Thursday, February 20, 2014


May of 2001:
The first road trip for Admiral Karen and Myself. A game-changer for any new couple. The Rules of Relationship clearly state that to be a candidate for future co-habitation you must:
  1. Be able to play a board game together
  2. Food shop together
  3. Take a long road trip without either party wanting to exit the vehicle at high-speed, and -
  4. Walk into a video store, spend 5 minutes, walk out with one movie and not have a fight.

1, 2 and 4 we had checked off. So a lot was riding on our trip to Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. 

And as an added bonus, she got to meet my Mother for the first time! Woo-hoo! But the
Karen and Carolyn at Lake Tahoe
best way to meet my Mom is in a casino, so the Tahoe leg went off without a hitch.

From there we traveled South to Yosemite, but not straight there. There was so much snowpack, and the run-off was so torrential that we got turned back a few times. We spent an impromptu night at Lee Vining, on the shores of Mono Lake, and entered Yosemite a day late.

Not a problem, as we were staying at camp 4, the infamous no-frills campground for that sub-species of humanity known as rock climbers. 

Karen was dubious about staying at a place where you needed to take a shuttle bus to the showers, but then she saw hundreds of chiseled climbers, each speaking in some gorgeous accent, all of whom seemed to be constantly in a state near undress. I set up the tent while she just kind of stood there and drooled.

Last Known Photograph (almost)
The next day we decided to visit the Vernal and Nevada waterfalls, across the park, below Half-Dome. At Happy Isles we crossed the wooden bridge that spans the Merced River, noting that the river was high, fast and turbulent. Spring run-off was in full swing!

Crowds were light in Mid-May, but we found someone to take our picture on the bridge, with Vernal falls in the background. This almost became our Last Known Photograph.

We quickly had the trail to ourselves, and we laughed at the Ugly Americans who can't travel further than 100 yards from their car. Haha!

Unlike my tweener drama canyon hike, this time we were Prepared. Maps. Compass. First aid kit. Tick tweezers. I even wedged 4 liters of Diet Coke into my daypack.

We climbed up the two waterfalls in the center of this photo,
Which was NOT taken during Spring Run-Off season.
The 'Mist Trail' crawls up the right side of Vernal falls, and it is completely misnamed. First off, it's not a trail as much as it is a giant staircase hacked out of the granite. At times the 'steps' were 2 feet high, 2 feet deep, and 8 feet wide. It was like being a 2 year old on Grandma's stairs all over again.

Also, for 11 months of the year there may be 'mist' here, but now, in May, it was a torrential downpour splattering the trail, and thundering over the falls hard enough to create a fierce, swirling wind in its wake. The giant toddler staircase was running with water and the railings would have been soaked - had there been any railings.

The slippery stairs and the "Mist".
Do not try this at home.
About 1 mile up this Perfect Storm Stairmaster we stopped having fun. Karen with the backpack was in the lead and so I had the view back down down down down downdown downdown to the Happy Isles bridge far below us, where people were pointing up at us. Look at those Ugly Americans who can't travel farther than 100 yards without risking their necks!

I turned back to find that my girlfriend had collapsed on one of the giant steps. She was cold, and wet, but there's only reason why someone is that blue: Of all the things we brought with us, we forgot her inhaler.

And oh, wasn't that a hopeless feeling. All I could do was kneel over her, forming an umbrella of sorts, and watch her struggle to breathe.

Oh, but there WAS something I could do: I could take the back pack! I eased it off her heaving shoulders and, still leaning over her, I swung it up over my shoulders and put it on.

From the top of Vernal falls looking down through the downpour.
The staircase is the little scraggly line at the bottom of this photo.
And then I stood up, and the 4 liters of Diet Coke decided that it wanted to go back to Happy Isles in a hurry. With Karen still curled up on the front part of the stair, my heels were over the back part, and all this unexpected weight was dragging me straight back - over - and down.

I remember every hour of those moments, as I pinwheeled my arms and tried desperately not to topple over backwards, down a mile of granite stairs, or worse, into the falls.

Somehow - and to this day, I do not know how - I got my balance and slowly, eventually,  toppled forward, collapsing next to my girlfriend, where it was my turn to try to breathe for awhile.

So yeah, Diet Coke IS bad for you.

We crawled up to the top of the falls, where we laid on a wide, flat, dry rock for awhile and just kind of 'lived'.

Worst photo ever. 
Everything in the pack was completely soaked, including my camera. One of the pictures that survived though is Karen, at the top of the falls, her clothes still saturated, looking like a drowned rat and giving me a dirty look. It is perhaps the worst picture ever taken of my lovely bride. 

And here it is!

Angus McMahan

(Pic of Half Dome, Liberty Cap and the two waterfalls scanned from a postcard. All other photos recovered from the authors soggy film camera.)

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