This summer I finally set out to California to do some backpacking in Yosemite National Park. This trip has been a long time coming and was delayed for a year due to unforeseen calamity. But, in July 2018, we finally made it happen. Me and my good friend Christopher made plans to spend 3 days hiking the Glen Aulin Trail in Yosemite’s high country. The Glen Aulin is part of the Pacific Crest Trail that runs all the way from Mexico to Canada. We would only hike about 10 miles of the trail, but it was a good 10 miles:-)
I guess it was a bit of luck that we chose a trail in the high country instead of something more popular, like Half Dome in the valley, because the Ferguson Forest Fire started the day before we arrived and had already made the valley too smoky for hiking. We did deal with some smoky views and the scent of “campfire” on our hike, but it was nothing like the valley, where you couldn’t even see El Capitan a couple hundred feet in front of you!
We flew into Reno and took advantage of being within just a few miles of fascinating Mono Lake with it’s tufas, and stopped for some exploring. Soon after leaving Mono Lake, we were already at the East entrance of Yosemite where the ranger warned us of the fast expanding forest fire. We pickup up our back-country permit and checked into the Tuolumne Campground (backpackers camp). I was surprised at how many folks were in the backpackers camp considering the fire, but I guess they were just like us and after much planning and excitement, didn’t want to give up on hiking this incredible country! We headed off to the Tuolumne Lodge, or I guess I should call it a tent, and had an amazing dinner with some other hikers. We swapped stories and had an awesome meal! After dinner we stopped off at Tuolumne Meadows to take in the amazing sunset! We were now well prepared for our hike to start the next morning:)
The morning was cool and mostly clear, still smelled like campfire, and we hit the trail. Early on we came to Soda Springs. We didn’t spend much time, but it was an interesting and worth while side trip. From there, the next 5 miles or so was very diverse and never boring! Forest, water falls, baron rock face…
When we finally arrived at the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, I was surprised at how, I don’t know, I guess I would say “developed” it was. There were some tents setup for the high sierra campers, a pit toilet, and most surprising, a small make-shift store that sold some necessities, ramen noodles, and even candy bars. I couldn’t resist and had to pick up a snickers. We were looking for something a little more rustic and of course, hadn’t paid the big $$ to stay at the camp, so we setup camp in a tree covered spot on the other side of the creek for our first night. As evening light started to get interesting, I walked around and found some of the local wildlife to photograph. For sunset, we had the best seat in the house on the high cliff a short walk from camp. This is exactly why you haul yourself across the country, load up 40 lbs of gear and hike your way to the middle of nowhere!
I woke up the next morning before the sun came up to hike up the mountain for some more amazing photo ops. The cold, early morning hike was invigorating and the views made it all worth it! By the time I had gotten back to camp, Christopher had woken up and was getting ready for the day. The plan was to leave our gear and have a lighter day-hike down the trail and find some of the amazing water falls in this fast moving river. We moved our camp just about a 1/2 mile down trail to a secluded spot along the creek and then started our day trip.
With a lighter load, we both took our considerable camera gear and took our time on the trail to capture the scenery. There was plenty to keep our photographic attention!
After we returned to camp, it was time for a quick dip in the Tuolumne River and a hearty bag of dehydrated food. Eventually, I felt refreshed and energized enough to climb the mountain that overlooks the “Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne” and take in another incredible sunset. Moments like this, alone in nature, are what give me the peace and calm I need to reflect and feel in tune with my creator. This is what what rejuvenates my soul!
It was time for us to head out of the back-country the next day and the plan was to hit the Valley. Once we got back to civilization, it was apparent that the Ferguson Fire had continued to spread and was having a real effect on air quality in the park. We considered our options and still decided we were going to take our chances and at least visit the valley. On our way down, we stopped at the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. Smoke was faintly filling the forest and made for an eerie atmosphere. It’s was truly incredible to be among the giants!
The smoke got so thick as we entered the valley that you couldn’t see any of the iconic views. No Half Dome, no El Capitan, couldn’t even see Yosemite Falls until you were right on top of it. I felt especially bad for Christopher, who is experiencing the Great Yosemite Valley for the first time. There was still something very special about walking around the valley, especially with nobody around in the middle of summer. We had reservations for two nights at the Half Dome Village, but would cut it short and leave in the morning.
Yes, there was some disappointment, considering how much I looked forward to this trip and the vision I had in my mind of this pristine natural setting. But, I think we made the best of our situation and accept Yosemite for what it was in July of 2018. When I look back now, I realize that we experienced this incredible park in a unique and wholly natural way, and I have no regrets!