July 31 - August 6, Joel and I went with the Southern Arizona Hiking Club on a 7-day backpack in Yosemite National Park totaling 51.8 miles/7780 feet elevation gain. There were 8 of us in the group. It is such a treat to spend 7 continuous days in the wild only having to worry about food and shelter. The stresses of the real world are easy to forget!
Highlights included: Bears, deer, marmots, pikas, alpine lakes, Red Peak Pass, and Buena Vista Peak.
Before the trip we arrived in Yosemite National Park and car camped for the night so we could get a decent start. We also had to pick up our permit down in the Valley. After we got our camp set up in Bridalveil Campground we headed down to the Valley. The trip to the valley was a shock. There were hoards of people. We did get to see the sites from the car, however, we only had time to get our permit sorted and get some food instead of doing a short hike. I would really recommend visiting the Valley on a weekday. If you can't do that, be sure to get there at 8 AM so that you are not stuck in stop-and-go traffic. When we went to get our permit we were discouraged to hear that we would have to change from our original plans because of the snowpack. We came up with a different route by taking suggestions from the ranger and then we went back to the campground for dinner. We're not really used in camping in public campgrounds so it is always hard to sleep. Mainly, it's because car campers tend to stay up later than backpackers.
Day 1: 10.25 miles and 1350 ft elevation gain
We started our trip on July 31 from the Mono Meadow Trailhead in Yosemite National Park. The trail descended down into a dense forest to a level area boggy area. Along the way we saw our first bear of the trip but he was mostly hidden by vegetation so I didn't get a picture.
We hiked through several burn areas. Thanks to the lack of trees, we were able to see Half Dome in the distance along with Mt Star King. Shortly after that view, we caught sight of some grouse - a hen and her two babies.
For the most part the first day was cloudy. Around snack time we had our first major creek crossing of the trip. We took off our boots and unbuckled our packs and made our way safely across Illiloutte Creek.
After our snack break, we started to hear thunder in the distance. It started to lightly rain so Joel tried out my umbrella for a bit until it really started to rain and then I took it over. We ate lunch under trees and by the time we were done the storm had passed. Later, we learned that a hiker was possibly struck by lightning and fell 600 feet to her death while descending Half Dome during that storm. The clouds stuck around for the rest of the day which made for good hiking weather.
The flowers along the creeks were amazing. We saw more Mariposa Lilies in just a few minutes than I had seen in my whole life. We also saw Shooting Stars, Corn Lilies, and many more. In additional to the flora we also spotted a couple of deer along the way.
In the afternoon, we finally came to a huge Granite rock that was flat enough to camp on. There were also some spots under trees near by for those with non-freestanding tents. Joel and I prepared our tent to sleep on Granite for the first time. The ThermaRest Neoair mattresses were perfect for the occasion. We also discovered the advantages to sleeping on rock - everything stays pretty clean!
Joel and I brought two Bear Vaults - one big and one small. There was a concern about getting all our food and toiletry items into our bear cans. Especially, since at the last minute I decided to bring a bag of cookies and some other food items. I was nervous that I didn't have enough food even though I had carefully plotted out every meal/snack. (I'm a food squirrel and I typically have enough food on backpacks for a couple extra days.) I managed to squeeze everything in or eat it (the cookies were gone). In the end, I learned a very valuable lesson regarding packing the Bear Vaults to their brim. Something hard got stuck in the plastic spokes on the lid and we feared we would never be able to access the food in the small Bear Vault again.
After almost an hour
I was able to get it opened. I was having to pound the Vault on a rock to try to settle or dislodge whatever was causing the issue. Once I got it open all the plastic items were removed (spoons, toothbrushes, etc).
I did a few minutes of yoga on the slick rock and wrote in my journal before heading off to bed. Our first day was a great day and I was looking forward to more the next day! As I dozed off, I could see the Big Dipper through my tent door.
Day 2: 5.3 miles and 1300 elevation gain
We had a leisurely morning before heading out on the trail. We did our first creek crossing about 3/4 mile from camp. We were attacked by more mosquitoes than I had ever seen before. We stopped for a nice break next to a waterfall and I got out my mosquito net to test it out. It was a good buy! I did end up with bites through my shirt as I had just a light weight shirt.
After our break we saw a marmot, who was sunning himself on the top of a rock.
We had only one other crossing that we needed to take off our boots. Near the last creek crossing we encountered a trail crew who were doing extensive rock work on the trail. One of them mentioned that they had been working on that trail for five years! I do have to say that the section of trail from near the Merced lakes to Red Peak Pass was superb! We made to thank them for their work.
We camped near Lower Ottoway Lake. We found a good area to stay for two nights that was away from the lake to try to avoid some of the mosquitoes. We could see all the surrounding peaks that included Red, Ottoway, and Merced Peaks.
After chores were done, we were ready to have a meeting of the Southern Arizona Acting Like Idiots Club - SAALIC. My friend, Steve, and I are founding members. We allowed Joel and the other Steve to join us. To kick off the meeting, we jumped into the VERY COLD
alpine lake! Steve and I managed to jump in 5 times before we were so numb we could barely move!
I did learn that mosquitoes don't really like cold, wet humans...
Joel and I walked part of the way around the lake to find a waterfall that we could hear. It was actually an awesome looking slide - which was too fast to try out at this time.
After dinner, we watched the sunset. It was an awesome way to end such a fun day.
Day 3: 5.5 miles and 1750 feet elevation gain
We did a day hike up to Red Peak Pass. Along the way we saw another marmot and a pika! We had to walk on top of a few snow fields, one of which had a stream underneath. We reached Upper Ottoway Lakes and then went a little bit farther before we had a break. A few of our party decided to sit out the climb to the pass as we couldn't see where the trail went and there were several snow fields that it might possibly be under. Four of us scrambled up the moraine around a snow field to the trail. From there we glanced at the GPS to confirm our route which was different from what we had speculated below. We went around another snowfield and then found the wide, well-defined trail and headed up. We hung out at the pass for a long time soaking up the view. We were sad as our original route was to have gone down the other side of the pass but we had changed our plans at the last minute due to the trail report that said that most of the backside of the pass was covered in snow. The view from the pass confirmed that trail report and so we were glad we changed our plans because there were a couple of people on the trip that probably would not have done well in those conditions even if we had proper equipment. As we descended back down, I decided to try a short,easy glissade. I slide on my butt down the hill just like a kid!
Upon our return some of those who had waited wanted to go up since they heard the trail was good. Joel and I decided not to go back up, instead we went over to the lower of the uppper Ottoway Lakes and carefully skirted it hopping along a bunch of loose rocks and a trekking across a snowfield that descended directly into the the lake so we could access the Upper Ottoway Lake. We ended up on a peninsula in which we took a break enjoying the view. The lake had lots of snow on it and in the areas where the snow had melted on top you could see the prettiest blue color. We went around to the other side of the lake and crossed over where it feed the lower of the upper lakes. This crossing was completely covered in snow, but you could hear the water under the snow. We walked over to where the lake outlet to feed Lower Ottoway Lake. The view down to that lake was wonderful. We found a small crop of White Heather, John Muir's favorite flower, amongst all the Labrador tea.
Later, back at camp we went for another meeting of SAALIC. This time one of the ladies showed us where she had swam the day before. We crossed over to a small island and discovered that the other side was perfect for cannonballs! We had great fun jumping in and making videos of the action. We decided to lower a thermometer into the water and found that it was about 49 degrees F. No wonder we couldn't stay in very long!
After dinner we went for a walk to see the outlet of Lower Ottoway Lake. It was rushing due to all the snow melt. Near there was a secluded area that looked like paradise. There was also some more of the White Heather in the area by the outlet. Downstream there were waterfalls and whitewater - it was beautiful!
We decided to end the day with a few games of Connect 4 (which is always on my pack). Then I did some yoga as the sunset. There weren't any clouds but it was still nice to see.
Day 4: 7.5 miles and 750 feet elevation gain
We left behind our alpine environment and headed back along our last trail from Day 2. Then we turned and headed to Merced Pass. Before the pass we got one good view of Mt Star King and also Red Peak. Merced Pass is in the trees and offered little in the way of view but we still stopped for a snack. We continued on as our goal was to camp where the trail crossed Givens Creek.
We spied a few enormous trees along the trail that had a diameter or about 6 feet. They were huge! I think they were Douglas Fir.
Later in the day we ran into meadows of Shooting Stars - the sight was stunning. The trail was also lined by Lupines that were emitting a lovely perfume (due to allergies I typically am unable to smell anything)! The smell reminded me somewhat of Jasmine tea.
We made camp right where the creek crossed. The mosquitoes there were more aggressive then they were at the lake. There were hoards of them so we hung out in our mosquito nets. Nearly all of us had an incident where we forgot that the net was on and tried to eat, drink, or brush our teeth. It was funny! We ended up going to bed early because of the mosquitoes but I didn't mind because for some reason this was my day to be tired.
Day 5: 9.5 miles and 2100 feet elevation gain
Our first stop was Buck Camp. The camp consists of a cabin, outhouse, and a shed. I decided to stay longer then the others and check out the outhouse. When I came out a marmot had perched itself on the porch like he owned the place. Then as I left the camp area I also saw two deer who were grazing nearby.
Up the hill from the camp was a meadow/hillside that had a drainage running through it. There were loads of flowers. I spent several minutes checking them all out. I think I even saw an orchid in the bunch.
We took a break after climbing the rest of the way up the hill. I made sure to mentioned that I found that the camp was staffed - - - by a Marmot!
We descended to Royal Arch Lake. This lake is dramatic with it's backdrop of a rockface with some arches that had been carved in them from the water. After leaving the lake we climbed through a slickrock area and then a meadow. Then we descended down to Buena Vista Lake. This lake is a nice size and is in a cirque which is crowned by a Peak which makes it very dramatic.
We made camp on rock again. We found it so pleasant the last time we just had to repeat since we had the opportunity.
After our tent was set up three of us decided to rock scramble up to the peak. Most of the way was covered by moraine. The rocks were of all different sizes which made it difficult (as well as fun) to scramble over. One wrong move could have been disastrous as we hopped from one rock to another up the steep hillside. We noticed that not far away was a ramp like area that wasn't as steep so we headed over there to complete our climb. We got nearly to the top and had to skirt over to the actual peak which required a bit more rock jumping to get to the top. On the top was a benchmark so we knew we were in the right place. The views from the top were fantastic. We could see the Half Dome, Mount Star King, the Clark Range which included the area by Ottoway Lakes and Red Peak. We also could see Royal Arch Lake and much more. In the distance we could also make out a fire, which was lightning caused and being managed.
After our break on the top we took an easier way down that still required some rock scrambling but it also included cruising by several unnamed lakes. It was a great side trek after which I took a little swim in the lake (which was several degrees warmer than Lower Ottoway Lake).
Before dinner I went through the food. I kept feeling like I was not going to have enough food because I didn't have my normal stash. It was starting to look like I was going to actually eat all my spare food and we'd end up with just some of Joel's snack food left.
Day 6: 11.5 miles and 500 feet elevation gain
We started our trek back to the cars. Most of the trails were through marshes and meadows. We saw a lot of the same flowers but they were more prolific.
After lunch the rest of the group was ahead of me. I noticed out of the corner of my eye a bear a few hundred yards away!
I said "bear" in a low voice and only Joel heard me and he came back to watch it with me. The bear watched the other hikers continue on the trail and then he strolled off further into the woods. I managed to get a couple of pictures but it was in dense forest so they are probably not very good. We walked through an amazing field of Shooting Stars after seeing the bear.
We had considered staying near Turner Meadow, but instead we decided to continue on so that we would just have a very short walk out in the morning to Bridal Veil Creek TH. We found a camp really close to both the creek and the trail and decided to use it since it looked well established. There is a possibility that it was "illegal" since it was close to the trail.
Before dinner I went for a short hike to take more flower pictures. I headed down the trail that would go to the Glacier Point Road instead of our trail out. After dinner, I inventoried our food and all we had left was three Luna bars and some nut mix. I guess I planned really well!
Everyone went to bed early even though there were practically no mosquitoes.
Day 7: 2.25 miles and 30 feet elevation gain
We got up early and were on the trail before 6:30 to get a head start on the tourist traffic. On the way out we did pause briefly to look a few flowers we hadn't seen on the
trip, one of which is called Chinese Houses.
Overall, it was an awesome trip! Well worth the mosquitoes!