The hiking book: Hiking Yosemite National Park (Falcon Guides)
The distance: 5.8 miles
The CityGirls rating: 10

Last weekend was the beginning of winter in Yosemite, and T-Bell was there to see it with our friend S.

Arriving late in the evening on Friday to dropping temperatures and rain that threatened to turn to ice, we woke up Saturday morning to a winter wonderland with two inches of fresh powder.

The park had closed the Glacier Point and Tioga Pass roads a couple days earlier, so we were limited to the Valley for our hiking options. T-Bell wanted a hike with good views, so we headed for the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls.

We were the second ones on the trail that morning: there was only one set of footprints in the snow as we set out to scale the Valley walls.

This mist trail is one of the more popular trails in Yosemite Valley (though there aren’t really any unpopular trails in the Valley…), so it was pretty unusual to have the trail to ourselves the first half hour or so of our hike.

Other hikers eventually caught up to us, but it stayed pretty quiet all the way to the top of Nevada Falls.

It was quiet and ethereal, with snow covering the trees and rocks in a unifying blanket of white.

The snow brought new dimensions to the granite that lines Yosemite Valley, detailing the crevasses and layers. The granite monoliths served as canvas for a brush of white that brought depth and detail as the sun glistened on the snow and icicles began to form along the rocky outcroppings.

The Mist Trail is not too long, just 2.5 miles to the top of Nevada Falls, but it’s up, up, up the whole way.

In fact, the whole last section of the trail as it climbs to the top of Vernal Falls is stairs set into, and often fashioned out of, the granite.

In the spring and early summer, when the falls are at their peak, the Mist Trail earns its name as spray from Vernal Falls fills the air and soaks hiker and trail alike.

Fortunately, there was no spray to contend with in the snow, but the trail formed puddles on the rock as the snow melted under the feet of earlier hikers. It was slow going as we checked each step for solid footing.

The pool at the bottom of Vernal Falls had begun to ice over, and it did so in an interesting way. The waterfall didn’t actually land in the pool as it fell through the air, but instead bounced off rocks and was caught in channels on the rock face to mist and dribble its way to the bottom. The water that bounced off the rocks and became mist would then freeze in the air and settle on the skin of ice that was growing in from the edges of the pool. It created an effect somewhat like blooming algae as the ice particles settled onto the water.

After climbing along the side of a sheer cliff face, we reached the top of Vernal Falls and found the first sunshine of the hike.

We pressed onward as the trail continued to climb—though with fewer stairs—toward Nevada Falls.

T-Bell was very happy that a number of hikers had passed us along the way, as their footprints were the only way we could tell where the trail was supposed to go.

After meandering through the pine forest for a bit, the trail opened out to views of Nevada Falls as it slid down the not-quite-vertical rock face.

Reaching the top of Nevada Falls, T-Bell was on top of the world. 2,000 feet of elevation conquered in just 2.5 miles. The sun was out, and the Valley stretched out below.

After basking in the warmth of the sun and the feeling of achievement, we headed back down the Valley walls on the John Muir Trail.

The first bit of the trail heads down along a ledge cut into the cliffside. In warmer weather, the ledge is covered in ferns and columbines, but in the snow it was a wall of trickling ice, melting and refreezing in the sun. The whole cliff wall looked like it was moving, with a crinkling, crackling sound.

The John Muir Trail switchbacked its way down into the Valley with great views of Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap and Mount Broderick every time we looked back over our shoulders.

Reaching the Valley floor, our feet were wet, but between our hats and gloves and long underwear, we kept ourselves warm in the 30 degree weather.

Mist Trail, then and now

AM hiked this same trail last year in late September and had a somewhat different experience with warm weather and much more color along the way. She left early enough in the morning to avoid most of the crowds but got rather warm hauling up the stairs and switchbacks.

HIKE NOTES
Ease of following designated hike: 7. We didn’t have any trouble with the trail because we just followed the footprints of the people ahead of us, but without that, we would have had no idea.
Best season to hike: We hear the falls are best in the spring, though the trail is also busiest and wettest at that time of year. Fall can be a good time to hike the Mist Trail, though the weather is unpredictable.
Solitude: 7. But only if you’re early enough in the day (or after the first snow of the year).