Backcountry Sights

Photos and stories from the outdoors

Yosemite Backpacking Loop – Day 3

For trip planning information, visit the post for day 1.

I slept really well last night. Maybe it takes a few nights to get used to sleeping on the ground? Or maybe you just have to wear yourself out enough… 😛 I feel great until I open the tent door and am greeted by the largest swarm of mosquitos yet. Do they sit on my tent and wait for me to come out? I employ my usual tactics to avoid them: don’t stay in one place, put on the windbreaker and hat, etc. I have another delicious oatmeal breakfast, tear down camp, and head out. As usual, once I’m moving again the bugs leave me alone. I wonder why that is?

MosquitoEs, Be Gone!

June 25, 2015 | 14.09 mi | +3162′ / -1189′ | View on Map

Early morning and late evening are the best times to photograph the cascading water because the sun is below the mountains and it is dark enough to use long exposures. A longer exposure means I can create the silky-looking water, like in the photo above, which is a fun way to represent movement. The trail follows the river, so I pass many cascades on the way. Soon, I come to Washburn Lake. The mosquitoes have only gotten worse; the ground is soggy and even muddy in a few places on the trail, and there are large, standing pools of water. Taking pictures here guarantees mosquito bites on my hands and face, but I take the hit for a few pictures. Not many though… I can only take so much. I think back to day 1 when I figured I could handle the mosquitoes without bug spray… I was wrong. Very wrong.

I’m walking a nice, easy pace this morning because I’m only walking 10 or 11 miles to Little Yosemite Valley and the trip will be relatively flat; a little downwards elevation change, but nothing huge. I don’t want to arrive there really early in the day and then have nothing to do. The trail between Washburn Lake and Merced Lake travels through a beautiful forest with ferns and flowers everywhere. I’ve given up talking to myself on the trail to alert animals to my presence; on the first day I made sure to talk while I walked, but now I take in the views quietly. I haven’t seen any people since the first night, and I’m actually fine with that. I haven’t felt lonely, really, and I appreciate the freedom that comes with traveling alone. I can stop and take pictures whenever I like, I can push the pace as fast or as slow as I want, etc.

Down the trail, I see two objects moving towards me. People, perhaps? As I get closer I realize that they are actually bears! They don’t see me, so I shout, “Hello, bears!” to get their attention. As soon as I do, they stop and stare at me. They’re too far away to be a threat, so I just stare back. They don’t seem to be moving, so I wave my arms above my head (to make myself bigger) and loudly say, “I’m coming that way; I need you to get off the trail!” They pause a moment more and then turn and trundle off the trail. I walk slowly towards where they were and continue talking to them in the hopes that they’ll move away from my voice.

One of them is walking on a log, maybe 50 feet away from the trail. She looks at me as I pass and I try to get a picture, but I don’t quite manage to get her face. I walk past where the bears were standing and continue down the trail, now much more alert. That wasn’t too bad! Wildlife is generally more scared of us than we are of it, and black bears are only interested in people because we bring delicious, high-calorie snacks into the backcountry. When given the choice between people’s food and nuts and berries, it’s no surprise they go for our food. They won’t risk a fight over it though.

Shortly after seeing the bears, I arrive at the Merced Lake High Sierra Camp. High Sierra Camps are established campsites with concrete pads and canvas tents on top. I think each camp has a mess hall with chefs and running water. You have to reserve a spot at the camp, but you could do an entire trip through the mountains staying at these camps and you wouldn’t have to carry a tent, sleeping bag, or much food. There’s a beautiful river nearby with lots of wildflowers, so I wash my clothes, myself, and refill my water containers. There is a group of workers at the camp erecting tents and doing who knows what else.

While I’m sitting next to the river, enjoying the warm sun, a thought occurs to me: what if I buy some bug spray from one of these workers? Can’t hurt to try. I approach one of them and ask if I can buy some bug spray from him. He says he has some extra and gives it to me, refusing to take any money. The High Sierra Camp employees get free bug spray, so he didn’t want to take money for it. With bug spray in hand, I begin to rethink my plan. Mosquitos have been the biggest annoyance so far and the largest reason I want to get out of the mountains ASAP, and I can eliminate (or at least significantly reduce) them from my trip with bug spray! There are still the stomach cramps, but I’m feeling fine today and am willing to gamble on them for the next few days. Plus, it will make a much better story if I do my entire trip. No wimping out for me!

I have to backtrack about a mile to get to the trail that will take me towards Tuolumne Meadows, but the trail is flat and easy so I don’t mind. This new course of action means the rest of my day will be an uphill climb, but I can handle that. I’m not sure where I’ll stop tonight; my original plan had me arriving at Merced Lake at the end of Day 3, and I made it there this morning. I could just hang out, but I don’t like that idea. What am I supposed to do all day? I’d rather walk.

I meet several other hikers on my new course, breaking the solitary streak I’ve been on (of course, I saw people at the High Sierra Camp too). Before long, the trail begins the familiar cobblestone switch backs and climbs up away from Merced Lake and the canyon I’ve been in the past 24 hours. This is the first serious up-hill climbing I’ve done since Red Peak Pass; it beats going down, if you ask me.

I’ve been munching on Cliff Bars this morning, so I don’t really get hungry until about 1:00. I’m more or less at “the top” of my trail for now, so I stop and sit on a large, flat, rocky area and eat my lunch. I have a fantastic view of the valley I just came from, and there is a nice breeze. Today’s lunch is once again crackers, peanut butter, and dried apples. I’ve decided to not eat any more of the cheese, just in case it was the cause of my stomach cramps. I’ll save my remaining cracker+jerky meals for after I visit Tuolumne Meadows – there is a store there where I can buy some new cheese or more peanut butter or something.

I take my time eating lunch and enjoy the stillness on this granite hill. This is what backpacking is all about. I couldn’t ask for a better spot to eat and relax. Once I’m done eating, I stow my trash in my pack and get ready to head out. Three hikers are coming down the trail towards me, so I stop packing and say hello. All three of them look like they’re about my age, which makes them the first people I’ve seen on the trail that are aren’t decades older than me. I tell them I’ve just eaten lunch and gesture to the gorgeous view. They decide they’ll eat lunch there too, so I wish them a nice day and head up the trail whence they came.

The trail is more level here and soon winds its way into some woods near Emeric Lake. I could stop here, but it’s only 2:00 and there are more lakes ahead. After more switchbacks, I’m beginning to get tired and hot. I have no idea how warm it is outside, but I think I’d rather not know. At least it’s not humid! Afternoons have been more difficult than mornings, mostly due to the heat. I go through a lot more water hiking in the afternoon than I do in the morning. Some hikers get up early, walk until early afternoon, rest until it begins to cool down again, and then finish their hike in the cooler evening temperatures. I’m not disciplined enough for that kind of schedule. I’d rather just hike through the afternoon.

The afternoons have been getting cloudier and cloudier each day. On my first day, there were zero clouds. On day 2, there were the rapidly forming and dissipating clouds. Today there are some of the clouds that form and then disappear, but some of them stick around. I keep a weather eye on them to watch for storms, but they seem pretty innocent.

After climbing up even more switchbacks, I arrive in the most beautiful mountain meadow I’ve ever seen. There are small pine trees along the trail and, beyond them, soft, spongy turf and a small stream winding through. I’m tired and could use a break, so I take off my pack and grab my camera and lenses and walk over to the stream. My feet sink into the turf, so I try to step on rocks and logs as much as possible to avoid impacting the environment. To my surprise, the stream is very deep! Parts of it look like they are at least 7 or 8 feet deep. The water is crystal clear and there are small fish swimming around. I have plenty of water, so I don’t fill any bottles here. I don’t want to carry more water than I need and I’ll be following this creek for a while, so I can always refill later.

I stow my camera gear and head further up the meadow. I meet a ranger leading two horses in the middle of the meadow. He looks like he’s about 50 and is dressed in stereotypical ranger green with a wide-brimmed hat; in retrospect, I should have asked to take his picture. He asks to see my wilderness permit and we chat a little about the weather and my trip. I wonder how easy it would be to be a ranger here? Is there a waiting list? Is being a Yosemite Ranger what other rangers aspire to? I wonder if I could do that when I retire?

I take another break a while later and refill my water from the creek. More uphill hiking follows, and I stop and admire several stunning mountain lakes; they’re too small to have names on the map. I’ve decided to make for Boothe Lake. Stopping there for the night will put me on track to finish my 7-day trip in 6 days. It’s only a few more miles, and I arrive an hour or two later at about 4:00. This is the earliest I’ve pulled into camp so far, but today is also my shortest day so far at “only” 14 miles.

Boothe Lake is the prettiest lake I’ve stayed at. I put my pack down a little way from the water and look around for campsites. I find several excellent spots. There is a sandy beach at one end of the lake, complete with driftwood and a fire ring in a small stand of trees. Someone has even gone to the trouble to collect dead grass for bedding; I wonder if they slept under the stars, without a tent? I consider putting my tent here, but it doesn’t quite meet the rule that campsites must be 100 feet from water, so I keep searching. I find another site up on a hill a little way from the lake. The ground is mostly gravel, but the rocks are small and will be just as comfortable as sleeping on dirt. There also seem to be fewer bugs since I’m farther from the water.

I pitch my tent, toss in my sleeping bag and pad, and then wander around the lake to take pictures. A group of three other guys is camping on the other side of the lake. I can hear their voices from my campsite.

Since I’m perpetually smelly with all this hiking and sweating, I decide to jump in the lake. I take off my shirt and pants and then dive in. The water is very cold, and I tolerate the temperature for long. I swim a few strokes out into the lake and then head back to shore. I scrub myself to wash off the sweat and rinse my clothes to get rid of the dust. I brought my bug spray with me, so once I’m done washing, I put my wet clothes on and apply bug spray to all my exposed skin. It works like a charm. The mosquitos buzz around me but they don’t land and they definitely don’t bite. Bliss! 🙂 Walking around for a little while dries the clothes.

Tonight’s dinner is Creamy Alfredo Noodles; I follow the same process as always to heat the water and prepare the food, but now that I have bug spray on, I don’t have to pace around to avoid the bugs. The food is delicious and filling, as I’ve come to expect. Since the food cooks inside a ziplock bag, I don’t have any dishes to do afterward. I just toss the ziplock back into my trash sack, stuff everything remotely food-scented into the bear canister, and put the bear canister 30-40 paces away from my campsite. As always, I collect a small pile of rocks next to my tent to throw at any bears that decide they want my canister. Supposedly, throwing rocks and yelling at a bear is usually enough to scare them off and if you’re mean enough, they won’t come back.

I climb into my tent after cleaning up my things and write in my journal. The sun is setting and I consider getting out to go take more pictures, but I’m too lazy. My legs hurt a lot and I’m too comfortable laying down in my tent. Also, even though the bug spray does dissuade the mosquitos from biting me, it isn’t 100% effective and I don’t feel like swatting the swarms of bugs away from my face. Next time I come out here, a mosquito net for my head might be a good idea.

Luckily, I didn’t have any stomach cramps today, although I felt a little weird when I reached Boothe Lake, which is at about 9,900 feet. It’s difficult to know whether the altitude affects me, or if I’m just tired from all the hiking, or there’s something wrong with my food. Today has been the most pleasant day of hiking yet, thanks in part to my newly acquired bug spray. The scenery this afternoon was wonderful and it has been a great day to be alone in the mountains. You know, another perk of hiking alone is that it’s easy to talk to people. You don’t have any excuse not to say hi, and people don’t feel like they’re butting in because you don’t have anyone else to talk to in the first place.

After writing in my journal for a while, I call it a day and go to sleep; it sure is easy to fall asleep after walking all day.

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