A Hike to Remember

Last October, a couple of my friends and I hiked to Gaylor Lakes in Yosemite.

IMG_20130928_133658_265

On this sunny, crisp fall day, winter seemed far. Yet snow and cold temperatures would soon fall on the High Country, shutting the area to outdoorsy activities. The park rangers were already closing some roads and the campgrounds. At the foot of the lower lake the wind picked up. We ate lunch, keeping our jackets close to our bodies. The sun was softer on our skins and the light more delicate than in the summer. Small, playful fish swam right under the turquoise water of the lake. We lingered a little longer, knowing it would be our last hike before the return of spring.

IMG_20130928_130933_391

On our way down we stopped for ice cream and coffee, a ritual we started years ago. Anticipation and dread  for the winter season floated in the conversations between the last tourists and the locals. Perhaps because of the strange feeling that this part of the park would remain inaccessible for months, my friends and I decided right on the spot to hike the same trail again as soon as Tioga Road would reopen, usually around Memorial Day weekend.

 

This year, winter has been one of the driest in Californian history, including in Yosemite. For safety and probably budgetary reasons as well, some roads and trails remained closed, but the majority of the park was accessible through the whole winter. Badger Pass, the park’s only ski resort, opened for a brief period of time before closing for good, weeks ahead of the usual schedule, while Tioga Road opened weeks before Memorial Day.

One of the most striking components of nature is its unpredictability. So when everyone in California thought that summer had already arrived, temperatures dropped. Over three days the valley received a little bit of rain and it snowed above 7 000 feet. So Tioga Road closed again, putting our hike on hold. None of us believed that it would last, and indeed the road reopened to traffic right for Memorial Day weekend.

IMG_20130928_122251_841

Early morning, just before entering the park, I drove pass a house surrounded by a simple gated fence. On the gate, the enlarged portrait of a young smiling man wearing a military uniform had been hung.

“It’s an awesome welcome home sign,” said my son.

“I don’t think it’s a welcome home sign,” I said.

Above the soldier’s handsome face, these words: For Our Fallen Son.

“I’m sorry,” my son said. “It’s sad.”

There were more words printed in smaller font on the banner. Neither one of us could read them from the car.

We remained silent, taking quick sips of coffee from our thermos.

 

The young soldier’s happy grin and trusting eyes stayed on my mind as I drove along the Merced River, pass Bridal Veil Fall, and through Yosemite Valley floor.

Lost in my thoughts, I would have missed the young deer that dashed across the road if my hiking partner, driving ahead of me, hadn’t suddenly braked.

Life can be so brutally interrupted.

HPIM5570-1

 

We reached the trailhead by nine a.m. The parking lot would be packed later in the day, but for now it was totally empty, as if we had fallen into foreign land.

The trail to reach Gaylor Lakes is barely three miles long. The incline however is immediate and steep. And none of us had anticipated the several inches of packed snow. The boys wore shorts and my son his running Nikes. I was glad for my long leg hiking pants and my trusted, old hiking shoes. The sun was still low in the sky but would be soon merciless. We slathered sunscreen, pulled our baseball hats down and our sunglasses on.

L1010906

The trail, so dusty and desolated-looking eight months ago, was unrecognizable. In fact, the official trail had simply vanished. So, one step after another, the six of us climbed up, inventing our own trail. Away from the shade, the snow wasn’t as tightly packed and we could see the top of rocks and icy water trickle down the slope.

photo-177

 

Our short ascension took much more time than back in October. The three people who had never hiked the trail worried a little bit. My friends and I reassured them: the top of the ridge was within reach. Then we would cross a plateau before the descent to the lake.

Hiking in high altitude keeps most people quiet, and we made our way in total silence, taking in the outstanding views surrounding us, listening to the distinct sound of the snow crushing under our footsteps.

The top of the ridge kept us even more silent, until we all exclaimed in unison, “Whoa!”

Often there are just no words to match natural beauty.

And even less to describe the challenge of hiking through eight inches of snow in high elevation, without proper gear.

L1010917

 

Since a ski accident back in 2011, climbing down makes me nervous. My son was skiing with me that day and saw the consequences of a fall in deep snow.

So when we stood on the ridge, blinded by snow and sun, he grabbed my hand and said, “You can do it, Mom. You’ll just have to hold my hand and relax. I won’t let you fall.”

So, holding my son’s hand, so much larger and stronger than mine, I climbed down the most challenging sections of the trail. I kept thinking that we were stupid, that we should have taken poles and crampons, but soon I realized that my son had been right.

Holding his hand through the hardest parts, I relaxed, not afraid of falling anymore.

The happy grin and trusting eyes of the soldier popped to my mind every so often.

When we were feet away from the lakeshore, my son turned around.

photo-176

“Now, you can go,” he said.

He looked barely younger than the soldier. His smile was as bright. He had led me through the snow so I wouldn’t fall.

“Thank you,” I said.

He shrugged but beamed, too.

“Not so long ago,” I said. “I was the one holding your hand when you first hike Yosemite.”

“I know,” my son said. We know a lot when we are just eighteen years old.

I thought of Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. I told my son. He knew of the book, of course.

We ate lunch near the Great Sierra Mine, a historic site where you can find the remnants of what has been one of the largest silver mining operations in what would become Yosemite National Park.  Lichen patched the rocks.

L1010982photo-181

The wind picked up. Clouds masked the sun for a few seconds and cold fell on our shoulders. We all fetched a fleece. A rainbow-looking ring wrapped around the sun. A rumble rolled in the distance. Thunder? Avalanche?

L1010995

We glanced at each other and heard at the same time the sound of water almost underneath our feet. Snow had started to melt. Under the ice, a gigantic lid over the lake, we could guess the color turquoise that had taken my breath away in October. So pale it could have only been a dream. A ghost.

L1010918

We retraced our steps, following the music of the water, invisible to the eyes but a song to the ears.

On our way back, my son held my hand only for a short section, but for the sheer joy I kept it a little longer.

He looked at me when we met solid ground. “See,” he said, “I wouldn’t let you fall.”

Again those young soldier’s eyes.

L1010902

Did you ever hike a memorable trail?

 

 

 

Comments

  1. What a hike! so many moments of reflection and so much to think about too, beautiful photos 🙂

  2. This is such a touching and well crafted piece, particularly the part about your son helping you. That must have generated mixed emotions. Your pictures and your description are beautiful.

    I visited Yosemite in 1977 at the tail-end of a long drought. The falls were a mere trickle. I hope to get back someday.

    • Thank you, Dan. I especially appreciate the comment about the writing. Blogging helps me to improve my English skills. So thank you. The pictures are a mix from my iPhone (!!!) and my son’s camera. He took so many that I will probably use some for future posts.
      The falls are pretty nice this year, considering the dry winter we had. They won’t last for long, unfortunately. This hike was almost spiritual for me because of this young soldier’s portrait and the fact that my son was there. Alive. With me. For me.
      See you soon on your blog.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing, I would LOVE to go to Yosemite! ;-D

    • So nice to see litadoolan. If you get a chance, you should visit early spring or early fall. Summer is too busy and already too dry. Winter is gorgeous too, but the drive can be hard. Yosemite is a magical place and I feel fortunate to live close enough so I can go often and when it’s not crowded.

  4. What a lovely post! It was so fun to see all those pictures of Yosemite. I haven’t been there yet, but plan to go as soon as I can. It sounds like you have a wonderful son, and had a great time. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thank you, Katie. Yosemite is a very special place for most people. I live close enough to appreciate the seasons. My son is a great kid and we like to do things together. We have done a few special hikes and I’m happy to share some of these special moments with my readers. See you soon on your great blog.

  6. Your story is delightful, moving, informative … but it’s your PHOTOS that I can’t get over, Evelyne ! – those wide shots 1, 3 and 4 are … AMAZING. You are an excellent photographer !

    • Thank you. M.R. For the photos I’ll forward your thanks to my son and my husband. My son took them (except a couple taken with my iPhone) using his dad’s camera. So both are the reasons of the nice pics. I appreciate your visit and comment. See you soon.

  7. Beautiful photos and a beautiful story. How wonderful that, after all the times I’m certain you encouraged your son on hikes, he was able to do the same for you. It’s always fantastic to have outdoor time hiking as a family.

    • So good to see you Kimberly. It was a moving hike in different ways. You’re right about the results of what we do with our children when they are little. The results of our education and time spent with our kids are often seen years and years later. A little bit like writing. Lots of energy, patience and resilence. Speaking of writing I’ve been trying to contact you and wrote on your blog about an event I’d like you to be part of, if you want. Check your blog! See you soon.

  8. This brought tears to my eyes for so many reasons Evelyne;
    the many memories I hold deep in my heart of my days spent walking through Yosemite when we visited with my young children, of the Merced River, Bridal Veil Fall, Yosemite Valley Floor…a whisper ago…
    I remember reading Love you Forever to my eldest son, a deep memory you triggered for me as I read your beautiful words…
    I imagine the beauty of Yosemite, of the precious time spent with your son, holding your hand, helping you, guiding you…I admire your lovely photographs and I can almost breathe in the pure air of California, my ‘other’ home….
    Then I think of the fallen son and a mother’s grief….and how we need to hold onto every moment as we journey through the life given us…
    Thank you Evelyne for this beautiful post…thank you.

    • Your comment move me as well, Sherri. It was a very special hike and since you know Yosemite, no need to specify that I find this place very spiritual in the first place. The whole day from the moment we saw the portrait of this young soldier was very special. My son was great and although I know he’ll be a good man I wasn’t expecting him to act so grown-up and protective of me. Young men show their love in the challenging moments. And I loved him even more than ever. See you soon.

      • A beautiful love that is…a son’s love and protection of his mother… priceless…
        See you soon Evelyne.

  9. Ah Evelyne, I would love to visit Yosemite, but you took me on a journey as though I was there – a journey not only through the landscape, but through loss, love and memory too. Beautiful.

    • Your comment means a lot to me, Andrea, since I find your writing very evocative and your posts so well crafted. If you get a chance, Yosemite is an extraordinary place that someone like you would love. See you soon.

  10. What a great escape. 🙂

  11. It was and I’m happy that we decided to go on despite the snow and the challenging terrain. See you soon, Teagan.

  12. A beautiful blog Evelyne. I can see you son helping you along. One of my favorite hikes/backpack trips is from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows following the PCT– 70 miles of bliss without any roads. Reading your blog makes me eager to go do it again. –Curt

  13. Thank you, Curt, for your visit and comment. The hike/trip you mention must be gorgeous. I found you and your blog by accident. Isn’t it often the case? I am admirative of the photos you and your wife are taking from your hikes. And of your challenges too. Looking forward to reading more soon.

  14. Beautiful, Evelyne. Sigh: the fallen soldier. Precious trails with your grown boy, now a strong young man to help you feel safe. The third shot in particular is amazing.

    Love the rainbow.

    • Thank you, Diana, for visiting me and commenting on this post. Although nobody had predicted that this hike would be so special it was indeed a hike to remember. I agree on the sun photo. It was almost eerie when we were up there. Thanks again. See you.

Trackbacks

  1. […] my son and I took our daily canoe ride together. Since our helicopter ride and our hike to Gaylor Lakes, my son has grown to like his father’s camera a lot and has in turn become my favorite […]

  2. […] my son. A year ago, he and I hiked in Yosemite on Memorial Day weekend. I wrote a post about this unforgettable hike, which still echoes my thoughts on this 2015 Memorial […]

  3. […] Eighteen. Younger than my son. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: