We entered Yosemite National Park from the east entrance. Little did we know that the entrance had been closed only a week before we arrived due to snow. We had no idea how huge the park was and how varied the landscapes were from one side of the park to the other. Tioga Pass was high in altitude and cool in temperature, around 60 degrees with snow piles on the side of the road. Huge cliff faces surrounded us as we drove into the park, and snowmelt waterfalls welcomed our entrance.
The first thing we did when we arrived was stop at a ranger station to look into campsites for the night. Out of the thirteen campgrounds in the park, all of them were completely filled. We were left with two options: leave the park and try to find a campground that wasn’t filled in the surrounding area or go backcountry camping, which is camping off a trail in the wilderness, with no designated campsite and with no access to your car, so you carry everything you need on your back.
We opted for backcountry camping, something we had never done before. The park ranger gave us a wilderness pass and told us about the one mile trail we would hike to Inspiration Point to camp for the night. He asked if we had a bear canister.
“No,” we said. “But we have bear spray.”
The ranger shook his head. “You’re not allowed to have bear spray in the park,” he said. “It’s considered a weapon.”
My mind began to race, how were we supposed to defend ourselves if a bear attacked? The ranger explained that the only bears in the park were black and brown bears, which aren’t aggressive by nature. He said that if a bear is trying to get into our canister at night (which should have all our food and toiletries in it and be placed 15 steps from our tent) that we should get out of our tent and make a lot of noise. He said the bear would be scared off.
I had my doubts, but we took the canister and headed through the park anyways.
After we figured out our camping plans for the night, we decided to take our time driving through the park, making our way down to Yosemite Valley, which is where we would hike to our camp spot that night. We stopped by a lake to make lunch, hiked the 3.2 mile roundtrip Tuolumne Grove trail (where we saw and walked through Sequoia trees) and searched for bears in the meadows we drove past.
It took us about an hour and a half of driving time to get to the valley and at about seven in the evening we arrived at the trailhead where we would begin our trek to Inspiration Point. We loaded everything we’d need for the night into our backpacks: a tent, two sleeping bags, food, 3.5 liters of water and some spare clothes.
At the very beginning of the trail we unknowingly took a wrong turn. We began climbing a mountain and the “trail” was merely marked by stones stacked on top of each other every 20 feet or so. We thought it was just an obscure trail that only experienced hikers took. But the stacked stones kept getting further and further apart and we were left wandering along the side of a cliff face as the sun was getting lower and lower in the sky. Even if we wanted to just stop and camp for the night, we couldn’t. The mountain we were climbing was too steep to even pitch a tent.
We wandered for about an hour, trying to find the trail we walked off of. With bears, mountain lions and sunset on our minds, we decided we would just pitch our tent on the flattest spot we could find. As we were about to unload our packs, Parker decided to walk a couple hundred feet more.
Within a minute I heard the sweetest words of the trip,“I found the trail!” Parker yelled.
I ran to catch up with him; the trail was so distinct we didn’t know how we missed it in the first place. With only about 40 minutes of light left we hiked the rest of the very obvious trail to the end. We arrived at Inspiration Point. We were both stunned. Our campsite overlooked the entirety of Yosemite Valley; a waterfall could be seen in the distance. No one else was in sight. Our little adventure was well worth the trouble.
The next morning we got up at sunrise. I painted the valley as the sun shone golden and we ate a breakfast of clif bars. We hiked back down the mountain (without getting lost) and drove to a first come, first serve campground called Camp 4 to claim a spot for the next night.