The hike to Upper Yosemite Falls is reviewed as one of the more challenging hikes at Yosemite. It did not hit me how tough it was until I was entering the trail head and there was a park medic at the bottom vetting the hikers. She was asking everybody how much water they had, how far they were going and gaging physical endurance. She warned me that there was little shade on the trail and at midday (it was 11am when I started) the heat was going to be a major factor.
The bottom of the trail was gravel switch backs with some shade and some degree of rocks in the corners of the pathways. It took me around 40 minutes to go the 1.5 miles to Columbia Rock, which was a nice stopping point for some beautiful pictures of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome.
From Columbia Rock, the trail got more intense. The switch backs got steeper and more rock filled. You had to beware of your footing and watch where you were going. It felt like going up a stair master as you were climbing steps of rocks up the side of the mountain.
The wilderness was beautiful. I got to see this cute little fawn and it’s momma hanging out next to the trail.
Eventually there was some relief from the heat as you got to the base of the falls and got to feel the mist and some shade.
However, the worst of the trail was yet to come. After the base of Yosemite Falls the trail turned into about 1.5 miles of steep, windy switch backs with practically no shade. There were millions of rock steps which made you feel like you were climbing a stair master.
As the sun was beating down on all of the hikers we all rushed to make it to the few trees for some relief and stopped frequently for water. Trudging on, I made it to the overlook – a strenuous 3.6 miles from the base.
From the overlook, you can walk down to the side of falls for another view. I did the extra walk down to the side of the falls (which included a staircase on the side of the mountain with 1 railing). Definitely not something you would want to do if you were afraid of heights and honestly did not offer the best views either.
While the overlook offers beautiful views, most of the hikers take their break at the top of the falls, where there is a watering hole that you can sit/swim or dunk your feet in the ice cold water.
Personally, myself and my hiking partner took the extra 0.8 mile trail up to Yosemite Point to see the views from there prior to resting in the water. The trail to Yosemite Point was harder to follow and you had to look carefully for stone pile markers to keep on the trail. It was worth the extra hike for the beautiful, unrestricted view of half dome.
Coming back to the water to rest and relax I was so happy to stick my feet in the water. I was also happy that I brought a water filter with me. I think I drank 3 liters of water over the course of the trail; about half of which I filtered from spots on the trail. I saw wayyy to many people desperate for water who were filling up their bottles at the falls and drinking it with no filtration. Seems like a case of dysentery waiting to happen with all of the bacteria and parasites that live in river water.
After a short rest, it was back down the side of the mountain, which was nothing less than magical. As we desended the trail a group of 5 of us started to follow a sweet deer who was also headed down the same trail and following the switch backs. The deer became our tour guide down the mountain for a good 0.5 miles. Finally he got sick of the trail and disappeared into the woods.
The hike down was much easier than the hike up, not only because of the downhill aspect, but also because we were out of the heat of the mid day.
Coming down the trail
I rejoiced as I hit the trail head 7 hours later after 9.2 miles. It was a strenuous trail and took a lot of endurance and water. If I do it again I will definitely start early in the AM to avoid the heat.