Friday, June 27, 2014

Yosemite Loop Day 4: back to the valley floor

4 miles

I don't know why I'm surprised when I wake up in the dark, bear lockers and voices again echoing across the campground. I think about my options and quickly pack up. I think most of the early risers are off to Half Dome which means I have a real chance of enjoying Nevada Falls and the Mist trail without the line of people that I have been stuck in during more normal hiking hours.

I have the top of Nevada Falls all to myself, pretty sweet. The crowds seem to make me disproportionately angry on this trip so I figure avoiding them is my best bet for enjoying my last morning on the trail.

Nevada Falls 
I start seeing people as soon as I pass the top of Nevada Falls, but I'm going against the flow of traffic and I'm not yet tripping on other peoples heels and constantly stopping to let streams of people pass (my experience last time I was on this trail).

The falls are impressive and soon enough I'm passing Vernal Falls and then really its all done. So many people heading up as I walk towards Curry Village and my car. I feel like I'm in a little silent bubble, the strangeness of being solo surrounded by groups. Overall its a quick 4 miles and my car is safe and sound with my extra food still waiting for me in the parking lot bear locker. I search for a bathroom and a water fountain and debate day hiking. But really I'm over it. My last morning I have usually already checked out mentally and this whole trip had me in an odd mood. So much time for introspection isn't necessarily always in my favor. I drive towards the bay area, my phone telling me all sorts of things relating to real life that I wish I could hide from for a bit longer. Why did I speed through this escape? Oh well I have high hopes to shake my grumpy mood, next month Colorado! 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Yosemite Loop Day 3: Tuolumne Meadows, Vogelsang, Merced Lake and Little Yosemite Valley

31 miles

I wake up early, I think about going back to sleep but the cool morning air eggs me on and soon enough I'm cutting across a marsh in the dark. I lose the trail but soon enough I'm back on track cutting down towards Tuolumne. Three miles brings sunrise and the lovely bathroom (complete with flush toilets!) near the Tuolume Meadows Ranger stations. Its blissfully quiet and I only see a few other people. I had passed some climbers heading down as well but it seems we are the only ones actually out on the trail this early. I remember this area as a zoo, neat to see it so empty.

I decided that I wanted to see Vogelsang High Sierra Camp rather than Glen Aulin so I turn towards Lyell Canyon and in a shockingly short time leave the JMT/PCT for the Rafferty Creek trail and start climbing.

The climb is pretty mellow. The views open up and I start to feel like I'm really in the High Sierra, my favorite.

This higher alpine area is apparently just what I needed.

Vogelsang Peak
Looking back

At Vogelsang Pass I debate my options. I choose to skip the High Sierra Camp itself and take off towards Boothe Lake. I'm ready for a break and a snack and find the perfect spot on a high shelf overlooking the lake.

Boothe Lake

I've already hiked almost 13 miles and its still ridiculously early. I take a leisurely break, napping for an hour and enjoying a late breakfast. The trail heads down, I hear voices at the lake but I'm all alone on the trail cruising towards Merced lake.

Past an intersection I enter a meadow that takes my breath away. Although any stopping means hordes of mosquitoes so its not really a leisurely time for enjoying the view.

The wind picks up and I get to slow my pace a little. So thankful for this wonderful morning.

The trail takes a turn and starts to head steeply down what I think is Fletcher Creek on its way to Merced Lake. This is the one corner of my day that isn't on my map. Its only 3 or so miles of well signed trail but the topgraphy and details are unknown so its a fun surprise.

Past the crashing river the trail flattens for a moment and I am in a huge old burn, the day is finally starting to heat up and I am staring open mouthed at the giant open views as I descend towards the Merced Lake junction.

the creek is really a giant cascading river I get to follow down the mountain
I'm hazy on the details without a map but this trail is speedily dropping. The trail work is impressive, all rock. The tricky part is that it is basically an over sized cobblestone path and my feet keep hitting the rocks at funny angles. 5 miles of this sure is tiring! I later figure out that the cobblestones dropped me almost 2000 feet in a few miles, no wonder it felt long. Guess I'm going to be the footsore one today.
I finally catch a glimpse of Merced Lake, where I was tentatively thinking of camping for the night.

very rocky trail, trail crew you certainly were ambitious
I pass Merced Lake, not wanting to camp in the developed backpackers spot near the High Sierra Camp. The buildings look closed and I decided I'll take a break somewhere on the Merced River and figure out the rest of my day then.

I find a nice shaded spot next to a huge cascade of water. I don't think I can ever understate how delicious cheese and salami is on a hot day sitting by a river after spending hours on my feet.
I stare at my map and since its still only early afternoon I think I may just push on. I'm not technically in any rush but I feel compelled to keep moving. Plus my body seems to be tolerating the miles so I head further down the canyon.

I get a little cranky as the trail suddenly veers from the river (after crossing an awesome bridge) and takes me high above the water. But I'm in a slightly better mood when I see my new views.

Back down cobblestone trail land. My feet are a little achy but I realize its time to stop lying to myself. Hours earlier I had thought about just heading all the way to Little Yosemite Valley or even the valley floor itself. Why pretend I didn't want to do the mileage when I clearly did? So on I went.

The trees became thicker and I knew I was getting closer to Little Yosemite Valley. A mile or so from Little Yosemite Valley I realize I'm pretty tired. Its around 5 in the evening and I decide that I really don't have to rush all the way to the valley floor. I can wake up early the next day and hopefully avoid the crowds and enjoy the Mist Trail on my own. Besides I see how cranky I am in this last sandy section. My feet are dragging and its more of a trudge than an actual walk. I stumble past the other backpackers and lay out in the dirt in a campsite. Eventually I get some water and eat some of my food as I people watch. I've done this trip much faster than intended and have quite the array to choose from for my dinner. I decide to cowboy camp and happily read my book as I ignore the swirl of people around me. The giant group of teenagers starts a campfire and I wiggle deeper into my sleeping bag. Right before sunset there is endless screaming, apparently a bear is on the other side of camp. Soon enough it quiets down and I happily finish my book and try to get some sleep. I'm beat, 31 miles was no joke for my somewhat out of shape self, but I'm glad I decided to camp one more night. The odd need to push miles is something I know about myself. I often try to pretend its not true or just assume my body will rebel so my trips always seem shorter than I intend. Regardless of speeding through I'm happier the second half of my trip, Yosemite's high country was a treat and today was a great one. 

Yosemite Loop Day 2: Little Yosemite, Clouds Rest and Cathedral Lakes

18 miles

I sleep in broken bursts, interrupted by bear lockers and muffled voices. My alarm goes off and soon enough I'm packed and heading towards the trail. I still don't know how far or where I plan on going but I do know that I want to be on Cloud's Rest for sunrise. I feel like Half Dome gets all the glory, but it also gets all the crowds. Clouds rest is over a 1000 feet higher than Half Dome topping out at 9931 feet (versus 8839) giving you a view of Half Dome and so much more, with the huge bonus of being less traveled (at least by Yosemite standards).

I would have happily camped up there, dry camp and all, but I played nicely by permit rules which is how I found myself huffing and puffing up a mountain under the full moon at 4 in the morning. Six and a half miles (or 5.5 depending on which map you look at) and almost 4000 feet of climbing meant an early start.

I'll admit I was pretty excited, I love full moon hiking and a good challenge, but right as I got to the intersection of the trail from the campground a loud group with flashlights shining came barreling along. The startled looks were satisfying but they didn't even have the courtesy to say good morning as they pointed their lights directly into my face. Oh well I stopped and let their obnoxiousness pass on by.

I started climbing in earnest, the full moon blazing overhead except for the occasional shooting star streaking across the sky. Even in the dark moonlight the views were pretty great. The group ahead of me turned off at a campsite next to the JMT junction. No clue why they were up that early to stop at a campsite but I was glad to continue on in silence.

The trail started to wind its way out of the trees and I played guess the wrong mountain top, I was hoping I was close because the sky was starting to get brighter and I really was crossing my fingers to catch sunrise out in the open.

half dome by moonlight

almost sunrise
I'm high enough to see mountain ranges spreading out around me. I pass the last signed intersection and know I am so close. The last bit is all scramble. Later I beat myself up as I realize I didn't take any pictures of that amazing time right before sunrise. Oh well, take my word for it out of breath a few feet from the top is one fantastic view.

I clear the top and head towards the rocky ridgeline. Bundling up in my down jacket I eat breakfast and enjoy the dawn and my solitude. I find it hard to believe Half Dome would have been this peaceful.

Running back and forth across the rocks I get tired and decide to head on towards I'm not sure what yet, but I do know I'm loving how my day started.

4 or so miles later I'm passing Sunrise Lakes and have seen at least 30 people already (its barely 9 am). I'd planned to take an extended nap but am finding nothing to my liking. I stop to grab water and am swarmed by mosquitoes, plus I realize I have somehow lost my brand new nice and shiny Yosemite map. My first inclination is to just screw it, I actually have 2 single page maps of the JMT that should work as backup. They were part of my old JMT maps that I looked at when planning this trip. I debate and then somewhat darkly think yup screw it, the ranger said what a good map it was for planning more trips to Yosemite and for some reason my current frame of mind wants nothing to do with future Yosemite trips. Maybe its a sign I decide, no more Yosemite for awhile for my antisocial self.

I climb up towards the pass before Sunrise High Sierra Camp and laugh as I pass two guys from the permit line the day before. When we had been waiting I had asked them where they were hoping to get permits for and they had continually said, "Oh everywhere, Clouds Rest and just all over." But then they had asked for permits that started from Tenaya Lake or some other Tioga Rd access so they could avoid the climb out of the valley and up to the top (getting there from Tenaya is less than half the elevation gain I believe) and have a shorter hike. Way to go bro's, I've gone triple your mileage in the last day. I know ego is a part of this whole game for me, no use denying it. So I'll just smile and nod as you pass me by looking beaten down and footsore with your heavy backpacks and barely a nod of acknowledgement. It's all good, because at least for now I know my balls are bigger than yours. Ego boost accomplished I head off trail to a promising vista and take a break. An hour or two nap, a delicious lunch and a great view of Long Meadow are a perfect midday breather.

The mosquitoes aren't too bad but after my nice nap I'm ready to hit the trail. Soon enough I reach the High Sierra Camp and am grateful I stopped where I did. I'm almost at a full tilt run the mosquitoes are so bad. Cursing I speed along, thankful that after a mile or two the trail climbs and the bugs abate.

so pretty, but the bugs are insanity

I make my way down towards Cathedral Lake. Four PCT hikers pass me heading towards Yosemite Valley. I know they are PCT hikers, its this magical combo of grimy bearded hikers with ultralight but scrappy backpacks that I know so well. There is a minute where two of us look over our shoulders attempting to stealthily stare but awkward eye contact is made instead and we stumble on in opposite directions. I'm frustrated with myself, why didn't I even say hello? What exactly am I so shy and embarrassed about? They were heading down the JMT into the valley for food and a day off. I know this, I lived this and it was great fun talking to past thruhikers when I was on the trail, but for some reason I'm too much of a chicken and the hiker trash is long gone before I can blink.
I'm in a self pitying funk this trip I can't seem to shake.

I pass Upper Cathedral Lake, seeing crowds and thinking that the lower lake is only 0.5 miles off trail and I've never been there. I have to make some decisions though. These lakes are my last options for camping unless I want to walk another 8 miles past Tuolumne Meadows where you are again allowed to camp. I've already hiked something like 17 miles and am not going to deny I'm tired, but its only about 2 in the afternoon. However 25 miles seems a bit unnecessary so I decide to take it easy and head towards the lower Cathedral Lake. I am warned by day hikers to expect insane mosquito hordes but crossing my fingers I continue on. One nice couples says its really just the marsh before the lake that's bad, plus they tell me to check out the far end of the lake, the outlet apparently looks out over Tenaya Lake. I speed through the marsh during a luckily breezy moment unattacked and soon enough am skirting the lake avoiding the crowds searching for a likely campsite. I finally call it quits, eat and snack and soak my feet in the lake.

Tenaya Lake
Camp set up I settle down and find my book, glad I brought something to read during this downtime. I start to bundle up as it gets cooler and soon enough its close to sunset and the colors make it worth venturing from my cozy sleeping bag to explore again.

Sunset is well worth the wait. I head back to the coziness of my sleeping bag and campsite and after taking one more peek at my map debating my next day plans I get to bed. Still no firm decisions, I decided to wait and see how I feel in the morning and take it from there.