Lost Creek Wilderness {November 2011}

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yosemite & the Sierra Nevada {Day 3}

Day Three, Sunday June 19th: Across Tioga Pass, into Yosemite & up the Mist Trail

Last June, due to substantial snowpack that I imagine was even worse this year, Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road failed to open in accordance with our plans. Not only does it present a huge challenge for plows in the spring, but it is the only road that bisects the park and allows for convenient east-west travel. As our trip neared, we obsessive-compulsively checked the plowing status every hour and were eventually forced to rearrange our initial schedule. On day seven, after having spent the past two nights on the boundary between Canada and the United States, we left Waterton and prayed the road would open so we could access the remote western side of Glacier. Minutes (literally) subsequent to its official opening, we were already on Going-to-the Sun driving west. While preparation certainly pays off, so does flexibility and the willingness to change your plans (which usually results in better circumstances anyway --- in this case, an improved schedule, hardly any traffic and the satisfaction of being among the first people atop Logan Pass for the season).

This year, the opening of Tioga Pass became an unexpected issue. The day before we left Denver, the NPS announced that the road would be passable beginning Saturday June 18th ... the day before we would be entering the park. Though it cannot compare to Glacier's 50-mile 'highway', Tioga Road does offer pretty spectacular views of Yosemite's granite peaks (including an introductory glimpse of Half Dome, the next day's challenge).



Half Dome from Olmstead Point
Yosemite in the summertime is an absolute zoo. I thought we would be off-season enough to avoid significant crowds in the Valley (and we were, it does get worse) … but still! If you have any sense at all, find your way into that backcountry as soon as possible! Unfortunately, we had to drive into Yosemite Valley to pick up our Half Dome wilderness permit; the entire ordeal cost us nearly two and a half hours, not counting the time necessary to locate the trailhead, pack our backpacks, and bear-proof our car. I was hoping we could reach our campsite with enough daylight to enjoy the Mist Trail and avoid unnecessary leg soreness. It felt strange to be hiking without proper park orientation … usually we spend the first night car-camping at an actual campground to get a better sense of our surroundings.

Yosemite Falls from the Valley
The Mist Trail is STEEP … prepare yourself for an intense workout, particularly if you intend to backpack. From the Happy Isles trailhead to our chosen campsite beyond Little Yosemite Valley, we hiked approximately 6.5 miles with close to 2,500 feet of elevation gain. The Mist Trail is also WET … prepare to get a good soaking from Vernal Falls, especially during spring and early summer (the snowpack as of April 1st this year was 178% of expected!!) But the rainbows, the views and the workout itself are absolutely worth every steep step. 

Vernal Falls (& Nevada Falls below)

Justin and I were both surprised at how quickly we reached Little Yosemite Valley, the designated backcountry campground for this area. However, our permit allowed us to create our own campsite at least a mile beyond as long as there was an existing fire ring and signs of previous impact. We found one about 100 feet off-trail and quickly changed into dry clothes before the mosquitoes descended upon our sweaty skin. I can’t even remember what we cooked for dinner; I was preoccupied with ominous thoughts that made me feel terrified and exhilarated, equally … we were going to climb Half Dome without the cables in the morning … 



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