Day 5 started with a magical moment. I looked out my window to find Yosemite Valley covered with a fresh blanket of snow. Everything was frosted with an inch or two of powder: the trees, the ground, and the mountains. A patchy fog drifted through the valley, at times obscuring some of Yosemite’s treasured landmarks, making it all the more rewarding when they reappeared.
I was up earlier than most other park visitors. The fresh snow muffled any other sounds, leaving the entire valley blissfully silent. I had a couple of hours before needing to be at Badger Pass for my ski lesson, so I decided to go for a walk.
I ended up at Sentinel Bridge, the same place I had explored the previous evening. But now, everything looked different. From the parking area at the bridge, a path heads west, through a meadow. Yosemite Falls was on my right. At first I heard it, then the fog drifted out, and I could see it too.
There wasn’t much use for interpretive signs on a morning like this.
Even though I felt alone, it was obvious that I wasn’t. At first, I was following one set of footprints…
… then a second set joined in.
There’s a footbridge just west of the Sentinel Bridge, which turns this trail into a nice short loop.
Once I crossed the bridge, I found one of the most beautiful scenes in the snowy valley:
The Yosemite Valley Chapel is the oldest building in the park. It was built in 1879, at a cost of less than $4,000. It originally stood about a mile away from its current location, and was moved here in 1901.
It’s hard to imagine a more peaceful place, with a more peaceful centerpiece. The only thing that could spoil it was an occasional car on the road. As I walked up to the church, I met another photographer, and we chatted for a while at the edge of the road. He warned me to watch out for drivers who weren’t thinking about the muck they were kicking up. Moments later, a car passed us, throwing up a shower of slush. He had his camera covered, and I turned away just in time to get hit in the back. With both our cameras safe, we laughed it off. It didn’t bother me, since my boots were already soaked with nearly-freezing water. When it rains, water runs off the road, but when it snows and melts, the slush holds the water in place, creating ankle-deep puddles everywhere. It was just the start of a very bone-chilling day.
Thanks to the overnight snowfall, I had the chance to break out the snow chains I had purchased the day before in Los Banos. I needed them for the drive up to Badger Pass, since chain restrictions were in effect. Even though I grew up in sometimes-snowy West Virginia, this was the first time I had ever put chains on a car, and I’m pleased to say I did it without much trouble.
[tmt_info =””]If you’re driving to Yosemite in winter, you must carry chains or cables. Yes, even if your car has snow tires. Yes, even if you’re driving a 4-wheel drive. And yes, even if you’re in a rental car. Chain rules can go into effect at any time, and you can end up ticketed (or worse, stuck) if you don’t have them. Even if chain restrictions are not in effect, you can still get a ticket if you don’t have them, and are driving into an area where chains can be required. The good news is, you can get them at just about any auto parts store. My set cost only $45, and they were light and small enough to fit into my luggage — meaning I am now the proud owner of the only set of snow chains in Florida. You can also rent chains or cables at a handful of businesses, just outside Yosemite.[/tmt_info]
Once chained up, I headed for Badger Pass, and my first experience on skis. Fortunately, I had a little extra time to kill on the way there, since I was about to come upon one of the most incredible scenes I could have imagined.