Days 16 through 18 took me from Minaret Creek to Sunrise Lakes, the latter being the northern approach to Clouds Rest in Yosemite. The days, terrain and scenery varied. With each passing day, it feels a little less remote. It starts to feel just that little bit more populated, and definitely so when I drop off Donahue Pass into Lyell Canyon and reach Tuoleme Meadows.
Minaret Creek to Thousand Island Lake – Day 16
Yesterday, 26 miles, was a long day. It was chilly this morning. I briefly left the warm confines of my feathered friend (aka, sleeping bag/quilt!) and tent to retrieve the bear canister I’d stashed a few yards away. I decided that coffee in bed wasn’t a bad idea.
The day started easy enough which was great because I was a little tired. I figured I’d walk consistently but not fast and make Thousand Island Lake no problem. The terrain, with quite a few ups and downs had a different plan. I started the day in true John Muir fashion – sauntering, and soon found that my saunter was about all the speed I could muster. It went from cool, to warm to rather windy. On the passes it was quite windy, then more sheltered in the valleys. I’d travel past Gladys, Rosalie, Shadow, and Garnet Lakes before getting to Thousand Island. Each time it was a climb up, then down. As usual, most of the people I saw were headed SOBO. I also started to run into more hikers doing small sections of the JMT and other side trails. The lakes were really beautiful, but mostly down low in a recess. I came across a couple groups of trail volunteers, one was the CCC, or civilian conservation corps, and not sure about the other. They may have been more closely tied to the forest service. The first group was rebuilding the retaining wall and approach to a bridge, and I’m not sure what the second group was doing. I do recall wondering what this thunking sound was, and came around corner to find two guys sitting in the shade, full clothing, hard hats, face masks, and goggles, with a big pile of rocks and small sledge hammers/rock picks. They were busting rocks. The third person, was digging around the bridge. It was hot in the sun. Hard, hard work. I felt for them. The second group was up the creek a ways in what looked like a popular camping spot. One guy was sitting, smashing rocks. Later on that day, I came across the Forest Service Mule Train bringing in supplies.
Even though the day was only 13.5 miles, it was close to 4,000′ gain, and as I recall, I didn’t make Thousand Island until around 4:30PM. It had gotten very windy. Very windy! It wasn’t clear where the more designated or popular use area was for camping. I decided to go off trail to the east side of the lake to camp. Mostly because it appeared that once I crossed the outlet to the north, there wasn’t much camping because the trail went up and away from the lake. And technically, one is supposed to avoid camping within a quarter mile of the outlet. And it was very exposed there anyway. But it was also exposed where I ended up. Maybe a little more protection. Where I pitched was pretty exposed, but I figured, it did have some protection and the wind would eventually die down. Welp, it didn’t. The wind blew all night long. I actually spent a long time choosing a spot. And about the time I was fully pitched, another solo backpacker walked up. He too, was looking for solitude. We chatted briefly. He was telling me that he lived in Placerville, CA., where a new fire was threatening both the town and his home. He said it was better to be out here than in town. But he was unsure if he’d have a home to go home too. Apparently it was close to town, and it was raining down with fire ash. I learned after getting off trail that Placerville was saved, so I can only hope, and believe, his home was spared.
It blew all night. In the early AM hours, at a time I needed to take a natural break outside the tent, I decided to get a little video of the inside. You can see the dust blowing around. The Zpacks tents are quite airy!
Thousand Island Lake to Lyell Canyon – Day 17
The wind never let up. And… I did not want to get up. I was trying to figure out how the heck I was going to take down my tent, which doesn’t weigh a whole lot more than a mylar balloon, in the wind, alone. The above video does not do justice. It was pretty stiff with some very big gusts.
I figured it out. I had everything packed. Got dressed to hike. Exited my shelter. I kept the two upwind stakes in the ground until I was ready to fold and roll. I took advantage of a nominal lull in the wind. I skipped breakfast and started walking. I was right about the tent sites. The access was about ½ mile up the trail on the other side and then it dropped down to the lake. I had seen headlamps in the far distance the night before. I walked a couple miles to Island Pass where there was some wind protection near a small lake. It would have made a better campsite. I went ahead and make my coffee and breakfast.
I hiked without seeing too many folks early on. Then I ran into more as I neared the Donahue Pass approach. A group of 3 or 4 were catching me. Actually, I had stopped and they passed, but then they stopped. They didn’t stay stopped long so I just kept on trucking. Once again, it’s the competitiveness in me. I began walking with a lot more intention and soon put some distance between us. But the brief stops for photos, to grab some water, adjust something, soon I found one of their group not far behind me. And by this point we were making the final mile and a half push to the pass. So once again, I began focusing on fast and sure steps. I made the summit, took my pack off, dug out some food and sat down. Not long after I git settled, a woman who was with three others caught up. She mentioned how I had moving pretty fast uphill. I acknowledged and said it was sort of the last big climb of the trip for me (not necessarily true) and it felt good to push hard. Her group caught up and we all sat, ate and chatted a bit. And then one by one, we departed. I ran into a group of 4 SOBO PCTers on the descent. Three guys and one woman. I ended up burning at least a half hour with them. Social vortex! They had started in Washington at the Canadian Border. But in southern Oregon had to skip a big section n norther California due to fires and just got back on trail a while back. They were just out for as long as they could be out. No plans until Thanksgiving they said. And even one, said, she didn’t have any plans.
I had intended to go all the way to Tuoleme Meadows, but the folks I had spoken too on top of Donahue had made mention you’re not supposed to camp within 4 miles. I had read that but had forgotten. Not wanting to walk well into the dark again, and unsure about Tuolome and how late the store was open, and where I might camp, I decided to stop short along the Lyell river in Lyell Canyon. I found a really nice spot that was on the opposite side of the river from the trail. I was able to get a full body rinse and finally, hang out by the water in the warm sun.
Lyell Canyon to Sunrise Lakes – Day 18
I woke up to some pretty chilly weather. Water had not frozen, but it felt pretty cold. I check my thermometer around 7AM, which is well after dawn and it was at 32 degrees, so I suspect it was maybe 30 at dawn or just before. Someone later that day said it was down to 28. It did seem cooler the further I hike that morning, but not that cold where I camped.
I was really a pretty walk in the frosty morning, with blue skies, and the moon still showing. I looked in earnest to see a deer, elk, bear, something. But nothing!
I finally made it to Tuoleme Meadows. I crossed this great bridge system then entered the Tuoleme area and Yosemite National Park I honestly forgot to get a photo of the park entrance. I also forgot to get a photo of the first asphalt pavement I’d seen and walked on in almost three weeks. I found the ranger station and backcountry permit office because my goal was to see if I could get a half dome permit.
The trip definitely changed at this point. I was now in real civilization, even if only for a little while. I was walking into the parking lot via the 1.5 lane width entrance, against traffic flow, but not that there was any traffic. Except someone in a vehicle in a hurry came barreling in behind me. Had I been more in the road or on the opposite site, I think I’d have been run over. I walked up to the office and two guys were being assisted on the porch. Still covid so all the distancing protocols. I took my pack off and was digging out my trail permit. The woman who nearly ran me over asked if I was waiting and I said yes. She then proceeded to walk up on the porch. WTF! So I waited and listened to what the ranger was telling the two guys and also got up on the porch. The two guys left and the woman was sort of making her way forward when I asked, “so, are you going next”, and she replied, “oh, go ahead, I saw you were doing something with your pack”. Uh yeah, I was digging out my permit. So I asked the ranger about the possibility of a half-dome walk up permit. I then learned, which I should have known, that the walk up permits were online lotteries held two days prior to the day you wanted to climb. Yeah, that’s not going to work. So off I went in search of the store.
I found the Tuolome Meadows store and post office. This is where thru-hikers pick up their previously mailed resupply buckets and purchase food. I don’t know what I expected, but I expected something larger. I bought a frozen burrito to cook and eat, and some other food – both to eat and pack. I drank a diet coke and took one for the road, and got another beer for the road. Some other hikers said I should ask at the post office which was the big window on the right side, about their hiker box. I went up to the window and was more or less met with a big fat no. Well, close to that anyway. When I asked if they had a hiker box I could look through, the guy said I’d have to wait for the postmaster. He almost seemed like he was going to let me look or help me out. Then the post master walked in, and I asked him. He then asked me what I was needing. I mentioned snack type foods, I was pretty good on breakfast and dinners. He glanced down, and said, yeah, none of that stuff. And we can’t let you look through because of Covid protocols. He then quickly went on about my watch, saying, “hey, nice watch”. I am wearing my Garmin Felix 6x pro solar, which is not inexpensive. I get the protocols and don’t argue that. I do wonder if he made a judgement call about me and figured I was less than needy. They had a ton of resupply boxes inside. The place was packed. I guess folks are not leaving much behind. Or the postmaster is high-grading 🙂
The hike up out of Tuolome to Cathedral Pass seemed to take forever. I had to reroute to avoid some construction along a road section, and then passed through the campground that was nearly vacant because of the reduced capacity from Covid.
It took quite some time to summit Cathedral Pass. The views of the peak ever-changing. I began to drop down and came to a meadow area. As I was looking at the map, I realized the trail meandered about 3 to 4 miles to a point only one mile from me. So… I did what any good hiker would do – I took the trail less traveled, I mean the trail that didn’t exist. I went off-trail. It was one of the big highlights of the trip. Again, lacking a great photo, but I left the trail in a big meadow with a bunch of small trees at the far edge. About the time I got to the trees, a big buck bounced up and away, and into the forest. It had a really nice rack. 4 point (western count of one side ) for sure and eye guards, maybe a little more. I ended up coming over a spectacular granite ridge, well above upper Sunrise Lake. I walked down to the middle lake but didn’t really find a spot that I wanted to camp at so went to the lower lake. My goal was to set myself up for a possible sunrise summit at Clouds rest.
It was a beautiful night. I was definitely in Yosemite. I had arrived around 5PM or so and while there were plenty of spots to camp, all the great ones were spoken for. But I found one that was okay. It was a beautiful evening with a nice alpenglow on the hillside. It seems to be set up more for sunset than sunrise, so not sure why it’s sunrise lakes. I left before sunrise, so I don’t really know what it looked like in the morning.
As I looked the mileage to Clouds rest, I was only 4 to 5 miles away from the summit. An easy grab before sunrise. Well, pretty easy. So I just cowboy camped (no tent) so I could pack and move quickly in the morning. The photo below is in the morning, around 3:00AM or so, after first getting up.