Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Impromptu trip to Yosemite

After our family trip to Sequoia and Yosemite, and only getting a taste of Yosemite, I wanted to get more of the Yosemite experience. The weekend of July 30th provided the opportunity. I had two days of meetings in San Francisco on Wednesday and Thursday. I checked with my wife to see how she felt about me spending the weekend in the Yosemite backcountry with a buddy that I was working with in San Francisco. She thought it was a great opportunity for me to see the Yosemite backcountry and said I should go. That set the short term planning in motion.

We would have part of Friday after driving up from San Francisco, all of Saturday and part of Sunday, needing to be on the last plane home to Dallas by 5pm. My first idea was to do a 26-mile loop near the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. After consulting my hiking partner, we decided we wanted something a bit more leisurely, so another co-worker recommended the Ten Lakes area. This would be an out-and-back 6.5 miles each way and about a 2,000 foot elevation gain and 600 foot loss on the way in. I checked with the backcountry office and we were able to reserve permits for the area, amazing considering this was planned about a week in advance.

On Friday, we drove up from the San Francisco area. It took about 4 hours to get to the park. We picked up our permits and proceeded to the Ten Lakes trailhead. We unloaded all our gear, stashed our smelly items in the parking lot bear boxes and had a little lunch consisting of Hickory Smoked Tuna in a Tortilla. We saddled up and were on the trail by 1:30pm. With 6.5 miles and 2,000 feet + / 600 feet - to go, we estimated we'd be at Ten Lakes by around 4:30 or 5:00.

The trail starts off with a slow, gradual incline for the first 2.5 miles or so. You meander through wooded areas and out onto granite slabs occasionally. It was cool in the shade, but on the granite slabs, in the sunlight, it was extremely warm and dry. If you are going to do this hike, be sure you fill up with water at the trailhead. There are not a lot of water sources until you hit about mile 2.5 where you will cross a small creek, which could be dry later in the summer. This is also where the incline gets severely steeper. I think you go up about 500 feet in the first 2.5 miles and 1500 feet in the second 2.5 miles to the pass. The scenery also changes here, as you enter a more wooded area and passing an occasional meadow. The wildflowers in the meadows were beautiful. Yellows, blues, reds and whites were in abundance. There is also more water sources in this section, just be sure you are filled up prior to hitting around 9300 feet and around mile 4. This is where you are nearing the pass and there will be no more water until you reach Ten Lakes.





We stopped a few times on the way up for breaks. We had come from Dallas (near sea level) to Costa Mesa (at sea level) to San Francisco (at sea level) straight to the Ten Lakes trailhead at around 7500 feet. This provided no time to acclimate. Our sea level lungs were having difficulties in the thin air at around 9000 feet. We ended up arriving at our campsite around 5:30pm, which was not too bad.

We made camp and started working on dinner. Our first nights meal was a Mountain House lasagna with meat sauce and some tortillas for dipping and sopping up the goodness. Paired with dinner was a fine Maker's Mark and Coke, which was chilled over what little snow we could find and put in an inverted frisbee. This would keep us warm for the first night with temperatures dropping into the low- to mid-40s. We stayed around camp and went down to the lake's edge for a few pictures. Here are some from near our campsite.







The next morning, I experimented with breakfast, based on a tip I got from Backpacker Magazine for cooking pancakes in the backcountry. Theirs were actually beer pancakes, but I opted for just plain old Bisquick and water. Just buy the bottles of Bisquick that you add water, shake and pour. Empty the Bisquick contents into a ziploc bag at home. When you are ready to make them in camp, just add the water and compress the ziploc to mix it up. Once mixed, snip a small hole in one of the bottom corners to pour it out of into your fry pan. I brought a small eye dropper bottle with some maple syrup as well. What a tasty treat.

After breakfast, we decided to do a short day hike past the next lake to the northeast of our campsite, and head north along a 9000 foot ridge around Grand Mountain. This should put is in a position to look at the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne River. This is a 4000+ foot deep canyon that cuts through the Yosemite backcountry, north of Tioga Road from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to Glen Aulin. We would follow this ridge line around, boulder hopping occasionally and doing our own route finding as there is no visible trail. The route finding is not difficult, but my HighGear altimeter watch made sure we stayed around 9000 feet, which was extremely helpful.

Once out on the north end of Grand Mountain, we had some decent views of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne valley. We couldn't see completely into the Canyon, but the Valley is breathtaking.



We arrived back at camp in time for some lunch, a quick rinse in the lake and a nice hour long nap. Rick found comfort in his hammock and I laid out my Big Agnes Insulated Air Core mattress on a flat piece of ground with my Thermarest Compressible Pillow.

Later in the afternoon, we set out on another short day hike. This time, we would ascend about 500 vertical feet in a little over 1 mile to the highest and largest of the Ten Lakes. The first half mile or so of this hike from our campsite consumed most of the 500 vertical feet, so it was pretty steep. In the process, though, we were served up some spectacular views of the lake where we were camping at a couple of the 180 degree switchback turns. Here's a sample of what we were blessed with.



The lake at our destination was as gorgeous as the others we had seen, but seemed to be much less populated, probably due to the additional climb required to get here from the trailhead. We were also treated to someone in the distance playing their harmonica. It was a brief, but very tranquil moment. If I ever make it back to this area, this high lake may be a great spot to camp.



We turned around and headed back to our camp, arriving shortly before dinner time, allowing us some more down time to sit and soak our feet in the lake and watch a group of Dads and their teenage sons fish. Dinner tonight would be a Backpacker's Pantry Santa Fe Chicken with some tortillas, and of course, Maker's Mark and Coke. On this night, as well, we decided to have a campfire. Campfires are allowed below 9600 feet in the Yosemite backcountry, in established fire rings. It was nice to sit next to the fire, sipping a bit of Maker's, and re-visiting the past two days, and starting to plan the next trip.





In the morning, we packed up camp, ate some oatmeal with our coffee and tea, and bid farewell to our short-term home in the woods. Before heading out, we snapped a great photo from our campsite looking out over the lake. This is definitely a place I would come back to.



This was also a great warm-up for my next trip in a week, where I'm headed back to the same general area, but heading into the Ansel Adams Wilderness within the Inyo National Forest. This trip, I will be taking my wife and my two oldest children, ages 13 and 11. Look for that trip report soon.

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