Yosemite from another perspective

31 Oct 1998 - by Aaron Schuman

On many occasions I've seen Yosemite from the marmot's perspective, up high, but waddling slowly, glued to the granite by my own weight. I've seen golden eagles cruising thermals above me, but to see what the eagles see, I might as well sprout wings on my back.

Yesterday David Harris, Jon Richards and I flew to Yosemite in the Cessna that David shares with the Stanford Flying Club.

We left Palo Alto, crossed the Bay, the Diablos, and the valley of the San Joaquin. We soared up Yosemite Valley, with El Capitan just below us to the left and Glacier Point on our right, close enough to touch. We turned south, passing Mt Clark, and circling the three smooth domes of Mt Starr King. I reflected on climbs I've made of those peaks, and how differently the mountains appeared while I was on them. We made another turn up the valley, covering the distance of multi-day hikes in minutes. Half Dome stood by. David noted that he had never hiked the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne, and neither had I, so we turned north, and explored its ice scoured precipices and waterfalls. With a few minutes left in our flight plan, we crossed over the Merced almost out to the headwaters of the San Joaquin for an unobstructed close up view of Mts Ritter and Banner, and the ghostly Minarets. We passed around the Clark Range to the east, climbing to 12000 feet to make the pass, then swooped down Yosemite Valley one last time. A mist had begun to fill the valley, enshrouding Cathedral Spires.

David handed me the controls of the plane. My job was an easy one; drop down to 6500 feet, and hold that elevation, while maintaining a compass bearing to Livermore. I learned that my intuitive sense of where the horizon lies is different from the reality of it. To fly level, I had to monitor the instruments, not just the sky, and to point the nose of the plane downward took real concentration.

I was surprised to discover how broad the Central Valley is. Driving, we always rocket across those flatlands at approximately the same speed as a Cessna can fly, but then slow down for the windy uphill grades. The plane, which flies as straight and fast in Yosemite as it does over Modesto, reveals how narrow the Sierra Nevada is compared to the whole width of California.

David took back the controls to land us in a light rain for our brief stopover in Livermore, then flew us back home through the controlled air space of the lower San Francisco Bay. I drove home from the Palo Alto airport with my Honda hovering eight feet above the pavement. This morning, still thrilled about my visit to a Yosemite in a new dimension, the vertical dimension, I am still flying.

"People wonder why I don't express more interest in traveling
around the world.  The fact is, I really haven't completed
exploration of my own backyard!  Two dimensionally, I am jealous
as Hell over your flying over the Himalayas!  JEZUZ!!! But -
after all - the other day I walked by some fresh green moss in
my garden; this is a terrible confession for an old grizzled
mountaineer to say - but that moss looked mighty impressive to me!"

        Ansel Adams, in a letter to Dorothea Lange, 2/22/1959

Trip photos

still being developed, will be sent later


Steve Eckert adds:

Just wondering how loud you were to the people on the ground??? Many a climber, including you and I, have complained about aircraft noise in the backcountry... and it's nowhere near as bad as the Grand Canyon. Yet.

Tony Cruz adds:

> Just wondering how loud you were to the people on the ground???

I was on the ground at the time and didn't hear a thing!

Rich Calliger adds:

Another noisy fly-over disturbing my sleep..I can't get away from you people with your mechanical toys-- even going lower to make it louder...how rude and inconsiderate....I drove for hours to have peace and quiet..and Dave- was that your Milky Way bar wrapper I saw floating down from the heavens...(pun intended!)

I sure hope you vote the Sierra club environmental slate at least!

GET OUT AND VOTE- B. Boxer at least everyone...stop Harris is his tracks from doing another fly-over of Yo....pretty soon it will be like the Grand Canyon! Ground thise wimpy lazy-assed climbers that have to resort to airplanes to see a little of the mountains..(smile);(just kidding !)

Jim Curl adds:

Nice report! I wish I could've been there. I got a chance to be on El Cap this year and thought I had a nice view... then I saw the swallows looping and soaring by the cliffs and knew I was destined to a rather limited perspective. It sounds like you found the next best thing to the birds.

I can't wait to see your pictures. You didn't have an IMAX camera with you by chance?

Eugene Miya adds:

Why stop with Yosemite? You missed the Ritter/Banner area, Mono Lake, the Palisades, Whitney, etc. The granite on the West side S of Yosemite. Well, only a couple of decades after the advice.

Christopher Stone adds:

From the South Face of Washington Column, the combined effect of screaming tourists, car alarms, automobiles, "booping" dump trucks, commercial jet liners and the boom box another party decided to bring to Dinner Ledge outdid any single Cessna fly-over. Nonetheless, it makes you wonder how much more spectacular this already incomparable Valley would be if there were no roads, no planes, no Yosemite Village . . .

Tony Cruz adds:

> Why stop with Yosemite?  You missed the Ritter/Banner area, Mono Lake,
> the Palisades, Whitney, etc.  The granite on the West side S of Yosemite.

Why not put a ban on all flights over Calfornia? Then we'd be covered. We should also ban all automobile use. Just walk it before you climb it!

> stop Harris in his tracks from doing another fly-over of Yo....
> pretty soon it will be like the Grand Canyon!  

I've hiked one to two hundred miles in the Grand Canyon and hate the damn planes spoiling my reveries. But when it came time for me to report my opinion to the Park Service, I voted not to ban the flights. Gee if that had happened, good old Barry Goldwater wouldn't have found some indian ruins. Nuts to those of you who say it would have been better that way.

Eric Russell adds:

I have done many hikes in Yosemite. I do not mind the visual traveler overhead. Maybe because I am a pilot (and an aerobat), but I have never flown over Yosemite. I have climbed many of the peaks, and I will be flying over soon, to relive the glory and the rush of actually doing it. Don't worry about us lazy butts, we are too concerned with charts and weather to really enjoy ourselves over the tops of peaks, and climbing them only gives us a few minutes instead of a few days... So unless you are on a popular attraction(half-dome) don't worry about an occasional buzz. Just think... they see you taking the time to enjoy it... and wish they were with you.

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