31: Yosemite National Park

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Valley with thru-hiker on the PCT in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

A thousand islands dot the mountain lakes spread out before us.  The distant peaks are snow white.  We backpack to Donahue Pass.  The hike seems to take days.  It is a long and arduous climb, followed with a quick descent.  The remaining 10 miles is level through meadows along a serpentine river.  We are within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park.

We begin to see day hikers.  They smell of soap and look well fed.  The Tuolumne Meadows Post Office is open for a few more minutes, and in that time, we learn that our resupply package has accidentally been sent to Yosemite Valley.  They can have it to us by tomorrow evening.  And so we find ourselves in Tuolumne Meadows for a day of rest.

The bus into Yosemite Valley departs the next morning.  We find a campsite for the next two evenings.  It begins to rain as we drift into sleep.  The next morning we hop on the YARTS bus and begin the long drive to the valley.  Our bus smells of sewers, and we name it the FARTS Bus instead.

Yosemite Valley

The temperature climbs as we descend.  The bus drops us off at the visitor's center, and we start to play a crazy game: the tourist game.  The rules are simple: be back in four hours to catch the bus back up to Tuolumne.  We run here and there trying to take in all the sights: half-dome, bridal veil falls, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan.  When we finally collapse back into our bus seats, we very well may have walked 20 miles.

The next morning, we have our packages and are soon ready to hike on into the wilderness.  We walk along the Tuolumne River with the other day hikers, but soon we are alone.  The JMT hikers have kept us company all through the Sierras, but this is where we leave them behind and continue on our path northward.

The landscape begins to change from a gentle meadow to a rugged granite obstacle course, filled with swelling waterfalls.  I have never hiked in a place like this.  This is the wilderness.  There is no one here but us, or so it seems.  It is beautiful and immense.  It has swallowed us whole.  Our camp is near the Spiller Creek.

Blazing Through

We immediately climb up through Benson Pass.  As we descend, the terrain becomes incredibly rugged and the view is one that will live in my memory forever.  We lose elevation in sharp switchbacks.  At the bottom, a river flows and it is choked with so much debris that it has formed a large bridge.  The mosquitoes are killing us, and we put on the Deet thickly.  We peer out from under our bug nets and climb Seavey Pass.

There is a hiker coming toward us.  He is lithe and dirty.  This is a PCT hiker.  We greet with fist bumps like old friends; although, we have never met before.  His name is Blaze.  He is on the last leg of his journey.  Hiking thirty miles a day, Blaze has saved the snow-packed Sierras for the end of his journey.  Blaze hiked the desert and then flipped to the northern terminus in Canada.  He has been hiking south ever since.

"How was the snow in Washington?", we ask.  He hangs his head low between his knees and sighs.  "There was so much snow", he replies laughing and shaking his head.  I will take the snow over the Oregon mosquitoes though, he explains to us.  He said it was so bad that he wore his rain gear and did not stop to eat all day.  He just ran through Oregon.  But you missed the fires, we offer in consolation.  Oregon is now on fire and large portions of the trail have been closed.  PCT hikers have been evacuated from some areas even.

Dorothy Lake Pass

The ascent to Seavey Pass is tortuously long.  We camp along Kerrick Creek on the other side.  I remember seeing a blog post about this area earlier in the season.  Someone had posted a picture of this narrow canyon; although, it looked completely different now.  In the picture, one side of the canyon was a steep snow embankment with a trail of footprints on top.  At the bottom was a roaring creek full of boulders and tree trunks.  This was a very dangerous place not long ago.  We have hiked 21 miles today through difficult, beautiful terrain.

The next day is full of MUDS (mindless ups and downs).  We are exhausted and beyond hungry.  We dig down deep for the will to move our legs forward.  This day tested us.  We forded rivers, climbed mountains, crossed blowdowns, and fought off mosquitoes.  Yosemite is amazing and difficult.  I love being here.  It is one of the greatest challenges we have faced together.

We camp at Dorothy Lake near the border of Yosemite National Park and the Hoover Wilderness.  The mosquitoes rise up in great clouds over the water.  They try to eat us, but we have on our armor.  In the morning, we hear bells across the water.  As we hike, we continue to hear them.  Two llamas appear, sitting along the trail.  They stare at us from under their heavy eyelashes.  Soon we pass through into the Hoover Wilderness, and just like that, we are out of Yosemite.

Sonora Pass

The landscape is starting to change.  The granite monoliths have ceased to be.  There are rolling hills and rivers.  I begin to notice mountains to the west.  They are red and green with snow still clinging to them.  We start to climb, up and up until there are no trees.  There is nothing here, and we are walking on the moon.  I see the mountains Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite in the distance.  I find it hard to believe that we have come through all of that.  Far below are glacial lakes, valleys, and thick smoke from a forest fire.

The wind is strong nearly blowing me over.  The manzanita here is stunted, crouched low to the ground cowering from the wind.  This is a barren, volcanic world.  It is stunning.  We have a hard time keeping our balance in the gusts.  We trudge on and on along the crest.  The rocks are sharp, jagged, and pock-marked.  We dip down into a bowl, and if there is a time for snow gear, it is now.  Too bad we already sent ours home.

We brave the sketchy snowfields.  The mud oozes with snowmelt.  A recent rockslide has strewn boulders across the trail and far down into the crater.  It is a reminder of the dangers all around us.  We pass carefully between the lava rocks, and the crosswinds batter us.  Far below, we can see the highway 108.

When we reach the road, we do not have to wait long for a hitch.  A forest service employee stops for us, her name is Erica, and she cuts trees from the trail.  She has been very busy this year.  Erica drops us off at the Kennedy Meadows Resort.  We rent a room upstairs.  It is clean and warm.  After showering, we make for the restaurant and eat for hours.  We have steaks, salads, soups, and cobblers.  We are still hungry after hiking 21 miles today.

Thru-Hiker Tips:

  • Prepare yourself for some tough hiking through Yosemite.
  • Be mindful of your navigation when leaving Tuolumne.  Use Guthook's app to help you find the trail.
  • If you would like to visit the valley, it is a long ride.

In the spring of 2017, we set out to hike the PCT.  Hear our full story.

Continue to our next adventure on the PCT.

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