Mirror Lake Landscape
The rains that started the day before continued sporadically through the night, so by morning, things were pretty damp. I woke up, and my muscles immediately screamed in protest at moving at all after the epic hikei. Kate was in worse shape than I, her ill-sized boot having wreaked havoc with her foot the day before, but we sucked it up and met Dave and Dave and Shelley for brunchii. The dining hall at Curry Village looked like it was the worse for wear after the deluge the day before, with leaks coming through the roof in various placesiii. It was nice to finish our visit with them in a relaxed environment, since most of the previous day had been spent looking at their backs as I struggled to keep up. They took off that morning after a final group photo, so we had the rest of the day to devote to leisure and recovery. We decided we'd be slight hypocrites and explore the touristy bits of the Valleyiv.
Group Photo, Dave and Dave and Shelley
We started our day at the main Visitor's Center, which was actually pretty nice. Yosemite gets a ridiculous number of visitors each year, which explains why parts of the Valley looks a lot like the suburbs we left behind, but there's enough of the old grand wildness in place and architecture left to remind you where you are. On our way there we saw yet another of the “Speeding Kills Bears” signsv. This would be about as close as we would come to actually seeing a bear all week long. Speaking of vehicles, I could only wonder what would happen if Yosemite followed Zion's lead and went 100% bus. While we were there we stopped at the Ansel Adams gallery, and I signed up for a free photo walk for the morning of our last dayvi.
Speeding Kills Bears!, Half Dome in the Mist, Me and John Muir Look at Something in the Distance
While Kate got a quick lunch, I walked around the grounds of the center complex. I managed to find quite a lot of wildlife even in this densely peopled place. Part of this was due to the overly-domesticated mule deer, who wandered in and out of esplanades seeming oblivious to the crowds around them, snapping picture after picturevii Even though most of what I saw (Stellar's Jays, Brewer's Blackbirds, Mule Deer, etc) were everywhere in the park, they were western species we don't usually see, so it was cool nonetheless.
Pine Needles after the Rain, Mule Deer Faun, Brewer's Blackbird (female), Brewer's Blackbird (male), Mule Deer Stag
We had planned to go see Bridal Veil Falls, and Yosemite Falls, but suffered bouts of intermittent drizzling. A quick stop at the store yielded a cheap umbrella and a $2.38 pack of trash bags which served admirable the rest of the trip as pack covers, waterproof bags, camera covers, etcviii. Properly rain-geared up, we caught Yosemite Falls. Or, what would have been Yosemite Falls if there were....falls. October is apparently among the worst times to visit in terms of the falls, and there was only a small trickle in Upper Yosemite, barely visible. The Valley floor/Cook Meadow, however, was lovely as ever, even in the intermittent storm light.
Valley Wall in the Clouds, Snag, Me at Lower Yosemite Kinda Falls, Rain and Light on Cliffs, Valley Landscape, Valley Landscape with Half Dome (B&W).
After a day of tooling around the Valley, we decided to brave a short trail to Mirror Lake. If ever there was a place that proved the adage “F/8 and be there”ix, this was it. The hike out and back was a pleasant couple miles of (mostly) no people on an unfortunately paved trail. Mirror Lake itself was...well, we could see where there might at some times be a lake that could serve as a Mirror, but what we had was Non-Reflecting Sandpit. And I didn't care at all, due to the amazing display of light and storm clouds that resulted as the sun broke through some of the clouds almost immediately on our arrival. I snapped away furiously, barely having time to check settings as the briefest of scene flashed over the clouds, as the storms rolled in. It was absolutely amazing, and almost worth the rain clouds that blanketed all of the day up until that point. I can only imagine what this would have looked like had there been water in the lake to catch the storm's reflection.
Forest Sentinels, Fall Color- Mirror Lake Trail, Mirror Lake Landscape Study #6, Mirror Lake Landscape Study #22, Mirror Lake Landscape Study #29
After a couple days of decent hiking and camp food, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner. As much as it felt like cheating on the camping experience, Yosemite's Mountain Room Restaurant was well worth the visit/compromise of camping spirit. It was a bit of a shock to the system to go from Clif Bars and powdered milk to my dinner of smoked trout with apple-horseradish appetizer, trout almandine, and mixed seasonal berry cobler, but in a good way. The restaurant was actually a lot classier than I expected, and we felt a bit under-dressed in our packs and gearx, but it was a great time nonetheless. We adjourned to the Swiss ski lodge-style bar across the plaza, and planned our next day's hike with an after dinner drink next to a roaring central fire. Having done the Valley, we decided we'd get up to Toulmene Meadows, north of the touristy areas, and do some more remote hikesxi.
Kate at Mountain Room Restaurant
As we drove back to Curry Villagexii and set in for the night, a light rain foreshadowed the change in plans Mother Nature had in store for us...
iMy usual, if inherently unscientific but coach-approved, approach is to walk it off. Like the time I dislocated my patella, and then went on a 2 mile hike. This is not intended to be an example of manly vigor, but probably rather the last lingering vestiges of youthful delusions of indestructibility/immortality. Old age is going to have a field day with my worn and battered joints.
iiAfter my poor showing on the mountain the day before, I was damned if I was going to show weakness on the quarter mile hike to the dining hall. Also, there were waffles.
iiiIncluding places that were teeming with electrical equipment, which was slightly disconcerting. I didn't want to make it (mostly) up and back on Half-Dome, only to die by electrocution, face down in my waffles.
ivAll of which are conveniently reachable by Park buses; a boon of aching muscles. The hypocrisy stems from my previous hikier-than-thou disdain for the overly developed and Disney-fied parts of the Valley. But something uber-cool remains uber-cool even if you pave a trail to it and sell snowcones along the way.
vSeriously, if Bears speeding is such a problem, maybe you shouldn't let them drive to begin with. I mean, they're bears...they don't belong in cars.
viIt's hard to come to Yosemite, and not think of Adams. Besides the fact that they have him plastered on everything, the man made as much of a mark on the American public on behalf of Yosemite, as Yosemite made on him. When we see his photography today, made only with the tools of the time and hours in the darkroom, I can only imagine what he would produce today. Though, with the limitations of his day came method and patience. I think, honestly, he was better off with his ginormous large format tank of a camera than he would have been with a digital. Either way, it's hard to take any pictures in Yosemite without them being compared to Adams.
viiThe extent to which we are completely unable to experience anything directly any more. And this is from someone who spends no small amount of his time behind a lens. A friend and I have actively debated the point at which every square inch of the earth will be photographed, after the advent of digital. This is not a bad thing, per se; we all are just building these huge digital shadows, all the myriad of 1's and 0's we generate. Where once a person's physical legacy was maybe a houseful of things, our children will leave terabytes upon terabytes of information in their wake. And wake may be an apt word...the things we do, the places we go, all now leave indelible and yet utterly vaporous wakes in digital space. Case in point, blog.
viiiTake THAT, overly fancy camping gear. Though I must admit, a super high tech pack cover and sleek camera rain cover with ripstop bulletproof, stealth enabled, smells-like-warm cookies, whatever other bells and whistles gear would have looked sexier than wearing trash bags on various parts of one's body. It's times like this I ask WWJD (What Would John [Muir] Do?....though to be honest, I think you can put Jesus back in there, and the result would be the same.)
ixWithout too long a dissertation on camera settings, the camera's aperture controls how much light comes into the camera. Set a small aperture, and you get a greater depth of field (how much is in focus from front to back), but correspondingly less light. A wide aperture means much more light, but with limited depth of field. Aperture is expressed as an F/X.X number, with lower numbers meaning wider apertures. F/8.0 is usually the “sweet spot” in zoom lenses, and tends to be a good compromise between light and depth of field in short distance landscapes. The “be there” is a reflection of the fact that for landscape photography, we are at the mercy of the light. The most amazing shots are equal parts preparation and sheer pulling it out of your bum luck of the light. The latter is much more important in places like Yosemite where light can move and shift on a minute by minute basis. I got lucky many many times during the trip.
xWhich is hilarious in a National Park.
xiI had wanted to get up to Hetch-Hetchy, for the historical experience if nothing else, but the timing just didn't work out.
xiiOn the way to which we passed Camp 4, where the really hardcore hikers/climbers stay, and I could almost feel their accusing glares as we passed on our way to the ridiculously comfortable enclave of Curry Village. The next day, I would not feel quite as bad about it, as events turned out...