After graduation, my core group of friends from Columbia (Mecha Bananas) ended up either on the East or West coast. In 2011, the first winter after graduation, everyone flew or drove in to the Bay Area around Christmas time to eat, drink and explore the Bay. This get-together has become an annual tradition that I think will continue for a long time to come.
Last year, two of our annual east coast visitors, Vinny and Meixin, joined Sean and me on an adventure to Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite in the winter is a peculiar place. As it is a valley, different sections of it receive vastly different amounts of sunlight. While one patch of ground my be complete dry and warm, another a few feet away could be cold and covered in a thick layer of snow.
The following picture captures it well. If you crop the top half off, you have a beautiful winter wonderland. Crop the bottom off and you have a typical California mountainside in spring or summer.
The weather in the valley also poses some interesting problems for getting into and around the park. We took my car into Yosemite. Even though it has four wheel drive, it still needed tire chains during sections of road due to the ice on the roads. I never thought much of it, but driving with chains is a pain. You can’t go very fast and the chains create noise and vibrations as you drive.
At first glace, my car may not look like an offroader considering that it is basically a family van. However, I think it looks well suited to the snow and icy roads.
On the first day, we arrived in the park in mid day. We knew that we wouldn’t have enough time to go on a long hike. So, we instead explored a bit on foot and then dropped by the visitors center to scope out a trail for the next day.
With the help of the park rangers, we chose the Yosemite Falls Trail. It is 3.4 miles of beautiful scenery that takes you 2700 feet up from the bottom of the valley to the top of the valley, above Yosemite Falls
I put together this video in Google Earth using GPS data I got from RunKeeper. It should give you a good idea of the terrain.
As you look through the pictures in this post, pay close attention to the terrain and to what we are wearing. It will give you a good picture of the extremes in temperatures that we experienced. Here we see Vinny towards the beginning of the hike wearing quite a few layers.
And soon after here is Sean wearing far fewer layers.
Asians taking photos of scenery!
The view from the trail was breathtaking, but I don’t need to say that. Just look at my photos.
If you are wondering if the photos are completely natural, my photos have been only minimally post-processed. I shot RAW on my X100 and applied a VSCO 04 Velvia preset. So, the beauty is just a result of the lighting that morning and the clear air.
I think Vinny’s smile is proof of how much fun we had along the way.
Even though the top is open to direct sunlight, it was covered in a bed of snow. It was so tranquil that I forgot how far we had hiked to get there.
Some steep icy parts required climbing up and glissading down.
We were one of the first groups to reach the top that day. While at the top, aside from the footsteps of hikers before us, we were alone.
This isolation from other hikers and tourists is one of the best reasons to visit during the off season. Yosemite is one of the most visited National Parks and can be quite crowded in the summer.
There were some pretty steep drop-offs, but fortunately they were lined with handrails. I wonder who installed them. Getting them up there and installing them must have been an interesting task.
The hike was great, but best part of the day was lunch. We brought with us sandwiches that we prepared early in the morning. Nothing can beat cold cuts and cheese on bread after a few hours of walking
Surprisingly, we had great cellular data at the top. We Facetimed from the top. It felt like an Apple commercial.
Fallen icicles were embedded in the snow along the way, like bizzare fossils.
I had a great time at Yosemite. It was a chance to bond with friends and get away from civilization.
If you haven’t visited Yosemite in the winter and live close by, you are missing out. Going in the winter offers you the chance to see a unique and beautiful side of this California landmark.