Last week we hiked and backpacked in Yosemite with an able and informative guide, Kari. In 3 days we hiked 24 miles along the Pohono, Panorama, and the John Muir Trails, and camped for 2 nights. Our route started at the Tunnel View trailhead, with a steep uphill climb over a rocky (Kari called it “technical”) and unshaded path. My first impression was regret that I had committed myself to 3 days of this exercise. It was hard to appreciate the scenery as I stepped gingerly over loose rocks and dry sandy soil.

Our first break was a viewpoint at Mile 1.3, Inspiration Point; and it is aptly named. By this time we had climbed to 5,390 elevation, and had earned a view of Yosemite Valley and Bridalveil Fall. John Muir took Teddy Roosevelt to Inspiration Point in 1903 when they explored Yosemite together.

Our next two days consisted of one breathtaking view after another breath-taking hike.

In time, I came to enjoy the exercise, and the atmosphere. Kari was a wealth of knowledge about the names and features of flowers, birds, trees, and geologic forms. We passed by Stanford Point, Crocker Point, Dewey Point, Taft Point, Glacier Point and others.

The trees provided welcome shade along our route. We hiked through white fir, red fir, sugar pine, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine and others. The ponderosa pine has long needles, in bundles of 3, with a jigsaw puzzle bark. At higher elevations, 7,000 feet, it yields to Jeffrey pine, with similar features but a fragrant, vanilla-smelling bark. The lodgepole pine twists in the wind and often twists further as it declines and dies. You can see these unique curves in the grain in one of the lodgepole pine trunks at our first campsite.

Purple, white and yellow wildflowers abound in Yosemite this time of year. But a highlight was certainly the snow flower. This striking stalk-like plant shoots straight up, with an unapologetic bright red coloring. It contrasts sharply with the forest floor, seemingly out of place. Kari explained that it is named for its tendency to poke noticeably out of the snow, early in the spring. Lacking chlorophyll, it is a parasite, feeding off the fungi of tree roots. It blooms from May to July in Yosemite, part of the heath family.

When we reached Sentinel Dome, Kari asked us if we wanted to add 1 mile to our itinerary and climb the Dome for another excellent view. I surprised myself by agreeing. Sentinel Dome offers 360 degree view of the Valley, Half Dome, and points beyond. The skeletal Jeffrey Pine tree on top was once photographed by Ansel Adams (1940) but has since died.

By our third day of hiking, I was stronger and more ambitious. I had acquired a newfound respect for the grandeur of Yosemite and a better understanding of experiencing the park out of the crowded Valley.