Every day, thousands of visitors stand in Yosemite Valley and crane their necks toward Upper Yosemite Fall.
Few experience the opposite perspective: standing at the brink of the falls and peering down as Yosemite Creek plunges past a backdrop of sheer granite to the lush, green valley below.
Like most worthwhile undertakings, there's a price to pay. Namely, the 2,700 feet of elevation gained by hiking one of Yosemite's oldest footpaths. Built in the 1870s and operated on a toll basis, it's also among the steepest and is heavily eroded in places.
Because most of the route faces the sun, get an early start to avoid the heat and carry plenty of water. Filtering water from Yosemite Creek above the falls is best avoided in periods of high runoff.
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About a quarter-mile past the Sunnyside Walk-In Campground, you'll encounter the first of approximately 130 switchbacks. As is characteristic of old trails, each leg is relatively short.
After a while, the trail cuts north across the hillside, reaching Columbia Rock at 1.2 miles. The view overlooking Yosemite Valley is a stunner. Many hikers call it a day right here, heading back down fully satisfied with their efforts.
Not through? Continue climbing, then lose precious elevation as the trail passes in front of a near-vertical cliff. Soon, you're treated to a dramatic view of Upper Yosemite Fall, virtually all 1,430 feet. In early season, mist often blows across the trail. Fleeting refreshment for what's ahead.
Onward (and upward) you go, snaking up a prominent gully until - finally - reaching a junction with the Eagle Peak Trail at 3.4 miles. Go right about 100 yards, and take the spur trail that descends to a fenced-in viewpoint positioned at the very brink of North America's tallest waterfall.
Sights and sounds are nothing short of sublime. From this perch, the geologic forces that carved and shaped Yosemite all those millions of years ago can be easily traced.
If there's still life in those legs, retrace your steps to the first junction and turn right. Cross the creek on a bridge about 100 yards above the falls and hike another 0.8 miles to spectacular Yosemite Point.
Here, the canyon's south rim lines up as if on a postcard. Half Dome and North Dome dominate the eastern horizon, while Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome loom to the south. Visible to the west is the top of Lost Arrow Spire, a popular destination for rock climbers.
Rock climbing? Just hiking up here is hard enough. At least now it's all downhill.
Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on June 5, 2003.