Archives for May 1993

Vernal Falls Yosemite National Park

As we finally begin our decent from half dome, the trail is filled with continuing marvels such as "vernal Falls". It is probably 300′ or more in height, and the sheer volume of water thundering out and over the drop fills much of the valley with the sound of its power. The water juts straight out from the top in massive sheets, only to be caught by gravity which shatters the sheets, then merges them together, then shatters them again as the water is crashed against the vertical wall.

There is an area surrounding the fall that is a perpetual cloud of mist. Along the edges, parts of the cloud appear to be leaping out in an attempt to escape the larger mass, only to be sucked back down to the pool at the base, or to instantly evaporate.

After coming closer towards the base, its splendor is only magnified. By the time the water finally reaches the bottom, it is moving at lightning speed. Droplets are screaming over the surface of the rock, desperately trying to slow themselves down. But no sooner does one drop land than another knocks it out of the way.

It looks like a torrential snow storm turned on end. The misty cloud at the base obscures everything from view — it is a magical zone where the forces of nature violently clash, yet give the outward appearance of serenity, beauty, and calmness.

Along the banks of the river below, huge wisps spin off from the cloud at great speeds — traveling outwards 200′ or more along the forest floor. There is an urge to walk closer and closer to the cloud — to somehow enter inside and experience the magic as only the water does. But those traveling wisps are brutally cold, and sting the skin as millions of tiny darts. The wisps are a warning to keep my distance, lest the cloud swallow me hole, and never let go.

Yosemite National Park
Vernal Falls
Ass Holes on Ice Hills

Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman

Ass Holes on Ice Hills Yosemite National Park

After two days climbing through brambles and over obstacles nearly vertical, we arrived at the bottom. Having made the decision that we were well over our heads, we decided to take it easy and not climb the 5.9 route.

Working on the assumption that any route down would be better than the one we had ascended, we then made our way around the side of the north face of the dome. It involved still more climbing and we had been warned about a massive glacier field we would need to traverse.

Upon approaching the field, still wearing tennis-shoes, we did our best to kick foot holds through the snow and maintain our balance. the field became increasingly steep, and upon cresting the ridge, we were looking out at a 1/2 mile traverse across a field where one slip would send us sliding downward over 3,000 feet, pausing only momentarily where the ice changed to granite at about 5,000 feet elevation.

We did not have the proper gear for this. We had grabbed several long sticks to use as stabilizers and for "protection." I went out first, trailing a line to my brother who was anchored as best he could be given the situation.

Slowly and deliberately I stepped out onto the ice. Using the sides of my feet I’d kick hard to break through the hard packed snow, and test each step for sturdiness before committing my weight to it. There was a large section of the ice wall that showed signs of collapse and fracture nearly 1,000 feet below. Pieces of snow larger than automobiles had simply let go of the main block and fallen — their own underlying supports having already melted and washed away.

I faced up-hill, and tried to keep my mind focused on the section of ice that directly effected my well being. Kick-Crunch-Step-Transfer-Breath… over and over, I repeated this process as the line of rope grew longer and longer. Even with the rope, a slip at any point would send me tumbling downward like the weight on the end of a pendulum. I took one of my sticks and drove it deep into the snow. I draped the rope over the top, and knew full well that in the event of trouble, that stick would be little more than psychological protection.

There was a large tree about 40 feet away, and I could only hope that I would reach it before coming to the end of my rope. Despite the fact that larger trees had already been toppled by the weight of sliding snow, this one still stood tall and served as a gauge for my progress.

Continuing on, the snow beneath my left foot suddenly gave way and sent me sliding. I instantly dropped to my side and punched my fist deeply downward through the snow with speed, strength, and determination. I came to a stop only 10 feet below where my feet let go, but it served to harshly reinforce the realities of the danger we were dealing with. I was lucky, and I knew it.

So it was with great relief that I finally reached that tree, and the sound of my carribiner securely clipped to a quickly tied anchor was music to my ears.

Yosemite National Park
Vernal Falls
Ass Holes on Ice Hills

Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman

Yosemite National Park

Simply overwhelming. Nothing I can say even comes close to representing the sheer grandeur of the world before my eyes.

For the last three hours, we have been hiking towards half dome. Here and there, we struggled over various rocks and scree slopes that had yet to find their final resting place in the valley below.

Our only guide has been ‘up’ and ‘towards that massive rock, far above us’. As we make our way generally East, we come to a spring — two, in fact, both cascading over the rock, forming a series of smaller water falls.

At some point, we would need to traverse across the streams, so we decided to cross at the base, which was a large pocket of snow and ice maybe 75 yards wide. "Avalanche", I thought, but the snow was quite packed. The other possibility was a cave-in, since it was clear the stream cut under the bed of snow.

Slowly, we made our traverse, and shortly before the end, decided to descend rather than move forward. Upon reaching the ‘land’ again, we saw we had only barely missed crossing an incredibly intricate network of tunnels and passageways carved by the water. The snow had formed a dome 10′ over the water, and chances are good that we would have fallen through.


It’s dark. Very dark. Though we pushed on and on, I was simply unable to go any further with any safety. Like a gauge, I saw my reserves go from ‘warning’ to ‘critically low’ to ‘Danger! — find water and stop immediately.’

I do not recall ever pushing myself so far out on physical limits. Breathing was labored, and balance was beginning to fade.

At our ‘bivy ledge’, I got a terminal case of the giggles — everything was just so absurd. We’d been hiking since 2:45p, dusk was upon us, and I started moving rocks around to make a more comfortable sleeping area — moving rocks! "Lets see… this one would go nicely in the kidney, and this one is ideal for my ribs…"

After diner, we were better. We have a good bit of food — we need to eat it to lighten our load. We had planned to arrive at the base of the climb tonight. We are about an hour away.

I had one real scare on the ascent today. My pack had gotten caught on a branch in a rather precarious spot. I knew I was in trouble. I was not afraid of dying, just of getting badly hurt. It shook me up a bit, and I’m not fond of certain trees now.

From where we now lay, I can see scattered campfires from the valley below, oh so very far away. The sky is amass with stars, and a waterfall tumbles 20′ away from where we have decided to bed for the night.

On the ascent, there were a great many details to observe, and each presented its own unique challenge: rocks, trees, talus, and dirt. But now, with everything shielded in darkness, my world is bounded by the width of my flashlight, and the sounds from all around.

I am several thousand feet high, but can see no more from here in the darkness than those in the valley below. It is as if not only am I about to sleep for the night, but my whole world is sleeping too, and will awaken me in several hours when the sun finally comes around again.

Yosemite National Park
Vernal Falls
Ass Holes on Ice Hills

Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman