- Expedition: Nov 7-12, 2010
- Kingsburg HS
- Yosemite National Park
The calendar may still say fall, but it was fully winter conditions when eight students from Kingsburg High School joined us for the final expedition of the fall 2010 semester. Together we faced steep inclines, trail breaking through a foot of fresh snow, frozen temperatures and toes, and hiking into the early nightfall. It was quite an adventure through Yosemite’s winter wonderland, and into our own inner strength!
We knew our first day’s hike was going to be a challenge since it would be our first day of hiking with full, heavy backpacks. But what really pushed us was our route that day: up the Snow Creek switchbacks, 3,000 feet of vertical incline from the floor of Yosemite Valley to the northern rim of the canyon walls. Up and up, zigzagging our way higher and higher with each step, we pushed ourselves and encouraged one another further. We watched the tree tops below us disappear and the face of Half Dome turn pink with sunset light. It wasn’t easy, but slowly we found ourselves to the top rim of the cliff, and into a lot of fresh snow. We had to dig out our headlamps to hike the last quarter mile to our camp spot for the night, and worked hard and fast to set up our tents and cook dinner before the weather came in. Feeling tired and accomplished from our impressive first hike, we cozied up in our tents for the night with the soft sound of snow falling overhead.
Sure enough, we awoke the next morning to a couple of fresh inches of snow on the ground and more to come as the snow kept falling. We enjoyed a slow morning of hiding out in our tents, making snowmen, and eventually a warm breakfast before the snow slowed down enough for us to pack up camp and continue our journey. We set off along the disappearing trail making the first human footsteps alongside the occasional tracks of squirrels and deer that had been surprised by these early season snows. Our first day’s leaders Albert and Samuel graciously brought up the back of the group while Hannah charged in the lead. For the next five miles we plowed through nearly a foot of fresh powdery snow, always keeping a lookout for the subtle depressions and cut logs that helped us follow the trail. And finally, thankfully, the much anticipated trail junction that told us we were only one downhill mile from our camping spot for the night. Hiking fast to both beat the darkness and keep ourselves warm, we made it to camp at Lehamite Creek in record time. In fact, the entire day we had hiked strong, working as a group to keep a steady, impressive pace and with good spirits despite the harsh conditions. That night we set up our tents on a platform of snow. The sky began to clear as we ate dinner, displaying the immense night sky we hadn’t witnessed the night before, and bringing extremely cold single-digit temperatures down upon us. We were all in our sleeping bags by 8pm that night and thankful for the warmth and company of our tent mates.
Our third day we saw blue skies above and the promise of a warmer day! We had another late morning waiting for the sun to hit our camp and bring the temperatures up enough for us to use our fingers before packing up again and setting out along the north rim of the canyon. The snow was less deep along this section of trail and most of our packs were noticeable lighter. We had a great hike, enjoying easier travel, the scenery, the views across the canyon to Half Dome and the south rim, and finally lunch in the sun! We even began to see our first other visitors as we approached Yosemite Point and the rim of Yosemite Falls (including one very ambitious hiker who wanted to retrace our steps down to Snow Creek all in one day). As we enjoyed the view from the railing of Yosemite Point, our instructors gave us some amazing news: they were so impressed with how the group had coped with the intense winter camping conditions that they offered us the choice of hiking all the way down into Yosemite Valley and camping our last night at 4,000 feet (no snow, and with a campfire!) rather than spend another night of frozen toes and camping on snow. Energized, warmer, and ready for our last night at the bottom of the cliff, we set off to descend the Yosemite Falls trail to our destination at Camp 4 campground. Once again we patiently worked as a team to keep everyone safe and the group together along the slick, steep trail that soon was in darkness. That night as we enjoyed burrito dinner, s’mores and stories around the campfire, we were all awash with an immense sense of accomplishment and gratitude towards one another. We enjoyed staying up late together, gathered around the fire sharing personal stories and laughter. The next morning we did some reflection and journaling by the Merced River before heading home to share our impressive accomplishment with our loved ones. We at WildLink are incredibly proud and amazed at these eight young people from Kingsburg—they not only survived but also thrived and grew in the face of some incredibly challenging winter conditions. We have no doubt they can face any challenge before them!