The day started early. We had spent the night in the Yosemite Gateway Motel, Lee Vining, got up just after dawn to have breakfast in the nearby cafe/diner. After eating, we filled the car with petrol, and picked up some food in the petrol station store. This was a somewhat unique station, crossed with a visitor centre. We each ordered a sandwich from the deli, and grabbed some Cliff Bars. These are amazing foodstuffs. Gooey, oaty and packed with sugar they are a great walking snack, so far the only place I have found them in the UK is Tesco -priced extortionately I might add. We then drove into the astoundingly beautiful Yosemite National Park.
The destination of our walk was one of the two fresh water lakes under the shadow of Cathedral Peak. Just shy of 11,000 ft, the mountain looms large over the surrounded park. We were to start with a steep section, in heavy woodland. A path, formed from compacted pine needles -broken occasionally by rock steps- led our way, and the many birds of Yosemite chirped with gusto, their locations obscured by dense branches. Occasionally, the wood would thin, leaving small areas of grass, and the odd pool of water. Although it was late June, snow still capped the peaks, and there was the occasional patch lying on the ground. These thinner areas were great places to do some birding, and we ticked off an American Robin, as well as a Clark’s Nutcracker. Although common, it is always a good feeling when you eventually manage to pick them out.
Several more stages of thick woodland -floor laden with pine needles- and meadows followed. We had been told that the smaller lake was the hardest to find. Never put off by a challenge -and in the knowledge that it would be more deserted- we decided to take a risk. We scrambled over several streams and broke out into more stunning meadows, until eventually the woods cleared entirely, and we were almost there.
The final stage before reaching the lake was slightly boggy, with sizeable puddles of water laying in wait on the grass. It was the one occasion where I regretted wearing trainers. However, nothing would get in our path, for a shimmering slice of blue had appeared between the green of grass and the grey of granite.
We sat on the bare rock, eating our sandwiches. As expected, the lake was almost deserted, save for a few brave souls who had decided to risk seeking out the ‘trickier lake’. The melt water was perfectly clear, the surrounding colours a palette that would be the envy of most artists. There was one moment of fear, a marmot -whom we had named Alan- had taken a fancy to my tuna sandwich, and eyed me from a near-by rock with a greedy gaze. Needless to say, he was left empty pawed.
Aware of the light, we begrudgingly trudged away from the lake, following the same route as we had taken to get there. In times like this, it is often good to try and pass the time. Whenever possible, I like to try and go back a different route to the one I took to get somewhere, however this is not always possible. Although walking in the other direction often brings another perspective, it is often a more boring walk than on the way up. We were in a group of three, so to make the return journey more palatable we played ‘Horse-riders songbook’. This game taken from the brilliant Radio 4 show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue involves coming up with song titles -or musicians names- that have been twisted to fit a topic of horses. For example Pony Bennett, Frankel Goes to Hollywood, or Jessie Hay. Such a game is adaptable, simply pick a topic. It doesn’t even have to be music related, it could just have easily have been ‘Horse-riders book/film club’. It also makes a good game to play in the car on the way home.
We would spend another day in Yosemite -one that involved my first experience on a horse- and I can truly say that it was one of my favourite places to be during my time in the States. Like most things in America, the vastness was unforgettable. It is also a great place to go wandering, well organised and signposted paths keep you on the straight and narrow, and the scenery will astound you. And if you see Alan, give him a bit of tinned tuna from me.