Ah, Yosemite. Few places in the world have my heart like you do. The first time I ever set foot in Yosemite, it was in the winter of 2011. I was in utter awe. There is something to be said about standing in the middle of a valley like that, with granite walls several thousand feet above you. Upon returning after that first trip, I told Zach about a month or two later — “I want to take a solo camping trip. To Yosemite.” A few months later, I did.
Now this is something I like to think about quite often. Solo trips are something I truly love to do. The first one I took was in 2009 — I drove up and down the west coast to Seattle (driving along the coast for the majority of the way up). The reason I do these solo trips are largely because I need time to myself — to mature, grow, and learn about myself. Not that I can’t do that at home, but I feel like when I’m taken out of my element, I am more daring. I learn more, and the entire time, I learn very much how to lean on myself. No longer do I have another person with me to fall back on for decision making, I have to make all the decisions. I have to trust my gut — that still, little voice within. This is actually a very big lesson that I learned on this trip, and an experience I’ll describe later in this post.
This is not to say that I’m totally alone on these trips. I am very conscious of safety, and I usually make sure that I am safe on these adventures — I just don’t have another person alongside me the entire time, which is a distinct difference. I still make connections with people that I cross paths with, which is something that is very important to me, seeing as I am a person who loves human interaction.
So, why take a trip like this? I wasn’t entirely sure, to be honest. Initially, it was tied to figuring out what I truly believed in religion & spiriturality. But in the end it became much more than that. When the idea came into my head, it was more of a gut feeling. I knew I had to do this. This was something that would be very important to me, for my growth as a person. And thankfully Zach was extremely supportive, which I am so grateful for. I simply had visions of me doing yoga in the trees, on rocks, and I knew I just had to make that happen. So just before Memorial Day weekend, a year ago, I packed all my camping year, and at 11pm, set out for the 7 hour drive to Yosemite.
Once I arrived, it the first light of dawn began spreading over the trees.
Driving through the night is absolutely NO fun alone, but once I was greeted with this view, it was so completely worth it.
After I settled into my campsite, I set out to explore, to SEE! To take AMAZING PHOTOS! Problem was, I was exhausted. And an exhausted Susan = a grumpy Susan. I had a couple of days in this amazing location alone, and I was wasting it! Or so I felt at the time. When really, I was just putting too many expectations on myself. I needed to rest, I needed to recharge. So after a looooong day, I finally slept, and woke up the next morning, refreshed and ready to tackle my newest adventure.
The first hike that I decided to do was totally on a whim. I packed all my gear, ready for a hike, with absolutely no plan at all. This is very much how the rest of my trip went — I didn’t plan a whole lot, and a lot of time, I just let my instincts guide me. So I began walking in one direction, when I stumbled upon a path for Upper Yosemite Falls. It’s early, I’ve heard this is a lovely hike — why not?
Later in the evening, I took off for Mirror Lake, and watched the sunlight fade on Half Dome, while I did yoga on a rock in the middle of the “lake” (which is totally dried up now).
The next morning, I woke up, and headed for the nearby meadow for a bit of morning yoga & contemplation.
The funny thing is, I don’t think I really did all that much yoga in the meadow that morning. I just did a few breathing exercises, and maybe some balances. It wasn’t until later into that hike that I truly dug into a yoga practice. As well as the first time I consciously heard my intuition talk to me.
As I left the meadow on the trail, I began to follow the Merced River. Once I was hiking along the river, I realized that it would be a great location for another, longer yoga session.
When this thought occurred to me, I saw the perfect location. There were a few large rocks, and it overlooked the river and Half Dome. There were people just getting up to leave. It had the view, the rocks! It should be perfect!
And then I heard it.
I stopped dead in my tracks. The voice was so small, I wasn’t sure. I shrugged, thinking I was imagining things, and began to take another step towards the “perfect spot” when I heard it again.
No. Move on.
…. what?? This was all so strange. I thought to myself, “Well, I’m all alone, it won’t hurt to move on, so, I’ll move on.” I walked several hundred feet when I found the next “perfect” location, and I heard it again — this time it was a little louder.
No. Move on.
“What is going on?!” I wondered. But I decided to listen to it, and kept walking on.
The next spot that appeared to me as a potential spot had a large, flat rock. Right next to the river, with a large tree overhead. Before my brain had a moment to ask myself if this would be a good spot, my feet were already making it’s way over there. I knew this was it.
As I stood on that rock after doing some yoga (with my dirty, dirty hippie feet), I began to meditate, to which I asked myself — what the hell just happened over there?? I have never experienced something like that, or at least, I have never really been able to identify it.
After some contemplation, I realized that, that small little voice, was my intuition talking to me. The other, loud, chattery voice? That was my brain. Maybe you could say it was my head versus my heart. Either way, it was a big deal, and almost like I had tapped into a completely new source of myself. And I felt more… whole.
So, I decided that now that I could hear my intuition (at least a little bit), I would let it guide the rest of my trip. I would do my best to tell my brain to shut up, and I would let my heart guide me.
And so I did.
Later that evening, I took another hike, this time to Vernal Falls.
Along the way, I would stop and do yoga on random rocks when I felt like it. I could hear my brain going “What are you doing? People are going to see you and think you’re a weirdo. They’re going to judge you!!” And to which I simply said, shut up!
I hiked to the top of that falls, which was probably one of my most favorite hikes on the trip. They call this trail the Mist Trail, and rightfully so, because you pretty much get sprayed by the falls when you get close to it, but I thought it was lovely because it created a magical haze through the light.
The next day was the last one on that trip, so I woke up, set on spending another morning in the meadow.
That quickly became my favorite location to be when the sun rose, because it was peaceful, and I felt like the only person in the entire place.
When I first walked into the meadow, there were no clouds in the sky, but as I sat and watched, I saw clouds began to dance around the cliffs. They hugged, and looped, and ebbed and flowed. The clouds were a sure sign of what they had been warning all week — that it was going to rain, so I was glad to be leaving that day.
After enjoying a warm breakfast and packing up my campsite, I headed towards Sentinel Dome. One of my fellow campers had recommended it, because it had 360 views of the entire valley. The hike was only about 5 miles round trip and mostly flat, so it should be a relatively easy hike. So I headed off.
Before heading to the Dome, I decided to stop at Glacier Point, where you could see some great views too. The problem was that it was massively crowded, and I wasn’t a big fan of all the tourists, so I took a few photos and left. (The lower falls you see in the photo is Vernal Falls, which I had hiked to the day before)
So as I hiked out to Sentinel Dome, the weather became more and more stormy. I figured I could handle some rain, so I wasn’t worried. I had all my protective gear on, so I didn’t think it would be a problem.
(Photo above is the now dead Jeffery Pine that Ansel Adams photographed)
It was actually pretty cool out there, but after a little bit, the wind picked up, and the clouds began to cover any sort of view I had. And as I stood out there, it began to snow!
I became so massively excited that I called Zach to tell him. (Funny enough, I had full bars up there, something I totally did not even have IN the valley) Then I decided I should probably head back before it got crazy.
As I walked back, I stopped every couple of feet to take photos. I mean, of course, right? At first, the snow didn’t stick, and then it began to. First the path was easy to see, and then that began to get covered up. I began to rely on other people’s tracks after that. And then, I stopped to take a photo, and once I looked back down, I realized…
… the path was gone…
… there were no more footsteps to follow…
… I had lost the trail.
I was lost.
This would probably be no problem for people who grew up in the snow, or if the path had been marked properly in the snow (this area is usually closed off in the winter). But for me, it was bad.
Interestingly, in hindsight, this was a perfect lesson of my head vs my heart. Deep down, in my gut, I knew if I kept going left, I would hit the main road eventually. Luckily I had studied the map of the trail well enough to know that. But my head began to freak out. The snow was getting stronger, as well as the wind, and I began to panic. So I called Zach with my one bar left, and freaked out. He calmed me down, and as I kept walking, I spotted the bathrooms. Yes! So I told him I saw the bathrooms (which was next to my car, but I unfortunately left that information out), and he told me to call him once I got to my car. Well, of course, once I got to my car, I was so shaken up that I simply wanted to leave, and I had no reception at all, so I began to drive down to Mariposa Grove, which is where I wanted to stop to next.
Of course, I had absolutely no reception for several hours after that.
I wish I could tell you I was good, and called him right away once I got to a pay phone, but I did not. I think I was still in shock, and I was dead set on going to the sequoia grove that I simply headed straight there. Once I finally emerged, I began to get reception back, and thus a zillion messages hit my phone. My heart & stomach hit the floor. Crap!
(My digital camera had died at that point, so I only had a very small amount of images from the sequoia grove on film.)
After calling Zach back and assuring him I was fine (understandably he was stressed, and angry at me at the same time — he actually called Search and Rescue on me as well, who informed him that another man had been lost on that same trail, so it wasn’t just me!), I began to head home. Stressed and tired, I saw all sorts of crazy things on the way home. Every time I saw a tall shadow (like a building) alongside the freeway, I thought it was a cliff. I totally needed to get home and be in bed!
Even with all the crazy, all the getting lost, and the snow, I am so glad I took this trip. It was a large growth experience for me, seeing as it was the moment where I truly began to hear my Voice. As an artist, and a person, this is something I am constantly trying to hear and understand, especially in a society where everyone else is proclaiming their opinions on the internet. It’s hard to hear what you truly think, when you can’t help but hear the noise of other people’s voices. And I heard it best when I was alone, not under the influence of anyone else. Now that I’m back in the regular hum of life, it still gets difficult to hear, but I am always constantly striving to listen to it, especially when I am creating & taking photos. That intuition that tells me yes, or no. It guides me not only in my art, but my everyday life, and I know that as I grow as a person, that voice will not only get louder, but so much stronger. :)