Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Forty One Pounds…

I am amazed after all the years I have lived in and visited Yosemite that I have never taken the time to hike to North Dome.  So on my weekend I decided it was time to do so and make it my first overnight hike in Yosemite since 1985, although I have logged hundreds of miles on the East Side since 1985.

My trip started by hitchhiking to the Porcupine Creek Trailhead and from there I would hike to Indian Rock and end my day on North Dome making it an easy 5.5 mile hike. The next morning I backtracked .5 miles and then took another trail to Yosemite Point, then to the top of Yosemite Falls and hike down the falls trail back to the valley.

In the past I always tried my best to keep my pack around 35-40 pounds for a weekend backpacking trip. On my way I stopped at the Wilderness Center and weighed my pack and it was 41 pound. Not bad considering that I am carrying around 5 liters of water, 1 bottle of “Blue Goo” (my name for the blue Gatorade) and a partially frozen Modelo beer, which will thaw by the time for lunch on North Dome.

It took only about 5 minutes of hitchhiking and I was picked up and driven all the way to Porcupine Creek. After making a few adjustments to my pack off I went down the trail. Here the trail starts out wide for the first .7 miles as it once was a road but has been long since taken over by nature.


The trail on an abandoned road

Not much further down the trail you reach Porcupine Creek, which you make an easy traverse over using a fallen tree.

Porcupine Creek

Porcupine Creek Log Crossing

After crossing the creek the trail becomes what most of that hike
are used to seeing, a narrow path wondering through the forest.

Soon I approached an area of damp ground it was covered by bright green corn lilies.

Corn Lilies along the trail

A little further and near another small runoff creek you come across an area laden with bright green ferns.

Ferns covering the ground near a creek

At the 1.6 mile mark on the trail as the great Yogi Berra once said, “I came to a fork in the road and I took it”. The trail splits with the branch to the left heading to North Dome and the Trail to the right heading to Yosemite Falls.

the "fork" in the road

Tioga Road 1.6 miles away and where I started

the trail to the right...

And the trail to the left...I'm headed left...

From this point the trail narrows and you begin a gradual climb toward Indian Rock and North Dome. It is not very steep and more of a slight to moderate climb for about 1.3 miles

and climbing another trail

At this point you reach the junction to Indian Rock a mere .3 miles away. The trail is all straight uphill but well worth the short climb. Indian Rock is a natural arch but what make is unique is it is made out of granite which is very rare given the hardness of the rock.

Indian Rock with Sentinel Dome through
the window on the South Rim of the valley

Just liked the shot of this
tree at Indian Rock

After leaving Indian Rock and rejoining the North Dome Trail you start to climb once more to the top of and unnamed granite structure about .7 miles from the Indian Rock Trailhead. At first you think you are climbing North Dome until you see it off in the distance once your reach the top of this granite dome. Here you will find great views and one or two camp spots with existing fire rings.

From where you "thought" was North Dome
only to see it a mile away in the distance

After enjoying the view you head back down from your perch and the trail to North Dome winds around the left side. The trail continues to drop as you make your way towards your final destination. With .5 miles to go you reach yet another trail junction. One headed toward the top Yosemite Falls 4.2 miles away and your trail .5 miles to North Dome. It is a very steep, narrow and slick in places and drops to the trees at the base of North Dome before you begin the short descent to the top.

Made it....

North Dome has some of the best views of the valley I have seen from any vantage point. From here Half Dome looks only a stones throw away.

Half Dome

And Clouds Rest not much further.

Clouds Rest

Looking from left to right from the same place on top of North Dome allows you a variety of views

Clouds Rest and Half Dome

Illouette Canyon and Illouette Falls

Glacier Point

Yosemite Valley from North Dome

After enjoying the 270 degree view it was time to relax and have lunch

not a bad place to have lunch...agreat view too...

Next it was time to stretch out in my hammock, chill and take a siesta

just chillin'

After a short nap it was time to evaluate the situation. First I thought I might just spend the night here as it obviously had a great view and some protection. But looking at the sky there was a possibility of thunderstorms and being on top of North Dome is very exposed so I decided not to “break the rule” and descended back down to tree line to make camp for the night.

In the tree line there are three camp choices with existing fire rings. One is nothing special so I contemplated over one that was well within the trees with great coverage if it rained as I decided not to bring my tent. And the other was slightly more exposed but with a much grander view even though they were only a couple hundred yards apart.

I decided on the one with the great view of Half Dome and began to set up came.


After camp was set up I walk part way up North Dome and took a couple of photographs of Clouds Rest.

Clouds Rest

And of Half Dome covered by the alpenglow

Half Dome drenched in Alpenglow

Next it was time to light the fire and relax around camp

Not a bad view from the campfire

Though no bears showed up during the night I was woken up several times by the deer that continuously ventured very close to camp. The parade started about 10pm and probably continued throughout the night. I’m not sure as after about a dozen deer I was able to sleep through their stomping, bounding through the forest and grazing. Upon arriving back I found out from the rangers there has been a lot of bear activity in the area but I did see any at all. Which is good, as I really didn’t want to have to deal with any bears in the middle of the night.

The next morning I slept in until around 7am and broke camp. The first .5 miles is straight up from the saddle near the base of North Dome where I spent the night to near the top of the ridge.

Hiking back up from North Dome

From there the trail splits back the way I came or following the north rim of the valley. I headed off taking the Rim Trail towards Yosemite Point and the top of Yosemite Falls. The trail itself is well defined and for the most part relatively flat or downhill without any major switchbacks. It winds through the forest making it cool but also bringing out the mosquitos. As long as you kept moving they were not that big of a problem.

A little over half way to the falls you start climbing again but it is not really steep you still find yourself thinking you are at the top only to find you are at a false summit and need to keep going. Over your shoulder every now and then you get a glimpse of Half Dome and its surrounding mountaintops.

Going off trail to get a picture of Half Dome and North Dome
where I started this morning

A little further down trail gave yet another view...
this time of Half Dome and Indian Canyon

Finally reaching the summit there are a number of places to take in the view. I headed to Yosemite Point to get a couple pictures and relax after a few miles of hiking he trail.

Half Dome, Glacier Point and the Ahwahnee Hotel
from Yosemite Point

Glacier Point from Yosemite Point

The South Rim and Yosemite Valley
from Yosemite Point

It is not much further continuing along the trail to the top of Yosemite Falls. The trail near Yosemite Point can be a little confusing but watch for well placed “trail ducks” and you should have no problem. You keep dropping into Yosemite Creek Canyon taking one switchback after another. You can hear the stream and the falls much sooner then you can see them. Once you find the stream you cross by the uses of a wooden footbridge. DO NOT go swimming here even though it can look relatively calm, doing so “breaks the rule” and a number of people have been swept over the falls.

To get a look at the falls you make a short climb out of the canyon and way from Yosemite Creek. Reaching the top you find a trail marker pointing to the left for the Yosemite Falls Overlook or you can go straight and begin the hike to the 3.2 mile valley.

Opting for the Overlook I took the short walk over a rise and down the steep steps towards the falls. It is best to drop your pack at the top before heading down due to the narrowness of the trail. At one point the trail hugs the cliff with one side with a railing and the other a sheer drop. Once you reach the bottom there is enough room to move about and get a few photographs. If you are afraid of heights this descent is probably not for you.

The end of the trail and railing
to the Yosemite Falls Lookout

Yosemite Valley from the "Lookout"

And the Top of Yosemite Falls

And OVER the Falls...

Back from where the stairs take you to the Lookout I relaxed drank some water, had a snack and enjoyed the view.

View from the top of the stairs

Next I threw my pack on and headed down the Yosemite Falls Trail. The trail is steep in parts and ranges from dirt to rock to slick rock covered with pea gravel and dirt making it very slick. This is my worse nightmare on the trail with my knees especially when carrying a 40 pound pack. I could remember back in the late twenties and early thirties when I used to really cover some distance and fly down the trail. Those days are all but gone as it took me close to three hours as I took my time being careful not to slip and injury myself any further as I am still nursing a dislocated shoulder from work about a month ago. Between my knees, shoulder and balancing a forty pound pack on your back it does not give you a lot of confidence going downhill on steep trails, so a slow go it is….

However it is well worth it when you take a look around and see the valley below, Half Dome off in the distance and Yosemite Falls at you side.

Headed down the Yosemite Falls Trail

Further down the Yosemite Falls Trail is a nice shot of Half Dome and of North Dome
peaking over the ridge giving perspective of where I started my hike this morning

Finally some views of Yosemite Falls

Even though the trail drop close to 3,000 feet you still find yourself having to climb up the trail in spots before again heading back down a few hundred feet. At the end of the trail are the last sixty switchbacks. Some are short some or a bit long and they seem to go on forever. You keep passing people with exhausted looks on their faces knowing they still have two to three miles to go.

You might think that going uphill is the tough part and it is but going downhill is even harder in some ways. I always say “harder on your lungs going uphill and harder on your knees and shoulders going downhill”. The bottom line is you pay the price on way or another to enjoy the backcountry. And it is a price I am willing to pay gladly….

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