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[Yosemite]

Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> Mist

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

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Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> Mist

Postby dgilman » Sat Aug 05, 2017 10:08 pm

If you're curious, here's a bit about our latest trip from 7/26 - 7/30

tl;dr - bugs weren't a big issue, no smoke issues, and had a great time. If you want to do HD cables with no crowds, camp nearby and do it early. We basically had it to ourselves. Used a nice bear canister from Berikade and loved it.

Wednesday 7/26
Arrived in Valley, got previously reserved permit, setup camp in Backpacker's Campground
We were prepared for long lines and crowds, but apparently if you get in around 2:30pm on a Wednesday it's not that big of a deal. No line at Big Oak Flats for either entrance or permit pickup. Ranger reminded us about the closure at the top of the Snow Creek switchbacks, and recommended either Indian Rock or past the split with the May lake trail for camping to avoid the bear. Driving into the Valley wasn't bad at all, and there were plenty of spots in the Backpacker's campground. Trailhead parking was supposedly full at Half Dome Village, but found some parking on the side of the road. A walk into the Village store finally showed us the crowds that evening, as the lines in the general store were incredibly long. Got some food at the grill and called it a night.

Thursday 7/27
Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> Just past the split with May Lake trail
Going up Snow Creek out of the Valley is as bad as they say it is, especially with a pack full of water and food for 4 nights. Bugs were never horrible, but did use the head-net a few times. Upside was that we saw very few people and no crowds at all. We got an early start to beat the heat, but the reality is that it's hot and steep and long. The views of Half Dome and North Dome were really spectacular, and at the end of the day you eventually make it to the top. After the switchbacks the hike to the footbridge was cake, but wasn't expecting the additional uphill to the split with the May Lake trail. About 100 yards after the split there is a nice established camp on the left side with a fire ring and easy access to the creek for water. Pitched the tent, started a fire for fun (weather was warm), and rested our tired feet. One note - we were a little sloppy with food, and came back from filling our water bladders to find bite marks from a rodent or bird in a summer sausage that was left out. After that, our first order of business when we made camp was to take any food we had used during the day and get it in the bear canister.

Friday 7/28
Snow Creek -> Tenaya -> Just short (North) of Cloud's Rest
This section of hike was really wonderful, even if you start to get road noise from 120. The vault toilet at Tenaya was quite welcome, as well as a chance to dump trash, etc. We had originally planned to camp at Sunrise Lakes, but given some bug reports we got while on trail, decided to skip it. We had lunch at the trail junction and then headed up to Cloud's Rest. From a previous post I had the location of a nice camping spot on the canyon rim. Those coordinates were off, but while fumbling around we managed to find something nice. While we probably could have gone up and over, it was nice to take it easy and enjoy the backcountry. I was glad we were aware of the last water on the route and filled ourselves up to handle that evening into the next day. On this day we started seeing more people, and ran into some large groups that were camping closer to the last water source.

Saturday 7/29
Cloud's Rest -> Just north of the JMT
I had been to CR this past November, but it was my wife's first time, so we spent about an hour hanging out after summiting. Then it was down down down to camp just before the JMT split. Here we encountered the expected day hikers, including those people who think playing music out of a speaker on the trail in somehow acceptable. I wasn't sure where exactly we'd camp, and we ended up at literally the first camp before the JMT/CR split, on the left when coming down from CR. It wasn't the most secluded spot, but we were able to set the tent up behind a rock and leave the fly off. Water was down a steep hill but easy to manage. With the short day we spent most of the time after making camp trying to avoid the sun and rest for our hike up HD.

Sunday 7/30
JMT -> HD -> Mist Trail -> Happy Isles
Leaving camp at 5:30am, we headed towards HD. We dropped our bags at the split, making sure to be bear aware. Given the two mile uphill hike, it was well worth it to go against the NPS recommendation on leaving bags there. When we got to the base of HD, we ran into some folks coming down who had been there for sunrise. We headed up the cables and for the most part we were the only ones on them for the whole assent. Upon summiting we found one other party there but otherwise had the place to ourselves. Looked around, hung out, and then headed back down after about an hour. Again, on the way down we pretty much had the cables to ourselves, other than one other party a little bit ahead of us. After getting down we hiked out, running into streams of people headed for the base. When we got back to the split the Ranger was finally there checking permits. I was so disappointed she wasn't at the post when we went up, I asked her to check my permit even though we were done. A few notes here - some people approached who didn't have permits, and within 5 minutes of them sitting there, another party arrived that had extra space. For some other folks, they had gotten the walk-up permit. All of this is to say, if you don't have a permit, but will be in Yosemite anyways, it may be worth it to roll the dice. Especially if you've travelled far and won't have another chance again. Yes, Cloud's Rest is a better view. But there is something special about going up the cables and being at the top of Half Dome.

After that, it was the basic scramble down to the Valley via the Mist trail. Tons of people there, and honestly I was forced to be pretty aggressive to protect space for me and my wife while going down the steps. Made it back to the car, changed, and then back to Berkeley.

Track is here - https://adventures.garmin.com/en-US/by/ ... -2017-trip
Photos here - https://goo.gl/photos/1pPriWFVx67Fz3XJ6

This group was great in getting me prepared, so happy to give back if I can.

Thank you!

David

PS - Suggestions for what to do next?
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Re: Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> M

Postby Phil » Sat Aug 05, 2017 11:47 pm

Thanks for the report, David. I'm glad you had a good time. It's been a pleasure.

Next?

How about Ten Lakes or up to Lower Ottoway Lake?
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Re: Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> M

Postby apieceofwork » Mon Aug 07, 2017 11:20 am

David,

Thanks for the report. My wife and I are planning our first trip to Yosemite in the late summer/early fall, and are considering part of this route. The research is a bit overwhelming, partly because of the sheer number of options in Yosemite, but also because we are planning a trip to Sequoia, PCH, Santa Barbra and LA all in the same (long) vacation, so forgive me if some of my questions are rudimentary.

It looks like it's about 3.7 miles from Mirror Lake to Snow Creek falls. Are there campsites near the falls, or will we want to continue past the falls to find a campsite? It looks like there is a great campsite at Snow Creek directly across from Half Dome.

We'd like to spend 2-3 nights camping. I'm thinking we could start at Mirror Lake and hike to Tenaya Lake, then take a shuttle back to our car at Mirror, or do the opposite and begin at Tenaya and hike down to Mirror Lake, allowing for a less strenuous hike.

What would you recommend?
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Re: Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> M

Postby dgilman » Mon Aug 07, 2017 1:39 pm

Hello.

There is no camping from the top of the Snow Creek trail switchbacks to the footbridge, due to bear activity. See here -
https://www.nps.gov/yose/learn/management/closures.htm

Furthermore, the Ranger recommends going further, either to Indian Rock or past the split with the May Lake trail. That's what we did. We camped just past the split with May Lake, on the left side of the trail in an established camp.

My GPS tells me it was 7.7 miles from the Backpacker's Campground to where we stopped, and it took us 7.5 hours, including stops along the way. Depending on your experience hiking with a pack, I don't see why you couldn't do it. You could then do the hike to Tenaya on Day #2.

Others may have more advice on recommendations.

David
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Re: Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> M

Postby Phil » Mon Aug 07, 2017 9:24 pm

apieceofwork wrote:It looks like it's about 3.7 miles from Mirror Lake to Snow Creek falls. Are there campsites near the falls, or will we want to continue past the falls to find a campsite? It looks like there is a great campsite at Snow Creek directly across from Half Dome.


That first mile is basically flat and takes you to the back of Mirror Lake. The next 2.5 is definitely not, as David and his wife discovered. In fact, the Snow Creek Trail has the steepest gradient of any coming out of the valley. You'll want an early start, a hat, and plenty of water. If you wonder why it's usually the only walk-up permit available coming out of the valley, you now know why. Once you've made it to the top of the switchbacks, the final 0.1 or so mile to the footbridge is also basically flat.

Also as mentioned and linked by David, the camping at the top of the falls/flat is restricted because of aggressive bear activity. Very observant of you though- there are some sites up there that are amazing. Unfortunately, you'll have to pass them up for the time being. Instead, find the area at the junction David is talking about since it will keep you going along your planned route.

Speaking of route: that's not 3 days. At best it's 2 nights if you really stretch it out and also do a night up on Mt Watkins with a ridiculously short 2nd day that's less than a couple miles from your previous night's site (Watkins is dry camping, you'll need to haul water in or go back for it). Too much closer to Olmstead Pt and Tioga Rd and you run into more camping restrictions because of the 1 mile setback requirement. I would reasonably consider what you have planned as an overnighter for just about anyone, regardless of ability.

However, if you do want to get more time out there and avoid the shuttle back to the valley, you could always switch over and go straight at the bridge over Snow Creek and over to Indian Rock, North Dome, Lehamite Creek, and then loop back to the valley down the Yosemite Falls Trail. You'll have a longer hike (2 nights?- about 17 miles total on the full loop), several nice places to camp with views, and reasonably abundant water sources: Probably Royal Arch Creek, definitely Lehamite and Yosemite Creeks. This trip would be generally called, the East end of the North Rim. If you're pressed for time, but still want to get out for a nice hike with some great views along the way, this is certainly one to consider. Just be advised that it's a tough climb up to Snow Creek and a big descent that's hard on the feet and knees down the Falls Trail.
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Re: Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> M

Postby dgilman » Mon Aug 07, 2017 9:49 pm

Phil wrote:Speaking of route: that's not 3 days. At best it's 2 nights if you really stretch it out and also do a night up on Mt Watkins with a ridiculously short 2nd day that's less than a couple miles from your previous night's site (Watkins is dry camping, you'll need to haul water in or go back for it). Too much closer to Olmstead Pt and Tioga Rd and you run into more camping restrictions because of the 1 mile setback requirement. I would reasonably consider what you have planned as an overnighter for just about anyone, regardless of ability.


Yes - Mirror Lake --> Tenaya is really two days. The route I wrote up is three nights, and really you could do it in two nights - if you camp where I suggested off Snow Creek and then before CR, the next day is pretty easy to make it back down to the valley, either via the Mist or the easier on the knees JMT. We only took an extra night to get Half Dome in.

David
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Re: Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> M

Postby Phil » Mon Aug 07, 2017 10:09 pm

Yes, David's overall route would also be fairly easy to do in 3-4 days. It's a far more scenic and longer loop (~20+ miles). And, if you do begin at the base of the Snow Creek Trail, you'll avoid all the hassles of permitting that people beginning the trip over Cloud's Rest and back to the valley via the JMT on the VERY popular Sunrise trailhead at Tenaya Lake encounter. But, don't doubt for a second that you're going to have to work for that privilege with a lot more serious uphill.
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Re: Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> M

Postby apieceofwork » Tue Aug 08, 2017 5:54 am

Thank you for the replies. After Yosemite we are driving to Sequoia to backpack for a night or two. This is giving me pause about climbing out of the valley via Snow Creek. While in Vail, we hiked Gore Creek trail which had 3,000 ft elevation gain in 5 miles, and Snow Creek is the roughly same elevation gain in about half the distance. Gore Creek was challenging, but nothing I couldn't handle. My 5'0 wife with short little legs had a tough time, though. She's also more susceptible to fatigue via elevation than I am. I don't want to put her in a situation where the experience and her enjoyment is compromised because the hike is too much for her. I want the hike to be challenging, but don't want either of us to feel trashed at the end of the trip since we will have another backpacking trip immediately afterward.
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Re: Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> M

Postby dgilman » Tue Aug 08, 2017 8:47 am

apieceofwork wrote:I want the hike to be challenging, but don't want either of us to feel trashed at the end of the trip since we will have another backpacking trip immediately afterward.


Look, Snow Creek sucks, there's no way around it. And the additional uphill after the footbridge is certainly not welcome. But - we never felt trashed, and if you start early enough, you have plenty of time to make camp and relax before the next day. The route (in total) I describe has a lot of uphill, switchbacks and hard work, but the rewards are well worth it.

Keep your wife's pack as light as possible, take breaks going up Snow Creek, and, if it helps, do a count of the switchbacks so you can keep a goal in mind.

David
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Re: Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> M

Postby tsarles » Fri Sep 22, 2017 1:41 pm

David,

Thanks you so much for this informative trip report. I'm thinking of doing a similar trip from Tenaya->Yosemite Valley as a 2/3 or 1/2 first weekend of October. We are two very physically fit adults in our early 20's, we have minimal experience backpacking but have done 14+ mile day hikes. I had just a few questions for you

1. Why did you decide to save HD for the last day instead of doing it the day you descended from Cloud's rest? Would there be enough time/energy to include a HD trip after setting up camp at the JMT/CR junction? How much time did you spend away from the sun at your campsite?
2. Where did you camp north of CR? Could you provide coordinates? Would it be possible to hike up there for sunrise/sunset from your camp?
3. How much water did you bring up from the last source before CR? We wont be cooking much, just for coffee and hydration.

Our tentative plan is to drive up from SF at 4 am to grab first come first serve passes from Tuolumne Friday morning. Our plan will depend on whether we get day of or day after hiking. We understand the risk of first come first serve permits, but I'm pretty confident if we go early enough this late in the season.

If we get Friday wilderness permits our plan will be:
Friday:
1. Begin ascent to Cloud's rest at 11AM, stopping by first Sunrise Lake on the way, filling up on water (at least 4L per person) from the last creek before the final ascent to the summit.
2. Camp north side of CR 0.5 miles before the summit as mentioned earlier.
Saturday:
3. Pack up camp early, begin descent to JMT/CR junction and set up camp by Sunrise Creek.
4. Immediately summit Half dome after setting up and then return to camp for the night.
Sunday:
5. Descend down to the valley and hitchhike back to our cars.

If we get day after wilderness permits our plan will be:
Saturday:
1. Begin ascent to Cloud's rest at 6AM
2. Spend an hour on CR summit descend to JMT/CR junction and camp overnight by Sunrise Creek.
Sunday:
4. Pack up camp early head to Half Dome, drop packs at Half dome/JMT junction and summit Half Dome
5. Pick up packs, descend down to the valley and hitchhike back to our cars.

Are either of these plans too ambitious?
Is camping north of CR a significantly better campsite than by Sunrise creek in terms of aesthetics?
How did you get back to your cars at Sunrise Trailhead lot? How realistic would it be to hitchhike from the valley?
Would early October be too late in the season in terms of weather for this trail?

Any input would be greatly appreciated!!
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Re: Trip Report - Mirror Lake -> Snow Creek -> CR -> HD -> M

Postby dgilman » Fri Sep 22, 2017 10:14 pm

Hello.

A lot of the regulars here are smarter than me, but I'll do what I can. I will say that if you often day hike, you may not appreciate the difference that 30 pounds can make on your back - especially with the elevation of your route. I would definitely try to make this a three-day affair if you can. Also, assuming the cables are still up, don't forget you need a permit to climb HD as well.

Other random things to keep in mind if you don't do a lot of backpacking:
-You'll need a bear cannister for your food. You can rent them in Yosemite, but I rented mine locally so I could practice packing it. Everything with human scent needs to fit in there at night, including your toiletries.
-Be prepared for changing conditions. Rain or snow on a day hike is very different than rain or snow at 2am when you're in the backcountry. Do you have backup gear and plans?
-

1. Why did you decide to save HD for the last day instead of doing it the day you descended from Cloud's rest? Would there be enough time/energy to include a HD trip after setting up camp at the JMT/CR junction? How much time did you spend away from the sun at your campsite?

We did this so we could visit HD when it was empty. Although to be honest, it would have been a really long day going over CR, to HD, up, down, and then back to the CR/JMT junction to camp. By camping at the CR/JMT split we were able to take it easy, get up early, and then do the cables with no crowds.

2. Where did you camp north of CR? Could you provide coordinates? Would it be possible to hike up there for sunrise/sunset from your camp?

Somewhere around 37°46'35.3"N 119°29'01.7"W We left the trail and wandered around till we found a flat spot. Definitely easy to be at CR for sunset/sunrise, especially without packs.

3. How much water did you bring up from the last source before CR? We wont be cooking much, just for coffee and hydration.
.
We probably did 8 liters between the two of us, but we're careful like that. We knew we'd need water for the rest of the trail, dinner, breakfast, lunch and then the trail to the CR/JMT.

Is camping north of CR a significantly better campsite than by Sunrise creek in terms of aesthetics?

I think so, but YMMV. It's hard to beat those views of the canyon and the isolation off the trail.

How did you get back to your cars at Sunrise Trailhead lot? How realistic would it be to hitchhike from the valley?

We did a loop from the Valley, so we ended up at our car. I hear people hitchhike all the time, others here may have better advice.

Would early October be too late in the season in terms of weather for this trail?

It depends on your gear. I did a lot of this trail last the second week of November, and while there was snow on the ground the daytime temps were great and I really enjoyed it.

David
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