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Making it up as you go
Visible from the top of Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls spills in the distance. - photo by Photo by JEFF LUND

Saturday I was invited to be the seventh wheel on a trip to Yosemite National Park. I had the most experience of the troop so I felt inclined to provide historical background during the excursion.

“Teddy Roosevelt’s famous, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” was Tweeted from this very spot. It was John Muir’s idea.”

I decided Vernal Falls was a good reintroduction to hiking so we parked in a nearby lot and started the upward hike arching away from the valley.

We were in the park by nine, so the crowds were light and the sun was far from torturous. Another benefit of the Vernal Falls hike is that much of it is either in the shade or has the benefit of waterfall mist. While Yosemite Falls offers a great view of Yosemite Valley, there are exposed sections where you get blasted not only by the sun, but the heat reflecting off the rock.

We had a good pace to start and when we stopped on a bridge to take photos, I fabricated another historical fact.

“You see to the left of the water fall, where it’s flat, that’s where carvers practiced for Mount Rushmore.”

I had no takers on that one either.

Muscles wore out as the hike wore on so I kept my not-so-funny thoughts to myself. To be honest, I was getting a little distracted as we approached the falls that were a trickle compared to the spring run-off version, but still violent.

There’s a point just before you get to the top of something tall and grand that you forget all about warm thighs or back sweat.

It’s the little burst of adrenaline from completing a physical challenge that makes the view a little more euphoric and if Vernal Falls was not just on the way to Nevada Falls, or a means to Half Dome or “up and out of the valley” it would be even more spectacular.

The evidence of things at work far beyond imagination are abundant when peering off the cliff. Piles of loose rock build up from the valley floor then organize to create iconic monolithic walls.

It’s as dangerous and tragic as it is beautiful and peaceful; perhaps more-so this year than previous. You can’t help but think of what has happened in places like this not just recently but historically - who has been there, who ‘found’ it and took the first calculated risks in defiance of gravity and safety long before man-kind had a status to update.

As the collective public, we photograph and carve initials into downed trees as proof that we made it, but should pay a little respect to those that simply and innocently wanted to enjoy.

Since we daily encounter so much that is beyond our control, maybe it’s the enduring thrill of conquest that drives us to climb up things then climb back down and go back to our day to day existence armed with a story and color images.

Whatever it is, it’s fun, healthy and important that collectively we return to these places.

The seven of us sat on rocks facing a pool fed by an amusement park-like rock that gently sloped and directed the river into the calm water.

Trout rose but my five-weight was in the car, so I watched the happy trout noisily take bugs off the surface with everyone else.

If we looked in the right direction, it would be impossible to tell this moment from any other in history. That’s probably why we were quiet, and why we will be back — but with a fishing rod or two.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail