Outbound Collective logo

Calling an Audible to Yosemite

An unexpected adventure to one of the finest places on planet earth.

By: Chris MacMurray + Save to a List

Way back in February of 2016, me and a couple of close friends had elaborately planned a week-long backpacking trip to the Canadian Rockies for late September. The two big adventures we had planned for our trip included overnight stays at Mount Assiniboine and Floe Lake. In late September of 2015 my dad had done this same exact trip, and after seeing his photographs of these majestic places surrounded by crisp golden larches, we knew that this trip would be the highlight of our year. 

We had asked our employers for time off months in advance. We had booked a helicopter reservation to fly us into Assiniboine Provincial Park, and had even reserved a hotel room in Canmore for the night after we planned to trek seventeen miles out of Assiniboine. Additionally, we had each spent all summer saving up money to afford this trip. All year, we eagerly awaited for late September to arrive. And when it did, we were greeted with disappointment.

Two days before we were supposed to drive up to Banff National Park, I looked up the mountain forecast for Mount Assiniboine only to discover that they were calling for 18 inches of snow, overcast clouds, and rain for the entire three days we had scheduled to visit the park. After considering that neither me or my friends had any winter backpacking experience, we knew that it would be a dangerous decision to proceed with our original plans. 

But with $400 and an entire week off from work ahead of us, we knew that we had to make the most of it somehow. So, two days before our scheduled departure for the Canadian Rockies, my friends and I cancelled all of our previous reservations in Banff and quickly rescheduled a road trip to Yosemite National Park.

Our first 24 hours in Yosemite were paradoxically overwhelming and underwhelming.
Overwhelming in the sense that we were each stifled by the profound reality that one place could possess such an abundance of natural beauty. On the one hand we were so eager to gaze upon everything there was to see in the park in one evening, and on the other hand the beauty of the park was simply too much to handle at once.

However, it was also underwhelming in the sense that the weather was also not what we had expected. Of course, our first full day in the park consisted of a thick blanket of clouds masquerading the sun, as well as several rain showers throughout the day to dampen the mood even further. Additionally, the anticipated forecast called for clouds and rain up until the day we were scheduled to depart from Yosemite. 

But despite the less than ideal weather, we were stoked just to be in Yosemite. And since we were there, we tried to make the most of our time with a day hike on the trail to Vernal Falls and Bridal Veil Falls--both of which were nearly completely deprived of water. We spent about three hours on and off the trail, taking several stops for photographs, and even a quick frigid swim in the pool at the base of Vernal Falls. Tip #1: If you can safely swim at the base of a waterfall, don't pass up the opportunity.

About 45 minutes before sunset during our hike back to Half Dome Village, I couldn't help but ponder how much more spectacular our time in Yosemite would have been if we had seen more of the sun. 

About a quarter mile before we reached the trailhead, we caught an unexpected glimpse of the sun between some trees, beaming on the face of a mountain peak. I tried not to think much of it for fear of having my expectations let down. But on our shuttle ride back to Yosemite Village the sun continued to unveil itself, and it wasn't until we came to a stop with a clear view of Half Dome that we knew we were going to get to see a sunset in Yosemite. My friends and I leaped off of the shuttle bus and began sprinting to a nearby meadow to prepare ourselves for what we were about to see: an absolutely divine sunset on the face of Half Dome. 

The moment felt too good to be true. All day we had seen nothing but clouds and rain, and at the very last light of the day we had the pleasure of witnessing the creation of a masterpiece in one of the most beautiful places on planet earth. I must have clicked the shutter on my camera at least fifty times before I could muster the self-control to simply be in the moment and appreciate the beauty before me without being behind a camera lens. Tip #2: Never give up on a sunset, even if it's been overcast and raining all day. You never know what you'll end up with.

Our last two days in Yosemite were unexpectedly gorgeous. The sun shined consistently even when we were supposed to see nothing but overcast skies. We spent the next afternoon hiking the Valley floor, and our last morning in the park up at Glacier Point for sunrise. And to celebrate our four days in Yosemite, we decided to cook a delicious breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and coffee in the parking lot of Glacier Point before our departure. 

Honestly, I don't think our trip to Yosemite would have been nearly as special without having cancelled an eight-month planned trip to Banff, or without having 24+ hours of less than ideal weather. I am still learning that, surprisingly, trips like these are overwhelmingly more precious when we experience magnificent moments without having any expectations of experiencing them in the first place. The next time you take a trip anywhere, don't expect to be amazed in specific ways by specific things. Rather, go into it without expectations and simply let the spontaneity of the experience sweep you off your feet.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.


The 6 Best Hikes In Yosemite National Park

Kyle Frost

Pushing Boundaries in the Outdoors: The Grand Canyon of Tuolumne

Kristen Fuller

20 Incredible Adventures in Yosemite National Park

The Outbound Collective

Yosemite National Park Reclaims Historic Names

Aaron Rickel Jones

How to Beat the Crowds in Yosemite Valley

Joseph Gulizia