They say you should never meet your heroes as disappointment ultimately follows. Stuck in the crowded Yosemite Valley amid folk stuffing their faces with fast food, I could feel this adage coming true again.
Yosemite has been my ‘landscape hero’ for years, since I read about big wall climbers in National Geographic clipped into bivvy tents far above the valley floor on sheer granite faces. My fascination with this awe inspiring scenery was further nourished by more stunning photography and tales of long trips into the wilderness, not least the grandaddy of the national park movement John Muir’s adventures in nature.
My rosy image of the valley was only tainted when I studied US national parks at college. Tales of crowded roads, a seemingly insatiable appetite for tourist development and campgrounds bursting at the seams coloured my view of the valley and I looked elsewhere… spending a long summer working in a marine national park in Kenya, in fact.
This year a trip Stateside had become long overdue. I had family to see – specifically my niece -and the spark of Yosemite had been rekindled.
Family duties done, we travelled through the park slowly in probably the most grotesque way imaginable: the ubiquitous Yank recreational vehicle. OK, so it was a small RV by US standards and we avoided the ire of motorists by travelling early.
Picking up supplies in one of the substantial, at-your-convenience stores in the Yosemite Valley, though, I wanted to escape the throng. We may have walked around with jaws dragging along the floor gazing at the stunning granite walls soaring above us, only to be left similarly agog at the number of calories packed into a bacon cheeseburger from the Yosemite grill. With fries, that’s more than three quarters of your daily calorific requirement. Thru hikers need only apply.
But walking more than a mile from this souring honey pot and the crowds thinned. Yosemite revealed her true charms at last. We got lost in thick stands of coniferous woodland and rested by secluded, mirror pools… quiet places to stand and stare.
If the valley can descend into hell when summer crowds choke its highways, the High Sierra around Tuolumne Meadows approaches heaven.
The crystalline air at 8,000ft-plus is stark contrast to the heat and fug of the valley. Views are endless and sastrugi of white granite domes and peaks are sharply delineated by a deep blue sky. This is hiking nirvana. Trails run off in all directions exploring lonely peaks, lush alpine meadows and enticing wild-camp lakes.
Here the RV became an ungainly accessory. I hope to return, packing simply for the wilderness. I hope.