The Hike To El Capitan
We finally picked a shaded spot and sat down, the peak was bereft of any trees and a lonely sapling was one of very few in which to rest ourselves under. I grabbed the swiss army knife from the backpack and was soon cutting cheese and tomato to put on our sandwiches. A small lizard scampered from hiding spot to hiding spot, as he looked quizzically at us sitting here, meanwhile Yosemite’s ever impressive Half Dome shone like a beacon across the valley.
Three hours earlier we had left the Tamarack Flats campground with a loaded pack and set out to hike El Capitan, the start of the trail was a mixture of rolling turns underneath the canopy of oak and pine. We followed a small river as it twisted through the valleys before we started our march upwards. The rolls were soon replaced with switchbacks as the trees were thinned out and replaced by impressive red firs that reached elegantly into the sky.
The switchbacks continued as we climbed higher and higher, soon the trees stopped growing altogether, large chunks of granite protruded from the surface until we arrived at a false summit. There isn’t much in hiking that I find frustrating, but when you start descending down again, while knowing that the mountain peak is still further ahead, your mind can start to play tricks on you. Today was warm though, perspiration clung to our skin. So to walk back in to the shelter of trees provided a reprieve from the rising temperature.
The trees grew thicker here, the dispersed firs were replaced with heavy splashings of shrubs and bushes that were interlocked with ponderosa pines. The sounds of trickling water danced along the trail out of eyesight as we eventually came to a water logged alpine meadow. It was now evident that water had been draining down to here, and we walked precariously along higher sections of clumped grasses hoping that our feet did not punch through a soft crust and launch us knee deep in to the quagmire.
Our luck held out and we crossed the meadow with our feet remaining dry, we looked at what lay in store ahead of us, and once more the path reared skywards. Checking our maps and distance covered, we knew that this would be the final push and no more false summits lay ahead.
So once more we started heading upwards, the heavy breathing again returned as did the beads of sweat on our brows. However the tree cover remained and occasionally, the leaves would rustle as a light breeze would whistle its way through, providing a brief escape from the heat. We continued our press forward, and soon the jutting point of El Capitan, which glistened like gold in the morning sun came in to view. The final ascent curved around the south western cliff face, a peek over the edge sent the knees trembling as your eyes tried to adjust to the valley some 3,000 ft below.
Our lizard friend declined our offering of bread crumbs and hurried away to the safety of a crevice, we layed back on the rocks with our packs forming a makeshift pillow and we sat in quiet admiration of the valley below. Birds soared slowly overhead, as the soft breeze rustled the few leaves on the sapling, we hadn’t seen a single person during our hike which allowed the sounds of nature to come to the forefront as we closed our eyes and relaxed on our packs.
After a long rest and multiple sandwiches, we decided our bodies had not had enough torment for the day, and with Eagle peak only a 50 minute scramble away, we opted to bag another first ascent for us. We slung the backpacks over the now dried shirts, said goodbye to our lizard friend and continued on. This path was much less defined, and soon scrambling replaced sections of hiking. We clambered over fallen trees, jumped over rock piles and climbed outcrops until we arrived at the top.
While the view from El Cap was our first of Half Dome and was awe inspiring, the vista from here justified the extra exertion. The valley meadows popped a highlighted green color amongst the thick coverage of trees, while Half Dome looked down upon the valley as a silent protector.
The wrapping of our cliff bars and starburst candies were placed in the backpack, a final sip of water drunk, we took one final look and began our descent back to camp. We passed by El Cap once more, taking a few more harrowing views from the edge of the cliff and then turned our attention to getting back to our campsite and plunging into the ice cold river that traced its way through.