Five days in Yosemite


Sep 30, 2014
We're just back from a really nice five day trip to Yosemite. It all began when I took the time to read through the new regulations and processes to get a wilderness permit. The new system is organized and managed by the Yosemite Conservancy (we're happy supporters!) under the supervision of the wilderness office of the park.

So we went online to fill out our forms and requested a trailhead...and then waited to hear. A few days later we got an email letting us know our application had been approved. Once we listened in on the wilderness ranger briefing, we could get a secret code that would allow us to print out our permit. The whole thing was relatively painless and simple. And even though we've heard that wilderness briefing quite a few times, the ranger on the conference call did a good job of making it interesting. And once you've sat through the briefing once, there is a process for future permits that by-passes most of the briefing. Nice!

(Not sure why I can't get the photos to appear here...but there is a link at the end to the whole set.

With a backpacking permit in hand, you are allowed to enter Yosemite a day before your trip starts, and that's what we did. The entry to the park was simple and easy. All they wanted to see was the wilderness permit and, in our case, the Inter-agency Senior Pass that we'd bought the minute we turned 62. They didn't even charge us the $2 fee we'd been told to expect.

Day One: From the Big Oak Flat Entrance Station we drove straight to Tuolumne Meadows to set up at the backpackers' campground, and store our food and smellies in the bear boxes there. The rest of the afternoon we were tourists in Tuolumne Meadows, wandering along the river and getting acclimated a bit to the elevation. We climbed a tiny dome near the twin bridges over the river, and got some great views from there. And then it was back to camp to eat dinner and settle in for the night.

The main campground in Tuolumne Meadows was closed (as were almost all the other campgrounds in Yosemite) but the backpackers' campground was full to the brim. Everyone seemed pretty thoughtful and considerate, despite the tight conditions. There was one young guy with a guitar who started to sing Mick Jagger as it got dark, but after two songs he put the guitar away and everyone went to sleep.

Day Two: Our permit was for Nelson Lake, which is a cross-country route out of the Elizabeth Lake trailhead. We were there by eight a clock, and by 9:15 we were enjoying the views of Elizabeth Lake. From here the route is supposed to be cross-country, but there is a very clearly defined use trail out of the lake, and we were able to follow it almost all the way to the pass that led to the other side of the Cathedral Range. We say "almost" because use trails don't get maintained, and this one had its rough spots. We were not always sure we were on it, but we could tell where it wanted to go--which was also where we wanted to go--and often found it 100 feet later as we continued up the ridge.

At the top of the pass the views are pretty darn stunning, and as we looked around we found a really nice compass on the ground. Someone had obviously left it after trying to figure out which peak was which. We packed it out. If it's yours, drop us a line and we'll get it to you...

From the pass the trail was still quite easy to follow all the way down the canyon, past the Cockscomb and into some wonderful open hiking with views in all directions. Magical stuff.

We had done this hike one before, many years ago, so we knew that we had to turn left at the end of the ridge on our east side, and that's what we did. Perfect. But we also remembered that we had turned a bit too early last time, and found ourselves in some steep granite, so we wanted to avoid that this time.

Of course we turned too late, and found ourselves working a route down to the outlet stream of Nelson Lake, which is not the easiest way to get there. Grrrr. We were hot, tired, and hungry, so we did what any smart hikers would do. We sat down by the stream and ate lunch. And decided that we needed to go back up the hill. Once there, we saw the stretch of forest that leads over the ridge to the lake, and followed it to Nelson Lake.

The park only issues permits for five people a day on this trail, so we were surprised to see a camp set up right where we dropped down to the lake. The three hikers had arrived the day before, and were set up for a few days of relaxation at Nelson Lake. We left the site for them to enjoy, and hiked up the canyon half a mile to set up camp across from the huge wet meadow and lake above Nelson.

The mosquitoes at Nelson can be fierce, and the other group said they were pretty bad in the evening. But we were lucky and didn't really have any issues at all. Ten mosquitoes over the course of an evening the Sierra does not count! We rinsed our feet off in the creek, and enjoyed the amazing views all afternoon. We climbed a small granite knob behind our camp after dinner to take in the views, and then settled in for a good night's sleep.

Day Three: This day was one that M was dreading from our last trip here, and our little route finding adventure of the day before didn't help. But I had noticed a ramp of trees on the far side that looked like they would lead up to the next bench and our next destination, Reymann Lake. And I was right. It could not have been simpler. The granite was easy to walk, the trees were easy to follow, and we popped out just below the lake on a glorious open bench. Views were everywhere.

We hiked past the lake on the south side, and then tried the same technique again, following granite slabs on the right hand side up to within a a few feet of the top of the pass. This one took a bit more route finding to avoid an alder bushwhack, but it worked, and we were at the top of the pass by late morning. More amazing views here, over the whole east side of Tuolumne Meadows, Vogelsang, and Tioga Pass.

The previous time we'd done this hike we had contoured over to Tuolumne Pass from here, but this time we wanted to get straight down to the Rafferty Creek trail to set up camp. We followed the tiny creek for a bit, then cut over and climbed a ridge to eat lunch. From there it looked like a straight shot, if very steep, down to Rafferty Creek. It was, and this time our navigation was perfect. We found a campsite a hundred yards above the trail, hidden in a grove of trees, and took the rest of the day off, washing up a bit, relaxing, and enjoying the very peaceful spot.

Day Four: This was an easy day--about six miles down the Rafferty Creek trail and through Tuolumne Meadows to our car. It went flawlessly. We were at our car in about three hours, not bad for old people, and it felt great to take off the packs and collect our extra food from the bear boxes there.

We took the rest of the afternoon to have a picnic at Tenaya Lake and then drive into Yosemite Valley, where we were allowed one night at the backpacker's campground, thanks to our wilderness permit. There was a little confusion about how to get a site at the campground, but it all turned out just fine, and we were able to enjoy an afternoon and evening in the glorious embrace of Yosemite Valley. We dipped our feet in the river, ate a picnic dinner below El Capitan, and loved every minute of it.

Day Five: We could have spent part of the day here, but the siren call of a hot shower was too much to withstand. We ate breakfast under the soaring vision of North Dome, and then packed up our gear and took a leisurely drive out of the park.

In total we'd hiked about twenty miles on this trip, in three days. About eight of those miles were on trail, and another three followed the use trail out of Elizabeth Lake. The rest were pure cross country route finding. The worst mosquitoes were on Rafferty Creek, surprisingly enough. And the weather ranged from the low thirties at night to mid-seventies in the day. Only a few high clouds appeared on the last day. The rest of the trip was under those incredible blue skies of the Sierra.

The photo log is here:
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