We're Going to Die on the Mountain Aren't We?... Hiking to Glacier Point in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park Travel Blog

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glacier point

9 miles, 3150 ft in elevation gain, almost 4000 feet of ascent, 4 gorgeous waterfalls and 2 hitchhiked rides to get back to camp... thus was our trip up to Glacier Point from the Yosemite Valley. Sure, you can drive there if you like, but you'd miss everything in between.

Below is a map of the trail we did. Start in the Curry Village parking lot and walked to the Happy Isles trailhead. From there, walk uphill on the Mist Trail toward Vernal Fall. At the Vernal Fall Bridge, you have a choice of going up the John Muir Trail (across the river up the hill) or the Mist Trail (along the river) to Nevada Falls. We took the John Muir Trail. Detour to the top of Nevada falls before backtracking a short distance to the splitoff of the Panorama Trail.

vernal falls, from the bridge
Head up another series of switchbacks on the Panorama trail to the top of a ridge. Here the trail will wind back down to the river, crossing at the top of Ilillouette Falls. The trail goes back up the opposite ridge all the way to Glacier Point.

Vernal Falls

The first site landmark we got to was the Vernal Falls bridge, offering pretty views of Vernal Falls a short ways up. The river looked so nice and cooling, we wanted to jump in. But not above a waterfall, of course. There is a fountain there where you can refill water. By that time, I had already drank 2 bottles of water. Don't eat salty potato chips before you hike.

Along the trail, we saw squirrels. Squirrels in Yosemite have no fear of people. They probably think of us as giant vending machines.

squierrel posing for picture
The cute little tourist-fed creatures are very friendly, forward and well fed. Perhaps too well fed. Like you know if you were out there alone at night, the squirrels might gang up and eat you.

At the Vernal Bridge, we accidentally veered off the Mist trail and headed up a steep section of the John Muir Trail. There were a lot of switchbacks and a lot of horse poo. I've heard that the Mist Trail up to Nevada Falls is even steeper, though, so maybe it was worth it. The trail offered some nice views as we climbed the ridge, but we missed the top of Vernal Falls, which is on the Mist Trail.

Nevada Falls aka Near Death Experience #1

We met some crazy Extreme Montana guy on the way up the John Muir trail who said we were "almost to Nevada", referring to the falls.

nevada falls
Sarah totally thought we were going to cross the state line.

1500-1800 feet up from the Valley floor, we reached a bare crop of rock at the top of a ridge, from which you could see Nevada Falls tumbling down in the distance. If you had told me then that we'd end the day another 1500 higher (plus descents and reascents), I would have said you were crazy.

Nearing Nevada Falls, water trickles down all along the rockwall next to the trail. In the winter, or years when there is more snow, the trickle becomes a nice shower. The water felt really nice in the hot sun.

The top of Nevada Falls is awesome. There's a nice, albiet a bit crowded, area to relax, picnic and dip your feet into the cool water. The calm atmosphere really belies the fact that you're directly on top of a roaring 600 foot tall waterfall, and one wrong step can send you tumbling down the sheer cliff to the valley floor.

nevada falls: the drop
You can easily remind yourselve, however, by going to a viewing area (read: rock with a small railing) where you can stare right down over the rushing falls.

By this time, I'd drank 4 bottles of water (we brought 5, refilled 2 at Vernal bridge). That's when I started trying to convince Sarah that we should drink the river water.  We had to decide whether to go back or to go 5 more miles to Glacier Point. We asked a these two women how hard the climb was, and they said it was pretty easier from there on out. We should have known by their exposed middrifts, sports bras and bouncy Extreeeme attitude, that their definition of easy was a little different then ours.

Yosemite Falls and the Top of the Ridge

The trail continued up another stretch of switchbacks with a woodsier, shadier feel.

top of nevada falls
We even spotted a pheasant. Moving on past the easier-to-get-to falls, we were alone for most of the time, instead of surrounded with people and smog on the valley floor.

By now we had left the realm of public toilets and entered the world of peeing in the woods. I went in some bushes. 10 minutes later, Sarah turns to me and goes "I hope that wasn't Posion Ivy you peed in". It wasn't, but that didn't stop me from developing psychosomatic symptoms on my arm.

The view from the top of the ridge was absolutely magnificent. We could see Yosemite Falls across the valley, and the whole valley stretching out below. We could see the parking lot we started from below, but the individual cars were tinier than ants. We could also see Vernal Falls, now a long way below.

We thought it would be no more climbs after this. We were wrong.

After a breathtaking walk along the ridge, the trail veered back downhill. We were really confused, and thought maybe we were lost. We figured it'd be fine if we made it down to the Valley floor, anyway. Luckily, we ran into some hikers going the other way who told us we were still on the right path. Unluckily, they told us there would be a shuttle at Glacier Point when we got there.

Danger! Pelligro! Near Death Experience #2

After a while downhill, the trail leads across this little river, where we refilled on water. Sarah's delicate stomach was wary of drinking the water at first, but we figured it was fine as a little bird was drinking out of it and did not immediately die.

this could be you
My stomach, of course, lives for danger and wanted to drink the water back at Vernal Bridge.

The river was accompanied by these adoooraable Danger! Peligro! signs with abstract pictures of waterfall death, warning of your untimely demise if you were not too careful. They weren't kidding; The wet, river-eroded granite was so incredibly smooth, it was like a giant waterslide. If we had put our full weight on any wet part of the rock, there was no way we could have clamored back to safety.

We were extra careful as we filled up our water bottles. The wet part of the rock near Sarah's foot was like glass. From here, we couldn't see where the waterfall was, or how high it was.

Yosemite is surprisingly touristy and surprisingly untouristy. As in, I was surprised by the number of people that go, and how crowded the valley floor is, but I was also surprised that, for a place with so many tourists, the park had nondescript trailmaps, few rangers around and a general sense of danger.

illilouette falls
When we got back to camp, we learned that someone died while climbing up half dome right before Mollymark and his friends got there. But then again, I find that people who are used to the outdoors have no idea how clueless to this stuff city kids are. City kids know about other things, but there's just no need to learn how to wear mud boots, how to put on snow chains or that poison oak even exists. Especially in paternalistic San Francisco, where the solution to suicide is a fence. I guess what I'm getting at is that there are few fences in Yosemite.

Illilouette Falls aka Near Death Experience #3

The trail climbed back up from the river toward the opposing ridge. We could hear the sound of rusing water through the trees, but we couldn't see the waterfall just yet.

illilouette falls
We didn't have a trail map, weren't sure which trail we were and didn't know which landmarks were which, but in some ways that was really cool, because we got to discover the new sights at each turn of the road. We had no idea we were about to see beautiful Illilouette Falls until we came up on it.

Illilouette is nearly 400 feet hight, and showers down the shear rock in a wide, dreamy curtain. It's only visible from the trail -- you can't drive to see it. It was only after I surveyed the ridge that I realized this was the waterfall we had crossed over -- we had refilled our water bottles at the top. Such a scenic death that would have been.

 

You had to get up right on the edge of the cliff to see the bottom of the waterfall.

half dome
The tree branches in the above picture were from a large pine whose base was way below. It almost felt like you could lean against it, but if you tried, down you'd go.

Up the Opposite Ridge to Glacier Point

6-7 miles in, the Panorama Trail climbs to the top of the ridge opposite to the one we came down from. As we walked higher, the air becomes fresher and sweet from flowers.

Burned out trees dotted the landscape along the trail, including one hanging precariously off the side of the ridge. The sun was drifting closer to the top of the ridge as we came to a clearing. The lighting was gorgeous, casting long shadows and summery, golden light.

I should note that we never got lost once on this hike. However, we spent the entire time thinking we were lost.

nevada falls and vernal falls: look how small they are now!
Our plan was to take Panorama Trail to Glacier Point. At the trailhead, we couldn't find any signs for it, so we opted for the Mist Trail instead, not realizing the Mist Trail/John Muir Trail was the Panorama Trail's beginning. At Nevada Falls, we saw signs for Glacier Point and figured we'd take whatever trail to Glacier Point. We thought we had wandered off the Glacier Point trail when the trail veered downhill toward the river at Ilillouette crossing. It wasn't until this point, 7 miles in, 4 waterfalls and many a panoramic view later that we realized we had been on the Panorama Trail the whole time.

Across the valley was this weird giant rounded rock portruding from the opposite ridge. We had no idea what it was, despite slowly making our way around it for hours.

half dome from glacier point
It wasn't until we circled around the ridge to a this vantage point that we were all "huh, would you look at that. Half that dome is cut off." Duh, it was Half Dome.

Over 3000 feet above the valley now, we again caught sight of Nevada and Vernal Falls. The falls which once were so big and high up now look tiny down below.

A stretch of steep, sandy switchbacks led up to the top of another ridge. A rocky portion of the trail, in which you cross between a boulder and a rock wall will tell you you are closing in to the highest point of the trail. Before long, you will spot Glacier Point below, and all the happy unsweaty people that drove up. Lots of people were milling about, rested from there drive up the mountain, as we came down from 9 miles, 2,600 feet up, 750 feet down and 1,360 feet back up, hagard, sweaty, and tired.

half dome from glacier point

Despite the mild slap in the face of seeing well rested car tourists at the same viewing area, the breathtaking views of the valley at Glacier Point were an excellent climax to our long hike. You can see Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Yosemite Falls, the Libery Cap, Clouds Rest and the valley from Glacier Point, and it's all just amazing.

Hitchhiking Down aka Near Death Experience #4

Here's the thing. Someone told us there would be a shuttle at the top of glacier poing running until 10. Someone was wrong. Shuttles apparently stopped at 3:45PM.

By the time we finished taking pictures of glacier point, it was about 7:30PM. At that point we had 2 choices: hike Four Mile Trail (actually 4.8 miles) down to the valley floor, and god knows how long back to the parking lot along the floor, or or hitchhike 30 miles to Curry Village.

glacier point
The 30 miles was rather dissapointing as Curry Village and Glacier Point are inches apart on a map. However, that inch drops 3200 feet of sheer cliff. Somebody actually suggested we walk it as it looked "so close", drawing a straight line from Glacier Point to Curry Village on the map. Yah, that walk would have consisted of two steps forward off a cliff.

The sun was going to set over the ridge soon, it would be pitch black in the valley. Which meant if we walked 4 mile trail down... well, we were armed with only a dinky Peruvian flashlight and no sweaters, so that'd probably be the end of Sarah and Mimi.

So, hitchhiking it was. We got a ride from some dude who was here on a job interview. He was very curmudgeonly. He stopped for these pictures of the sunset.

sunset
No one would take us to Curry Village from the top, so we got dropped off at the junction of US 41, where we hitchhiked another ride to Curry Village from these engineering students who were planning to hike half dome. It was the girl's first time, and her boyfriend kept talking about how the last time he did it, he hallucinated and ate snow. Girl: "What am I going to do?!?!" Dude: "You'll be fine, sweety." 

By the time we got to Curry Village it was pitch black. This left us with 1.5 hours of driving next to cliffs in the dark. Luckily, we got to camp OK, or else you would not be seeing these pretty pictures. 
 

annthansten says:
Great entry! Love your attention to detail, and the very informative info about the park and your hike. Thank you for taking the time to write this, and sharing your pictures with us.
Posted on: Jan 04, 2014
darkeclipser says:
Amazing attention to detail on this blog post. :) thanks for sharing your experience right off Yosemite. I also got the chance to visit that national park. I would like to share my own shots Yosemite National Park Photography.
Posted on: Aug 04, 2013
thenewextrememimi says:
We drove down Friday night and camped, did the hike the next day, and drove back Sunday morning. This was my first real hike, so it took forever, but experienced people can get up (and down) pretty quickly.
Posted on: Aug 13, 2008
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glacier point
glacier point
vernal falls, from the bridge
vernal falls, from the bridge
squierrel posing for picture
squierrel posing for picture
nevada falls
nevada falls
nevada falls: the drop
nevada falls: the drop
top of nevada falls
top of nevada falls
this could be you
this could be you
illilouette falls
illilouette falls
illilouette falls
illilouette falls
half dome
half dome
nevada falls and vernal falls: loo…
nevada falls and vernal falls: lo…
half dome from glacier point
half dome from glacier point
half dome from glacier point
half dome from glacier point
glacier point
glacier point
sunset
sunset
sunset
sunset
half dome
half dome
nevada falls
nevada falls
nevada falls: the drop
nevada falls: the drop
water fall death, the modern art v…
water fall death, the modern art …
glacier point
glacier point
glacier point
glacier point
yosemite falls from glacier point
yosemite falls from glacier point
trail map
trail map
glacier point
glacier point
nevada falls
nevada falls
sarah showers in the runoff near n…
sarah showers in the runoff near …
top of nevada falls
top of nevada falls
the precipice of nevada falls
the precipice of nevada falls
sarahs near death water collectin…
sarah's near death water collecti…