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Re: First-time permit questions

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First-time permit questions
January 14, 2020 08:32PM
Hi all, 3 of us plan to request a backpacking permit for Yosemite for weekdays in July. We're hoping to include Half Dome. My friends are both experienced backpackers (section hiking the AT, full Wonderland Trail). I've only backpacked a couple times but have more experience hiking at elevation. We're all totally new to backcountry permits at Yosemite (though 2 of us have day hiked there). Here are our planned itinerary options.

1st choice: enter Sunrise Lakes, n1 after Cloud's Rest, n2 at Merced Lake, n3 at Little Yosemite Valley
2nd choice: enter Cathedral Lakes, n1 at Sunrise Lakes campground, n2 near Cloud's Rest, n3 LYV
3rd choice: enter Rafferty Creek or maybe Lyell Canyon, n1 at Vogelsang, n2 at Merced Lake, n3 at LYV
In all cases we'd request a Half Dome permit for day 4 if available, then hike out. We're hoping to start on a Monday or Tuesday, on July 13 or later (still choosing which week to go).

Here are some questions:

Permits
1. Do we have a decent chance of getting these itineraries, or did we pick the most popular ones?
2. Just to confirm, are the trailhead quotas the only limiting factor on permit approval? Or could we improve our chances by changing where we plan to camp?
3. If we say we'd like a Half Dome permit if available but note that we will accept the permit without it, then requesting Half Dome will not affect our odds of a permit, right?
(Sorry we probably sound anxious about it, we just have no idea what to expect with the odds.)
4. If we get the wilderness permit without Half Dome, is there another chance to add that to the permit? (I know backpackers don't enter the day hiker lottery, and I assume there's no daily lottery for Half Dome backpackers since we'll already be in the woods 2 days ahead?)

Water
5. Starting mid-July, what kind of range could we expect for crossing Tenaya Creek? Range meaning a description like "could be stepping stones, could be thigh-deep, most likely knee deep" since we know it's way early in the winter to be making specific predictions.
6. How late in the season does/could snow last at Vogelsang camp and nearby trails? We'll have warm camping gear, but no interest in ice axes or serious snow hiking. Not planning to go over Vogelsang Pass or anything.

Elevation
7. Would one night at Tuolumne Meadows be considered acceptable for acclimating? I'd rather have more but not sure how the schedule will shake out. I'm used to spending a weekend in Denver before heading into the mountains.

We welcome any and all advice. Please be kind if we're totally ignorant about something here. Thank you!
Re: First-time permit questions
January 14, 2020 11:29PM
I can answer some but not all of your questions; if some of the others here who have homes on the coast but seem to live in the mountains have time respond, they may fill in other details.

The limiting factor is the trailhead quota on the day you start, not where you plan to camp. Those three trailheads are all reaaallly popular. You'll increase your chances by (a) requesting a mid-week departure date rather than a weekend departure (b) keeping your group small (but you're already set on three), and (c) getting your permit request in on the earliest day it will be considered. I don't have experience with the online permit system that they introduced last year and haven't investigated it, so I don't know how early you can submit your permit request (used to be you could fax it in not more than 24 weeks in advance). If you say you MUST have the HD permit, then you're introducing a further limiting factor, so your odds are better of getting the backcountry permit you want if you indicate that the HD permit is optional.

Also keep in mind that there are sometimes cancellations, so if you don't get your first choice when you initially apply, keep checking, something may open up. It's even worth checking when you pick up your permit.

Regarding snow, it's impossible to tell right now. At this point there's been some snow but nothing unusual, but all it takes is one or two good winter storms and a cool spring and there can be significant snow at high elevations, especially in shady areas, until well into July - recall that a few years ago they didn't even open the High Sierra Camps b/c of the amount of snow. (If you poke around this forum for posts from heavy snow years - e.g. 2010, 2011, 2017 - you'll get an idea of how late the snow can hold.) If there's not significant snowfall the rest of the winter, the main trails should be pretty clear by July. Even in a heavy snow year, by July the Tenaya Lake outlet creek shouldn't be waist-high (which is what it usually is in May and early June).

One night at TM to acclimate is better than no nights, but this is an individual thing. Note that TM is at 8600 feet and with your proposed itineraries you won't be getting to much more than about 10K , whereas Denver is about 5000 feet and in the Rockies you can easily find yourself at over 12K, so if a night in Denver is sufficient, a night at TM should be too.

Hope that helps.
Re: First-time permit questions
January 15, 2020 06:46AM
Geezer has answered all of your questions except the one that is not clear...Bout Half Dome permits. Getting your wilderness permit will not be complicated by a request for a Half Dome permit, but you may get the backpacking permit without Half Dome. It happens. You can also apply for a Half Dome day-hike permit, independent of your backpacking permit---but that would only be good for a day hike from Happy Isles....and that may be more than you want to bite off for a day-hike. It's roughly 16 miles r/t, and an elevation gain for 4500 feet...



Balzaccom

follow our adventures, read our blog, or just to come hang out at our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
Re: First-time permit questions
January 15, 2020 02:01PM
yosemite. july. depending on snow (right now, we're at 75% of normal for this date, approaching the midpoint of the snow season), you're probably looking at the Tokyo subway in rush hour. getting your foot in the door will be the problem.

there are two unconventional but permitted trailheads that require doable cross country, but are little used, reservation quotas usually not met. that's the good news. the bad news--those quotas might be 3 reservable, 2 walkup, the minimum required to meet the 3/2 ratio, your trio might just squeeze in. both are out of tuolumne meadows.

the first is for Budd Creek, but you must exit the drainage before camping. an easy ascent over the shoulder of Cathedral Peak, and a slightly more difficult descent, will put you at Upper Cathedral Lake, from which you can proceed to Sunrise, your 2nd choice..

the second is Nelson Lake, the trailhead being in the campground, and requiring you to exit the Elizabeth Lake drainage before camping. Nelson-Reyman-Vogelsang puts you on one of your options, but requiring you to stretch day 1 and likely day 2 to be on schedule for your 3rd choice. likewise the JMT via Mathes Lake, more difficult and certainly a serious day-stretcher, can put you on your 2nd choice.

I suggest either (probably preferably Budd) only if you're shut out of your preferred routes, and are ready for a little more adventure and work. I've only used Budd myself. good luck!

p.s.--if you get Budd, make sure to aim for Echo Lake or Sunrise on your 1st night (both off the JMT), lest an overly zealous permit issuer think you're doing the JMT, and kick you over to the Cathedral Lakes trailhead (you're only at Budd because Cathedral's full).



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/15/2020 02:19PM by mkbgdns.
Re: First-time permit questions
January 15, 2020 03:26PM
Actually, the usual route is over the should of Echo Peaks to Budd Lake There is a use trail that also leads to the South Face of Cathedral, which is a major climber destination.

And you are correct--when you get this permit you will probably be told to make sure you stay in the Echo Creek drainage the first night...

It's used by people who climb Matthes Crest, so it can fill up with climbers on some days.

And in either of the suggested options, make sure you are comfortable with off-trail navigation and travel.



Balzaccom

follow our adventures, read our blog, or just to come hang out at our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
Re: First-time permit questions
January 15, 2020 06:26PM
not sure your "usual route" has anything to do with going from TM to the Valley. I've been up Budd a number of times, seen only climbers (day use), no backpackers (except me). this site is helpful:

https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/fulltrailheads.htm

Budd and Nelson are listed when full, which in high season is only a few dates. the rigors of travel and navigation are much higher for Nelson. plus the south shoulder of Cathedral provides a pretty flat area the size of a football field. and yes, a clear use trail most of the way up. don't get sucked down to the creek too soon, and peel off for the shoulder when the use trail starts to ascend steeply toward the peak.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/15/2020 06:29PM by mkbgdns.
Re: First-time permit questions
January 15, 2020 07:58PM
Thanks so much to you all! This is really helpful.

Our next planning meeting is tomorrow, so we'll go over all of this. I need to get the routes into Gaia so we can evaluate the profiles...Lyell Canyon to Vogelsang is a big first day with only 1 day to acclimate. Personally I have hiked from 10,000' to 11,500' after spending a few days each at 5000' and 8000-9000' feet, and that went fine for me. One friend went from sea level to 13,000' the same day in Peru and he said he was getting winded walking down the hall. (He has more time to arrive early and acclimate than I might.)

Great insights on both the permit odds and the water. With the tough odds, I'm thinking we may want to start entering for our earliest dates so we have more chances to try, vs. choosing one week that works and only trying for that. Luckily Monday or Tuesday are our ideal start days.

I'll look into Budd Creek too. I don't see those suggestions on the trailhead map at https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/wildernesstrailheads.pdf . I had thought there were just the 3 that are feasible for TM to the Valley.

We are not opposed to Half Dome as a day hike, but decided to try to backpack it to get the advantage of being up there early in the day. First of all to avoid peak cable traffic, and second of all because we are safety minded and already know the right decision if the weather looks bad when we get to the base of the cables. We don't want to have to make that decision. Up and off by noon is our goal.

Thanks again, for this and all the other helpful posts on here.
Re: First-time permit questions
January 15, 2020 10:57PM
Quote
riverhikerva

We are not opposed to Half Dome as a day hike, but decided to try to backpack it to get the advantage of being up there early in the day. First of all to avoid peak cable traffic, and second of all because we are safety minded and already know the right decision if the weather looks bad when we get to the base of the cables. We don't want to have to make that decision. Up and off by noon is our goal.

Sensible, as any precipitation in July is like to happen in the afternoon, but even then, it's a pretty low probability.
Re: First-time permit questions
January 15, 2020 08:48PM
Quote
mkbgdns
not sure your "usual route" has anything to do with going from TM to the Valley. I've been up Budd a number of times, seen only climbers (day use), no backpackers (except me). this site is helpful:

https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/fulltrailheads.htm

.

It doesn't. But when I have taken out a permit for Budd Lake, I have been told that I should not access the JMT on the first day---and that means not going over into the Cathedral Lakes area....so even if I were going to the Valley, that permit requires me to spend one night away from Cathedral lakes...



Balzaccom

follow our adventures, read our blog, or just to come hang out at our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
Re: First-time permit questions
January 15, 2020 10:55PM
What mkbgdns said is within the rules it is not something that should be encouraged. It is an obvious workaround, busy trailhead, find alternate trailhead that you don't actually want nearby ("you're only at Budd because Cathedral's full"winking smiley fulfill the minimum requirement for that trailhead, and then proceed as normal on your route (even with the snarky comment about "overly zealous" ranger, even though that's exactly what you are doing). It is clearly not something the park is advertising; as was noted it was conspicuously missing on the trailheads map. Further, cross country travel can have far greater impact on the area, particularly for less experienced people.

We get the permit system that we deserve. If we exploit all the loopholes and reasonable accommodations, they will be removed or restricted, making it harder for everyone else. We've seen it in the past and it is still happening, see the recent changes in Inyo and with the PCT. Sadly, I suspect we will only see more in the future.
Re: First-time permit questions
January 21, 2020 10:29PM
To follow up on my post, I thought about the permit rule changes that have come about in the last 10 years or so that were very likely because of abuse of the permit system.

Half Dome: At first, with the half dome permits, there was no limit for backpackers. If your trip reasonably went past Half Dome, you could a permit to go up Half Dome. Now there is a limit for the number of backpackers that can go up Half Dome. This makes it more difficult to plan a trip and was an anxiety the original poster expressed.

Half Dome part 2: After a limit was imposed for backpackers, backpackers from outside Yosemite could still go up Half Dome without a separate permit. That got abused too, and is no longer allowed. Now you have to get a separate day use permit to go up Half Dome if starting from outside Yosemite, a major pain.

Donohue Pass: An extra quota for JMT hikers. You have to have space in your trailhead AND the Donohue pass quota. Also limits the trailheads a JMT hiker can use to 5 trailheads.

Olmsted Point: There used to be a trailhead at Olmsted Point. People were abusing it to go to Sunrise, and it was removed. This is probably the closest corollary to this thread and Budd Creek. So there is a real precedent that a trailhead can be removed if it is misused.
Re: First-time permit questions
January 22, 2020 03:11PM
Quote
buster
To follow up on my post, I thought about the permit rule changes that have come about in the last 10 years or so that were very likely because of abuse of the permit system.

Half Dome: At first, with the half dome permits, there was no limit for backpackers. If your trip reasonably went past Half Dome, you could a permit to go up Half Dome. Now there is a limit for the number of backpackers that can go up Half Dome. This makes it more difficult to plan a trip and was an anxiety the original poster expressed.

Half Dome part 2: After a limit was imposed for backpackers, backpackers from outside Yosemite could still go up Half Dome without a separate permit. That got abused too, and is no longer allowed. Now you have to get a separate day use permit to go up Half Dome if starting from outside Yosemite, a major pain.

Donohue Pass: An extra quota for JMT hikers. You have to have space in your trailhead AND the Donohue pass quota. Also limits the trailheads a JMT hiker can use to 5 trailheads.

Olmsted Point: There used to be a trailhead at Olmsted Point. People were abusing it to go to Sunrise, and it was removed. This is probably the closest corollary to this thread and Budd Creek. So there is a real precedent that a trailhead can be removed if it is misused.


Didn't they also change the rules on the Backpacker Camp in the Valley. I'm sure you used to be able to stay there on the basis you were going to try and bag a walk up permit the next day. Last time I was there you had to already have a Wilderness Permit for the next day or be at the end of your trip
Re: First-time permit questions
January 23, 2020 09:40PM
Quote
Bilko

Didn't they also change the rules on the Backpacker Camp in the Valley. I'm sure you used to be able to stay there on the basis you were going to try and bag a walk up permit the next day. Last time I was there you had to already have a Wilderness Permit for the next day or be at the end of your trip

Not that I know of. Maybe that was unofficially allowed or not enforced. I did hear that they are enforcing and patrolling the backpacker's campground much more consistently and thoroughly, so that might be it. Though it wouldn't surprise me if they made some changes for the backpackers campground
avatar Re: First-time permit questions
January 15, 2020 08:47PM
Don't forget that only 60% of each trailhead's quota are reservable ahead of time, the other 40% are held for walk-ups. The walk-ups can be issued starting at 11am the day before entry date. So, if you can get to the park a day early you have an excellent chance of nabbing the permit you want. And, with a backpacking permit you can stay in one of the backpacker's campgrounds the night before entry date and/or night of exit date.



- Billy Joel
Re: First-time permit questions
January 16, 2020 08:40PM
Some great tips here and I don't have anything to add to that. Lyell/Raferty will probably have snow in July, not that I am recommending snowshoes at that time of the year unless it's a very heavy snow year. You will know the accurate snow levels by the end of April.

Another option, though not as fun as going though high sierras, is to string Pohono and Panorama trail together. Just something to think of as a backup option.
Re: First-time permit questions
January 18, 2020 10:37AM
Thanks everyone. We wrote down our planned entries for the permit lottery, and we will enter them on the earliest request date for our preferred dates.

We decided that if we don't get the permit for Monday or Tuesday of our preferred week, we might retry for a non-TM permit for one night, then do a one- or two-night backpack from TM later in the week, and maybe even a Half Dome day hike in between. One person pointed out that since Half Dome was one of our goals for this trip (I had to give up a day hike permit for it a few years ago under sad circumstances), we should try to work it in even if not on our TM > Valley backpack.

For the non-TM night we were considering up Yosemite Falls, across the top of El Cap, and out to Big Oak Flats Road. Pohono and Panorama is a great idea too! One friend has hiked up the 4 Mile Trail and I've hiked down Panorama.

We really appreciate the insights into our odds. Maybe we'll get lucky. (My friend thinks she must have been pulled near first for Wonderland because she got exactly what she wanted.) And if not, we love the idea of having something set for the week and trying to rearrange the day ahead in person, if something better is available.
Re: First-time permit questions
January 18, 2020 10:39PM
Sounds like you've got the idea: with so many variables, flexibility is the key, so if you work out alternatives, you should be good to go.
Re: First-time permit questions
February 09, 2020 10:24AM
Just wanted to share that after a few days of trying, we got a permit for Sunrise with Half Dome. It's for Wednesday of our preferred week, so we'll have to re-arrange some non-hiking commitments on Saturday, but we'll enjoy having Monday and Tuesday to enjoy the Valley before we head to the high country. We can't wait! Thanks for all the advice.
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