We completed our hike to and from Sentinel Dome at about 3:15pm on Thursday, May 26 and immediately set off on a hike to Taft Point. Like the Sentinel Dome Trail, the trail to Taft Point was only 1.1 miles one way from the parking area. Unlike the route to Sentinel Dome, however, this trail descended about 320 to Taft Point. All told, between the two hikes, we covered 4.4 miles and a vertical rise of 860 feet. Not bad, particularly with Sean still feeling under the weather.
Just as the trail left an open slope within site of the parking area and entered the forest, we noticed an outcrop of white rock next to the trail.
It was a quartz intrusion in the underlying granite bedrock.
The quartz wasn’t the only gloss of white around us. Lingering snow drifts, some quite deep rose on either side of the trail as we made our way into the shade of the Lodgepole Pine forest.
Very quickly after entering the forest, we crossed Sentinel Creek, which pours into Yosemite Valley as a minor fall on the south rim.
After Sentinel Creek, the trail became very wet and muddy, and for a portion was submerged from the runoff of melting snow. A footpath of hard packed snow provided a detour. Between the overcast skies and the cooling effects of the snow, the air was quite chilly. We felt like we had walked into winter.
Presently, the trail became more open and the snow all but vanished. The temperature rose a bit too. And although it’s hard to tell from the images, the sky grew brighter.
Bright-green Wolf Lichen coated trunks and branches. It is so named because it was once used to poison wolves. Regardless of its macabre history, the flash of brightness lent texture to the dark browns and greens of the forest.
We crossed another (unnamed?) stream and an ephemeral wetland. Around this point, the couple from Tacoma whom we’d met at the top of Sentinel Dome overtook us, walking and chatting with some new trail friends.
Video: Sean M. Santos
After having been basically level for a while, after the second stream, the trail began to descend a bit more steadily.
The trail was fairly popular, but even so, we mostly encountered other hikers (both coming and going) at the points when the trail was lost to wet, mucky ground, and we all had to take turns using downed branches to cross without getting wet feet.
For a while, the forest had been thinning in front of us. So when the trail rose slightly and then started an earnest descent onto an open decline, we were not surprised.
About two hundred yards ahead, the world ended at Taft Point, out at the end of a relatively open, gently sloping terrace.
To the right, a chasm separated Taft Point from Profile Cliff to the east.
Along the eastern side of the terrace leading to Taft Point was a series of narrow chasms, called the Fissures.
Each fissure seemed to be steeper and more vertigo-inducing as we continued toward Taft Point.
After the Fissues, the trail led up a relatively barren granite slope to the Taft Point overlook.
The overlook was a small (perhaps accommodating four or five people at most) guard rail.
When we got to the guard rail, Sean went over and had a look. I promptly sat down far enough back to not feel queasy from looking over the edge.
While I sat there calming my stomach and collecting myself, a Raven bounced by and then jumped into the chasm of Yosemite Valley.
After the Raven vanished, I summoned my courage and stood up, still well back from the edge, to get my first glimpse of El Capitan across the way and the valley floor below.
Looking back, we could see the Fissures and the chasm between Taft Point and Profile Cliff.
A fellow at the railing, pointed out that there were climbers visible just east of the toe of El Capitan. He lent his binoculars to some folks. I was able to spot them (while still sitting down. He said that he knew what to look for because his daughter was a climber. (We all thought we saw a man in a white shirt and red pants. Later, we would be disabused of that impression of what we were seeing.)
After a while, my excitement over the views got the better of me, and I managed to stand up and walk over to the left hand side of the tiny railing, clutch it, and begin snapping photographs of the vistas.
The wind was blowing Upper Yosemite Fall, and we thought of our campground neighbors, Adam and Randi, who were on that trail that day.
After some time just gazing out at the view, we cautiously moved back from the edge and walked out onto the rail-free granite of Taft Point, proper.
I did not follow Sean out to the edge here. In fact I stood well back while he went to have a look. A young woman came bounding over the boulders and ran along the edge shouting back at her friend at the railing: “Danielle, take my picture! Danielle!” with no fear whatsoever.
After a while, we turned from Taft Point and began making our way back up the granite terrace toward the forest.
As he turned back for a final look, Sean remarked how much he’d liked Taft Point.
Although the hike back to the car was mostly uphill, it didn’t take long.
All told, our hikes to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point took just under three and a half hours.
On the way back down Glacier Point Road to the valley, we stopped and looked at a wet meadow along the road. We also saw people having a snowball fight with some of the lingering snowdrifts.
And overlooks along Glacier Point Road afforded magnificent westerly views of Merced Canyon and the Sierra Nevada west of the park.
Just before the Wawona Tunnel led us back into Yosemite Valley proper, we spotted a Mule Deer browsing at a turn off.
And then we were back in the Valley again facing the panorama of Tunnel View, which just hits you every time. But this time, and each time after, we paid special attention to Sentinel Dome, quietly holding its lofty place behind and above Cathedral Rocks. Now we could say, “We’ve been there…we’ve stood on that.”
In order to turn around in Yosemite Valley and travel from the Wawona Road to Big Oak Flat Road, you have to drive to a point under El Capitan. So we pulled over and looked to see if we could spot the climbers we’d seen from above.
Sure enough, there they were. And we realized that what we’d thought was a hiker in a white shirt wearing red pants was actually a bin of supplies that the hikers had been pulling up the face of El Capitan.
Behind us was the jagged edge of Taft Point. With our binoculars and a telephoto lens, we could make out the tiny railing and someone standing at it.
And to the west of Taft Point, the Cathedral Spires and Cathedral Rock caught the light of the quickly setting sun.
It was time to return to camp to make supper and relax after a day of exhilarating views.