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Tuolumne Meadows and Lembert Dome during a summer storm, Yosemite National Park

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Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon

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High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 17, 2014 09:59PM
Six camps.* Six backpackers. Fifty-ish miles. Two days.

But first, some backstory.

There was once a parrot--let's call him Basilbop--who repeated things he shouldn't say, despite knowing better. One day his owner threatened to put him in the freezer as punishment if he continued to use foul language. Basilbop tried to be good, but he enjoyed mimicking various phrases, and one day he repeated something inappropriate and ended up in the freezer.

A short stay in the dark, cold freezer was enough to convince Basilbop to never say anything bad again.

"Have you learned your lesson?" his owner asked him.

"Yes, I have", Basilbop replied. "But I have one question: what did the chicken say?"

A joke similar to this was told to JKW and me many years ago while we were guests at the May Lake High Sierra Camp. The person telling it was legendary skier and then High Sierra Camps manager Nic Fiore, who had just learned that we owned several parrots. We were relatively new to the High Sierra and our days of backpacking were still in the future. To us, Nic was an inspiration. There were stories--undoubtedly true--that he would visit multiple camps in a day to check them out. Back then we would consider a trip from one camp to the next to be a full day's hike; we were in awe of his Superman exploits. We met Nic several more times at the various camps as we continued to visit them.

A few years later, we were returning to Tuolumne Meadows from Merced Lake. By then, we were comfortable hiking to or from Merced Lake without a "layover" at Vogelsang or Sunrise. Along the Rafferty Creek trail we approached a slower hiker heading towards Tuolumne: it was Nic. We chatted a bit before continuing on; it was the last time we saw him. We stopped staying at the camps not soon thereafter; you can see a lot of beautiful country from them, but there was much more of Yosemite that called to us, so we traded the comforts of our camp-to-camp day packs for backpacking gear.

This weekend, a group of six avid hikers (and one bird...) attempted something some of us had tried a few times before: to visit all the High Sierra camps in a single weekend. As before, we would start at Murphy Creek, then visit May Lake and Sunrise before spending the night at Merced Lake. The next day we would climb to Vogelsang, hit Tuolumne Meadows (which for the purposes of this posting we'll consider a High Sierra Camp**), and finish at Glen Aulin. Ultimately, four of us were successful, reaching Glen Aulin with ample time for the first dinner bell--had the camp actually been open.

We staged the night before in the Tuolumne Meadows campground. Unfortunately a few in our party weren't able to arrive until 2 am Saturday morning, but they are still young and don't need things that us older folks need, like sleep.

After a quick, chilly breakfast and breaking camp, we staged various vehicles, gear, and food where we would be crossing the Tioga Road, before finally converging on our trailhead. We hit the trail later than we'd hoped, but we had done the first day's segment before; unless we hit bad snow conditions, we were not concerned about reaching Merced Lake by evening. To cut out some unneeded trail mileage, we left the Murphy Creek trail shortly past the trailhead and headed cross-country towards Raisin Lake. The travel through here was straightforward with just a few minor obstacles.

Looking north, we could see Falls Ridge; near its east end was our final camp: Glen Aulin. But that would be the next day; we had to continue onward to our first camp: May Lake.

We could have spent hours checking out the trees and granite on "Raisin Ridge", but we had hours of hiking to do.

In short order, we reached Raisin Lake, and soon thereafter were back on the well-trod High Sierra Camps loop trail.

After a short climb, we reached May Lake, whose early-morning waters were still calm. Photosynth

At the far end of the lake, we checked off our first camp, seemingly weeks from being ready for guests.

After leaving May Lake, we headed down to Snow Flat, then continued along a now-abandoned segment of the Tioga Road to Tenaya Lake, which we could see from time to time from openings along the trail.

We resupplied at the Sunrise Lakes trailhead, then rock-hopped across Tenaya Creek.

We hit the switchbacks climbing up to the Sunrise Lakes trail junction, where we could see Tenaya Creek cascading far below us.

In the distance was Mt. Hoffman, where we had been only a few hours earlier. This section of trail often holds snow until fairly late; this year, there were only a few minor patches below the junction.

We passed by the three Sunrise Lakes before reaching Saturday's high point--the broad saddle on Sunrise Mountain.

While descending to Sunrise High Sierra Camp, we heard from another intrepid Yosemite hiker on radio from above Washburn Lake. We chatted for a bit, but both parties had many miles to go.

Perhaps someday guests who had once enjoyed a night in the "Honeymoon Suite" cabin would be inspired to climb Mt. Florence in the distance.

There were enough mosquitoes being a nuisance that we quickly checked off our second camp.

We got swarmed by mosquitoes as we crossed Long Meadow along our second cross-country segment.

To cut off a few trail miles, we headed down the Long Meadow outlet, then headed south of the "Dolly Domes" before regaining the trail. Despite an earlier radio report that the "cleavage" route would be dry enough, we opted for "sideboob" instead.

While the cross-country travel had been slow in places, many trees had fallen across the trail, and the maintenance crews had not yet sliced a path through them, so we didn't make much better progress on trail.

Echo Creek treated us to several nice cascades, but this year the show will undoubtedly be short-lived.

A light haze had built up over the afternoon, softening the harsh afternoon light as we descended to Echo Valley.

As the long day neared its end, we made the final push to Merced Lake.

Across the lake we could see the start of tomorrow's climb up Lewis and Fletcher Creeks.

The world's largest White Fir is still alive, although not looking as strong as in years past.

After quickly pitching our tents between huge fallen pines, we headed to some nice granite above the camp to wash and cook dinner to the last light of the day.

Although the previous night in Tuolumne Meadows had been cold, our night at Merced Lake was quite mild, a combination of the low elevation and the big trees and logs protecting our campsite. We all slept well.

We were up by 5:00am the next morning and out of camp shortly after six. Those who hadn't continued onward to warm up paused near the dining room of the camp for a quick picture. In not too many weeks, people will be lining up here in the mornings to get a cup of coffee or hot chocolate before breakfast.

After several switchbacks, we could get glimpses of peaks and domes surrounding Merced Lake. Those looking for the last remnants of winter might find it on the north side of the Clark Range.

We made slow but steady progress heading up the well-constructed trail the climbs around Babcock Dome.

Eventually we neared the small valley containing the dome's namesake lake; there was still enough water that the cascades were impressive.

We paused for a snack below where the Emeric Lake outlet joins Fletcher Creek, where a series of falls and cascades took our minds off the remaining climb to a meadow.

There were a few mosquitoes in the meadow, but they seemed only to bother those who stopped to take pictures.

The Fletcher Creek crossing at the head of the meadow--a deep wade or long detour in earlier, wetter seasons--eliminated our last potential chance of getting wet feet on our trip.

Our radio chatter with another bird brain on Rafferty Ridge passed the time as we continued towards Vogelsang, walking alongside a nice creek and passing several small meadows. Eventually, we reached our fourth camp, and the high point of our trip.

Normally it costs $55 per person to enjoy a nice meal at the Vogelsang dining room, but we had it all to ourselves for free; not even the mosquitoes showed up to spoil the fun.

After Vogelsang, we headed to Tuolumne Pass and down Rafferty Creek. Fortunately, Vogelsang was not being stocked, so the trail was not the dusty slog it will undoubtedly be in a month or so.

The small waterfall near the trail was still flowing, but not by much. Although the pool below it was very tempting to jump in, we still had many miles to go, so we pressed on.

We did stop at the Twin Bridges across Lyell Fork to cool off and rest a bit.

Shortly thereafter, we touched our fifth camp**; only Glen Aulin remained.

Perhaps the hardest part of doing the hike this way was avoiding the temptation to stop in Tuolumne Meadows and grab a burger, beer, and some ice cream and call it a day. There is no shame in pulling off forty-some miles in two days. In fact, a few of our group did bow out, but the four remaining intrepid (or crazy) hikers continued on to the final camp.

The stroll down the Tuolumne was very enjoyable in the late afternoon sun; all the snow that had been present several weeks ago was gone, and we made good time.

The falls were still impressive, especially when bathed in the late sun.

We reached our final camp in plenty of time for the first dinner bell--had the camp been open. Unfortunately we could not partake of the traditional lemonade, or buy a candy bar or other treat, but the camp was ready to open.

We enjoyed a snack on the small hill overlooking Glen Aulin proper, but we still had to return to our cars and return "home", so we reluctantly left.

Unfortunately White Cascade will be past its prime before Glen Aulin's guests are able to hang out below it on the camp's benches.

For all the miles we had traveled the past two days, we were still feeling strong and enjoyed the final segment of our trip, especially since there was sufficient daylight left that we wouldn't need to use our headlamps. We even considered what it would take to add the seventh and final High Sierra Camp--White Wolf--to the loop: another day or so.

Not far in front of us we saw a coyote enjoying dinner--even if it was at the expense of an unfortunate bird. A herd of deer ran off to avoid a similar fate.

In past years the Tuolumne is still roaring along the cascades in mid-July, but this evening it was much more calm and serene.

It seems birds had been watching over us the past few days, from Mt. Florence or Rafferty Ridge; we saw another perched on a tall tree monitoring our progress.

Even approaching mile fifty-ish, we were not at all tired of the High Sierra. If not for running out of daylight and weekend, we could have continued onward, the mountains, rivers, and meadows rejuvenating us along the way.

Thanks, Nic, for the inspiration!

More Pictures

* Not counting White Wolf; that would require adding another day...
** Feel free to call it a Lodge if you can hit all of those in Yosemite in a weekend--and post about it.
Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 17, 2014 10:23PM
A few thoughts:

  • When I read what Basilbop wrote about Nic, I almost cried. He was an inspiration to us. I only hope I can wander amongst those mountains until I'm in my 80s.
  • Water crossings - were disappointing to me on one hand, but since it was easy enough to keep feet dry, I did. Especially the second day, when I wasn't sure what the Glen Aulin jaunt would do to my skin...I've had wet feet for 20 miles, not 30, and I'd just shredded the heel cup in my right shoe on the way down from Vogelsang! (oddly not even an hotspot, didn't realize until the shoe came off)
  • Sportlegs - I've been using them for a long time now. This trip, two other converts were taking them with me. Every 3 hours, my timer would go off and I'd announce "SportLegs" over the radio! Worked beautifully!
  • Sleep low, sleep well - It was a calculated choice to do the trip the way we did to help maximize success. Sleeping low gave us all the opportunity to sleep really well.
  • Anxiety before Glen Aulin - since two bailed because their bodies were not feeling totally well, I ended up worrying I'd somehow hold up the remaining team and be the cause of a really late return. But with the conditions the way they were, we were able to fly to Glen Aulin, and even more of a relief to me, I was still feeling so good, I was able to scoot back up to the car! It was the most pleasant trip down and back I can remember!
  • Finishing strong and happy - I was so happy that this trip it all came together for me. I was nursing a still tweaky ankle by using a brace the entire trip. I had been debating before the trip, but it all worked out. Cooling my foot every so often made a fabulous difference. I ended up sitting at Twin Bridges IN the water to my waist for 10 minutes while eating my snack. Glorious!
  • Bad to sit in car so soon after - and idiot me didn't sit in Tenaya Lake when we got back to the cars, as I should have (but by the time the shuttling was done, it was dark and I was getting cold and stiff. I should have forced myself to take the time to stretch and cool off properly. I paid the price that night and the next day - but that was only being a bit sore. Not like countless times in the past that were SO MUCH WORSE. And I did make it to a morning pilates class, since the instructor had promised to tailor it to me if we succeeded *and* I showed up! (It was a bit difficult, since we got to bed at 1:45 am and the alarm went off at 7:10am and as mentioned by Basilbop, we older folks need sleep!
  • Lovely visitng old friends with good friends - Yes, it's country i've seen now countless times, but it was just as enjoyable and lovely as always. And as always, just a tad different. Always something new. Always rewarding. I really do feel like I'm going home when I hit those trails.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/17/2014 10:25PM by JustKeepWalking.
Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 18, 2014 06:02AM
Very nice report, thanks. My first intro to the High Sierra was TM to Vogelsang HSC, then back to TM and on to Glen Aulin. Your report brought back memories. Thanks for posting.
As a side note, I've read reports of people trail running the entire loop in 24 hours. Now that's endurance.
Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 18, 2014 08:32AM
The first attempt I made at it (a few years ago?) (thwarted by mosquito bites and allergic reactions), when we picked up our permit, the young woman who gave us our permit said she and her friends (all workers of some type up there) had just done the entire loop in a day. And it was almost 24 hours! And they crashed and slept most of the next day. We ran into some Glen Aulin hikers on the way to the car, and they said it's become something of an annual tradition, at least for the camp workers, apparently. Good for them! I think about the times I've hiked through the night (Whitney in a day on a full moon night) and it's neat, but now, I really enjoy sleeping out there too. But, on the way back to the car, one of the four - won't say who - suggested that we could probably do the whole loop comfortably in a day as well. (I don't know, I like my sleep.)
Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 18, 2014 07:10AM
What a great trip. Having a goal and traveling with great friends is the best. Next year, when you do this again, think of the accomplishment of ending the trip with the climb out of Pate Valley!!no, stop, enough!
Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 18, 2014 08:39AM
Now that sounds fun: another night out in the backcountry and finishing with the GCT! smiling smiley What all of us share is the desire to just walk all day out in the mountains. For some reason, we seem to crave that. Not really hard, not really fast, just happy wallking all day. I saw another thread someone said they had a peak bagger in the group.. a real stickler for that. I think we've all enjoyed peak bagging to some degree (and two are downright climbers), but somehow the call of walking long distances is our common bond. This was a nice prep for me and Basilbop for the JMT. I've been itching for a nice long walk for some time again...
avatar Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 18, 2014 07:22AM
Bowing to his greatness

Congrabulashuns. Tanks for Sharon Aaron.
Just awesome.

I am certain you guys are already an inspiration to many.
Certainly Nic would be proud.

Just Keep Hike-On and Dream-On and Explore-On
(but I'm not going in that ra-fridge-ar-a-shun unit... even if there is a treat in there!)

Kindest Regards,
Chick-on is looking at you!

Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 18, 2014 08:45AM
Thank you! You know, even though you weren't walking the same trail we were, knowing you were out enjoying the same area at the same time.. I don't know, it felt right and it made me happy. My little hiking flock was all together in Yosemite. Very satisfying.
Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 18, 2014 08:02PM
Thank you so much for the photos and trip report.

avatar Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 18, 2014 08:09PM
smileys with beer excellent!
avatar Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 19, 2014 09:18AM
Thanks for the trip report. Thinking of you folks frequently.
Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 19, 2014 01:42PM
Wow such a neat trip. Looks to me like doing it before the crowds gather is the way to do it. You guys had the whole place to yourself. Very cool!
Re: High Sierra Camps Double Marathon
June 19, 2014 05:50PM
Going before the camps open is basically a requirement. The trails are much more pleasant that way. Except the trail crews hadn't gotten to Echo Canyon and those downed trees. Jeez. That's a downside...
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