Shortly after we moved to California for Justin to attend medical school, we found ourselves on the cusp of a highly coveted long weekend with no plans. As we sat on the bed discussing what a crime it would be to waste the weekend without having an adventure, a plan began to emerge. We would go to Yosemite to backpack. That night. It was already evening and the drive would be six hours so there was no time to hesitate. While one of us packed up gear the other made a quick dash to the grocery store for our backpacking staples - instant noodles and instant mashed potatoes. And that's how at 9:00 pm we found ourselves on the road to Yosemite with vague plans to take the Cathedral Lakes trail head from Tuolumne Meadows to the valley. We arrived at 3:00 am and drove straight to the permit station. For people who don't reserve a back country overnight trail head permit in advance, Yosemite keeps 40% of them for first-come first-serve walk ups. Since it's such a popular park those 40% fill up very fast and we wanted to make sure we got a permit so we spent a few hours sleeping in the parking lot before joining the line.
While we waited in line we chatted with two young women who were going to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT), a 210 mile journey, and were hoping to score a permit onto one of the JMT trail heads. They had just met each other because a mutual friend had planned the trip and then fallen ill and was unable to come. So these two girls thought, heck, we can still do it just the two of us and get to know each other along the way. Pretty awesome. When we actually landed the Cathedral Lakes trailhead permit it felt like a sign that we'd done the right thing to take a leap of faith in the name of adventure. And thus began our three day trek over approximately 24 miles of pristine alpine wilderness. On that first day we were only about four miles in when an intense thunder storm brought us to a halt in an expansive meadow around 10,000 ft. We decided to go ahead and make camp and were privileged to watch a stunning sunset from our tent as the storm cleared up.
The next day we covered 12 miles to make up for lost time on the first day. The terrain was as spectacular as ever but our spirits plummeted after a few hours of hiking in a chilly downpour come late afternoon. We could have pitched camp but really wanted to make it to the Half Dome backpackers camp. Plus we were traveling along a particularly steep set of switchbacks that made finding a level spot big enough for a tent challenging. We weren't winning any backpacker beauty awards by the time we dragged into camp looking like something that had been dredged from a swamp. The camp itself was quite lovely with an ideal location next to a river which I was determined to bathe in. When I got out of view of the camp I stripped down and took an insanely quick wash due to a) I was still a bit close to camp to be naked and b) the water was so cold I might as well have been scrubbing myself off with snow. It is the only time in my life that I've seen steam rising off my own body.
On day three we made the 4,000 ft descent past Nevada Falls into the valley. Let's just say I was definitely ready to give my legs a break by the time things leveled out. And now came the fun part of hitching a ride back to our car parked many miles away back in Tuolumne Meadows. I can't say that I'm into hitch hiking as I think it's a good way to get stuffed in a trunk, but I decided that there probably aren't too many serial killers lurking inside national parks and so helped Justin make a sign indicating that we were trying to get to Tuolumne Meadows.
We only had to stand for about two minutes before a lovely lady and her nephew stopped and picked us up. They weren't going all the way but we were happy to take whatever we could get. As we drove they explained to us how she'd bring him to Yosemite as a kid and they just kept the tradition going even though he's an adult now. They dropped us near a small gas station and we headed up the road a ways to start the process again. After awhile a British couple on vacation stopped and said they'd be happy to take us all the way. After a preliminary exchange things got rather quiet and none of us seemed to be able to keep the conversation going, so we were quite happy to reach Tuolumne Meadows. Despite the occasional awkwardness of riding with strangers we were and still are grateful to people willing to give us a ride. Per usual, we weren't ready to head back to reality, but we did so with the knowledge that we'd definitely be coming back to Yosemite to backpack again!