My family went on one of the biggest adventures of our lives this past summer. We tackled the Yosemite High Sierra Camp (HSC) Loop. It was easily one of the most challenging and best trips we have ever taken. I highly recommend it and I think we will do it again someday. I’m going to write about each day separately to share the whole story.
I don’t recall how I heard about the HSC Loop, or what made me decide that it would be a great thing to do with 8 and 10 year old daughters in tow, but I entered the lottery for a spot in November 2011 and was notified in January 2012 that we were awarded a reservation to the Camps in July 2012. It turned out to be a great first backpacking trip because each camp provides a canvas tent with cots and bedding, plus breakfast and dinner each day, and the option to order a sack lunch to take on the trail. This makes it possible to hike carrying only a day pack, although I carried an Arcteryx Axios 33 which is more than a day pack. My husband also carried a 36L Osprey pack. The two of us carried our own gear, plus our kids gear so that they only had to carry water, snacks and a jacket. My parents hiked with day packs. Now that I’ve done the loop, I know that I could get away with carrying less stuff next time. In fact, about halfway through the second day I was thinking, “What in the hell do I have in this pack?!?!” I was ready to unload anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary for survival, like sunscreen, soap, etc. And by the way, if you do this trip, you do not need to pack soap because it is stocked in all the camps for handwashing and showers.
My parents, who are seasoned backpackers that have done much of the John Muir Trail and extensive backpacking in the White Mountains, including all of the “Four-Thousand Footers of the White Mountains”, came along for the ride. I must admit that having a team of veterans with us novices was very comforting.
Because we are farmers we have very physical jobs and lead active lifestyles. We are fit to begin with. In addition to our work, my parents and I do some running and walking, my husband and I do pilates regularly, and my husband is an avid surfer, mountain bike rider and overall hyperactive human. Our kids are blade runners who are natural athletes. All this to say that we did little beyond our normal lifestyles for physical training to tackle the loop. Another bonus of being a farmer on this trip was that we are used to early bed times and waking up early in the morning. The camps do not have electricity, so bedtime happens when the sun goes down and getting an early start in the morning means more time to play (or recover!) in the afternoon when you reach the next camp.
I am not a big traveler, as noted in one of my previous posts, My Travel Curse, so there is much of the world that I have not seen but I still feel comfortable making the statement that Yosemite National Park must be one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I love going there, and every time I visit I find the landscape to be breathtaking. Seeing Yosemite on the HSC Loop is seeing the Park in a whole new light. On the Valley floor there are a gazillion people. On the HSC Loop there are few. I would guess because not a lot of people today are fit enough to walk to the camps. The walk from one camp to the next was strenuous for much of the trip, and leisurely for bits, but always beautiful.
Our hiking itinerary was as follows: Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin, Glen Aulin to May Lake, May Lake to Sunset Camp, Sunset Camp to Merced Lake, Merced Lake to Vogelsang, Vogelsang to Tuolumne Meadows. We opted to stay at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge the night before starting our hike, and I really recommend this option. It enables you to get an early start and to have some time to get acclimated since it is located at 8,775 feet. The restaurant there is great, and we ordered a sack lunch to take with us on the trail. We spent the afternoon exploring the Tuolumne River, which runs right through the camp, doing some fly fishing, and relaxing in preparation for our first day on the trail.
My dad couldn’t wait to try fly fishing.
Simon’s first cast got stuck in a tree.
After a good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast the next morning, we packed up our bags and started on our way to Glen Aulin. This was the easiest day of the trip. The scenery was unbelievable, and it was a good day for everyone.
Most of the trail from Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin is relatively flat. In fact, the elevation at Glen Aulin is 7800ft, so we actually walked a bit downhill.
This was the easiest day of the trip, and we arrived at the camp by 2pm, giving us plenty of time to swim in the ICY cold but beautiful, crystal clear water, and to explore around the camp. The waterfall into the pool at the camp is unbelievably pretty, and the sound that it makes can be heard throughout the camp.
All meals are served family style, which gave us a great opportunity each night to meet new people. Some of the other hikers were with us on the whole loop, but most only did a portion of the 49 miles.
After dinner we watched the sunset, then hit the sack. I went to bed feeling a little sick, and really proud of my girls for finishing the day with a positive attitude and a smile on their faces.
Up next: Day 2. Things got a little more challenging on the hike from Glen Aulin to May Lake.