We just returned from our third trip to Yosemite. My husband and I brought his sister along with us. The purpose of the trip was to see the high country, since our previous trips were in the spring before Tioga Rd opened.
We landed in Reno around 9pm on Wed night and crashed near the airport.
BODIE and MONO LAKE
Thursday morning we headed down 395, stopped in Bridgeport to pick up sandwiches from the Meat & Deli, and made it to Bodie around 12:30. This was our day to acclimate to the altitude before hitting the trails.
We had clear blue skies, which made for stunning photo opps. After a quick picnic in the parking lot, we walked around town until close to 3pm. It was really fun to peak into all the windows and imagine what life was like there. I was amused by our delight each time we discovered a familiar brand name, like Del Monte, on a dusty jar.
I wanted to get to Mono Lake later in the afternoon for better light, so at 3pm we made a short trip to Lundy Lake in the hopes of seeing some fall color, but it was just so so. We checked into our cabin at the Lake View Lodge before heading to the South Tufa parking lot (just south of Lee Vining) around 4:45. The trail down to the beach and along the water was peaceful. We enjoyed the easy stroll, and my husband and SIL were grossed out by the alkali flies--I got a kick out of my "force field" which held the swarms at bay, a foot or two away at all times.
Already in the first week of October, about half of Lee Vining's seven restaurants were shut down for the season, so the options were even more limited than usual. But our dinner that evening at Nicely's was nice. :) About what you'd expect from a roadside diner.
My husband and I honestly didn't expect to knock this off our list this trip, since his sister isn't much of a hiker. But we figured we'd give it a shot, and send her back to Tenaya Lake if she couldn't handle it. But she rocked it!
Although a lot of the hike is forested, I still found it to be very pleasant. Yosemite's forests are interesting because of the mix of trees and granite. We saw six other hikers until we reached the summit, and that made me a happy hiker. We also found a couple water sources not far from Clouds Rest, so we were able to filter some water for the hike down.
The views from the top... Vogelsvang Peak to the left (I think?), Tenaya Canyon to the right, Half Dome straight ahead and Tenaya Lake behind--wow! The last stretch to the summit is a bit scary in one spot for those afraid of heights (me), but doable. If you've done Angel's Landing in Zion I'd put this at about 70% in terms of scariness. At the summit we met a fellow hiker with a prosthetic leg. Pretty cool!
The hike down felt a lot longer than the hike up. You always think the car is just ahead... and an hour later you're still not back! :)
Dinner at Whoa Nellie Deli. Fish tacos and burgers both got the thumbs up from us diners.
20 LAKES BASIN
We had some tough choices to make, as we knew that we didn’t have the stamina to knock off all the hikes on our list. We decided on 20 Lakes Basin because certain guide books called this hike easy and we thought it would be a good choice after Clouds Rest. I believe that one even said it was frequented by “children and the elderly.” While part of this hike IS indeed easy and flat, the first couple miles were pretty tough, especially on weary legs. We hiked clockwise around Saddlebag Lake because it was the shorter route, but it was all loose talus and therefore tiresome. We then hiked counter-clockwise around the basin, and I would DEFINITELY recommend this direction. The first section from Saddlebag to Lake Helen was okay. More talus and, because of the season, pretty browned out.
By this point, probably about 4 miles in, I was definitely starting to think that the Internet had led me astray in choosing this hike. But from Lake Helen to the end, things started looking up, and when we got to Shamrock Lake, I thought we might never leave. It was absolutely great. A little fairy land. We did quite of a bit of exploring around that area and around Steelhead Lake before heading back and taking the longer route around Saddlebag to our car. Shame on me for doubting the Internet, and especially the DEs!
From the start of the hike until we reached Shamrock Lake, we saw 1 hiker. We passed many more on the western side of the loop on our way back. I would do this hike again in a heartbeat, but earlier in the season when the water is running and the meadows are green.
That evening we decided to shoot down to Mammoth Lakes for dinner. We wanted to scope it out for a future trip to the Ansel Adams Wilderness I have in my back pocket. The drive down 395 between Lee Vining and Mammoth was very pretty. We had a great dinner at Whiskey Creek. There’s not a ton going on in Mammoth in the summer, though. It’s definitely the off season there.
We had to choose between Cathedral Lakes and this hike. While I like to think I could have done both, I may have found out otherwise, and my SIL was nearly out of gas anyway. I knew there’d be a steep section at the beginning, and it was steeper and longer than I had imagined, but we took our time. Again, I can only imagine what this hike looks like earlier in the season, when everything is green and flowing. It was brown, and the stream from upper to lower lakes was dry, but it was still very nice.
We left my SIL on the shore of Upper Gaylor while we headed up to explore the Grand Sierra Mine. We saw a pika hanging out between the rocks of the first structure. I had left my map in my pack with my SIL, but I knew that Granite Lake was around there somewhere, so I did a little scrambling from the mine and did eventually come upon it from above. I saw on our decent the much easier approach from Lower Gaylor, but by that time I’d be pushing my luck if I asked for any more hiking, so that’ll have to wait til next time!
We finished around noon, so we headed over to Tenaya Lake and found a picnic table near the shore for lunch. We watched climbers on the rocks and one inspired man take a dip in the lake. We had all afternoon, and our sentimentality got the better of us, so we continued west on Tioga Road and make a quick stop in Yosemite Valley. I’m glad we did—having only seen it in May and June, it was fascinating to see Bridalveil trickle and Yosemite Falls completely dry. We took the opportunity to get up close to where the falls would be by doing a little rock scrambling. What an odd feeling that was!
What was almost more interesting was the contrast between the high country and the valley in terms of infrastructure. The valley has so much of it. We had a good long conversation about that in the car, and particularly about the crowds. Even in October there was a bit of traffic. I love the valley, but I hate all the people.
We left in time to get back up to Olmsted Point for sunset, and this ranks as one of my favorite national park experiences of all time, and most definitely the best sunset I have ever seen. Having just done Clouds Rest days before, to close out our trip by viewing it at sunset was very special.
Dinner again at Whoa Nellie. Two words: buffalo meatloaf!
Monday morning we headed back to Reno to fly home. It was a short trip but pretty full, and I was so, so happy to be back, and to finally see Tioga Road. Now I can't wait to see it earlier in the season, when it's lush and growing... even if we have to face more crowded trails. There’s so much more to the eastern sierra, so it was almost easier to leave this time because I already know we’ll be back soon!