18 Apr Guide’s Favorite: Hidden Yosemite Backpacking Adventure
Dodge the crowds and experience one of the most stunning sides of Yosemite National Park!
by Juliet Ramirez, Lasting Adventures guide
I’m calling it: This is my favorite trip in Yosemite. I know it’s a bold claim, what with all the incredible trips on offer in Yosemite National Park, but I’m prepared to stake it. After all, there’s a reason the Hidden Yosemite Trip is filed firmly in the category of “Lasting Adventures Guides’ Favorites,” and that reason becomes clear somewhere between the joy of sweet swimming holes and the solitude and smallness that you feel amongst its dramatic Eastern Sierra peaks.
Last fall I headed out on a solo trek through this lesser-visited area of Yosemite. I’d heard this route discussed by so many locals, guides, and rangers as their favorite spot, so I decided to check it out for myself. At this point in my adventures, I was fortunate enough to have hiked so many of the famous Yosemite routes, so this left me intrigued and excited to see what others thought could match up to the wild views of the famous granite cliffs of Yosemite Valley.
In the planning stages of my trip I discovered some obstacles involved with this route. It is not the most popular route, and that means you have to be prepared to truly be alone in the wilderness. There is no cell service. The mountains passes are steep, and you have to be prepared to hike real mountains at high elevation. I welcomed the challenge.
Here’s the deal. This trip starts by going to Glen Aulin. This is an amazing way to see Tuolumne Meadows, gaze ever-so-longingly at the Cathedral Range, and end your day at a High Sierra Camp where you will have the option to swim at the base of a stunning waterfall. That is a fantastic trip on its own, but the Hidden Yosemite tour only gets better. It gets wilder. It gets much more remote. The route heads north and eventually hits Matterhorn Canyon, which is where the magic really happens.
On the fourth day of my solo Hidden Yosemite trip, I turned off the Pacific Crest Trail into Matterhorn Canyon. It was mostly lovely. The river was nice. I was having a good ol’ time, and then I saw it- Sawtooth Ridge. It was down at the other end of the canyon, like a wild dream at the end of a granite tunnel. It was what I had dreamt mountains looked like as a small imaginative child in Louisiana. It was probably the most beautiful collections of peaks I had ever seen, and in that moment, all I wanted to do was walk as fast as I could towards them.
Sawtooth Ridge was truly mesmerizing. Looking at it from a distance, I was enchanted until I reached the base. Walking toward it, I wasn’t quite sure how or even if I would enter the beautiful area in front of me. The map of my route indicated I would, but I couldn’t quite picture how. I eventually got to the northern end of the canyon where I laid eyes on Burro Pass. It zig-zagged right out of the canyon, with a meandering trail that looked like a stairway into a wild and magical land. It reminded me of that scene from Grease where Olivia Newton John and John Travolta get into the flying car. This was my way in. I camped that night on a flat granite slab nestled at the base of Burro Pass, looking up at Whirl Mountain and Matterhorn Peak. I had hiked wonderfully hard that day, and I was tired.
I woke up the next morning, had plenty of Alpine Start coffee, and started up the pass. There was no one in sight. I walked toward the most beautiful place I could possibly imagine, fueled by what felt like the best coffee and breakfast in the world, and I was utterly alone. Once I reached the top of the pass, I couldn’t have been more smitten. It was even more beautiful than I had imagined. There were lusher-than-lush meadows with rushing rivers leading into perfect alpine lakes all surrounded by incredible dramatic peaks. I walked at roughly half a mile an hour, due to my ogling.
Having done this hike, I feel like I’ve been shown a secret gem. I feel so lucky. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!