|View east from El Capitan|
It seems that there is always another awesome hike to be discovered around Yosemite Valley beckoning a hiker’s spirit to get boots on the ground. If Half Dome is the most iconic feature of Yosemite Valley, then the runner up for that honor must (arguably) be mighty El Capitan. The Ahwahneechee name for the rock is Totokonoolah, which probably means something like “The Chief” or “Rock Chief”. The name El Capitan comes from the Mariposa Battalion being a loose Spanish translation of the native moniker, of which “The Captain” is truly worthy. In the early days of Yosemite as a national park, the original Big Oak Flat road (wagon road) had a very sharp curve which was referred to by guides as “OMG point”. As a wagon negotiated the curve approaching from the west, El Capitan in all its glory would become immediately and suddenly visible from a short distance, inspiring wide eyed surprise and gaping awe. Even today the same sort of effect takes place on the modern paved road as the immense granite face appears through the trees on Southside Drive. Like Half Dome, it was once considered to be impossible to climb, but today El Capitan’s 3000 foot high granite wall has become a personal challenge for accomplished technical climbers from around the world with dozens of established climbing routes. And like Half Dome, the summit is also accessible to hikers by trail.
|Zoom to the Clark Range|
After roughly half a mile you pass the first of several little creeks and begin enjoying seasonal wild flowers, most prevalent near the riparian areas (see my photos). The trail continues descending gently all the way down to Cascade Creek where there is a backpacking trail camp about 2.5 miles in. Some Yosemite hiking guides have this little hike to Cascade Creek listed as a short day hike by itself. This is a pretty area with a nice little cascade down a narrow little canyon, a beautiful little pool upstream, some rocks to explore, and abundant greenery and wild flowers. Continuing on, the trail heads gently downhill toward the junction with part of the old Big Old Flat road where there is a junction to head toward Foresta. Bearing left on a short section of the old road you finally reach the low point of the hike at 5863 feet just over 3 miles in, and bear left again to begin a rather relentless uphill.
The next section of trail climbs about 1,890 feet in roughly 2.85 miles using GPS data, and as always, GPS margin of error applies. This hike is interesting because the summit that is your destination is actually not the high point of the route. You reach the highest point at approximately 7,753 feet just before descending again to Ribbon Creek. Some portions of the trail are quite steep, while others are gentle, but the route is scenic and will keep your mind busy taking in the sights. At one point you spot what looks like a high granite ridge ahead reaching above the trees, but your ascent will eventually bring you well above that point and into the subalpine. Along one section the trail follows up along a rock slope with sparse weathered jeffery pines scattered about, some of which are very stately looking, and you can spot mariposa lilies and other wild flowers that like sun. The next section levels out somewhat and brings you through a dense wooded area which shows lots of white fir and incense cedar, and you can spot lots of pine drops and spotted coral root. Soon after cresting the top of the route the trail descends toward Ribbon Creek and along Ribbon Meadow with more wild flowers that like moist areas. After passing a boggy area with questionable water, you eventually get access to the Ribbon Creek further along where you can filter water for drinking. Ribbon Creek is the source of Ribbon fall, and is usually down to a trickle by mid summer. We found there was plenty of water flowing even though this was a very dry year. The only other potential drinking water stop is all the way down at Cascade Creek.
Alpine Lily (Lilium parvum)