some photos, and then remembered that I would have one more ascent up from the falls to remember Yosemite by. I soon topped out once again and this time knew that it was all downhill through to the end.
My fifth day of running at Yosemite National Park was possibly my favourite.
I started the day by heading up the Four-Mile Trail, a trail that I had descended a few days earlier. The trail ascends the 3000 feet (900+ metres) up to Glacier Point over approximately 4.5 miles, with many switchbacks, including a number of sections that can be run. I made it up to the top, took in the view, snapped some photos, enjoyed a bite to eat, filled up my water, and then took off to head west along the valley.
I took the same route I had followed up towards Sentinel Dome earlier in the week, but instead of turning up the hill for the final ascent to the top I instead followed closer to the valley towards the Fissures. The Fissures are a series of large cracks in the granite rock, occurring near Taft Point. I reached the point, admired the cracks that were large enough to fall through, and started chatting to a group who arrived just before me. The married couple with young daughter were travelling with one set of grandparents, and turned out to be from New Zealand. It turned out that the father enjoys running and had run a 100-km race a couple of years ago. After chatting for 20 minutes or so I decided it was time to set off again.
After my misdirection (and subsequent additional 9 miles) the previous day I had mentioned to the other people at my campsite that my legs were a little tired. They suggested that I should rest, but I pointed out that this was when the real training started. Running when both physically and psychologically tired is the training that is most important for ultras. Therefore I did not change my planned route for the day at all.
I started my day by climbing straight out of my campground up the same trail that I had descended only 12 hours earlier. I climbed up to the top of Yosemite Falls, now having the opportunity of adding some early morning photos to my late evening photos of the falls. When I reached the top I then turned east (the previous evening I had arrived from the west) to start on some new trails. I climbed to lookout above the falls but unfortunately you do not get close enough to the edge to really see the water falling down.
I had planned my runs around Yosemite National Park as a series of loops but unfortunately it is impossible to complete a loop that starts and ends within the valley that includes taking in the summit of the famous climbing peak, El Capitan. It was possible to run up to El Capitan and back directly from behind the campground where I was staying, but I had also come up with a point-to-point option. However that required getting a lift out of the valley to the campgrounds at Tamarack Flat.
The previous night I had discussed my planned route with a couple of the climbers staying in my campsite and found out that they would be heading out to Tuolumne Meadows, and would therefore take the road past Tamarack Flat. To avoid requiring them to take the 3-mile out-and-back road to the campgrounds I had found a trailhead that would allow me to run 2.5 miles out there after being dropped off directly on the road. The guys were planning a lazy wakeup, then had to pack up their gear and head over to the Yosemite Lodge to hop online for some research of the climb they were planning for the following day. It meant that I would set off much later than planned, but I still had plenty of time and unfortunately beggars can’t be choosers.
We set out from the valley just after midday, I ate my lunch in the car, and after missing the trailhead and having to turn around I was eventually dropped off at my starting point. It was 1PM and there was light until 8:30PM so I had plenty of time to complete my roughly 20-mile (32-km) run.
The trail was clearly not often used, and therefore a little difficult to follow, but I had checked out the topographic map that I was carrying and knew the route the trail would follow. I would start off to the left of a creek, cross over to the right side, cross a tributary feeding the creek, and then continue alongside it all the way until I reached the Tamarack Flat campground. I set off as planned, easily following the grassy meadow that had formed along the creek, crossed over the creek, and continued along the other side. I crossed over a tributary stream, but then a short while later the path crossed over the creek once again and started to head back in the direction I had just come from.
I crossed the creek, looked at the direction the path was heading, and decided that something was wrong. I knew I should not be crossing again so I looked for signs of the continuation of the trail on the same side I had been on. I could not find any clear trails so I decided to follow alongside the creek, knowing that I should have a little over a mile until reaching the campgrounds. I needed to climb away from the creek due to the steep bank alongside it but was easily able to follow its direction both visually and by its sound. I reached the distance at which I expected to find the campground but nothing was in sight. I continued a little further but then decided to re-consult my map. I was situated inside a triangle formed by two roads and the creek, so it was impossible to get lost without crossing one of them, so I decided to continue on further.
I reached a large meadow area and then crossed a ravine, and had to climb away from the meadow since it was too moist. I pulled out the map again, and I could hear the sound of cars on a major road too close to my right. I then realised my mistake: the first tributary stream I had crossed was not marked on the map and the “creek crossing” I had avoided had actually been the tributary that I needed to cross. I had managed to make my way back towards the major highway. The easiest way to Tamarack Flat campground would now be to follow parallel to the highway and take the road turnoff. I angled myself slightly towards the highway and came out just before the turnoff to the campground. I then had my longest road run of the trip, a 3-mile run down to the campground.
I pulled into the campground with 7 miles on my watch. I had added 4.5 miles to my plan for the day, but due to the off-trail running had also added over an hour. I then recommenced on my planned route. I had started from Tioga Road, which is the only pass over the mountain range in the park, and is therefore well above the valley floor. From the campgrounds I would descend for a while before ascending around El Capitan and then reaching the peak from the rear.
I started my descent along what was an old road that obviously previously lead into the valley. It was now only used as a hiking trail and was crumbling and collapsed in places. I reached a section that was full of fallen trees, and it was necessary to duck under, climb over or clamber around each one. It continued for a couple of miles with well over a hundred fallen trees, and when I looked at my watch I realised that I had descended below the elevation at which I should have started to re-ascend for the climb to El Capitan. I pulled out my map but could not understand where I had gone wrong so I decided to continue on a short while longer.
I reached a rock slide, continued past it, but then reached a massive rock slide where over 300 feet (100 metres) of rock slide had wiped out the old road. I pulled out my map once again and was able to identify exactly where I was based on my position within the valley … and the marking on the map of an area called the Rockslides. I had overshot a turnoff and would need to turn around, ascend back to the turnoff and then continue.
I had lost yet more time so I evaluated my options. I still had a chance to return to Tamarack Flat but that would require that I either hitch a ride back into the valley or find a place to stay overnight and retry the following morning. I could head back up to an earlier turnoff to the valley floor, but I had skipped that as a possible route option since it reached the valley floor so far out of the serviced area that it would be necessary to hitch a ride back to my campsite. I still had sufficient time to get through the rest of my route before light failed so I decided to push on. I was also aided by the knowledge that I had a jacket and space blanket that would handle the overnight low, and that I was carrying sufficient water (plus purification tablets) and extra food that I could always find some shelter and manage a night outside if really necessary.
Having skipped the climb up to Glacier Point the previous day I decided that I would head up for what is considered as one of the best views in Yosemite National Park. I had spoken to a ranger who enjoys running around the park the previous evening and he had suggested that he preferred to climb up via the Panorama Trail and descend via the Four-Mile Trail so I decided that I would follow his advice.
I took the shuttle bus out to the Happy Isles trailhead, and started my day by ascending the very same trail that I had descended to finish my previous day: the John Muir Trail. It was a serious climb but the grades on the switchbacks meant that it was possible to run a lot of it. I reached the top of the Nevada Falls for the second day in a row, and turned onto the Panorama Trail for my climb up to Glacier Point. The trail crosses over the top of Illouette Falls before providing a view of the falls as they drop into the canyon below.
After leaving the falls I was ascending some switchbacks when I heard sounds in the brush alongside the trail, and looked around to spot a wolf heading in my direction parallel to the trail about 15 feet (5 metres) below me. It looked at me and I waved my hands above my head to look bigger, but it continued past me without much consideration. I watched it continue on while I set off once again along the trail. Not far ahead I bumped into a couple, and started the “Did you see that?” conversation only to hear the accent and realise that they were fellow Australians.
I continued on once again, turned at another switchback and started heading back in the direction in which I had seen the wolf. I started to see more people on the trail and advised them to keep alert. I then saw the wolf climb up onto the trail and start heading away from me along the trail. But then it spotted some people heading directly towards it, so it reversed direction and headed towards me instead. It was trying its best to avoid people but had stumbled upon a very busy section of trail. It diverted down off the trail before reaching me and that was the last time I spotted it. I continued to advise people as I went along, and when I reached a ranger-lead group he advised that it was a coyote rather than a wolf, since no wolves exist in the park. I was quite surprised since I had always thought of coyotes as being smaller than this sample, having a more copper-coloured coat, and having less fur on the face. But I did do some research afterwards (thanks to Google) and found that coyotes can have a more red-tinged coat with sleeker fur (obviously more suited to the drier terrain of states such as Arizona), but can also have a grey coat with more fur (obviously more suited to the mountainous terrain of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains).
Before reaching Glacier Point I reached the trail turnoff that would take me up to Sentinel Dome, which is 1400 feet (400 metres) higher and provides 360 degree views. I took the turnoff, climbed up for 1.5 miles (2.4 km) and admired the views. On the descent I surprised a guy possibly in his 50’s on his mobile phone, who obviously considered himself a fast walker, so he mentioned to the person on the other side of the connection that he was being overtaken by a runner. I retraced my way back to the same turnoff as previously and then continued to Glacier Point. Having worked hard to make my way up there it was a bit disconcerting to see the huge carpark that allows a very short walk to the viewpoint.
I woke and started my journey to Yosemite National Park very early. My plan was to stay at Camp 4, one of only two first-in, first-served campsites that had opened for the season. Camp 4 is famous as a hangout for rock climbers, and a line forms each morning before the ranger arrives to start allocating spots that have been vacated over the previous day. Each campsite fits six people, so groups of strangers are thrown together into a site with shared picnic tables and campfires. I entered the park before the gate was even manned for the day and made my way to Camp 4, arriving at 7:30AM (the ranger arrives at 8:30AM) to find around 15 people ahead of me.
The ranger arrived and immediately informed us that there were sufficient spots available to accommodate everyone in line. I waited my turn, selected my campsite from those available, paid my $5/night (not a typo) fee, and moved my gear across. I setup my tent, moved all of my food and toiletries into the provided bear locker, and then prepared my running gear for the day. I had been advised by a number of people to head out early to avoid the queues, but unfortunately due to the necessity of arranging my accommodation I only set out for my run slightly before midday.
I took a shuttle bus out to the Happy Isles trailhead, and commenced my day by heading up the Mist Trail.
The trail would take me up past the Vernall and Nevada Falls before connecting onto the trail up to Half Dome. The Mist Trail was packed with people and was very slow going as it is very difficult to overtake people as it climbs up narrow stairs alongside the falls.
I stopped for photos of both falls on my way up, and then at the top of the Nevada Falls I turned off onto the trail to Half Dome.
For the first time that day I was alone. The early going allowed for some running as I made my way alongside a river but soon the gradient increased and I started to hike up towards the dome. It was a steep climb in sections but I eventually reached the short final climb up to the cables. A ranger checked my permit and then I ascended to the bottom of the cables. I took a couple photos of the venture that awaited me, selected a well-used set of gloves for hanging onto the cables, and then started my way up.
On returning to my car after midnight (read why here) I had noticed an email informing me that I had been successful in my lottery application for a permit to climb the cables at Half Dome. The peak in Yosemite National Park is so steep that there are only two options to get up: secure a permit to climb up with the cables or climb up the rock face. The bulk of permits are opened up to the public earlier in the year, and the permits for every day of the year apparently sold out within 15 minutes. That left the daily lottery, where each day 50 spots are opened up for climbing the cables two days later. That meant that my Saturday email was informing me that I had a permit … for Monday.
That made Sunday a travel day but that was fine since I was due for an easy running day after the week to date. I decided that a short recovery run was in order so I made my way from Auburn to the Folsom Lakes State Recreation Area. I arrived to find out that the entire area where I had planned my run was closed for a wake boarding event, but they instead directed me to another area of the lake. I made my way there and unfortunately found out that all of the trails there were paved. I hopped onto a bike trail, headed out a bit over a mile before turning around to complete a 2.5 mile run. I then soaked my legs in the lake for 10 minutes and continued south to Sonora, where I would stay the night before heading through to Yosemite early the next morning.