Inspiration Point
Old Inspiration Point
Turtleback Dome
Elephant Rock

Tue, Oct 17, 2017
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With a few free days midweek, I headed to Yosemite to do some hikes in the area that have been on my radar for a few years. Some years back I had done a hike with friends along the south rim of Yosemite Valley, climbing Leaning Tower and tagging a number of points along the trail as it winds its way west to Tunnel View. We had bypassed Old Inspiration Point since it looked to be a bit of a bushwhack and we were all pretty tired by the time we went by it. After leaving San Jose around 7a, I had half a day by the time I got to the Valley, which seemed about right to tag this one from Tunnel View along with a few other minor points that had so far been neglected.

As I started out at 11:20a, the first thing one can't miss was the heavy smoke filling much of the Valley. This didn't deter me from visiting spots named Inspiration Point for unispirational views and likewise didn't stop the hordes of visitors from stopping at Tunnel View, piling out and snapping selfies and group photos with the smoke in place of where El Cap, Leaning Tower, Bridalveil Fall, Three Brothers and Cathedral Rocks would normally be seen. I guess if you put enough into planning a vacation it will take a lot more than smoke to ruin your scenic photo ops.

Not surprisingly, I was the only one on the Inspiration Point Trail. I guess you can still snap photos with no views, but most folks aren't willing to extend that to include a hike. Old Inspiration Point is about 3mi from the TH with the newer version a little more than mile away. I stopped at the latter first, finding it as dull as one would expect given the conditions, but I was surprised that the view isn't all that great anyway, with trees partially blocking views towards El Capitan. The only sign I saw for the point was 0.6mi from it at a junction, but there is no sign to tell you when you've arrived (I had to get that from my GPSr). Not so great, this one. I continued up the trail through the changing forest colors until I was about a quarter mile from Old Inspiration Point. I was happy to find a use trail at an unmarked junction (some sticks block the path to keep folks from wandering there accidently) that took me all the way to the point, including some nicely groomed manzanita that would have been tough to bushwhack through. If I had known it was this easy (less than 10min from the maintained trail) I would have been easily able to talk the others into the side visit on that earlier trip. Someone on PB had commented that the view from the newer Inspiration Point is better than that from Old Inspiration but that simply isn't true. Where the newer point has only partial views, Old Inspiration lies at the end of a rock outcrop overlooking the Merced River drainage in spectacular style, with great views both upstream and downstream. I suspect this person hadn't actually hiked out to this point at 6,500ft.

Upon returning to the trail, I went back down about a mile before striking off cross-country for Turtleback Dome. I was worried about running into poison oak since Turtleback is just over 5,000ft and Elephant Rock another 500ft lower, but was happy to not find any of it. The going started out initially a little rough with a lot of downfall along the line I was traversing, but I soon found myself on an old paved road, decades in disuse, probably the old road before the tunnel on SR41 was constructed. I followed this a short distance before leaving it when it turned northeast and walked down some nice slabs with a view of the highway below. After more traversing through the forest I stumbled upon yet another use trail that took me nicely to Turtleback Dome from the backside (partially following along a poorly buried high-voltage cable). The top is crowned with several communication towers with a road coming up from the highway. There were a pair of workers building something as I approached and I quietly stayed out of view before finding my way to the summit rocks a little further on. There are several rocks vying for the highpoint, but I judged a class 3 one standing apart from the others to the west to be the highest. The views here were nothing special because trees block much of the view. I descended the west side on low angle granite slabs to reach the highway in about 10min. I crossed the road and headed for Elephant Rock about a quarter mile further west. This one, too, has a very good use trail that I didn't find until I was half way to the "summit". It's more of a rock outcrop perched on the edge of the Merced Gorge, but it has very nice views (aside from today's smoke) and an impressive, overhanging rock perched over a fair bit of vertical drop.

After returning to the highway it was a matter of walking the road back to Tunnel View, made a little tricky by controlled traffic for construction. One side of the tunnel has a sidewalk to allow pedestrians to avoid getting run over. There are a couple of side tunnels going out to the gorge, a one of which I explored (they used these to dump material out of during the tunnel excavation). It was 3p by the time I returned, taking something less than 4hrs for the roundtrip effort. I showered at Half Dome Village before heading out of the Valley to find a place to sleep for the night. Only I didn't get so far as I found myself in (mostly) stop and (little) go traffic, taking an hour to get between Half Dome Village and Yosemite Village, a distance of maybe a mile. Seems they were redoing the northside pavement and with no real traffic management it was left to develop into a complete mess. I guess they saved the roadwork for midweek when there's less traffic. Argh.

The traffic was so bad I decided to pull off at the Yosemite Lodge to make dinner. Afterwards I walked over to the Mountain Room to do some writing and drinking because the combination is unbeatable. I sat down next to what looked like a homeless guy in the corner on one of the two couches there. He was working on his laptop and I sat down to mine and we left each other to our business without exchanging more than a friendly glance. After about 20min he looked over and asked if I was interested in advanced physics. This was too good to be real and I turned to give him my attention with a "Why, yes!" Thus began a two hour conversation with Chongo, one of the classic figures from the Yosemite climbing scene. He's 66yrs old, currently spending time with the climbers here selling his books and trying to get in shape to be the oldest climber to scale El Cap (the hard way). We talked about his books, his reading list (which includes dozens of mathematicians & physicists, most of whom I recognized and a number of whom I'd actually read), religion, atheism, climbing, slacklining and all manner of things in between. He's spent the last 20yrs concentrating on his book writing, on topics such as quantum mechanics & computing, multiverses, religion (an avid atheist) and more, all of it without any formal education beyond high school. I can't say we really talked technical - it seemed he liked to just throw out all the cool terms and just let them lie at the end of his tongue. He has a website he maintains called which he took great delight in introducing me to (I didn't tell him I'd run across it before and thought, "WTF?!"). He would describe a book and click on a link to the PDF of it and I would say, "Isn't that copyrighted?" He replied, "Nah, they want to get this stuff out." About half his links didn't work which he explained with, "They keep moving the links to keep people like me from linking to them." I didn't have the heart to tell him it was because the authors/publishers were trying to protect the copyrighted works. He doesn't drink alcohol but has no issues with weed and I have no doubt he was high during our conversation. Or maybe it was just age - sometimes hard to tell. He said he recently switched from a lighter to matches. I didn't ask why no lighter - presumably any unburnt butane in your lungs is bad for you? Instead I asked why he didn't use a waterpipe? His reponse was something along the lines of a study showed the cooler air temp of the smoke allowed larger blobs of tar to adhere to the lungs. He never asked my name and anything about me other than what I was schooled in (engineering), mostly he liked to talk about his books and one gets the impression he puts his writing up there with that from the other names on his list - Einstein, Feynman, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hoftstadter and so many more. Anyway, it was a great way to spend two hours in the Mountain Room. I actually outlasted him as he finally had to get up to go find a stealth place to sleep (we had talked a bit about that too, but he wouldn't reveal his secret places and I really didn't expect him to) after he'd finished his blueberries, banana and yogurt snack. Classic Yosemite, and a fine way to end the day...


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