Last Saturday I finally got the time to head up to Yosemite for some hiking. This has basically been a lost year in terms of peakbagging due to car troubles that weren’t resolved until late July (and even then, I was in no hurry to be outside of easy tow distance from the Bay Area), high gas prices, and other weekend obligations. But with the dip in fuel costs last weekend, I set the 5:45 ᴀ.ᴍ. alarm and was off to Tioga Road. This late in the season, traffic was mercifully light—I had no traffic to contend with on Priest Grade, and the electronic signs that usually warn of Yosemite permit restrictions or the need to arrive early to find parking simply said that the passes were open.
I got to Tenaya Lake (8150′) around 10:20 ᴀ.ᴍ. and was off on the Sunrise Lakes Trail. It’s a bit over seven miles to Clouds Rest, with the elevation gain coming in bursts. After the first couple miles out of the trailhead, there’s a steep stretch of stairs that leads to a trail junction at about 9220′. I paused on these stairs to take my jacket off (temperatures were maybe in the 50s, but sunny) after getting passed by a large group. Who apparently (per a conversation I had with a member on the summit) hadn’t been hiking up a bunch of mountains recently. Well, they still seemed to be in better shape than I was, even though I did get back ahead of them later. (There were a fair number of people on the trail—most of the trail may be in the Yosemite Wilderness, but it’s still a fairly easy dayhike in Yosemite and even this late in the season it’s not really a wilderness solitude experience.)
After the Sunset Lakes trail junction, there’s a brief downhill stretch and then the trail levels out for a while before making the final ascent to the summit. The last stretch is notably fun because the trail peters out and the ascent route goes directly over the rocks of the summit ridge. It’s all very easy (I maybe used my hands for balance once or twice?) and not particularly dangerous; I’ve seen trip reports from people who got frightened by the alleged narrowness of the ridge—and in fairness, the dropoff to the west is stunning, nearly five thousand feet into Tenaya Canyon—but I find it hard to imagine any real risk except on a particularly windy day. And it’s not long before one reaches the the 9926′ summit of Clouds Rest. The views in all directions are the stunning vistas of Yosemite, from the aforementioned drop into Tenaya Canyon, to Half Dome (only a couple miles distant), to Little Yosemite Valley and the high country beyond (Mt. Clark is particularly notable, but Lyell/Maclure are also distinctly compelling, as is the Cathedral Range). There’s no register that I found (it’s too popular a mountain) but I did spent quite a bit of time at the summit just soaking in the views. I ran into a woman, also from Sunnyvale, who said that she spends every weekend in Yosemite. Must be nice.
Alas, this late in the season, there’s a solar clock ticking that stops one from resting for too long. One can, with a car shuttle, continue ten more miles along the trail past Half Dome and descend all the way to Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley (a mere 4105′ in elevation), but that’s an option for another day. The worst part of the trip back to Tenaya Lake was climbing back to the aforementioned Sunset Lakes trail junction—it’s only about two hundred feet of gain, but, with my lack of conditioning, I took it way slower than I would’ve been happy with. The steep descent out of the trail junction was no picnic either. At least it was finally pretty quiet (I did see a few people going up, and I have questions since you’re not allowed to park overnight in Yosemite after October 15). Due to the crepuscular hour, I began singing snippets from show tunes to keep the bears away, which was only mildly awkward when a group of other people caught up to me. I finally got back to the car at 6:11 ᴘ.ᴍ., and while it was just nine minutes after sunset, it had already gotten uncomfortably cold; had I not been in the home stretch, it would have been time to put on the jacket, gloves, and beanie I had in my backpack. (The alpenglow on Tenaya Peak was really pretty though.)
The drive home was mostly uneventful, and I once again had Priest Grade mostly to myself—the car I was behind at the very beginning pulled over, which I appreciated. The one off-putting moment was at the Kwik Serv in Big Oak Flat, where I stopped to refuel. Not only was it playing extremely Jesusy music, but the card reader at the ATM was displaying a “Let’s Go Brandon” message. (Do they realize that Dark Brandon is ours now?) And to top it off, I couldn’t even get into the bathroom. At least the gas prices weren’t too bad.
This week, the first storm of the year hit the Sierra. Tioga Road, along with all the other seasonal Sierra passes, are now closed, and while it’s officially just closed for the storm and not the season, it’s entirely possible that I got this hike in just in time. While strictly speaking it wasn’t the only time I visited the High Sierra this year, a drive-through over Tioga Pass on the way back from Westercon barely counts. Hopefully next year will be better.