San Francisco, Yosemite and Big Sur

The bus trip up to San Francisco was a long and kind of boring affair. Once through the ranges north of Los Angeles it started raining torrentially and the temperature fell with it. Searching on the internet I found that there were flood warnings everywhere and my plans to drive out to Yosemite started to look a bit shaky. The good news is that I had a couple of days in San Fran before going west to the National Parks so hopefully in the meantime the weather would improve and I could carry on without any interruptions. But more on San Fran later.

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Getting in the car and starting the drive across California was the greatest feeling. There really is no better way to see the USA, or anywhere really, there’s just so much more freedom. Starting on the coast, crossing the bay bridge and going through hundreds of kilometres of orchards and vineyards the scenery is pretty beautiful. It turned out that the rain the few days before was the best in years and the water had instantly transformed the landscape to a lush green. Driving higher up into the mountains the rain gradually changed to snow and by the time I was on the high pass to the Yosemite Valley a heavy snowfall was coming down. Stopping for a few minutes to take in the redwoods in this blizzard was almost magical, but the snow was building up on the road and it was time to get to my hostel.

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About a minute after arriving in my hostel which was a really cool place hidden away in the mountains, two Australians walked into my room, Kamina and Ash. After leaving the last squad I thought it would be at least a couple of weeks before I met anyone else to travel with but luck was on my side this time and right there a new squad was born. Both of them were only around for a couple of days like myself and we decided that the next day we would do a gruelling 1000m ascent to the top of Yosemite Falls. The rain had disappeared and left behind perfect blue skies and 2 feet of snow on the upper mountains. When we arrived in the valley the next morning this snow was starting to melt and now there were thousands of waterfalls falling down the insanely high cliffs. If there was ever a real Narnia, this would have been the place.

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The hike was fairly steep but easy to begin with. After around an hour we reached the first high point with an incredible view over the valley and over to Yosemite falls behind the ridge. Walking further we started to enter the spray from the waterfall, but this spray was a bit different to what I’ve seen before. A really cool bit of science happens here in winter; the water fall is so high that when the temperature falls below freezing the falling water turns into snow before it reaches the bottom.

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The waterfall that turns to snow

As we walked below the waterfall we were being constantly bombarded with bits of ice and snow which was actually really nice at the time as the ascent was brutal. Climbing higher still we started to walk through knee deep snow and the only way to see where the path was going was the footprints from hikers before us. Three hours into the hike we emerged at the top of the cliffs and what I saw was without a doubt the most unbelievable view I’ve ever seen. Snow-capped peaks in every direction, the waterfall beside us and 1000m cliffs like a giant cookie cutter had been used on the mountains. We spent at least an hour sitting at the edge of the cliff taking in the view before we started the walk down.

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That evening Ash and Kamina decided to come with me on the drive back to San Francisco the next day with a detour down to see Big Sur. The drive through the coastal mountains of California is another must-do and we weren’t disappointed when we finally arrived at Big Sur. The high coastal mountains plummet into the ocean with countless cliffs, bays, waterfalls and wildlife to take in. The road is also great to drive with lots of curves and vistas to keep things interesting. I’m definitely going back to do the entire coastal highway one day, but sadly we needed to turn around and head North.

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Big Sur

Rainy weather had returned by the time we arrived in San Fran and we forged on with our plans to see Alcatraz in a tropical deluge. If anything the rain made the place seem even more isolated and depressing than usual which was perfect! Taking the boat out to the island you really get an idea how horrible it must have been to be stuck in that place. Being inside the cellblock with the driving wind and rain outside was frankly spooky and the cold added a touch of miserableness to the experience. It’s really easy to see how it was called the worst place to be locked up.

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Keeping up on the tourist tail I headed out to the Golden Gate Bridge and battled 100km winds to walk out to the centre before I raced back to the safety at shore. Along the way I witness a few cyclists being blown over which would have been hilarious if we weren’t 60-70m above the water. For the rest of my time I had a great day exploring the centre by cable car and walking. It really is a beautiful city when the weather in on your side and I can see why everyone says it’s the most European looking American city.

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