Posts Tagged ‘Yosemite National Park’

Backpacking Yosemite National Park, 22-28 September 2012

4 October 2012

Summary: 60+ miles and 8300+ of altitude gain over six days, beautiful weather, stunning terrain, critters, and great fellowship.

The photos from this expedition are here on Google Plus.

My buddy Chuck also posted photos on Google Plus.

Getting There And Preparation

We headed out Saturday to Fresno via American Airlines, arriving there around 1330. After lunch at Irene’s, and stops by REI and WalMart to buy food and last minute supplies, we headed out to Yosemite, getting into the Park around 1800.

We checked into two cabin/tents in Curry Village. These are pretty basic Baker tents on wooden platforms. They are in a shady area, and stayed nice and cool for us. Each has a number of bunks with mattresses, sheets, pillows and pillowcases, and blankets and towels. Most of the beds are singles (twins?), and one is a double. The tents each have a bear-proof food storage container, and is lockable with a padlock.

We unloaded, had buffet dinner in the Pavilion (open until 2000), checked out the Lounge (wifi, but only a T-1 shared amongst everybody there), and then racked out.

Day 1

Awoke all excited!

We were all in the showers at 0645 and out shortly thereafter. There are 500+ cabins in Curry Village, and there are 35 showers scattered around. We were able to jump in each time we showered with no wait, but the Village was not terribly full, I think, so I suspect that if you try to shower in the summer rush, you are looking at a wait. The showers were nice, each had an alcove for you to stash your stuff and get undressed, and the shower area itself was big enough where you don’t feel cramped. The water was nice and hot and had good pressure. Each shower had two big containers of liquid soap and shampoo, which was nice when I really needed it later. Towels are provided by Curry Village. I took two towels, and used one as a washcloth.

We ate breakfast buffet in the Pavilion; it was good. Afterward, we loaded up all our stuff in the car and headed over to Yosemite Village and the Wilderness Center to get our permit. We got a mission briefing (very detailed) from one of the Rangers, picked up an anti-bear food canister each, loaded up again, and drove to Glacier Point. We got there around 1115, and walked over to look at the views from the east edge, and then the Point. We filled our water bottles from a faucet, loaded up our backpacks, stashed the extra food and fuel in one of the trailhead storage lockers, took a deep breath, and shouldered our packs and headed out, at 1155.

We started out on the Panorama Trail, heading down the steep slope towards Illilouette Falls. We passed above the Falls and continued above Illilouette Creek, descending gradually until we met up with the Creek. From that point, we were steadily climbing. We saw a bear (about time!), had a deer walk through our lunch site, and generally steadily walked for six hours.

We passed under Mount Starr King, seeing it from three sides, which was pretty cool.

My original target was Merced Pass Lake, but we were starting to lose light while we were still several miles away, and at one point ran into a very nice open area right next to the Creek, with a perfect cooking area right by the Creek. We decided it was home for the evening, and set up camp. There had been a few cumulus clouds to our east, but nothing developed from them, and they evaporated at sunset.

Camp was very nice. There was a nice, sandy, soft dirt over most of the area, that was a wonderful sleeping surface. We didn’t put the fly on the tent, and most of the upper part of the tent is netting, which meant that Dave and I had a wonderful view of the sky all night from inside the tent. Everyone cooked and ate dinner (mostly in the dark), and then we all pretty much crashed. I woke up around 0200 to pee, and the view of the sky was absolutely stunning, with the sky full of stars, the Milky Way clear across the sky.

Gosh, it was beautiful.

I had a Backpackers Pantry Chicken with Dressing and Potatoes for dinner. I added a bit less water, and the consistency was good, but I was hungry and started in on it after the standard cooking time of 13 minutes, instead of waiting a bit longer due to the extra altitude. As a result, some of the veg and stuff was not fully rehydrated. It didn’t matter much, the stuff got eaten anyway. I’ve had better tasting backpacking meals, though. I think I will not take that one again.

I had brought my 20F sleeping bag for the trip, or so I thought. As I climbed into it, I noticed it was my 0F bag. Oh well, a bit more weight, but I was never cold.

Our distance for the day was 9.4 miles. We started at Glacier Point at 7200 ft, and dropped down to 6100 ft very quickly. At that point we had a (relatively 🙂 ) level walk for a bit, and then started back up again, ending up at 7400 ft, for a gain of 1300 ft.

Day 2

We all started waking up around 0700 or so, but moved slowly. After breakfast and packing up, we headed out around 0900, again slowly and steadily upward. The first order of business was to knock of the mileage to Upper Merced Pass Lake. We got there around noon; everybody needed water, but the lake, which was on the map, pretty much didn’t exist, not even as a dried up lake. Dave took an expedition overland about a half mile due west to Lower Merced Pass Lake, finding it easily enough, and getting all the water bottles filled up. We had lunch, and then headed out, almost due east towards Ottoway Lakes.

This was some serious altitude increase now. We were all exerting pretty well, but staying pretty cool. There was a series of switchbacks alternated with consistent rises. After about three hours, we got to Lower Ottoway Lake. The lake was beautiful, clear and cold. There were a couple people camped near the shore. We took an extended break and thought about swimming.

One cool thing, a raptor launched from the trees across the lake, and flew over the lake and over us only about 20 ft overhead. It was an owl, reddish brown. Very cool. [08 Oct 2012 update: after looking online for a bit, I am of the opinion that we saw a Flammulated Owl. The color and head shape are diagnostic, and the size was about right.]

We had a short debate about where to camp. The lake would have been a very nice choice, and our target was Upper Ottoway (about three miles and 500 ft of altitude gain farther), but we had a long walk for tomorrow, and didn’t want to extend it. But the water issue at Merced Pass had us a bit concerned also, and we didn’t want to get up to Upper Ottoway and not find water. We could see that there were lines of green coming down from the rocks to our east, indicative of at least some water up there, so we decided to take the gamble and press on. We made sure our headlamps were easily available, and headed out.

Walking around Lower Ottoway was pretty easy. On the east side, we started up. It was a tough climb, I was sweating a lot and starting to tire. It was about 1.5 hours of exertion, and as Sun started below the ridge far to our west, we got to Upper Ottoway Lake (or rather, Lakes; there were two of them, which we took to calling Upper Upper Ottoway Lake and Lower Upper Ottoway Lake, where we camped).

It was starting to get dark and chilly as we made camp. We got the tents up and the water started heating, but ate dinner by headlamp. I had my Mountain House Chili Mac for dinner, and once again, it was the perfect backpacking dinner, just the right consistency, just the right spicy, and just the right amount of food. Yum! Everybody pretty much crashed immediately after dinner. Again, we left the fly off, and the stars were stunning. It was in the lower 40s when we went to bed.

Our mileage for the day was 8.5 miles. The impressive number was our altitude gain, which was 3100 ft! Camp was at 10500 ft. The altitude gain was fairly steady over the day, but that still adds up.

It got down to 30F overnight by the thermometer Chuck carried. Polar Bear patches for all!

Day 3

This day started chilly. We didn’t get Sun for a while due to the rock wall to our east. Everyone took a bit to get the kinks out from the long climb the previous day. The view down to Lower Ottoway Lake was stunning.

We got started about 0830 on the walk up to Red Peak Pass to our north. The trail was fairly short in distance, but steep! We all had a lot of appreciation for whoever had built that trail. It was a combination of switchbacks and steps. The first couple switchbacks were each a couple hundred feet long, but quickly shortened as we got higher.

As we climbed, we were able to see the Upper Upper Ottoway Lake that we had suspected. The UU lake was much larger than the LU lake. Turns out the LU lake we had camped at had another arm around a U turn we had not been able to see from camp.

After a 600 ft climb, we arrived at the Pass. The views to both sides were wonderful. We met another crew of three from SoCal who had come up the east side of the Pass. While we were up there, we had a day-early celebration of Chucks 50th birthday. I had put some medium Hostess cupcakes in a cleaned-out Pringles can to keep them from getting crushed, along with a birthday card Raegan had ginned up, and a candle. I figured a day early at 11200 ft and the top of our world was better than the actual day and a forest trail.

We had thought about side hiking to Red Peak, but it would have involved boulder scrambling that looked positively dangerous without ropes, so we decided to skip that.

After a while, we started down the east side. It was just as steep down. We also had a lot of places where we were walking on big rocks, that reminded me of walking towards Jicarita in Pecos Wilderness. As we got lower, we made better time.

We had lunch on the shore of a very pretty lake.

We started walking again, had one ridge crossing, and then started walking along a creek, steadily going down. We had one serious 500 ft of down to reach the Merced River, and then walked along it for a while. Our target for the day was Washburn Lake, and we reached it as we were losing the Sun again.

Camp was on the shore of Washburn, and was beautiful, if a bit tight. Yosemite wants you to camp 100 ft from water sources or trails, and it just was not possible in this case, as the ground to the east of the lake went up at a 30 deg angle. So we camped between the trail and the lake shore, about 30 ft from each. Dinner this evening was beef stroganoff with noodles. I let it cook 21 minutes instead of 13, and it was pretty darn good. I note that each of these backpackers meals were supposedly two servings, but they made a good meal for one hungry walker. We talked for a while, and then headed to bed with a beautiful Moon and stars overhead.

This was a long day. We had 13.8 miles of hiking, Our net altitude loss was 3500 ft, but we also had about 900 ft of gain, so we had lots of aerobic activity.

Day 4

We were up and moving by about 0845. The walk started along the shore of Washburn, and then followed the Merced down to a backcountry ranger station. There was a trail crew camped there, and some horses that were very friendly and curious.

We continued along, steadily but gradually losing altitude, until we got to Merced Lake. There was another trail crew working there. I don’t think we saw the High Sierra Camp hut. The lake was very pretty.

My original plan had been to hike along this trail until we got to Echo Canyon, then go to Half Dome via Little Yosemite Valley (LYV). After some map reading the evening before with Jason, we decided to take the trail up towards Sunrise Creek and the John Muir Trail, and so knock off some of the climbing we would otherwise have had to do tomorrow. This was a good plan on several levels, but the one variable was whether we would be able to find water up there. If not, then we would have to continue on down to LYV, where we knew we would have water from the Merced. We were not encouraged when we got to the trail junction, and the creek there was completely dry. Dave led a crew about a half mile down the trail to LYV and found water in the Merced.

We headed up towards the Muir Trail. It was hard! The altitude gain was almost 900 ft. When we got up there, the scenery was breathtaking. We walked along a series of granite domes that formed steep cliffs above Echo Valley, Lost Lake, and LVW. Eventually, we could see Half Dome looming ahead of us behind a ridge. We crossed the ridge and intercepted the Muir Trail, at a beautiful campsite in an area with huge trees. We were in camp, set up, and done with dinner before Sun set. Clark made a campfire, and we spent a nice couple hours sitting and talking.

Dinner for me was Backpackers Pantry Shepherd’s Pie. It was really, really good. I used a 1/2 cup less of water than the package called for, and let it cook 20 minutes instead of 13. The consistency was perfect, and it had great flavor.

Our gamble paid off in that there was a stream at the Muir trail junction. It was a very low flow stream, but we got the water.

Our mileage for the day was 11.4. We had a net altitude loss of 500 ft, but the profile was a 700 ft loss, followed by a 1000 ft gain, then another loss of 800 ft to camp, so we were seriously tired.

Day 5

Half Dome!

We woke to see the sun lighting up the south side of Half Dome in the short distance to the NW. We had breakfast and packed up, headed back up to the water and topped off bottles, and headed out. It was about 0900.

It was only about a half mile to the Half Dome trail junction. We dropped our packs and headed up the trail. It was two miles to Half Dome. We had made a conscious decision to leave our water bottles with the packs to lighten our load on the climb it. Here is my advice:


From the trail junction, it’s 1700 feet to the top of Half Dome, and you need your water on the way up. We didn’t get dehydrated, but we needed the water, and probably some snacks.

It’s a hard walk up the dome. When you get to the bottom of SubDome, you leave the shade of the forested path, and start on rock steps, in unrelenting sunlight. It was hot and sweaty work. We got to the base of Half Dome at 1100.

We had brought carabiners and rope. I cut a loop of rope and made a sling; when I did rappelling frequently, we called it a diaper sling. The sling was attached with a three foot section of rope to the biner. The two cables going up the Dome make a great place to put the biner as a backup. At each step (which is a 2×4 placed between the cable stays) I would switch the biner to the next segment of cable. It was a bit of a pain, but I am really glad I had the protection in place.

Going up the cables was hard work. You don’t have that much traction to walk up with your legs, so you have to use your arms a lot to pull along the cables. It’s hard on the hands also, since you are in serious grip mode.

It took a bit, but we got to the top. Half Dome has two “points”. The eastern point is the high point, and the western point is more gradual, and slopes off fairly gradually. We walked over all of the Dome, and after an hour or so, headed back down.

It was harder going down the cables. I tried forward, sideways, and backwards. I think the easiest way is backwards, using the cables in the same manner as a rappelling rope and working down it hand over hand.

When we got down to the base of SubDome, there was a Park Ranger checking permits.

We headed down, got to the trail junction, took long drinks, put on our packs, and headed down. The trail down was rocky, with lots of steps, lots of dust. We hiked down to Little Yosemite Valley, passed through the backpackers camp, and walked down the trail until we met up with the Merced. Water was topped off and snacks consumed. We headed down the trail, past Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls. That is a very hard walk down. We got to the bottom at 1700.

Our daily walk was 10.5 miles. We had 1700 ft of altitude gain, followed immediately by 4600 ft of loss, from the top of Half Dome all the way to the floor of Yosemite Valley.

The total hike was 56.5 miles (that doesn’t include some of the side hikes for water and the like). We had over 8300 ft of altitude gain for the entire trek.

We got checked in to Curry Village, and took quick showers, putting on our still-dusty from the trail clothes, and took ourselves to a steak dinner. Following dinner, Clark and Gayle drove Shawn and I up to Glacier Point to get the cars we had left at the trailhead. We had a rude surprise: someone had taken the stuff we had left in the bearproof containers. We had left some extra food (like trail bars), a partial can of stove fuel, and a couple of shaving kits. So, if you were up on Glacier Point the week of 22-27 September, and you got stuff out of the bear containers up there, doubtless inadvertently, please let me know so I can let you know where to send it (you can keep the stove fuel, we were going to donate it to the Backcountry Office anyway so others could use it).

Driving back down to the valley, I had a Ringtail Cat run across the road in front of me, the first one I have seen in the wild. The moonlight on the granite was stunning! We got down about 2230, I went to the Curry Village Lounge to get some wifi and email before hitting the sack.

Day 6

We got up lateish this morning, had showers and breakfast. We went over to Yosemite Village to turn in the bear canisters, check to see if the Rangers had taken our stuff from Glacier Point, checked out the Visitor Center, and the like. After lunch, we went to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Redwoods and hiked there a bit. We had dinner in Wawona, and headed back to the Valley.

One cool thing. As we drove into the Valley, there was a flash of light from the dark face of El Capitan. We pulled over and got out, and watched for about 10 minutes; there were at least eight groups of lights on the El Capitan wall. I’m guessing these were headlamps being worn by climbers. Very cool.

After doing some packing, and spending some time at the Lounge, and spending some more time on the bar patio, we all hit the rack around 2300. The next morning it was up, finish packing, drive to Fresno, and fly home.

The Route

Here is the route we took, overlaid on a Topographic map, and Altitude. I annotated the Altitude map to show our locations.

Things That Went Well

The weather was beautiful! We had sunny days, clear nights, great temperatures.

Sleeping was easy! In every case, we had semi-soft ground to sleep on, that was very comfortable.

Every day, as soon as we got into camp, I would change my tshirt, underwear, and socks, and rinse the stuff I just took off. It was dry by the next afternoon, and I would do the change cycle again. It helped me keep from getting chilled in camp. I also really enjoyed having a hoodie to wear.

Things That Could Have Gone Better

I screwed up my food packing a bit. I need to always go with the following: Breakfast, two packages of oatmeal and a Quaker Oats bar. Lunch: Tuna or PB and crackers, along with a Quaker Oats bar. Two more Quaker Oats bars for snacks (or a bag of M&Ms).

I need to carry some insulated pants; it was chilly a couple of mornings.

I probably need to carry hot chocolate instead of tea.

We probably ought to have done the hike in six days instead of five.

I got a blister on Day 1! I learned to stay off that thing. I don’t understand why I got it; my boots were in great shape, and I walk a lot in them. I used a couple good-size pieces of moleskin, and the blister slowly shrank over the hike.

We had our stuff taken at Glacier Point.

Equipment Notes

I carried a SPOT beacon. I sent locations and we-are-OK signals at the start of each hike, at lunch, and finally at dinner. I haven’t completed my analysis yet, but it seems that some of the signals did not make it. I will update this post later with results.

I carried a bit too much. Again. My 0F bag is about a pound heavier then the 20F bag I thought I had brought.

I carried a small frying pan/dish that I never used. Not all that heavy, but I didn’t need it.

The Cabelas pack worked out very well; it was comfortable and held all my gear internally, except my closed-cell plan.


This was an amazing trip. I could not walk very far without turning my head constantly to check out the views. We probably could have shortened each segment so that we had a bit more time in camp each evening. The walking was hard, but the guys all did really well!

I think next time, it’ll be the North Rim area.

Village Grill, Yosemite Village, Yosemite National Park, CA

2 October 2012

Village Grill on Urbanspoon

We ate here for lunch Friday. At best, it was OK. I got a bacon cheeseburger. The beef was better than a lot of places, but a lot of places are better then here. There were two pieces of bacon. The meal came with fries, which were pretty good. I made a fry sauce out of mayo and BBQ sauce.

They serve Pepsi products, but no iced tea. I got root beer since I hadn’t had any of that in a while.

My check was $12.12. It’s order at the counter and pick your stuff up. A variety of birds and squirrels wander around the area hoping you drop something, intentionally or not. You could do worse than eat there.

Curry Pavilion, Curry Village, Yosemite National Park, CA

2 October 2012

Curry Pavilion on Urbanspoon

I ate here several times during my trip to Yosemite last week. All of the meals were decent.

A group of six of us ate dinner here last Saturday night after arriving in the Park. Dinner (as is breakfast) is a buffet. It’s pretty darn good. The main course for me was turkey with poultry gravy. There was also spaghetti and other things as well. There were roast potatoes, mixed veg, a taco bar, salad bar, etc etc etc. It was huge! Everything I got I liked. I would have liked to see some corn or peas and the like on there also.

Drinks were pretty good. They have all-you-can-drink milk, both whole and skim, it was cold cold cold (yea!) and they had big glasses to serve it in. They have Pepsi products and juice. They did not have iced tea (please add it!).

My check was about $16. Good value.

Our “room” (tent) in Curry Village came with the breakfast part of the buffet. A couple kinds of scrambled eggs, pancakes and french toast, excellent hash browns, biscuits and gravy, breakfast tacos and burritos, bacon, sausage, turkey bacon and turkey sausage, cereals, oatmeal, etc etc etc. This was a great buffet, and tasted great. They had the milk and juice, and also hot chocolate.

So overall, the Curry buffet is really a good value. My check for breakfast was $12.93. They don’t have cooked to order eggs or similar things, but OTOH they have more than 500 housing units to serve, which imposes a more generic menu. Still, add iced tea? But it’s good stuff.

Mountain Room Restaurant, Yosemite Lodge, Yosemite National Park, CA

2 October 2012

Mountain Room Restaurant on Urbanspoon

After getting off the trail from a five-day backpacking trip, and getting a quick shower at Curry Village, I wanted STEAK! We headed over to Mountain Room Restaurant, as I had eaten here several years ago. We got there around 1900, and had a 15 minute wait to be seated. We had seven.

I ordered a ceasar salad, a ribeye with a baked potato, and iced tea. The salad was very good, and I ate every scrap of it. Maybe it was partially because I was so hungry, but that steak was perfect. It was tender, had lots of flavor, and had little charring. I ate the entire baker as well, including the skin. The meal was started with some sourdough bread. My tea was kept refilled, and it was good in that it was brewed.

Service was very good, after a slow start (10 min to get drinks to the table) and a slow end (it took almost 30 minutes to get the checks separate). Drinks were kept refilled. I got some ice cream for dessert. My check was about $60. I would not eat at this place every evening, but it is very welcome coming off the trail.

I tried a good sized piece of Gayles pork chop. It was very good, tender and with good flavor.

BTW, this place has a mandatory extorted tip for parties greater than six. The restaurant is run by DNC under contract to the National Park Service, so they are essentially a contractor with a sole source contract who are not answerable to any regular person, and so are a monopoly.

Backpacking Yosemite National Park, CA, 26-28 August 2011

5 September 2011

I have wanted to do some serious mountain backpacking at Yosemite for years. This year, a two-week business trip to San Diego, which had a three-day break in the middle due to the work schedule at the facility we were visiting, provided that opportunity.

Note: This blog post has only a few of the pictures I took. I uploaded the rest to Picasa here.

Hike summary

29.2 miles, from 4090 to 7983 feet altitude. Total elevation gain: 5750 ft. High waterfall climb, massive views, unexpected hordes of mosquitoes, hard walking, and great fellowship on this hike, with only minor injuries. Five guys, NO bitching (except for the comments about the hike leaders lack of consistency in what is “relative”, as in “After that little rise, it’s relatively level, guys!” 🙂 ).

We really scored well over 30 miles on this trip. The GPS noted at least an extra 0.5 miles when walking from the second camp out to the rim of the Valley several times, and we had extra mileage at lunch at Chilnualna Falls and at Glacier Point, and another 1.5 miles at the Mariposa Grove. Some serious walking, to be sure.

Getting There

We left San Diego Thursday and headed north through LA towards Yosemite. On the way there, north of Fresno, we saw an interesting smoke/cloud phenomenon. A lightning-caused fire started right outside the park a couple weeks ago, and per NPS policy, the fire is allowed to burn itself out naturally. The fire occasionally flares, and as we were outside Fresno, a flare occurred, and it got high enough to cause a cumulus cloud to form.

We got to Yosemite just before 1700 local. We had to buy a new yearly National Parks Interagency Pass; they cost $80, but are good for National Park and National Forest access for an entire year. It would cost $20 per vehicle otherwise. We hustled to Wawona, and got to the Wilderness Permit office at basically 1659. The Rangers were very accommodating, and got our permit issued, after a briefing on trail impact and sanitization (always camp or crap or pee 100+ft off any trail), fire safety, and bear safety. I also picked up three anti-bear food storage canisters (more than 1lb each).

We ended up each carrying an individual food storage canisters, since the interior was not sufficient to hold more than one mans worth of “smellables”. Each canister was $5 to rent, and they take a credit card as a deposit in case you want to keep yours. We didn’t.

One thing that I had missed was that we needed a reservation in a campsite for the first night. I had mistakenly thought that our permit entitled us to camp free the first or last night, but it turns out that only applies to a backpackers campsite in the Valley. We were cheerfully informed that we could drive the 40 minutes to the campsite in the Valley, but declined (since it would also mean a 40-min drive back in the morning).

One thing: there were only a couple available campsites at Wawona that evening, out of more than a hundred sites in the camp. Reservations in advance are taken, and I recommend making them.

We got a campsite in Wawona for $20, got set up, and then headed to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Redwoods to check out the huge trees there. When we got to the Mariposa Grove, the crew hiked up to the walk-through tree, then back down again. Those trees are amazing.

This is our campsite at Wawona; we didn’t use rainflys:

These are a couple photos of us hiking through the Mariposa Grove:

This little squirrel was eating one of the green pinecones that hung like bananas from some of the trees. He would shake the cone, throw off a “leaf”, and then eat something inside the cone, maybe a seed. A much larger squirrel came along while we were watching, and the little one started yelling in Squirrel, and eventually the little one rushed the larger one, and ended up running the larger one off. Tenacious little guy.

We had dinner at the Wawona Hotel. I wrote a blog post about it here. The staff at the Wawona were reluctant to give out the access code for their wifi, and there is no signal that my Blackberry could pick up, so I was not able to send any status message back home. I tried an ancient and formerly trusty device called a pay phone at the hotel, but it claimed that the phone I was trying to call would not receive my call, but they would be happy to connect anyway for $17. “Up yours”, thought I.

We got to camp around 2030. The sky was clear, and the stars… were… stunning!!! Even with the limited light from the other campers, the Milky way was clearly visible, and the stars were bright. I had to get up around 0200, and so had yet another group of stars visible, along with a super bright Jupiter.

We had breakfast (again at the Wawona Hotel) and final packing the next morning. We got another couple bear canisters (they open at 0830, not 0730 like the website says), filled our water bottles, drove to the trailhead, got our packs on, took a deep breath, and headed out.

Why We Went There, or Backpacking!

We hit the trail the first day at 0941. Our entry was the Chilnualna Falls trailhead, and the altitude was 4090 ft.

The trail was very nice along here. The trail is used by day hikers, so it is wider and smoother than a lot of backcountry trails. There was a lot of shade on the way up.

Since I had planned the route, I knew that the first day would be the hardest. It was brutal. It was hot, probably in the mid 80s, we were going up a steep path, with heavy packs. Even with the occasional fairly level places, we gained 2100 ft of altitude over about 5 hours. We took frequent breaks, but even so, it was an exercise in getting air. I don’t think any of us had problems from the muscle exercise, but getting air was an issue.

As we climbed, the view off to the west was increasingly pretty. We had a good view of Wawona Dome also. We all were thinking, “we are headed up there?”.

We also started seeing the Falls. The Falls isn’t a single or several waterfalls like Yosemite Falls, it is a series of cataracts that tumble down into the Wawona valley. The last one is as we were getting closer to the top.

Across the valley, I saw a structure on the ridge. I put my small binoculars on it, and it looks like an observation tower, maybe for fire monitoring.

When we got to the top, it was clearly time for an extended break. We had lunch, topped off our water, rested for a bit, sunburned a bit, and then explored the area.

A note here on people. On the climb up, we saw three people on horseback, about 10 day hikers, and two backpackers (and those two were headed down). On the second day, we saw not a single person on the trail until we passed Glacier Point Road, and even then, we only saw about ten people, all day hikers. For August, I expected to see more people in the backcountry.

When we were sufficiently rested, we headed back out. We soon found out we were not even at the top of the Falls. Whoops… We kept going up and up and up, and eventually found the top of the Falls, and then branched southeast into true backcountry.

We used every form of water purification on this trip. Lance had a bottle with a built-in filter. I used Aqua Mira liquid. Chuck and Brad had Aqua Mira tablets. Jason had a pump. Of course, we used the boiling method also for the dehydrated meals. The water was uniformly wonderful tasting. We didn’t have any issues finding it, except in one instance on the south rim of the valley, very high (there was a spring in the area, but we couldn’t find it, and we hiked a couple miles dry after using all our water for breakfast).

My original plan had been to make our way into the backcountry to one of the mountain lakes on the trail; Johnson or Crescent Lake. By the time we got to the second trail junction (that either went towards Bridalveil Creek Camp, or towards the lakes, we were pretty much done in for the day. If we had continued on to the lakes, we were looking at five miles or so more, which wasn’t so bad, but it was also about 1500 ft of additional altitude, up to 8500 ft. After talking it over with the team, we turned toward the north, and determined to make camp near the next trail junction, which was about ¾ mile away.

We found a nice campsite near a stream with good water shortly. It also had a fire ring (Yosemite requires all campfires to be in established fire rings). We stopped, pitched our tents, and got camp set up, all while being eaten alive by ravenous and obnoxious mosquitoes! We had limited bug spray, and basically used it all. Those blasted bugs were extremely obnoxious!

Our first day was a hike of 7.6 miles and 3365 feet (!) of altitude gain. Our campsite was at 7455 ft.

Camp was beautiful. A couple of the guys made a campfire, and the smoke helped with the mosquito situation a bit, which was very nice. There were a number of rounded rocks sticking out of the ground, which made for nice surfaces for our stoves.

We got water going for dinner, ate dinner, and then basically retreated to our tents before we became sucked dry. One of the little SOBs apparently was on me in my tent, and when I smacked it, I could not believe how much blood was on my hand.

It was cloudy that evening, and there had been a small chance of thunderstorms, so we used our rainflys. Almost as soon as we got into the tents to escape the mosquitoes, there were a couple passing spits of rain. I don’t think we would have been bothered even if we had not put the rainflys up. It was very pleasant temperature-wise, almost chilly. I was in my sleeping bag, but it was mostly unzipped.

I spent some time in the tent looking at routing, and thinking about our air capacities and legs. I thought about going east-northeast towards Buena Vista Junction for our second night (which was my original plan), but it was up and over some pretty high terrain. Instead I decided we would make north through Bridalveil Camp, and on to the south rim of the Valley.

The next morning, we all woke up earlyish, got our water boiling, ate, broke camp, and got moving around 0900. Everyone was a bit stiff from the uphill walk the day before, but we loosened up pretty fast. It was clear again. And the mosquitoes were back again.

The hike to Bridalveil Camp was about 7 miles, and was level for the most part. The day started out pleasant, but it got warm quickly, and so the sweating started again. The bugs were a little less annoying while we were walking, but were still there. We really moved out along this stretch.

It was a beautiful walk to the Camp. The terrain was varied, from woods to small meadows, to domes off to both sides.

There was an amazing variety of wildflowers along the trail.

As with most trails, there were occasional obstacles. These included fallen trees; this was the biggest we encountered.

We ended up on a ridge that had amazing views of the Parks high country off to the east. We rested here a bit, and drank in the views.

We followed Bridalveil Creek after a while, it was beautiful.

We stopped for lunch at the Bridalveil Creek Camp. They had real bathrooms there! We also took the opportunity to wash up as best we could – we were really dirty. One thing that was interesting, the Camp had pretty much been dedicated to fire crews that had been staged in from all over California. I don’t know if they were all fighting the fire outside of Yosemite, or were there in contingency, but there were a lot of them.

We left the camp, crossed Glacier Point Road, and headed for the south rim of the Valley. We got to the footbridge over Bridalveil Creek, and then headed back up again.

We filled water bottles here, and I think that this would have been a good place to have an extra bottle apiece. Between dinner this evening, and breakfast in the morning, we consumed every drop we carried up there. According to our map, there was a spring very near where we ended up camping, but we never found it (it was August, and the spring might have stopped).

We walked up a couple hundred feet at this point; it was hard but doable. And it was worth it. We ended up on a large mostly open area, and decided to camp there. Walking off the trail to the north, I knew the rim of the Valley was somewhere ahead, and then saw this through the trees:

It turns out that we were right between the face of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. We stood and marveled at the view for a while. A long while, it was stunning. The pictures really do not do the views justice. Finally, realizing Sun was going down, we went back and set up our tents, then we did some exploring.

That last one, is Luke waving from the next bluff over. The cliff walls below our camp were fairly sheer, thousands of feet pretty much straight down.

Sun set behind the smoke from the fire at the west end of the Park.

Our second day was a hike of 11.7 miles and a net 123 feet of altitude loss (there was still a lot of up there); we were at 7332 ft altitude. This was the single most beautiful camp I have ever been in. You could not be there for more than a minute without looking out at the view. And then standing there for a while. We still had mosquitoes, surprisingly enough, even with the altitude, the dryness of the camp (no water anywhere close), and a nice breeze. We noticed several bats as it was getting dark, and fervently wished them to come over and scarf the darn bugs around us.

That evening, the stars were even more stunning than they were at Wawona camp. The Milky Way was so plain. We saw numerous meteors and about 15 satellites. I stayed out a bit later than the other guys, with my head craned back until it hurt. There were occasional sightings of lightning; a storm was visible off to the Northeast once, but it was on the horizon, nothing near us.

We were all up and moving around 0700 Sunday morning. We got breakfast going and kept looking at that view.

One side note. When we were at the Wawona Hotel, there was an unusual package on top of a car. I wondered if it was a folded up hang-glider, and when the owner came out, I asked and he confirmed it. He said that the NPS gave them a “launch window” for flying at Glacier Point, and that for that weekend it was Friday – Sunday 0800 – 0900. Well, shortly after 0800, we saw this from camp:

That white dot to the right of center is a hang glider. We saw three of them flying around by Yosemite Falls. It takes some cojones to throw yourself off a 3Kft cliff, held up by some aluminum poles and ripstop nylon.

No one was in a hurry to leave that view. We got breakfast done, reluctantly packed up camp, and headed out again. Very reluctantly.

We hiked along close to the Valley edge for the most part. The views were amazing. Eventually we came to The Fissures. The Fissures have two interesting sets of things: the actual Fissures, but also some sheer walls. And I mean SHEER:

There is a railing there, but it doesn’t protect much area.

There is a place marker up there, and I had to compare the reported GPS altitude with the altitude measured by the surveyors who were up there before Oklahoma became a state. They did very well!

After the Fissures, we hiked another bit, and finally found a stream. It was small, but it was flowing and tumbling along, and we pumped everybody a couple full bottles of water, took big drinks, and topped them off again. The water was especially good tasting!

We walked under Sentinel Dome, but we were concerned about the time, so we bypassed walking up it. It’ll be there for another trip!

Below the trail to the Dome, and before we got to Glacier Point, we got this view. Staggering.

The path down to the Point was steep, and much of it was exposed. Hooray for sunblock.

The view from the Point is one of the most beautiful on the entire planet.

The hiking snob in me sort of wishes there was not a road to the Point.

Half of us decided to take the shuttle bus from the Point down to the Valley. The other half decided to finish the weekend out with a hike down 4-Mile Trail. It is STEEP. Luke got a burst of energy and jogged down most of it, wow! Lance and I jogged a bit, but going down is hard on a different set of muscles, so we ended up fast-walking most of it. Along the way, I got this view of Half Dome and the area of the Mirror Lake Trail; I decided this is one of my favorite views of the Dome.

Most of the way down has great aerial views of the Valley, and of course Yosemite Falls is part of that. You don’t usually get a view from directly across the base of the Upper Falls.

And of course here are the Fissures, and the area where we camped the night before. Amazing.

Eventually, we reached the bottom. And a good thing, too, since we were literally footsore. I had to take the obligatory “We were up there?” shot.

Our last day of hiking was 9.9 miles, and we had 3470 ft of altitude loss, ending up on the floor of Yosemite Valley.

Once we got down, we met up with the rest of the crew at Yosemite Lodge. I had three bottles of Lipton Iced Tea from the shop there (that stuff, by the way, is pretty good for mass-manufactured tea). We also went over to the Merced and waded a bit to wash the crud off our feet. And a lot of crud there was. That water was cold, wonderfully cold. I didn’t stay long, as I had washed off my sunblock along with the dirt. I used the bathroom at the Lodge to re-up deodorant, and we waited for my friend Jim to arrive from Fresno to shuttle us back to Wawona.

BTW, the black canisters on the ground in front of us are the anti-bear food canisters we carried. A little over a pound of extra weight.

The timing of our exit from the Valley was such that we got a wonderful backlit view of the entrance to the Valley. Not a bad way to call it a day.

We got our van from the trailhead, had dinner, and headed back to San Diego, arriving at 0400 Monday morning. The next day (or rather, the rest of that day) at work was kind of tiring, but no one crashed, at least until that night.

Here is our hike path over a topographic map, a Google Earth terrain, and an altitude plot. I broke the topo maps into the entire trip, then to zoom in on each days hiking.

This is the same altitude plot, but the waypoints from the GPS are annotated. I also took off the last part of the plot to accurately show that our end point in the Valley was higher than our starting point in Wawona.


I was looking for some good metrics from this trip. I calculated the following for this group of guys in decent but not spectacular shape on average.

    Average speed over level ground: 1.75mph

    Average speed up hill: 0.87mph

    Average speed down hill: 2.4mph

This includes breaks. Level is relative, of course ( 🙂 ).

I was interested in how much fuel to bring for my MSR stove. In the end, I brought way too much! I used the smaller bottle first, it has 11 oz of fuel. Chuck had an MSR alcohol stove also, and we used them in tandem. Mine heated water for 1 dinner, 1 breakfast, and part of a second dinner, and his worked for 2 dinners and 1 breakfast, and part of a second breakfast. I should have only taken the larger (20 oz) bottle, filled half way or so. That would have saved 1.2 lbs.


After the incessant bear briefings, we saw: NONE. There were two deer, both within 300 yards of Glacier Point. A number of squirrels. A fair number of birds, including the beautiful Stellar’s Jay.

Things That Went Right

Food was pretty much right on target. I used a variation of what I called Tracy’s Menu from a previous trip to the Ozarks, and it kept me and the guys fed and going without any problem. Lunch was a tuna salad kit that had three ounces of tuna; they are perfect with the included mayo and pickle relish. One of the other guys had some that was pre-mixed, I might have to find out how those are.

I used two Backpackers Pantry meals for dinner; the Backpackers Pantry Shepherd’s Pie was good, but so soupy it was hard to eat. I’d reduce the water for that by ¼ cup to thicken it up. But the Chili Mac from Mountain House was PERFECT. The perfect amount of food, with decent sized meat pieces in it, and it had just the right amount of chili spice to it. I’d like that for dinner at home every once in a while, great stuff.

I used two Backpackers Pantry meals for breakfast. The package for Granola and Blueberry recommended cold water for rehydration, but hot is much better! The blueberries (and there were a lot of them) were a good flavor for the morning. Peanut Butter Raisin Oatmeal was decent, thick and hot and pretty good taste.

The Katadyn Hiker PRO Water pump for water purification worked well; we used it for the majority of water purification. With a strong pumper, it will fill a Nalgene in about 1 minute. I’ve had those break on a trip, though, so carry backup purification. I prefer the liquid Aqua Mira, since it gets the job done in 30 minutes. The tablets take hours.

Things That Went Wrong, Or At Least Not So Right

I carried too much! I took my pack apart post-trip, and I estimate that there was about seven pounds of stuff that I carried to no good use. I brought and carried a sweatshirt and sweatpants in anticipation of possible low temps, but a last-minute weather check would have showed that those were not needed. It got down to about 60F at the coolest, and the sweatstuff was not needed, is bulky, and fairly heavy. I had also bought a pound bag of M&Ms for snacking, and then packed them into the bottom of the bear canister, and carried them the entire time. So extra load, and didn’t get the benefit of the snack energy: not terribly smart.

I ran out of the powdered lemonade I like to flavor the water with, but it was not a big deal since the water from the streams was wonderful to taste!

I didn’t bring enough bug repellent. I had bought a small spray tube of DEET, and I carry a couple moist towelettes that are DEET soaked, but when shared among six guys that are being eaten alive by mosquitoes, they were used up quickly. All of us should have had the small spray tubes.

This was a first – I got not one, but three blisters while hiking – two big and one small. I never got the predictive hot spots, and when I checked my feet at the end of the trail there were not blisters. But when I woke up the next morning, there they were. They are long gone now.

My Navarros boots failed, both in the same way. The left boot split from the heel to arch, along the foot (not side to side, surprisingly). The right boot was cracked the same way, and was miles away from splitting wide open. That explained the huge amount of dirt in my boot, and why my sock and foot was so dirty (I had thought that it was due to dust leaking in from the ankle).

I had been checking the weather, and the forecast the week before had been for chilly nights in the 40Fs range. In reality, it was in the 60Fs. I had brought a heavier sleeping bag, and should have brought the liner I use in warmer weather – it’s also much lighter. Bring both next time, and select which to take the day before.

During trip planning, I was overconfident of our ability to scale the waterfall the first day. We made it, of course, it just took longer than I thought it would. I had already looked at multiple routes when doing trip planning, so it was easy to reroute us, and the reroute to the rim of the Valley was spectacular, so nothing was lost. The metrics I collected will help for next time.

Would I Do It Again?

YES! This was wonderfully refreshing for me. I love the mountains, and Yosemite in particular, and I almost hurt my neck swiveling around to see all the sights while we walked. I would have liked to see some of the wonderful mountain lakes, but now that is on the list for next time. Staying on the south wall of the Valley due to the reroute we did was a stroke of luck; the views were worth the sweaty walking needed to get there. It was hard walking, but I find that refreshing and uplifting (especially after the pack is on the ground and the tent is up!).

I am already looking forward to my next backpacking trip there. It might take five years, but it will happen.

Wawona Hotel Restaurant, Wawona, Yosemite National Park, CA

1 September 2011

Wawona Dining Room/ Wawona Hotel on Urbanspoon

During my recent backpacking trip to Yosemite, the walking started in Wawona. I had dinner that Thursday evening, breakfast the next morning, and then dinner again Sunday evening.

Dinner was an excellent pot roast in both cases. There was a decent amount of beef, a fair amount of veggies like carrots, and some really good skin-on mashed red-skin potatoes. The pot roast had excellent gravy as well. That was some of the best gravy I have ever had, perfect consistency and flavor. The pot roast was tender, had trmendous flavor, and was an excellent meal. The tea was very good also. I had a brownie sundae for dessert Thursday, liked it. Service in both cases was pretty good. My check was $40.35.

Breakfast Friday morning was the buffet. There wasn’t a lot on it; I got scrambled eggs and some potatoes and such. Pretty lean. My check that day was more than $20, I don’t think it was very good value.

So hit the Wawona for dinner, and find somewhere else for breakfast.

Yosemite in the Spring

4 March 2009

I have been lucky enough to be able to go to Yosemite National Park in all four seasons.  Back in April 2007, a couple buddies and I spent a long day at the park.   Since it was Spring, the waterfalls were really going strong.  As we came into the park, we got a fantastic view of Bridal Veil Falls:

Bridal Veil Falls

We started out with a hike out to the base of Yosemite Falls. Again, there was a tremendous amount of water flying over the cliff. This is an easy walk, maybe a half mile round trip and perfectly flat. There was a lot of mist at the bridge over the stream, and it was really wet from all the flying spray from the lower falls splashing on the rocks.

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls

From Yosemite Falls we walked along the trail to the east. It follows the base of the cliffs and ends up over by the horse corrals.

The next item on the agenda was a walk out Mirror Lake trail. This is a fairly flat trail that heads out a canyon towards the east end of Yosemite Valley. You have to drive past Awahnee Lodge (wow, plush!) and sort of past Curry Village.

From there the trail goes through the canyon with a stream running next to you, and rock walls rising up on both sides, a LONG ways up. Eventually, Half Dome looms above you. It is more massive from below than it looks like from a distance.

Half Dome

The trail continues on for a while, and gets to Mirror Lake. It’s a wide spot in the river that is so slow moving that it mirrors the canyons above it perfectly:

Mirror Lake

The four of us continued walking a bit past Mirror Lake. We ran across a couple that told us that there was a bear and cubs about a half mile ahead. The four of us took off at an increased pace. After a bit, two of the guys elected to hang back, right about the point were there was a sign talking about recent cougar sightings in the area (the cowards!). The two brave ones (and the ones with the longest legs) went on about another two miles, before we decided that the bears were not around anymore. It was also getting dark, and I was the only one with a light.

According to the GPS, it was about a 12 mile total of combined hikes. We got back into Sacramento around 2200.