14 Jan An Epic Journey Through Yosemite’s Snow Covered Backcountry
A Springtime Summer Camp Adventure Through The Snow in Yosemite
Photos and words by Kara Maceross, Lasting Adventures guide
What do you get when you combine two sets of brothers from the Bay that have known each other since they were being burped, a skater boy from Las Angeles, California, and two guides from Lasting Adventures with a bunch of snow in the backcountry of Yosemite for two weeks? This is how the story began for one of my first, and most memorable backpacking trips of the season. Although I have left already, the snow has come around again, and I have had many trips since; this trip stuck with me because of how epic it truly was.
It all started on a sunny day at the end of June, 2019 in Yosemite Valley. The boys all swarmed in around the same time and just dove into their piles of gear, knowing exactly what to do and how to pack it. It was each one of these boys’ third time being on a Lasting Adventures trip and they knew the drill. This trip was going to be a breeze I said to my co-guide. Or so I thought…
We quickly decided that our group name would be Kara & Da Boyz and that we should head to backpacker’s camp where we got more acquainted with each other, set up camp, explored some caves, played some camouflage, saw a couple of bears galavanting around, and learned all of the Leave No Trace principles before retiring for the night. Very productive first day.
The first official day of backpacking had us starting up the dreaded Snow Creek Trail. Most of the boys had done this trail before and were not looking forward to the grueling 119 (they counted!) switchbacks that it took us to get out of the valley (with full packs!) and into our campsite for the next 2 nights. The view on the way up, however, was undeniably gorgeous. Looking down Tenaya Canyon and up at Half Dome until we were finally smack dab across from it. Can’t beat it.
The crew was excited to set up camp and leave it there the next day to embark on a day hike to Indian Rock to check out one of the only natural arches in the park. The stoke level was also high when on that hike the first snow patches were discovered and the boys started to throw their initial snowballs and learn what glissading was all about. Little did they know how well acquainted they would be with snow before the end of the trip.
We spent an entertaining night at Snow Creek where the rangers were on a mission to re-collar the residential bear that lives in the area and throws bear cans off the cliff to get at the contents inside and then we were off to the high country! Route for the day: Snow Creek to May Lake. More uphill to be had and even more snow. We made it to Tioga Road without seeing anyone on the trail then we spotted some workers on the road itself. The trail after the road was in no time completely covered with white pow and becoming harder to navigate. We realized we were about to embark where no footprints had been since last fall. We were adventurers. Trailblazers. Backpackers. Tired teenagers. Tired guides.
Everyone had their turns glissading (and falling) down snowbanks before the group began to realize how long and tiring it really was to travel through this difficult terrain. Exhausted and weary souls finally found their way up to May Lake where the beauty of the frozen blue water revived all around.
Spotting a few residents marmots, including one the boys named Jorge also lightened the mood. Once camp was set on the only dry ground not covered in snow we had a necessary fire to warm our bodies and souls.
The next day proved to be our hardest one yet as we departed for Glen Aulin. This day we thought it would be humorous to count how many times we fell as a group. We stopped counting after 50. The joke was on us! For miles the trail was covered in snow so deep even the trail signs were hidden. The going was slow and tough and tough and slow.
Slipping and sliding the day away we finally got to a point where there was dry ground and trail, yes! We were heading down in elevation and pushing the mileage for the day to get rewarded with a much-needed rest day at Glen Aulin. As we set up camp that night and started to get swarmed with mosquitoes (add to the challenge, why not?!) we were surprised to see the first humans we had seen in days via the Pacific Crest Trail hikers heading through the area on their way to Canada. They chatted with us about how massively snow covered the trail had been thus far. No kidding.
On the 2nd night at Glen Aulin we got ready to leave early for our resupply at Cathedral Lakes trailhead. Technically Tioga Road still wasn’t even open yet so the plan was that someone from our admin team would go by in the train of cars that they let through at a certain time, drop our bin of food off and we would leave the remainders in a bear locker for them to pick up when they were let back through coming the other way after 3. It seemed MacGyver-like but worked as planned and we got to gorge on sandwiches, fresh fruit, chips and Rice Krispies to our hearts’ and bellies’ delight. Bear sighting number 2 was had while repacking our bear cans. Sweet.
The second leg of our journey awaited and from what we heard from the JMT hikers, it wasn’t going to get any easier since it had snowed at Cathedral Lakes the night before so we didn’t spend too much time at the trailhead. The JMT hikers that we had talked to actually backed out of the trail after the conditions they were met with. After what we had been through so far we figured we could handle it and it couldn’t be worse. Here we go!!!
We headed up the trail hoping that since this was the John Muir Trail that perhaps it would be a little more packed down and easier to follow. We were wrong. What were normally switchbacks turned into ‘let’s go straight up these snowfields’ for a few miles until we finally made our way past Cathedral Peak and found with a bit of struggle our next patch of dry ground to spend the night.
Waking up to frozen water bottles and frost on our sleeping bags again the mood was lifted by making Mio snow cones to start our day. Nothing like some sugar-coated ice for breakfast! There was still a lot of snow coverage to conquer so we headed up and out, past the Matthes Crest and stopped for lunch at Cathedral pass with Columbia Finger to our right and a grand view of Yosemite’s highest peaks stretching out for miles to our left and beyond. We were fired up at the amazing scenery that the snow created, but at this point were beyond done hiking in it. Everyone was ready for dry ground.
Lunch lingered for a bit longer as we sulked in the sun and avoided thinking about how much more snow travel we had in our day/week. We had no idea at that point. As we descended from the pass we had some hope of dry land, only for it to be covered again by undulating snowfields that tired the feet and the brain. All were exhausted. After passing our 2nd high river crossing of the trip that I knew would just be a stone hop later in the season we decided to shorten our itinerary for the day and stop at the Sunrise High Sierra Camp. The ground had begun to finally be spotty with bigger patches of dry earth emerging from the throngs of the white abyss. There was hope for tomorrow and beyond.
We settled down to a magnificent sunset with the snow-capped mountains being tucked in by blankets of blue and pink and after another frosty night under the stars we were ready to head off and find our next snow-free camp, which we would subsequently stay at for the next 3 nights. We were ready to explore the lower elevations! Next day’s agenda: Clouds Rest.
Climbing 2500ft. up to the summit of Clouds Rest from our camp with just daypacks on and no snow on the ground was a breeze compared to what we had conquered thus far on this trip and the crew moved swiftly. We all celebrated with naps on the top and more viewings of our marmot friends.
Throughout the knee-pounding descent, we discussed our options for Half Dome. It was decided. We would arise at 3 am, leave by 3:30 and hopefully be on the summit by sunrise. One last challenge to conquer on a trip of already epic proportions.
Not a problem for these boys. We didn’t even need to wake them up since this was something they had been looking forward to since they signed up with Lasting Adventures. A final summit, the summit of Half Dome, nonetheless, to celebrate the beauty of Yosemite around us and the past 2 weeks of trudging through the snow and all the challenges that we had faced, as a group and individually. After I caught my breath from hoofing it up the almost 600 man-made steps on sub dome without a break we headed up the cables and were on the top by 5:40, with only blinks to spare before the sun came up. Goal accomplished.
As the crew sat on the granite dome and watched the sun bathe them with their first licks of sunlight for the day we all shared what we were grateful for and really took it all in. We were definitely grateful for that moment, the moments on clouds rest, the moments trudging through the snow and having snowball fights, the moments where the view took our breath away, the moments where falling also took our breath away, the moments where our packs were painful and the trail never seemed to end, the moments of acting silly and playing games, the moments watching the marmots, and all the moments of this trip combined that made this moment even sweeter. They say the harder you work for something the more you appreciate it and I believe this group appreciated the heck out of those 2 weeks and all that led to them standing on that summit, physically, mentally, and emotionally along the way. Leaders and participants alike had gone on a journey, an adventure, one that would last in all of their memories for not just the days, but the years that come. Without a doubt a Lasting Adventure.