- Written By: James Stuart
James Stuart seeks to break from the Yosemite crowds by trekking into the wilderness, but not before catching up with climber Andrea Hah for advice. We’ve only just hopped out of the car when I spot it high up in the branches of an oak tree: a juvenile
James Stuart seeks to break from the Yosemite crowds by trekking into the wilderness, but not before catching up with climber Andrea Hah for advice.
We’ve only just hopped out of the car when I spot it high up in the branches of an oak tree: a juvenile black bear, feeding on acorns. Seeing my first bear in the wild ought to be a quasi-spiritual moment. Instead, I’m shoulder to shoulder with a dozen tourists on the side of the main road into Yosemite Valley. A group of 20-somethings pose for a photo on the roof of their RV with El Capitan’s 1,000m high sheer, granite cliffs as a backdrop.
Is this the experience I’ve flown across the Pacific for? Luckily, for those in the know, there are ways to escape the tourist crush of the Valley – the gravitational centre of Yosemite National Park and its 2,000 square kilometres of glaciated granite peaks, alpine meadows, and endless climbing and hiking potential.
WELCOME TO THE VALLEY
Time it wrong and your arrival could be worse than LA’s peak hour; most of the Park’s four-to-five million annual visitors are there to experience the 12km long Valley and be enclosed by its cliffs. At 5pm on a Saturday in early Autumn, however, we wind our way quickly along a steep road above the Merced River and what we supposed would be a dreaded human traffic jam, but, thankfully, it never eventuated.
I’m here with three of my best mates to celebrate our 40th birthdays with a backcountry hike further north at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. But as an avid climber there’s no way I’m missing out on the seeing Valley for myself. Ever since modern day climbing took off in the mid-20th century, the place has been a siren call to those willing to dash themselves on its stupendous amount of rock.
We turn a corner and suddenly the river seems to drop away. The first column of granite juts up, grey as galvanised steel. We cross over a bridge and there’s El Cap, so massive that I’m completely absorbed by it. Its verticality defies any conventional sense of scale. Lafayette Bunnell, one of the first white men to visit the Valley in 1851, reported finding his ‘eyes in tears with emotion.’ Even then, he underestimated El Cap’s height by 50 per cent.
CLIMBING YOUR WAY OUT
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