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[Yosemite]

Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Hiking, backpacking, running, biking, climbing, rafting, and other human-powered activities in Yosemite National Park

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Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby Caminante » Mon Sep 19, 2016 11:00 am

Hello everyone,

My buddy and I who are east coast backpackers will be doing our first trip out west to Yosemite the last week of September. We have entry & exit @ Happy Isles with 3 nights in the backcountry (first night at LYV). Compared to the logistics of hiking in the Smokies, the logistics for Yosemite are a little daunting, but at least we have our permit! I've been reading through many of the informative threads here, but still have a few questions in terms of a good loop at this time of year.

1. Does camping night #1 at LYV, night #2 at Sunrise Lakes, and night #3 somewhere before or after CR make sense? Then back to HI. We do 3-4,000 feet days in the Smokies, but I'm not sure how the additional altitude will impact us. Also, not sure I want really long days as I want time to soak the place in and take some photos.

2. From another thread I saw that there is good camping just on the north side of CR, but looks like that would be a long day back to HI going over CR, though largely downhill after CR. Maybe just continue down the south side and find a spot to camp for night #3?

3. Alternatively, would it be more sensible given our lack of familiarity and potentially low water this time of year to instead hike to Merced Lake through LYV and spend the night there? Maybe hike back for night #3 on the trail that goes up to the JMT and find a spot off trail before LYV?

My buddy will be in a tent and I'm in a hammock if that makes any difference in terms of site selection. We'll spend a night before and a night after in the backpackers' camp in the valley and probably do some "tourist in the valley" stuff the day after we get back to HI. Thanks for your input.
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby balzaccom » Mon Sep 19, 2016 5:48 pm

All of that is perfectly within reason. None of those days is more than about 8 miles, and you have all day to do that. (Admittedly, the days are shorter now...)

I think Clouds Rest to Happy Isles is about a bit more than 11 miles...But why stay in at Sunrise one day, and the CR the next day--that's only about two miles! Why not camp at LYV, then day hike up to Clouds Rest for the day, return to LYV for the night, and then hike out.

Best view is from Clouds Rest.
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby Phil » Mon Sep 19, 2016 7:05 pm

Hey,

You could go up the Merced River past LYV. Spend the first night up above Bunnell Cascade on the river there, or go on up to Merced Lake. Then up Echo Valley and over to the JMT, either to the Forsyth Trail spur over to the north side of CR for the sites there (you'll have to carry or hike a bit for water), or over to Sunrise HSC and to the lakes for night 2. Then over CR and down to Sunrise Creek (it is flowing) or LYV for the 3rd and final night. Day 4 is back out to Happy Isles.

The stamina you have with 3-4k days back east will help, but doing it at 7-almost 10k is going to make it slower and harder than what you're used to. A night ahead of time at the backpacker's camp in the Valley isn't going to count much for acclimatizing to altitude.
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby Caminante » Tue Sep 20, 2016 6:44 am

Thanks for the feedback, guys. It seems like our itinerary is at least feasible and we can probably evaluate how we feel once we're at LYV in terms of Sunrise vs Merced. My understanding is that we must stay in LYV the first night, which is probably fine since I'm not sure exactly what time we'll wind up starting our hike.

I'm definitely moderately concerned about the impact of altitude (but hoping the low humidity gives me an energy boost ;)) and day hiking CR is appealing. I'll be taking my micro-four thirds camera and I'm really interested in a sunrise and/or sunset from CR, but of course camping at a lower elevation (especially with a hammock based on pictures I've seen of the peak...).

Thanks again.
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby Phil » Tue Sep 20, 2016 7:32 am

The thing with the route up the Merced, but not necessarily going to Merced Lake, is that you can do it as a loop back to Sunrise Creek. You'll still climb, but it's primarily in more gradual bite-sized stages than a straight shot up to Sunrise, then up to CR from LYV. And it's much more scenic by virtue of being less forested, with better vistas, in more places. You'll also get into what many of us would consider less of the highway that the JMT is, and therefore, a better idea of what YNP's wilderness is about. You'll have to refer to your map to see and understand more of what your options are.

The other thing is that, in order to capture a sunrise/sunset from CR, you're going to be best positioned for that by camping on the north side of the summit and taking the last bit of trail, sans pack, in less that half an hour. Having to hike in or out to CR by headlamp doesn't only suck, it's not really a good idea for several reasons. The views of Tenaya Canyon from many of those sites are also incredible. You can haul a couple extra liters of water for camp the last few miles to your campsite up from Sunrise Creek as you pass by.
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby Caminante » Tue Sep 20, 2016 8:40 am

Thanks for the additional feedback, Phil. Sorry to be daft, but is this more or less the loop you're suggesting? Or are you saying go beyond LYV the first night which I didn't realize that we could do? I did paint the trail all the way to Merced L, realizing that you're suggesting that we might stop short of that. Probably makes for a long final day the way I've drawn it, but we'll be lighter and headed downhill, the knees can recover later. If we can go beyond LYV the first night, then that sounds very attractive in terms of getting down CR and to LYV for the final night.

Noted on hiking CR in the dark. The Appalachians don't tend to be knife's edges with deadly drops on either side.

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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby Phil » Tue Sep 20, 2016 9:34 am

That's the loop, but taking out Merced Lake. I'm not sure what your permit limitations are, but some will force you to camp the first night at LYV, and others are pass-throughs, in which case you'll have to get at least to Sunrise above the Half Dome spur on the JMT or just past Moraine Dome. You'll need to clarify that with your reservation, or better yet, by phone. Tell the ranger what you want to do. If they can make it work, they will. If you can pass through LYV and hit Bunnell or Echo Valley, it's better for more private "wilderness" sites, plenty of water, and a shorter second day. The third day really won't be that hard if you're positioned near CR. You can then head down (it is steep and hard on the knees) and either camp along Sunrise Creek at the CRxJMT junction (or slightly down to the left in the rocks), or head on down to LYV for the night. In either case, your exit to Happy Isles on the final day should be no big deal.

If you are restricted to camping at LYV the first night, since crowds and permit demand are usually lower this time of year, you may be able to make that change in order to go further without too much problem. In this case, even if you hit the wall and absolutely have to stop at LYV, you can. However, if that is where you absolutely have to stop, but do want to continue, getting caught doing it is going to end your trip right then and there, and it'll get you cited to the tune of about $300. Options are good, so make that phone call.

Also, do keep your food storage tight throughout your entire route. The bears are a real issue and very good at obtaining the food of the even slightly careless.
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby Caminante » Tue Sep 20, 2016 10:28 am

Thanks again, Phil. I appreciate the input and I'm going to try and modify my permit (which is stop at LYV). We're starting on a Thursday, so hopefully it won't be a problem to extend our options. That is great advice.

We both recently bought BV-450's and have been reviewing the protocol. GSMNP has a pretty active black bear population but relies on cables installed at the designated backcountry sites that you must camp at. Generally in NC, you can hang a bag using the PCT method and be safe. However, we're now starting to see bear canister restrictions in the Shining Rock Wilderness which, I suspect, will expand to more and more areas on the east coast so we went ahead and purchased. My pack is actually a DIY job that I designed around the BV-450 dimensions, so should be an adventure.

This was last week in Cataloochee Valley in GSMNP:

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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby MadDiver » Tue Sep 20, 2016 12:25 pm

Just an fyi, I've read many recent reports of below freezing temps at night so be ready for that. If you do want to stay up near CR, I put together a map and info for some other people earlier this year in this thread: viewtopic.php?f=7&t=3627 Note the "last water" is if you come from the north not the south.

Nice bear pic!

Enjoy!
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby Caminante » Tue Sep 20, 2016 1:16 pm

Thanks, MadDiver - I read that thread with interest and have your map. Always nice to have access to some firsthand knowledge.

Based on empirical data, I'm good to about 15F with my current hammock setup. I wouldn't mind some cool weather, but I hope to not get much below freezing just for general enjoyment! Might have to adjust around planning our camps at particular elevations.

I use the following weather website for the Smokies with pretty good success, and noted that they have CR weather. I like this site because it gives you forecasts at different elevations. Anybody used it for CR? Looks chilly on top, but we'd certainly be camping further down.

http://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/ ... casts/3025
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby Phil » Tue Sep 20, 2016 10:43 pm

We don't see many pure black bears in Yosemite. Mostly brown and blonde. I'm surprised they're allowing the BVs in the Smokies, because that's where I understand most of the canister breaches involving that model have occurred.

Since you saw MD's map, you now know exactly where the best sites are located on the north ascent of CR.

If you don't get a reserved modification on your permit over the phone, 40% of the LYV pass-throughs are first-come, first-served, and you still have a good chance of being able to make that modification as a walk-up while you're standing at the counter. Even if you forego the Merced/ Lost Valley route, bypassing LYV and spending the first night at Sunrise Creek will make your trip that much better and get you into it all faster. If you can do that, expanding your loop to include Sunrise Lakes on night 2 is entirely feasible. Then you just complete the loop to include CR, either staying at the 'X' on MD's map or back to Sunrise or LYV for night 3.
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby Caminante » Wed Sep 21, 2016 5:54 am

I'm going to call today and see if I can make a pass-through happen - otherwise, we hopefully have a good chance as you say when we walk-up. Maybe being a little later in the season and a Thursday will help.

I probably wasn't clear on the Smokies - nobody uses a canister there. You're required to stay at designated backcountry sites and they all have permanent cables strung between trees. In my personal experience, this system works well against bears and moderately well against mice, so nobody carries the extra weight of a canister. Shining Rock Wilderness in NC is a different story, and has now mandated canisters. They've had a fair number of encounters and don't have great trees for setting up permanent cables like GSMNP does. I'm just guessing it will spread, especially if the NPS goes after a more integrated bear/food management strategy, and therefore I invested instead of renting. And apparently I have a stool now.
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby AlmostThere » Wed Sep 21, 2016 8:30 am

Well, with the trees dying off the way they have been here due to climate change, drought and the bark beetle, there's not going to be any way to hang anything properly in California. Biologists have lodged the opinion that bears can get a properly hung bag easily if they want to -- so that's a nonstarter for me. Here, the bears are highly motivated to get your food -- not you, just the food. String a rope between trees and the bears will just break the rope. They train cubs to do it. Bears have been known to climb high into trees and dive through the air to catch a well hung bag of food on the way to the ground. Pretty much the safest thing to do is the canister from the approved bear canister list, for Yosemite.

I recently saw a picture of a Bear Vault with the bottom broken out of it, from the Adirondaks. There is also a bear who knows how to pop the lid off by putting all his weight on the side of the can, here in Kings Canyon NP. Needless to say I have a different brand of can.

Remember to clean out your car well if you have one -- no trash. The bears know how to break into them in Yosemite.
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby balzaccom » Wed Sep 21, 2016 9:13 am

Actually, in parts of the Sierra with serious bear problems, the NPS has installed solid steel bear boxes in popular campsites. It's not exactly wilderness perfection, but it works better than anything else.

Too many people don't take proper precautions with food around bears.
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Re: Noob: Happy Isles Loop

Postby AlmostThere » Wed Sep 21, 2016 9:23 am

Yes, camping near bear lockers works. But that leads to camping with up to a dozen other people... we tend to go off trail. People relying on lockers are usually told, at least when I've been standing in the wilderness office for the lectures, that they should carry the canister in case the lockers get full, of people's food or abandoned junk left by people who care more about themselves than being polite.
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