In the Footsteps of John Muir

Last month I was fortunate enough to tread in the footsteps of John Muir, the Scottish born naturalist, writer and early advocate of wilderness preservation, who played an instrumental role in the creation of Yosemite National Park, California.

Muir describes the Yosemite lanscape in vivid and exhilarating detail as one of formidable and imposing rock formations, lush valleys, high sierra and cascading waterfalls, all begging to be explored in detail. In winter the landscape is transformed to a breathtakingly monochromatic simplicity with vast slabs of granite looming darkly in shadow or glaringly reflective under the midday sun and surrounded by a powdery blanket of snow.

Away from the valley floor the scale of the lanscape quickly becomes even more apparent. Consulting our map at the furthest point of a days hiking reveals that we have barely entered the vast expanse of wilderness which the park encompasses. The names themselves are evocative of place and form...Half Dome, Glacier Point, Chilnualna Falls, Clouds Rest, Hetch Hetchy.... Working with a very limited sketching kit, I stop periodically to make rapid notes and drawings.

The sense of urgency to capture an impression on paper is even greater during these short winter days. An extra frisson is added when the rumble of distant and sometimes not so distant ice and rockfall shatters the tranquility. The bases of waterfalls have become vast cones of snow as the water freezes on its long descent and the rockface to either side is frosted with patterns and icicles. Arriving on the plateau at the top of the falls is a moment of clarity as the narrow gully ascent opens out to a vast expanse of unbroken snow, scattered pine forest and yet further peaks. And as always there is the compelling intrigue of the unknown, stretching out into the distance.

Unfortunately not to be explored this time.... an approaching series of winter storms which raised water levels almost to flood level, caused numerous rockfalls and splintered trees like matchsticks made any real backcountry exploring inadvisable. But to be immersed over several days in such an awe-inspiring ladscape was incredible. In the words of John Muir "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks".