View on Map

I had an amazing time hiking through Yosemite National Park a few weeks ago! It was my first-ever solo backpacking trip, and despite my initial misgivings, everything went just fine. I was extraordinarily lucky to have six dry, mostly sunny days. In fact, in the two weeks after I finished my trek, Yosemite received a bunch of rain and several inches of snow in the high country. That would have made for an interesting trip!

I’m a sucker for data and stats, so I had to plot out my entire trip and create the elevation profile. I’ve been using an excellent web-based tool called Sierra Mapper to generate the elevation profiles. It looks like all the trails in Yosemite, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and the surrounding areas are all included. If you’re trying to plan routes, you might check it out!

yosemite backpacking loop route map

The entirety of my hike: 84 miles through the stunningly beautiful Sierra backcountry

Now, for the trip stats! I originally thought I was walking about 73 miles, but after mapping it out, it seems I walked 84 miles (if Sierra Mapper can be trusted). That averages out to 14 miles per day. Over the course of the trip, I ascended 17,800 feet, or 3.37 miles. Because I ended my trip in the same place as I began, the total descent is the same amount.

yosemite backpacking loop elevation profile

Elevation profile for my entire trek; 17,800 feet total ascent and 17,800 feet total descent.

Lessons Learned

  1. If you’re hiking alone, have plans to entertain yourself when you’re not hiking. I spent most of each day walking, but I would have liked to have a few other ways to entertain myself in camp. I spent time taking photos, journaling, and cooking. Other options could be reading (bring a small book?), laundry, strength workouts, meditating… any suggestions? What do you do when you’re not walking on a trek?
  2. If you’ll be on the trail for long, plan to do strength workouts to maintain muscle balance. Climbing up and down mountains is good exercise, but it only uses a small subset of your muscles. I noticed after my trek that my hip muscles were a little out of balance. Simple exercises with n elastic band (they’re pretty light!) and body-weight routines can help with this. Just imagine doing your workout next to a mountain lake… 🙂 Use a sleeping pad as a yoga mat.
  3. Hiking alone is an excellent way to meet new people. When you have a hiking partner or group, strangers are less likely to approach you; you already have company. But when you’re by yourself, it’s easy for people to talk to you. It’s fun to share stories and get to know other people on the trail!
  4. Individually packaged food is the way to go.  Packaging is usually thin plastic (so it weighs next to nothing), and having food in single-use portions means you can avoid messes from half-used items. For example, cheese sticks trump a block of cheese that you have to re-wrap and store. Peanut butter packets are more convenient than a small jar of PB.
  5. Gear I didn’t use:
    1. Extra camera batteries – To my surprise, one camera battery lasted me 7 days, taking over 500 pictures.
    2. Neutral Density Filters – Polarizing filters work pretty well to darken a scene and I found that I didn’t really want to stop to take long exposures when the sun was high in the sky. The ND filters I have are pretty cheap too, so I should have just left them at home.
    3. First Aid Kit – I’m happy I didn’t need this, but I can’t really leave it at home.
    4. Compass and Whistle – Also in the category of “just in case.” I’d bring these again.
  6. Gear I could have used more of:
    1. Toilet paper – I may have had enough for the whole trip, but it was getting very low. TP is light, bring a little more than you think you’ll need.
  7. Have a plan to ease yourself out of the wilderness. I was surprised bmy how emotional my reaction to finishing this hike was. The wilderness becomes your home and the trail life becomes regular life. Coming back to civilization wasn’t exactly fun, and I was grateful to be able to spend one last night in a backpacker’s campground before leaving; it was a good intermediate place between the wilderness and full-fledged modern life.
  8. Relax. Enjoy the quiet, the solitude, the majesty of the wilderness. You’ll be leaving again before you know it, so enjoy the experience while you’re in it.

That’s all I can think of. Feel free to comment with lessons you’ve learned while adventuring!

Andrew Cox