By MTD athlete Alex Van Tuyl
With the bosses currently having a small jaunt in the Himalayas and AVT having just got back from Yosemite, it feels like adventure season has started early here at Maverick. AVT has written a spine tingling piece on his short and o, so sweet time in California. I guarantee the words he has written will make you lace up your trainers and hit your local trails at the very least, and at the most leave you covered in goosebumps whilst you plan your next trip away to explore the great outdoors. AVT is an extremely talented runner, who holds the course records for the Endurancelife Dorset coastal Trail series half marathon and full marathon and is looking to run a sub 2:30 road marathon this year. However beyond his speed is the most humble man who is never too busy or tired to help. He will be the first to cross the finish line (naturally) then effortlessly change attire in the back of the trailer in preparation for helping with whatever we ask. Enjoy reading the following review as turns out he is also a very talented writer.
Maverick does Yosemite - By Alex Van Tuyl
Few places ring as loudly in the adventure community as Yosemite. The glacial masterpiece of a valley is home to many of the craziest and most impressive achievements of the mountain community, the Chamonix of California, and has long been on my bucket list of places to visit.
I was lucky enough to be sent to Los Angeles for work, and was able to sneak out a week earlier. The plan was simple, and consisted of very limited actual planning. A camper van, map and a pair of running shoes, along with a woeful underestimation of the driving distances involved in the states. I knew that I wanted to see Yosemite, and visit Mineral King National Park too, time permitting, and otherwise I was open to whatever got thrown at me. Given the normally hectic pace of life, it was a little unnerving at first to have 5 entirely empty days, but that opportunity to move at a snail's pace, to be enjoyably bored, to sit and absorb a view, that is increasingly rare and increasingly important in today's world.
I snuck out of LA in the predawn glow of the city, avoiding the notorious LA traffic, and made quick work out to Fresno. The drive dragged on, 3 hours becoming 6 and the landscape slowly steepened. The Central Valley of California dropped away as I climbed up into the Sierra, snow-capped peaks jutting up into the skyline, pointed pines complimenting the jagged skyline.
7 hours later, I dipped into the infamous tunnel leading into the valley, and came out the far end to one of the most beautiful and famous panoramas of Yosemite Valley. The sheer scale of the cliffs is hard to put into words, and I think many far more accomplished writers than me have tried and failed to fully capture the majesty of the valley.
Given the early time in the season, I was lucky enough to get camp spots in the heart of the valley for the three nights I was there, much to the total surprise of the park ranger, and parked up under the pines in the still quiet spring air, with the towering silver cliffs rising up overhead.
The valley is surrounded by trails, a few famous, a few less so. In mid-April, anything over 5000 feet was still blanketed in snow, meaning a lot of the higher trails where closed, or required thumping through snow drifts to get anywhere. Despite this there was more than enough trails to keep me occupied and suitably tired.
The Mirror Lake trail is a flat, buffed out trail that goes up the head of the Yosemite Valley, passing under the North face of Half Dome. From my camp spot in North Pines, I followed the road east for a mile, before turning off onto the trail. Most of the lower trails in the valley are very very civilised, being pan-smooth, or even tarmacked, and this generally means a nice gentle warm up. The trail follows the river for a couple of miles, heading up to the end of the valley. From here, you can take a left, which takes you up the steep northern side of the valley, climbing rapidly through a litany of rock-strewn hairpins. The views as the valley floor drops away are otherworldly, with half dome looming beautifully up opposite you, and the expanse of the valley being revealed as you climb out through the tree line. The trail leads eventually to Tioga Road, with the climbing taking you up to the plateau above the valley at about 5500-6000ft, a total elevation gain of 2500ft or so from the valley floor. I only snuck up to about 5000ft, before the falling sun threatened to leave me out in bear country without a head torch. I turned around and gently coasted down the trail, getting back to my camp just as the sun set.
The second trail is the Mist trail, so named for the waterfalls that guide the route up into the high sierra. From the trail head the path is a 2 mile tarmacked climb at about 20% gradient, before the path becomes actual dirt. I was beginning to think I needed my road shoes, so was relieved when I finally saw some mud. I planned to follow the trail up to the John Muir trail, before scooting over to the base of Half Dome. The climbing is relentless, poles out, power hiking and puffing up 3000ft of climbing. My poor city legs did not know what had hit them, but the waterfalls, oh wow, the waterfalls! Once you reach the head of the valley, you can follow the Merced River into Little Yosemite Valley.
The sheer expanse of wilderness up here was something that took my breath away. Even the well-marked trails faded into a few infrequent markets, the clean, untarnished snow offering little in the way of further directions. The natural silence up here, burbling streams and birdsong and wind-rustled pines, was enough reason to make the climb up. Jogging gently through this landscape, it really does make you realise why this sport we suffer for is so worth it. Again, the way back consisted of following the trail back down to the car park. The increasing noise and crowds and human activity seemed somewhat offensive after the solitude of the higher plateau, but strangely comforting too.
The third trail I did was the Yosemite Falls trail, one of the more famous hikes in the valley. The trail is around 3.5 miles long, and climbs from the base of the valley straight up by the waterfall, looping and curling through the folds and faults of the valley side. The constant roar of the water provides the soundtrack to the climb, and the trail cuts so near to the base of the falls that the damp mist often fills the air. There was not a huge amount of running on the way up, given the unrelenting gradient, but once you crest the top, the trails flatten somewhat. Few landscapes are as effective at making someone feel quite so small.
After 3 days in the valley, I felt it was time to move on, so I packed up, and headed south to Sequoia National Park. Due to the early season snow, the access roads into Mineral King were closed, so Sequoia was the rather fantastic backup option. I pitched up at the visitor centre, asked if there were any good trails, and ended up on the Moro trail. The winding trail followed the Moro River up a valley, with the High Sierra looming in the background. The sun was wonderfully strong, with a bluebird sky above me, and made for the most relaxed run I had in the National Parks.
All to soon it was time to head back to LA, the city screaming into my eyes and ears as the traffic and people and buildings jumped up around me. The National Parks left a pretty big mark. The sheer scale, the emptiness, is so far removed from what I am used to in the UK, or in Europe. As soon as you are out of the main locations, the vast body of nothing surrounding you becomes painfully apparent. Personally I found this both enchanting, and concerning in equal parts. In comparison, LA wasn’t all that….