Many of us walk carefully along the prescribed pathway, careful not to get too close to the edge for fear that we will fall. Or Fail. Never realizing that the other side might just be exactly where we were meant to go.
And just sometimes, that other side is magnificent, unlike anything we’ve seen before.
We began our day at sunrise, ascending into Yosemite from our rental down in the valley. The girls seemed unimpressed with the grandness of the mountains driving in, unsure of what to expect or what would be seen inside the park.
As we embarked on our very first hike of the trip, the weather was cool and crisp. The forecast called for 90 degree day, but the morning air inside the forest was refreshing and cool. We walked along the path that would take us to the base of the Vernal Fall trailhead, joined by a small group of early risers. You could tell they were the experienced sort, sharing the trail and exchanging quiet but knowing hellos.
As we began our ascent, we were full of energy and anticipation. The husband and I agreed to each plan a day, and this was my day and hike. Knowing the girls would love to see a waterfall, and thinking back fondly of the little girl in the Norwegian forest, my mind was racing with stories we would later tell of the serene beauty and gentle sound of rushing water.
I Had No Idea Just How Wrong I Would Be
Visiting a National Park is a rite of passage for childhood, and Yosemite is said to have some of the most epic views and waterfalls. The drought in California has been so severe, that miles of dead forest groves, with blackened trees were seen in our drive up the mountain. However, this past winter, the Sierra Nevada mountains recorded record snowfalls, leading to what a fellow hiker described as an “Epic year, unlike anything I’ve seen in the last 15 summers of coming to this park”.
That “epic” snowfall resulted in a powerful, white rush of water pushing down the mountain. We had to shout sometimes to be heard over the roar of the water.
About a mile into the trailhead, we reached the part of the trail where 600 stone steps lead straight up to the waterfall, hugging the side of the mountain. I imagine this is what Misty Mountain Hop was all about, except we were slowly climbing since we were quickly becoming blinded by water.
The mist from Fall could only be described as a fierce. We were soaked, and beginning to have trouble seeing as the spray increased in intensity the higher we climbed. The girls were beginning to grumble, and my mood went from sheer exilleration to panic. Up ahead, a mother was dragging a screaming child.
Looking down the twisting, steep rock path, I knew we had only one decision: keep going.
The stairs were too slippery to go back down, especially since we could barely see from the spray and many parts of the trail had no guardrails. From then on, I knew I had to be Mother Optimism, filling my kids with confidence to keep going since I knew the way down was too dangerous.
After climbing for another half hour, we reached a wider point on the trail, turned around and saw this:
At that point, I knew it was all going to be okay.
We reached the very top of the waterfall, found a patch of sunlit rocks and took off our soaked socks and shoes. We rested there long enough to refuel with granola bars and bananas and receive many comments from fellow hikers about how amazing it was that the girls just finished the climb.
This filled them with pride and they began to smile ear to ear, knowing they just accomplished something amazing.
Since we were not going down the way we came up, we had to hook into the John Muir Trail, which would wind up another mountain before we could begin our decent. While longer, this path was dry. The girls sang songs, told stories and had an energy that could only come from an inner joy, knowing they were accomplishing something big.
We’re experienced hikers, frequently taking 2-3 mile hikes with our kids since they were small. This one was by far our most intense. Nature is an energizing but powerful force.
Fitbit recorded our hike at 12k steps, 6.5 miles with an elevation change of 1500 ft each way.
That’s one epic hike for a 9 and 4 year old.
When asked what she learned that day, my oldest didn’t miss a beat:
You can do way more than you ever thought you could.
Don’t ever let Mom pick the first hike.