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A Magical Yosemite Valley Winter Storm

A Yosemite Winter Wonderland

By: Jordan Tarver + Save to a List

I gave myself a personal assignment to chase a storm heading toward Yosemite Valley. Leading up to the trip, the weather was changing daily and I wasn’t sure if I was going to score. The night before we left, a high weather advisory was rolled out for snow up to 13 inches.

The roads slowly became windier and the speed at which I was comfortable maneuvering around those turns became slower and slower. This was a telltale sign that we were approaching Yosemite Valley. We were expecting to have to talk to some rangers once we got to the park entrance, as the government shutdown was impacting the park’s operations.

As we approached the entrance, I slowed the van and rolled down the window. The ranger glared at me as if I was not where I was supposed to be. He asked, “You got chains back there? Gonna be a heavy storm tonight. Expect road closures for the rest of the weekend.”

A Mellow Start In Yosemite Valley

The beginning of the trip was cake. Easy. No complications or anything of that sort. But, that wasn’t the case for what was on the Yosemite weather agenda. We had our campsite at Upper Pines Campground, one of my favorite places to stay in Yosemite Valley. We slowly backed the van into the site and embraced our first encounter with the crisp valley winter air.

We quickly tossed the gear out of the rig and into the metal bear lockers. With the doors making an unbearable screeching noise, I slammed them shut and hurried back to the van. It was approaching late afternoon and we were looking to head up to Tunnel View to catch the sunset. Jamming the keys into the ignition, I cranked the engine on and threw the van into drive. We were off to Tunnel View.

Tunnel View is one of the most, if not the most, beautiful and cinematic views overlooking the entire valley. Staring down the middle, you can see Half Dome peaking out in the distance. On the right you have Cathedral Rocks making a bold statement with Bridalveil Fall gracefully pouring winter snow melt from its edge. On the left, the rock I come to the Valley for every single time, El Capitan. The holy grail of climbing. The rest? Well, I’ll leave that up to your imagination.

Yosemite Valley In Its Glory

As the sun dropped below the peaks behinds us and shadows grew larger on the valley floor, I saw the tip of Half Dome glowing at the end of the valley. With little time to spare, we drove as safely and steadily down the winding roads to hopefully catch a glimpse. Finally, we made it to the Merced River. What we saw at that moment is something that I’ll never forget.

The Merced River served as a perfect mirror and made a vivid reflection of Half Dome straight ahead. Trying to comprehend that view was near impossible. You see, I’ve been to Yosemite Valley several times and nothing like this has ever caught my eye. In absolute disbelief, we got back in the van and drove to our campsite to call it a night. There was really nothing left we needed to do after a sunset like that. We were beyond content.

A Yosemite Valley Storm Was Brewing

Morning came and I immediately threw open the blue checkered curtains hoping to see a blanket of snow. Nothing. Absolutely no snow…yet. We went about our morning and threw together a quick breakfast. As the steam rolled off our cups of coffee, we sat around our Solo Stove fire pit and read up on the weather report for the day.

The weather radar showed a snowstorm approaching and expected to hit by 2 PM.

As 2 PM rolled around, I got exactly what I wished for. Snowflakes about the size of your pinky’s fingernail began to gracefully fall from the sky. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the snow, let alone a snowstorm, and the initial snowflakes threw me for a whirlwind. In fact, my excitement was through the roof and I thought this was how it was going to be the entire time.

However, I was wrong.

Yosemite Valley Whiteout

The storm quickly picked up and the snowflakes were now the size of a quarter. Driving in the van was difficult as snowflakes continued to come down harder and harder. This was more than I wished for. Before we knew it, we were in a complete whiteout.

With little sunlight left to roam around Yosemite Valley and shoot the storm, we decided to call it an evening. The roads were getting a bit sketchy and I hadn’t put chains on yet, which means I still had to learn how to do that. Lovely.

The roads were completely covered with snow as we pulled up to our site. I wondered how the hell we would drive out of here in the morning. To avoid some complications come morning, I pulled my gloves off and prepared for my hands to freeze. Wrapping the chains around the two back tires, I locked them into place.

Finally, it was time to wrap up the day, bundle up in the warmest clothes possible, and embrace the 12-degree night.

Yosemite Valley Miracle

When I woke up, I reached for those same blue checkered curtains hoping I’d see what I came for. Slowly peeling them back from the frosted windows, I tried my hardest to pry open my heavy eyelids. Gazing through the back windows of the van, I saw exactly what I wanted. A blanket of fresh, white snow.

We quickly geared up the van, cranked the heat, and slowly made our way over the snow-covered roads. At last, we parked on the side of the road near the meadow just below Half Dome. There wasn’t a single footprint in sight. In fact, we were the first people to experience the fresh snowfall. I looked around, and all I could do was smile. Finally, I got what I wished for.

It was a miracle.

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!

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