After busting my knee on Humphrey's 2 weeks earlier, I had nearly decided to skip Yosemite altogether. Luckily, there was no structural damage, and the stretching and bruising had been healing well enough that I figured I would be able to at least enjoy some of the shorter and more basic hikes, while conceding that Half Dome would have to be put off until another trip.
And then SoCal took it's toll on me. A few days of fresh valley air had spawned a slight cold, and despite my efforts, it seemed to worsen each day. So as I settled into my tent on Tuesday night, I was not prepared for the misery I was about to endure. Without too many details, I was miserably sick, somehow congested, while still totally unable to keep my sinuses from producing their very own Yosemite fall. A basically didn't sleep all night long. Sore throat, nose, headache, misery. When the sun finally came up, I got up and decided just to explore a little bit before everybody else woke up.
This turned into a perfect storm of unpreparedness. I didn't eat. I didn't bring food. I threw on my camelback so I had a couple of liters of water. I didn't bring my new knee-supporting hiking poles since I figured I was just going for a stroll.
So I meandered over to the river and began to follow it upstream a little bit, trying to ignore the pounding congestion in my head and chest. The air was cool and the sun was well hidden in the depths of the valley. I had read about a short trail to a waterfall view so I decided to head in that general direction until I encountered an official trailhead. The mileage looked reasonable for somebody in my condition (0.8 to the bridge), so I just kept going.
I began to realize that the mileage here wasn't the issue. The trail was paved and footing was easy. But it was basically straight uphill. Relentlessly. It's probably not that bad, but to me it felt like pure misery. But then this place is magical. Even along the way, I encountered views that were incredible. Stunning. Look! There's another waterfall (Illilouette? Never heard of that one!) Oh I feel like sh*t. I should turn around. No, the view bridge is right around the corner now, can't turn around now.
And that's how my day kept going. First the bridge, then Vernal Falls, then the next bridge, then Nevada, etc. I kept pressing on, with something else to see around every corner preventing me from turning around. I was finally so "done" I could do no more. And I knew I had all that mileage to go back! My breathing was rhaspy. My throat hurt so bad it was hard to drink my water. I was starving and hadn't eaten. And now I began to descend slowly, carefully on my tender knee.
I made sure to take my time. Twice I slipped a little and jammed my knee to the point of pain. Good thing I have those awesome new hiking poles back at camp! After getting cold and wet on the mist trail, I decided for my health to stay dry and take the Muir bypass back down. What a miserable, dusty, switchback hell. I'm not sure why anybody would choose this route.
On a positive sidenote, I encountered a NPS trail worker who explained a lot about trail maintenance to me. It is a wilderness, and while they have exemptions for power tools such as chainsaws to clear the trails, he said that 80-90% of the work is done by hand. This was explained as he sat with hammer and chisel, splitting solid granite stones into the exact shape they need to be to stand the test of time against the abuse that the horses and especially the mules inflict on the trail. Hammering granite on the trail all year long is tough work, he said, but beats any office job he's ever had. Tough to disagree with that perspective!
So I finally made it back to the Vernal view bridge and the paved trail back down, and this is when I realized that despite all my ailments, I was so happy to have experienced this magical place virtually to myself. Because now, there were throngs of tourists, groups, kids, families, etc. heading up the trail. The kind of people who have never thought that stopping to chat with 14 people in the middle of the trail when people are trying to walk by is inconsiderate. I'm so happy I didn't have to experience that until my very last stretch getting back.
Who knows though, maybe it would've kept me from pushing myself so far when I was so ill-equipped to do so?
In the end, I got back to camp and grabbed a little bit of jerky, went to the village store and spent $35 on a plethora of medicines I didn't have, took a few of each and crawled into my tent and went to sleep.