The stories all start the same for hiking, as in, Mitch and I wake up early to be the first ones on the trail. Gotta beat the crowds, people! Really though. We parked on the shoulder of Tioga Road across from the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead. As Mitch was packing up the bear canister, I of course was observing the clouds and sunrise across Tuolumne Meadows. If you don't know me, I deeply love clouds. I could watch them all day.
Since we chatted about clouds, we can now go back to the hiking story. We popped our bear canister in a food locker and we were on our way! We were still the only ones at the trailhead and I was pretty happy about that!
We started our ascent up the trail. Surrounded by lodgepole pines and mountain hemlock, we were shaded the majority of the hike. Everything was lush and beautiful. As we took our time hiking, we soaked in the silence of the woods and the clean air. Nothing is like mountain air. I wish I could bottle it up and take it home with me each time I leave moutains but that is another story. The switchbacks weren't as bad as the previous hike but we could still feel a slight burning in our quads. We would stop occasionally to take a look at how far we had come, really admiring the elevation.
The entire hike to the split in the trail for the upper and lower lakes, we only saw a couple of backpackers. It is always fun to see where they are going and how long they have been out. Some of them had been out for over a week just hanging out in the wilderness! So amazing! Be friendly to fellow hikers, it is always fun to learn from them (if they are chatty of course)! At the split, we thought we were heading for the upper lake when we actually were on our way to the lower lake. The lower lake of course did not disappoint! The trail crossed a river, a rock fall area, and eventually made its way to a lush clearing.
A river wound its way through the meadow, making the ground soft and mushy (bring it on mud!). We had a good time going off trail and just hoping across the channels to make it to the lower lake.
The lower lake was so cool. It was essentially nestled in a big granite bowl and the granite happened to make the perfect place to rest and snack. Mitch and I reclined on the rock, watching the clouds roll by and listening to the water gently lap the granite shore. The amount of contentment that washed over me while we sat there was enormous and even writing this several months later, I can still feel how calm and happy I felt in that moment. The sun on my face. The gentle breeze. The wispy clouds. So so amazing.
After relaxing on the shore for a while, we decided to head to the upper lake. We backtracked along the trail and eventually made it to the spot where we were supposed to turn initially. Though going to the lower lake first was certainly the best in my opinion.
The upper lake was just as beautiful, presenting awesome views of Cathedral Peak. I spotted a rock that went out a little bit into the lake and decided that we had to go there. It was the perfect spot to dip our feet into the crystal clear water. But don't be fooled. Just because it was sunny doesn't mean the water was warm because it most certainly was chilly! It was totally worth it though because now we can say we put our feet in an alpine lake (later on this trip, Mitch jumped into one at 10,300' which was way cooler than me just dipping my feet in).
We hung out for a bit just admiring the views and chatting with fellow hikers. Since it was getting close to the afternoon, we decided to head back down to the car. At this point, the trail was pretty crowded and noisy. It was nice to enjoy our morning solitude while it lasted.
Overall, the hike was pretty relaxing, totaling out to be around eight miles. It had to be an easy hiking day since we were moving to Yosemite Village tonight and hiking Half Dome the following morning. We were both pretty excited to head to YV because there were showers! It had been a couple days since we were clean! We really take for granted how nice showers are since we have them everyday. Go a couple days without one and it is one of the most amazing experiences. Try it. Clean has a whole new meaning.
So. Half Dome Village is an interesting place. There's camping, yurts, a lodge, a dining hall, a gift shop, and several other attractions in Yosemite Valley. We both thought it was an odd spectacle in the middle of the NP. The only reason we wanted to stay here was to be as close as possible to the Half Dome trailhead (other than getting the shower code). If you like peace and quiet, I would recommend that you don't stay here since it was incredibly busy and everything was jammed together. Though we did see some very funny people there (imagine couples rolling massive suitcases through wood chips to get to their "fancy" yurt). On another note, it was very smokey down in the valley compared to our previous camping spot. You can see the smoke in the picture above. The wildfire smoke just settled here, especially if it wasn't windy. We checked into our yurt and laughed since it was so expensive for essentially a tarp on top of a wooden frame.
We organized our belongings, packed our bags for tomorrow, ate dinner, and showered. It was going to be an early night since we were waking up 3:30 AM to hike the first half of Half Dome in the dark. Cheerful from happy bellies, we hit the hay to prepare for our early morning.