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[Yosemite]

Help with New Backpacking Route

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

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Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby tinyisgreat » Thu Jul 06, 2017 8:23 am

Hi all! I've been studying these forums as well as others for intel on the trail conditions near Tioga Pass. I think I'm going to need to reroute my trip to something safer. My friends and I have started backpacking this past year and a half but we are in no way super skilled with a map, compass and finding our way through snowpack (granted I can read a basic map and use a compass). It sounds like even with maps and compass, people are getting lost in the snow and needing GPS in the Sunset trailhead area. Here's my originial route:

Day 1: Start from May Lake to Snow Creek trailhead (was the only one available at the time as the Sunset trailhead was full of course), backpack towards Olmsted Point and camp overnight near there or Tenaya Lake.
Day 2: Head up towards Clouds Rest and stay the night at close as possible to the peak (obviously not going to work now)
Day 3: Head back down from Clouds Rest and stay the night near Sunset Camp
Day 4: Finish our trek at Tuolumne Meadows.

I've done plenty of extensive hiking in Yosemite over the years, and have been on several small backpacking trips. This was supposed to be my first epic Yosemite backpacking trip and I'm really sad now that my intended route seems too dangerous. So, can any of you suggest a new route that has less snow pack and still has some pretty epic views or beautiful scenery? We have 4 days/3 nights and can manage up to 10 miles a day as long as the elevation changes aren't crazy.
Thank you!!
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby AlmostThere » Thu Jul 06, 2017 8:44 am

You don't say when you want to go. That can make a big difference.

You also cannot camp within a mile of any road, which rules out the area between Tenaya Lake and Mt Watkins, including Olmsted Point.
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby tinyisgreat » Thu Jul 06, 2017 9:48 am

Omg. Sorry about that. My permit is in two weeks (July 22-25). A ranger pointed out the same issue with my first night of backpacking. Any suggestions?
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby tinyisgreat » Thu Jul 06, 2017 10:17 am

The ranger did say staying over closer to Mt. Watkins on Day 1 was allowable. But that's all assuming my original route is still viable. My other thought is maybe instead of heading towards Tuolumne on Day 3, I instead head south towards the Valley. I could spend night 3 at Little Yosemite Valley or Camp 4....
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby balzaccom » Thu Jul 06, 2017 11:03 am

You can camp at Mt Watkins, but that would be a dry camp--no water, but stunning views. Nearest water might be Snow Creek. Camping at Snow Creek itself my still be banned, due to a clever and aggressive bear...
Check out our website and blog at: http://sites.google.com/site/backpackthesierra/home
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby AlmostThere » Thu Jul 06, 2017 11:23 am

I think you're perhaps confused about backpacking in Yosemite. When you're backpacking with a wilderness permit, Camp 4 is off the table - it's not a backpacking camp. Nowhere in the valley floor is wilderness. Those are front country camps.

You can't camp within a mile of roads, and then there are the places where it's just out of bounds -- draw a two mile band around Little Yosemite Valley, that's a no camping outside designated spots in LYV zone. There's a no camping zone around some of the lakes. Camping at May Lake means staying in the backpacker campsites at the High Sierra camp even though that is not really operating this year as an HSC.

You don't camp anywhere in Tuolumne Meadows -- you are either down the trail four miles out into Lyell Canyon, or you are in the backpacker camp at the Tuolumne Meadows Campground. Or, you are another four miles down canyon at Glen Aulin, or past it.

You'll want to have several itineraries in mind to get another permit. It'll be tough to get permits at this late date unless you're walking in midweek with a very small group. Thing is, the snow melting is going to continue to have an effect on any plan you make -- the water levels in streams that are usually insignificant have been stunning. Sometimes dangerous.

I'd sit down with a map if I were you. Look at trails in the southeastern area of the park. Think about the fact that mosquitos are breeding in meadows, streams are high, and while it's true that more of the snow will be melted in a couple weeks it's no guarantee it won't still be melting. You might also think about Emigrant/Hetch Hetchy area, as permits are easier to get in Groveland or on Sonora Pass.
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby tinyisgreat » Thu Jul 06, 2017 7:14 pm

Thanks, AlmostThere! I have never backpacked in Yosemite and did not realize how many out of bounds areas there actually are! I'm still not really sure what I'm going to do (there's four of us in our group, one of them a first timer). I spoke with a ranger this morning who said to give it the next two weeks to see what trail conditions are like. She seemed to think there could be a lot less snow (great) but like you said... more water (a problem for crossings). The trailhead for Sunrise might only be 3ft underwater but I'm only 5ft2in and not sure how I'd hold a pack over my head to get across! (And we REALLY wanna get up to Cloud's Rest at least). She said worst case I could leave from the same trailhead but backpack along the rim of the Valley. I still think heading south from Cloud's Rest might be my best bet... I'd have to camp the overnight somewhere south of Cloud's Rest but before Little Yosemite Valley and the junction to Half Dome (ha- I'm looking at the trailhead map again instead of my regular maps and omg, they really do block out several lengths of trails for backpacking). I also did not realize you couldn't stay at Camp 4 with a backpacking permit- thanks for the intel on that! I knew it walk-in only. Sorry- these are all my jumbled thoughts.

Balzaccom! Thanks for the Mt. Watkins suggestion. Looks beautiful on the pictures I can google. I'm sure we could carry water in for a night if we head that way. Could definitely work if I have to do the rim of the Valley route.
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby Phil » Thu Jul 06, 2017 9:37 pm

Here's the map of the closed area at Snow Creek: https://www.nps.gov/yose/learn/management/closures.htm

If you do end up going to CR, try to stay up at Watkins. It's going to be a short first day if you do (<5 miles). If the little creek below the May Lake>Snow Creek junction is dry, you may just have to go down to Snow Creek. Better yet, since it's so short, just have everyone carry at least 3-4 liters with them right from the trailhead. If there's water in the creek, fine, top off, but you don't have to pump as much, so no big deal. The alternative is a steep descent and a steep climb back up from Snow Creek to Watkins. From Watkins, the second night you'll have to at least get up to Sunrise Lakes (btw- it's Sunrise, not Sunset) or go right and begin making your way to CR, conditions permitting. You'll first get the water you need from the creek you walk over that feeds Pywiack Cascade (look at your map). From there you walk another mile and a half or so to the flat area just before the trail to the summit narrows down and climbs through the manzanita. Go trail right toward the edge of Tenaya Canyon, find a site. If CR is too snowed in to cross over, you turn around, drop down the Forsyth Trail, hit the JMT at a lower altitude and spend the night around the CRxJMT junction. Exit Happy Isles the next day, or, head back up trail just under 2 miles to the junction you passed on the way down and go over toward Merced Lake/Echo Valley, go down the Merced River, spend the next night in the area of the footbridges above Bunnell Cascade, again exit Happy Isles the next day. Other than passing through the Sunrise/CR area,(up and over-ish) you end up with a lower altitude hike that shouldn't be a constant snow-covered navigational challenge or put you into big water crossings.

But, you know, the ranger's suggestion about hiking the North Rim isn't a bad one. If that's something you might be considering, we'll go there when you decide what you want to do.

Being 5'-2", if crossing Tenaya Creek at the Sunrise trailhead is a big deal for you, have one of your taller friends make two trips with their pack and then yours. Bring DEET and a headnet for while you're standing there waiting. If you do get into any snow that lasts, be real, if your compass and route finding skills aren't solid, turn around and save yourselves a lot of grief.
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby Phil » Thu Jul 06, 2017 9:53 pm

And with that Snow Creek closure...it's been in effect for years. As you descend, it's steep, then you level out toward the bottom. as you approach the creek. Look at the boundary on the linked map and compare it to the topography to see what I'm talking about. I don't know if they have the perimeter boundary posted( likely), but there have always been sites to the right of the trail as you descend, back in the trees, that should still be legal (know for sure... signage?, trail departure coordinates from the ranger?...maybe some ducks?) As I said, there have always been sites back there, lots of people crash and burn coming up from the Valley in that area, and with the closure having lasted so long, no doubt those alternate legal sites have been nothing but cultivated to death by now.

And, btw, if you go into Snow Creek from say the footbridge down, you'll be dead in probably about 3 minutes, so be very careful pumping water anywhere in that valley.
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby babaroberto » Fri Jul 07, 2017 11:58 am

I'm in the same boat. Finally got the Sunrise Lakes trailhead for my Birthday weekend after 5 years of trying. 7th annual trip with my kids starting Monday. After posts here and speaking with a Ranger. Doing Sunrise>Cloud's Rest>Valley Floor with an 11 year old and a 14 year old does not seem wise. Her quote was the Lake outlet is 150 feet wide and 30-36' deep, followed by alternating dry patches, very wet trails and snow that drifts 6'-8' near the top. Just gutted but not willing to risk it. Still all ears for other routes. None seem to compare.
Thinking about May Lake then on to North Dome.
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby AlmostThere » Fri Jul 07, 2017 12:12 pm

"None compare" is not quite accurate. There are comparable granite filled, lake filled, high Sierra trips that are equal or better for scenery. The Sierra is filled with wonders. The limiting factor is refusing to look outside Yosemite for them.

You can find wonderful places like Little Lakes, Sabrina Basin, or Cottonwood Lakes basin out of Inyo NF trailheads on the east side. Short easy hiking, with grandeur to spare. Then there's Mineral King. Oh, and Ansel Adams Wilderness, Dinkey Wilderness, Jennie Wilderness.... Granted there will be some water issues, possibly a little snow, that's going to be the norm in the high Sierra. But some are more melted out than others and accessible.

In Yosemite you are competing with millions. Elsewhere there may still be competition, but there's plenty of wilderness left.... For incomparable, I don't bother with parks at all. But with kids, I'd be heading up into Pear Lake in SEKI, Mineral King, maybe Little Lakes or Sabrina, and take plenty of DEET and headnets.

Little Lakes Valley this year: https://flic.kr/p/UXwyRE

Devil's Bathtub near Lake Thomas Edison in John Muir Wilderness: https://flic.kr/p/edGnqT
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby babaroberto » Fri Jul 07, 2017 12:21 pm

Good advice, all of it, and we do 5 trips a year with only one in Yosemite. My limiting factor is I've been pointing to Cloud's Rest and telling the kids "One day we're gonna go there." for most of their lives. Maybe it will have to be the 10th or 15th annual trip.
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby AlmostThere » Fri Jul 07, 2017 12:24 pm

babaroberto wrote:Good advice, all of it, and we do 5 trips a year with only one in Yosemite. My limiting factor is I've been pointing to Cloud's Rest and telling the kids "One day we're gonna go there." for most of their lives. Maybe it will have to be the 10th or 15th annual trip.


I'd pull them out of school in September for a Thursday - Friday - Saturday and do a walk up permit to go. Visitation starts to drop off in fall.
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby Phil » Sat Jul 08, 2017 6:15 am

Excellent advice from AT. I wouldn't hesitate to pull the kids out for a couple/few days. September is the new July with everyone pushing trips back, but midweek, right after schools start, you can always see an instantaneous and very noticeable decline in crowds and demand for just about every aspect of YNP. But, whatever you do, don't try to defer to the school schedule and plan anything around Labor Day.
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Re: Help with New Backpacking Route

Postby tinyisgreat » Sat Jul 08, 2017 9:29 am

Haha, thank you ALL for the excellent advice. Through listening to you guys on this forum and scouring the internet for other people's experience, we're sacking the Cloud's Rest itinerary. It's not worth our safety. I spent yesterday scouring over a new route along the North Rim of the Valley, still planning a 4 day/3 night trek for two weeks from now. Here's my plan (elevation changes in parantheses)- any advice on camping, safety and water sources super helpful! Thank you again!

Starting at May Lake to Snow Creek Trailhead
Day 1- 3.6mi (750ft loss) + 1mi (same) + 1mi ( 600ft gain off trail up to Mt Watkins) = 5.6mi total
-staying the night at Mt. Watkins
-must carry water in this day, Snow Creek inaccessible and no water on Mt. Watkins

Day 2- 1mi (600ft down Mt. Watkins) + 1mi (same, back to junction) + 1.6mi (1000ft loss) + 2.6mi (1000ft gain) = 5.2mi total
-staying near Lehamite Creek and Indian Rock trail junction- is camping poss in this area? Accessible water sources on the way?

Day 3- 1.6mi (750ft loss) + 2.9mi (poss 250ft up and steep downs) = 4.5mi total to Top of Yosemite Falls!
-hang out for lunch?
0.6mi (steep up?) + 2mi (250ft up to meadows mosquitoes, water source) +1.7mi (250ft gain) + 0.2mi = 4.5mi to camp near El Capitan
Daily Total = 9mi
-is camping allowed near El Cap? Any regulations I need to know, besides staying away from cliff edges and exposed areas (lightning).
-water sources? At the meadow on the way?

Day 4- 5.9mi (level through Ribbon Meadows, then 1500ft elev loss) + 2.2mi (300ft gain) = 8.1mi to Tamarack Flat, where car is!
-Assuming water sources at the meadows
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