After navigating the steepest stair section, the trail reaches a large rock shelf at the top of Vernal Falls where we took a short break before taking on the last two miles to reach the pinnacle of Nevada Falls and the vantage point I was hunting. As we climbed, the light of the sun sank lower, illuminating the world around us in a soft warm glow. The granite faces glowed with warmth and magic as the landscape grew more beautiful with each passing minute.
Just before sunset, we reached the pinnacle of the trail and the source of the surging Nevada Falls. Then it was just a short jaunt down a stone path to reach the vantage point I was seeking, and it was at the perfect moment, as the setting light illuminated the falls and peaks, while just kissing the treetops. Once the magic hour had passed, we donned our head torches and descended back to the valley floor via the John Muir Trail in the deepening twilight of the approaching night.
The following day we would be driving up to Glacier Point Road and exploring the Taft Point to Sentinel Dome loop trail. The road had just been opened for the season, and there were still large patches of snow and ice leftover from the frozen winter. But, a little snow would not deter us from reaching two of the best vantage points in the park, the knee quivering heights of Taft Point and the 180-degree vista atop Sentinel Dome.
The trail first heads down from the road to reach Taft Point. Here, you can walk to a small section of handrail and peak over the edge of a cliff and the 1,000-foot drop below. After Taft Point, we backtracked half a mile before reaching the Sentinel Dome loop. This section of the hike is initially quite easy as it gently descends to the foot of the dome. But after a mile, the trail begins the ascent to its pinnacle, climbing just over 1,000 feet over the span of one mile. But the payoff is remarkable. After reaching the edge of the tree line, the trail disappears and it is a short scramble to reach the top of Sentinel Dome, a solid granite cap with only a couple of windblown and stunted trees on its top.