Mel and I will begin our ascent to the top of Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park on a continuation of hiking the Mist Trail from Yosemite Valley to Vernal Fall. We will climb for another 1.5 miles (2.4 KM) and 900 vertical feet (274.3 m). As we gain elevation, the long views over the Merced River Canyon to Yosemite Valley become increasingly more spectacular. Scenic highlights include spectacular views of Glacier Point on the south wall of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Illilouette Fall and partial views of Upper Yosemite Fall.
After basking in sun on the granite slabs near the brink of Vernal Fall, we restore much drier socks and boots and hike a short distance on the Mist Trail upstream along the Merced River to the very tranquil, beautiful and chilly Emerald Pool which begs for a swim, but once again, the calm surface is deceptive and certainly there is fast water creating powerful undercurrents which head directly to the basin above, and the brink of, Vernal Fall.
A short climb past Emerald Pool leads, first, to the junction of the Clark Trail with the Mist Trail. The Clark Trail traverses on switchbacks from the Mist Trail to the John Muir Trail which would be the preferred down route from Vernal Fall. This would avoid descent, and higher risk for injury, on the wet, slippery, steep and irregular granite steps which were used for ascent beside Vernal Fall. Mel and I are continuing onward and upward, so we pass the Clark Trail Junction and head left onto granite slab, then cross the Silver Apron Bridge over the Merced River.
On the Silver Apron Bridge, and looking downstream, is a direct view of an incredible, natural, water slide as the Merced River negotiates the glacier-created chute feeding foaming, white water into the still waters of Emerald Pool. It is my understanding many adventuresome souls have succumbed to the nearly irresistible urge to make the slide. There are hidden rocks, combined with the inability to manoeuvre in the fast water, and many people have been seriously injured, or lost their lives by drowning or by being taken over Vernal Falls. It is a look; do not touch situation. The roar of the water is overwhelming in this beautiful and exciting location.
Soon, after crossing the Silver Apron Bridge, Mel and I arrive at a viewpoint along the Mist Trail which features our current objective, Nevada Fall.
We continue hiking along the north side of the Merced River on switchbacks over many irregular, granite steps which gain elevation aggressively as Mel and I curve our way around the flank of Liberty Peak.
We arrive at a flat plateau which is also a major trail junction. Left leads to the campground in Little Yosemite Valley where registered, permit-holding, participants will stage to make the cable climb to the 8,836 ft (2,693 m) summit of the world-famous Half Dome. Mel and I take the right fork on mercifully flat ground for the short distance towards the top of Nevada Falls.
There are great photographs everywhere and, as usual, I fall behind. Off to my right, my eye catches a fence on a rock outcropping below me, and very close to Nevada Fall, so I work my way over granite slabs and find an intermittent trail leading to this observation platform for incredible photos of Nevada Fall up close and personal. The roar of white, folding, pounding water is deafening.
A wooden bridge crossing the Merced River, very near the top of Nevada Fall, provides the contrast between relatively tranquil terrain upstream and the torrent of white, foaming water occupying the raceway to the brink of 594 foot ( 181 m) Nevada Fall. Like Vernal Fall, there are slanted granite slabs near Nevada Fall. It is an excellent place to relax, absorb and appreciate incredible vistas.
When we leave Nevada Fall, we have the choice of taking the infamous Panorama Trail which accesses 370 ft (112.8 m) Illilouette Fall on the way to Glacier Point on the south side of Yosemite Valley. These are distances beyond the reach of our day hike so we choose to descend on the south side of Merced River Canyon via the incredibly scenic John Muir Trail.
Views from the descent on John Muir Trail are breathtaking, almost surreal.
Mel and I switchback ourselves into a stupor on our descent of the south side of Merced River Canyon.
I take a moment to capture a telephoto image of 370 ft ( 112.8 m) Illilouette Fall on the south side of Yosemite Valley. The scar on one side of was caused by major rock fall during the winter of 1968 – 1969. We are descending towards the floor of Yosemite Valley which, long ago, was under nearly 2,000 ft (610 m) of glacial ice.
We arrive back at the Mist Trail and descend on familiar trail to the Vernal Fall Bridge and hike back to the trailhead the same way we hiked in. Along the way we pass a spring-fed cistern at trailside. We complete what is arguably the most popular trail In Yosemite National Park. It has been an outstanding experience of phenomenal and occasionally deceptive beauty. Total hiking distance up the Mist Trail and returning via the John Muir Trail is 6.0 miles (9.6 KM) with elevation near 1,900 ft (579 m).
In the book, ‘Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite’, Chapter One is devoted to casualties sustained by plunging over waterfalls. There are many which have been documented beginning in 1913. Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall are mentioned most often. It likely relates to volume of traffic and terrain demanding respect.
Please, do this amazing hike and take every precaution to be absolutely certain to stay safe.