Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Four Mile Trail up to Glacier Point

“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.”

- John Muir on describing Yosemite

Although the name would imply that this is a 4-mile hike to Glacier Point, the Four Mile Trail is actually 4.6 miles in length. Construction of the original trail was completed in 1872, but over the years it’s been slightly rerouted and lengthened to moderate the grades and make them less steep. I guess changing the name now to the “4.6 Mile Trail” just wouldn’t have the same cachet.

The hike begins from bus stop E5 on Southside Drive under the imposing gaze of Sentinel Rock. There’s enough room for roughly 20 cars to park alongside the road at the trailhead. You’ll also have the option of parking near Yosemite Village and walking to the trailhead, or taking the free El Capitan bus shuttle.

We began our hike fairly early in the morning, just as the sun was hitting the south facing walls on the north side of the valley. The smell of smoke from the Rim Fire was already wafting through the air.

Just as the trail began to tilt upward we saw a black bear roughly 50 yards up trail, standing just off to the side. We stopped and stared at each other for about 30 seconds, until the bear decided that we really weren’t all that interesting, or we weren’t a threat, and then promptly disappeared into the forest.

Less than a hundred yards from the road the trail begins its relentless climb up to Glacier Point. As the trail climbs along the dozens of switchbacks you’ll have some outstanding views of the western end of the Yosemite Valley, including the Cathedral Spires and El Capitan, the largest exposed granite monolith in the world. Climbers from all over the world come to climb this towering rock formation that stands 3593 feet above the valley floor.

During the warmer months of the year I highly recommend starting your hike as early in the morning as possible, in order to take advantage of the shade you’ll have during much of the climb.

Roughly a mile from the trailhead you’ll begin to have your first full views of Yosemite Falls. The lower-to-mid portions of the Four Mile Trail are the only places in Yosemite National Park where you can see the entire waterfall from top to bottom, when it’s flowing during the spring and early summer months.

At roughly 2.7 miles you’ll have your first views of Half Dome. Continue on for another three-tenths of a mile where you’ll reach a short side trail that leads to Union Point. From this vantage point at roughly 6350 feet you’ll have outstanding views of almost the entire Yosemite Valley, including Yosemite Falls.

Once above Union Point the smell of smoke became more apparent. The haze was fairly visible towards the west, but looking towards the east we still had blue skies up above. At this point we were still holding out hope that we would have unimpeded views from Glacier Point.

Although there are a couple very short sections where the trail is exposed to some steep drop-offs, the path is fairly wide, and is pretty safe from my perspective. At no time did I feel uncomfortable, nor did Kathy, who has a much stronger fear of heights than I do.

At 4.6 miles the trail reaches the gift shop & cafeteria at Glacier Point. To continue on towards the overlook, take a left and walk another tenth-of-a-mile.

Extreme disappointment would probably be an accurate description of my feelings upon reaching Glacier Point. We had planned this hike several months in advance, but to see the entire Yosemite Valley shrouded in haze after finally arriving was unquestionably a major let down. During the late summer and early fall of 2013 the Rim Fire would burn more than 257,000 acres along the western edge of Yosemite National Park, and in the process, would become the third largest wildfire in California history.

Normally from this overlook perched at 7200 feet you’ll see the iconic view of Half Dome, North Dome, Basket Dome, the Royal Arches, Tenaya Canyon and Yosemite Falls. Dominating the landscape from this vantage point is Half Dome, which tops out at 8836 feet, and rises almost 5000 feet above the valley floor.

The Yosemite Valley was one of the first federally protected tracts of land in the world. In 1864 Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, which deeded the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove to the state of California for protection as a forest reserve. Due to concern over damage from livestock and logging, John Muir led a movement to establish a larger national park that encompassed the surrounding mountains and forests. However, when Yosemite National Park was established on October 1, 1890, it excluded the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove. In 1903 Muir took President Theodore Roosevelt on a three-day camping trip near Glacier Point. During this trip Muir convinced Roosevelt to take control of the valley and grove away from California. Finally, on June 11, 1906, Roosevelt signed a bill that would merge the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove with Yosemite National Park.

On this day we continued our hike back down the valley via the Panorama Trail. In addition to hiking the combined Four Mile and Panorama Trails for a spectacular one-way, 12.6-mile hike, you’ll also have a couple other options for tackling this trail. If you have two cars in your party you can park at both ends of the trail and hike in either direction. You can also take the Glacier Point Tour bus, which provides hikers with a one-way shuttle. This option will allow you to take the bus up to Glacier Point and then return back down to the valley via the Four Mile Trail. You could also hike up the trail and then catch the bus on your return trip to the valley. There is a fee for this service.

If you decide to combine the Four Mile and Panorama Trails, the free shuttle service in the valley can be used to bridge the distance between the two trailheads. You may also want to note that you can purchase snacks and drinks from the Snack Stand at Glacier Point. If you’re going to depend on this for re-fills and refueling on your hike, make note of their open hours. Well water from a spigot is also available at Glacier Point, though it’s not the best tasting water in the world.


Trail: Four Mile Trail
One-Way Distance: 4.7 Miles
Elevation Gain / Loss: 3235 feet
Max Elevation: 7214 feet
TH Location: Four Mile Trailhead in the Yosemite Valley
Map: Yosemite National Park Trails Illustrated Map



Top Trails: Yosemite features 46 “must-do” hikes in Yosemite National Park, from scenic strolls, to full-day adventures, to spectacular backpacking trips. With at-a-glance information for each hike visitors can determine which hikes are most suitable to their skills, schedules and preferences. The book also provides elevation profiles, detailed maps, as well as information on which trails are child-friendly; where to see giant sequoias, waterfalls, lakes, wildflowers, autumn colors; the best photo opportunities; and which have camping, running or biking opportunities.





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