Winter at Ottaway Lakes

Day 1: Happy Isles to Merced Meadow (March 26, 2014)

This was my third snowshoing trip up Happy Isles into the Yosemite high country. The climb is always a challenge, and this year it was wet and snowy. NOAA had issued a winter weather advisory for the area we were heading into, calling for winds above 30 mph and significant snowfall above 6,000 ft.

IMG_6813Flurries were already falling as we packed up our gear and started up the trail. When we reached the bottom of Nevada Falls it was snowing steadily. By the time we crossed the top of the falls, the snow was falling fast and the wind was begining to pick up. As we continued up the ridge above the falls, we passed a group of day hikers heading back to the valley. It was clear the weather had caught them by surprise.

My legs were feeling the load of a full pack and 5,000 ft of climbing out of the valley as we crested the ridge. The snow was now about 6 inches deep as we made our way past Mt Starr King.

We made camp near Merced Meadow. It was snowing hard as we set up camp and retrieted into our tents. The snow turned to rain as the sun set.

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Crossing the top of Nevada Falls

Day 2: Merced Meadow to Lower Merced Pass Lake (March 27, 2014)

I woke up to the sound of an owl hooting near by. Snow continued to fall last night until sometime after I fell asleep. The air was chilly and the sky blue when I climbed out of the tent.

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We hit the trail around 9:00 AM. The trail was burried under about 8 inches of snow as we made our way through long stretches of redwoods, sagging under the weight of fresh IMG_6891snowfall. After a few miles, the trail begain to climb towards Merced Pass Lake. As we climbed, the snow became deeper until we were setting new tracks into knee deep powder.

Clouds began to cover the sky as we came up to Lower Merced Pass Lake. The lake was frozen over and covered in a thick layer of snow. We made camp at the lake edge.

As the sun began to set, I cleaned up from dinner and climbed into the tent. The air was still and the temperature had dropped significantly as I climbed into my sleeping bag for the night. The sound of sleet falling on the tent started up as I drifted off to sleep.

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Camp at Lower Merced Pass Lake

Day 3: Lower Merced Pass Lake to Lower Ottoway Lake (March 28, 2016)

The night was cold.

When the sun started to shine, I could see that the inside of the tent was covered in frost. It looked like the inside of a freezer. Getting up was a challenge. Every move knocked frost from the sides of the tent down on me. I felt like it was snowing inside the tent!

Outside, the sky was clear and the air brisk. My boots were icy and stiff, but warmed up quick as I moved around making breakfast and coffee.

IMG_6955We started up the trail putting first tracks in the deep powdery snow as we made our way up to Lower Ottoway Lake. The day warmed up quickly, and the snow became soft and heavy under our feet. Along the way we got a view back towards the valley. The south face of Half Dome looked like just another distant rolling hill of the High Sierra.

Ottoway Lake was covered in snow with an outlet stream flowing slowly down towards the valley. At the edge of the lake we stood at the base of three large peaks that towered above (Red Peak, Ottoway Peak, and Merced Peak). The view was fantastic!

We hung out at the lake for a while, eating lunch before heading back to camp at Merced Lake. It was a warm, quick hike back.

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Lower Ottoway Lake

Day 4: Lower Merced Pass Lake to Happy Isles (March 29, 2016)

IMG_7018It was another cold night. The sky was cloudy as we packed up camp and made our way back to the car. The hike back was down hill and fast. We quickly decended out of the snow, and were back on snow free trail as we made our way past Mt Starr King towards Nevada Falls. All the snow that had fallen on our first day out had melted in the last couple days.

Back at the car, the clouds grew thicker and a light rain began to fall as we loaded up and headed back home.


See more photos from this trip on Flickr!

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Tenaya Lake and Beyond!

Day 3: Tenaya Lake & Snow Creek Cabin (March 29, 2013)

Frosty TentsThe morning was very cold with a thick layer of frost covering the tents, so we didn’t waste time packing up and getting on our way. Once we got out of the small valley we camped in the temperature warmed up significantly. The sun was out and a few clouds floated overhead.

The four miles between camp and Tenaya Lake were mostly down hill and went by quickly. We arrived at Tenaya about noon. The lake was frozen over with a layer of blue ice. We could see ski tracks crisscrossing the surface.

Ice covered Tenaya Lake

Ice covered Tenaya Lake

From Tenaya we were going to follow Tioga Pass towards Snow Creek cabin. Before we could continue down the road, we first had to cross the wide outlet of Tenaya Lake and there was no bridge… We found a section that was fairly shallow and would let us cross to a snow free patch of river bank.

Tenaya outlet crossing

Stepping out of the boots onto the cold snow was accompanied by a few yelps of shock. The snow bank held us about a foot and a half above the water and the first step down was taken with visions of the snow breaking away under foot flashing through my head. The water felt surprisingly warm compared to the snow moments before, but after a few steps the cold crept in and my toes began to tingle, each step getting a little shakier as the cold water numbed my feet. Back on the dry river bank we stopped for lunch and let our feet dry and warm up in the sun. The air temperature was quite pleasant.

Making our way down Tioga Pass

Making our way down Tioga Pass

After lunch we started our way down Tioga Pass towards the Tuolumne Meadows Trail. We were getting the full force of the afternoon sun as we made our way down the road. The sun had made the snow quite soft which made for slow going with the snow shoes. Hiking was hot and slow, but offered some spectacular views of Clouds Rest.

Clouds Rest's granite face

Clouds Rest’s granite face from Tioga Pass

Once we reached Tuolumne Meadows Trail, we left the road and started descending towards Snow Creek Cabin. The trail was marked by license plates attached to trees high above snow line. We lost the trail markers as we descended from the ridge where we found the stream that the cabin was supposed to be by.

The exact location of the cabin is not clearly marked on maps and does not appear on the Tom Harrison map that I had. So we were following GPS coordinates that we found online along with a vague description of the location of the cabin. We found the intersection of the Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows trails. From there is was a matter of fanning out and playing a game of hide-and-seek with a cabin. We wondered the woods for 15 to 20 minutes before I spotted the cabin peaking out between the trees!

Snow Creek Cabin

Snow Creek Cabin

The cabin was far greater than any of us imagined! It was two floors complete with a wood stove in the living area, a kitchen (no plumbing or electricity, but it did have a propane stove!), three bedrooms, outhouse, and an ample supply of dry wood! There were cards, board games, books, dishes, and even a guitar! We were the only ones there, so we got a fire going and enjoyed a warm evening in a backcountry cabin.

Snow Creek Cabin - Living Area

Living area

Kitchen

Kitchen

Warming up by the fire

Warming up by the fire

Day 4: Descending Snow Creek Trail (March 30, 2013)

Bridge over Snow Creek

The next morning we closed up the cabin and started our way down Snow Creek Trail to the valley floor. This trail descended gradually for a couple of miles before we started down the 108 switchbacks to the valley floor. The descent was steep and offered great views of the valley below, but I was very glad we didn’t climb this route our first day out.

It wasn’t long before we were back at the car and on the road back to the Bay Area. The end of amazing trips is always sad, but it was a great feeling to have conquered Clouds Rest in the snow!

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Don’t miss out on the first half of this trip!

For more photos check out the album on Flickr!

Descending Snow Creek

Descending Snow Creek

Clouds Rest 2.0

Having been defeated by snow conditions the previous year, we were back in Yosemite to attempt a summit of Clouds Rest in the snow. The goal once again, was to loop the valley starting at Happy Isles trailhead and climbing up-and-over Clouds Rest on our way to Tenaya Lake, returning via Tioga Pass and the Snow Creek trail to complete the loop.

Day 1: Happy Isles to JMT Cutoff (March 27, 2013)

Vernal Falls as seen from the Mist trail

Vernal Falls as seen from the Mist trail

This winter had been warmer and dryer than the previous. This was evident as we made our way up the Mist trail towards Little Yosemite Valley (LYV). Most years, this trail is still closed in March due to icy trail conditions. Not a problem this year.

Using the Mist trail cut about 1.5 miles off the distance to LYV where we had camped the year before. This year however, we continued a short ways past to where the John Muir Trail split from the Clouds Rest summit trail.

We made camp near this junction. The ground was mostly free of snow, and there was a stream flowing nearby for water. It was about 4:30PM as we made camp and it began to rain.

The next day we would be attempting the summit of Clouds Rest!

Day 2: Clouds Rest Summit Day (March 28, 2013)

The morning was cool, and the tents damp from the nights rain. We didn’t waste much time breaking down camp as we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to summit Clouds Rest.

We hit the trail at 9:00AM. The sky was partly cloudy. It wasn’t until after the main switchbacks that we needed to put on snowshoes (The previous year we were in snowshoes starting from LYV).

Climbing Clouds Rest

The condition of the snow was very good as we worked our way towards the summit. The weather was on our side as we made the final steep push that had turned us back the year before. Where there had been a sheet of ice, there was now dry steps leading us to the summit.

We made it!

Winter Summit - Clouds Rest

On the summit of Clouds Rest (9,931 ft)

On the summit just after noon, we could see for miles. The sun was out, but dark clouds were hanging in the distance.

With another summit under our belts, we turned our attention to getting down before more weather moved in. We made our way off the other side of the summit, down the knife edge.

Paul making his way off the summit with Tenaya Lake in the distance

Paul making his way off the summit with Tenaya Lake in the distance

Camp night 2 (Photo Credit: Paul)

Camp night 2 (Photo Credit: Paul)

From the summit, we made our way into the neighboring valley for camp. The valley was deep with snow, and it took some time to build a sturdy platform for the tent. We were once again camping near a stream, though this one was buried under about 4 feet of snow.

The clouds moved in for night two of weather and it began snowing. As daylight faded, large, heavy snow flakes began falling and we retreated to the tents.

It had been a long day of snowshoeing, but the satisfaction of completing the summit was immense! The next day we would be making our way to Tenaya lake then onward to Snow Creek Cabin.

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Continue with the second half of this trip HERE!

Check out more photos on Flickr!

Walking Among Giants

Day 3: Alta Meadows to Wolverton Cutoff Ridge (November 24, 2012)

The snow had adjusted under my weight during the night leaving me with an uncomfortable position for my back and causing me to get up with the sun. The air was cold as the sun slowly climbed out from behind the ridge, its warmth only reaching us after breakfast.

We took our time with breakfast and breaking down camp since we didn’t have far to hike. We were heading towards Wolverton Cutoff, which would take us over the ridge towards the Giant Sequoias and back to the car.

Descending towards the High Sierra Trail

Descending towards the High Sierra Trail

The sun had warmed the air significantly by the time we started down the trail at about 10 AM. We backtracked 2.2 miles towards the Merhtan Creek trail split, then descended another 2.2 miles to the High Sierra Trail.

Merhtan Creek CampWe quickly dropped below snow line and the trail became wet with snow melt. The High Sierra trail brought us to a rocky clearing where it crossed Merhtan Creek. The warm rocks were a nice spot to have lunch and let the boots and socks dry in the sun. There are also some camping spots tucked away in the trees above the trail complete with fire rings and bear boxes.

After lunch we took on a full load of water since we would be camping on a ridge with no streams this night.

Wolverton CutoffContinuing down the trail, and down in elevation, we wound our way through wooded hillside for about 3 miles before climbing again on the Wolverton Cutoff trail. We climbed a short ways to the top of the ridge where we made camp for the night. Some day hikers were taking in a view of the valley from a rock out cropping nearby.

The view from the out cropping was perfect for watching the sun set. From there were could see down into the valley in one direction, and up to the summit of Alta Peak in the other. We could even pick out our trail in the snow leading up to the summit! Looking at our tracks made me wonder if anyone had been sitting in this spot the day before watching us trudge our way to the top…

View from camp on Wolverton Cutoff Trail (Alta Peak at left)

View from camp on Wolverton Cutoff Trail (Alta Peak at left)

As the sun light faded, we made a small camp fire for about an hour after dinner. The temperature was a little below 50°F and didn’t drop too much after dark, and sitting by a fire was a nice change from going strait to bed after dinner.

Day 4: The Giant Forest (November 25, 2012)

The night was pleasant with the temperature never getting close to freezing, and the morning was comfortable for breakfast. After breaking camp and hitting the trail, we quickly dropped into the Giant Forest.

My pace slowed as I stubbled over sticks every few steps, my eyes gazing upwards  focused on the trees towering above. Looking around at eye level, you could almost forget these were trees and not giant columns holding up the sky.

Giant Sequoias

It was only a few miles back to the car. We arrived before lunch, then made the short drive down the road to go visit the biggest of the giants, General Sherman.

General Sherman, World's Largest Tree (Can you see me at the bottom?)

General Sherman, World’s Largest Tree (Can you see me at the bottom?)

Be sure to check out Days 1 & 2 of this trip HERE

For more photos from this trip visit the album on Flickr

Mountains are Better with Snow

King Range from Panther Gap, Sequoia NPDay 1: Sequoia National Park, Wolverton to Alta Meadows (November 22, 2012)

After doing several strenuous trips, it was time for something more relaxed. For this we made our way down to Sequoia National Park to spend Thanksgiving wandering the mountains among giants. We had mapped out a 4 day loop from Wolverton that would take us up to the summit of Alta Peak then down through the Giant Sequoias.

Looking south from Panther Gap

Looking south from Panther Gap

Leaving the Bay Area around 5am, we were on the trail by 10am. The trail from Wolverton took us up the northern side of the ridge to Panther gap. The ground was covered by a crusty layer of snow that had been well traveled. The snow gave way to dirt as we crested the ridge into the warmth of the sun hitting the southern slope.  Here the trail turned East towards Alta Meadow, but before continuing on, it was time for lunch.

After lunch we made our way along the ridge towards Alta Meadows. All day we were following the tracks of hikers that preceded us. At the Alta Peak trail split, the tracks continued up towards the peak, however, we turned towards Alta Meadows and began putting in first tracks in about 5 inches of snow.

After about a mile, we stopped and made camp on the ridge overlooking the meadow. Here we had a beautiful view of the valley dropping below us to the west, and the snow capped mountains to the east. We also had good access to a small stream running down the side of the ridge.

The view from camp. We set our tent up in the trees in the center of the picture.

The view from camp. We set our tent up in the trees left of center

The sun was setting by the time we got settled into camp. The temperature had dropped, and the snow was already forming a crust as we wandered up the slope from camp a short ways to take in the view. The sky was filled vivid shades of red and orange as the sun descended into the valley, but as the sun dropped, so did the temperature.

Sunset from Alta Meadow

Day 2: Alta Peak Summit Day (November 23, 2012)

Alta Meadows CampI had slept fairly well through the night, waking only a couple times to adjust as I gradually sunk into the snow during the night. Just before dawn, I woke to a pack of coyotes howling in the distance. It sounded like a fairly large group.

Our plan for the day was to base camp at Alta Meadows and take day packs to the summit. As we made our way out of camp, we noticed several sets of tracks passing by our camp. Looked like the coyotes had made there way right by us in the early morning light!

The trail started off at a gradual climb, but as we climbed, so did the temperature. It was around 70°F by 11AM as we approached the base of Tharp’s Rock. We had been following tracks in the snow, but they ended here. Continuing on, we began post-holing up the mile to the summit.

The final push to Alta Summit

The final push to Alta Summit

It was much slower going without tracks to follow. The snow was knee deep, and the crust on top was just strong enough to hold my weight for a second before breaking and dropping my foot to the ground. This cycle repeated with every step… It was quite tiring.

After an hour of tiresome post-holing we made the summit! The true summit was a large sloping rock about 4ft above where we were standing. To get to it involved stepping out on a narrow, icy, rock ledge. The ledge wasn’t too high, but it wouldn’t be pleasant if you were to slip off, so we decided not to risk it. Even though we didn’t stand on the summit I could touch it, so I’m counting this one as summited!

There was a bare rock just below the summit that we had a late lunch on. We were the only ones on the mountain, and it was quite. Not even a gentle breeze whistled in our ears.

View from the top!

View from the top! (11,208 ft)

The descent was quick but hot. When we left the summit at 1:45PM it was 80°F! By 4PM we were back at camp where there was noticeably less snow. But as the sun set, the temperature dropped, and I could tell it was going to be colder than the previous night.

Continue to Days 3 & 4 

Winter Wonder Land

Be sure to read about the first half of this trip! Snowshoeing in Yosemite, Days 1 & 2

Its Snowing! (Sunday, March 25)

Snow starting to accumulate on the tent.

I awoke early Sunday morning to the sound of sleet hitting the tent. It was still dark, so I stayed in my sleeping bag for a while wondering how much had fallen through the night. The sides of the tent weren’t sagging in, so I figured it couldn’t be much, if any. As the sky got brighter, I poked my head out the door. No snow yet, but it was definitely starting to come down. By the time we were up and ready to do some hiking, there was a nice layer beginning to form on the tent and the snow flakes were starting to get bigger. This was the first time I had seen it snowing since I moved to California 3 years ago… Exciting!

Since our camp was sheltered by the trees, we were a bit surprised to find that 2-3 inches had already fallen when we got to the clearing by the stream to fill our bottles for the day. The snow was light and fluffy, and the air was still and quiet.

Snow falling on the Merced River (Photo Credit: Paul)

Trees left bare from a recent forest fire.

We had decided that we would follow the Merced River Trail a few miles before having lunch and returning to camp at LYV. The trail was marked with old tracks that were quickly being covered by the new snowfall. Our path was also frequently blocked by fresh tree fall. As we continued, we passed through a section that looked to be recovering from a recent forest fire. The bare trees looming in the falling snow carried a much different mood than the rest of the trails we had been on. Fire damage in combination with the wind storm that moved through CA last fall was probably responsible for all the downed trees. The trail maintenance groups will definitely be busy this spring.

The trail continued following the river through the valley with very little elevation gain. As the valley narrowed we got some to see some beautiful scenery as the snow fell silently on the river.

Looking up river in the snow

Me, making my way over a very slick tree crossing. (Photo credit: Paul)

Continuing up the trail, we came across a couple tricky stream crossings. The snow had made the trees slick and hid many of the holes between rocks and logs making navigating the crossings extra tricky.

After straddling a few trees, we arrived at a perfect swimming hole (were it a few degrees warmer of course). From here we climbed along a large water slide that looked like a perfect launch point for the swimming hole. A short while later we came across a second swimming hole with the same water slide entry. During the summer these probably get plenty of attention, but on this day, we had them all to ourselves.

Water slide into the lower swimming hole

Upper swimming hole

At this point we made our way up a short series of switchbacks heading further up the valley. We could feel the temperature dropping and the snow and wind began to pick up. It was now about noon, so we decided it was time to think about lunch. A short ways up the trail, Paul found a small cave that we took shelter in and enjoyed lunch while watching the powder fall. It had become very humid, and our rain gear was becoming damp on the inside, so it was nice to get out of the weather and air out the jackets a bit.

Looking out of the lunch cave. (Photo Credit: Paul)

After having some lunch, we decided it was probably a good time to start heading back to camp. We estimated we had gone about 4 miles, and the return trip would be slower with the deeper snow.

As we loaded up to head back, we had to shake off our rain jackets, which had iced over during the break. It was definitely getting colder. The snow had also picked up and, now approaching a foot deep, nearly covered the tracks we had made only 30 minutes earlier. Descending the switchbacks became significantly more tricky with the added snow. The fresh powder hid a shallow stream flowing between many large loose rocks. It was slow going.

Where did the tent go!?!

As we neared camp, the snow had pilled up to easily a foot!

Making our way through the trees, I was looking out for the bright orange rain fly of the tent. I knew we should be close, but I wasn’t seeing it. Walking into camp, we found the tent buried under several inches of snow. It was a very good camouflage!

After digging out, we took shelter in the tent for a while until the snow let up. It was getting close to 6pm and I was starving. I went for a second round of tortellini. I had brought olive oil with to use as a sauce, but this proved difficult as it had turned to a solid in the cold! (Once back in Oakland, I looked up the melting point of olive oil… 21F! brrrr!!!)

Hiking Out (Monday, March 26)

Snow cover from the night.

Shortly before dawn we awoke in a very humid tent. Everything had a layer of moisture on it and the ceiling of the tent had started dripping on us. It had continued to snow through the night and deposited another few inches on the tent. This blocked our ventilation and turned our cozy tent into a humidity chamber. We knocked off what snow we could from the inside and unzipped the door since it had now stopped snowing. An hour or so later, the sun started coming up and we emerged from a snow covered tent under a bright blue sky!

Half Dome showing off a new coat of snow

One last look at the watering hole before heading into the valley

After a quick breakfast, we packed up camp and started our way back down the valley. All the previous tracks had been covered, and we were breaking trail through about 15 inches of powder. It was slow going, and we starting making guesses as to how far we would get before encountering day hikers.

As the sun climbed higher in the sky, the trees began dropping the piles of snow perched on their branches. I seemed to be a more favorable target than Paul as I ended up with a much larger amount of snow down my neck than he did. The trail began to descend towards the top of Nevada falls at the intersection of the JMT and the Upper Mist trails. It wasn’t long after this intersection that we decided to take off the snowshoes.

Nevada Falls

When we reached the top of Nevada falls we came upon the first group of day hikers. There were around 10 of them and they looked a bit surprised to see two people coming down out of the high country. The snow was still about 12 inches deep, and they were significantly under prepared for the conditions. With one backpack between the 10 of them, only a few water bottles, soggy tennis shoes, and two of them in shorts and t-shirts, they asked if they were heading the right way for Half Dome. They were, but we told them that the cables were down for the season and that the snow only gets deeper from there with no tracks leading up the Half Dome trail from LYV. They were undeterred.

Looking at Glacier Point from near the top of Nevada Falls

As the elevation decreased, the snow turned from powder to packed powder from day hiker traffic to a heavy wet layer on a soggy trail. We continued descending until we reached the top of Vernal Falls where we stopped for lunch. Relaxing at the falls overlook, Paul made the observation that this was probably the only time of year that you could be alone at this spot. This was probably true. My previous visit to this spot was in October 2009 and I was in the company of 20 – 30 others taking turns standing at the rail for a quick photo. The solitude was nice and being able to enjoy the moment rather than being pushed aside by someone else wanting a picture was even better.

Glacier Point being a little camera shy in the clouds

After lunch, we continued down. The trees were now dripping under the warmth of the sun, day hikers were a regular sight and we soon joined with the portion of the trail that was paved. After many, many switchbacks, we finally reached the valley floor. My knees were happy to be traveling on flat ground again, but my feet were looking forward to getting rid of the pack and having a seat at the car. A long mile later we had arrived!

We loaded up the car and changed into some fresh clothes (Except for Paul’s shoes… he had forgotten to bring road shoes and was stuck with some soggy boots… bummer!). But a trip to the Valley would not be complete without taking a dip in the river! Unfortunately, Paul could not be convinced, but I made a quick, and chilly dip in the river before hitting the road back home! It was the perfect end to a great trip!

Many more photos can be found on Flickr, or in Paul’s Facebook album

Additional resources:

Topo Map

Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center

Clouds Rest Summit Post

Trip Report (These guys ran up Clouds Rest in the snow!)

Judgment Calls

Snow has been surprisingly absent from this years winter. But a storm finally brought about 4 feet to Yosemite’s high country. This of course meant it was time to hit the trails for some snowshoeing!

The recent storm had dropped a significant amount of snow in a short period of time, and because of the mild winter, this created unusually dangerous avalanche conditions. Because of this, we decided on a few route variations in case the conditions didn’t improve by the start of our trip. The idea was to do a loop starting at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, head to Tenaya Lake (crossing Clouds Rest, 9,931 ft), then loop back to the valley via Snow Creek.

Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley (Friday, March 23)

We arrived at the ranger station shortly after 9AM to get our wilderness permit and get some info on trail conditions and weather from the rangers. While the avalanche danger had decreased significantly, more weather was approaching quickly. They were expecting 3-5 inches above 6,000ft on Sunday and another 3-5 Sunday night with the snow line dropping to 4,000ft. Then more rain/snow on Tuesday. As we were talking with the rangers, a guy came in saying he had just come from near the top of Nevada Falls where he encountered foot-deep snow worthy of snowshoes. With this new info we got our permits for the loop with the idea that we would make a final decision on our climb up to Little Yosemite Valley (LYV).

Permit in hand, we were on the trail! Since it was winter, a portion of the Mist trail was closed, diverting us to the John Muir Trail. This added about a mile, making the trip to LYV a little over 5 miles with about 2,200 ft of gain.

The trail was steep, and we quickly climbed up out of the valley past Vernal and Nevada Falls. We passed a several people along the trail, but there were significantly fewer people than my last time on this trail, when I was making the trip up Half Dome. The trail was mostly snow-free with the exception of a few shaded switchbacks.

Looking at Nevada Falls from Clark Point on the JMT

The switchbacks going up the side of Nevada Falls were very steep, but offered a great view of the valley disappearing below us. As we continued up, we came across a portion of the switchbacks that had turned into a series of mini water falls as the melting snow came rushing down into the valley. I was definitely glad to be wearing my boots rather than the tennis shoes worn by most of the day hikers we encountered.

Paul snapping some pics of the valley below.

At this point we began wondering just how far the guy in the ranger station had made it before tuning around. We were now almost 4 miles in, at the top of Nevada Falls, and had not encountered any snow that would have warranted the use of our snowshoes. How far had this guy really gone? And what time did he start in order to get to the ranger station at 9AM!

Passing the top of Nevada falls marked the end of the significant climbing for the day. The trail flattened out and rolled along another mile to LYV where we would set up camp for the night. This is where the snow began to get deeper and form a consistent cover over the trail. However, there were plenty of tracks leading the way, making travel without snowshoes easy… This continued all the way to LYV where we encountered two other pairs of people that we would be sharing the campground with that night.

Home Sweet Home

We arrived at camp around 3PM, pitched the tent, then found our way to the nearby stream to fill our bottles and relax a bit before cooking some dinner. This also gave us time to discuss our plans over the next couple days.

We discovered that I had access to data thanks to AT&T’s wonderful coverage (it was a no-go for Paul’s poor Sprint phone…), so we were able to check in on the weather. Sure enough, there was some, possibly significant, snow coming in on Sunday. Since both of us are pretty new to winter backpacking with significant amounts of snow, we decided it would be in our best interest to stay in LYV for the storm. Our revised plans were now to base-camp it at LYV and climb Clouds Rest with day packs the following day. We would ride out the storm at LYV, then head back into the valley on Monday.

After a nice dinner of three-cheese tortellini, it was off to bed!

Little Yosemite Valley to Clouds Rest (Saturday, March 24)

We got on the trail a little after 7:30AM, a tad later than planned. This wasn’t too big a deal since we had decided to go with day packs allowing us to travel at a much quicker pace. It was 7 miles to the summit, with about 3,800 ft of elevation gain. The trail was all up and it didn’t take long for me to be happy I wasn’t hauling a full pack!.

One of the many bear tracks on the trail.

Being on a south facing slope kept the snow depth down, but as we climbed the snow slowly got deeper. We had been warned by the rangers that the bears had been very active this season, but we saw no evidence of the furry creatures around the campground. This was not the case on the trail… We came across many sets of bear tracks criss-crossing and following the trail. We even came across fresh tracks on the way back down!

Continuing up the trail, the snow became a constant blanket under our feet. And after separating from the Half Dome trail we were given our first views of the surrounding area.

Paul putting first tracks in on our way to Clouds Rest. No need for snowshoes yet!

Half Dome peaking out from between the trees

About a mile from the summit we crossed over a ridge onto a southeast facing slope. The snow depth jumped up to about 3 feet and the trail was no longer visible. We made our way across the snow through the trees gradually climbing up to the ridge that led to the summit. At the top of the ridge, the wind picked up significantly and we go our first look at the granite slope on the back side of Clouds Rest. We could see sections where the snow had begun letting loose allowing gravity to cary it down into the valley below.

The last push to the summit was very steep. As I began making my way up, but it became clear that it was too steep for the snowshoes as I began sliding backwards with each step. This was definitely unfavorable as the snow was sloped just right to slide me right down the cliff into the valley. With the snowshoes off, I began post-holeing up the slope. This got me a bit further, but I ran into a section of thin snow sitting on a nice icy crust that offered little in the way of traction. With the wind gusting around 30 mph I looked down the slope on my left, then back at Paul who was having a bit of trouble dealing with the trail conditions.

About 100 ft bellow the summit I turned around and took a seat in the snow. After a brief chat with Paul, we decided the snow conditions just weren’t right for us to continue. It was about 12:30PM and the snow was to soft to provide the right traction… Had we arrived an hour earlier it may have been a different story, but at that moment we decided to turn back. But not before snapping a few pictures of course!

Half Dome from Clouds Rest

Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest (Photo Credit: Paul)

Back in the cover of the trees, we again strapped on the snowshoes and headed back towards camp. With 7 miles of descending ahead of us, we took our time and enjoyed a few extra sights along the way.

Checking out Half Dome from atop a snow drift. (Photo Credit: Paul)

We got back to camp at about 5:30PM. A significant amount of snow had melted during the day, and the other camp inhabitants had left. We refilled our water and made dinner… tonight was tuna pasta with alfredo sauce, yummy. As we filled our bellies with a much deserved meal, we reflected on our summit trip, and still felt that we had made the right call in backing off. And after checking the weather, it looked to have been the right call to base camp it at LYV rather than continue on the loop as the weather was beginning to move in. Unsure of what tomorrow would bring, we buttoned up camp, prepped the tent for the possibility of significant snow, and went to bed.

More photos can be found on Flickr

Continue with Days 3 & 4!