It was a hot summer weekend in late July of 2015. I was living in my car at the time for the past month; taking river showers in the early mornings and hiking all day wherever I was. I had just come from a solo traveler’s euphoria for one special evening at Tahoe Lake. I headed down the scenic two-lane road leading towards Yosemite Valley around sunset. Little did I know I was about to experience many of the secrets of Yosemite within a seventy-two-hour window before I had to be in San Francisco for a concert.
I was to meet a friend of a friend whom I hadn’t spoken to for the entire summer, but at the beginning of the year, she had offered to accommodate me for my stay in the Valley over the summer. I wasn’t sure if I was going to take her up on the offer – maybe I’d just try to see her but not be a drag on her all weekend.
Then I arrived in the Valley and quickly found out that it wouldn’t be possible to car camp in the Valley. The only way to visit for multiple days for free would be to make the hour-plus drive out of the Valley each night. It was forbidden to sleep in your car in the Valley because sleeping in your car usually meant you also had food in your car which attracted bears into Yosemite Valley.
I had to take Maddie, my friend, up on the offer. We met at the raft stand where she worked as a river raft guide on Merced River. I had worried that it may be a little awkward. She was really more of a friend of a friend and I had only truly hung out with her a handful of times. I couldn’t have been more wrong, however.
Becoming Inspired by New Friends
From the very beginning, each and every person I met in Yosemite did the best possible job of making me feel comfortable and a part of the group. I was hanging out with employees and seeing what life in Yosemite was like.
The employee’s lives were, obviously, one hundred percent revolved around the outdoor adventures during their summers in Yosemite. Most of them were amidst their second or third summer in the Valley. Every joke told, every adrenaline-seeking activity done, almost every conversation had, and every minute of the employees days was with the Great Outdoors in mind.
Everyone I met was so like-minded. The friends Maddie introduced me to inspired me to keep going with my wilder mind. They made me feel comfortable with my unorthodox career plan. And most importantly; they showed me one hell of a time inside the walls of the Valley.
Throughout the short weekend, everything that people told me we would do – we did. Among other things I did in this short timeframe:
I was introduced to bouldering at two in the morning on my first night in Yosemite. A group of us hiked until we found the perfect, untouched boulder, we placed beers at the base and played music so loud that it probably ruined all peace throughout the Valley. I wasn’t very good at all compared to the others who spent hours upon hours in Yosemite scaling the most difficult rocks they could find – always racing to be the first one to find a good route to the top. I mostly enjoyed the sea of stars overhead. Never in my life had I seen so many light up the night-time sky.
I followed a group of strangers to secret “pools” on the mountainside under the moonlight where we took part in illegal activity. It was one of the most genuine times I had ever had with strangers and one of the most difficult, intoxicated hikes I had ever been on for the return hike.
I jumped from of a hidden cliff suspended forty-five feet in the air (from which I had to use a rope to climb) into Merced River. As I treaded water after jumping, waiting for the girls to jump who never did, I stared, locked-in down the river, through spruce trees, only barely able to see the pink-orange glow that the sunset was producing. At that moment, I had to ask myself whether I was living a Yosemite dream.
A Yosemite Village to Take You Back to Another Time
I spent a day hiking to a secluded, lesser-known mountain village of Yosemite where employees spent the summer without any contact with the outside world – where mules had to deliver food each week, and where there was only one spout with running water.
Suns that Shouldn’t Ever Set
I witnessed one of the most majestic sunsets imaginable. And I saw it all from the greatest vantage point in Yosemite unbeknownst to millions of tourists. No one said anything; everyone just sat and stared in disbelief. The fiery red and pink sky danced and created wave-looking formations out of the clouds.
Crashing Employee Only Parties
On the last night of my stay, I attended an employee-only party. The party was held in the employee tent-district of the Valley. This area serves as their makeshift neighborhood over the course of the summer. I met so many people and had so many stimulating conversations with galvanizing individuals.
The Alternative Route was the Best Route
Exploring the secrets of Yosemite was an excellent way to visit the park for the first time. Looking back, I didn’t do any of the typical tourist trails or routes while I was there. However, I like it better that way. I may have missed out on some of the park’s most iconic sights, but I didn’t miss out on a fulfilling experience.
Although there was a bit of uncertainty heading into the weekend, it ended up forcing me out of my comfort zone. The people in Yosemite inspired me to continue to grow as a person and a traveler and never become complacent. It made me crave the adventurous risks and seeking out adrenaline rushes that came with them.
I am grateful for the opportunity that Maddie and all the friends she introduced to me gave to me. It is those kinds of unique opportunities that travel presents.
I’d love to share the secrets of Yosemite National Park with you; however, it was sort of an unspoken code to keep the secrets of Yosemite secret. With that being said, I won’t share where you can find the most exclusive places in Yosemite here. But if you’d like to shoot me an email, I’d gladly give you some insider advice. I could potentially even put you in touch with an employee inside the park.
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