I have always marvelled at how the majority of visitors to Yosemite National Park remain in the valley rather than exploring further afield. There is no doubt that the full majesty of the park can only be experienced by expending some energy and taking a hike but some of the walks on offer are rather testing if your fitness levels are not up to par. I am a keen hiker and just have to take on the Four Mile Trail when in Yosemite but it can provide a severe test especially in the heat of the Summer.
To Drive is To Cheat
You can actually drive up to Glacier Point which provides the grand finale to the Four Mile Trail but somehow that seems like cheating! It is far more fulfilling to walk but four miles is a long way when every step is up. The trail starts in the valley and climbs quickly via a series of switchbacks and the unsuspecting hiker will think they have made big progress quickly when in fact they have only just gotten started. The views of the valley are spectacular and there is the wonderful vista of Yosemite Falls to enjoy. Starting out early will keep you out of the worst excesses of the heat as the trail is largely in shadow during the morning.
The central portion of the trail can feel like a bit of a route march as the scenery becomes less interesting and there are only occasional viewpoints affording panoramas across the valley. The path seems never ending and it is easy to become discouraged as the effects of the exertion and increasing altitude begin to bite. By now you will be glad if you are wearing a good pair of hiking boots and sorry if you opted for trainers. Tough soles and ankle support really helps on the rough terrain. The first time I took on the trail I felt that I had been walking for so long that I must have taken a wrong turn but of course I hadn’t. In all you climb 3200ft to an altitude of 7214ft.
As you near the end of your walk the gradient becomes mercifully less severe and you get sight of the distinctive rock formations at Glacier Point. After passing through a wooded area there is a short walk to the top and then you realise why you bothered. Glacier Point affords some of the most dramatic and beautiful vistas on the planet and they are enough to take your breath away. You just have to spend some time taking it all in and there is a handy shop where you can grab a coffee and an ice cream. There are splendid views of Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls and across the entire park.
When you feel ready it is time to tackle the descent. Before heading down you should replenish your water supply as the sun will now be on the mountain and it gets very hot indeed. Whilst the physical exertion is less telling on the way down, the heat is sapping and it can still be hard going. You have four miles to cover and it is easy to get burnt or dehydrated. The last time I finished this walk I felt so hot that I ran across the road, down to the Merced River and jumped right in! The fisherman and sunbathers on the banks seemed rather amused as I luxuriated in the cold water.
The Four Mile Trail is a good work out and the rewards are great but the hike should be taken on advisedly with good footwear, a copious supply of sunscreen and plenty of liquid. There is nowhere quite like Glacier Point and the place seems even better after the rigours of the trail.
Article by Sally Stacey