Last year my wife’s and my packs were in excess of 25 pounds base weight each. This year our packs were both sub-10lbs each (including bear canisters), with my pack weight at 19lbs and Amber’s at 16lbs.
Tuolumne Meadows Backpacker’s Camp
Amber and I drove up the night before, arriving at TM just after dark. Parking in the campground, we grabbed our packs and walked into the Backpackers Camp, paid $5 and stopped at the first 20 square-foot flat space we found, laid out our bags and called it a night.
Day 1 – Tuolumne Meadows to Echo Creek: 18 miles
Amber and I got up at 5:30am, broke “camp” in about ten minutes and walked back to the car, and then drove to the ranger station to pick up our permits. I had torn my “new” shoulder strap bag I made and sewed it up with dental floss in the parking lot after downing a bowl of grape nuts.
The ranger suggested parking at Soda Springs parking area. After a double check for smellables in the car, we started our walk just past camp site B49 via the Lake Elizabeth trail. The trail rose slightly through a forest of lodgepole pines and crossing over a couple dry creek beds.
We were amazed at how little water there was in the creeks. Continuing up the 2.3-mile trail to Lake Elizabeth (9,487’), we came to a meadow where we negotiated our route. We took the first use trail left of the lake and followed it past the lake, through a stand of trees until it petered out. We were now on our own. For the rest of the day, we were hiking cross-country.
Our first task was to climb the [unnamed] pass between Elizabeth and Nelson lakes. The climb was not very technical but getting used to the altitude wore us down. We reached the summit of the pass (approximately 10,500’) by noon, ate a quick snack and headed down the other side into Nelson Lake (9,605’).
This was our first time wearing trail running shoes while backpacking cross-country. I was concerned that our t-runners would not provide enough support hopping talus, shale and trampling over layers of sticks, downed trees, rocks and pine cones. They worked.
To our surprise, neither of us ever turned an ankle or ever felt unstable; it helps carrying a light load along with trekking poles.
As we descended we could see what was to be our first destination for the day. It was still in the 12 o’clock hour and we were at worst a little winded. With no one else around, we went for a quick dip in the lake and then took a ten-minute power nap.
We continued cross-country, losing altitude, looking for a pass that would get us to Emeric Lake. We followed Echo Creek south until we thought we could see a pass, east of our route. We took numerous spur routes to rock outcroppings, vistas and other dead-ends, only to find a small, unnamed lake that was as charming as Christmas. There was a part of us that wanted to stay there for the night but we still had lots of sunlight left and energy to burn, so we continued on looking for a pass.
We spent the next four hours negotiating paths through downed trees and shrubs never finding our pass. One section of the route brought us to the brink of a series of small drop-offs. Amber and I threw down our poles and down-climbed the granite cracks, holding onto small trees and their roots for support.
By 6:00pm, we were pretty tired. Although the hiking was tough, and we were walking as fast as we could, we were still only averaging at best, one mile per hour.
At 7:00pm we reconnected with Echo Creek and decided to make dinner and water-up before continuing on. We estimated that at this point we had traveled at least 15 miles. The terrain was open, allowing us to travel much faster. We walked another hour and found a place to camp for the night near the creek.
While winding down at camp, I noticed that the sole of my Asics shoes were delaminating. I had no super glue, so I cut off the flap and hoped for the best.
Day 2 – Echo Creek to Merced Peak Fork Creek (below Red Peak): 18 miles
Morning broke to bright sun and cool air at 52-degrees. Forecasts were calling for daytime highs to be in the 80s and 90s. There was even talk of Yosemite Valley to be in the 100s. We will see….
Amber and I love coyboy camping due to the ease up setting up and tearing down camp. After making a quick cup of coffee on the Supercat, and treating our water, we were on our way within minutes and back to timber-bashing and negotiating a path. After 30 minutes of plowing through forests and crossing creeks with head-high shrubs, we came to Cathedral Trail. Finally, we felt like we could make some real time again.
The next leg of our trip went fast as we felt freed up to walk without fighting terrain, plus it was downhill. We made a quick stop at Merced Lake (7,212’) where we took a dip and continued onto Washburn Lake (7,605’) where we ate lunch.
The leg from Washburn to our next camp was long, beautiful and one of my favorites of the trip. There were sections along the trail where hundreds, if not thousands of trees were blown down. There were parts where there was more downed tress than there were those standing. We learned later that in December of 2011, a hurricane-force wind came through and devastated the area, blocking trails making it almost impossible to cross.
The day was hot and dry but not so hot it made hiking unbearable. At least it made our dips in local lakes that much nicer. Hiking along the Triple Peak Fork was fairly flat and beautiful. Our energy began to deteriorate so we pulled off the trail to carb up on lasagna and chocolate pudding. Back on the trail at 6:00pm and we were feeling good again and ready for another few hours of hiking.
Our destination for the night is one of the lakes below Red Peak Pass. About two hours later, we started feeling bonked again and ready to call it quits for the day but we pressed on into the night until we found a place on the side of the trail to spend the night.
Day 3 -- (below Red Peak) to Edge of Yosemite Valley: 19 miles
Once again, we were on the trail at sunrise and on our way. Our first task was to cross Red Peak Pass. The hike up was spectacular.
We did fail to study the map for available water, and ended up hauling two liters each up the trail as we passed two springs. Next time I take the time to look for those solid blue lines on the map!
As always, peaks and passes are one of the highlights of any hike. We found a note in an old, metal film canister from 1974, took a few photos and headed down the steep trail to Ottoway Lakes (9,700’) for lunch. Once on the trail again, we made real good time along Illiloutte Creek. We felt good, energized and excited about every mile before us.
Our original plan was to complete 80 miles in the 4-1/2 days we had. As we got closer to The Valley, we realized that we might be a day short of reaching our goal. Along the trail we ran into a couple backpacking the walking opposite direction. We stopped to talk and learned that we could take the shuttle for $8.00 ea from The Valley to Tuolumne. Our plan was to end the trip via Cathedral but we ran out of time and perhaps over-estimated the miles. It was good news about the shuttle because we had that option as “plan B.”
Amber and I continued to pound out miles.
I am a jokester and love to pull pranks when appropriate. We made a deal that if I ever call out “bear,” that means without kidding, there is a bear.
At dusk, with just enough light to still see without headlamps, I spotted a black bear about 100 feet away. I called out “bear,” and Amber stopped in her tracks. The bear looked up with an expression of, “Holy Crap” on his face and ran toward a tree to climb, but stopped short to see what we would do. I wanted to continue walking while making noise to show my dominance. We never saw the bear again but we did make noise for the next couple hours walking in the dark, knocking our poles together.
By 9:30pm, we were finished for the day and set camp about 50 feet from the trail in a burned out section of the woods about five miles from the Valley rim. Before turning in, Amber and I decided that the 20-plus miles to Tuolumne would be too much to make it back home (LA) by 4pm, so we decided to take it easy and enjoy the hike down to The Valley.
Day 4 – “Trail Camp” to Yosemite Valley (Village): 8 Miles
While packing up, I realized I left my Plady open, losing about two liters of water overnight, so I had to draw water from a trickle of a creek with murky water. I used a towel to filter along with Aqua Mira drops to have enough for the balance of the trip to the Valley.
The walk down was easy up to Nevada Fall. Once on the John Muir Trail heading down, the hordes of people, and I am talking about thousands of people swarming the trails to get out of what people were saying 1000 in the Valley.
Once in the Valley, we could feel the heat! A sign in the visitor’s center read 1030.
We spent the next few hours hiking around the Valley and enjoying a dip in the Merced. The two hour bus ride to Tuolumne was spent sitting next to Noah, a biologist in Yosemite. He had stories and facts on the Yosemite bears that helped us understand their behaviors even better.
From the shuttle we walked back to the backpackers camp, spent the night and headed out the next morning for home.
We figured we did about 63 miles. There wasn’t much we would do different.
It was nice to finally have a real bathroom!