Day 77: The Unknown Side of Yosemite

We didn’t get to fully appreciate Glen Aulin until this morning, as we were leaving. We left by going through the main camp — something we bypassed on our way in last night — and oh, man, is it ever amazing. It’s not so much for the facilities as it is that you wake up with enormous, grand Tuolumne Falls in your front yard. They rang the breakfast bell, and we were just dreaming about staying there, snug and warm with a real roof, coming out to enjoy breakfast with that waterfall in front of us…and not having to hike anywhere at all. It sounded amazing. (Of course, the sign on the bathroom, making it clear that there were No Backpackers Allowed — that we were to use our own pit toilets instead — did make it clear exactly where we fit in.)

Alas, we did have to hike somewhere, and that somewhere was about seventeen miles north. This part of Yosemite is worlds apart from the places that most people see. For those who have never been to Yosemite, especially in the summertime, Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, and other famous attractions are absolutely mobbed with people. It goes far above anything I’ve ever seen at any other national park, because Yosemite is famous not just across the U.S., but around the world. Some days fully half of the tourists are speaking in languages other than English. It’s really quite an experience to be a part of, but not exactly high on the “solitude” scale.

The irony, of course, is that the popular areas are only a very tiny part of Yosemite National Park, and today started taking us much deeper into some of the less-popular parts. And they’re amazing! We spent our time hiking up and down mountain ridges, across gorgeous high meadows with streams lazily meandering among them, following a canyon along a river with its periodic waterfalls…it was all pretty wonderful. While some of the things we saw when following the John Muir Trail (particularly Muir Pass itself) were much higher on the scale of inducing a gasp, the country we’re hiking through now is just absolutely, unbelievably pleasant.

About 4:30 in the afternoon, we came across Matterhorn Creek slowly winding its way through a meadow…and, after crossing, just sat down to take a break there. I swear I could’ve stayed there all day, and the next day, and the day after that — it was just about perfect. There was a gentle breeze blowing, the creek was softly babbling, the grasses in the meadow were swaying; if there’s a paradise out there, this just might be it. It really does blow my mind that so many people come to Yosemite and experience little more than massive traffic jams and all looking at the same sights — I feel really lucky to be hiking back here, seeing so much more of it than before.

We still have passes to conquer; Benson Pass sits just five hundred feet above where we’re camped tonight, but that means it’s only just over 10,000′ of elevation — far lower than the 12,000′ and 13,000′ passes we were conquering just a couple of weeks ago. The terrain here is still rugged, though; we climbed and lost quite a few thousand feet of elevation today as we went up and down — it’s just that it comes in smaller chunks, closer together, rather than giant fifteen-mile run-ups to enormous passes. Looking ahead, it looks like things do get easier soon enough (or so I certainly hope) — but, for now, we’re still hiking hard, up and down these beautiful mountains.

On the other hand, one thing seems likely to be constant for a while now: accursed mosquitoes. Their density varies wildly based on how close to water you are, but, tonight, we put on our raingear and headnets the instant we set our packs down to try to afford ourselves some protection. I don’t know how much worse it’ll get before it gets better, but I definitely don’t think we’re anywhere close to peak mosquito yet, unfortunately. Ah, well. We have plenty of DEET along, and hope to spray our clothes with Permethrin, another insect repellent, at our next town stop.

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