In 2013, we’d backpacked two of the five High Sierra Camps (HSC) in the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite National Park. These camps have been in operation for 99 years – they’ll celebrate their 100th anniversary along with that of the National Park Service itself in 2016. They form one of the classic backpacking loops in the Sierra Nevada. By availing ourselves of their tent and food services, I was able to make my backpacking load manageable and thus show the LovedOne the interior of the Sierras (which made this spendy option more than worth it to me). This year we got lucky in the lottery and were able to get the whole loop (map) for the two of us plus Wayne and Diane, our two long-time friends. We also went goldilocks with the weather – not too hot or too cold. The winds kept shiftng in our favor so that we only had noticable smoke from the 100,000 acre Rough Fire in Sequoia National Park our first and last mornings on the trail. No biting bugs either!
DAY 1: Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin (7.3 miles; 700 feet elevation loss)
We got a reasonably early start and swung around Tuolumne Meadows on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) heading north, with Cathedral Peak prominent in the distance on the right (I’d climbed its southeast ridge – left skyline – years ago).
After a visit to the Sierra Club’s Parsons Memorial Lodge,
we continued north alongside a seriously diminished Tuolumne River,
past Tuolumne Falls (also diminished),
over lots of granite,
to Glen Aulin HSC,
right next to the White Cascade of the Tuolumne River. After a great dinner and some stargazing, we packed it in for the night.
DAY 2: Glen Aulin to May Lake (8.2 miles; 1,400 feet elevation gain)
After a good night’s sleep and an excellent breakfast, we turned off the PCT and headed southwest,
past McGee Lake.
A lot of this trail is in the trees but it does eventually break out on to the granite for a big view of northern Yosemite.
We then passed Raisin Lake,
and soon arrived at our second HSC,
on the shores of May Lake.
DAY 3: May Lake to Sunrise (8.7 miles; 1,900 feet elevation gain)
One great meal and a sleep later, we were up to catch the sunrise on May Lake.
After breakfast, we set off for Sunrise HSC. To reach it, we first had to descend 1,200 feet on part of the old Sierra Highway (replaced in 1961 by today’s Highway 120),
past Tenaya Lake,
run across Highway 120 like crazed squirrels, and then regain that 1,200 feet plus 700 feet more,
past the Sunrise Lakes,
to reach our third HSC, Sunrise,
with its expansive view of Long Meadow.
Because of California’s drought, water supplies at Sunrise were severely restricted for personal use – enough for a face wash, tooth brush, and full water bottles. But dinner was great regardless!
DAY 4: Sunrise to Merced Lake (9.8 miles; 500 feet elevation gain)
This was supposed to be our easiest day in that it is technically “all down hill” (not exactly true but we let ourselves think that). So we got off to a good start across Long Meadow,
with Columbia Finger in the distance.
After a short climb, we started a long descent down the Echo Creek drainage, through seemingly endless granite cliffs and exfoliations.
Two things caught our attention in this stretch – a coyote chasing a young deer (the LovedOne thought the deer got away; I said think of the really, really cute coyote pups that will be having vension for dinner…) – and a small grove of very old, very large, and very convoluted junipers.
The trail then leveled out a bit through a meadow,
before starting its final descent into the valley of the Merced River.
Once on the valley floor, we still had some – fortunately not too steep – climbing to do,
to finally reach Merced Lake,
and the Merced HSC, where we’d spend the next two nights (you’re a little more likely to win the lottery for the whole loop if you agree to two nights at Merced, which is no hardship at all). There was plenty of water at this camp – more than enough for solar hot showers!
DAY 5: Merced Lake – Sloth, idleness, and dissipation
DAY 6: Merced Lake to Vogelsang (7.8 miles; 2,800 feet elevation gain)
The hike from Merced Lake to Vogelsang HSC is the single biggest climb on the loop and one that a lot of people worry about. But it’s well graded and overall a lot easier then the sometimes abruptly steep climb from Tenaya Lake to Sunrise HSC. As we climbed out of the valley of the Merced, there was that one spot where we could see both Merced Lake and Half Dome.
There are two options for the Merced to Vogelsang section and we chose to ascend Fletcher Creek because that way is more open with bigger views. The trail climbs steadily to a point,
where we could look back south toward the Clark Range.
Past this point, the trail levels off a lot, enters a long valley,
and climbs rather gently through meadows and up a slope,
to Vogelsang HSC where we’d spend our last night on the trail. We had arranged our schedule to arrive at Vogelsang on its last day of operation for the 2015 season, so as to partake of the traditional “Last Supper” of turkey and fixings. Yumm!
DAY 7: Vogelsang to Tuolumne Meadows (7.2 miles; 1,400 elevation loss)
After the Last Supper came the cold and clear Last Morning,
and then the Last Breakfast (which seemed redundant given all the turkey we’d consumed the night before). But despite some bloating, we bravely laced on our boots one last time, said goodbye to Vogelsang,
and started down to Tuolumne Meadows.
After another crossing of the Tuolumne River,
we reached our cars at the trailhead just west of Tuolumne Lodge.
A stunning trip (49 mile loop; 6,600 feet elevation gain) through unrelentingly beautiful scenery with amazingly excellent friends! Probably a once in a lifetime trip but worth every footstep (and dollar) expended!