Here's my 4600 word trip report of my May 8-10, 2009 trip to Little Yosemite Valley and beyond. With photos.
Day 1 - Happy Isles TH to Little Yosemite Valley Campground, side trip to the base of Half Dome ~12.5 miles
This is my first trip trying a bunch of new lightweight gear. Gearlist is here.(I also brought my TT Rainbow, not on the list) New pack, new bag, new shelter (2 of them), new water filter, new shoes. My clothes were the same old, but just about everything else was new to me, if not new new.
As usual, I was running a little bit behind schedule. I know I can't ever be read to leave less than 45 minutes after waking up, but in reality it's more like 90 minutes till I'm out the door. There's always one o or two things I'm remembering at the last minute. I thought this time might be different, as less gear mean less to pack, and less to forget, but after getting out of bed at 5am, I wasn't out the door until 6:30am. This put me on schedule to arrive at Yosemite around 10am, barring traffic mishaps. The drive was uneventful and I arrived right on schedule, and after parking in the day use area, and carrying my bear cannister (in case they demanded proof) the half-mile to the Wilderness Center to check-in, I got my permit. I was in line behind a couple who didn't call in advance to have their permit held past 10am, because, they said, they didn't have cell phone reception for the last hour of their drive. That's why I called the day before. I thought I was going to see some yelling, but fortunately there were still some walk-up permits left.
The ranger asked me where I was camping, and I told him I might stop at Little Yosemite Valley (LYV), or I might continue the two miles past and camp there. He told me that my permit required that I stay in LVY my first night, but there were still 'pass-thru' permits available if I wanted to change my plans and stay somewhere between Moraine Dome and Merced Lake. I thought about it, and decided that I'd just stay at LYV my first night. With my planned side-trip to the base of Half Dome, to go beyond LYV would mean a 15 mile hike my first day, almost all uphill. Leaving as I would be at 11:30am, that seemed like a lot. Sometimes my eyes are bigger than my stomach when it comes to backpacking. I didn't want to be hunting a campsite near dark and have to set up my tarp and make dinner while exhausted. I still planned on spending my second night at Merced Lake.
I parked at the TH parking and cleaned out my car as per the Rangers instructions, leaving nothing but wallet and electronics hidden in the trunk. I was a little nervous leaving my change of clothes and jacket in the public bear boxes, but also didn't want to come back to the car to find the window ripped off because some bear smelled McDonalds on my jacket or something.
Since it was late morning, the Mist Trail was pretty crowded. I haven't been to Yosemite since they've done all the work on the Mist Trail, and all the paving made me glad I'd just bought the rubber tips for my trekking poles. The clickclickclick of carbide on blacktop would have quickly grown maddening. I powered past most people though, and felt the satisfaction of knowing my morning runs were paying off. In fact, I was overtaking so many people so quickly, I felt like a cyclist, announcing myself "On your left" and I approached and flew passed. I was trying out new footwear. I had progressed from Asolo Fugitives last summer (2lbs a boot), to Salomon GTX trail runners (1lb a shoe) dayhiking over the winter to Inov-8 Roclite 295's (12oz a shoe) starting with this trip, and my feet were happy with the difference.
The steps up to the top of Vernal Falls were a traffic jam.
The falls were thundering and the mist was flying.
I didn't bother with rain gear. It seemed pointless when it was already in the 70s. I didn't get annoyed with too many people. I was only an hour into my trip and still overwhelmed by the happiness of just being there. I was mostly just amused at all the people wearing sandals who were still afraid to get their feet wet on a warm day. I, on the other hand, was actually intentionally stomping through puddle to soak and test they draining/drying ability of my new shoes.
I stopped for lunch at the top of the falls. Another first for this trip was actual meal planning, trying to balance weight and calories, rather than just stuffing some jerky, some ramen and some trail mix in my bearvault. (I'm not advanced/patient enough yet to get into fat/protein breakdowns) So lunch was sunflower seeds and cashews, a handfull of peanut M&Ms, and some pepperoni and triscuits.
I sat in the sun for awhile with everyone else. Maybe I've just lived in cities for too long, but I don't find crowds that bothersome. In general, it doesn't even feel that crowded to me, even when I'm in the middle of a line of 50 people ascended the steps. I suppose I'm fortunate in that case, because Yosemite Valley is very rarely a solitary experience.
One guy that did guy on my nerves was a popped-collar polo shirt dufus who kept trying to get just one step closer to a stellar jay that kept landing posed nicely on the railing above the falls, and scaring it away. My Mom loves birds, and her favorites, in order, are cardinals and stellar jays, so I try to take pictures whenever I see them. If I was a less shy person, I'd have explained to the gentleman that the reason you buy that expensive camera with all those megapixels is so you can digitally zoom after the fact on your computer.
My shoes were comfortably dry by the time I started up again. Moving on, as I progressed to the top of Nevada Falls, the crowds thinned, and more people stopped to ask me where I was spending the night.
I didn't stay long at Nevada Falls, as it's so easily day-hikeable. So on to LYV.
Originally, I had planned to hike directly up to Half Dome. But why carry all that gear, for one thing, and for another, I wanted to make sure I got a campsite staked out.
LYV is a huge campground (30+ or even 40-something sites if the number on the bear boxes are accurate) set amidst the trees, alongside Sunrise Creek and a couple minute walk from the Merced River.
I found a site was satisfactorily distant from others.
There's a GG "The One" a few sites over.
I opened the bear box to find that the previous user had left a stack of plastic plates, a ladle, a spoon, a big bag of dried fruit, an empty vodka bottle, an empty gatorade bottle, and half a bottle of white wine. It's funny, because when I set out from my car, I said to myself "I hope some considerate person realizes they over packed, and decides to 'generously' leave some of it behind for the next lucky camper, because who wouldn't want an opened bottle of white wine that's been sitting in a steel box exposed to the sun for who knows how long?" They hadn't even bothered to repackage the alcohol in plastic bottles. This is the 2nd time in two Yosemite trips that I've found a campsite with glass bottles left behind.
I made sure to pick a site with a good amount of exposed sky for stargazing. This was my first time camping with a tarp and I was excited. I had a feeling one of the big plusses besides the light weight would be the 360 degree views. I have this irrational fear of bears. Most of my recurring nightmares growing up involved being stalked by them. So when I wake up in the middle of the night while camping, and I hear noises, the thin nylon wall of a tent prevents me from seeing what's out there while providing zero feeling of security. So of course my fear tells me there must be a bear snooping around just feet away. Under a tarp, I could just look around, see that it's nothing, and go back to sleep. The Oware tarp went up easily.
Tarp set-up, gear load lightened, I head up the trail to Half Dome. As they allow campfires at LYV, sticks were in short supply, and I was only able to find one suitable for tarping, so I had to leave one pole behind on my climb to Half Dome. I've only been using trekking poles since Christmas, and this is my first time backpacking with them. They made a big difference for me hiking, and they made an even bigger difference backpacking. When climbing, it's so nice to be able to take some of the strain off my knees and propel myself using the poles for stretches. I also found them useful for getting some extra oomph when vaulting some of the larger creeks and puddles. I just wish I'd discovered BPL 2 months sooner. I ended up with Black Diamond CF poles, which are nice a sturdy and the flicklocks are great, and for conventional poles the 8oz/pole (minus straps + baskets) weight is not bad, but if I knew I could get 4oz poles for $50 more, I would've done it. You really do start to feel those ounces on long mile days.
At the Half Dome trailhead is this sign, another thing that just makes me love my fellow humans.
What kind of backpacker breaks up a living tree for firewood? I can understand rationalizing not wanting to carry your own waste, (even though it's still wrong) but killing trees?
It was about 3:30pm, so while I ran into several people coming down, I was likely the only one going up. My trip to the base of Half Dome was an exploratory mission. In addition to being afraid of bears, I'm also terrified of heights, (needles completes my trifecta of phobias) so I wanted to see exactly how steep the ascent up Half Dome would be. I'd really like to climb it, and when I really want to do something, I can usually make myself do it. But before making the commitment, I wanted to know if it was going to be more than I could talk myself into.
Stopped to refill my water supply
This is where my legs started to give out. I was at 7+ miles of ascending by this point, gaining ~3500' in elevation. Normally not a killer day, but this was my 1st trip of the season. I mentally thanked the ranger for making me choose to stay in LYV that first night. At 7500', the snow started appearing in shady patches and northern exposures.
In a couple spots, it covered 20 yard segments of the trail, but was nothing the required snowshoes or was in any way precarious.
At the base of steps that are cut into the Northeast shoulder of Half Dome, I passed two descending hikers who told me I was almost there. I hoped so, as it was approaching 5pm. The steps were steep, but not overly precarious. Still, I wouldn't want to be stuck on them in a slow moving parade of motley trekkers of unpredictable competence and varying levels of intelligence. At one point, I needed to step a few feet to the inside of the steps and ascend, on all fours, a steep section where the steps were snow-covered. This was 20 minutes after I passed the two guys, and it occurred to me that I was the only person up there, and no one else would be showing up till the next morning. So I had better be careful.
I never got to where the cables would be installed in 2 weekends. I came to a point where the steps appeared to end. Possibly I just couldn't see where the trail continued, or possibly I was just supposed to continue up the steep but flat granite in front of me. The lateness of the hour, combined with the creeping onset of my acrophobia told me it was time to turn around.
About a mile back down the trail, in a forested section, about 2 miles from camp, I came to a place where the trail turned left and out of sight. Approaching the bend, I heard a sound, a crashing. I thought, what if it's a bear, dismissing it a fraction of a second later with "What're the odds?" to be surprised a fraction of a second later when I rounded the bend and saw, maybe 15 yards ahead, about 10 feet off to the right of the trail , the golden brown backside of a Yosemite bear. The bear didn't notice of me right away. I stopped and quickly evaluated the situation. I couldn't pass by, as the bear was really close to the trail, so I yelled and clapped, assuming it would startle and run off. That's what I've heard anyways.
It did startle, and it did run. But it only ran so far as to shoo it's cub, which I hadn't seen, up a a nearby tree, after accomplishing which, it stopped, turned, and walked out into the trail to have a good look at me. It stood there, now maybe 25 yards off, evaluating me with curious eyes. I backed up another 10 feet and stopped to take a shaky photo.
I wasn't sure what to do. Trying to startle it again didn't seem like a good idea, as it didn't seem likely to run with it's cub up a tree. I backed around the bend. The bear went back to rooting around for a meal off the trail. I had no idea what to do. It was closing in on 6pm, and the bear appeared in no hurry to move along. I thought about waiting it out. I did have my headlamp with me, but I didn't desire walking in the dark. So I foolishly decided I would back up along the trail and strike out cross country, trying to parallel the trail until I was a good distance past the bear, and then take a right and find the trail again.
I have no cross country skills, and my mapreading is poor enough that I couldn't be sure if I would actually be staying parallel to the trail, or if it would veer off and I wouldn't be able to relocate it. I hiked a few minutes offtrail, thinking these thoughts, realizing that in my anxious state I might have trouble even backtracking to where I started. So I turned 90 degrees and hoped I'd hit the trail. In a few minutes I did. I looked back up the trail. I had gotten around the bear, but not as far as I would have liked, as there it stood, about 40 yards up the trails watching me intently as before. It wasn't a threatening gaze. It actually felt like being stared at by my cat, or my friends border collie. There was a definite intelligent curiousity that made me feel like I was being judged.
I took another picture and then backed down the trail, before turning and giving it a little jog.
I made it to camp without any further incident.
Sleeping was much easier than I thought it would be that night. I have enough trouble with imagined bears. I didn't need a reminder that there were real ones close by. I had my dinner of cheddar jack cheese sticks and Mountain House Mac n' Cheese. Mountain House may not be the greatest, but when you're accustomed to lukewarm ramen, it tastes like the finest cuisine at Chef Paul. My new Packafeather XL stove (free courtesy of a fellw BPL member) worked great as well, boiling water in just about 6.5 minutes on an ounce of denatured alcohol. (Elevation 6300', temps in mid 40s, windless)
By the time I ate and cleaned up, it was almost 8pm. I wandered around camp for awhile. The problem with going solo, and forgetting to bring any reading material is that your options for entertainment are limited when it gets dark. I didn't want to go to bed before 9:30pm, as then I'd just wake up at midnight and not be able to fall back asleep. So I broke out the 6 oz of vodka I'd brought for calming my bear-anxieties and nursed my allotted 3oz while I stood at the hitching post and looked at the stars appear and the jets pass high above while farther up satellites traced silent blinking paths across the sky.
Day 2 - Attempted dayhike to Merced Lake ~15.5 miles.
The next day I rose at 7am, having slept the best I can remember sleeping outdoors in a long while thanks to the vodka and in no small part to my new NeoAir. I got a little warm at one point and unzipped my Summerlite, using it as a quilt. The Ptarmigan bivy performed well and had no condensation inside or on my bag, despite the cool temperatures. The only thing I would add is stake-down loops at least at the feet. As I flopped around at night, I scooted the bivy toward the head of the tarp. This reduced the tautness of the line pulling the bug netting away from my face, and by morning it was almost touching my face.
I broke down the tarp, set-up my Rainbow, and headed out on my dayhike around 9am.
I decided to nix my original plan to camp at Merced Lake the 2nd night. I didn't want my last day to be a 13 mile hike back to the car. I should know better. On my last day, I'm always just ready to get back to the car ASAP so I can get home with some time to clean-up my gear and put it away. I'd stay in LYV again and try to dayhike to the lake. Of course, this meant I could've left the 2lb Bear cannister behind if I'd thought this through before I set out, but I wanted to keep my options open, and I'm sort of adhoc like that. More trips and more experience will equal better planning eventually.
It was hot hiking exposed along the Merced River, so I kept my ballcap soaked and/or filled with snow when I found some. There was water flowing and dripping and seeping just about everywhere you looked. I only had to carry 17oz of so at a time. I loved my new Frontier Pro + bleach system. Fill and go. With the readily available water, having to wait 20 minutes for the bleach to work was no big deal. On later trips when these seasonal flows have dried up, a little more planning for refills will be required.
All the puddles made me all the more glad I wasn't wearing my Salomon GTX runners. Even with gaiters, with this much water my feet would have been getting wet eventually, and those shoes take a long time to dry out. Not so with the Roclites.
I stopped often to just look around me. The granite domes, the Bunnell cascades, the still snow capped peaks off in the distance were the things that made me come out here. I actually don't love camping that much, but I like seeing things. And sometimes the only way to get far enough to see the most interesting things is to spend the night (or two or three or four. . .)
I passed a few groups returning from Merced Lake, but other than that, I was the only one on the trail.
At the Echo Valley trail junction, I debated whether or not to try for Merced Lake. I had been hiking for 4 hours. Assuming it took me another 30-45 minutes to reach the 2.3 miles to the lake, and that it would take me slightly less time getting back (downhill, but tired), I'd be getting back to camp around 7pm, w/o spending much time at the lake. It would also mean a 18 mile day after a 12.5 mile day. I'm good about keeping track of time, so I don't end up in the dark, but I still need to remember that while my legs might feel okay at mile 9, how will they feel at mile 14, with 4 more still to go? Logic said I should just turn back, but I tried to go on. The trail got progressively more waterlogged, until maybe .25 miles in, I reached a point where it was just a swamp for as far as I could see in any forward-heading direction. I didn't feel like walking a minimum of 50 yards in ankle deep water, so I turned back.
I decided to make my hike a loop, so back at Echo Valley I headed north, following the trail that would meet in 4 miles with the JMT. It was a hot, steep, but short climb. Eventually I wound my way to a ridge. Ridgeline hiking is probably my favorite hiking. Cool breezes, expansive views and silence.
I stopped for lunch in a granite field overlooking Moraine Dome with LYV in the distance, above a small lake unnamed on my Harrison map.
I have to learn to vary my meals a bit, because at this point, my gag reflex kicked in when trying to down another cliff bar and more sunflower seeds. All I really wanted was a glass of orange juice.
It was still a good 5-6 miles back to camp, and while the hike was beautiful, it was becoming a trudge for my dead legs. I met up with the JMT. I crossed a high-running Sunrise Creek (~7500') on a large log, Shortly before and after this, shaded sections of the trail were snow covered for 50-75 yard stretches in many places.
At times I had to trail find using markers like cut logs where I could see ranger had previously cleared the trail. I crossed another arm of Sunrise creek via another log jam. As I got lower and more sun-exposed, the snow disappeared. I stopped for frequent breaks, and to admire the views of Half Dome.
I made it back to camp around 6:30pm.
This is when I discovered the damage to my tent, explained here.
I wandered around camp after dinner, taking pictures of the setting sun's light on the rocks.
I head some people yelling and singing as they came down the trail from Half Dome. I surmised they were Europeans, as they were singing Ole, Ole Ole Ole. I hoped they were campers, as it was almost 8pm and there was no chance of making it back to Happy Isles before 10pm at this point. I went back to my picture taking, and eventually saw a group of four people emerge from the trees. Another camper approached them and, I gathered, asked the question I had been wondering. After a brief conversation, he turned and jogged back into the campsite. Two of the people walked up to a father and son near me and asked in a french accent if they had ever seen a bear, because they had just seen two, and that was why they were freaked out and yelling and singing. It was four French kids, two couples, in their late teens or early 20s. The other camper returned and handed them a headlamp. A gift, I presume. He gave them some advice I didn't hear. They thanked him, and then walked off, in less of a hurry than I would've been, considering it would be pitch dark in 20 minutes, and the moon wouldn't come up for another hour. I wondered which trail they'd take back, neither the JMT and Mist Trail seeming like good options in the dark. There were wearing jeans and t-shirts. The girls had sweatshirts. None of them had backpacks or were visibly carrying any water. It's when I see things like this that I'm amazing more people don't die in our National Parks. How many SAR operations are conducted every summer for people like this?
Day 3, LYV to Car, ~5.5 miles.
I rose at 6am. Another good night's sleep on the NeoAir. I flop around alot and on neither night did I notice excessive crinkly sounds that some have complained of. It felt plenty warm with a 1/8" GG thinlight underneath with temperatures in the upper 30s. (I meant to remove the thinlight and test it on the 2nd night w/o, but I forgot) I enjoy a firmer mattress so mine was pretty inflated and I didn't have problems with cold hips from dipping too close the the ground.
There were no condensation issues in the Rainbow, despite the low nighttime temps. It's so roomy though, and the walls so steep, condensation wouldn't be a problem for me unless it was actually dripping. I still need to practice pitching it, as I wasn't able to get it satisfactorily high to allow more air circulation through the bottom netting. As a consequence, I left the beak half-open. I bought it on impulse used, and before using it started to wish I had maybe got a Contrail for less weight, but I'll take the extra 6 oz on my older model for the side entrance, being able to sit up in most of the tent, and the snow-shedding ability of those steep walls that should make this a great shelter when I'm pushing my solo camping season as far into fall as I safely can.
I was away from camp by 7am, taking an extra 10 minutes to look for the disappearing ground sheet.
It was really neat being the only person at Nevada Falls.
That's another great thing about camping. I know I said I don't mind crowds, and I don't, but the solitude of knowing you're the only person for a mile or two in any direction, the feeling like you could be the only person anywhere, is one of those scary in a good way feelings. At least when it's light out. I decided to take the JMT back to the car as I'd taken the Mist Trail up. It's slightly longer, but it was early.
After 30 miles both the Roclites and my Gorrilla backpack felt great.
I started passing ascenders around 8pm, got back to the car at 9:30 and took off my packet. I noticed that unlike in the past, when I was taking off a 35lb+ backpack, I didn't have the feeling of a weight being literally lifted off my shoulders, and I was suddenly so light I could could 10 feet in the air if I tried. I just felt like I had been out of a long dayhike. I found that no one had taken the stuff I'd left in the bear box, changed into my drive home clothes and shoes, and headed over to the village store to wash up and get something to eat.