Here is a Yosemite loop hike mostly north of Route 120 ie. Tuolumne that begins with a few miles on the Sierra High Route (Roper) with an added extension that takes you on a scenic hike down to Little Yosemite Valley to the Village with an option to climb the Half Dome, including a shuttle ride to get you back to Tuolumne.
Main advantage: once you leave the SHR, there is much more downhill hiking than up!
Start: Gaylor Lakes to Great Sierra Mine. There are no trailhead signs, but look for a service road entrance where a Parking lot shuttle can pull into to let you off. If you leave a car parked at the Permit Office, you can find a linking trail behind the office. It’s quicker to catch the shuttle, the trail can be confusing with several junction options.
The SHR section is outlined on page 187 of Roper’s book, described as “an excellent loop trip” Download the maps from http://www.andrewskurka.com/SHR08/maps.php
Basically, you hike from Tuolumne to Gaylor Lakes to Matterhorn Pass, to Matterhorn Canyon Trail back to Tuolumne.
Because my daughter had to be back at a certain day, and because cross-country hiking went very slowly for us, we shortened our hike, leaving the SHR at Virginia Canyon.
But, this still made an excellent hike. Virginia Canyon is a beautiful gentle downhill grade that follows alongside the rushing Return Creek.
Camping alongside Secret Lake
The SHR includes slow going over big rocks, some steep climbs and downs, over snow, bushwacking, route finding (sometimes we went too low, others too high), interesting, but not too challenging. The rewards were spectacular views, scenery, and solitude. We found the hike to be both physically and mentally challenging, plus very slow going, because you have to be careful in planting you feet on almost every step over rocks.
open forest of Virginia Canyon
Next, the fun part…back on trails! Leaving Virginia Canyon, one comes to the crossing of Return Creek, almost immediately followed by a crossing of Mcabe Stream coming from Macabe Lake. Stop at the Return Creek, not at Mcabe! You will see why, when you are there. At the Creek there is a large slab of open rock, a great place to sit in the sun, take a break, dry smelly socks, drink water…etc. There is a huge tree for an easy crossing just down stream, but it is a nice foot refreshing wade right at the trail.
Macabe Lake is an easy 2 mile hike in, where I camped alone with two million mosquitos. The only place I saw mosquitos! DEET kept them from biting, but they are annoying for sure.
After a few switchbacks the hike from Vir. Canyon to Glen Aulin is mostly level through a long meadow.
Next. There are many good sites within a mile down the canyon from the High Camp area. The 14 mile trail DOWN the “Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne” is on my list of the “Wonders of the World”. The fact that the early explorers of the area believes that they could build a trail down that canyon and then actually build it will never cease to amaze me. Just wait till you hike the switchbacks of the Muir Gorge. All day you will pass waterfall after fall after fall. This trail should be on everyone’s’ Bucket List. (Things to-do before kicking The Bucket) PS Don’t hike up this canyon, hike down it!
(I saw a he trout trying to jump up one of the falls!)
There are level, riverside camping spots a short ways down the Pate Valley Trail Jct.
Grand Canyon swimming hole
Muir Canyon Switchback
a piece of Rodgers Lake
Okay: Rodgers Canyon is a climb, but it is little used. I saw a bear, a quail making a fuss over its chicks, and no people all day. It eventually reaches a mountain meadow with a stream winding through it. Camping spots abound, but take the trail to Rodgers Lake. Oh my God!!!! What a reward! I saw no one when I hiked by around 3PM. After a brief climb up again to a pass, the trail drops down to the PCT all the way to Smedburg Lake. I had to walk 10 minutes from my campsite to talk to two people I saw camping, the only people I saw all day. Yes, I am still talking about Yosemite.
Benso Pass from the north
Benson Pass next. Easy going south. The short hike along Matterhorn Canyon is another flat meadow with a stream. More great camping spots. Up to Miler Lake, the trail goes right to its shore where a sandy beach and warmish water await for a chance to refresh. Gorgeous. I saw one tent across the lake. Downhill again all the way back to Virginia Canyon, then out to Glen Aulin and Tuolumne.
NPS Trail Crew, Vogelsang Pass
Mt. Lyell from Bernice
No need for shelter:
Merced High Camp:
Want to add a couple of days through more Sierra scenery and almost all down hill?
Leave Tuolumne, hike over Vogelsang (which translates to Birdsong) Pass to spend a night at either Galison Lake (no trail) or Bernice Lake which both sit with great views of Mt. Lyell. Of course, I am assuming you can pass through another meadow before reaching the Bernice Jct. without stopping or camping. And here is revealed a great secret….the trail to Bernice Lake is a lot LESS than the 1 mile it says both on the map and trail signs. It took me 12 minutes to hike down it in the morning and I can’t even run a 12 minute mile!
How do those trees grow?
Oh yes, you now have to hike downhill all the way to Yosemite village. Once again an overload of amazing scenery and terrain…woods, waterfalls and canyon. Include a detour to Half Dome and you won’t have to do all that uphill from the Village. BTW Hike down the Mist Trail….Nevada Falls, Vernal, too!
If people ever ask me again why I backpack. I now have a one word answer. Yosemite.
Summary: August 6-16, 2010
Day 1: (5PM to dark) Great Sierra Mine
Day 2: Secret Lake
Day 3: Virginia Canyon
Day 4: just past Glen Aulin
Day 5: Pate Valley Trail Jct.
Day6: Smedberg Lake:
Day 7 Mcabe Lake
Day 8 Tuolmne Meadows Camp Ground
Day 9 Bernice Lake
Day 10 tentsite just before JMT jct. (4 miles from the Village)
Day 11 5PM Shuttle to Lee Vining (No motel vacancies…slept in the bushes!)
Day 12 CREST bus to Reno Airport