Yosemite's Center Point
"Ramble to the summit of Mt. Hoffmann, eleven thousand feet high, the highest point in life's journey my feet have yet touched. And what glorious landscapes are about me, new plants, new animals, new crystals, and multitudes of new mountains far higher than Hoffmann, towering in glorious array along the axis of the range, serene, majestic, snow-laden, sundrenched, vast domes and ridges shining below them, forests, lakes, and meadows in the hollows, the pure blue bell-flower sky brooding them all, --a glory day of admission into a new realm of wonders as if Nature had wooingly whispered, 'Come higher.'" - John Muir, July 26, 1869.
Mount Hoffmann is the 10,850-foot summit at the geographical center of Yosemite National Park. It is named after Charles F. Hoffmann, a cartographer on the California Geological Survey team that mapped the Sierra Nevada. There are no better views attained as easily in this wondrous park as this 6-mile round trip hike that gains 2,000 feet in elevation. It certainly doesn't hurt that the trailhead lies at an elevation that is higher than the top of Half Dome, seven miles to the south.
Hike: The hike begins at the May Lake Trailhead, which is 1.6 miles from the Tioga Road at the end of a narrow paved road. Take note here, since the trailhead is the only place you can view the true summit, to the left of the two more dominant features near the top of Mount Hoffmann. The first 1.2 miles of the hike follows the May Lake Trail to the High Sierra Camp at May Lake. This is an official park trail and is well-maintained and an easy hike gaining just under 500-feet in elevation.
From the camp area at the southeast corner of the lake, proceed along the use path on the southern shore until it begins to climb a small ridge toward the south through some young pine growth. At the top of the first small ascent, the trail levels briefly before ascending through a rocky chute. At the top of the chute, the trail levels again, with stunning views to the east. The route bypasses a fragile alpine meadow which is off-limits to hiking.
Counter-intuitively, the trail begins to descend slightly, with another lush green meadow visible below, but it quickly turns to the northwest and begins the ascent to the summit switchbacking across a large section of granite talus where the route can easily be lost. Ahead you see two prominent features that are false summits. The true summit will not be visible until you pass the crest above the talus slope. Here begins a beautiful straight stretch across a wide-open slope which in summer is covered in alpine grasses and flowers.
At the end of the slope the trail reaches a small saddle below the rocky ascent to the peak, with your first views to the north. There will likely be snow here even in late summer.
There is no marked route to the summit, but you can begin to ascend the last 0.15 mile by finding the path that works best for you. This will be class-3 scrambling and you will need to use your hands in a few spots. If you stay to the left/south, the climb is more moderate than the ridge on the right/north, but the ridge offers a 500-foot sheer cliff and beautiful views to the north.
At the summit, watch out for the marmots who will viciously attack your pack if you leave it unattended. If the weather is nice, there is plenty of room to relax and enjoy a short break before returning the same way you came.
Important Note: The trail to the summit of Mount Hoffmann is not an official trail. Years of use established a route, and in 2008, that route was improved by the Yosemite Conservancy. However, there are no trail signs and you will not find this trail marked on any park service maps. It is not maintained, and can be difficult to follow in some places. The trail continues to be marked by cairns. There are no nicely-sculpted granite steps as you will find on other park trails. Here you will scramble, and gaining the summit requires you to use your hands on the final section where there exists no trail at all.
Camping: At May Lake, there is the official HSC, as well as a backcountry hikers camp. Camping here requires a permit, obtainable online or at a backcountry office in the park, but is usually sold-out months in advance. Day-hiking is allowed without a permit. There are flush-toilets and potable water available from a spigot near the bathrooms at the southeast corner of the lake. Even with a backcountry permit, there are camping restrictions near the lake. While camping is permitted on Mount Hoffmann, as is the case throughout the park, campfires are prohibited above 9600-feet.
Swimming: Swimming is prohibited in May Lake due to its use as a source of drinking water.
Bears: The May Lake trailhead and the backcountry hikers camp at May Lake both feature food storage boxes. It is against the law to leave food in your vehicle at the trailhead.
"Go straight to Mount Hoffmann. From the summit nearly all the Yosemite Park is displayed like a map." -John Muir, on how to best enjoy your time in Yosemite.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.