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

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