Yosemite National Park, California
Knocking on heaven’s hidden door
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Yosemite embodies the central dilemma of our national parks: Its high peaks and cathedral-like valley are among the world’s finest natural treasures. But those treasures also attract 3.5 million admirers a yearwhich means the population density in the valley during the peak season can be as high as that of Phoenix.
Climbers and hikers know that the solution to this dilemma is right over everyone’s heads: Just ascend a few pitches up any climbing routeor a few miles on almost any trailand the bustling scene on the valley floor is soon hidden under the pines.
Surrounded by nothing but luminous, fine-grained granite, you’ll see the same Yosemite that photographer Ansel Adams described as “a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”
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5 Perfect Days
The Ultimate Itinerary
Take the high road into the parkthrough the east entrance and over 9,945-foot [3,031-meter] Tioga Passto form the perfect first impression. “You’re immediately surrounded by granite and meadows,” says Doug Robinson, the storied Yosemite big-wall climber.
Pick up a camping permit at the Wilderness Center in Tuolumne Meadows, then drive to the start of the Snow Creek Trail. Five miles [8 kilometers] of downhill backpacking takes you to the lip of the valley.
From this unconventional northern vantage point, the view of Half Dome’s giant vertical face is nothing less than shocking.
Watch the morning sun light up the cliffs and domes surrounding the valley, then begin the switchback descent. While thousands of cars pour through the valley’s western portal every day, you’ll be one of the handful of hikers who enter, on foot, from the roadless east.
Hop the shuttle bus to legendary Camp 4, near El Capitan, where an international coterie of rock climbers hangs out and stays limber on boulders that dot the campground. If their rock jockery inspires you, the Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service can lead you on routes such as the Grack (rated 5.6), a three-pitch classic.
At Yosemite Lodge, catch the Tioga Road bus back to Tuolumne Meadows, then set out on a three-day, 32-mile [51-kilometer] loop hike into the heart of John Muir’s “range of light.”
The first five miles [eight kilometers] of the trip follow the John Muir Trail through Lyell Canyon before exiting onto the Ireland Creek Trail. Camp for the night by Evelyn Lake, high in the Cathedral Range.
This morning’s stretch of trail, between the Vogelsang and Merced Lake camps, along Fletcher Creek, is likely to be the busiest of the tripbut tonight you’ll camp in solitude.
After a midday dip in one of the granite-lined swimming holes along Lewis Creek, slip off the trail at either Florence Creek or Bernice Lake. Follow streams across granite slabs and through meadows to any one of numerous tarns and small lakes. A campsite in either drainage promises unbeatable alpenglow on the surrounding peaks.
It’s a stiff climb up to Vogelsang Pass, where views of the entire Clark Range and Triple Divide Peak, on the park’s southern boundary, are terrific. (They’re even better from the tops of either Florence or Vogelsang Peaks, which can be climbed safely by experienced scramblers.)
The homestretch, from Tuolumne Pass back to your car, includes more inspiring meadows, creeks, and peaks.
Permits: Free wilderness permits are required to camp in the backcountry, and their availability is limited by a quota system. You can reserve one in advance for $5.
Contact: For permits and a trip planner, contact the Wilderness Center (+1 209 372 0740; www.nps.gov/yose/wilderness).
For the full Yosemite National Park guide, pick up the May 2002 Adventure.
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