“If you only go on one trail at Yosemite, go on the Mist Trail. Trust me.” Thus were the words of a Californian. He was right.
Now, the trail parallels the Merced River. It begins where the Merced enters the Valley, and flows flatly through it. However, the trail doesn’t follow the river downstream. It follows the Merced upstream where the river comes down from the high country at a steep drop. That steep drop includes two waterfalls along the way: Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.
The first part was boring and steep. It felt like work. I didn’t really want a strenuous hike that morning, but whatever. Only a fatty would turn back.
But then, lo, to my right, and up high in a side canyon, was Illiloutte Falls. Some say “Illiloutee” was an Indian word pronounced “too-lool-a-we-ack” and became “ill-eel-oo-et” and meant “a good place for hunting.” Whatever. Who knows? What was more impressing was that golden light was visible at the canyon top. The canyons were emerging from shadows. The sky was waking up. The shade along the trail would soon disappear, and coolness would become warmth.
Sun beams pierced the canopy of trees. Intermittent light hit my eyes, and then the trail led to a bridge crossing the Merced. Water crashed on boulders below the bridge. That crashing created a dull roar which would follow me the rest of the way upriver. Mist moistened the bridge’s wooden planks. Mist moistened me. Getting wet had begun. But the sun at 4000′ made it all right.
Some Ozzy girls nearby were loving it. They wanted me to take photos, so I obliged. Their enthusiasm was mine. The sun and roar and mist made the hike easy thereafter.
Then, lo, Vernal Falls. This is a 317′ fall of the Merced. On the south side of the river, steps are carved into the rock to continue the trail up the steep precipice. Carved steps were the only way to continue, and mist will soak you entirely the way up – at least in late spring. So, donning my rain-jacket, I proceeded. It did no good. Water soaked through everything. It was like jumping into a swimming pool.
And that water chilled. It runs fast from its snowfields in the high country. But wussing out would never have happened. Those Ozzie chicks were indifferent to the chill. Why couldn’t I be too?
I was, and, before too long, I was on top. The water fell below. It was a nice view. After drying myself under the sun, away from the shadows of pines, enthusiasm carried me easily onward to Nevada Falls, upstream of Vernal.
Bit by bit I made it higher. Ferns and moss grew on rocks and mud. The path was dotted with pools from mist wafting in. The fresh smell of wet earth was all around. Mud covered my boots and legs.
Fifteen minutes later, the last steep ascent to the top of Nevada Falls was before me. Twenty-five minutes later I was atop. A protective railing above the falls prevents you from getting too close. Of course, why would you? Falling over means certain death.
There were probably fifty people up there. Many took off their wet shirts to dry. This sounded good and Mr. Tummy was soon being sunned too.
It was magical to be there. “No Alibis” by Eric Clapton played in my mind. Why? Oh, it’s a happy sound. I first heard it right before leaving on my first trip to Europe. Thereafter, like “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” it became inextricably interwoven with the joy of traveling.
I stood at the rails. The sky was cloudless. The sun made the omnipresent granite glow. Trees seemed fluorescent. Actually, everything seemed fluorescent. Everything glowed. Below the falls, from the area I’d just walked up, the impact of crashing water created a rainbow in the mist that billowed into the trees along the banks which made them look as if they were on fire in many colors – a fire rainbow.
I sat at the edge to take it all in. It was a perfect moment. No nothing could have made this moment better. Praise God.