There are few things I enjoy more than taking students to places outside the world they normally live in and watching the learning process as surprises are encountered along the way.
Last week I had the opportunity to take a group of ninth grade students from Livingston High to Yosemite. Their trip was both a reward for their performance in the school's freshman transition program and an opportunity for them to try out some of the skills they'd learned over the course of the year.
Most of the students had very limited experience in Yosemite and many had none at all. To provide the challenge of a moderate-length hike, we took them down the Four Mile Trail from the top of Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley.
Although it is a downhill trek all the way a total elevation loss of 3,220 feet it's still a workout, especially for the feet and joints. Most of the students had never been on a hike of this length before.
One of the best things about the Four Mile Trail (actually 4.8 miles from top to bottom) is that for much of the way your view includes Yosemite Falls. The trail is directly across the Valley from the falls and hikers see them from a different perspective than visitors on the Valley floor.
Partway down the trail we stopped at Union Point and gave the students some time to sketch what they saw. In the end, it was surprising to see how much variety there was. No two drawings were alike.
Some students sketched east towards Half Dome, others north to Yosemite Falls, and still others west along the Merced River.
One drew the Valley reflected in a hiker's eye, one selected a bird soaring on the air currents, and one drew a unicorn. (Even being in Yosemite doesn't change the fact that they are still freshmen).
When we had the students compare their creations at the end of the day, the drawing that proved most popular was a craggy tree clinging to the edge of the granite cliff.
After a BBQ lunch at the bottom of the trail and some time to enjoy the Merced River, the students boarded the bus and thought about what they'd done and learned by answering some reflective questions. One was surprised that: "Yosemite is just as beautiful in real life as it is in pictures!"
Many said that the recommendation about wearing sturdy shoes was an important one. "Next time I'll wear better shoes" was a common response.
Looking over the responses I wondered if perhaps I'd told too many cautionary tales about accidents. My intent was to give the students a healthy fear of steep drop-offs and other trail hazards but I was a bit surprised by how many responses said something to the effect of "I learned that a lot of people have died in Yosemite."
The Four Mile Trail is a great hike for the early summer while Yosemite Falls is at its peak. Most hikers start in the Valley, climb up to Glacier Point, and then reverse the journey.
This makes a challenging hike of 9.6 miles with a 3,220 foot elevation gain and descent. If you do the hike this way, start early so that you can climb to the top before it gets hot.
Much of the trail is exposed. The easier way is to hike it as we did top to bottom only. You can do this by arranging a car shuttle with two cars, leaving one at the bottom and transporting the hiking group to the top with the other. After the hike you can retrieve the car at the top.
The simpler way is to buy a ticket on the bus that the park's concessionaire, DNC, operates daily from Yosemite Lodge to Glacier Point. Ride it to the top and then hike back down to the bottom.
From the end of the trail on the Valley floor back to Yosemite Lodge is an easy walk of less than half a mile. For more information about the bus, go to: www.yosemitepark.com/glacier-point-tour.aspx" target="_blank"__gt__http:// or call (801) 559-4884.
The Valley end of the Four Mile Trail starts along Southside Drive, just west of Swinging Bridge Picnic Area. The Glacier Point end starts at Glacier Point. From the major overlooks, just follow the many signs for the Four Mile Trail.
During the summer months, the Glacier Point Snack Stand and Store open at 9 a.m. daily. The snack stand closes at 5 p.m. and the store at 6 p.m. If you hike up from the Valley you'll more than likely feel like stopping for a cold drink!
Lastly, if you've been wondering why a 4.8 mile trail is officially known as a "Four Mile Trail," it's because it actually was four miles long when it was first built. Since then it has been improved and realigned to provide an easier and safer hiking experience resulting in the increase in length.
Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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