It’s true. Pain is relative.
In my case it is a first cousin.
I was reminded of that again on Saturday.
I had been looking forward to hiking in Yosemite for the first time this year. I intended to get home that morning from work by 2 a.m. and be up 4½ hours later and on the road by 7 a.m.
I ended up oversleeping and pulling out of the driveway at 8 a.m. I thought for a moment about calling it off given if you get out of Manteca by 7 a.m. there is minimal traffic heading east, the queue to get past the entrance station is non-existent and finding parking space in the valley is a breeze by Yosemite standards.
I should have trusted my second thought.
After doing a second loop seeking a legal parking space in Yosemite Valley I was about to call it quits and head to Hetch Hetchy instead to hike when I saw a place to park just 1.5 miles west of the trailhead to Yosemite Falls. The additional distance was no big deal plus I had driven all that way to hike Yosemite Falls.
But instead of being at the trailhead at right around 9:30 a.m. as I normally would do I got there at 11:45 a.m.
Still things were going fine until what I guess is my macho urge kicked in. For me it’s a subtle form of chest beating tinged by a lot of self-consciousness. Freely translated I got into one of the rare moods where I don’t like being passed while going uphill. I realize this is completely stupid but I had arrived more than two hours late at my starting point. I was feeling pretty rested and had put the worst of a severe groin pull I got in late October behind me.
The Yosemite Falls trail is described as being strenuous. That’s probably fair but it doesn’t strike me as being at that level. It has 2,700 feet of gain if you’re heading to the Yosemite Falls overlook which was my original intent when I got out of the car. It is a 7.2-mile round trip from the trailhead to the overlook.
There are plenty of rocks, granite, and scree along the way.
So when the first group of people in their early 20s started pushing me, instead of stepping aside at a wide spot and letting them by I kicked up my pace. After a switchback or two they had dropped out of sight. I then made two stupid decisions. I decided to see if I could set a personal best from the trailhead to the top which I never ever set out with the intent of doing. I also decided I would not stop for short pauses to take photos on the way up. Part of that had to do with the fact I had plenty of photos from previous hikes. The other factor was I believed I didn’t need to take my usual short minute or so “breaks” that consist of simply standing still every half mile or so while going uphill to give my legs a slight break.
Long story short I made it to the top of the trail with only a handful of people passing me. I also did it in less than 2 hours, an impressive time for me. That was when I decided to add another 2 miles and about 1,000 feet gain to the hike and headed toward Yosemite Point.
I had never been to Yosemite Point and once I got to the 6,939-foot high prominence overlooking Yosemite Village I was feeling great. I wasn’t tired and actually flirted with the idea of adding on a couple of more miles and heading toward North Dome. But I had stuff to do that night so I figured I should head back realizing my Achilles Heel are the downhills.
Most people take between a third to a half less time heading downhill. For me it is always almost the same time going down as going up.
The reason is pretty simple. I have two severe bunions with the prerequisite hammertoes along with a few choice occasional issues such as bone spurs and missing toe nails (a bonus that can happen if you spend a lot of time hiking downhill). I have adjusted my walk and jogging strides to work around them and that goes for hiking as well. That said going downhill walking across scree, rocks, and my personal favorite — those “steps” crews building trails devised — is an exercise in ignoring pain.
What I forgot to mention was once I got passed Yosemite Creek large swaths of the trail was still covered in snow.
On the way down from Yosemite Point, I — like an idiot — followed a group of people in front of me instead of looking for various markers I noted on my way up. As a result we overshot the trail. They asked my opinion what they should do and I pointed out the obvious. All we had to do was head down toward the creek and work our way toward the bridge and we’d eventually pick up the trail.
That is exactly what happened. But what also happened as I was walking gingerly down a steep slope covered with snow, my left foot went plunging through the snow slipping down a good three feet before I was able to catch by balance. Before I stopped my left bunion — the worst of the two — had been slammed repeatedly against a granite rock for about two feet of the journey. Making matters worse, my foot got soaking wet from the snow. Keep in mind I never was in any real danger but I knew what was about to come.
Even changing socks the last 3.5 miles down was going to be more painful than usual. My pace became so slow that I can count the number of people I passed on one hand as opposed to perhaps 60 or so I passed on the way up. I also ended up getting my left foot soaked again in a misstep crossing one of the seasonal waterfalls that had temporarily reclaimed part of the trail.
When I finally limped back to the car a full hour later than I should of I discovered I had managed to do the near impossible — I had a blister on my bunion.
I’ll admit I had been cursing myself on the last part of the downhill wondering what my problem was. Not only did I start out thinking somehow I was a failure if people one third my age passed me up but then I ignored my own rules about not straying from my intended hike itinerary.
But as crazy as this may sound after I got back from jogging on Monday to Jill Schemper’s Body Pump class at InShape and jogging home, I penciled in a return hike to Yosemite Point in June. You may wonder whether I hit my head with one of the bar bells but I honestly want to do it again.
That’s even if my first cousin “pain” finds a way to tag along.