Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cloud’s Rest

Waking up at Sunrise HSC I was feeling incredibly comfortable and peaceful. It was absolutely still outside, and I wasn’t sure if I should get up to greet he morning out in the elements, or just lie there and drift back into lazy sleeping. Remembering that a hot breakfast would be waiting at 7:30 the balance was swayed and I chose the latter. It’s so cool to get called for meals by someone flailing away on an old iron triangle while shouting across the camp just like back in the chuck wagon days. Often I like to get early starts, but this would be a blissful exception. As I usually do, I had studied the maps, and was entertaining some tentative ideas about hiking routes beginning from this location. I had also made lots of mental notes on the terrain around Long Meadow and the seemingly infinite rock scrambling possibilities right around Sunrise. It’s such a beautiful area I hated to waste the opportunities right in front of us. But talking to Sue, she really wanted to do Cloud’s Rest for some reason. The hike to the highest point in Yosemite Valley is a popular day hiking destination from the same trail head we hiked in on beginning at Tenaya Lake. We saw lots of day hikers on their way to Cloud’s Rest on the day we hiked in to Sunrise. We’ve both done that hike before but we haven’t ever done it together. It seems that this whole trip had somehow become about sharing our remembrances of past times as though to tie them to our lives together now. So vowing to come back some day for another stay we made plans to day hike Cloud’s Rest. What the hey? The views are unique and completely awesome. Who could complain?

We hiked the trail back past the 3 Sunrise Lakes still tempted to jump in. Also hard to resist was the opportunity to hike off trail over to the mysterious 2nd lake barely visible through the trees just to check out the area more closely. Lots of rocky high points that would have been fairly easy to scramble didn’t go unnoticed either. I almost could have sworn some of them were whispering my name, but I hung with the plan to hike with Sue to Cloud’s Rest. At the first lake we had caught up with the group that was doing the ranger led high sierra camps loop. We caught Adriana’s (the ranger) nature notes on the damselflies. She was the same ranger that was in camp the night before leading a star gazing talk, pointing out celestial bodies in the night sky with a laser pointer. Interesting stuff! That’s one big advantage of doing the loop. You get to listen to a real high country naturalist who can answer questions. One of the things I remember about Yosemite Association hikes that I’ve done was how we always had hike leaders, usually rangers, who were both knowledgeable and friendly. Yosemite has the best.

Back to the trail; we returned to the first junction at the top of a ridge, and took the left fork headed southwest. The route begins by heading downhill into a little wooded area which is humid and rocky with a lot of standing seemingly dead wood. Many trees in this area seem to be dead or dying as if by some disease. The terrain is also very moist in places with corn lilies, a few wild flowers, pink heather, and bushes blossoming in white that I still have yet to identify. We passed along the shores of another lake although not an especially pretty one, and filtered some of the clear water. Soon the trail begins the climbing that you knew was coming, all the way to the next junction mostly through tree cover. The final section to Cloud’s rest is the steepest, but you are able to get some really nice views through the trees. As we approached the barren rocky peak the views opened up and begin to dazzle our senses. The sun was strong, but the air smells very clean and the breezes are soothing. I found some Sierra Primrose amongst the rocks as we climbed up. Mostly easy, there is one section that is a little scary to some hikers because it’s narrow with a big drop off on either side. Called the “knife edge”, you want to be careful here, but anyone can do the hike without danger as long as you don’t do anything stupid. In a few places we used our hands (scrambled), but it was far from daunting. We were having a lot of fun on the knife and Sue even horsed around a little. There is another route to the top on the other side, but that would be a longer route for us.

At the top you have the unique experience of looking down on the summit of Half Dome. Awesome views down the abyss of Tenaya Canyon are dizzying, and the chasm of Yosemite Valley yaws open with its granite sentinels on either side. The panorama from the top is the best available; even better than Half Dome. From here you can look to the east and trace the exact route of the mighty Merced River the whole way from its origin. You can’t see the actual river but you can follow the canyon through which it passes. Yosemite’s congress of high peaks is all visible from here. If you have a topographical map and a compass you could spend hours just identifying terrain features. Looking back to the north you can see Tenaya Lake and Tioga Road carving its way along, and you can see way beyond Mt Hoffmann to distant peaks not even in Yosemite. We spent at least an hour up here contemplating, having lunch, and just playing a little. The sights are so uplifting I had completely forgotten all those other hikes I wanted to do. Next time – next time.

Click any of the images to expand.
Click here to see more photos from this hike on flickr.

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