Ever since I first saw the Yosemite Valley, during a weekend trip from Berkeley sometime during the 1976-7 school year, it has been one of those places where my mind turns when looking for peace and beauty.
Logically enough, as soon as we arrived in Santa Cruz, I began to make plans to bring the family there. That had to wait, of course: our arrival in California was almost insane, as were the next year or two. But in the summer of 1998, I finally brought Nick and Tom to Yosemite National Park. This was in the middle of the two-year period that the household spent split up, with Nick and Tom in Paris and the rest of us in Santa Cruz. They came over to visit us for half of their summer vacation in 1998.
Unfortunately, we parents ended up taking separate vacations that summer for the first time. After our almost insane first year in California, Marie-Hélène needed France very badly, and spent almost six weeks over there with Charlie (three) and Alex (eight months), mostly at La Grée in Brittany. Daphné and Alban were with her some of the time too, and with their father some of the time. Back in the US, with its puritan work ethic (I had started at Wilson Sonsini in March of that year), I could not take more than a couple of weeks off: a vacation not too far from home was the order of the day.
Nick, Tom and I had an amazing time together during that first Yosemite visit, even if we did miss the other sides of the family. One day, we decided to try the trail up to the top of Yosemite Falls. This was the only time that we have walked that trail, which goes on and on and on and up and up and up. The trail to the top of Vernal Falls (in the photo at the top of the page) is a lot shorter, and much more manageable for the less young among us!
It was a hot dry day, and we were not carrying enough water or wearing hats to shield us from the sun: typical tourists, I’m sorry to say. The effort of the steady climb, feeling constantly out of breath with a dry mouth and throat, had us craving fresh water very quickly. There were no springs during the early part of the hike, but the feeling when we found one and drank the that chill clear water and then splashed it onto our hair and faces was exquisite. It was almost worth overheating when cooling down felt so good. Then there were the awesome views every time that we wanted a pause.
Getting to the top was almost beyond me. I needed more and more pauses as we climbed higher. Nick (almost 12) and Tom (9) found me too slow after a while, and scampered up away from me at will, reappearing with news of more water coming up or, later, how far we were from the top. They announced the latter because they could sense that I was close to quitting. Embarrassingly enough, they were right. I hadn’t exercised since leaving France, and in the heat of that long day on an almost eternal staircase, it showed.
Thanks in part to their encouragement, in part to their equally persistent teasing and in part to not wanting to quit in front of them, I did eventually make it to the top, after frequent pauses the last few hundred yards. Beautiful views and a pool of almost frozen water awaited. It was extraordinary. The Yosemite Creek, which cascades over the falls, slows down into pools about 100 yards before the sheer drop. I was hot, dry and tired enough to immerse myself in one of these pools of snowmelt, and doubt if I have ever felt so refreshed my entire life. A few shocked gasps for air and I was out of there, but what a feeling!
The boys, of course, had to take it further, and literally floated in a pool with their heads submerged, floating gently downstream. But even they were too cold in that water, which felt like your skin was freezing. Before they could approach the drop and completely freak me out, they came happily out of the water. It was a whole lot easier going down the same trail!
During the same trip, we spent one morning lazily drifting on a rented raft down the Merced River on the Yosemite Valley floor. It was hot again, and cooling down was easier there: we just swam around for a few minutes. The boys made everything fun. Another day, we hiked up to the top of Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail, where the mist from the falls drenched us as we climbed. There’s no-one happier than a boy who can get wet and stay wet legitimately!
It was a great summer to visit the Yosemite Valley, because there was so much water in the river and creeks. Yosemite Falls can literally dry up in late summer on a bad year, which would have made the end of that climb anticlimactic.
We returned to the park later in the year, both parents this time, with Daphné, Alban, Charlie and Alex, in Edgar, my excellent RV. Excellent as far as I was concerned. There were other perspectives! Nick and Tom were back with their mom in Paris.
We parked in Upper Pines Campground on the valley floor, and again had a great time. The entertainment was different on this occasion, with a visit to the seasonal ice skating rink a highlight. Charlie and Alex were a bit young for the trails, especially in winter, and so we limited our hiking this trip.
There were longer periods between visits than I would have liked, but Tom and I drove through in 2004 (the photos were somehow double exposed that trip), and then I took Nick, his friend Gael and Daphné to visit for a couple of days in 2005. Daphné and I made it to the top of Vernal Falls, and felt like we’d achieved something. Nick and Gael made it to the top of Half Dome: they did achieve something!
In 2009, toward the end of the life of the family pretty-much-together, I drove Cookie, my next little RV, a marvel of German engineering, up to Toulomne Meadows and spent the night up there parked by the side of the road. It was 21 degrees outside, and I was toasty in the RV.
This is the high Sierra, thousands of feet higher than the Valley floor. I parked at an altitude of around 8700 feet. The pass across Toulomne would soon close for the winter, and I wanted one last look. As the sun came up, I ventured out of the RV into the still air, closer to the sound of the creek flowing by. If there is a heaven, it feels like that crisp early morning, walking along the gurgling creek and by the dark, still lake reflecting the mountains all around.
This was one of a series of weekend trips that I took by myself in the RV. Things in the couple were deteriorating, and Marie-Hélène refused to set one foot in it. Even the younger boys (Charlie was then 14 and Alex 11) would not camp with me, which was a little more surprising. So I wandered off to the places I have learned to love over the years, by myself and at peace.
I would have been happier with the boys, but Yosemite and the RV did the job, and always will. Beauty and peace.