We knew that Yosemite was going to be busy even though it was early in the season, every information website we found told us so. But, they have first-come camping at Camp 4 that we thought we’d get in line for when they opened as we had done at the Grand Canyon. So, we got up early, dumped the tent in the car and headed up to Yosemite.
We pulled in just before 9:00 when they opened only to discover that the line had apparently started some time before. We got in line anyway. The story from the others in line was that there were 69 spots and numbers had been given out up to 65. Counting, we were somewhere in the low 70’s in line. It appeared they were assigning spots as people checked out for the day, so we would have had to wait until 11:00 or so just to see if we could get a spot. This forced the big splurge of the trip in booking one of the Yurts in Half Dome Village for the night at almost $200 / night.
There is no way the Yurts or staying in the village was worth $200, and honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it. The biggest benefit was access to the showers (also accessible for $5 regardless of campsite), which was admittedly nice since we had camped the two nights prior. The benefits to having established a place to stay was that we weren’t going to have to drive an hour or more out of the park to find somewhere to sleep that night and we were free to actually make use of the day rather than stand in line to play the odds on getting a camp site.
Last time we had been to Yosemite, Upper Yosemite Falls (and by extension Lower as well) were totally dry. We hiked part way up, but turned back once we got to the falls viewing area. This time, the falls were running full blast. Due to the camping arrangements we didn’t get a particularly early start (though we did get a parking spot right at the trail head). Based on photo timestamps, we started up the trail (trail head sign) at 9:59 and the next picture is looking down the falls at 12:18. Given the sun and all the exposed switchbacks on the second half of the hike, that was probably too fast. It was cool to actually get to the top of the falls, though the view of a waterfall is generally better from below, and there’s always that sense of accomplishment in making it to the destination. After our expedient trek up, we spent almost as long wandering around at the top, taking pictures, having lunch, and hiking the remaining trail out to Yosemite Point.
Another side-note: we saw our first poor water planning fiasco at the top of the falls. A family had headed up apparently with no concept of how much water was needed and the lack of availability. They appeared to have started with one 20oz bottle each (for reference, Janet and I typically take two liters each as a default), had drank it all, and decided to refill them from a creek at the top. A moderately annoyed overnight backpacker tried to explain to them why this was not really a good plan (there may have been a language barrier there) and used his equipment to purify some water for them.
After returning down the trail with many picture stops (we headed down at 2:40 and got to the trail head at 5:03), we took a leisurely walk along the Yosemite Valley trails down to Lower Yosemite Falls. This is a non-strenuous trail, paved up to the falls. As a result, it’s also much more popular and there was a solid crowd in the area. We hadn’t bothered checking it out at all the previous visit due to the lack of water. From there we went on to the Visitor Center to get some diet Pepsi and a block of cheese to help revive Janet from her heat exhaustion. Cheese is not really a medically recognized treatment for heat exhaustion, but I was assured that it helped.
I’m not sure if you can call it a tradition on only the second happening, but we both had fond memories of the pizza on our last visit, so after checking into the yurt and unloading stuff, we stopped at Half Dome Village for pizza and beer again. I think the beer prices had gone up, but the pizza was good.