Yosemite: Lessons in Unparalleled Beauty and Mental Fortitude

I was really glad we had our raincoats. The day was gorgeous and there was 0% chance of rain, but we were absolutely drenched; Water dripping from the tip of my nose, drenched.  The name Mist Trail is a bit of a misnomer. I think of mist as a light spray. The water coming off Vernal Falls was more of a barrage, but I suppose The Barrage Trail isn’t as poetic.

My thighs were burning, but I was loving every minute of it. The Mist Trail in Yosemite was built by people who would have made the Incas very proud. It is over 600 steep, stone steps to the top. And the views are spectacular. There are constant rainbows on sunny days. It is unlike any hike I have ever done.

Before we got the news that we hadn’t been selected for a Half Dome permit, in my mind the Half Dome hike was the only one worth doing. I feel like an idiot admitting that because I could not have been more wrong. There are around 60 hikes in Yosemite, and many of them are just as scenic. Half Dome was in the review mirror.

There is an 11.5 mile (18.5 km) loop on the valley floor called the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail. We had brought our bikes (something I highly recommend although you can rent them there as well) and on our first full day we decided to ride the loop. We picked up the trail right in front of Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) and it was a great introduction to Yosemite. We went along the river, through the meadow with views of El Capitan, down to Lower Yosemite Falls, and through Yosemite Village where I got my National Parks passport stamped. It was so enjoyable, we did it twice.

I had done some research on different hikes before we left, but I wanted to talk to a Park Ranger about my ideas before committing. She concurred that I had a good plan. We would take Mist Trail to the top, turn right onto the John Muir Trail (turning left at the top is the way to Half Dome) merge into the Panorama Trail to Glacier Point, then take Four Mile Trail back down into the valley.

At the top of the Mist Trail is Nevada Falls, but it is far enough away that it truly does just mist you. We were thankful for our quick dry hiking pants. We would have been very chaffed otherwise.

After a short section of the John Muir Trail, we merged onto the Panorama Trail and let me tell you, words can’t describe the beauty. It goes along the top of the valley’s south side and this is where you have the most incredible views of Half Dome. The thought occurred to me that if we had been climbing it, we wouldn’t be seeing it and seeing it was pretty special. You can also see Yosemite Falls across the valley. Another bonus of the Panorama Trail is that there are butterflies everywhere. They kept us company until we reached the visitor center at Glacier Point and then BAM!

We had only seen three people on the entirety of Panorama, but at Glacier Point it was like the multitudes of butterflies had been transformed into people. It was shocking, to be honest. Buses bring hundreds and hundreds of people up to the visitor center. Our water bladders were empty so we had to wait in a huge long line to buy more water. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.IMG_4173

Once on our way, we took Four Mile Trail from Glacier Point back down to the valley. Four Mile Trail is actually 4.8 miles. I’m not sure about those rounding skills. We were 9 miles in and I felt great. I mentioned in a previous post that I had purchased new hiking boots for this trip, and up to this point they were serving me well, but things took a turn.

Descending from Glacier Point back into the valley is very steep. It’s an elevation change of 3,200 feet (975 meters) via a million switchbacks. I tried to find the exact number but I couldn’t, so my estimation is a million. My new boots were great on uphills, flats, and the few small downhills we had done, but the constant, relentless, never-ending downhill of the infernal Four Mile Trail created quite a problem. I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, but I was in agony. (It turns out my feet were covered in blisters and one of my big toenails ended up turning black and falling off. Yummy.)

I hobbled down switchback after switchback and yet the valley never got any closer. My hiking poles had become crutches and I was moaning with every step. My “audibles” were in rare form that day. Thank goodness we were alone on the trail. It would have been quite embarrassing for Brett, but I was past caring.

Then something really amazing happened, and I feel a bit vulnerable sharing it, but it’s an important part of this story. I began talking to my mom (whom I lost several years ago) and telling her I didn’t know if I could do it. I was in really bad shape. And in my head over and over, I kept saying, “Mommy, please help me.” We had not seen a butterfly for about an hour, since leaving Glacier Point, but when I was at my absolute lowest and seriously questioning if I was going to be able to get down, a butterfly suddenly appeared and flitted down the path in front of me, just at the moment I was begging my mom for help. Whether it was a coincidence or not, I believe it was her guiding my way and I regained my mental strength and I knew I was going to be okay. That butterfly was only with me for maybe 15 seconds, but it was all I needed. And interestingly, that was the only one we saw that entire time.

After seeing that butterfly something happened. I didn’t feel the pain anymore. Somehow I had just completely blocked it, and I began walking with renewed energy. We reached the bottom and that renewed energy carried me right past our shuttle stop. When we realized we had passed it, it was closer to go on to the next one than to go back. We went an extra quarter mile that day but I didn’t mind. It felt kind of symbolic.

It had been one of the most memorable, challenging days of my life and I took away two great lessons. Never, ever attempt a massive hike in new boots, and even when you think you can’t do something, you CAN. We still had two more days left in Yosemite, and I went to bed feeling very proud of myself.

10 Comments on “Yosemite: Lessons in Unparalleled Beauty and Mental Fortitude

  1. Inspiring how you pushed your limits! This trip brought out such a range of emotions in you and I can see from how well you’ve put together this and the other Yosemite blog post that you grew from these experiences!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Incredible photos. I relate to your feelings of…am I gonna be able to do this. It’s a good feeling once it’s conquered. I’m sure the butterfly was just as important as you thought it was; all life is personal mythology and you just had a beautiful moment in yours, your mother appearing as a butterfly to rebuild your strength and resolve. More than half the battle is mental. Great post. Really enjoyed.

    Liked by 2 people

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