If we thought the sun came up early before, it really comes up early when you’re sleeping on a dome-top across from El Capitan. And when the sun comes up and the sun’s rays flood your sleeping bag, your bag gets hot pretty quickly. There’s really no such thing as sleeping in on a trail crew.
Waking up on Sentinel Dome? Some of you old Yosemite hands might be thinking “The top of the dome is less than four miles from a road. Nobody is supposed to be camping up there!” And you would be right…technically. Moose pointed out that, technically, we weren’t camping. We had no campsite set up. There were no tents. No food had been prepared. No trash had to be hauled away. Therefore…we weren’t camping. Trail workers can kinda get an attitude about whatever park they happen to be working at. I would say it’s a special sense of ownership. We build the trails. We maintain the trails. Nobody, but nobody, experiences these places like we do. The trails are ours, man! 😉
As we rolled out of our sleeping bags and started stuffing them back into their stuff sacks, voices started drifting up from the trail to the parking lot. I couldn’t understand what the voices were saying…but Xem could! The first group of tourists to summit Sentinel Dome that morning were Vietnamese. Xem hollered down to them. They hollered back. They were all having a great time!
A morning mist wafted through the Valley and canyons. Everything looked so different than what it had the night before. Light, shadows, and mist changed so much that I don’t think you could look at the same Valley twice.
Moose let us enjoy the sunrise for a little while. Then she started herding us back down to the van. Phase Two of Moose’s mission was underway. We continued on up to Glacier Point. We had been here before, but never at sunrise on a Saturday. We were not expecting to see the line of hang gliders queued up clear to the parking lot!
In 1987, hang gliders could still legally launch from Glacier Point. There were a few simple rules to follow. I believe they could only launch on weekend mornings at dawn. There was a dedicated Hang Glider NPS ranger. This ranger inspected each hang glider pilot’s equipment and satisfied himself that each pilot throwing himself/herself off the 3000 foot cliff actually possessed the skill to safely reach the valley floor. As each person checked through the ranger, he/she would and their hang glider to the queue.
The launching commenced at 8:00. The ranger let each glider take off one by one at carefully timed intervals to prevent the airspace from becoming too crowded. The ranger stood face to face with the next glider pilot, looking back over his shoulder to monitor how far away each just-launched glider was. When the interval was good enough, the ranger stepped aside. The pilot of the next glider to launch grabbed the hang glider’s frame, sprinted down the rock faster and faster and finally flung himself off the cliff. The person then pulled their feet up and tucked them into a sleeping bag-like pouch. I imagine this made it easier for the person to stay horizontal under the glider through the flight. It probably made everything more aerodynamic, too. After launch, each glider pilot chose an individual course. It seemed like most of them headed for Half Dome. We could see several hang gliders at any given moment banking, turning, and floating across the face of Ansel Adams’ Monolith. Others turned left after take-off and headed for El Capitan or other parts of the Valley. Silent. Soaring. All eventually heading for soft landing in the meadow below.
Once all of the hang gliders had launched, the Hang Glider Ranger slid under his hang glider and launched himself off of the cliff. His seemed one of those NPS jobs where the person who has it spends a lot of time thinking “I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this!”