Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mt Hoffmann

Yosemite Valley from the Mt Hoffmann saddle
Among the trailheads to choose from for a partial-day hike on the way up Tioga Road, the May Lake area offers what is arguably one of the best payoffs in terms of the interestingness and character of the landscape, compared with the relative ease of accessibility. The May Lake trailhead provides access to the 10 Lakes Basin, and other longer distance trails, but is also a great area for some fantastic hike destinations that provide a real back-country feel, but can be reached without embarking on an all day trek covering scores of miles and challenging elevation changes. The trailhead elevation of 8700 feet also makes it a good acclimation day hike venue. That’s important if you live at virtual sea level as I do nestled in the heart of the anthill in the bay area. The weather-beaten sub-alpine terrain and ubiquitous granite features are stark and compelling and a lot of fun to ponder and explore. Plus there are lots of little un-named lakes and ponds all around, and plenty of wild flowers to keep you interested. One of the most prominent features in the area is Mount Hoffmann. The striking profile of this peak is popularly recognizable and is a visible feature from many of other vantage points around Yosemite; which tends to make one wonder what sights you could see if you were to hike to the top. The actual summit of Mt Hoffmann, being a collection of jagged rock pinnacles and crests, is not accessible to hikers, but there is a hike-able “saddle” at the top which is covered by what is essentially, a high meadow. There’s a lot of room to wander up there, and yes; there is a trail despite it's absence on most maps.

The trail to Mt Hoffmann is not marked on many of the maps I’ve seen including my own National Geographic topo map. Apparently, it’s not an official park trail, but many people know of it, especially if they’ve ever stayed at May LakeHSC. Many of the peak trails in Yosemite are referred to as “social trails”; meaning, that they are not officially maintained. Often, on this type of a trail, it is your responsibility as the hiker to look for the cairns that mark the way, and recognize the signs of usage routes in order to discern the trail. And they often can have some very steep sections requiring careful footing, or even some scrambling. A GPS device is always a good thing to have, but not essential for this hike. The trail to Mt Hoffmann is one of the friendlier of the social trails. It’s very easy to follow despite the lack of permanent markings. To find it, you need only make your way to May Lake.

May Lake from the Mt Hoffmann saddle
The trailhead at May Lake has plenty of places to park a vehicle, and there are bear boxes available in case you are carrying scented items. A signed turn off along Tioga Road leads to a narrow, bumpy, partially paved road for about 2 miles to reach the trailhead area. From there you can easily find the trail to May Lake HSC which is only a little over a mile with a gentle climb up to about 9300 feet. When you reach the camp just follow the trail around the south end of the lake, and you cannot miss the junction even though it’s unmarked. After bearing left, before long you begin climbing, cross a little creek, and pass along a really nice little grassy green meadow rimmed with pines and dotted with wild flowers (in season). Leaving the meadow the trail drops a bit before beginning to climb a rocky talus where you need to spot the cairns for best route through. From here you get a nice little view to the lake before turning around to the west side of the mountain. Soon you are climbing quite steeply and heading up the rocky south-western slope of the mountain, switching back many times to gain altitude more gradually. After climbing for about a mile, and reaching 10,400 feet, you break out onto the saddle. Still climbing, the views to the west are awesome. You can see quite a bit of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest, and beyond to the Clark range and scores of high peaks. If you are willing to go off trail a little bit, you can walk up to the northeast to a cliff alongside the rock pinnacle that is seen from the May Lake camp. This vantage point will give you a staggering view straight down to May Lake. From this location, you are also treated to commanding views of a panorama of easterly high mountains, clear lakes, jagged peaks, and tree covered slopes. Yellow bellied marmots love to dwell amongst the rocks up here feeding on a variety of plants, and lots of little birds and smaller rodents are active too. And keep your eye peeled for raptors. The trail leads over to the summit which has some kind of man-made tower on it, maybe for weather information. I suppose you could scramble up to the summit but there is no trail and I didn't bother with it. After spending some time enjoying the breezes and admiring the gorgeous panoramic views, or in my case dodging raindrops, just head back down the trail the same way. I spent nearly five hours on this hike, but you could complete it in far less time, provided you are able to pull yourself away from such a striking and commanding location. Total elevation gain on the hike is only about 2116 feet, with a round trip distance of 6.3 miles. The hike is plenty do-able even for beginning hikers. I don’t think you can find a much better ratio of payoff verses effort than this. The weather was a little iffy the day I did this hike, so that played havoc with my photography as you can tell from the pictures displayed here. I also have a photoset and track log at the links below.

Click here to see my photoset on flickr
Click here to see my track log and trip report on Every Trail

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Foresta Hike

View from the Foresta Trail
I was feeling a little harried when the first day of my Sierra trip got off to a lousy start. Sometimes things just go a little awry, but still turn out alright. It's the law of averages. I had made a reservation for a campsite at Crane Flat for one night only. I could not set up camp at Tuolumne Meadows , which was my real destination, until the next day. So the plan was for this site to give me an extra day for a hike at slightly lower elevation. I wanted to hike the route from Tamarack Flat to El Capitan, but as luck would have it, I ran into some unexpected circumstances. First there were no bear lockers at the trailhead at Tamarack Flat, and my vehicle was full of camping supplies including a week’s worth of food. I was stunned at this development! Trailheads at Yosemite generally always have bear boxes available for general use. It is technically illegal, that is; you can be cited for a violation of federal law for not properly storing food in bear country. After having visions of my car doors being ripped off (literally), I drove over to Crane Flat to see if they had any bear boxes I could use. I could not check in there until noon, and there was nothing available there either. But the ranger told me about some lockers at a pullout along Tioga Road a few miles beyond Tamarack Flat. I drove there only to find out that they were all being used, and there was not enough room for all my stuff. Still not willing to risk my car becoming a statistic, I remembered that there was also a trailhead to El Capitan at Foresta. I drove out there and finally found a bear box I could use. However the route from there adds an extra 4 miles being a 20 mile round trip, and it was getting late in the morning. It was also reaching over 100 degrees in the open that day. Ironically, if I had not made the reservation at Crane Flat, I could have simply rented a campsite at Tamarack Flat, which is first come first served, and used the bear box in the site. The route from there is a shaded 16 mile round trip, and I could have started early enough to complete the hike, and still had time to setup camp before dark. Bummer! (g-rated term).

View to Mt Clark
The area around Foresta was once beautiful and thickly wooded with lodgepole and sugar pine, but has suffered the effects of several devastating fires. There was a huge fire there in 1991 which did considerable damage, and another fire in 2009. Recovery is well underway, but the first 4 miles of trail is very exposed due to the lack of mature trees. With the temperature soaring to over 100 degrees, and the extra distance and elevation gain; and with the late start due to my screw-up over bear boxes, I knew there was no freakin’ way I could still make El Cap and get back. (bleep!) Instead, I decided to set a turn around time and hike the trail anyway. Even with my energy waning in the exposed heat, I figured I could at least make the junction with Old Big Oak Flat Road, and I would always rather hike then sit around. This turned out to be a good decision because I discovered that even with the fire damage causing devastation of the trees; the wild flowers are already coming back. The trail passes through several areas with seeps and creeks, and there are still some wooded sections. I found some really nice rein orchids and lots of scarlet monkey flower, along with some other interesting surprises that kept me occupied for the afternoon. I also got some fairly interesting views before heading back. I really want to come back here again sometime without the oppressive heat, and with more time so I can make the summit. Of course I still have the other route from Tamarack that remains un-hiked by me for some other time as well. I added a photoset on flickr if you want to see the wild flower pictures. I will be adding posts of my other hiking on this trip as time allows.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sleeping Tigers

Tiger Lilies and pods (Lilium pardalinum)
After a rather dismal spring wildflower season for 2012, I began awaiting the arrival of some of my favorite late season blooms. This year has had sparse rainfall, and precious few sunny days during spring, which really seemed to curtail the blooming of the open meadow varieties. The melancholy conditions made it a disappointing season for me compared to past years, and that in turn made for some boring and disappointing hikes. I began looking forward toward the end of spring when I could then begin to seek out the early summer offerings, which seem relatively unaffected by less than optimal conditions of spring.

Mariposa Lilies began showing up in early June. I have many favorite spots to look for those, but Henry Coe tops my list for Mariposas mainly for the variety of the colors (photoset here). During the past few weeks I have been hunting around for another post-spring favorite. I’ve been looking in some familiar places where I expect to see them, and also searching out new possibilities as well, but week after week only seeing the un-bloomed pods of sleeping tigers. Tiger Lilies have an unmistakable leaf structure which makes them noticeable even before they begin to show their colors. After spotting the sprouting plants with their characteristic blade-like leaves in radius around tall stalks, they soon begin to droop over and show pods. But for weeks they slept and slept. Now they are just beginning to awaken to display their vivid ornamentation. They like the moist areas around creeks and marshy areas with filtered light from high trees, and have a knack for displaying in precarious places. I usually carry some water shoes to get photos, but they can be found in many areas near trails as well. My most recent photos are from Pescadero Creek, in the county park of the same name, and from Opal Creek in Big Basin. These are just a couple of places where I have found them before. They make a good excuse for some hiking around the right kind of riparian areas and now is a great time to find some. The tiger photoset also had some other findings.