Travel, Weekend Unexplored
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Weekend Unexplored: Backpacking through Yosemite

Wanting to explore Yosemite National Park without the crowds, some friends and I decided to do a 3-day hike with The Wildland Trekking Company along the less traversed trails of the Valley.  None of us were experienced backpackers and owned little to none of the camping gear necessary for the trip.  Booking a backpacking trip with Wildland provided us with an experienced, thoughtful guide, and all of the gear necessary to make for a stress-free journey through arguably California’s most beautiful state park.

The most important factor of enjoying the trip was the physical stamina to carry all of the necessary weight.  Each of our packs would have to fit a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, rain gear, toiletries, and bear canisters storing food.  Knowing that I would have to carry a 30Ib. pack over the course of three days, I trained a month before–climbing up and down stairs with weights and doing day hikes with a 15-20 Ib. pack.  I quickly learned that my backpack and trekking poles were the best assets I had on the hike.  A good backpack, strapped correctly, targets most of the weight on the hips, releasing strain on the back and shoulders.  Using trekking poles absolutely saves one’s knees from the beating of rocks and jagged terrain, especially when coming downhill.

The evening before the hike, Myriam our guide, met us at the Wawona hotel to give us  an orientation.  With first time backpackers, she eased our concerns by going through our individual belongings that we had brought, commenting on any extra items we could leave behind to lessen our load.  Anything that we were missing as essentials, including all meals and snacks over the three days, she provided.  During the trip, she proved herself to be a diligent and thoughtful resource.  Myriam guided us through setting up our tents, filtering our water, safely storing our food, and disposing our waste.  She showed us how to respect the park; we were never permitted to leave any trash or trace behind.  It seemed she could name any tree or plant that we passed, stopping us in our tracks whenever she saw something that might pique our interest. Upon setting up camp, she would cook hot, delicious meals for us while we searched for dry wood to kindle a fire.  But what I appreciated most about Myriam was her consistent gauge of the group energy level and enthusiasm, which she used to determine the frequency of our breaks and the tailoring of our daily itineraries.

North Dome Hike Specs:

  • Distance – approx. 20 miles
  • Elevation – 3,000-foot ascent to 7,540 feet above sea level (North Dome)
  • Difficulty – Strenuous

Overview Map:  We parked our cars in Curry Village and took the free shuttle buses within the park to get to the Mirror Lake trailhead, the start of our hike.



Day 1: Mirror Lake and the steep trek up Snow-Creek trail.  We covered approximately 6 miles, 4.5 of which were switchbacks uphill after passing the beautiful lake.  We kept a slow and steady pace in order to tackle the steep gain in elevation.  Every step provided us with a better view of Tenaya Canyon.





Day 2: Detour to Indian Rock and North Dome.  The second day included my favorite parts of the trip.  Although the longest in terms of mileage, approximately 10 miles, we were rewarded with some spectacular views of Yosemite.  At dusk, we finally set up camp by Indian Canyon Creek.



Indian Rock is the only natural arch in Yosemite.  The views from there are breathtaking on a clear day.





As we hiked further south to North Dome, we caught glimpses of Half Dome and Clouds Rest across the way.



Day 3: Descent along Yosemite Falls.  Trekking poles came in handy as the duration of our final day was 5 miles, almost entirely downhill.  The trail follows the full length of the upper falls.  Picture after picture, we couldn’t get enough of its magnificence.








Trees — sequoias, pine, and cedar– amazed us with their height, breadth, and color during the hike.  We could see the new sprouting of fresh leaves along the tips of their branches that had a lighter green color compared to their mature neighbors.  Florescent green lichen spread out along the orange brown bark of their tree trunks.  Interspersed among these greens were the splashes of red and white from snow plants and paint brushes on the ground.



Snow Plant source:

Paint brush source:

What was striking about the route we took was that it was almost completely void of other hikers.  Our group saw maybe five other people during the whole trip until we reached nearly the bottom of Yosemite Falls.  Although challenging on certain stretches, it was all worth it in exchange for the euphoria we felt upon seeing the breathtaking views of Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and the sweeping Valley.

For more travel stories, visit our TRAVEL page.

Author: Jenny Lam

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