In hindsight, it was incredibly smart to end our trip at Yosemite. There really is no other place like it. Yosemite was also one of the spots we spent the most time (read: six days), and we still didn’t scratch the surface in the nation’s third oldest national park.
We entered the east entrance on September 15 and went to the Glen Aulin trail and proceeded to hike 12.1 miles. By the time we finished the hike, we had to drive to the valley to our campsite. A few things that struck me on that drive: even late in the season, Yosemite is packed. Another thing is that the park’s infrastructure is impressive, as is the cell service.
We camped at Upper Pines campground the first night and woke up early in the morning to secure a camping spot at Camp 4. It was the first day the climber-heavy campground became open to a lottery system and of the 59 open spots, we secured numbers 54 and 55. After securing our spot and putting all our food/scented items in the bear locker, we started on the Upper Yosemite Falls trail, which is conveniently located next to the campsite. We turned around after two miles to avoid the rain and sought shelter at Degnan’s Loft.
On September 17, I stayed back while Sam hiked the backside of El Capitan (and broke land speed records), and then we hustled to take the Yart shuttle up tp Tuolumne Meadows, where we camped at the backpacker’s site in anticipation of our final backpacking adventure! The temperatures dropped below freezing that night, so it was a rough sleep, but we woke up in the morning, got coffee from the backpacker’s grille and warmed up once we started moving.
Our iconic backpacking trip was about 33-mile point-to-point hike (with Half Dome permit), and we added a few miles to in order to do Cloud’s Rest. We started at the Cathedral Lakes trailhead, making it to Sunrise Lakes High Sierra Camp the first day. Certain dispersed campgrounds had pit toilets and bear lockers, so this campsite, along with its views and ample spots to place a tent, was great.
In the morning, we hiked by Sunrise Lakes and made our way to Cloud’s Rest; if you backpack in Yosemite, I recommend taking this detour away from the John Muir trail! The section takes you to 10,000 feet and has 360-degree views of the park, not to mention striking views of Half Dome. (Going north to south is the way to go!) The hike down into the valley was leisurely, and we arrived at Little Yosemite Valley campsite in the afternoon. After setting up our tent, we walked to the river to fill water (and, if you’re Sam, to swim). This spot was a little oasis we could have hung out in longer! We cooked dinner early in preparation for an extremely early morning but got caught in some rain, so dined in the tent.
Our alarms went off at 3 a.m. and we were on our way to start the Half Dome hike thirty minutes later. The goal was to both see a beautiful sunrise and to avoid crowds on the cables. We ran into one other hiking group on our way up, and we reached the base before the cables by 5:45 or so. I decided against climbing the cables, but Sam opted in and was up and down within an hour.
We started back down to our campsite around 7:30 a.m. and saw A LOT of people on their way up. We got back to Little Yosemite Valley, made breakfast and decided to cut our backpacking trip a night short and hike back out to our car via the Happy Isle trailhead. A word to the wise: When leaving Little Yosemite Valley, you have the option to go down via Vernal Falls, which seems more appealing because it’s 2.5 miles, or to go via the John Muir trail, which is a little more than 4 miles. For the love of God, do note choose the shortcut like we did. The falls are gorgeous, but it’s about a million stairs down and about two million tourists. That said, again, the falls are really pretty and worth doing in their own right.
We ran the last part of the hike, jumped on a shuttle and made our way to our car, happy to discover no bears had smelled the two bottles of wine we forgot to put in the bear locker. On our way out of the park, we stopped a couple times to take in the views and to spot teeny climbers on the wall before driving into the sunset, as it were.