Life in the Valley

More than 4 million people a year visit Yosemite Valley, 75% during the six months from May to October. Doing the math that is over 16,000 people per day during peak season. Given those stats you are likely to think it’s a pretty crazy place, hard to get around and do what you want to do. For the most part however I found life in the Valley incredible easy, relaxed and inspiring.

Each morning I would wake up in my rental vehicle on a roadside pull-out just outside of the National Park boundary. I would then drive for about fifteen minutes up a winding road to the Valley, surrounded by steep granite walls, tall pine trees and Aspens whose leaves were slowly turning yellow in preparation for the approaching winter. If I needed water, I would stop by a natural spring to re-fill my bottles with the highest quality and best tasting water to be found.

I never tired of this morning ritual. Following the smooth curves of the road against a backdrop of colourful foliage to then be confronted with the imposing feature of El Capitan was humbling. It was time where I could relax, gather my thoughts and take some time to appreciate the beauty of where I was. I smiled each and every time.

A typical section of my morning drive.

A typical section of my morning drive.

Finding a car park, which is easy before 9am I would cook a breakfast of oatmeal, granola and fruit, paired with a coffee. Then it was time to meet up with my climbing partner for the day, prepare our climbing racks and enjoy some of the best granite crack climbing to be found anywhere in the world.

What route will we do today? Splitter finger/hand/fist cracks? Steep lie-backing? A stemming corner? Thrutchy chimney or off-width? What about some slab climbing? How about a route that encompasses all of these?

Do we want to do some single pitch cragging, a 5-8 pitch multipitch route or an all day adventure with 10+ pitches?

Determining which route to do can often be a challenge. However, it’s a challenge only because there are so many great routes to choose from! Several people have asked me in recent weeks what has been my favourite route here. I think hard before answering and then rattle off a couple of the climbs that I have really enjoyed here. Central Pillar of Frenzy, Braille Book, East Buttress of Middle Cathedral, Serenity-Sons and The Good Book are just a few. However, they then mention another route which they enjoyed and I am like, ‘oh yer I totally forgot about that one, it was AMAZING!’

There are literally so many quality routes to be done here it is easy to forget one or two when you are put on the spot to re-call your favourites.

Depending on the chosen objective of the day we could be climbing for anywhere between 5-8 hours, often returning to the car just before dark. Aside from the quality of the climbing, the views are stunning. No matter which route you pick you are likely to have spectacular views of either El Cap, or Half Dome; the two grandest rock features in the valley. Views that less than 5% of the visitors to the Valley have the privilege of enjoying.

You are surrounded by amazing views on every route in the Valley.

You are surrounded by amazing views on every route in the Valley.

After descending from the days climb it is normally a quick stop to the Valley Store to pick up a couple of beers and any extra supplies for the nights feast before heading to your chosen dinner location.

Hanging out at Camp 4 with friends enjoying a cold beer and swapping stories from the days adventures is always a great way to spend the evening. The place is full of climbers, the stoke is high and contagious and no matter your climbing ability, everyone is eager to hear about your experience.

Perhaps my favourite place to have dinner however is El Cap Meadows. If you arrive around dusk, you will be greeted with a spectacular alpine glow on the most famous rock formation in the world. As the twilight fades and the darkness of night takes over, the wall will be lit up by the dozens of head torches from climbers either settling in for a night on the wall or who are continuing to climb in an attempt to get just a little bit higher before fatigue takes over.

El Cap at dusk, not a bad view for dinner.

El Cap at dusk, not a bad view for dinner.

If it had been a few days I would sneak in a free shower after dinner, otherwise it was time to reverse the drive of the morning to the pull-out just outside the park boundary. The rear seats in my car don’t quite go flat so I seek out a strip of dirt which is slanted slightly downhill to offset the slight rise in my bed. Once there, content, often exhausted and always stoked I would settle into my sleeping bag, read a little and fall into a blissful slumber, ready to repeat the entire process the next day.

As a climber it is easy to be inspired living in the Valley. Everyone you meet is stoked, the routes are challenging yet incredibly rewarding and the big walls surrounding you generate a desire to get stronger, fitter and more efficient in order to come back and take them on.

For the non-climber alike, this landscape inspires. Each day I see countless photographers, painters or people relaxing in the meadows sketching the beauty which surrounds them. Humans are meant to be in these places.

Other notes on Yosemite Valley

  • Camp 4 during the Spring and Fall seasons is hectic. It can be difficult to find a campsite and there is a limit of 30 days per person per year, 7 of which can be used during the peak season. It is a constraint however it is easily overcome if you have a car.

  • Camp 4 has no facilities, there are other campsite in the Valley which include facilities however these are significantly more expensive starting around $26US per night.

  • I found there to be two types of Park Rangers. The type that track the movements of bears, do maintenance work or run tours. They are easy going, polite and helpful. Then there are the law enforcement rangers. I have had a few encounters with them during this trip and many of my friends have too. These guys are pretty hard-nosed, letter of the law type enforcement officers. It appears the intention of the law carries no weight with them. Obey speed limits and ensure your food is appropriately stored at night and you will be fine.

  • For climbers, weekdays present your best opportunity to get on classics. Avoid these on weekends by either seeking out more obscure Valley routes or head out of the Valley to Tuolumne Meadows or the High Sierra.

  • The Valley Store has most of your grocery needs at a reasonable price. There is no fuel in Yosemite Valley itself however fuel just outside the park is available.

  • There is a climbing shop at Half Dome Village which is ok though I found it hit or miss as to whether they had what you wanted in stock, including basics like batteries for your head torch or gas canisters.