Big country is a favourite of mine, the landscape not the band, sorry showing my age there. So I was delighted when 2 friends from a previous hike in Yellowstone Mark and Maria emailed me and said they were going on 2 hikes back to back in Yosemite. Did I want to come? The answer well of course was yes. So a plan started to emerge. Both of the hikes were 5 day, 4 night hikes around the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite. I was glad we were avoiding the crowds in the more popular Yosemite Valley and the back country of Tuolumne is just as scenic if not more without the "disneyland" style tourist setup.
So the plan was a 5 day hike round the High Sierras up at elevation around 11,000 ft, followed by an evening back in backpackers camp to rest, resupply, swap out clothes etc and in my case swap out CPAP batteries. A shower would be heaven after 5 days in the back country in between trips but we weren't certain of one yet. Then onto another 4 day hike slightly warmer in the Grand Canyon of Tuolumne at around 6500ft. It was set to be an epic trip, but as with all things weather dependent it didn't work out exactly to plan.
So I set off from the UK to Sacramento, California via a quick stopover in LAX and ended up in the Citizen Hotel to meet up with friends. We spent the evening there relaxing and catching up and of course a large ribeye steak. Not too many margaritas because we were up reasonably early for the usual nightmare of packing a backpack!
After waiting for a coffee that must have been individually bean roasted due to the time it took we headed out to the local REI for a last minute supply run. Friends needed a different bag and sleeping mat, after laying down on many in the shop, calibrating my GPS on their elevation star and getting a few maps we headed off on the 5 hour drive to Yosemite.
We weren't disappointed with the views when we arrived. Staggerrrrring scenery, yes it deserved some extra rrr's. The view of the valley and Half Dome coming down the valley was breathtaking. You do not realise how big Yosemite is until you drive through it. Even once we had entered the perimeter of Yosemite it still took a couple of hours to get to our destination Tuolomne Meadows Backpackers Camp at 8671ft. It was only at this point I realised the size of the bear canister and that the HMG Windrider 2400 was just wishful thinking if I expected to get everything in that. Good job I took a second larger rucksack just incase. The backup was a Granite Gear VC60. Plenty of room for that canister.
Day 2 - Lembert Dome to Potters Point
So we met our guide Kevin and 2 more hikers Dave and Jeanne at Lembert Dome car park our start for the first High Sierras hike. We repacked for it seemed the fifth time and distributed out the snack goodies. I was lucky there were enough Snickers and chocolate to go round. The plan was to walk east from Lembert Dome shown below and follow the Tuolomne River for about 5.2 miles on the Lyell Canyon trail to Ireland Creek Trail junction for first camp.
We set off for the Lyell Canyon trail head and shortly were on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the John Muir Trail (JMT) following the Dana Fork of the Tuolomne River (above) and then crossing over at Lyell Fork bridge (below).
The canyon started to open up and show the true scale of Lyell Canyon. We carried on for a bit until we found a great lunch spot. We took the opportunity to wet our feed in the ice cold alpine water. After 60 seconds they hurt but it is always good to air the feet. Yes those are my feet!
We pushed on until we reached the junction for Ireland Creek upon which we left the PCT and JMT behind. We then over the course of a mile or so hit our first climb and headed up to nearly 10,000 ft through the trees for our first nights camp. I did start to feel a little bit nauseous as it was only 24 hours ago we had been at almost sea level. No real time to acclimatise to the height on this trip, but it wasn't too bad, I was OK the following morning. I am normally OK with altitude sickness, but you can never tell.
I chose the trusty Hilleberg Enan tent for this trip, a 1 man light tent was all I needed. It is a bit small and coffin like, but it does the job and if the weather is ok and you are not spending a lot of time in the tent, the it is fine. Little did I know the weather would turn for our second hike, but that post will come later.
I also used the Thermarest NeoAir Xlite as its light and comfortable, even for a side sleeper. I just cannot bring myself to using the short version, I know it saves weight but you have to have some comfort on the trail.
Day 3 - Potters Point to Vogelsang Lake
The next day proved to show some of the most dramatic scenery I have ever seen, with maybe just one exception, Machu Picchu from the Sungate. Up until now some of the scenery and meadows had been similar to Yellowstone, but today it opened up and the ruggedness of the High Sierras came out in all its glory.
You could probably see 20 miles into the distance as we approached no name lake, then on to our lunch spot at Evelyn Lake.
One of the group, Mark was brave and went for a swim, the rest of us just looked on and took in the beauty of the lake, some of went off to touch our first alpine snow of the trip.
After lunch we continued on past Fletcher lake, Fletcher Peak and onto Vogelsang Lake.
We made pitch behind Fletcher Peak and setup for an amazing sunset with Half Dome in the distance below us. Camp was at 10,364 ft elevation.
Day 4 - Vogelsang Pass
It doesn't take much to sleep well in the wilderness, just a day out hiking and thats normally enough to see most people in their sleeping bag by 9pm. After another good nights sleep we awoke and I looked out my tent to make sure it wasn't a dream.
Nope it wasn't a dream. Today was a day hike up to Vogelsang Pass and for some brave souls (turned out to be just one) a hike/scramble/climb to the top of Vogelsang Peak. Although I am smaller and more agile than I was, I stop at the thought of climbing, don't mind a bit of scrambling but that's my limit. So I chilled at the bottom of Vogelsang Pass whilst others attempted the climb.
It wasn't a bad view looking back over Vogelsang Lake from where I waited. The weather was baking hot and I forgot to put on sun cream, whoops. I sat and watched as they went off into the distance to tackle the peak.
I watched as people scrambled up the face of the mountain and then watched as people seem to stop. I found out later
when everyone was down that people had varying degrees of success and the terrain was much tougher than anticipated. Dave was the only one mad enough, I mean brave enough to get to the top of the snow field with Kevin our guide and then walk along the
skinny ridge to the peak. Congrats to Dave and Kevin you are both bonkas! I heard the shouts of joy from below but only found out what they meant when everyone was down. We stopped and had lunch at the top of the lake in the baking sun. Little did we know how different the weather was going to be for our second trip, but that's another blog post.
We split, some voting for a relaxing feet dip and an afternoon nap, others off on a quick hike to another lake. Temperatures dropped a little at night but they were still fairly mild.
Day 5 - The Hike Out
The hike out was about a 7 mile walk straight up Rafferty Creek trail back onto Lyell Fork and back to Tuolumne Meadows Backpackers Camp. The scenery on the way out was very similar to Yellowstone. The scenery was stunning in Yosemite but I did miss the wildlife we encountered at Yellowstone. It is a very different landscape but due to the harsh mountains there isn't a huge amount of wildlife to see in Yosemite.
It was certainly an amazing hike, breathtaking views and another tick off the bucket list. Thanks to Mark and Maria, another great hike with you guys. Also great to meet Dave and Jeanne too and of course thanks to Kevin our guide.