Early Season Yosemite Valley and South Rim
There have been some questions about early season trips in Yosemite. This is one I did April 30-May 3, 2007 (a drought year). This is a rigorous, scenic backpack and can be done before the Glacier Point Road opens. The route can also be reversed or shortened if you do not do the walk through Yosemite Valley. I did this route “light and fast” in tennis shoes (although had to slog through some snow), minimal clothing and a bivy sack. The bivy sack is light and allows camping in tight spots. There are plenty of trees so you could also do hammocks. The hike is woodsy yet stops off at many spectacular viewpoints. You could also shorten the trip by taking the Four Mile Trail from Glacier Point or skip the side-trip to the shoulder of Half Dome. The total trip of 40.5 miles and 11,563 elevation gain was done in four days.
Day 1- Driving from Sacramento I reached the Wawona Tunnel parking at 11AM and headed steadily up the steep trail in thick forest to Stanford Point, crossing a few seasonal streams and also stopped at Crocker Point where views were even better. If you haul water you could camp on either of these points. Then I dropped to Bridleveil Creek and crossed on the bridge. There is good camping here but I wanted a better view so hoped to get to Sentinel Creek, but near Taft Point darkness caught me. So I hauled water and headed off-trial and found a hidden spot with a view and camped. I had gone 9.2 miles and gained 4,605 feet elevation. Glad to sit down, I prepared dinner and made friends with two ravens. The next morning I had some anxious moments when I could not get my Bear Vault open. After setting the base in the snow with sun on the lid (differential heating loosened the lid), it finally opened. I lost half an hour with this little exercise!
Taft Point view
Yosemite Falls from Sentinal Creek
Day 2 - I continued to Sentinel Creek. There is nice camping with views here and if I had started earlier on Day 1, this would have been my preferred (and technically a bit more legal) campsite. I found a log to cross the creek. I then dropped to an empty Glacier Point – eerily quiet and empty of any cars. After a few photos, I headed down to Illouette Creek and crossed on the large bridge and headed up the Panorama Trail. There are unique views of the Valley from all along this route. I also had to cross snow off and on (2007 was a dry year). I reached Nevada Falls, after 11.2 miles of travel. I passed Little Yosemite Valley and continued upward to a hidden campsite on the shoulder of Quarter Dome- a site I had found on a previous trip. You could also go east at the first trail junction and go 0.7 miles to the next trail junction where there is a small stream. Thus ended a very long day of 15 miles and 5,500 feet gain! It felt great to sit down as the sun set.
Glacier Point view
Yosemite Falls from Panorama Trail
Tenaya Creek and Mt Watkins from Half Dome shoulder
Day 3 – I headed to the shoulder of Half Dome and took photos. The cables were down so there was nobody up here. I have climbed Half Dome without cables twice in the past, but this is not something I wanted to do alone. I then dropped back to the top of Nevada Falls and took the Mist Trail to Happy Isles where I caught the shuttle bus to Curry Village. I took of my shoes and had a nice cold beer and taco salad. This nice thing about this route is that you only need to carry 2 days food. After a second beer, I walked in somewhat of a drunken daze to the backpacker’s campground, put out my bivy sack and soaked my feet in the Merced. This day was my “easy day” with 8 miles and only 250 feet gain. (Get your permit to end the route at Happy Isles so you can stay in the backpacker’s campsite on Day 3).
Day 4 – Now I simply had to return to my car. I chose to walk the entire route, although you could take a shuttle bus to Sentinel Bridge. I zigzagged all over to get good photos and then took the south side trail from Sentinel Bridge to the Bridleveil parking lot. It is amazing how much more you see when you walk versus drive. You could also take the north side trail, but it is a bit longer. After a short walk up the highway I bushwhacked a short distance to the old road, now a faint 2-track dirt path. This road is dry, so be sure to take water. I passed Artist Point, where the view is great. I was not able to cut across directly to the Wawona Tunnel so had to continue up the road to the trail junction before dropping back to my car. This day was moderate with 9 miles and about 1,200 feet gain, but my feet were well worn so I was mighty happy to see my car. I got back early enough to drive back to Sacramento before dark.
Yosemite Falls from Valley Floor
View from Artist Point
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