ERSKINE: Early spring in Yosemite, Part Two

Ron Erskine

Getting Out: Last week, I told of my walk to Taft Point from the
trailhead on Glacier Point Road during a recent day trip to
Yosemite. Taft Point is so special that it deserved an entire
column, but it was not all I did that day.
Last week, I told of my walk to Taft Point from the trailhead on Glacier Point Road during a recent day trip to Yosemite. Taft Point is so special that it deserved an entire column, but it was not all I did that day.

The 13-mile Pohono Trail traces the entire south rim of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point to Discovery View, the scenic overlook at the entrance to the Wawona Tunnel. I have always been tempted by this trail assuming that it is relatively uncrowded and there are surely wonderful valley views along the way. So, rather than return from Taft Point directly to the parking lot, I chose to add one more attraction to my hike and take the portion of the Pohono Trail that connects Taft Point to Sentinel Dome, a 5.5-mile loop in all.

As I headed east, the trail was set back from any valley views and rolled comfortably through a forest of red fir and western white pine. It wasn’t long before an opening in the forest revealed Sentinel Dome a half mile or so just across a shallow depression cut by Sentinel Creek. I thought the trail would certainly take the direct route along my line of sight, instead it turned away and headed toward the edge of the valley.

Quickly, Sentinel Dome was behind me as the trail turned hard left and snaked through the forest. As I approached the valley rim, bright gaps through the trees lit the immense void of the valley and the mountains across the way. Finally, the trail led to the very edge, and I saw Yosemite Falls revealed as I had never seen it before. Usually, we have an unobstructed view of the falls above everything else in the valley. Here, I looked down on the falls framed by various foregrounds of pines, granite boulders, and manzanita ground covers. Each view seemed carefully composed as in some Japanese etching.

The trail descended to Sentinel Creek right where it began its plunge down Sentinel Falls. The falls begin in a narrow granite channel that twists out of sight and hides the inevitable big drop from view.

From here the trail climbs very steeply before it crosses in front of Sentinel Dome then swings around to the final approach on the far side. The last couple hundred feet is up a bare granite dome. Rising up this open terrain, spectacular views opened in every direction; Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and the snow covered Yosemite high country reached to the horizon.

You have probably seen a famous Ansel Adams photo of an elegant wind-swept Jeffery pine taken on this dome many years ago. Since then, it died and more recent artists photographed the naked snag that remained. A few years ago, it succumbed to the weight of a climbing tourist, and its twisted carcass lies sadly there.

This broad dome surely is one of the best places in the park to see some of the well known peaks in Yosemite and beyond. A metal disc set in the granite aligns viewers with faraway peaks like Mount Hoffmann, Mount Lyell, Mount Maclure, Mount Conness, Mount Ritter and Banner Peak to name a few.

A crisp fall breeze finally drove me from the dome. I enjoyed a pleasant 1-mile ramble back to the parking lot and the end of a hall of fame afternoon ramble.

From the Taft Point/Sentinel Dome parking lot along Glacier Point Road, there are three hiking options: Taft Point and back (2.4 miles round trip), Sentinel Dome and back (2.2 miles round trip), and far better loop to both along the Pohono Trail (approximately 5.5 miles). Late in the season, check road conditions before you go.

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