One of the oldest trails in Yosemite is called the 4-Mile. The name is traditional but after countless repairs and re-routes, the actual distance is about 4.7 miles today. The lower trailhead is on the valley floor at the site of the old 1800s era Black’s Hotel (long gone). It’s near the famous swinging bridge, which doesn’t really swing anymore, and close to the base of Sentinel Rock, at approximately 4000 feet. The upper trailhead is at 7200 feet at Glacier Point. If you hike up this trail you have some options when you reach the visitor’s center at Glacier Point. You can loop around to the Panorama Trail and hike down to Nevada Fall, returning to the valley by way of the Mist Trail, or the John Muir Trail. Another option is to link to the Pohono Trail and hike on up to Sentential Dome, or even do the whole south rim tour looping around to the tunnel view area. Before there was a road to Glacier Point, this trail was the quickest route to the old hotel that once stood at the summit (burned down in 1960). Runners and mule trains made daily trips up and down this trail to keep the hotel running. Sue being a former volunteer ranger knows and loves hiking this trail, and it’s always been one of my top favorites. Sentinel Dome in the Miwok language was called "Sakkaduch" , and has always been a favorite hike destination for it's amazing views.
We were up a first light. Something about the mountain air just naturally promotes a great night’s sleep, even if it’s only in a Tarptent. We had a quick breakfast, packed up, and began walking. Along the Merced River the currents make their music rushing along the rocks. Dogwoods are blooming along with the occasional Redbud, and the forest is alive with creature sounds. We found the trailhead and headed up. Pausing to look up at towering Sentinel Rock it’s a little daunting to contemplate that the summit of this massive granite peak is actually a low point along a jagged ridge that will eventually be below your field of vision and almost unnoticeable. The trail begins climbing right away switching back again and again. The trail tread is very rocky, and has remnants of old paving, and quite a bit of erosion damage. Many of the trails in Yosemite have this quality to them. Cobbled together with rocks, very uneven, and hard on the feet. Many switchbacks take you higher above the valley floor and soon the view possibilities begin to open up. The higher you get the better the views. As you switch back to the west the views are of El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, and the west end of the valley with the river meandering through groves of mixed confers and green meadows. Switch back to the east and Yosemite falls dominate your vision. Really the best available views of this fall are had from this trail, with all 3 distinct fall sections revealing themselves, and the slow rolling sonic rumble pulsing outward. The spray has the visual effect of making the falls look in slow motion. The rocky “benches” thick with vegetation, loved by John Muir, providing a stepped pedestal like some kind of alter.
At about 6800 feet the trail makes a turn and the view changes. A section of trail passes along a rocky ledge with a sheer drop off giving you dizzying views down to Yosemite Village. A few lingering snow patches were piled up next to the cliffs, which could create a slipping hazard. If you go off the side of the trail on this section, that’s going to be a big fall which you’d be lucky to survive. Sue couldn’t help tossing a few snowballs just to liven things up a bit. Able to look east now you get views straight up Tenaya Canyon to the high peaks framed by Half Dome on one side and North Dome on the other. I love the unique perspectives offered by this trail.
When we reached the visitor’s center at Glacier Point, predictably there were people around. This the big difference between hiking the south rim verses the north rim. Having a nice road brings bus loads of tourists. From Glacier you get to see the falls of the Merced from high above, and the snowy peaks of the high Sierra command attention. We decided not to hang around here and headed up the Pohono to Sentinel Dome. The trail heads up through fragrant mature forests of incense cedar, jeffery, and ponderosa pines, climbing 922 feet in about 1.5 miles. On the summit the cool breeze almost makes you forget that you are in direct sunlight. From this little rock dome the 360 panorama is a fitting payoff. Of course there is access to Sentinel from trails originating up on the rim as well, so expect to have some company. This early in the year it’s not bad. The views here are among the best in Yosemite.
Just out of coincidence, Sue happened to run into her mother at the base of the dome. Her brother Dave and his wife Diane were up at the summit. We were all camped out together, and they had driven up Glacier Point road for the day. That gave us the option of riding down in their car. Considering my plans to hike Half Dome the next day, that seemed like a good stroke of luck.
Click here to see our photos from this hike
Click here to see photos from our Pohono Trail hike in 2007