It was a week and two days before Christmas. Lee and Dave had been throwing around the idea of making a quick trip to Big Bear for a weekend to experience a White Christmas. The initial plan involved Dave’s needing to head to LA to pick up his visa for a looming trip to Brazil. Lee would tag along. They’d hit a museum or two and then detour toward colder weather. It was two days before LA, and they still hadn’t settled on a place. Dave was deterred by the expense for visiting a place so close to home. In hindsight, three hours to Big Bear tisn’t exactly a stone’s throw, but still, Dave’s wonderful sense of spontaneity and going big led him to booking a trip to Yosemite. If he was going to give Lee a White Christmas, it’d be a damn impressive White Christmas.
Early that Friday, the couple headed toward Los Angeles. They made a fifteen-minute stop at the Brazilian consulate and headed north. The sites of LA would have to wait until next time.
The drive was a reminder of how truly beautiful California is (even Bakersfield). There were mountains and valleys tinged with every color of the rainbow. Despite a five-year drought, the land decided to savor every drop of rain the sky was willing to relinquish.
Lee navigated what little navigation was needed. They stopped for surprisingly delicious barbecue ribs and wings at a gas station somewhere between a dairy and a clementine factory. They stopped again at an outdoor mall in Clovis for gloves. At sunset, they stopped one last time for pizza (“We toss ‘em, they’re awesome!”), an eggnog chai latte, and spiced cider in one of the most charming towns either had ever encountered. They felt the chill of the cold night air seeping into their bones and savored the warmth of their spoils before entering Yosemite National Park. It was pitch dark out save for the tiny white flecks of snow that bounced off of the truck’s windshield, shining in the headlights. Their White Christmas was coming.
They jumped out of the truck at Half Dome Village to the welcoming beauty of a Christmas tree and wreath beside the warm front office. They checked into their heated tent, were given a raving recommendation to hike Glacier Point over to John Muir, a mere thirteen-mile, icy thrill of a hike with the promise of a pretty view. Lee was wary. While athletic, thirteen miles seemed ambitious. Dave was excited.
The pair made their way back and forth from the truck, unloading what they could into the tent. It was quite literally freezing. Their breaths came and went in thick plumes of white smoke, even in their tent. Dave was sure to turn on both the tent’s heater and the space heater he had thoughtfully and thankfully thought to pack. They were greeted by true warmth after a quick stop by the store for water.
Life Tip #48: Don’t discount the importance of being physically comfortable.
The tent wound up being an excellent source of comfort. With an outlet on the wall to keep their phones charged, a heater for warmth, a bed with sheets, blankets, and pillows for comfort, they were pretty much set. Correctly anticipating that the heated and raised canvas tent wouldn’t keep them sufficiently warm when the temperature dropped to the teens, they had packed extra sleeping bags and a fleece blanket. After enjoying a glass of wine in the tent (being serious rule breakers), they settled into bed in anticipation of a very early morning for their long hike. (Just in case you’re curious – there’s a bear box outside of the tent to hold all of your food. The bathrooms are separate from the tent but nice and heated. It’s not the Ritz, but it’s seriously awesome.)
Around 9:30 the next morning, the pair crawled out of the warmth of the bed. Having gone to bed early the night prior, they had expected the sun to wake them up, but the tent had kept out the light. They were well rested but already behind schedule. They took a moment to bask in the beauty of Yosemite at daylight. It was vast and green – White Christmas, not so much, but it was too beautiful to be disappointed about it. Coffee and blueberry muffins in hand, they boarded the shuttle to take them to their destination.
On the shuttle, they met a Yosemite regular, a rugged looking man with an impressive walking stick. He let them know that their chosen trail was closed for the winter. “You should hike Yosemite Falls! It’s a challenge, but it’s beautiful, and it’s open!” Dave reluctantly agreed. After all, it’s not as though they had time for that 13-mile hike anyway. They’d run out of daylight.
Once they reached their shuttle stop, they enjoyed a quick and easy walk to the trailhead.
Within fifteen minutes, they had lost several layers of clothing. Within the half hour, they were down to their t-shirts. They snapped photos like it was going out of style and paused frequently to bask in the beauty of Yosemite. Each new height introduced a deeper understanding of the descriptor breathtaking.
That gorgeous December day left them with a crowd-free trail to hike. Lee was grateful because the trail grew steeper and icier. There were small streams that cut straight through the trail, leaving Lee with no choice but to take her time and get creative in her attempts at avoiding dipping her not-so-waterproof hiking shoes in the frigid waters. Dave offered any assistance possible, including one attempt to use his boots as a stepping-stone and his body as a support bar.
They finally found some snow alongside an epic up-close-and-personal view of the falls. They were getting closer.
Another hour or two passed, and Lee grew concerned about their timeline. They needed to reach their destination. Turning around before completion was not an option, but they also needed to reach the top soon. The icy, steep trail would not be a friendly venture in a pitch-black Yosemite night.
The number of people on the trail grew, for the early hikers were heading back down the trail. “You’re so close!” They encouraged. “Just hang in there – it’s worth it!” They were also advised to not be so ambitious as to attempt to reach the tippy top. It took one group an hour and a half to make it that extra mile due to the excess of ice. Noted.
Life Tip #49: Push your limits, but know your limits.
They cleared the trail to find a sign. A sign! They were there. A hop, skip, and a jump to the right, and they were greeted by beautiful, glittering white powder.
A short walk later, and they were assaulted by otherworldly, take-your-breath-away kind of site.
They enjoyed peanut butter and jellies on a rock beside the head of the falls, fingers growing numb from chill but worth the time taken to bask in their feat. They made it. Realizing the sun was growing too low for comfort, Lee hurried her S-O back down the hill. They were surprised at how much faster the climb down was than the trek up, but it was still very long.
Lee grew concerned about the fools they passed on their way down. People were just starting the hike. Didn’t they realize the challenges of the night? More importantly, didn’t they realize that there wouldn’t be much of a view in the dark?
The sun left the sky when they were near the base of the trail. They walked slowly, carefully. After a bout of night wandering, they found the base of the trail, and eventually their shuttle stop, and then they sat, much to the relief of their limbs.
That long day of hiking deserved a treat. They decided to try out one of the fancy restaurants Yosemite had to offer. Since the restaurant at the Majestic Hotel enforced a dress code, and the couple had only packed clothes to keep them warm, they decided they would try the Lodge (but not without first taking a peak at the inside of the Majestic). It was Majestic, but the Lodge was fantastic.
They splurged on heaping servings of lamb and duck, delicious bread, veggies, and beers. The restaurant and the food were warm, cozy, and exactly what they needed. Crawling into bed that night felt like preparing for hibernation.
It was time to go home, always a sad affair. They grabbed coffees from the Dome’s coffee shop and headed into town to check out the visitor center, find out about potential snowy trails, and get lunch. Dave was ready to go on a little hike closer to Yosemite’s entrance. Lee wasn’t certain her sore legs could handle it.
The stop by the visitor’s center was quick. It contained a very small museum, chronicling the history of the park. After taking a map and exchanging words with one of the workers about the best place to find snow, they grabbed lunch and champagne from the Village Store.
The couple made several stops along the way, taking pictures, enjoying misnowsas, and generally savoring the beauty of Yosemite while they had it.
The drive home was long, leisurely, and physically painful. They stopped in small towns to hobble around eclectic shops and to buy fruit stand products. Lee experienced the unwelcome aches that accompany long, icy hikes. As with the drive there, Dave was a trooper and drove the entire way back.
That trip made it feel a whole lot like Christmas came early. It was a really good way to end a really great year.