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Hiking Stats as of 11/14/2018
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 325
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Apr 13, 2013 - Clouds Rest

 

Partners: (None)

Distance: 20.25 miles

Elevation Gain: 6,720 feet

Trip Time: 11:35

Maps and Stats:
With Tioga Road (providing access to the higher peaks) still closed for the winter and the Half Dome cables still down I hadn't been to Yosemite in nearly six months. In fact I hadn't even been out on a hike of any sort for 4 weeks, as 2 weekends of fantasy baseball drafts and 1 weekend at my Dad's had left me aching to get out and do something really challenging. I came up with the idea of climbing Clouds Rest, topping out at 9,926 feet. I summited Clouds Rest last year, but that was from the standard trailhead off Tioga Road, and was a relatively easy hike. This attempt was to start from way down in Yosemite Valley, at 4,006 feet. This is the same starting point as the Half Dome hike, but to reach Clouds Rest I would bypass the turnoff for Half Dome and continue on, ultimately climbing over 1,000 feet higher and taking on an additional 4 miles. I also had to pack my winter gear, including snowshoes and microspikes, which resulted in a pack weight of 29 pounds. Half Dome is a good challenge but this would be epic. I really wasn't sure if I could pull this one off, my main goal was just to go as far as I could and turn around by 2 PM.

I woke up at 4:15 AM and packed up my things for the 2 1/2 hour drive to the trailhead. I was on my way by 4:40, and had the roads all to myself. I reached the Yosemite entrance at 6:45 and was surprised by the lack of traffic for a Saturday. I only saw a few cars the whole way in, which gave me time to slow down and get some shots of the sunrise over Half Dome , El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls from my car as I approached the parking area. I parked a half mile from the trailhead and departed my car at 7:30 with my rather heavy pack.

The hike from Yosemite Valley at 4,000 feet to the top of Nevada Falls at 6,000 feet literally has some of the most incredible scenery in the world. While the summer months see this trail packed with visitors, there were only a few making the journey on this morning. To have some bit of solitude in a place like this is amazing. The first part of the journey takes you to the top of Vernal Falls at about 5,000 feet. The John Muir trail was still closed for the winter, so I took the Mist Trail which runs right alongside the waterfall. I'd only been on the Mist Trail in July and October - it is a different experience entirely in April. Vernal Falls was roaring down, sending up a mist that blanketed a good portion of the trail. The trail up to the top is somewhat steep, so that by the time your reach the top of the falls you welcome the chance to take a break and enjoy the view from the alongside the top of the waterfall.

If the hike were just this section of the trail it would warrant visiting but this was just the beginning. The next part of the hike heads up to the top of Nevada Falls, at 6,000 feet. The trail doesn't run quite as close to Nevada Falls, but the views of the falls are nonetheless still breathtaking. After reaching the top of the rapids of Nevada Falls things calm down for a while. The trail enters about a mile of flat ground where the backpackers camp is located. While views of Half Dome, Clouds Rest and the local wildlife are abound, they had a tough act to follow.

I had yet to run into any snow, and at 7,000 feet I reached the junction where the Half Dome trail splits off. I had never taken the John Muir trail any further than this before and was excited to cover some new ground. At this point I was fairly confident I could summit Clouds Rest by my 2 PM cutoff as I was making good time. The Clouds Rest Trail switches back and forth uphill for about 3 miles, with the continued elevation gain opening up some nice views. Although views of distant Yosemite peaks were nice, the landscape was dominated by Half Dome, the neighbor of Clouds Rest. I also enjoyed the perspective that I now had - Liberty cap, which seems impossibly high as you hike up the falls trails, now looking like nothing more than a bump on the landscape compared to Half Dome.

By around 8,500 feet I was starting to get pretty mad at myself for lugging my snowshoes all the way up here and not even having seen more than a few snow patches. Things quickly changed, however once I hit the ridgeline at around 9,000 feet and large and slick snowfields lay spread out in front of me. I put on my snowshoes and followed a set of tracks that was very helpful now that I couldn't see the trail. I wound up running into the only person I saw beyond the Half Dome turnoff, and he was in quite a panic. He apparently had attempted to summit (and I was following his tracks) but told me that he turned around after falling through some snow that went chest high on him. He also told me that he had gotten lost after descending, couldn't find the trail, and had partially descended the wrong way when he luckily saw a trail marker poking through the snow above him and had climbed back up to it. This guy was in hiking boots, had no map or GPS and had come out here thinking he would just wing it. I told him I had a GPS so I wouldn't get too far off trail, and pointed out that I had snowshoes so I would avoid sinking into the snow. He seemed to want me to turn around (I suspect so I could lead him out) but he wasn't in any danger at this point and I told him to simply follow my tracks, which were easy to follow thanks to my snowshoes. There had been no problems for me up to this point so I knew he would be fine. He said if he couldn't find his way he would wait for me to descend and that he was going to buy a GPS. I told him that sounded like a good idea. As much as I don't consider myself to be any kind of expert, I felt like real mountaineer next to this guy.

Anyway, I continued on, a little concerned about his warnings only on the off chance that maybe he did have some skill but the mountain was just that tough. I came across the sign that saved him from wondering the backcountry of Yosemite alone and thought how fortunate he was to have seen it. The top of the sign telling me I had 0.6 miles to go is barely sticking above the snowpack, and for him to have spotted this from well down the mountain was beyond lucky. This guy could easily have been in real trouble. A bit later I came up to a massive hole in the snow - I knew this is where he sunk chest deep. I was not having any sinking issues with my snowshoes, so I stuck my snowpole in to see just how deep it was. He wasn't kidding, this was chest high. I shook my head in amazement that someone would come up here so ill prepared. Anyway, this was only about 200 vertical feet below the summit, and after ascending the last steep slope I emerged on top of Clouds Rest at over 9,900 feet in the sky.

Yosemite is fantastic anytime of year, but seeing the high county blanketed in snow from this vantage point was amazing. Trying to choose which direction to look was impossible when choosing between views west to Half Dome, North , East, southeast and south. I had the summit all to myself, a rare treat for such a valued destination. To have this place to myself on a perfect April day, with views in every direction ranks right up there with my top hiking moments. I decided to have a late lunch on the summit - it was only 1:30 so I had time to sit back and take it all in. Last time I was up here there were probably 20 other people, with others coming and going. Today this place was mine. Despite the snow cover, the weather was pleasant, and I sat and enjoyed the views towards frozen Tanaya Lake set against the Yosemite high country. Clouds Rest is known for having a rather narrow summit ridge , and with the area covered in snow I was careful to just hang out near the middle. As the hour approached 2:00 I reluctantly got up and snapped the obligatory summit photo and took a 360 degree video before making my way down.

The descent was fun, in that I got to again experience all of the grand scenery that had made the trip up so memorable on the way up. Although I had packed 3.5 liters of fluids, this turned out to be short of what I needed and I wound up gathering a half liter of snowmelt that was running down near the summit of Clouds Rest. I wasn't too worried about treating the water, as the area is free from people, there are no animals, and I was getting the water as it emerged from under the snow. This is as close to the source as you can get. If I wind up with some sort of ailment I will edit this to post a warning about the dangers of gathering fresh snow melt runoff in remote areas. In addition to the repeat of the fantastic scenery, the return offered views of a two local residents sunning themselves, and a fine view of the Merced River that I missed on the way up. The final stretches of the descent saw me take a welcomed mist shower thanks to the power of the Vernal Falls and I eventually reached my car at just after 7PM. The trip stats tell how tough this one was - 11.5 hours, 20+ miles and 6700+ elevation gain/loss, but I can think of no place that offers more reward for the effort than Yosemite. An epic day indeed.

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