Friday, September 20, 2013

Vernal Fall

The spectacular Mist Trail at the eastern end of the Yosemite Valley leads to some of the most popular destinations in Yosemite National Park. In addition to nearby attractions such as Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall and the Emerald Pool, hikers also use the trail to visit Half Dome and Clouds Rest. For those only wishing to see the waterfalls in this valley you’ll have a few options, depending on how far you want to travel and how much effort you want to put into getting there.

The hike to Vernal Fall begins from the Happy Isles trailhead, located near bus stop 6 in the Yosemite Valley. From the trailhead you’ll proceed up moderately steep terrain along a paved footpath to the Vernal Falls Bridge. Located eight-tenths of a mile from the trailhead, the footbridge over the Merced River provides hikers with their first views of Vernal Fall.

After crossing the Merced and walking another two-tenths of a mile, the trail reaches the John Muir Trail junction. Although this trail description leads hikers directly to the base of Vernal Fall, the John Muir Trail offers you the option of hiking up to Clark Point, and then back down the connector trail to the Mist Trail. This loop option visits the top of Vernal Fall, and gains almost 1500 feet over the course of a 4.2-mile roundtrip hike.

Beyond the junction the trail continues to ascend up moderate terrain. Soon you’ll reach the stone carved steps that the Mist Trail is famous for. You’ll also notice that the views of Vernal Fall continue to improve the closer you get.

To reiterate warnings from the park, you should ascend the uneven and slippery steps with great care, and by no means get near the water, as many people have lost their lives over the years by slipping into the rapid currents of the Merced. Since 1924 at least 18 people have lost their lives after being swept over Vernal Fall.

The Mist Trail was already in use by the time the state of California took over management of the Yosemite Valley in 1864. Ladders were originally put in place so that hikers could climb to the top of Vernal Fall. However, after a man fell to his death, the ladders were replaced with wooden steps. Finally in 1897 the wooden steps were replaced with the stone steps that are used today. Hikers should note that there are no railings along much of this portion of the trail. Moreover, the steps become quite slippery during the spring and early summer months when mist from the waterfall sprays the entire canyon. Hikers are known to become completely drenched while passing through this section of the trail.

The absolute best time to see the falls in this canyon is during the spring snowmelt, when the Merced is flowing at its highest. However, keep in mind that half of western civilization is aware of this fact, and many of them will be on the trail with you.

This particular hike ends near the base of the 317-foot waterfall. If you wish, you can continue climbing as far as you like, or even up to the top of the falls. However, you should note that this section of the trail is extremely steep, and climbs more than 300 feet over several dozen more steps. You can also continue to the base of Nevada Fall, or to the top of the Nevada Fall as part of a loop hike that returns back to the valley via the John Muir Trail.

Trail: Vernal Fall
RT Distance: 2.6 Miles
Elevation Gain: 665 feet
Max Elevation: 4700 feet
TH Location: Happy Isles Trailhead
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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