12/28/15 It was snowing as we arrived in the Valley for our winter adventure. Although visibility was low, the ambiance was amazing. And a trip up the off-limits Mist Trail made for a perfect day.
1 The Merced River amidst freshly fallen snow. It's early afternoon as we enter Yosemite Valley. We chose a longer route into the Valley to avoid heavier snow and chain requirements and made into the Valley without issue. We knew immediately that it was going to be well worth the effort to get here.
2 Bridalveil Fall at 617' high. We're pleasantly surprised to see water flowing since this fall goes dry for much of the year.
3 The foot of El Capitan barely visible below the storm. Being in Yosemite without being able to see the iconic granite views is a little frustrating, but it's an entirely new look for us after many summer trips here.
4 More views of tne Merced River winding through the snowy forest. My Dad had hoped to use this trip to get source material for future paintings and Christmas cards. He would end-up with a lifetime supply by the time this trip was done!
5 We make our way to Curry Village and then hike out to Happy Isle and the start of the trail to Half Dome. A picture my Dad and I have taken many times. But never in the snow. Note that the Mist Trail is closed and covered for the season.
6 Icicles everywhere.
7 Creative little snowmen dot the trail along the way.
8 The 370' tall Illilouette Fall would normally be at the top end of this canyon. It looks dry at the moment.
9 The first views of Vernal Fall from the footbridge as it starts to snow heavily.
10 Another view of the 317' Vernal Fall from the bridge.
11 Video of Vernal Fall and the increasingly large snowflakes. For best performance, you can watch the video on YouTube.
12 Start of the Mist Trail. Probably one of the most famous sections of trail in the world. It's always closed for the winter season due to danger from ice and rockfall. I always wonder though whether "Stop" is a recommendation or a requirement :)
13 Needless to say, we press on... Here we arrive at the first view of Vernal Fall on the Mist Trail and the start of of the steps to the top. With the slippery steps, and steep dropoffs, this section of trail is considered by many to be dangerous even during the summer. Covered by snow and ice, it definitely ranks high on the danger scale. Dad decides this is far enough, but I'm determined to at least get around the corner to get a full view of the falls. At this point, I honestly had no intent to go any further than that.
14 The first full height view of Vernal Fall. Despite being early winter, there's as much or more water than in a dry summer. I know I should definitely be turning around here since my Dad is waiting and the trail is getting increasingly steep and slippery. But I can get an even better view if I go just a little bit further...
15 The classic Vernal Fall view from the Mist Trail. Normally, during a wet Spring, you can't even take your camera out here because of the blasting mist. I think there's an even better view though just past the rock overhang, so I might as well go just a little further...
16 The overhang that provides shelter from the blasting ice water during a wet Spring trip up the Mist Trail. It's not needed today.
17 Another epic view. Probably not too many people get a chance to take this picture.
18 A couple more pictures for good measure. Though I have been here probably a dozen times, this time is unquestionably unique, and I have to take advantage of every angle.
19 The last clear view before heading under some tree cover.
20 Almost to the rail section. It's pretty much an ice wall here from all the water dripping down the cliff face. The picture definitely doesn't do it justice. This is also the area where rockfall is most likely, so I'm a little nervous about proceeding, but I'm just too close to stop now...
21 The steps here are blocks of ice. Crampons would have been nice, but at least the Yaktrax I had on helped some. Hands and knees was still pretty much the only way to get up though.
22 Heading across the ledge almost to the top. The railing is a little rickety, and I never fully trust it, especially when walking on ice. That's a drop of about 300' to the left. You can see that the trail is closed again at the top. You have to actually crawl under the railing to get past it.
23 Made it! Top of Vernal Fall. With sheets of snow and ice practically wrapping over the edge of the fall. Of all the times I've been at this spot, this is unquestionably my favorite.
24 Vernal Fall plummetting 317 feet amidst the snow and ice.
25 Another shot of the fall and the canyon below. Those seemingly little rocks are actually giant boulders.
26 Looking down the canyon from the top of Vernal Fall. Circled in yellow, you can see my dad (to the right of a tree) standing where I left him about 20 minutes ago. You can also faintly see the Mist Trail path as it makes its way up and around the snow covered wall.
27 360 view from the top of Vernal Fall. For best performance, you can watch the video on YouTube.
28 Time to head back down. I knew my dad would be getting worried and/or upset by now, but making the top of the fall was just too awesome an experience to pass up.
29 One last view of Vernal Fall on the way back down. Coming down the icy steps was definitely harder than going up and a heck of a lot more dangerous. I had to balance safety with the need to get back to my Dad asap. Probably not one of my smarter endeavors, but well worth it!
30 I made it back to my dad in about 40 minutes round trip. He wasn't too happy about the wait, but hopefully he'll forgive me! On our way back, Dad and I get one last picture at the bridge with Vernal Fall in the background.
31 Conditions were icy on the way down, but after only a couple slip 'n slide wipeouts, we sucessfully arrived back at Curry Village. There we were welcomed by a young buck making its way through the snow covered parking lot.
32 The original plan had been to drive out of the Valley before dark. But it was getting late, and it was still snowing, so we decided to try to find a place to stay for the night. We didn't have full snow camping gear with us, and the lodge was sold out, so our only option was the tent cabins near Curry Village. The only ones they had left were unheated, but at the last minute a heated one opened-up. Given that morning temps were supposed to get down to 14 degrees, we jumped at the chance. Here's our cozy tent where my Dad and I would have to share the double bed. And where "heated" was a bit of a misnomer since the doors and windows were not sealed at all.