Kenny, Nancy, Kathy and I are back from our trip to Yosemite. As usual I had ambitious plans to bag several peaks. We left Vegas on Thursday around 6 am and arrived at Tuolumne Campground a few minutes before noon. We did not have reservations, but we were the first on the waiting list. Unlike last year, we were told to come back at 2 pm and see if there were any campsites available. Last year they told us 1 pm. Since it was going to be past two o'clock, we decided to skip Mt. Dana, the second highest peak in Yosemite.
Kathy and I scrambled up Lambert Dome instead and then met Kenny and Nancy at the campsite reservation desk a few minutes before 2 pm. Since we were the first on the waiting list, we got a campsite. Yes! With over 300 campsites it seems there are always some openings. If you arrive very early, you can get a campsite as a walk in. Half of the campsites are held for walk-ins. Bring cash or a check; credit cards are not accepted.
Our campsite was quiet, but not spacious. We had a hard time finding a level spot for our tent. It would be very difficult to setup three tents in that camp spot (G-4). Each campsite is allowed two vehicles and six campers. We then had fun trying to fit our new cooler in the bear storage locker. Since our cooler was too tall to fit in the locker, it had to be turned on its side. The height of the bear storage lockers in Tuolumne Meadows campground is 20.5 inches. Try finding that information on the web!
There is a big bear problem in the campground. Although we did not see any bears, we heard other campers scaring them away through the night. You must keep all food and personal hygiene products in the lockers. Do not leave them in your car. You can actually receive a ticket if you leave food in your car.
DAY 2 - Mt. Conness 12,590 feet; Elevation gain: 2,900 feet
Our plan for Day 2 was to bag Mt. Conness, the highest peak in Sierra Nevada north of Tioga Pass Road. There are several routes; we followed the East Ridge route. The trailhead is Sawmill Creek Campground, a gorgeous campsite with huge bear lockers and very level campsites. It's small (12 campsites) so you are not on top of other campers and I imagine bears are not the problem they are in Tuolumne Meadows. There's just one problem it's a walk-in only campground meaning you have to carry all your camping gear from your car to the campsite, which can be up to 0.33 mile walk!
The first part of the hike crosses and then follows a very scenic stream. In about a mile we left the trail and headed up toward the East Buttress. Once at the top, we followed the East Ridge along its south side until we could gain the crest of the ridge. From there it's a straight shot to the summit plateau, where the actual summit is visible. Now here's something I have never seen while hiking any peak in the Sierra: there were steps leading to the peak! Huge granite slabs were moved to create steps! Wow!!! The summit offered great views. Panorama
DAY 3 - Blacksmith Peak 11,760 feet - Elevation gain: 4,700 feet
Blacksmith Peak is a striking looking peak located at the NW end of the Sawtooth Range out of Bridgeport, Ca. Last year I tried to bag Blacksmith Peak and failed. This year I was determined to stand at its summit. Well, things were not in our favor. First we got a late start. Putting your foot on the trail at 8 am is not a wise move in the Sierra. You need to get going by daybreak if not earlier. We hiked Horse Creek Trail which follows Horse Creek, a beautiful creek with cascading waterfalls. After a few miles we crossed the creek and headed up the dreaded talus field. It makes Mummy's scree slope seem like a walk in the park. I have never worked so hard to get to 10,000 feet! Beyond the talus field the route becomes much better. We headed up a treelined slope and then up granite slabs to a year round stream at 11,000 feet. The notch was just beyond the stream. Last year we climbed the wrong notch or so we thought.
Now comes the problem: It's late (almost 2 pm) and it looks like rain. At this point I just wanted to get a look from the top of the notch. Kathy and I scrambled up the notch (class 3) and looked over expecting to see an obvious route to Blacksmith. What we saw was the intimidating NW face of Blacksmith, the same view as last year only from a higher point. To make things worse it starts to rain. The only logical solution is to retreat and that's what we did. I really wanted to bag Blacksmith and get a photo of Kathy and I on the summit, but there's always next time. As we were descending the rain stopped.
In hindsight, believe it or not, we climbed the correct notch last year, not this year. This is the problem with pulling information from the web; some of it is pretty bad. I believe the correct route is through the smaller notch, traverse below Blacksmith Glacier, drop 200 feet in elevation and then start up toward the summit on the SW face. This just might be the toughest 11,000 foot peak in the Sierra.
Once back to the trailhead, we took a shower at Mono Village Campground. The showers are very nice and only cost .25 cents for two minutes. Last year we stayed in one of the cabins. They are very rustic and come with a fully equipped kitchen. Here's a link for more information.
DAY 4 - Cloud's Rest (9,926 feet) and Half Dome (8,836 feet)
Sunday morning we woke up to rain. In fact it had rain much of the night. We decided to bail. Our plans were to bag Cloud's Rest and then try a shortcut to Half Dome where we were to meet Kenny and Nancy. They were going to due the traditional trail to Half Dome. We packed up wet camping gear and decided to take the scenic route along highway 395 to Lone Pine and then through Death Valley. In Bishop we stopped off at Mountain Light Photography Gallery featuring Galen Rowell's collection of photos. It's a must stop, but has weird hours. Check before going there.
As we drove along 395 the sun and clouds made for some great photos. As the day wore on we became hungry and stop at Father's Crowley Lookout Point. Just as we got out of the car an F-16 jet flew about 200 feet above our heads. It was very cool. After eating we drove through Death Valley where a dust storm created some interesting photo opps. We arrived back in Vegas around 7 pm that evening. All in all a fun trip.