We left San Fran after rush hour in hopes of getting to Yosemite in a timely manner. Seeing as how Friday is the day before 4th of July weekend it wasn’t happening. Fortunately, everyone was just going east and not necessarily to Yosemite. The crowds weren’t bad in the park and the traffic in the park was fine too.
After setting up camp we drove into Yosemite Valley where all the famous natural landmarks are. Yosemite Falls, Half Dome Mountain, Glacier Peak. After wandering around the valley taking photos we decided to hike to the top of the Falls. The markers said it was 3.6 miles – “We can do that in 2½ hours”, we thought, not taking into consideration the fact that it was a vertical climb of nearly 3000 feet and that we had to come back after getting up there.
Lesson #17 from the Haun Road Trip: Make sure you have more than enough time for hikes in the wilderness.
We started our ascent at 6:15pm and the hike up about killed us (though you will soon see that the hike down came closer to killing us). We were pushing ourselves to make it up before sunset and so that we would have enough time to get down. The first mile of was a very steep ascent through the woods on a trail of rocks that zigzagged back and forth (it had 60 switchbacks). After about 2 miles we cleared the forest area and were hiking on rocks in a canyon.
Finally about 2 hours later we reached Yosemite Point at the summit of the Falls. The view was spectacular, the sun was setting, everything was perfect…. except that dark thunderclouds were coming in from the East and our light was rapidly fading. After some photos and with 45 minutes of light left, we began back down the steep 3½ mile trail.
We had enough light in the canyon area, but by the time we hit the last 2miles of wooded trail the clouds had moved in and we could hardly see. Stumbling down the slippery sand covered rocks in the dark, I prayed that God would clear the clouds so the moon would shine through and offer us some light. I must confess my prayer was answered – the clouds cleared – however, the large, bright full moon doesn’t rise until 11pm so it didn’t help much.
Lesson #18 from the Haun Road Trip: Always bring a flashlight on hikes – even if you are certain you will be back before dark.
Not having a flashlight we were moving at a snail’s pace. Then it dawned on me to use my camcorder as a source of light. I bumped up the brightness on the LCD screen and we walked with its glow illuminating about two feet in front of us. Enough to spot rocks and prevent from tripping and falling to our deaths.
We got to the last mile of the trail – the most heavily wooded area that zigzags back and forth on of jagged rocks. The sounds of the forest were picking up as it was now well past 9pm. I must say it was quite nerve racking – I felt like I was in the Blair Witch Project – walking in the woods with a tiny camcorder screen to light my path.
Then it happened. We heard something in the brush following us. It was different than the rustling the wind, birds, and other small forest animals had been making. It was much bigger. At one of the switchbacks we heard it no less than 10 feet from us – I frantically shone the puny glow from the camera in the brush beside us and saw the mountain lion move through an opening in the brush. “Get behind me, Heidi.” I said. And then we heard a second cougar in the same place that we had seen the first.
I picked up a large rock (whoopee some defense) and Heidi can testify as to how badly I was shaking. You’ve got to put yourself in our situation here. Pitch black, tiny glow, jagged rocks, two mountain lions. And I’m not ashamed to admit that had I not relieved myself earlier up the trail, I probably would have wet my pants at this point.
The second mountain lion moved around us in the bushes and the first continued down. We were now getting trapped between them. I saw its figure in the dark on a rock above us and I shone the light towards it – all I saw were its glowing eyes.
Lesson #19 from the Haun Road Trip: When in a dire situation, think about the Simpsons.
Why I thought of the Simpsons I don’t know. But I remembered an episode from last year where Lisa was Sacagawea and Lenny and Carl were Lewis and Clark. Not listening to her guidance, they left her and decided to explore on their own and ran into a mountain lion. Just as it was about to pounce on them, Lisa shows up and tells them to hold their coats up to make themselves look bigger. They do that and the lion lets out a childish yelp and runs away.
We didn’t get the childish yelp, but the lions didn’t pounce on us. I told Heidi to pick up rocks – “BIG ROCKS!” and to hold her jacket up. As a testament to the amount of adrenaline running through our veins, let it be known that Heidi held her jacket up with a massive rock in each hand for nearly 20 more minutes after the threat was gone. “You can put them down now Heidi The lions are gone.”
Drenched in sweat after finally reaching the car at almost 10pm we waited a while before driving to try and calm our nerves. I flipped through the Yosemite hiking brochure and found the following lines in an article on the mountain lions in the park.
“Sightings are rare, so if you spot one, consider yourself privileged.”
Ever so privileged,
William and Heidi