Getting StartedThe Moron Hikers head west for the fourth time. This year’s objective is Yosemite National Park. We visited the valley last year for a day after our trip to Sequoia NP. During a brief stop at the Wilderness Center, we spoke with a couple of guys who had hiked down from Tuolumne Meadows. What an idea -- a downhill hike! The net elevation loss would be about 5,000 feet. A wonderful germ of an idea.
I took on my accustomed role of trip planner, and explored alternatives. A helpful “poster” on the Yosemite News site had me consider our ultimate route: from Tuolumne to Vogelsang, then down to Merced Lake and down through the Merced River drainage to the valley. The only appreciable climb would be up to Vogelsang, and even that didn’t look bad. Google Earth provides a great way to “view” the proposed route, and we agree to go for it. Early September it will be!
Monday, September 3
Labor Day. We have an early flight out and expect to miss the holiday crowds. We connect through LAX to Fresno, after becoming “familiar” with Fresno during our SEKI trip last year. The Delta gate agent advises the passengers to bring food on board if they are hungry; the Delta fare with a “very small box” of raisins is not likely to be enough! The flights and connections go well, and we get to Fresno on time. The first moron-like situation arises as Greg has forgotten his paperwork for the rental vehicle – and can’t remember from whom he reserved it. He calls a couple of the suspects from LA, with no luck. But when we get to Fresno, there’s also a Dollar counter and they, in fact, are our provider of choice. We switch from a small SUV to a van, a much better choice for all of our stuff.
A short stop at two sporting goods stores to get fuel bears success at Herb Bauer: canisters for Rick and me and a small white gas container for Greg. No gallon required this time. We grab a quick lunch at Jack-in-the-Box and I take my dramamine for the trip on the winding roads. The road up to Yosemite is not bad, but the folks heading the other way are many; it looks like Yosemite is emptying out on Labor Day. In the valley we stop at the Wilderness Center, get our permit, and instructions to the backpacker’s parking lot. We load the packs, empty all smelly stuff into the bear box, and take the shuttle back to the Visitor’s Center, where we plan to catch the 5:00 PM YARTS bus up to Tuolumne. We get there with maybe 30 minutes to spare, as we’ve timed the whole day quite well. The YARTS bus is a large, comfortable one and we settle in for the close to two hour trip. With us is a couple who’s just finished their hike as well as a couple who are heading toward Whitney on the JMT.
We get to Tuolumne a little before 7:00 and the second moron event occurs: we can’t find the backpacker’s campground! The map indicates it’s right behind the group camping area, but it’s nowhere to be found. I finally find it way over behind the A section sites. The NPS can use a new cartographer! We set up camp and basically eat in the dark. A bear wanders through the adjacent campsites, and is a blurry shadow as he passes through.
Tuesday, September 4Rick awakes with a headache – not a good sign. The guys next door are thru-hiking on the JMT to Whitney. They’ve come up from the valley and plan on completing the route in a total of 21 days. We go over to the Tuolumne Grill for breakfast and are a bit disappointed to find out that it’s basically take-out. But the view is great of the meadows from the tables outside.
The trail stays away from the river until lunch, and then we walk along the river until getting to our campsite. We join our YARTS companions at a great site for lunch and then stroll along to the south.
Wednesday, September 5I sleep reasonably well and the stomach has generally settled down. We have a good breakfast and have avoided bears during the night; we were advised that this is a “notorious” bear hangout. It is fairly cold and turns out to be probably the coldest night (and morning) of the trip. We have to climb over 1,000 feet to reach the Ireland Creek trail. The climb is not as bad as feared and we get up to the top in good shape after maybe two hours. A break there and some good views and we head on toward Vogelsang. Another short climb brings us to great 360º views. The first opportunity for a panorama.
We go by an unnamed lake, then Evelyn Lake.
There is a weird-looking privy near the sites, but it’s nailed shut! Water is obtained from a spigot by the High Sierra Camp, maybe ¼ mile away. We take some photos, have dinner, and crash. Rick is still fighting the headache a bit, but nothing incapacitating.
Thursday, September 6One of our two planned “day hike” days. We figured it would be more humane to hike a couple of days with packs and then wander a bit without the weight. Rick decides to rest his head and spend most of the day fishing. Greg and I decide to head up to Vogelsang Lake and Pass, and then maybe find Hanging Basket Lake in the afternoon.
Greg and I head out (and up) sometime before 10:00 AM. The hike up to the lake is exposed, rocky, and rather warm. We wonder how it will feel with all the weight of the packs. Each of us, though, has done a good job of cutting weight from last year. I have thought about trying to climb Vogelsang Peak, because several reports have suggested it’s not a technical climb. But it doesn’t look too appetizing for novices. We make our way up, passing three women from the HSC.
After lunch and no sign of Rick, Greg and I head out to find Hanging Basket Lake. It turns out that I’ve misidentified Evelyn Lake on the way in. That’s why you actually look at your maps! That means that Townsley is off the trail, with Hanging Basket up behind it. We head off trail with the GPS as a guide. Good orientation and we find Townsley with no trouble. Surprise, surprise. Down at the lake is Rick, finishing up his day around this and nearby lakes. We join him and hear of his tale visiting a couple of lakes up above. Hanging Basket must be in the depression up above, but we decide to forgo the climb.
Friday, September 7A quiet night and an earlier start. The temperature is a bit warmer, and will continue to be so each day. We commandeer the bathrooms at the HSC and get water for the trip down Fletcher Creek. We had originally planned to go over the pass and hike down the Lewis Creek trail, but since Greg and I had made it up to the pass yesterday, and Rick wanted to “preserve his head,” we chose Fletcher. We knew it was about one mile shorter, and the reports were that it wasn’t as scenic as Lewis Creek. We’d find out …
A pleasant surprise. After the first mile or so in the woods next to Fletcher Creek, we came on a great open meadow.
Saturday, September 8
We face maybe another 4 miles to the Little Yosemite CG. The trail is both rocky and sandy at times, not the easiest to walk on. I walk up on a bear right on the side of the trail. We stare at each other, and I signal Greg to be quiet as he comes up. For some reason my camera is set on timer, so it takes me a bit to start taking photos. Greg is snapping away as well, as the bear starts moving down from the trail into the valley. Rick comes up and gets his telephoto working. After the bear disappears, we see that Greg has captured a couple of really good shots. Thank goodness!
We reach Little Yosemite. A very large backpacker’s CG, with the advertised two-story, solar composting privy. We finally settle on a great site in the back, with a view of Half Dome looming over us. We get water and wash off at the river. Cold, but feels great. We’ve had good access to water the entire trip. A squirrel is after my stuff as we get dinner ready. I decide to try my phone again, and I get a signal for the first time. A call home reaches the girls as they have left the Dave Matthews concert at Piedmont. I’m able to share the “phone wealth” with Rick and Greg.
Sunday, September 9The day to hike/climb Half Dome – hopefully. We get up early (about 6:15) to get a decent start. We grab coffee and tea, but no real cooked breakfast. A blue jay steals my Clif bar when my back is turned! The Half Dome trail is about 3.5 miles; all uphill, but a pretty easy grade. The first view of the back side of Half Dome is tremendous.
Finally up over the top of the shoulder, and the cables are right there. Straight up. Not spending much time to think about it, we head up: Rick, then Greg, then me.
A great view of Yosemite Valley, as well as the Merced drainage and Tenaya Canyon.
A short break at the bottom and then heading back down the granite cut-aways on the shoulder. This is also easier than I anticipated, but not as easy as the Tinkerbelles skipping their way down made it seem! On our way back down we grab some water at the spring on the side of the trail, then down to the campground. All the way down we pass folks still making their way up the trail. Most all these folks have come up from the valley – a round-trip of over 16 miles. Many of them don’t look too happy (or prepared) at this point. We can’t help but pick out those that we don’t think can (or should) make it to the top.
Back at Little Yosemite we visit the river for another short swim and wash up.
Monday, September 10A bittersweet final pack as we head out to the valley. All downhill, with some rocky areas again, interspersed with the remnants of what appears to have been a paved trail. After we hit the top of Nevada Fall we run into more and more people. A few are heading to Half Dome, but most are just day hiking out of the valley. The trails we’ve been on are pretty popular, so we’ve seen a good number of folks on the trip, but this starts to be a crowd. Many of them don’t look all that happy to be on the trail. A good view of Liberty Cap and Half Dome from the bottom of Nevada Fall, then a view of Vernal Fall.
Not bad accommodations at all. The first order of business is the long-delayed shower. Feels great. Then a pizza and a brew, and we finally feel how tired we really are. Dinner is the buffet at Curry – and I get what I think is my first senior’s discount!
Tuesday, September 11Our “free day” before flying back. Breakfast is another buffet at Curry, with ridiculously small coffee cups. We drive up to Tuolumne to explore more than we had been able to last week. Olmstead Point provides some great views of Tenaya Canyon and the side of Half Dome that we had climbed.
At breakfast the next day Rick actually gets blueberries in his pancake batter this time. They must have waited all year for him to return! The flights back are uneventful and reasonably on time.
Another great adventure!