This was an amazing loop that started on the glorious east side of the sierras. The trailhead was in an area i had never visited-- Hoover Wilderness-- that crossed over into a far removed and semi-desolate area of Yosemite National.
The total distance we covered over about 3 1/2 days was 50 miles with an average elevation gain and loss of about 3 G's per day. My starting weight, with a liter of water, was sub 20. because it was yosemite, bear canisters were required which, for any UL'er, makes you wince.
The group was 3 west coast BPL'ers who have traveled well together (having done the GC rim to rim to rim earlier in the year) and established not only a trust in one another's skill set but also, IMO, a respect for one another's individual strengths that, as in all groups, combines to make a stronger and more enjoyable whole.
the trip started saturday morning of labor day weekend as the sun shone bright over the fabled east side.
As we emerged from the lodgepole pine forest we caught a glimpse of the terrain to come. it's awe inspiring to say the least-- the massive granite spires and crenelated outcroppings loom above as you breathe in the sweet smell of sun-warmed sage.
But with beauty comes pain. As we climbed Josh started exhibiting signs of mountain sickness. Since both of us live at the beach, we both had the major hurdle of traveling from sea level to 8 and 9 G within a 24 hour period. Not ideal, but sometimes necessary. His symptoms were minor but, of course, we proceeded with caution.
Josh took a short nap, while Michael and I scouted out the days end, only a short sprint up about a 800 foot climb. We surveyed the zone and found a sweet locale situated on a rock shelf perched about 100 feet about the lake. This lake, about 8 miles in from the trailhead, is situated right on the edge of Yosemite National and Hoover Wilderness. Needless to say, its amazing....
As settled into camp we contemplated whether we were going to be able to finish the loop given the situation. Michael and I started in on the tequila making trail mixed drinks consisting of tang and tequila-- yes, but its better than you may think. oh yeah, and you warm it up. Then that warms you up. So when youre all aglow with drink youre in the right zone to appreciate the mountain glow--
Drinks + Alpine Glow = What It's All About.
The next day, Josh was feeling better and we decided to keep going going and push into true backcountry where the quickest exit point was 20+ miles. After tanking up, we moved out, walking thru mile after mile of amazing hanging valleys-- an area dubbed Kerrick Meadows. We stopped for lunch on a sand bar in the middle of a back country eden, slipping off our shoes and rubbing our feet in the alpine sand beach. This was the area we kicked it:
We journeyed onto the next stop for the day via Seavey Pass-- there are many moments of pure granite sweetness:
...on to Benson Lake, aka the Benson Riviera. Im going to go out on a ledge here and spout history without fully researching it but i seem to remember from an old guide book i had when a friend and i did the tahoe-yosemite trail 15 yrs ago that this was an area that used to be a big area that people would be ferried into via horse and mule trains and would party on, on the extensive and expansive white sand beach area on the north east section of the lake. Josh fly fished while Michael and i made coffee and lounged on the beach beach.
After about an hour, we headed out and, unbeknownst to us, started in on a 2 G climb out of the canyon towards Benson Pass. The climb was tough, and night was falling quicker than we had anticipated. We ended up arriving at camp after nightfall, exhausted. I was able to cook dinner about a mile from where we camped as Michael and i waited for Josh to make the final push up the hill. so when he arrived quicker than anticipated, we plodded on thru the dark for the final mile; i feel bad saying it, but i had a full belly and a clear mind which i think helped us successfully navigate into a nice camp spot on the edge of Smedburg Lake.
The others cooked there dinner as i sipped on more tequila.
We woke for an alpine start the next morning to stay on track for our 50 mile itinerary. it was dark when we woke-- 4:50 am-- but by the time we cleared out and were on the trail the mornings glow was backlighting the lake.
We climbed the last 1000 G or so to arrive at Benson Pass. We passed thru several hanging valleys where the inversion layer was pushing cold air down bringing the temps into the mid 30's. We traveled briskly, into this notch of granite and grass where i looked to the left and right and dreamt about hauling in some climbing gear and hitting the many cracks and crags in the area. at one moment, we came over a small hill into a meadow and saw a deer grazing-- it calmfully checked us, continued to eat, then moved on leisurely as we pressed forward on the trail. i was going to take picture but its so hard to capture a moment like that... words are better.
we reached the col as the sun was cresting, illuminating the saddle with that bright, clean light. We stopped for another group shot.
From there, we dropped down into Matterhorn Canyon. The air got warmer and the terrain lusher, and we trekked along Wilson Creek which ultimately met up with Matterhorn Creek. It was there that Josh decided to hang back a short while, maybe even spending an extra day in the backcountry--which i couldnt do-- to fly fish and chill and enjoy the tremendous scenery. After talking it over, Michael and I opted to push forward while Josh hung back, up into the little traveled Matterhorn canyon.
As we pushed into Matterhorn canyon, we could see the Sawtooth ridge peeking out from time to time. It was like this amazing religious experience for me-- to see those sheer faces of granite so bleached and white down there at the far end of the long valley corridor. I kept exclaiming, both to myself and Michael, holy Sh*T!, because it was so amazing...
We had contemplated doing some backcountry travel on this loop. approximately 7 miles, including a backcountry pass at 2/ 2+: Matterhorn col. As we moved closer to the Matterhorn cirque and the base of Burro pass, it was hard to see the col which is ultimately located off to the right (due east) and hard to spot until you start climbing either towards it (to the small tarn) or up Burro Pass. We definitely spent some time deciding whether to do the backcountry route but we ultimately decided to stay on the trail. Tired, but feeling successful, we topped Burro Pass at 10.5 G. Thats Matterhorn col in the background.
From there, you descend into another hanging valley thats almost beyond words. to one side, is the Sawtooth Ridge. To the other, Finger Peaks. You look directly up into the face of the Ridge. As I looked up and spotted the Doodad, i knew i was a far cry from attempting that wild summit, despite its meager rating. Check it out: its what the classic text Secor's The High Sierra:Peaks, Passes, and Trails describes as a 5.7-- a 5.7! wow, that just doesnt sound right when you look at it, does it? The Doodad is that 25 ft cube perched on the Ridge to the far right.
Looking back at Matterhorn Peak:
And for those Kerouac fans, yes, thats the Matterhorn Peak from The Dharma Bums. The peak that Japhy summitted while K sat back, terrified, arriving at the dubious epiphany that you cant fall off a mountain! i was wishing that i copied a few pages of that text so i could read from it as we passed alongside its shoulders.
We hit our final pass of the trip, Mule Pass, as the sun was setting. i looked back at the ridge just before we left Yosemite National and entered back into the Hoover Wilderness.
We skirted thru the single track, down from the pass and into relatively warmer areas. This was the only section of the trail where snow patches still lingered. we dropped to about 9.5 G and found a perfect camp at a high cirque beneath Slide Mountain. We were both exhausted, having pushed thru the mental and physical crux day of the trip.
It got cold that night-- about mid 30's. When we woke up the next morning, there was frost on our Gatewood capes and on all the flat surfaces like the bear canisters. but the location was perfect.
Of particular note for me on this trip, in terms of gear, was the high functioning of the Brasslite stove i carried. i think its the turbo ii from a few years back--but, hey that thing worked like a champ, firing up in temps of the mid 30's and boiling water in my BPL titanium 500 in just a few minutes.
As we started out that final morning, we initially hiked thru a small series of high mountain lakes; but then, because time was of the essence for me, i had to say my goodbyes to Michael and do a fast walk out. I snapped this last shot at one of the last truly amazing spots: Barney Lake, with Slide Mountain far in back.
I was a bit contemplative and perhaps melancholy as i emerged from the back country; i was in wonder of all the crazy environs we had just walked thru and how it just comes at you, scene after amazing scene. All the sage clearings, granite passes, peaks, the alpine glow, the blue lake waters, the running streams. its only because of the UL philosophy that these types of mileage and trips can be done in a (holiday) weekend. i count myself lucky to have been able to do both the R2R2R of the GC this year, plus this loop. Everything else for this trekking year is just gravy.