Backcountry Sights

Photos and stories from the outdoors

Yosemite Backpacking Loop – Day 4

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

June 26, 2015 | 16.73 mi | +1954′ / -2527′ | View on Map

I slept really well again last night; no strange noises woke me up, and I’m no longer scared of “what’s out there.” Solo backpacking is turning out to be the best vacation ever! It was cold when I woke up, so I put on the fleece jacket and wind-breaker that serve as my pillow before I got out of my tent. You know what cold air means? No bugs! I take advantage of this respite and go down to the lake to snap some photos in the warm, early morning light.

I devour a bag of oh-so-delicious oatmeal for breakfast as the sun rises over the mountains. Soon enough, the bugs come out, but I am ready for them with my bug spray. A few squirts on my hands and face and they leave me alone. After eating, I pack up camp and head out.

I meet several small groups on my way to Tuolumne Meadows, but don’t stop to chat much. Two pack trains pass me, carrying supplies to the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, which is located not too far from Boothe Lake. The first few miles aren’t steep, but I slow myself down to keep the pace easy so that I’ll reach Tuolumne Meadows near lunch time.

The last mile or two of the descent are much steeper, and my knees and ankles begin to complain. A woman dressed in running gear passes me, heading up towards the high country I’ve just come from. Trail running would be a lot of fun here, but I don’t expect it would particularly fast, what with all the uneven footing.

I reach Tuolumne Meadows at about 11:00; a little too early for lunch, but not too far off. I leave the trail for a little while and walk through the campsite to get to the store and grill. It’s a little strange to see so many people again. Car camping is a much different game than backpacking. When I reach the store, I restock on toilet paper (I’m getting dangerously low…) and buy a few candy bars and cheese sticks. I figure the cheese sticks will be nice because they’re individually wrapped and won’t go bad in their wrappers. I brought my cell phone with me and turn it on, hoping to have service. Sure enough, I have a few bars and am able to call my Dad for a few minutes to let him know where I am. I try calling my Mom too, but the phone doesn’t ring and I get a “Call Failed” message every time I try. I am able to send her a text message though, so I do that and then turn my phone back off. The phone isn’t really all that useful, but if I were to get lost (not likely with the well-marked trails), I could use it as a GPS.

By the time I’ve finished shopping and talking on the phone, it is definitely lunch time. I buy a black-bean burger at the grill and enjoy the sandwich, fries, and a carton of milk outside at a picnic table with other backpackers. I talk to a few through-hikers who are doing the PCT. They’ve quit their jobs and are taking five months to hike from Mexico to Canada. It sounds like quite the adventure, but also like an awful lot of work. Backpacking is awesome, but so is air conditioning and a bed with a mattress.  Besides, it’s the change from regular life that makes vacation (e.g. backpacking) so much fun. If that’s all you do, I expect it, too, will get monotonous and you’ll need a vacation from vacation.

I finish off lunch with an ice cream cone, make use of the fancy flushing toilets, and then head back into the wilderness. For some reason, my legs hurt a lot more than usual this afternoon, so I take extra care to place my feet well and use my muscles to take some of the stress off my joints.

I’m once again on the John Muir Trail (JMT), heading towards Cathedral Lake(s). The trail gets pretty steep, but I’ve figured out what pace I can maintain indefinitely on these types of climbs, so I settle into taking small steps, climbing upwards and upwards. A few days ago, I had a few clips from “Into The Woods” stuck in my head, but today my internal soundtrack is “The Ants Go Marching,” which seems appropriate. 😀 I stop a few times to drink Gatorade and water, but generally just hike.

A few hours later, I reach the trail to Lower Cathedral Lake. I don’t particularly feel like deviating half a mile from my path, so I continue up the trail to Upper Cathedral Lake. I stop here to soak my aching feet for a few minutes. I get in deep enough to wash myself off too, but it’s begun to cloud over and the sun isn’t out to dry me off so I put on my windbreaker in place of my shirt and tie the shirt to the outside of my pack to dry.

My plan this morning was to camp here at Cathedral Lake, but, keeping with my pattern thus far, I’m early and don’t want to stop walking. It’s 2:30 (ish), so I inspect the map for a while and decide to head for the backpacker’s camp near Sunrise Lakes. My legs hurt and I’m tired, but my pack is almost starting to feel light with half of my food gone and I’m only getting stronger as the days go on. I can make it a few more miles.

Sure enough, it’s only a short hike from Upper Cathedral Lake to the top of Cathedral Pass, which has a spectacular view. I pause here for a while, soaking in the quiet wilderness. Although there were quite a few people on the trail up to the lakes, I haven’t seen any up here past the lakes.

The trail descends about a thousand feet during the next mile and I find myself in “the long meadow,” which is marked on the map. The trail continues to descend gradually until I reach a large meadow with the best kind of trail: level trail! I meet a group of young people (more of them!) that are heading the opposite way as I am. They couldn’t find the Sunrise backpacker’s camp but wish me luck in finding it. While I’m strolling down the beautiful, flat trail, I see a coyote a quarter-mile away in the meadow. It notices me and starts trotting towards me. Do coyotes attack people? I’ve never heard of that… it’s probably just curious. I continue walking and look backward every once in a while to see if it’s still following me. I don’t see it, so I put it out of my mind.

I reach a sign for the Sunrise High Sierra Camp a few minutes later. The map indicates that the backpacker’s camp is nearby, but it doesn’t specify where. I put my pack down and explore for a bit. There are the concrete pads that mark a High Sierra Camp, but none of the tents are erected and there aren’t any workers like there were at the Merced Lake camp. I was hoping to ask one of them where the backpacker’s camp was. I keep exploring and find several tent sites, a pit latrine, and bear boxes. I don’t think the High Sierra Camps have bear boxes… There’s a tent pitched in one of the sites, so I go to see if anyone is there. A JMT through-hiker is, and he tells me that he’s not sure if this is the backpacker’s camp or not, but it matches the description his guidebook provides. Besides, nobody else is here, so who is going to kick us out?

I go to retrieve my pack and find three other backpackers who are also looking for the backpacking campground. At first, I don’t recognize them, but then one of them recognizes me; these are the people I exchanged lunch spots with! One of the young ladies is carrying a Canon DSLR with a large zoom lens; I’ve seen day hikers carrying nice cameras, but she is the first backpacker I’ve seen with a DSLR. I tell them I think this is the backpacker’s campground so they find a spot to stay, and I find a spot further up the hill. Besides my lunch buddies, there is an older man camping nearby, the JMT through hiker, and two couples that are hiking the JMT. This is a popular spot!

I didn’t expect to find bear boxes and a pit latrine at this campsite! The toilet is particularly welcome. I set up my tent and purify some water and then go down to chat with the three people I met the other day. I’m a little apprehensive to ask to hang out with them, but they seem happy enough to chat. I learn their names: Cristina, the one with the camera, Stephen, and Lynnea. They’re all friends and are out here for four or five days doing the same kind of trip as me, hiking and camping in the wilderness.

They’re busy cooking their dinner, so I get my food and bring it down and cook with them while we chat. As much as I love having my own schedule and freedom, it is really nice to spend time with some other people. Making new friends is always fun too because there is no shortage of conversation topics when you’re trying to learn all about each other.

As fate would have it, Cristina, Lynnea, and Stephen are going the same way as I am during the next two days! They’re going to hike to the base of Half Dome tomorrow, then get up early the next day to climb Half Dome and descend back to Yosemite Valley. They like to take their time in the morning and I like to hit the trail early, so we agree to meet at a trail crossroads tomorrow afternoon. We talk for a while longer, and then I excuse myself to go journal and sleep. I’m tired, and I’m excited to spend more time with my friends tomorrow!

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