Salubrious adventure in Yosemite

Salubrious: adjective meaning good for you, healthful, clean healthy air, favorable to the mind or body.

Merced grand view

Stuck in traffic, twenty minutes outside the Yosemite gates. Jon and I were playing one of those repetitive memory games where the first player says, “The Minister’s cat is an atrocious cat,” and the next repeats the phrase adding a new adjective beginning with the subsequent letter of the alphabet: “The minister’s cat is an atrocious, bilious cat.” And so on. Our cat was by and large a vile thing, with twenty-six primarily negative adjectives. Credit goes to Jon for the best, most positive, descriptor of the lot – salubrious, a word fashioned in 1547 from the Latin, salubris, of the same meaning.  And a fitting adjective for the backpacking trip on which we were about to embark. Extra points if you can figure out which other word in this post has the same root.

Ask anyone who’s been to Yosemite in the summer and they’ll tell you how lovely it is, but also that it’s crowded. Though I live in Brooklyn where all summer long the parks are packed with families and friends, barbequing and concert-going, I couldn’t understand the concept of an enormous national park overflowing with people. That is, until we got to the Valley, where we only lingered long enough to see Yosemite Falls:


Falls bw

take a dip in the Merced River:

Merced River
and salute El Capitan:

El Capitan

But venture out of the Valley, and it’s easy to find solace. Jon and I took the Porcupine Creek trail off Tioga Road, one I’d recommend to any eager, but out-of-practice backpacker, like myself. A fairly flat 5.2 mile hike through the conifers to North Dome; we encountered three campsites, and maybe ten hikers. The perfect campsite awaited us half-a-mile from our target and we pitched the tent in a spot overlooking the Valley and Half Dome.


When it was dark, the small white rocks on the ground looked like sand. There’s something about perching on a ridge between the firmament and the loam of the valley below that makes you feel very small. Earlier, we’d watched a video about Yosemite that referred to the giant boulders throughout the park as pebbles dropped in the glacier’s wake. And a lot of those rocks are much larger than me. Gazing down into the Valley, the terrain read like an infinite history book, on whose immense pages I was but a tiny pencil mark. Across the gulf, we noticed the glow of a flashlight. For a few minutes we made a game of flickering incoherent signal patterns with campers across the way. When I was in Italy, my friend Tavi had friends visit Siena from Barcelona. They didn’t speak English or Italian, but somehow with a little wine and a gorgeous piazza, we managed to communicate. This was the same sort of magic – we were sharing something inexpressible with distant strangers that we will likely never meet, transmitting nothing more than the confirmation that we exist, and that we recognize that they exist too.

Half Dome
By the time the sun rose, our tent was starting to exhibit signs of sauna-ism, and so we promptly packed up our gear, chomped some chocolate covered espresso beans and granola bars for energy and departed for the second leg of our hike, which would take us back to the car.

hike back
There are two important things I’ve neglected to tell you:

1.)    From the trailhead to North Dome, you actually descend in elevation. And though the trail out is not entirely downhill, and the trek back isn’t entirely uphill, there was about a 700 feet elevation ascent from the campsite to the car.

2.)    We forgot bug spray.

The hike back would have been delightful, except for the mosquitoes, which I will henceforth refer to as the black cloud of agony. They covered our arms like sleeves. To stop walking meant self-sacrifice. The steepest part of the entire 9-mile trip was made worse by these horrible little creatures. We encountered some hikers, who sprayed us with their DEET, but the worst of the black cloud of agony was over.

Luckily a refreshing dip in the pristine waters of Tenaya Lake offered some salubrious relief:

Lake Tenaya

More words from Lake Tahoe, BC, Oregon and Washington State in the next few weeks.

Categories: Activities, etymology, Ponderings | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Salubrious adventure in Yosemite

  1. wong

    Salute? Does salute have the same root as salubrious?

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