There are so many expectations to do something special on New Year’s Eve. Throw a dinner party? Take a vacation? Stay in? Go out? Get wild? It’s not that I don’t care about New Year’s Eve—I do: I love to reminisce about past year’s adventures, and set goals for the future. Last year we were caught by surprise that the year was over (again). So, we just packed our bags and drove the 3 ½ hours to one of our favorite places in the world, Yosemite National Park.
I know it’s a cliché, but it doesn’t matter how many times I drive up CA-120; every time I enter the park, there’s that same magic and wonder as the first time. We tried our luck on a few different backcountry permits and ended up securing one for the Northern Valley Rim.
The hike to North Rim follows the popular day hike up the famous Yosemite Falls. This time of year is a bit of a gamble in the Sierras, you can easily find winter conditions that suddenly turn any hike into a full winter expedition. But…we were lucky. We found the valley rim free of snow and mild temperatures. Remember: always check the trail conditions and wildlife with the Ranger—bears don’t take the New Year off!
After a few dozen (or so) steep switchbacks up the trail we finally arrived at the base of upper Yosemite Falls. A perfect spot to soak in the sounds of water cascading off a 2,425 foot jump. Another few dozen switchbacks later, we arrived at the top of the rim. We made our way to Yosemite Point and discovered one of the most spectacular views in the world.
One of the challenges with winter hikes is the shortened window of daylight, keeping us quick on our pace (and me fast on my photo set-ups.) With limited time and camping near the falls prohibited, we made haste on the trail towards North Dome.
We found the perfect spot for our New Year’s Eve party. An amazing campsite, with a well-built fire ring, and a stunning view on to the iconic landmark of Half Dome. I set up our Big Agnes Copper Spur HV 3 (door to Dome), while the others got to work on collecting firewood. We kicked off our festivities with warm cocktails, right as the clouds turned pink and the sun set for the year on the endless mountains of the High Sierra.
With the dwindling light came the cold, so we got our fire going and enjoyed our New Year’s dinner (freeze-dried chili mac and beef stroganoff). We felt like kings, sitting high above the valley on rocks and logs watching the sky change from blue to pink to black. The sky shaded slowly into the night—and the night into a blanket of stars. We counted our blessings and toasted to the future. We ended the year with gratitude, satisfaction and curiosity.
As our friends at home were likely packing into a party, we were snuggling into our spacious Big Agnes Copper Spur HV 3. Now warm and protected from the harsh cold, we promised to keep each other up until the clock struck midnight, but ended up counting sheep far before counting down. I supposed that’s the funny thing about spending New Year’s in the backcountry.
First light broke over the mountains in the East; all hope and promise on the horizon. We might have missed midnight, but we definitely didn’t miss sunrise. Grateful and appreciative of the world around us, we greeted the year with fresh coffee and clear minds.
Something about nature begs you to rethink the relentless rush of the holiday season. After all the parties are over and we’re back to the daily grind, these mountains are still here as they have been for so many New Years past and so many to come.
We broke camp, packed up our lightweight tent and fond memories, and made our way down the falls back to bustle of our lives. A little more humble, a little more gracious, and a little more optimistic. Smiling inside at our happy lives, because sometimes the best laid plans are not making plans at all.
Elizabeth Shrier is a San Francisco and New York City-based photographer who began her career shooting (photos) for the New York Knicks, and now focuses on wine, spirits, and luxury products. While she spends most of her time in San Francisco, you can also find her at 19,000 feet scaling Mount Kilimanjaro or photographing her adventures in the Canadian backcountry.