Although I had been to Yosemite National Park in California about 20ish years ago, I never really felt like I saw much of it. I was in San Francisco and Napa Valley for a week of sightseeing and wine tasting and noticed that I could squeeze in a daytrip to Yosemite National Park. I drove through the park and saw the major highlights including El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, Mariposa Grove, and Tuolumne Meadows but I didn’t do a lot of hiking because of my limited time. I always wanted to return to really get a feel for the park. I finally got to do that this year with my first backpacking trip in Yosemite.
A couple of years ago my daughter’s Girl Scout troop had saved up their money from cookie sales, a car wash, and other fundraising activities and we were all brainstorming how to spend the money when I came across the outdoor programs that Lasting Adventures offers https://lastingadventures.com/. I noticed they had a link under their Youth Trips for Boy and Girl Scout Trips. When I asked the girls in our troop if they might be interested in backpacking in Yosemite with Lasting Adventures, they all enthusiastically agreed so I began to make the arrangements.
Since I’m the troop leader and love to hike and camp it was a given that I would be one of the adults going. My co-leader isn’t exactly the backpacking type (not that that’s a bad thing) so I asked another parent of a girl from our troop who I knew loved to hike and camp if she could go with us. She agreed and we chose a date in August of 2020 to go. Unfortunately that trip was cancelled because of COVID but we were able to keep all of our deposits and move everything back to August of 2021 when we got the green light from our local Girl Scouts council that we could go.
We live in North Carolina so our troop had to fly to California and somehow get to Yosemite National Park, which really isn’t that close to any major airports. I chose Fresno to fly into and someone from Lasting Adventures suggested I get tickets with YARTS public transit to Yosemite https://yarts.com/, which was one heck of a deal. Private shuttles from Fresno to Yosemite charged around $100 or more per person, while YARTS was a mere $36 for adults and reduced fare for our girls since they’re all under 17. The shuttle took around 4 hours from the Fresno Airport since there were other stops along the way and one stop included a 10 minute break. We were in a large bus with a bathroom in the back and chargers at the seats so it was a comfortable ride.
After a long day of flying across the country, spending the night at a hotel by the airport, and a 4-hour shuttle the next day, we finally arrived at Yosemite Valley tired but excited to begin our adventure. Our two guides, Bella and Savannah met us in one of the parking lots and gave us each our backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and some other gear we would need for the next five days. We all emptied our suitcases and put a couple of shirts, a pair of shorts, socks, underwear, and basically nothing but essentials into our backpacks.
There were five girls from the troop, myself, the other adult from our troop plus our two guides and between the 9 of us we would be carrying everything we would need for the next five days on our backs. As I quickly found out when I lifted my backpack, every single ounce adds up. Although I had planned on bringing a clean shirt for each day and having a couple of pairs of shorts, I changed my mind when we were transferring things from our suitcases and only packed two shirts and one pair of shorts into my backpack. Other things I had planned on bringing like body wipes, deodorant, and others got left behind as well.
We stored all of our luggage containing things we weren’t bringing on our multi-day hike in one of the guide’s cars and were instructed how to maneuver ourselves into a fully-stuffed backpack. You put the pack on one knee, put one arm in then the other in a bent-over position, buckle the hip and chest straps, and tighten or loosen as necessary. Holy crap was this thing heavy. I would be carrying this for the next five days, hiking over loose rocks, up and down hills? Whoa, I thought. This wasn’t going to be easy, but then again, I didn’t expect it to be when I signed up for the trip. Would the girls, most of whom were 16, be able to handle their packs plus all of the hiking, I wondered?
Being the smart and experienced guides that they were, Bella and Savannah told us we would be hiking only about a mile and a half to our first campground. It was a way to get us used to carrying our backpacks and figure out what straps needed tightened or loosened. I didn’t mention before that our packs also contained bear cans full of our food for the next five days and some people carried other gear like pots and pans, and dishes or other necessities for the group.
My hips were aching by the end of that short hike and I was wondering how I would carry that heavy pack for the longer distances that were planned. The girls seemed to also struggle with the weight of their packs but we all made it to the campsite and the first thing we did was take off our backpacks, with a collective sigh of relief.
I had been told by someone at Lasting Adventures prior to our arrival that although they did their youth trips without tents that adult chaperones had the option of sleeping in a tent but that also meant I would have to carry that tent. After debating it for a while, I thought if the girls could sleep outdoors without a tent, I could too and the other adult going with us agreed with me.
So sans tents at our first campground, Bella and Savannah chose a good site for us and showed us how to set up our sleeping areas. The first to go down was a piece of Tyvek ground cloth, then the sleeping pad went on top of that, and finally our sleeping bag went on top of that. Pretty simple really.
After everyone had set up their sleeping areas and we had changed out of our hiking shoes, we walked over to the Merced River for a refreshing dip. The water was crystal clear and only about waist-deep at least where we were. We were told in the spring after the snow melts, the river often floods and is high enough to go kayaking and tubing. There were still some people with inflatables mostly just relaxing in one spot rather than floating down the river but the water would definitely have been too low for a kayak.
Although the water was quite cold at first, I quickly adjusted and it felt soothing and relaxing to wade in the water looking at the views surrounding us. On one end were the majestic mountains looming over us and on the other end was a cool stone bridge along with more mountains. The girls happily chatted and we all enjoyed our time in the serene setting, content to finally be at Yosemite National Park.
We made our way back to camp after an hour or so of wading in or sitting by the water and dined on a delicious meal of curry chicken that Bella and Savannah had prepared for us. After playing some games we brushed our teeth using toothpaste tablets (to save on weight because as I said, every ounce counts) and slid into our sleeping bags, tired but very much looking forward to what was to come.
To be continued…