Monday, May 28, 2012

Clouds Rest: 05/24/12

May 23, 2012: I took off a week of work to do some Sierra spring time backpacking and hiking. I was all packed up with my overnight gear and headed to Horseshoe Meadow to do some multi day peak bagging. As sometimes happens, mother nature altered these plans. Big winds were forecast in the high country, 50-70 MPH winds :(. On top of that was a large cold front coming in to drop temperatures 20-30 degrees below normal and bring in some snow. Middle Palisade, Joe Devel, Pickering, Langley would all have to wait. I didn't want to let the week off go without some kind of climb to I got out the maps and weather forecasts. My best bet would be the lower elevation Yosemite peaks such as Clouds Rest, North Dome and perhaps Half Dome. The winds wouldn't be as bad, 20-30 MPH and no snow until Friday afternoon. I had never climbed/hiked Clouds Rest so off to Yosemite I went, well almost. This was the Memorial Day holiday weekend in one of the most popular National Parks. I checked online and there were no campsites available in the entire park. Sleep in my truck you say, well, Yosemite has one of the strictest anti sleep in your vehicle enforcements around. So the plan was to drive up and hope for the best, a cancellation, no show or spot in one of the walk in campgrounds. Didn't have a good feeling in my gut about this, but it was my best option, so I packed up the truck and left into the unknown. 

The drive to Yosemite was a stressful but fast drive due to the uncertainty of where I would be sleeping tonight. If I was to day hike Clouds Rest from Happy Isles, I would need to start at dawn and get a good nights rest. I really didn't want to drive all the way to the valley floor, get shut out and drive the hour and a half back to Oakhurst or beyond and pay $100+ for a quick nap. I arrived at the south gate at 1500 and was immediately greeted with a big red sign saying "All Park Campgrounds Full". I proceeded with even less optimism and decided I would stop at all the sites to see if there were any cancellations. Wawona was first up and as advertised, full. I then drove to the valley floor and checked with Camp Four, no luck. Onward Curry Village to check out the "Pines" campgrounds. They were all full, nothing. Started to look grim and bleak. Thoughts of abandoning the entire trip started to creep into my psyche. I was told at Upper Pines to check with the main campground reservation office in Curry Village to see if their was anything last minute. I arrived at the office with my tail between my legs, what was I thinking, trying to get a campsite last minute Memorial Day week at the busiest National Park in the land. Took a deep breath and crossed my fingers. I was told by the lady at the office the same thing I had been told everywhere else, nothing available. Just as I was getting ready to call it quits a gentleman came out of the back and told me one site just opened up at Upper Pines. The site was for two nights. I excitedly took the spot, didn't really care where it was, a campsite was gold. I paid the fee and was off to set up my camp, good feelings quickly replaced the doom and gloom, I got extremely lucky :)  

Now I could turn my attention to the task at hand, our the task for tomorrow morning. Clouds Rest is a gigantic granite slab that towers over all of Yosemite Valley, even Half Dome. It is at elevation 9,926'. There are essentially two standard ways to climb it, the much easier version is to start at Tenaya Lake at roughly 8,000'. The other version is to start at Happy Isles, elevation 4,035'. I planned to do the latter, why not. I set up my camp aka home for the next few days and packed up my backpack for the morning. I then headed over to Yosemite Village to get some dinner. The village is a great place to hang out, lots of things to do; eat, shop, library, eat, shop, all that with a backdrop of Yosemite Falls one way and Half Dome the other, truly magical place. I had a Turkey & Bacon Club and an ice cream for dinner. Made it back to camp and hit the sack. Set the alarm for 0430, what a day. 
Alarm went off at 0430 and I eagerly made my way through the pre dawn chores: eat an oatmeal/peanut butter breakfast, change into hiking clothing, put on contacts and check campsite for potential bear problems. Once complete I was on my way from my campsite at 0530. The weather was great at this hour and would remain so all day, the high winds that were forecast never materialized. I did not have to use a headlamp as the early morning light from the east was sufficient. I made it up to Nevada Fall in good time and took my first break. I hadn't seen a single person so far, very unusual for such a busy trail but it made sense, the cables for Half Dome weren't due to go up until tomorrow, the calm before the storm in more than one way. Before too long I was at the Clouds Rest/JMT junction and made a left onto the trail. It climbed rather steeply for most of the duration to the summit. The views would become grander and grander the higher I climbed. I made it to the summit of Clouds Rest, elevation 9,926' at 10:25. The views were amazing in all directions. Half Dome looked great from this perspective. The skies were clear and I could see Mt. Lyell, Matterhorn Peak, Cathedral Peak, Mt. Clark, Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, Tenaya Canyon, Mt. Dana, Mt. Conness among others. I enjoyed my lunch with the beautiful scenery and weather, life is good.
After an hour on top I made my way back down the trail to my campsite. The trip ended up being 22.1 Miles with 6,000' of elevation gain. A good day in the mountains. I arrived back to camp at 1500 hours and had to make a decision about tomorrow's plans. The very latest weather forecast called for a 60% chance of snow at the 7797' level, the temperature was going to drop twenty plus degrees. It looked like the timing of the storm was for late morning. So my choices were Half Dome or Yosemite Falls to Snow Creek Falls with a side trip to North Dome. I decided to set my alarm for 0300 and see what the skies looked like, clear skies and I would go to Half Dome, cloudy skies and I would go to North Dome...........
First Light

Half Dome Through The Trees

Snow Plants

Yosemite Valley From Summit

Self Portait w/ Half Dome Backdrop

Half Dome

Matterhorn Peak & Tenaya Lake

Black & White Yosemite Valley

Half Dome, Liberty Cap & Nevada Falls

Yosemite Falls

Half Dome View From Upper Pines Camp

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