We woke at about 7 AM and grabbed some food and got our packs ready for what was gonna be the day of our big hike. The goal of this hike was not to summit Half Dome, but to go past it and to summit Clouds Rest – a choice that was offered as an alternative to Half Dome as we didn’t win the lottery to climb the cables to the top. The Ranger Lady who told us of Clouds Rest said it was a bit farther and did so nonchalantly. Unbeknownst to us, it was much farther than Half Dome and much much harder to summit.
The Mist Trail began as a paved roadway and quickly turned into a walkway. From there, the paved walkway ascended, becoming quite steep. Though we were briefly winded by the steep incline, we had no idea that this was only the beginning of a very long and strenous day of hiking.
We did other hikes while in Yosemite, but after experiencing the grueling test that was the Mist Trail, it didn’t really seem worth it to write about the other measly 5 mile hike (Mirror Lake) we did the day prior.
The pictures below show the part of the trail which consisted of the grueling stairs which were challenging and at some points, due to their steepness, required us to crawl up them. Though the stairs were a challenge, the snacks in our bags were our motivation.
As we made our way up the stone stairs, we obviously had to stop for some photos and to take in the Vernal Falls cascading into the beautiful emerald pool that sat beneath it.
After a grueling section of stairs and a bunch of photos, we finally made it to the top of Vernal Falls.The top was basically one huge slanted rock face with water flowing on its right side. We must have made perfect timing because as we finished up our pictures and headed over to a small stream for a break and some snacks, the whole area began to get filled with people and families who just made it to the top of the falls.
After our photo shoot was over, we stopped to have some snacks by the Emerald Pool area that ran into Vernal Falls.
Our next goal was to get to Nevada Falls, but there was a lot of trail between where we were and the Falls. Our way up to the falls consisted of almost nonstop elevation gain; something that we would become very familiar with as the day progressed.
Next up: Nevada Fall
After some intense incline, we began to hear the roar of the waterfall and it came into view not long after that.
As we took our photos there was a man who was sitting about 5 feet further up the trail taking a break eating a snack. As he saw Olivia taking a picture of Jacqueline and I, he kindly offered to take a picture of all us. He took the picture and we thanked him and talked briefly. He was there with friends, and though he didn’t win the lottery to summit Half Dome, his friends did so he was hiking to its base to watch them complete the hike to the top. Funny enough, this man ended up playing a huge role later on in our adventure. But you are gonna have to keep on reading to find out how he makes a big appearance.
We finally made it to the top of Nevada Falls and stopped to reward ourselves with lunch. Our lunches consisted of sandwiches, Gatorade, and a small snack of some sort (pretzels, fruit snacks, energy bars). While eating and taking our final bathroom break (this was the last bathroom on the trail) we met some fellow hikers who all seemed to be as hyped as we were to be outside exploring the vastness of Yosemite.
But what we did notice was none of them were heading to Clouds Rest. We were alone on our endeavor. Though this sounds as if it had us worried, two young men about my age were hiking down and eased us of our fears. They said it was completely worth it and “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen”. With that, we didn’t need any more convincing to keep on trekking forward.
After we finished our lunch, we started on to the next marker: the split in the trail from Half Dome and Clouds Rest. At this point we really thought we were doing good and were almost there. But boy were we mistaken.
Lucky for us, after about 30 minutes of more incline, the trail turned flat for about 45 minutes to an hour. Though it was long. it was just the break we needed for the next incline that was coming where we would meet the fork in the road: One way going to Half-Dome and the other taking us to Clouds Rest.
As we were to begin another steep incline of the Mist Trail, Jacqueline informed Olivia and I that she had to pee and that she couldn’t hold it. With the last bathroom being an hour and a half back, Jacqueline did the only thing she could. While Olivia and I took watch and hoped that no one would come, Jacqueline, in true lady form, popped a squat somewhere in the grand beauty of Yosemite National Park.
With that deed done, we were on our way.
As we finally began to near Half Dome and the split in the trail that would lead us to Clouds Rest, there was a ranger checking for passes for those who were hiking to Half-Dome to climb the cables. We told her that we were going to Clouds Rest and immediately she looked worried. She told us that we didn’t have a lot of time to make it there and back down before it got dark and asked if we had a lot of water left and flashlights.
Eager to keep on hiking (we thought we were close), we lied and told the ranger we had an adequate amount of water left and that I had flashlights we could use if need be. At this point both Jacqueline’s and my CamelBaks were out of water and our last bottles of water were running low. But we had made it this far – We were not going to turn back solely on the fact that we were low on water.
At this point, Half Dome was in sight – We took the left that took us away from the trail to Half Dome and continued on our way to Clouds Rest.
The above photo shows the trail marker that read that it was 3.8 miles to clouds rest. If that is somehow true, that is the longest three miles of trail that has ever existed.
At this point we had completely run out of water, except for me as I had about a quarter of a mini Gatorade left. Being extremely dehydrated while hiking the most strenuous trail any of us had ever been on, our bodies were dragging.
At this point we were so tired we would hike in increments of the trees shadows: so our immediate goal was to hike to said shadow where we would allow ourselves to rest. Then we would do it again, scouting for the next shadow. (See Photo below for example)
As we continued hiking towards our goal, we came across a couple coming back down the trail. We asked them how much further it was until the top and they informed us it was about three miles (even though the trail marker a hour back said it was only 3.8). They looked at us and must have seen the exhaustion all over our faces and inquired if we had any water left. This time we were honest and told them “no” while staring at the full water bottles clipped to the back of their packs. Incredibly, the girlfriend replied,”Oh yea, if you see another hiker you should ask them for water” and with a snappy “good luck” they were on their way and we were still hiking up the mountain with no water. This couple looked like they could have been brother and sister, and with them being as weird and rude as they were, i wouldn’t have put it past them.
There was another couple we came across who were making their way down the mountain at an impressive speed. We briefly stopped them to see how much further it was. The answer they gave us broke our hearts as we still had a ways to go. But unlike the other couple, this couple was at-least concerned with our safety and strongly recommended we start heading back. They knew that in our current dehydrated state, there was no way we could summit Clouds Rest and make it back to camp safely. We all knew this latest couple was right, but it took us a few more torturous switchbacks for us to come to terms with it.
After seeing multiple people with no spare water and Olivia looking like she was about to fall over and die (no exaggeration) we decided to make the safe choice and turn around . But of course, first we would go off the trail and scale the 45 degree wall of broken and slipping granite in order to get some pictures. We all agreed we did not just almost die and hike a full day to have no pics for the gram.
Ironically, after our photo shoot was complete, I reached into the small pocket of my pack and there I found a sealed water bottle. It was a mini water bottle, but it was still water.
With our photoshoot done and one mini water bottle for the three of us, we started to make our way back.
After about an hour and half of descending we made it back to the fork in the Mist Trail where we saw the ranger checking passes earlier in the day. She asked if we made it and our pride of course wouldn’t let us tell her the truth. She seemed to believe our lie and was impressed with our feat. Though we lied about making it to the top, we did not lie about our water situation. She said our best bet to get water was to hike down to the backpacker’s camp and ask one of the backpacker’s for their water filters. The backpacker’s camp was about another hour or so away.
At this point we hadn’t had water for two hours and were extremely in need. Jacqueline and Olivia both seemed ready to pass out any second. But by the grace of God, Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha, or whoever else you enjoy, we came across our friend earlier who took our picture in front of Nevada Falls.
Fortunately for us he never met up with his friends and ran out of water so he was also on his way to the backpackers camp. Better yet, he had his own water filter he offered to us after we told him about our inability to summit Clouds Rest due to lack of water.
Not only did he have a water filter he was going to let us use, he also had some crazy water pressure thing that shot out a jet of water. Funny enough, it turned out that he was from Wilmington, but when I told him I was from San Pedro he did not seem to be too thrilled and the conversation ended pretty quickly. I guess the rivalry never seizes, even in the midst of extreme dehydration. The few jets of water he let us have were not a lot but they were just enough to keep us going until we made it to the backpacker’s camp and the adjacent Merced River.
Finally, we got to the river and it felt heavenly, but did so only because we did not realize how much further we had until we were back. The man used his water filter for us and then filled our Camel Back bladder half way. It lasted about an hour, enough time to get us to Nevada Fall. Unfortunately, even with our extreme rationing, the water did not last and we hiked for the coming hours without.
There were signs posted saying the John Muir Trail was easier to descend than the Mist Trail so took the famous JMT (John Muir Trail) all the way home. My knees were not happy about that decision. To sum up the JMT: SWITCHBACKS, SWITCHBACKS, AND MORE SWITCHBACKS. Also come to find out, though the JMT is less of a steep decline it is significantly longer—approximately 4 miles one-way compared to the Mist Trail’s 2.5 miles —so plan accordingly if you ever choose the same route.
Since we took the JMT home, we came across new vantage points and strenuous sections of the trail we weren’t expecting. But the best part was when we hiked over the top and around the edge of Nevada Falls. On the ascent, the trail took us up the side of it so though we were exhausted and dehydrated, the beautiful view of Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap which loomed besides it, and the impending photoshoot, gave us a slight second wind.
As we continued we spotted water dripping off a huge wall of rock. Never have i felt so desperate for water – Our need for water drove us to literally open our mouths and wait for it trickle into our mouth as it fell from above. Our desperate need for water is illustrated in the below picture of Jacqueline. I wish we would have gotten photos of us drinking from the wall but since we were so dehydrated and on the brink of passing out, photos were not a priority.
On the plus side, we also got to see Nevada Falls and all its grandeur from another vantage point.
Never have I felt so close to death in my life than during this hike back to camp through the never ending switchbacks of the JMT. No exaggeration here – the chance of us dying in the middle of the forest felt very real to us in these last moments.
As we continued the exhausting trek down the trail, we again were greeted by the ranger who didn’t have faith in us earlier on. Believe it or not, while we were barely able to make it down the trail dragging our limbs, she was jogging down the whole thing. She gave us a quick wave and smile and then she was gone, her and her pack disappearing in the distance as she turned to go down the next switchback.
With having no water for hours, except for the water dripping off the rocks, our dehydration was at its worst yet. Our bodies ached with every step and no matter how close we thought we were, the water station at the bottom of the trail seemed to never come to fruition.
But eventually, it did. Finally having water for all those hours was a transcendently beautiful moment. Not until that moment had I ever truly realized how privileged I have been to always have access to clean drinkable water. Water truly is life. #NoDAPL
It was a shock to my body as I felt the water enter my system, somewhat painfully. Though it wasn’t comfortable to drink as quickly as I did, it was refreshing. I laid down on a rock and appreciated the moment and the fact that I had as much clean water as I needed right there.
On a less serious note, this man pictured below with no pants was also walking down the switchbacks along side us. We never saw him with pants on to begin with. Desperate times call for desperate measures I guess.
We were all tired and dehydrated, but taking off our pants was never an option that crossed our mind. #babydick
After about 12 hours and 27 miles of hiking up and down mountain, we made it home. The above picture explains our feelings perfectly.
Though we didn’t make it to Clouds Rest and we put ourselves in more danger and pain than ever before, I think all three of us can agree that what we did was still an amazing accomplishment. With all the pain, sweat, and tears (yes, there were tears) we made it back to our camp safe and had the privilege of experiencing the wonder that is Yosemite National Park and its many trails.
I think we all wish we would have made it, but now since we didn’t, it will only make it that much better when we make it to the top of Clouds Rest next time. If anything, this exhausting endeavor showed us that its about the journey, not the destination.
Now we know we can never forget to #EnjoytheRide, no matter how painful and tiring it may be in the moment.