Following a tradition of doing non-traditional things during holidays, we decided to hike Yosemite Point for Christmas 2009. Our decision was influenced by the storm that swept through just before Christmas, and a forecast that called for sunny weather on Christmas Day. The conditions sounded perfect.
We reserved the well-recommended Yosemite View Lodge just outside the park entrance and made it to our accommodations by the early afternoon of Christmas Eve. We were able to reconnoiter the park before sunset and made the decision after talking with rangers and locals that Yosemite Point would be a great hike for Christmas Day. We returned to our hotel and were eating the buffet by late evening.
After getting trail conditions the next morning we decided to buy Yak Trax, a product that straps to shoes and provides great traction on snow and ice. We were very glad we did. The trail was clear for the first couple of kilometers, but by the time we reached the higher set of switchbacks near Yosemite Falls, the trail had become iced over and treacherous without the extra equipment. We started with cold weather clothing in the early part of the morning, but were taking off layers as soon as the sun struck the south-facing wall where the trail lies. Switchbacks are best done in the morning, before the mind is completely alert, and this was no exception.
Reaching the Falls
Once up the innumerable switchbacks, the trail leveled out and crossed the stream that makes the 206 m. (675 ft.) drop over the Yosemite Falls. As we passed closer to the Falls, we could hear slabs of ice breaking off and crashing to the valley below. By this point, we were in a Winter wonderland of snow and pine tress that make all of the effort worthwhile. The sky was clear blue and the temperature was around 10 degrees (52 degrees F).
To the Point
The day was so wonderful that we decided to push on to Yosemite Point. We’d reached our objective but we felt energetic and our legs were strong, so continuing upward to the rock that overhangs Yosemite Valley seemed a like a great idea. The snow was fairly deep at that point and we were beyond the point where we could follow the footsteps of others. With the trail obscured by snow, we looked at our map and made our best guess for where to go. Even though we weren’t increasing in altitude very quickly, the snow was getting noticeably deeper to the point that we were post-holing repeatedly as our feet found the air pockets around rocks and bushes. It was slow going, but the payoff was amazing.
We broke free of the trees as the ground sloped downward toward the cliff overlooking the valley. The view was unbelievable as we enjoyed the combination of perfect weather, surviving the deep snow, and being the only ones that high on Yosemite Point that day. We were alone in a perfect world of sun, snow, rock and trees. Hawks were our only company as we sat at the edge of a 916 m. (2390 ft.) sheer drop.
Leaving was hard, but the day was getting on and we needed to make the bottom before the temperatures dropped significantly or we lost the light. Yosemite Valley, between high mountains on the north and south sides, gets dark very quickly, especially so close to the shortest day of the year. We were careful about our steps in the descent as our momentum and the icy conditions were a bad combination.
Fog in the valley
Once at the valley floor, a ground fog had settled in, giving the rocks, snow and vegetation a dream-like quality. There were deer grazing in the meadows, a noticeable lack of tourists and vehicles, and Yosemite has never been a more interesting place than that moment. We spent time enjoying the scenery before heading back to our lodging and Christmas dinner (the buffet once again…). There’s no better way to spend a holiday than having such a singular experience. If you have the opportunity to see Yosemite in Winter, go. If you have the chance to hike a trail like Yosemite Falls as well, all the better.
Snowshoes and Sequoias
How do you beat our adventure of Christmas Day? You really can’t, but our best attempt was to rent snowshoes at Badger Pass (a ski area within the park) and to snowshoe into the giant sequoias at Mariposa Grove. It wasn’t quite as amazing, but it was well worth the time. The snow was perfect for the shoes and we were able to master the movements to cover ground quickly and were at the giant trees in a short time. It was a perfect combination… learning something new and seeing such majestic trees at the same time. On the return, we saw wolves crossing the road and stopped at the famous Wawona Hotel for a great meal. A perfect three days in Yosemite National Park.