Trail Report: Mist Trail After A Snowstorm

A couple weeks ago Yosemite National Park announced that the Mist Trail had opened. With our current drought, this early opening wasn't too surprising - and I was thrilled! I could see via the webcams that both Half Dome and Clouds Rest still had snow on them, and I was eager to make my way to the top of one of these iconic landmarks and photograph the remnants of winter. (Yes, the John Muir Trail could have been an option earlier in the season, but nothing beats the scenery along the Mist.)

We planned our day hike and were set to go when the heavens opened up and dumped much-needed water and snow on the Bay Area and Yosemite. We opted to go anyway, but we had to alter our plan. For starters, rain and snow plus freezing temperatures meant that the Mist would be treacherous in the dark with potential ice-covered stone steps, so we had to scratch our plan to start from the trailhead before 5AM. We also didn't know what we would find higher up on the trail, so with the later leaving time and the unknown trail conditions, we had to resign ourselves to a plan to hike to the top of Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and ultimately into Little Yosemite Valley - but no Half Dome or Clouds Rest. I'm a weekend warrior and had to allow enough time at the end of our hike to drive home and get enough rest before work the next day.

Without the stress of needing to make it to the top of Half Dome or Clouds Rest, I found myself really enjoying this hike and taking time to stop and smell the roses - or, in this case, stop and enjoy the snow.

Along the only paved part of the trail, from trailhead to the Vernal Fall footbridge
Yosemite Fall from the bend in the trail
Oh my goodness. We left the trailhead around 7AM and were immediately greeted by an almost unfamiliar landscape, despite having done this trail more times than I care to count now. It is an entirely different experience after a snowstorm!

Mr. Petite Peaker crossing the Vernal Fall footbridge - and making fresh footprints!
Though the change of scenery was surprising, what was perhaps more so was the quiet. For our entire hike to the top of Vernal, we didn't run into a single hiker - completely unheard of for this trail! I'm not sure you could plan this time of solitude along the Mist Trail. Above Vernal we ran into a grand total of five backpackers before stopping for lunch in Little Yosemite Valley.

Vernal Fall makes its majestic appearance
The rising sun peeking through the trees at the top of Vernal
The steps up to the top of Vernal were a little icy but not any more slippery than they are when the waterfall is at its height. We made our way up and then continued along the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada.

Putting fresh footprints on the Nevada Fall footbridge and marveling at the back of a bright and snowy Half Dome showing us a sliver of its top
We seemed to be ascending with the sun! If you are familiar with how difficult some of those Nevada Fall steps are, you may think they seem even more difficult in the snow (and you'd be right).
Top of Nevada Fall
Sadly, after we lunched in Little Yosemite Valley, we opted to return via the John Muir Trail. This was a decision I knew we would have to make as we were ascending the tricky area to the top of Nevada, but goodness knows I still wanted to cry when Mr. Petite Peaker uttered those three words, "John Muir Trail." Though we plan on thru-hiking all 215 miles of it, I am not a fan of the JMT in this area. One blogger (I wish I remembered which one) likened taking the JMT instead of the Mist on the way down as "sacrificing your toes for the sake of your knees," which feels pretty accurate to me. 

That being said, the JMT was significantly easier on the toes since it was snow covered. And, there can be no question that the best views of Nevada Fall are from the JMT. 

Nevada Fall from the JMT
When we returned to the junction with the Mist, we found that rangers had closed down the Mist due to treacherous conditions. Also on our descent, we ran into many, many hikers on their way up the JMT to the top of either Vernal or Nevada, so we considered ourselves blessed to have left so early when the Mist was still open, the snow was still unmelted, and the trail was serenely devoid of other hikers.

We arrived at the junction to find our path up, the Mist Trail, closed - and the trees along it had totally shed their snow!
Right back where we started from: the Vernal Fall footbridge, some six hours after we started on this adventure, had replaced its snow with tourists
This was an amazing hike. I was reminded of the words of John Muir, who said that "In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks." We planned this trip seeking to stand atop Clouds Rest; what we received instead was a blissful hike through familiar places made brand new to us. If ever you have the chance to hike through Yosemite after a snowstorm, don't pass it up!