Happy Isles to Nevada Falls Loop…
About a month after the trek up to the top of Yosemite Falls, I took this hike, once again, for waterfalls. I was feeling pretty good about myself after last month’s hike. No more “Groups” for me. I can take this hike alone. I won’t be slowing anyone up and I can move as fast, or slow, as I want. I left the “tenderfoot” at the end of the Yosemite Falls trail last month. Today, I am Mr. Hiker. Confident. It’s all good!
It is said to be a 6 to 8 hour hike (It took me 9 hours). The trailhead is at Happy Isles which is a short walk from the Camp Curry parking area or you make elect to take the shuttle (stop #16). Happy Isles is the trailhead for a number of hikes, but the one we want is just past the bridge. There is a rusty, metal sign at the beginning of the trail giving the mileage to various aspects of this, the John Muir Trail, which culminates at Mt. Whitney, 214 miles further. In fact, I met a young fellow, Korean, with a pack about as large as he was at the trailhead. He didn’t speak English too well (but it was sure was a lot better than my Korean), but I got it that he wanted me to take a picture of him by the sign. He was on his way to Mt Whitney. Wow, that’s quite the trek. Hmmm, I don’t know if I could do that (or want to).
This hike ascends about 2000 feet in the two and a half miles to the top of Nevada Falls. The return trip can either be done by taking the same route back or continue across the bridge, taking the John Muir trail back, which is a gentler, down slope and takes a bit longer (it’s about three and half miles).
About a mile from Happy Isles is the Vernal Falls footbridge. From there, you have a nice view of Vernal Falls and the Merced River cascading down from the falls and then under the bridge. After the bridge, you have a choice of going up and around to Nevada Falls on the John Muir trail or take the Mist Trail, up to Vernal Falls, climb the stone stairs to the falls and continue on from there. I chose the Mist Trail.
Incidentally, the John Muir trail approach is also used by those on horseback.
The Mist Trail, so called because of the mist generated by Vernal Falls, is on the south side of the river, which is always in view to the hiker’s left as the trail is followed to the falls.
I ran into a guy with large backpack and a knee brace. He asked if he could follow along with me. I said that he was welcomed to follow along, but I might slow him down because I like to stop, study and reflect on possible photo opportunities. He said he was with a group of his buddies, but his pace was slowing them down, so he didn’t think my pace would be a problem at all for him. He said that a month earlier he was in a motorcycle accident and was still recovering (hence, the knee brace). He followed along behind me for a while, then moved ahead after a couple of my stops. Finally, at the steps to the top of the falls, he said, “You know, I think I’m just going to go on ahead.” My Confidence is starting to wither. Maybe I need to change my name from Mr. Hiker to Mr. Mosie.
At any of the park’s stores, you can get a light weight rain poncho. The mist will get you soaked and is not good for camera equipment. I donned mine and trudged up the steps to the top of Vernal Falls. The trail continues on the south side of the river until just past Emerald Pond where a foot bridge crosses the river to its north side and the trail continues on past the base of Liberty Cap and up to the expanse at the top of Nevada Falls. There, like with the top of Vernal Falls, it is a granite slab with a river running through it. From there, the trail continues up, just a bit more to the junction of the Panorama Trail and then starts the steady down hill trek back to Happy Isles. This part of the hike is back on the south side, but higher up for a more encompassing view of the falls and the river. This path will bypass Vernal Falls and offers a cut over back down to the mist trail, which I took.
I started the hike at 7 AM and returned to camp about 4 PM. It was a nice, invigorating hike with lots of photo opportunities. I would do it again, but if I did, I think I would take the high road up to Nevada Falls, first, then come down through the mist trail. Not just to be different, but, Panorama Trail, the light is better (see the Panorama Trail), the light is better. On the way up, the morning sun casts dark shadows across Vernal Falls, so it is difficult to get a nice shot of the whole thing. There is the occasional sun flare, which at the time I thought might be pretty neat, but it didn’t turn out that way because of the distracting shadows. On the other hand, going down in the mid to late afternoon, the mist trail is lit from the side and slightly in front, without shadows. Both Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls are in full sun light. It just seems to be more picturesque at that time of day.
And, of course, I walked like a chaffed Weeble for three days afterwards.