South Rim just after sunrise
It was time for our annual trip to the West. As always we flew from Ct. to Denver, Rented a car and made our way to our friend Seth
and his wife Randi's house in Grand Junction. This is our home base for Most all of our adventures, and what a place! you don't have to go far to get to the good stuff!
But this time we were going pretty far, good thing for unlimited miles! We made our way through beautiful Red Mountain Pass in the San Jauns down through Durango, Passing by Monument Valley, and ended up at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. By this time it was dark and we were on the road for 10 hours!. As we drove towards the campsite areas we stopped, turned off our headlights, and got out to see the milky way, as it only can bee seen from such a place with no light pollution, humidity and other hazy influences we have in the northeast. As always it was breathtaking! As we drove further, we saw a huge lodge, Civilization we said! (anyone who has driven through northeren Arizona will know this experience). We proceeded to catch an unexpected bite to eat, the chicken pot pies are excellent!. After dinner we made our way to the mathers campground where the campground attendant left our reserved campsite number at the kiosk. We set the alarm so we could view the sunrise over the canyon.
The next morning we were up before the sun. The sunrise was worth the effort! After that was breakfast, breakdown of camp, and on the road again, as Yosemite was our true destination!
We made our way through the Mojave Natl. Preserve and into Death Valley, ( this was the low point of our trip, -282 below sea level). I certainly did not get any high like the ones you get at 14,000 feet, although it was good to dry out my bones at 120 degrees!
The drive out of Death Valley was longer than we expected but we made our way to Lone Pine, California, an awesome old west type town, (as all the towns on the east side of the sierras are) We grabbed a bite to eat as the sun set and Afterwords made our way to Big Pine, Ca. where on the map I spotted a campsite named Big Pine Creek. Still driving, I finally made my way to the campsite, set up camp and took a minute to enjoy the cool crisp mountain air. For we had gained about 5000 feet of elevation since Death Valley. We were surrounded by the trademark scents of the California Mountains, a crisp creek beside us, and many huge Red Firs. This campsite rules! I said to myself.
We woke up to the babbling creek and as I opened my eyes Yosemite! raced through my mind. We got breakfast in Big Pine and continued our journey. we stopped near June Lake to get some of the famous chocolite chip cookies at the gas station and finally arrived at the gates to Yosemite.
the gates to Yosemite Valley
We made our way through tioga road and to the gates of Yosemite Valley. Wasting no time, we found the Upper Pines campground, the tent was setup and we were off!, ready to begin our exploration of this awesome place! This was my second time here. First was the Mariposa Grove Of Giant Sequoia's
Now it was time for a small taste of some of the alpine areas of yosemite. For this we drove to Glacier point, this area had some of the most amazing views I have seen in Yosemite, Little did I know, the best was to come.
There wasn't much daylight left but there was enough time to do a small hike right near Glacier point. This was Sentinel Dome
, a 2.2 mile out and back with 370 ft. elevation gain. The views from here were a little better than Glacier point, first because we earned it, and also because you can see more of the valley from here. While spending time on top, all of a sudden i hear this very fast sweeping sound and sense a bird fling by at very high speeds. After Paying good attention, we realized these were Peregrine Falcons! These Falcons live around cliff areas and are known for their ridiculous speeds while cliff diving, over 200 MPH! I first heard of them in Stowe Vermont at Smugglers Notch but have never caught a glimpse! I envy the person who catches these fine birds on film because i have never seen anything this fast!
View of Half Dome With Clouds Rest just behind it. Taken from Glacier Point
We made our way back to the valley and to our camp, where at night,every night, you can hear the Rangers humourosly chasing away the bears, these animals are mostly harmless if left alone, But they have been known to rip doors off cars that carry the sweet smell of food inside. Use the bear boxes.
Unfortunatley, we did not see any bears, at one point in the night I woke up and so did all the people in a fifty tent radius (the campsites are huge) to this sound. Uh Oh ooo aaaaa! b b B BBear!!!, G G Get outta hear bear!. This was me (at the top of my lungs)having a very vivid dream that there was a big furry claw pushing against the tent! I could hear the echo through the valley.
The first view of the summit from the Clouds Rest Trail
Day Four: August 30, 06
Total Miles: 14.5 Elev. gain 2205 (although I believe there is a little more than my book says due to the many ups and downs of the trail)
We woke up with the sun beams just reaching our tent, grabbed a quick breakfast, and drove an hour from the valley to the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead in the Tuolumne meadows area. The elevation is much higher here than in the valley and the air was crisp. This was a far cry from being in Death valley two days before! Gear Stowed in our packs with plenty of water, we started the hike. The trail was mostly level for the first mile or so wandering through the scattered pine. From here we got the first view of the summit since leaving Tioga rd. For the next mile there is a big increase in elevation with many switchbacks. After the switchback section, the trail loses some elevation and continues to meander through the scattered forest. The trees keep getting bigger! We pass a beautiful alpine pond to the right. It seems every blink of the eye is another perfect photo.
Furthur up the trail the bark on the trees now have become very red, this is a treat for me because nowhere else have i seen such beautiful trees.
As I am walking, I hear this odd sound, I look to my left and there is a mother Grouse with her babies following. the noise is obviously her giving instruction. This was another animal we did not expect to see, I neglected to mention the bobcat at glacier point.
The trail now started to climb again and we could see glimpses of the summit through the trees, this is the part that really gets me excited as I know there is a reward at the top! Finally we reach the beginning of the Clouds Rest Ridge. This is where the fun begins! Although this is a class one trail, I beleive that this is probably the most exposure one can get on a trail of this class. Let me tell you, the views are also first class! After crossing the ridge, the expanse of Yosemite surrounds you. The Glaciated formations are like no where else. There is a reason why Yosemite is famous!
The view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and this is only 1/4 the view!
I have read about how some say the views from glacier point and sentinel dome are the best in Yosemite. This should not be determined though, until one has been to clouds rest. Yes Half Dome
is very fun and a definate to-do, but Clouds Rest is no less the to-do.
Suggestion: I did not get the opportunity to do this but I would say this route is a must do in Yosemite: Leave your car at the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead, Backpack over clouds rest to the Sunrise Creek backcountry campsites at the base of the Half Dome trail. Spend the night. summit Half Dome in the am, breakdown camp and continue to the valley. Then catch the next Tuolumne Meadows Hikers
Bus (mid June to mid September)from Curry Village back to your car and Wallah! a super classic Yosemite experience!
The hike back to our car at Sunrise Lakes trailhead seemed even more scenic than the hike in. I think it was because we had already summited and we now had time to focus on the little things along the trail. Always stop and smell the flowers! We returned to our tent for our last night in Yosemite, sad, but we have something to look forward to, some nice Colorado 14er's after some rest in Grand Junction.