Monday, February 23, 2015

Why Hiking to the Summit of Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park is a Bucket List Must. North America’s Highest Waterfall

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, North America's Highest Waterfall

Parking at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls near Yosemite Lodge, I grab my big-old red backpack filled with a day hike’s worth of snacks and layers and gear worthy of a monumental Yosemite National Park Trail.

I’ve set aside one extra day for an adventure on a work-trip up to Yosemite, and I decide, once I’ve confirmed the current trail reports from the helpful ranger at the entrance gate, to tackle, enjoy, conquer, glide, and grind my way up to the top of the famous, over 2,400 foot Yosemite Falls during the quiet off season. When it’ll just be me and my trail runners and a 2,700 foot elevation of glorious, granite switchbacks climbing up the north edge of Yosemite Valley.

9:30am on freezing February morning – note the California Sierras are having a dry spell and Yosemite Valley is at the time of this hike NOT full of snow – I start the half mile hike on the meandering Valley Loop Trail at Lower Yosemite Falls over to the famous Camp 4, passing by Swan Slab, empty of beginning climbers in these chilly morning temps.

Camp 4’s sign says 3.5 miles to the top and I stop to shed a layer, knowing that in just moments, the switchback stair-climb the size of two Empire State Buildings is going to heat things up – fast.

View from 1,000 feet up, Columbia Rock. Half Dome.

One thousand feet and one mile up, my first stop for jaw-dropping morning valley views is the overlook at Columbia Rock. Hello Half Dome, bursting into the air like a massive shark fin out of a Sea of Sierras.

Continuing along on an unexpected rolling section of trail leads me to my first Upper Yosemite Falls views displaying a giant mound of snow at the bottom of this portion of the falls. 

Upper Yosemite Falls

I find a moment to stop, close my eyes, and listen. Better than any Brookstone trickling-water, noise-maker ever, the giant roar of the Upper Falls speaks to my insides from some primal place that makes all breath and emotion in that moment the #Truth. Wow.

Switchbacks on Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

Banking left, I welcome back the butt-shaping switchbacks and sheer cliffs of the north wall of the valley, the trail cut into the granite slabs and the imperious boulder and rock field.

Trail through the boulder & rock fields under Yosemite's granite cliffs.

Up, up, up I follow the trail.

Sweat. Breathe. Hydrate. Soak it all in... 

Step after step. And then, the reward...

Yosemite Falls Overlook

Coming up over the crest of the ridge and leaving the switchbacks and 2,700 vertical behind, I hit a Yosemite Falls sign: 0.2 miles to go, leading to the famous Yosemite Falls Overlook. 

Friends, this is when it gets hairy, precarious, dangerous, scary, Darwin Award winning if you’re not careful. SCRAMBLE WITH CARE.

Yosemite Creek forming pools just before the cascade down the falls.

Choosing life over imminent plunging to my death, I bank left and skitter over to the pools of Yosemite Creek with ultimate caution, just above the mouth of the falls. 

At this time it's a relatively safe little oasis, however, don’t be fooled. Stay out of the water all days of the year. No one needs a 2,400-plus-foot drop into their next life...

Yosemite Creek near mouth of Upper Yosemite Falls. Sharing the moment with a couple from Spain.


A handful of gorp. A hello to a couple of fellow hikers from Spain. A wide-eyed sense of wonder at the power of where I am standing at this moment. I can feel the energy. The giddy height and roar and adrenaline of this spot reconfirms I’m just tiny drop in a massive ecosystem of nature.

I’m feeling big, powerful, in my own personal, mind-body-hiking-fresh-air connection, and I’m also feeling small, happily insignificant in the bigger-picture aspect of the universe. THIS is the gift a hike to the top of North America’s Highest Waterfall gives me. A gift that reminds me that all of my must-dos and Bucket Lists hold a place to remind me of both my insignificance and, oddly, my importance... Mind blown.

A scoop of gorgeous, crisp Yosemite Creek water through my filter to replenish the h20 quotient in my body, and I’m ready to move on. And, after that exhilarating moment of Trail-Zen, there’s now no way I’m heading back down without the quick, last mile up to Yosemite Point for some more rush.

Yosemite Point. Epic Half Dome views. 
There’s some snow on this last part of the trail, and the wilderness opens up to the north, and I’m pumped with an explorers thirst for more land to cover, discover and soak-in. Not another person in sight, I crank-through the final moderate push to destination Yosemite Point and the reward is a wide-open sky of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley granite greatness, 3,000 feet up from the valley floor.

Go now. Bucket list. -OM

The Trip Report:
Location: Upper Yosemite Falls Hike, north side of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Lodge and Camp 4 area.
Length: From Camp 4 Trailhead to Summit of Upper Yosemite Falls: @7.2 miles round trip.
Add Yosemite Point from Upper Yosemite Falls: add @1.6 miles round trip.
Add Valley Loop Trail from Lower Yosemite Falls: add @1.2 miles round trip.
Level of Difficulty: Strenuous.
Elevation: @2,700 feet to top of Upper Falls. @3,000 feet to Yosemite Point.
Exposure: Mostly sun.
Kid friendly? Recommended for teens and up who are in excellent shape and follow strict hiking guidelines. Steep, dangerous exposures.
Best time to visit? Spring run-off is most popular. Though the staggering views make this a year round must-do if the trail is clear and safe.
What to Wear: Hiking boots or trail runners that can take a switchback beating.
Video: 2 videos in article above: Upper Yosemite Falls with Snow Pile & Pools from Summit of Upper Yosemite Falls


For more Yosemite hikes and info:

Disclaimer: When researching elevations and trail distances, there were a variety of measurements of length of hikes and elevation gain from each source. Therefore, all of my notes are estimates...... Check the weather and trail conditions from a trusted source before attempting any hike........

15 comments:

  1. Awesome article! Can't wait to get my butt out to Yosemite one day!

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    1. hey thanks, zach, you gotta get that butt out there someday-- the giant granite rocks will be waiting. cheers!

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  2. #Truth. My bucket list is growing - hope to attempt someday!

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    1. T! #Truth - you'll make it happen. bird by bird. or step by step.... #writeHikeLove

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  3. We went up with our 8 and 10 yr olds last weekend. They had no trouble hiking the trail, but they're pretty used to hiking in Yosemite. About halfway down my son stopped me and said, "Dad, thanks for taking me on these great hikes!" It doesn't get better than that. Last May we hiked the Panorama Trail with them starting at Glacier Point and ending in the valley, another great hike. Definitely disturbing to see the lack of snow even at altitude. Last year at this time we were snowboarding at Badger Pass. Love Yosemite.

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    1. oh wow your son's comment is just beautiful --- for him to turn to you and say that shows how important it is to expose kiddos to the wilderness and trails and nature ..... and they can pass their love on to future generations. just love it! ....... Panorama is def on my list of must-dos, now i need to craft another time to get up there, thx so much for the tip. and YES snow dance galore over here -- i was supposed to be skiing at Badger, arg... thx so much for sharing & hope to bump into you and crew on the Yo trails -- see you out there

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  4. oh wow your son's comment is just beautiful --- for him to turn to you and say that shows how important it is to expose kiddos to the wilderness and trails and nature ..... and they can pass their love on to future generations. just love it! ....... Panorama is def on my list of must-dos, now i need to craft another time to get up there, thx so much for the tip. and YES snow dance galore over here -- i was supposed to be skiing at Badger, arg... thx so much for sharing & hope to bump into you and crew on the Yo trails -- see you out there

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  5. That is just awesome. I liked the picture at the top looking out. Love to hike and thx for the ghreat right up. really cool.
    www.islikely.com has a great weather related app for planning outdoor events such as this.

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    1. hey thanks dirk. appreciate it & thx for the weather app info. i'll check it out. hope you get to Yosemite soon

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  6. Great article! Thanks for the recommendation. I'm looking forward to my own bit of trail Zen :-)

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    1. thanks nathan! yes go find your Trail Zen - Yosemite will have it ;) -- make sure to check out Panorama Trail and there's a locals/experts forum http://yosemitenews.info/forum/list.php?17 that u can join to get the real inside scoop on everything including current conditions. cheers & let me know how your trip goes -a

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  8. Reading this now and adding to bucket list - article detail grabs me and I imagine the hike - its efforts and thrills, kid quote inspires my parent.

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    Replies
    1. thanks so much -- hope you get to hike it someday!

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