Yosemite Series: Day Five

Day 5: Dream Campsite on Indian Ridge

Our packs are getting lighter, I think. The ratio of food to garbage in our bear canisters has finally reached the tipping point of more garbage than food. These are the signs that we are nearing the end of our trip.

Our final night is spent on Indian Ridge, overlooking North Dome, with views stretching from Clouds Rest to Half Dome and all the way down the Valley to Eagle Rock and Three Brothers.

We score the campsite I had spotted on our first night, when we headed down to the creek for water. It is the most luxurious space of all the sites so far. Perched at the apex of the ridge, there are two Ponderosa pines positioned perfectly for sitting and enjoying the outstretched views of Half Dome and Clouds Rest. Two clusters of low madrone bushes provide some privacy from both the trail to North Dome and the rest of the ridge descending down toward the Valley. Three separate living spaces are defined by the borders of the madrones, the rocks, and the trees.

The wildlife show here consists of alpine chipmunks, which crisscross the trail and hop from one rock to the next, then disappear in the madrone bushes.

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Ponderosa pines on Indian Ridge campsite.

On our way from Yosemite Creek this morning, we pass by the Yosemite Falls Overlook.

“Have we done that before?” I ask Randy.

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t think so.”

We put our packs down on rocks in a shaded area along the trail, then follow the sign toward the overlook. The trail starts out by going to the edge, then over some boulders, and then down a rock staircase to an area overlooking the very last section of Yosemite Creek before it becomes the Falls. It looks disarmingly calm. The water is not rushing and swirling in a way that betrays its imminent three-thousand-foot drop straight down.

The trail continues around a corner, hugging the side of a slick granite wall. There is a thin single metal rod bolted into the rock, serving as a handrail. My mind wants the railing to be on the left side, the one facing the three-thousand-foot drop to the Valley floor. In fact there is another switchback below this staircase, and then a flat area that is the true overlook. There is a double railing on the outer edge of the overlook, but one section is missing its lower railing, so in theory someone could crawl or walk straight through, and down.

“There’s a lawsuit waiting to happen,” I say to myself silently. I think of all the places in this park where visitors have died by passing under railings and ignoring multiple warning signs, mostly at the top or bottom of waterfalls. I keep a comfortable distance from the railing, but I make sure I get a quick view of the actual place where the water makes a ninety-degree turn from being a creek to becoming a waterfall. The water is so shallow right now, it runs clear on both the top and side of this ledge. I can see through to the rock underneath, and it looks like the edge of a table. I also see a second “creek” halfway down the rock wall, directly below the guardrails. Invisible from the Valley floor, this is the section of water between Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.


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At our Indian Ridge campsite, we have a short “To Do” list: eat, get water, and set up our tent. Water, as we know from our first night on North Dome, is about a three-quarter mile hike down to the dribbling creek (or “glorified puddle”). This time, we apply plenty of Jungle Juice in advance, and we bring mosquito coils to form a smoke screen around us as we pump. We fill every container we have brought. Maybe it’s overkill, but we are not taking any chances.

Water becomes the central focus of any backpacking trip. Routes are planned based on where there is, or will be, water. We have learned over the years to inquire about the status of the blue lines drawn on maps, as not every line corresponds to actual water during every month of every year. Our very first year as backpackers was 2011, the wettest year in recent Yosemite history, unbeknownst to us at the time. The last four winters have been exceedingly dry, sending us up to even higher elevations to camp near alpine lakes, which serve as nature’s reservoirs. This is the first year since 2011 that we have backpacked below 8,000 feet at Yosemite.

And it is our fifth time returning as volunteers with Yosemite Conservancy. The entire time of this backpacking trip, I am clueless as to how and where I will be spending the next week. Randy has gotten onto the volunteer work crew off the waiting list, but I have not. For various reasons, there is a strict cap on the number of volunteers allowed on the crew. When we first found out about this back in April, I pleaded with them to find me something I could help with during the week. “Don’t you need a cook’s assistant?” I asked.

“We already have one. Sorry.”

With no plans in place, we were just going to wing it and see what happened. I even brought an extra tent, in case I was forced to find my own campsite elsewhere in the park while Randy volunteered.

On this next-to-last day of our backpacking trip, as we are perched on top of Indian Ridge in our luxury backpackers’ campsite, Randy flips his phone on. There is Verizon LTE coverage, which is coming from a cell tower on Glacier Point, right across the Valley from us. I am sketching, and he says, “Woo HOO! You’re the assistant cook!”

At first I thought he was listening to a voicemail, or reading a text message. But he was reading his E-MAIL. Of all things.

Other than posting one selfie from El Capitan, I haven’t turned my phone on. The battery is running low. I am astonished and delighted at this news. I ask him to read me the email. That’s when I hear that the cook I will be assisting is Mary Lou, who cooked for our crew both times we volunteered for this project in the past. I love Mary Lou!

We do a little happy dance, as the final piece of stress on this trip lifts away. We have water, we survived all of our hiking, our gear is mostly intact, and I have a place to stay and a role to play next week. Yay!

We sleep soundly on this final night in the backcountry. The silence and solitude of these places are precious. Even though we are within sight of a pair of other backpackers’ campsite, the spaciousness is something I treasure. The hugeness of the rocks is just what I need to remember to wonder. And the magical news we received via email is just what I need to remember to trust.

See the whole Yosemite sketch and story series here.

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