Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Yosemite in Winter

Yosemite is the Temple of God. There’s an essence in the land that breaths life into the body. Most people choose to visit the valley in the spring, summer, or fall, but my favorite time to visit is unquestionably winter. When the valley’s covered in snow, the crowds thin out, and I feel alone. One small man isolated by snow and watched over by the grey giants who have stood sentinel over the valley for millennia.

One snowy February, I parked my car in an empty lot, slung my new snowshoes over my back, and headed out on the John Muir Trail as it follows the Merced up to Little Yosemite Valley. I passed ten or twelve people on the first mile of the trail, and then, as the trail climbed sharply to hurtle Vernal Falls and the ground became covered in deep snow, I was suddenly and completely alone. I strapped on my snowshoes as the snow began to fall in large, dry flakes. No one had traveled this far in days at least. I lost the trail several times even though I knew its course and had hiked it many times in summer.

The silence spoke to me of the sacred Nature of this site, the cold touched on my mortality, and the solitude told me I was small. As I climbed the switchbacks ascending the cliff of Nevada Falls, I turned and took this video which conveys little of the beauty and nothing of the spirit of the moment.

I continued on up the switchbacks to the top of the falls. The whole time, the snow drifts threatened to break loose and send me down to the base of the cliff entombed for a season in ice and rock. The risk, as is often the case, was well worth it. Near the top, giant icicles flowed over the rocks and the tranquility of the Merced was contrasted with the flurry of snow and the emanate plunge over Nevada Falls.

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