It had been a long week. We had started the week working on the causeway trail through Wawona. We wound up spending the better part of three days mopping up a fire on a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere. On Friday we were back on the causeway. We were looking forward to a restful weekend. During dinner on the patio at Comfort House somebody mentioned the full moon the night before. This gave Moose an idea. The crew loaded into the van after dinner. Some of us went along grudgingly, just to go along with the group. I think I was one of them. I wanted rest. We were going on another adventure. Well…Tim Esquivel had told us before the season that to get the most out of the season, our attitudes should be “There will be plenty of time for sleep after Backcountry!”
We headed up toward Glacier Point, except we didn’t go all the way to Glacier Point. We stopped at the parking lot and trail head for Sentinel Dome.
Sentinel Dome sits atop the south wall of Yosemite Valley. I was familiar with Sentinel Dome from reading John Muir. Muir had written about the lone Jeffrey pine at the top of Sentinel Dome. The tree was not a majestic, towering pine of the lowlands. No. This pine had taken root in a crack in the dome’s granite summit. It found enough nutrients in that crack to grow, but had lived its life fighting the alpine winds. It had not grown straight up. It existed by bending with the wind. It grew in a perpetual stoop to the south east along with the prevailing winds. It never gained much height…but it had gained age. This particular Jeffrey pine was one of the few things that anybody could say with certainty that it was the very same tree that Muir had seen. Had touched. Had written about. One of the few actual touchstones between Muir and myself.
It was still there when we reached the top.
We were an hour or so ahead of sundown, which was perfect. We had a chance to survey all of Yosemite’s legendary locations from one of the highest points around the Valley: Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, The Royal Arches, Cloud’s Rest. Other tourists were up there too, enjoying the view. There was plenty of time for photography. Moose had an SLR. I had my point-and-shoot. The changing light as the sun set gave us plenty of subjects without even moving around very much. A favorite shot of mine from that day was a silhouette of the Jeffrey pine against the setting sun right on the horizon.
The best part of the moment was that there was no hurry. No projects to finish. No timetable to keep. Just enjoying the crisp air and the fading sun. The tourists eventually left. The only voices around were our own crewmembers…our own trail crew family. The Western writer Louis L’Amour once wrote that trail dust is thicker than blood. I was certainly feeling that way about this diverse group with whom I had already shared so much trail dust. And ash. And helicopter rides. And washing the dinner dishes. And more was still to come. The season wasn’t even half over yet, and we still hadn’t even gotten close to the High Country.
The sun set and the sky grew dark. Everybody gathered on the east face of the dome and settled in. We pulled our sleeping bags out of our daypacks we had brought. We settled in and got nice and comfy on the still-warm granite. Then the sky started to lighten to the east. We could make out Half Dome’s silhouette in the dark. Half Dome got easier to see as the full moon peaked over the Sierra crest. Everybody cheered. The moon continued to rise over Half Dome and climbed into the sky. What a show!