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.
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.
|half dome by moonlight|
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.
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.