The Two Yosemites

Seeing the Whole Park for the First Time
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A view of Echo Ridge, Cathedral Peak, and Fairview Dome from Tuolumne Meadows
The other Yosemite

Chagrin is the only word to describe my feelings following my first backpacking trip into Yosemite's high country. This was in 1959. I had been climbing in the valley for two months and was getting weary of hammering pitons. My father had signed up for a Sierra Club trip about 100 miles south, and I had the bright idea of joining him by walking alone down the John Muir Trail to his encampment. This would take only five days, I figured, since I was in supposedly great shape.

The first fifteen miles passed like a dream. I churned up out of the valley and into the quietest place I'd been to in months: Little Yosemite Valley, with the languid Merced River as a constant backdrop. I was a tiger! Maybe I could make the trip in four days! But as I pushed on after lunch I felt a tiny needle prodding my right foot — not a fleck of granite in my boot, but an incipient blister. Romping up the Lost Arrow and the Royal Arches hadn't exactly toughened my feet. By seven that evening I was limping like a geriatric, and Tuolumne Meadows, the goal I had hoped to reach hours earlier, was still far away. I shed my pack, set up my tent, and stared with loathing at the half dozen nickel-sized blisters covering my toes and heels.

I was whimpering by the time I reached the Meadows the next morning, and I lounged around for three days cursing my hubris. But car-less and with little to do, I saw the Yosemite high country for the first time. The splendid pinnacles of the Cathedral Range rose just south of my lazy camp, and I watched the shadows curl around them as if they were great sundials jutting into the sky. The domes, too, entranced me, and on the third day I staggered up to the top of nearby Fairview Dome and saw the entire northern half of Yosemite National Park spread out before me, with nary a road or building or radio antenna in sight. Each time I've climbed Fairview in the succeeding years — about eight times — I remember that summer day when I was so young and impetuous.


Steve Roper is the author of the classic Fifty Classic Climbs of NorthAmerica (with Allen Steck) and Camp 4: Recollections of a YosemiteRockclimber. The longtime editor of Ascent, he has written many other booksand has had his work appear in Summit, Backpacker, Rock & Ice, and many other magazines. Steve's articles on El Capitan, Zion, the Mount Conness Loop, and Lassen Volcanic National Park have been featured on GORP.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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