July 26, 2015
8 miles today, 13 miles total
Little Yosemite Valley to Sunrise High Sierra Camp
There was a fancy two-story wooden privy at the Little Yosemite Valley campground, so we utilized it after packing up. We hit the trail at 7am, determined to get the miles behind us in the early cool of the morning. The first two miles were retracing the path we took to Half Dome, and remembering the pain of it from yesterday, I was dreading it. Fortunately, after a night’s sleep I had fresh legs, and the cold morning warded off the lethargy of yesterday’s heat, so it didn’t feel nearly as painful. We covered the two miles in an hour, the same time it had taken us to do it without 40 pounds on our backs.
We took a break for second breakfast before continuing on; the JMT branched away from Half Dome and into a dark, burned section of trail. The trees cracked eerily toward the sky and the dried river beds kicked up plumes of dust into our shoes. It was already growing hot and the miles seemed to plod by. We met a couple hikers who were headed our direction, but they were moving at a faster clip than us – we stopped for a few moments to chat when a Yosemite Park Ranger hiked through and checked our JMT permits.
It was 11:00am when I checked my elevation maps: the chart veered upward sharply, to the tune of 2,000 feet in 1.5 miles. It was brutal, and hot, and I took it slow, sucking oxygen into my lungs. At 9,000 feet, this was much higher in altitude than my sea-level home in Portland, and my body was struggling with the difference. Courtney hiked ahead with the couple we had met, and I dragged behind, stopping at every turn in the switchbacks to catch my breath. When I finally reached them, they were taking a break on the edge of the hillside, the trail disappearing below and above us for what seemed like miles.
“Care to guess how much more of this uphill we have?” the husband asked me with a crooked smile.
“A quarter mile,” I grunted, still catching my breath.
He was surprised. “How did you know?”
“I have the elevation map,” I said. I didn’t want to admit I had been checking it at every turn, which only made the climb seem longer. I felt like my mind was racing forward while my body lagged behind, not quite ready. I wanted them to be in sync, so I could enjoy the hike rather than suffer through it.
We finally made it to the top where Courtney and I took a break for lunch, and from there it was a gradual downhill to our campsite at 9,600 ft. We had since left the burned swath behind and were hiking through beautiful country: rolling meadows and granite mountain tops framing the skyline. We arrived at our camp early: by 2:00pm, and my feet were hurting enough that it was nice to have a shorter day today.
Our destination was the Sierra High Camp, a backcountry campground that had surprisingly more amenities than we expected: it was populated with a few rustic guest cabins and a clubhouse with a galley kitchen and tables where we had just missed lunch. It was strange to see such a piece of civilization so far from any trailhead.
Courtney and I found a campsite with a great view of the surrounding meadow and set up our tent. After storing our food in the metal bear vaults, we enjoyed exploring the area. We took pictures out in the meadow and watched the marmots and ground squirrels pop out to say hello. We wandered back to the main cabin to play a few rounds of banagrams and farkle, and then sat by the fire pit to make dinner. There were quite a few people milling around, but no one we recognized yet. I wondered how many of them were JMT hikers. We watched the sunset and shrugged on our warmer layers: I had been contemplating sending them home, since it felt like extra weight to carry and it had been swelteringly hot during the day. But now that we were at higher elevations it was clear I would need every layer I brought – even in July.
After the sun set, Courtney and I were getting ready for bed when we finally recognized two faces: Sean and his young daughter Cassidy, whom we had met our first day in Yosemite, while picking up our permits. They had a faster itinerary than we did, so we didn’t expect to see them the whole hike, but it was nice to see new friends again. We bid them goodnight and turned in, bundled up in our sleeping bags.