We left downtown Sonora in darkness to meet members of the Tuolumne County Trailheads at 5:45 a.m. in front of Sierra Gas and the Day-O in Jamestown.
Wendy Hesse and other people with the Trailheads wanted me to show them the approach to Old Big Oak Flat Road in Yosemite Valley. There were seven of us altogether so we exchanged directions and mobile phone numbers, split up in two vehicles, and agreed to meet at a point west of El Capitan and El Cap Meadow.
We were walking by 8 a.m. and we made it up to the first stunning views of El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall by 9 a.m. Wendy and the Trailheads wanted to get back to their vehicles and head west to Foresta to try another walk on Old Coulterville Road to Little Nellie Falls.
My neighbor and I decided to skip another spell in vehicles so we could keep walking in the Valley. We all walked down to a crossing at Ribbon Creek and agreed to meet Wendy at our parking area later in the afternoon.
We followed a spur of the Valley Loop Trail east under El Capitan and by 10:30 a.m. we could see tiny figures, little people up on the first pitches of The Nose route, just beginning their efforts to climb the 3,000-foot tall granite giant.
We continued walking east and came out of the woods at a crossing on Northside Drive near the east edge of El Cap Meadow. From there we stayed close to the Merced River, trying to avoid riverside areas closed for restoration.
By now it was close to 11 a.m. and we’d seen about a dozen people between Old Big Oak Flat Road and El Capitan Bridge. There were thousands of people congregating in popular spots elsewhere in the Valley and so far we’d avoided the crowds. It was a full-on sunny springtime day with cool morning temperatures changing to warmer highs in the 60s and low 70s.
We walked downstream and followed the meandering Merced River west toward Cathedral Rocks and Cathedral Spires. The river ran clear, tinted blue, brown, green and black, depending on sand in the river bottom, live and dead vegetation underwater, and shade from trees and rocks next to the river.
The Merced looked inviting and it was nearly warm enough to jump in for an icy plunge. Nearly but not quite. Across the gently flowing river there were football-field sized beaches of bare brown sand and riverside brush.
We came closer to massive Middle Cathedral Rock, which features 2,000-vertical-foot climbs on the north and east buttresses. Further west and around a couple bends in the river we knew we would find views of Bridalveil Fall and the jagged, overhanging rock teeth it pours from.
Scientists say Bridalveil Fall is 617 feet high and it normally flows or trickles year-round. Its primary source is Ostrander Lake, less than 10 miles away to the southeast. Ahwahneechee people who used to live in Yosemite Valley believed a vengeful spirit named Pohono dwells in Bridalveil Fall and guards the entrance to Yosemite Valley.
In the 1926 book “Lights and Shadows of Yosemite,” writer Katherine Ames recounted how many visitors remarked on “the capricious cold wind which, even on the warmest days, is often felt to blow” in the vicinity of Bridalveil Fall.
White people paused to admire the waterfall, and the native people hurried past, faces averted, with dread fear in their hearts. Pohono signified to them the Evil Wind. Their fears, Ames wrote, were founded in the following myth.
One soft spring day, while women of Ahwahnee were gathering grasses for basket weaving above the top of Pohono, one of the maidens ventured near the edge of the water to pick an overhanging grass.
She stepped upon a mossy rock, set there to lure her by Pohono, the Evil One who inhabits the mist. In a twinkling she was snatched into the waterfall, never to return. Her companions, horrified and fearing the same fate, hurried back to the Valley to sound the alarm. A band of young braves sped to the foot of the waterfall. No sign of the maiden was found. Her spirit, with many others, was imprisoned in the water by Pohono, Ames wrote, “there to stay till she had succeeded in luring to its doom some other victim, and then, and not until then, would it be released to wander on to the home of the Great Spirit in the West.”
We rounded a corner and say mist rising from the base of an overhanging cliff. Then we saw tour buses and people, and then we saw the waterfall, flowing and kicking up more mist, clouds of mist, enough mist to form the so-called bridalveil whites have named it for. Whether the waterfall’s spirit more closely resembles Pohono or Bridalveil, it’s a sight to behold in springtime.
We rested there within sight of the waterfall for a time, and headed back east to rendezvous with Wendy at our agreed location. We made it back to Sonora by 4 p.m.
Reporter’s note: Before I began working for newspapers in the early 1990s, I spent seven years with VisionQuest and Outward Bound as a paid, certified wilderness instructor and emergency medical technician accountable for groups of felony offender teens, court-ordered children and adult Cuban refugees. I am in my mid-50s and anyone who walks OK on their own can keep up with me anywhere. This account is not to be taken as an endorsement or recommendation of any kind.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.