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Yosemite 2K, Yosemite National Park, California
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Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, JMT, Cathedral Creek, Long Meadow.
Well the end has come to another adventure in the backcountry. What follows is a detailed accounting of the latest adventure. Trip duration 6 Days, length 34 miles.
First let me open it up by immortalizing the attendees:
Dave Cataldo - Finally out from under the weight of being new guy. We actually called him Dave from time to time this year. (We have another name for him that I won't share.) Overheard: "I gotta pee. NOW!!!"
Ray Ebert - Generally considered to be overly impressed by majestic vistas and other things. Overheard: "That's Bitchin.."
Mike King - Mike returned from a one year sabbatical as rejuvenated as ever. I haven't heard complaining like that in almost two years. Overheard: "Who dealt this Sh**."
Richard Paragas, Little Rich, Ritchie - Legs fresh from a weekend on Mt Whitney with me the weekend before. Overheard: "Rich, we've got enough pictures of deer."
Richard Voss, Big Rich - Rich and I are the only two left who've attended every trip. Rich planned this year's trip, and did an excellent job. Overheard: "I'm gonna leave early so I don't have to run to keep up." Then runs so he's not caught.
New Guy, Kurt Meyer - Kurt was our new guy this year which means we didn't use his given name too often, and he was in charge of scaring away bears. Overheard: "New guy, you got the water for hot chocolate boiling yet?"
We started this adventure by picking everybody up on Saturday and headed up I15 towards Lee Vining in the eastern Sierras. After a few pit stops we arrived in Lee Vining around 10PM. Due to some logistical miscalculations we ended up not having a hotel room after having made reservations months in advance. The overly apologetic yet slightly thick hotel manager kindly offered us the hotel's backyard, near the rear entrance and an impromptu trailer park, as a consolation. They did have a shower available and the area was grassy. So we pitched our tents, popped some brews, and then hit the sack.
Bright and early Sunday morning we had a pleasant breakfast "in town", then headed up Tioga Pass Road towards Tuolumne meadows. We had a wilderness permit reserved for six, and had to pick it up by 10AM or lose it, we arrived at the backcountry office at 9:45. The person ahead of us in line was told to wait 15 minutes, since the last group with a reservation hadn't shown up yet, he might be able to get a permit. Well we showed them. With permit in hand we headed for the trailhead.
When we arrived we barely found a parking space near the trailhead. We knew this area was popular but were still surprised to find so many cars, and people. We found out that there were 3 groups of 20 boy scouts coming out while we were getting ready to go in. I can't imagine trying to manage a group that size, much less a group of boy scouts that size. With packs bulging, bootlaces cinched, and smiles on our faces watching the new guy try to manage his awkward load we took off down the trail. At this point we had already made our second logistical miscalculation, that being four of the six of us had empty water bottles. Guess who had the water. FNG's. We had assumed we'd find a water source shortly along the trail. Well the first part of this trail was surprisingly steep and rugged, with no place for water to run. So up we went with three liters of water between six thirsty guys.
After about 3 miles we came to a nice saddle where you can walk about 100 yards to the west and find a wonderful view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Glacier Point. We helped the new guys finish off their water and headed down the trail once more. After another mile or so we finally came across a very slow flowing creek. We filtered water immediately and downed most of that, so we filled up again.
We expected to set up camp in the next mile or so, so we continued down the trail. We were to camp approximately a mile from Clouds Rest since we knew there was no water near Clouds Rest. We found a very nice area a short distance off the trail where we were very secluded. There was no water in the area so three of us grabbed all the water bottles we had and went back to the stream we'd filled from earlier to gather enough water till morning.
Because this area sees a lot of traffic, relatively speaking, we were half expecting to have bear trouble that evening. Only half because we'd never had bear encounters before. After dinner and some wine we went to bed giving New-Guy the standing orders to scare away any bears that might come into camp. At 2:30AM I awoke to what sounded like trees being broken in half very violently (not that there's non-violent way to do that). This sound disturbed me to say the least so I started to dress so I could wake up Kurt so he could go scare the bear away. As I was unzipping the tent door I heard Kurt yelling, "Hey, get out of here". So I ran over to where his tent was and he's standing on a log in socks and long underwear yelling at our visitor. It seems the tree I heard breaking was the bear trying to climb a tree, where other nearby campers had tied up their food, and was ripping it's bark off. They had scared the bear from their camp and he decided to see if he could find a meal at our camp. Kurt seemed to have scared him off and we chatted for bit to make sure. After going back to bed it took a bit before the adrenaline rush would let me get back to sleep, but there were no more Ursine visits that night.
The next morning we were up, ate, and out of camp pretty early which is rare for us. Within a mile we were climbing towards the summit of Clouds Rest, reportedly one of the best views in all the sierras. Near the summit the trail becomes little more than an inference to a direction. It can be a bit exposed as you climb large boulders with 60 pounds on your back; a 1000-foot drop on one side and a 2000-foot drop on the other. The "trail" here is barely six feet wide and one should take extreme care with a backpack on, or even without a backpack for that matter. The view is as awesome as they say and we enjoyed about a half an hour taking pictures, snacking, and enjoying the scenery.
The trail coming down the south side of Clouds Rest is not as exposed as the one coming up but it is quite arduous as it drops, making the knees remind you of their displeasure. This trail ends up linking with the John Muir Trail (JMT) near the trail to Half Dome and it goes down the entire time. Our knees weren't too happy when we got to this junction. Luckily this is exactly where we'd planned on camping that evening and we found a very pleasant little area next to a small clear creek. We set up camp and mostly lounged the rest of the afternoon in anticipation of a large and filling dinner. Once New-Guy had his tent set up we decided to hang the food in the tree next to his tent. After dinner, more wine, and some spirited games of cards where, unbelievably, Kurt won, we hit the sleeping bags in anticipation of another bear visit that night. Well, like an alarm clock, at 2:30AM I once again heard that tree breaking bark ripping sound only much closer then before, as well as some pots clanking. I bolted out of my tent and Kurt was already out yelling. When we'd gone to bed we'd decided to put all our pots around the base of the tree where we'd hung our food. This tactic seemed to work well because it appears that the bear scared himself away by stepping on MY pot lid. We again nervously chatted to make sure Yogi wasn't coming back then started to head back to bed. We then heard one of the other camps near by yelling and clanging pots. This actually was repeated several times as the bear seemed to be making the rounds of known camp locations. I did manage to go back to sleep, and slept soundly assuming the bears were going to stick their established schedule.
This day was kind of a lay over day but since we were going to walk five miles round trip to Half Dome as well as climb the famous cables it wasn't a rest day. We wanted to get to Half Dome early to avoid the heat of the afternoon as well as the crowds and this worked perfectly. We got to Half Dome around 9:30 and nobody was around. We immediately hit the cables after putting on our leather gloves. This is a serious workout, on the legs as well as the forearms and back. The ascent probably achieves a 60 to 70 degree incline near the middle, steep enough that your boots slip on the granite. The only things that keep you from falling are the cables and the 2x4's that are across the route every 10 feet or so. This is very strenuous work and if one is at all sensitive to heights it can be down right, uh, exhilarating! About ¾'s the way up, in about the steepest section, a group decided to come down past us. I had no problem at all wrapping my legs around one of the cable supports and letting them go by, gave me a chance to catch my breath. Watching them tentatively go by made me wonder just how much tougher going down was then going up.
Well, we eventually made the summit and there were congratulations all around. I thought the view from Clouds Rest was something but the view from the summit of Half Dome is just stunning! I don't have the words to describe it accurately. Although I will say that the view may be enhanced by the effort it takes to get there. We spent at least an hour looking around, it's actually a pretty big place, eating and talking, probably the best moment of the trip. A couple of us were a little nervous about the descent so we weren't in any hurry to leave. It started to get too hot though and it was time to go down. We debated about which method was the best for descending, forwards, backwards, on your butt, but it turned out that for me the best was going down facing forward with AT LEAST one hand on the cables at all times. The route was starting to get crowded as we came down and we had to pass many people to get down. This was interesting as well as entertaining. Suddenly being veterans of the experience we were able to give words of encouragement to those on their way up.
I got to the bottom just as a very large group was getting ready to head up. My group had gathered a few yards from the base of the cables to rest and watch others go up and down. This was great fun as we critiqued everyone on everything from climbing/groping style to hair cut to groovy seventies era socks. We spent perhaps another hour here just watching and joking around and enjoying a little bit of a high from the experience. We started to get a little overdone from the sun and decided to head back to camp. Walking was a little difficult, as least for me; because of my method of descending my quads were still burning an hour after coming down from the summit. The section of trail just below the cables has hundreds of steps cut from the granite and is a bit time consuming. The trail is also a little vague in places and we ended up off trail quite a bit.
We got back to camp ravished, it was about 1:00 and all any of had for lunch was power bars. We ate a few but these aren't terribly appetizing so we mostly went hungry waiting for a later hour so we could start dinner. This trip was different from others in a very distinct way. It is not uncommon to have people throwing food into the fire at night because they brought too much and don't want to carry it. This year our problem was just the opposite. In trying to avoid carrying too much weight several of us barely brought enough food at all. Myself, having carefully weighed, measured and repackaged all my food, found that after my allotted quantity of food I was still hungry. I was afraid to start digging into the next day's meals because I knew I would just compound my predicament. So, I just went hungry most of the time.
Because we were so hungry and ate dinner so early we had plenty of time to prepare our camp for the evenings Bear visit. We got our food hung, got the wine out and started playing cards. Just after sunset we started hearing the telltale signs of a bear in the vicinity. We could hear the other camps yelling and banging pots. At one point, up the trail from our camp a ways the pot banging and yelling didn't stop for over half an hour. If you can't get rid of a bear in that amount of time there is probably a problem. It was around 9:30 and we decided to investigate in case there was something seriously wrong. We were on the trail no more than 30 seconds when we ran into two pot banging headlamps coming up the trail. We met a German couple with eyes as big as silver dollars, with their bedding under their arms and nothing else.
It turns out that at least one bear, possibly two, came into their camp and refused to leave. No matter how much the couple tried to yell, bang, and challenge the bear was adamant about getting a meal from them. Eventually the bear went up the tree their food was hung in, got a hold of one of their food bags and started chowing down. They eventually gave up and decided to concede the camp to the bear till morning. They grabbed their bedding and headed out for safer ground. When we found them they just didn't want to go back to their camp. We offered to help them get their gear, and with safety in numbers, they agreed.
As we walked back down the pitch-black trail toward their camp we could hear a bear climbing a tree. We got to their camp, found their hanging tree and looked up. There about 15 feet up with a mouthful of plastic bag and what looked like potato chips was a sizable California Black Bear. We decided to leave a couple guys at the base of the tree to make sure the bear didn't come down while the rest of us went to help take down and pack up their camp. We finished packing in good order and prepared to leave. Now New-Guy, having been scaring away bears for two whole days decided that we should not leave the uneaten food for the bear to feast on. The other bag of food was hanging only a few feet above our heads so New-Guy decided to jump up and grab it. The entertaining thing about his efforts was that the unmolested bag was still tied to the bag the bear was eating from! As soon as New-Guy came down with the good bag the bag the bear had came down too, with a rip and a plop, and what may have been a growl. Not wanting to find out if the bear wanted his food back we bolted for the trail and the relative, if only to our perceptions, safety of our camp.
We never heard from the bear again that night and we went about adding our new neighbors to our camp. We sat around the fire and told some stories and laughed about New-Guys antics. We gave a bit of a clinic on the counter balance method of food hanging and went to bed. It was a surprisingly restful night of sleep.
The next morning we awoke, visited with our new friends and packed up to continue our trip. We exchanged contact information and hope to keep in touch.
The next leg of our trip would start back north towards Tuolumne Meadows. We were on the JMT for a couple of miles then turned off of it towards the Cathedral Range and followed Cathedral Creek for about six miles. This part of the trail was quite hot and dry. The heat made the trail more challenging then it really was. We crossed a couple of bridges and were looking hard for a flat spot to camp near the creek. After a few hours we saw a nice flat spot on the other side of the creek and headed over. We started to set up camp and I went over to look for a nice place to bathe in the creek. About 100 yards up river we found an oasis of small tubs, little waterfalls and some small whirlpools. This was just what the doctor ordered after many hours on the hot and dusty trail. We got in and the water was just perfect for lounging and relaxing. I stayed in the water for probably an hour and felt so refreshed I was ready for a nap in the sun. Absolutely wonderful! One of the most refreshing, peaceful, and relaxing places we've come across in the backcountry!
We finally pulled ourselves from the water to go set up camp properly and prepare for dinner. Our camp ritual was similar to every other night and we spent a good portion of time ensuring our camp was prepared for a midnight bear visit. Going to bed I made the mental preparation for being awakened in the middle of the night. Imagine my surprise when I woke up and the tent walls were visible to me. The sun was coming up and no bears came. Hmmm, great night of sleep next to the gurgling of a creek.
Again, up and at em early. We headed up the trail along Cathedral Creek and eventually entered Long Meadow. What a beautiful place. Perhaps two miles long with acres of open grassy meadow with a couple of dry creek beds running through it. Some way across the meadow we could see a Marmot scampering about, perhaps looking for food. Wonderful area.
On the far side of the meadow we stopped at Sunrise High Sierra Camp. We knew from the previous years experience that the Camp would have a store with limited staples for sale. Namely no beer. The camp had recently gotten a shipment of fruit and we each quickly devoured an apple and a plum. How good an apple can taste after a week of Mac-n-cheese. We also picked up some candy bars and other sundries.
We made use of their facilities and headed up trail to our final camp of the trip. Camp was intended to be one of the three sunrise lakes. Our group really separated here as I didn't feel like walking fast anymore and just strolled along. The leaders got to the first lake and reported over the Talkabout radios that there were no flat areas near the lake and that they were heading to the next one. A bit later I heard on the radio that they still couldn't find a suitable camp and wanted to head to the third and smallest lake. Not totally sure that the last lake even had water in it someone, perhaps me, suggested they wait for the rest of the group to catch up before making a decision.
I was the last one there and decided to scout the far side of the lake since there looked like there could be some nice spots hidden in the trees. As I was scouting around I came across several LARGE piles of bear scat. None were too fresh though so I pressed on. I found a nice spot with a fire pit below a huge granite cliff and headed back to get my gear and the others.
We set up camp and headed over to the lake to take a dip. We relaxed and took some pictures then headed back to camp to start dinner. An uneventful night led to a restful night of sleep and an early wakeup to walk out and head home.
I got up about 5:30 and Big Rich was almost completely packed and ready to head out. It was COLD so I took my time and ate breakfast before packing. I didn't want to take off my pants and jacket till the last moment before we left.
We eventually left and made a FAST descent of the trail to the trailhead. We actually got to the trailhead by 9:30. By far the earliest we've ever gotten off the trail.
We packed up the gear into the car and headed back to Lee Vining to find showers, clean up and drive home.
What a great trip! Clouds Rest and Half Dome were awesome! The waterfall swimming hole was almost as good. Everyone did well and once we got off the JMT we found peace and solitude to rival any other trip we've taken. I highly recommend this area and will probably be taking my dad to Half Dome next year.