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Hiking Stats as of 11/21/2018
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 325
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Apr 12, 2014 - Clouds Rest

 

Partners: Kyle Breen

Distance: 21.73 miles

Elevation Gain: 6,343 feet

Trip Time: 11:10

Maps and Stats:
Over the past few years I have found a few peaks that are so memorable that they go on the list to be visited on a regular basis. Mt. Whitney, Half Dome, Devils Peak and Pyramid Peak come to mind, but one such peak way up on my list is Clouds Rest. I've been to Clouds Rest twice before, via different routes and conditions. The first time was a couple of years ago with Kyle, and we did it as a fairly easy summer hike from Tioga Road. While a fun trip, the lack of a significant challenge and the throngs of people on the trail took away from the enjoyment. Then last April I hiked to Clouds Rest from Yosemite Valley, a much more grueling trip covering some 20+ miles and 6000+ feet of elevation gain in going from the 4000 foot trailhead up to the summit at over 9900 feet. Over half of this trip was in solitude and I had the snowy summit all to myself, with world class views making this the memorable Clouds Rest hike that had me wanting to make this an annual trip. Opportunity arose when Groupon offered up cabin rentals at Yosemite Pines for half price, and I grabbed a reservation for Friday night. I told Kyle that this would be an awesome hike with no crowds and with the Yosemite waterfalls at full force. He agreed and so we were all set for an amazing day.

We left Friday night from my house and drove the 1:45 it took to get to Yosemite Pines just past Groveland, about a half hour outside of the entrance to Yosemite. We had a small cabin which was a lot nicer than the hotel rooms that we had stayed at in our previous visits to Mt. Whitney. Having your own space is a lot nicer for some reason, and the surround area was great. It appeared that there were a lot of activities that could interest visitors to the Yosemite Pines campground area, but we would not be there long enough to do any of those. We got up early Saturday morning, and were at the parking lot in Yosemite a bit before 7:30. As we turned to get started, I noticed an amazing reflection in the car opposite ours, just a glimpse into the beauty that is Yosemite. The first half of the trip up to Clouds Rest would follow the same trails as those which access Half Dome, and having been up Half Dome 3 times (plus my visit last year to Clouds Rest) this would be my 5th visit up Vernal and Nevada Falls. Normally the most crowded trails in Yosemite, we would hardly see anyone the entire way up. We made quick work up the granite steps of the appropriately named Mist Trail, with its views of Vernal Falls , taking a quick break on top to enjoy the views down the falls. We didn't linger long, however, knowing how much further we still had to go, so we picked up the trail over towards Nevada Falls , reaching the top of the falls at around 9 AM.

At that point we had reached the 6000 foot level, so we were a third of the way up. It was was at this point where I came up with the idea of stashing one of my liters of Powerade Zero, since this was to be an out and back trip. Might as well cut down on weight and pick up the drink at the end of the day and use it for the last few miles down. I stashed it several feet off the trail, on top of a rock hidden by a bush and took a mental picture of the area so as to remember how to find it later. As we kept going we were on the part of the trail where you get a nice break, as the trail goes through the flat Little Yosemite Valley where the backpackers camp is located. We were a bit surprised by the lack of trail maintenance in this area, as it would seem that such a popular area would see better conditions. From here we got our first views towards Clouds Rest, although the actual summit was about 500 feet higher and behind the ridge from our vantage point. On our left was the sheer granite cliffs of Half Dome, although this would be as close as we would get to the monolith on the day. After making the mile walk through Little Yosemite Valley, we started up the hillside, still on the John Muir Trail which leads towards Half Dome. After another couple miles we reached 7000 feet, and the turnoff where the Half Dome trail goes left and the JMT heads right - the unofficial half way point to the top (we tried not to think of it as the quarter point for the day's journey). It is a short half mile journey from there to the junction of the Clouds Rest Trail, where we would leave the JMT and turn left up towards Clouds Rest.

One important decision we had to make before starting out was whether or not to take snowshoes. Last year I had taken the snowshoes with me, adding a lot of weight to my pack and really only needing them for the last mile or so above 9000 feet. In the days leading up to the trip I had been monitoring the snowpack levels as reported on the fantastic website at www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/nsa/ as well as monitoring the visuals on the webcams on the Yosemite Conservancy's webpage. All indications were that although we had some recent snow in the last two weeks, the drought of the previous several months resulted in less snowpack then what I had gone through last year. So we had decided the day before to leave the snowshoes at home figuring that the energy saved by not lugging them all the way up would be worth more than any inconvenience of having to slog through snow up high. We hadn't really seen any snow up to this point, and so we were feeling really good about this decision, even as we hit our first snow patch along the trail at 7500 feet. It was around this point where I stored my second Powerade Zero, finding a dead tree next to the trail for an obvious spot that I would be sure to see on the way down. I had no concerns that someone might steal my stash, as we hadn't seen anyone in an hour and there was not likely to be anyone coming along this trail at all on the day. The snow patch gave way to dry ground again for a while, although like below we had some issues with downed trees adding a bit of spice to the trip.

By now we were on the switchbacks leading up to the first ridge which is around 9000 feet, slightly higher than Half Dome. These heights gave us some fantastic views which would be seen for the next several hours. The view to Mt. Clark was amazing, but behind us the views toward Half Dome were otherworldly. Just like my trip last year, I knew that the snow was likely to begin at 9000 feet, and that is exactly what happened. Only this time, the snow was not as deep, and much more slushy. We had brought microspikes to protect against slipping down on the steeper snow sections, but wound up leaving those in our bags the entire trip. We tried to stay on the Clouds Rest Trail as much as possible, but the snow cover really made it impossible, and in fact the optimal route for us was to try to look for snow free patches to just head straight up. That was the steeper, more direct route, but there really wasn't any other option since the trail was no longer visible. We were fortunate to see a couple of other sets of tracks, indicating that a couple of other people had been up here over the past couple of weeks, and we tried to follow those, although when we got to the final snow slope we were not too comfortable with the exposure. A slip on that final snow slope had the potential to result in a long slide down nearly 6000 feet to the Yosemite Valley floor, and although we could have broken out the microspikes for this 150 foot section instead Kyle got the idea to simply climb the class 2/3 rocks leading up towards the summit. This was an excellent idea, and a much safer approach in my view. So we traversed the rocks until coming out on top, leaving us just underneath the top of the deeply snow covered summit of Clouds Rest.

The snow on top of the summit was quite deep - knee deep in most places and even a bit deeper in some spots. This was an unexpected but pleasant surprise, adding to the ambiance and giving us lots of reason to stay on top for a while. First things first, after resting for a bit after the 10 mile journey up I started trying to capture the 360 views which in all honesty can't begin to be captured on film. First up was the view towards the ascent path from the east (the way Kyle and I came up a couple of years ago). In the snow this looked to be a suicide track. Not that anyone could come from that direction now anyway, with Tioga Road still closed for at least another month. So what views were up there? Well, the High Sierra towards Whorl Mountain, views to Mt. Hoffman to the north, incredible views to Mt. Clark and its twisted summit, or how about Mts Lyell, McClure and Florence, or this one to Cockscomb, or better yet this view towards Half Dome. This was not going to be an easy place to leave. Kyle took his turn for some summit shots, and then got started on building what was supposed to be a couple of snowmen but in reality looked more like a bunch of snow cairns, which would be more appropriate given our location. We probably spent a solid 30-40 minutes on top, working on the snowmen and walking back and forth across the small and steep summit ridge.

Although it was hard, we finally said goodbye to the summit (now with its temporarily higher summit), both of us really excited about the views, the snow and vowing to come back on an annual basis. With over 10 miles of hiking in front of us, we still had a ways to go, although with the views I could have gone much more than that without complaining. We made our way back down to my powerade stash in the dead tree, easily finding it. To my dismay, leaving it exposed to the sun resulted in it being quite warm to the touch, and drinking it didn't appeal to me at all. So I improvised by turning my hat into a portable cooler, scooping up some snow to make an ice chest. This had mixed results, as the drink cooled back down to more of a normal temperature, but certainly far from cold. On the positive side, as the snow melted my hat became thoroughly soaked in the cold water, and when I put it back on my head it felt terrific. Next time I will store the Powerade in the snow to keep it cold, assuming a similarly warm day. Once we got off of the Clouds Rest Trail and back on the John Muir Trail we ran into a few people, although from their reactions to our responses as to where we were coming from they had less ambitious plans on the day. We got back down to the backpackers camp and the Merced River, and I found (albeit with some difficulty) my first Powerade stash. What seemed like obvious rocks to use as indicators on the ascent didn't really register now. All the rocks looked pretty much the same and it took searching in several wrong places to ultimately find the bottle.

At the top of Nevada Falls we had a choice of whether to go back down the Mist Trail or to take the longer John Muir Trail. We elected the JMT, since it would offer some new views on descent. This direction required us to head over the Falls on the footbridge and wrapped us around, giving us amazing views of Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap and Half Dome. There were several friendly squirrels along this portion of the trail, much unlike ones around my house that run away at the sight of a human. Since I still had a couple of sandwiches I decided to share some bread and in return got some great shots of the thankful squirrel eating his treat. Soon another squirrel joined in the fun, although this one didn't look as hungry as the first. We had a bit of an unexpected surprise view towards Clouds Rest from here, illustrating the great distance that is required to get over to it. Once we got back down to the bridge about a half mile from the trailhead we ran into the typical group of people taking pictures. We quickly bypassed the groups, and made our way down, taking in the views of Yosemite Falls in the distance and reaching the car around 6:30. An all time favorite to be sure!

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