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Trip Report Two National Parks, 2,258 Miles, and a Bear

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This will be a quick report of our road trip to two national parks—Crater lake and Yosemite—for camping and hiking. We try to visit Yosemite every summer, camping 5 or 6 nights up in Tuolumne Meadows, but this was our first time at Crater Lake. “We” are an early-60's couple, and we are always joined in our Yosemite adventure by various friends and family members. This year we were joined by friends who had never seen Yosemite, so I added a few nights near the Valley.

The trip planning started last March, with a note on my calendar to go-online to the campground reservation system (www.recreation.gov) on the appointed day, March 15, for our early August trip. It gets harder every year; the campsites go so quickly even in Tuolumne. But we did get one and I was ready to move to the next step—a High Sierra Camp.

The High Sierra Camps in Yosemite are so popular that the reservations are on a lottery system. We entered the lottery but again this year failed to “win” a reservation. However, we usually can find something from the leftovers they post on the website after the winners have claimed their reservations. This year was no exception, and we booked a night at May Lake, which we’d never visited before. Now to book the Valley part of the trip.

I lived in Yosemite Valley years ago as an employee, and used to know it well, but things have changed. It is so crowded now that I hesitate to stay in the Valley itself, at least in the summer. So I looked into renting a home near, but not in, the Valley and found the perfect one in Yosemite West: a 3-bdr, 1.5 bath home with lots of deck space. Yosemite West is just off Highway 41 near the intersection with Glacier Point road, close to 6,000 feet in elevation and nice and cool in the summer. It is a 20-minute drive to the valley floor from there.

Once the reservations were in place, all we had to do was wait for August. (and go to Italy in the meantime, but that's another story. . .) At the last minute, we decided to add a few days on the front end of the trip to stop and hike at Crater Lake and also near Mt. Shasta. The idea was to get some higher altitude hikes in before we hit Yosemite. I never thought we would be able to get reservations at Crater Lake Lodge that late, but I called and guess what—they had several rooms available. I chose a lakefront one and we were not disappointed.

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    The drive from Seattle to Crater lake was an easy 8 hours. We have the ideal setup—I drive, and DH reads to me, or we do language tapes. The time passes quickly. We stopped at one viewpoint on our way in to the park, and then continued on to the lodge, arriving for check-in at 4:30. By 5 pm we were on the trail up to Garfield Peak, a short hike from the lodge. Topping out above 8,000 feet would be a good start to our trip. The hike was pleasant and we had views of the Phantom Ship on the way (you can’t see this from many places along the rim).

    No matter how many photos you’ve seen of Crater Lake, it’s still had to believe how really BLUE it is.

    After 15 minutes at the summit we headed back down for showers and our picnic dinner. We sat on the porch in front of the lodge, enjoying the lakeview and the sunset, until the skeeters drove us inside. They serve dessert and beverages in the Great Hall there, and we took full advantage of that, with berry cobbler (for him) and glasses of Pinot Noir. The public spaces in the lodge are beautiful, like many of the historic national park inns.

    We were up early the next morning for the 2 hikes we planned before heading down to Mt. Shasta. After a nice breakfast in the dining room, we checked out and headed out along the East Rim drive toward the trailhead for Scott Peak, the highest point in the park. This is a 5-mile round-trip hike that covers some very interesting terrain, and ends at a (closed) lookout tower. It was a beautiful sunny day when we left the car, and we took nothing but a water bottle, sunscreen, and cameras. On the way down, the temperature started dropping, and then we heard a strange sound. It took some time to realize that it was hail, coming from a little could sitting right above us. All around was still blue sky! Fortunately the stones weren’t large, but they still stung on our bare arms. We raced back to the car, and then raced that little cloud to our next hike, the trail down to the lakeshore at Cleetwood Cove. DH planned to go for a swim in Crater Lake.

    It was nice and sunny when we parked the car, but this time we weren’t fooled, and carried rain jackets along with a towel for the swimmer. The trail down to the lake is dusty and well-traveled, as many people hike down for the boat ride. There are far fewer ;who choose to swim. The clouds caught up with us on the way down, and then the wind came. You could see a squall coming across the lake, changing the color and whipping up waves. We beat it to the lake, and DH had a chance to jump off the rocks into that very blue water, to the surprise of many young guys who were standing around, afraid to go in. He said it is just as blue when you are in the water—and it wasn’t all THAT cold. By this time there were lots of people to watch the swimmers (DH and 2 others), as the boat ride was delayed by the impending storm.

    We heard the boat depart just as we neared the car after the hike back up. Ten minutes later, driving toward the West Rim Drive, the rain started and was so hard and fast I had to stop and pull off the road. We thought about those people out in the tour boat—uncovered. It didn’t last long, but a LOT of water came out of the sky. After the rain let up we continued on around the lake to the rim village for a quick lunch before heading out of the park and south to Mt. Shasta.

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    Aha! Enzian, so working at Yosemite explains your love of hiking. I tried to fit Crater Lake into my Oregon trip, but when I had to shorten it, there was no way.

    Looking forward to the rest of your report!

    And, did you do an Italy one? I would love to read that too.

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    Oh what a delightful way to start my Saturday....planning another trip in your footsteps, Enzian.

    Hi mms and Dayle! Seems we have a shared love of outdoor adventure and Enzian makes a super guide.

    More, please.

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    I agree, Crater Lake is amazing! We too have swam there:) The first time we did the boat tour, it was during a heat wave there and it was over 100 degrees so that water felt soooo good, lol! Too bad you missed the boat ride as it is very good, but then again, considering the weather you probably made the best choice;) It is a good excuse to go back though.

    BTW, I am meeting DH up your direction for some hiking next month. Can't wait!!!

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    mms--you're coming up here? What hikes will you be doing?

    Continuing . . . to


    The drive down Highway 97 from Crater Lake to Mt. Shasta City was beautiful, and nearly vacant. We would go long stretches without seeing another car.

    Around 5:00 we arrived at our motel, the Tree House Motor Inn, named not because it is in a tree, but because so many trees were consumed in the building. It makes a convenient stop along I-5 between Seattle and the Bay Area or Yosemite, so it is our traditional overnight stop. We like the little town of Mt. Shasta City, but it too was eerily vacant. Lots of empty storefronts. It's a tough time to be a small businessperson in a small town like that.

    But fortunately our favorite dinner spot, the Goat Tavern, was still in business. It was too early for dinner, so we went for a walk around town and then enjoyed a beverage on our balcony, with a lovely view of the parking lot (and Mt. Shasta). Then went over to claim our usual table on the deck at the Goat Tavern and enjoy our Kobe beef burgers.

    Our next day's hike was a 10-mile RT hike to the summit of Mt. Eddy. At a bit over 9,000 feet, this is---get this---the highest point in the US west of I-5 (excluding, of course, Hawaii and Alaska). Quite a distinction for a fairly undistinguished peak.

    The hike is a very pleasant one, first through a nice healthy forest, then some lovely flower-studded meadows, past lakes and then finally many switchbacks up a barren rocky slope. Your reward at the top, apart from the novelty of standing on the highest point west of I-5, is a terrific view of Mt. Shasta, soaring another 5,000 above you---but on the east side of the freeway.

    The next day we endured the drive down I-5 through the central valley, ending up in San Francisco where we spent a couple of days with DS and his wife, going to lots of museums. I'll skip that part, apart from mentioning that it was downright COLD in San Francisco, and fast forward to Yosemite.

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    Our friends Michael and Sharon (who hiked with us to the bottom of the Grand Canyon a few years ago) flew to Oakland and we picked them up there. Our car, with 4 adults and all our camping and hiking gear, was pretty well packed, and the Thule box on top filled to the brim. We needed to stop for
    groceries as we planned to cook while at the house, and the 4 of us are good cooks and enthusiastic eaters. Thanks to a suggestion from Tripadvisor, we knew to stop in Oakdale, on Highway 120 well before we got to the park. That was indeed the last large grocery store we saw.

    I still don’t know where we put all the groceries in that already-packed car, but we managed. It was almost 7 pm before we got to the house, found the key in the keybox as
    promised, and carried our stuff inside to settle in for 3 nights.

    Day 1: we planned to do a fairly strenuous hike in the Valley this day. I chose Snow Creek trail, thinking it would be cooler and less crowded than others, but I was overruled. My husband read about Upper Yosemite Falls and wanted to do that instead. Michael ahd Sharon, first-times at Yosemite, were up for anything.

    We tried to get an early start, even skipping the stop at Tunnel View (the morning light doesn’t make for good
    views there anyway). By the time we found a parking spot and walked to the trailhead, it wasalmost 10:00 am, and getting warm. Temperatures were getting into the 90's in the Valley these days. But the lower part of the trail is shaded, the
    footing is good (for going uphill, anyway) and we were up at the Columbia Rock viewpoint in about 40 minutes. This is a great place from which to survey the valley, Half Dome and the meadows, and it a nice destination of itself for a shorter hike. But we had higher places in mind.

    Not long after the long traverse and a short downhill section, we left the shade behind. Up and up, hotter and hotter. About this time I realized Ihadn’t brought enough water. (Funny, I never noticed until now that those metal water bottles, the ones we all bought to replace the dreaded plastic one-liter bottles, are only 4/5 liter. So I had 20% less water than I thought.) The others were doing fine, but I finally was too hot to continue. I was dehydrated. It was the strangest feeling—I wasn’t tired, didn’t feel ill, but I was just waaaay too hot. When my temperature started swinging wildly between chills and hot flashes, I knew it was time to quit.

    I found the one shady patch along the trail and told the others to pick me up on the way down. I had a bit to eat, lots to drink, and felt better almost immediately. They returned shortly and reported that I was only 10 minutes from the top, but I didn’t feel the need to “summit”. I’ve been up there before.

    Heading down, we found the footing quite slippery on the rounded, dusty rocks, so we took care and went quite slowly. DH slipped and fell once anyway, but nothing was hurt but his pride. Nearing the bottom, we encountered lots of unprepared people heading up—--lots of bare skin, tennis shoes, no water in sight. I hope they turned back when they reached the hot and exposed part.

    We hit the food court at Yosemite Lodge for cold drinks, sitting outside in the shade and making full use of the “bottomless” glasses of iced tea and lemonade. First time in my life I’ve consumed 2-16 oz. glasses of liquid. Then, feeling much refreshed, we walked over to the Ahwahnee to admire the building, and waited for a table outside to have a snack. Alas, the only tables that opened up were “drinks only” so we decided to catch a shuttle back to the car and head home to showers and the coolness of our mountain
    home. Dinner tasted very good that night.

    I will say at this point that the free shuttles around the valley floor work very well. We did not find them overly crowded, and it’s nice to be able to park once and forget about the car for the whole day.

    Day 2: Another day for the Valley, but we decided to make it an easy one. It was going to again be very hot. DH and Michael and Sharon are all fitness swimmers, so we started the day by taking advantage of the “lap swim” hour at the Yosemite Lodge pool. It was fun to look up at Yosemite Falls while swimming and try to see the trail—--it's hard to see, hidden in the rocks and behind trees.

    After the swim, it was shuttle bus to Happy Isles, lunch, a short walk with 500 of our best friends up to Vernal Falls bridge, and then back down to visit the village area---time to re-stock groceries---then a quick look into the Ansel
    Adams studio, and the visitor center. On the way out of
    the valley we stopped to scan El Capitan for climbers, but I’m thinking it was way too hot for anyone to be up on that rock in the afternoon.

    Day 3: the “5-adventure” day. This was the day we moved up to Tuolumne Meadows. I wanted to be there by 11 to try to get one of our favorite campsites. And we wanted to stop in Tuolumne Grove on the way. So we quickly packed up the car, and off we went, ticking off the “adventures”.

    #1—Tuolumne Grove, a quick stop to run (yes) down to see the biggest tree, and then back up.

    #2—Set up camp! We arrived at Tuolumne Campground (on time!), but were disappointed to learn my favorite area was taken. The ranger assigned us to Loop D, and our campsite was about as far from the entrance as one could get. It was, however, nice and quiet, and we were even treated to a bear visit on the last morning (more about that later).

    #3--—hike up to Elizabeth Lake, 2 hours roundtrip from the campground. This is a lovely alpine lake at the foot of Unicorn Peak. Highly recommended for a short hike. On the way up we were treated to blooms that I wouldn’t expect this late in the season (second week of August) —--Mariposa lilies, some Little Elephant Heads (Pedicularis Groenlandica for the botanists) and monkeyflowers along the creek, and many more. Lovely.

    #4--—head down to Tenaya Lake for a swim. We usually do this every day after hiking, but this year, due to the late spring, the lake seemed lots colder than usual. It was hard to get in that chilly water, and no one stayed in long. But the lake itself is gorgeous and we love the little beach there at the west end of the lake.

    #5—--on our way back to Tuolumne, we stopped and walked up to the top of Pothole Dome for the views and a little libation and snack before dinner. Then we headed over to Tuolumne Lodge to claim our dinner reservations.

    Dinner was great (I had the trout), and we enjoyed meeting the other people at our table, including the now-retired founders of a well-known company, a saxophonist with a major city symphony, and a kid dining by himself because grandma had to drive back to civilization to pick up the things he forgot. Those last two (10-year-old boy and grandma) were heading out to do the High Sierra Camp loop on mules the following day.

    Day 4: We decided on Gaylor Lakes for our hike this day. This is a high-altitude (mostly above treeline) hike near the Tioga entrance. Again, we were charmed by the flowers still blooming, especially along the creek between the lakes. We hiked all the way up to the old mine, and out to
    where we could look east, down Tioga Pass and beyond.

    This is a fairly short hike, and we’d planned to do another afterwards, but the two men had to check in to work, so we returned to the campground so they could do e-mail (we’d found a few spots in the campground with AT&T service).
    Sharon and I took the opportunity to hike out into the meadow, as far as the bridge over to Parson’s Lodge and the soda spring. We ended the day with another (chilly) swim in Tenaya, and another fine dinner at Tuolumne Lodge. This time we shared our table with a family from Long Island. They were heading out to the High Sierra Camps the next day as well, going to Vogelsang, the highest (and toughest for hiking). We will be heading out ourselves tomorrow, but in the opposite direction, to May Lake.

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    I am enjoying this so much! Our parents took us to Tolumne Meadows in our little travel trailer many times. Later I did a few backpacking trips in the Sierras with the Sierra Club. I swore I would NEVER go during 4th of July again. Two years in a row with horror movie levels of mosquitoes!!!!!

    May Lake was one place we camped. Nice, but a favorite with the bears too. Did you climb up to Cloud's Rest? One of my favorites hikes of all time.

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    iamq---the rest will be quick. I spent too much time on the Yosemite Falls hike, but it was my first-ever DNF!

    Dayle---we hiked up Cloud's Rest a a couple of years ago, and wanted to return, but didn't get a spot at Sunrise HSC like we hoped. So we didn't repeat.

    Here's the rest:

    Day 5: hiking to May Lake. This HSC is so close to the road (a short mile and a half hike in) that I'd never considered it before. But we learned that many rangers and others who work in the park consider it their favorite. Now I know why. The cabins are scattered along or near the lakeshore, with beautiful views across the lake to Mt. Hoffman. Unfortunately, swimming in the lake is not allowed, but at 9400 feet the water is probably pretty cold for that. (DH pointed out that he DID swim in the lake near Vogelsang HSC, which is even higher and colder.). The camp makes a good base for dayhikes, including the popular one to the summit of Mt. Hoffman, which we did the following day.

    May Lake also offers showers, which were very welcome at this point.

    After a nice salmon dinner, the staff recommended a short walk up the ridge behind camp for the views and the sunset. The view from here is a bit like Olmsted Point, but even more expansive---granite everywhere, with Half Dome and Cloud's Rest in the foreground, and higher peaks toward the south in the distance.. Conditions were not right for a good alpenglow display, but it was nice nevertheless.

    We heard the sunrise view of Mt. Hoffman reflected in the lake was the best thing about May Lake, and I almost missed it! I was the first one awake in our cabin, so I quietly slipped on my clothes and shoes, grabbed my camera, and reached the lakeshore just in time. Mt. Hoffman was aglow, reflected in the still-dark and glassy-smooth waters of the lake. I got lots of photos, as the show went on for many minutes, and the others all were out in time to see it.

    At 7 am they put out coffee and tea, announced by the sound of a conch horn (a tradition practiced at several of the camps). Guests gather around in the early morning chill, socializing while we wait for breakfast. The meal is a hearty one, with cereal, pancakes, eggs, bacon, and fruit, so we were well fortified for our day's hike.

    I highly recommend the hike up Mt. Hoffman---it was one of the highlights. Lots of variety in the terrain, wildflowers, interesting trees, great views. The very top is a scramble, and Michael and I opted out of that; the views are nearly as good from the saddle below. WE looked down into Ten Lakes Basin and over toward Glen Aulin and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, although the actual canyon was out of view.

    On the way down we ran into a trail crew working on the trail. They have obliterated the many social trails near the top, restricting foot traffic to a single trail so the wildflowers up there can re-grow. There was a field botanist taking notes on what was returning since the previous summer's work. This trail project was funded in part by the Yosemite Fund (now renamed the Yosemite Conservancy after merger with the Yosemite Association), and it was good to see the $$$ I have donated hard at work. In addition to funding restoration and rehabilitation projects, the organization offers classes and backpack trips focused on photography, painting (plein air), botany, natural history, and the like. These are a good option if you can't get permits for a backpack trip, or don't have the equipment or experience to organize one on your own.

    Day 6: our last hiking day, and it turns out we saved the best for last. We packed up camp and drove just outside the park to Saddlebag Lake, start of the hike through Twenty Lakes Basin. This is a loop around a stunning alpine basin on the "back side" of many of the peaks you can see from Tuolumne. It is a popular hike but turned out to be more difficult than we expected.

    The hike can start with a boat shuttle across Saddlebag Lake, cutting off a mile or more of the hike (a boring mile on a very hot and rocky trail along the lake). We found a long line and would have had to wait more than an hour, so opted for the walk. The meadows and wildflowers didn't start until we reached the trail at the far end of the lake, but from then on it was non-stop botanists's delight, with columbines and many others I would not expect to find blooming this late.

    The trail passes a number of lakes, as the name suggests, and there are lots of junctions and no signs. It's good to have a map so you know where to go. Even with a map we had some route-finding tasks, as the trail was blocked by snow in places, and at one junction we made a wrong choice and ended up down-climbing a small cliff. This was near the head of Lundy Canyon, where we detoured a short distance to see the waterfall cascading down toward Mono Lake. From this point the loop trail climbs climbs climbs straight to a little saddle at Lundy Pass, still with bits of snow around, and then drops down to Saddlebag Lake. We could see the boat shuttle coming across the lake, and hurried down to meet it, but with no guarantee that we could ride as we did not have a reservation. Fortunately, there was room for us and we enjoyed a nice boat ride back to the resort and our car.

    We spent that night in Lee Vining, and explored Mono Lake a bit before dinner (takeout from Whoa Nellie Deli). It was a great finish to a wonderful trip.

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    I am so glad to hear about the trail restoration on Mt.Hoffman. The one and only time I climbed it was probabaly ten years ago and there were numerous trails to the top and no one clear way...and not a lot of wildflowers as I recall. Nice to hear they are fixing that.

    Twenty Lakes Basin...love it!

    Thanks again for a peek into another one of your great trips!

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    I forgot about the bear! It seems several of our campng neighbors were clueless about the bear problem, even though they give you a list of rules and make you sign it when you check in.

    On our last morning, I was awakened by the sound of rustling papers and rummaging through stuff. I thought "bear" but no one made any noise about it, so I stayed warm i my sleeping bag for another 10 minutes before deciding I couldn't get back to sleep. I got up and went to the restroom to fill water bottles for making coffee and tea. Then I heard it---the yelling shouting, clapping hands. I ran out to see people at a campsite trying to scare momma bear away, but baby had scurried up a tree and she wouldn't leave. One clear-headed person got people to quiet down and back off so baby could come down the tree, and then the two bears left, lumbering off toward the edge of the campground----or another campsite to raid.

    It turns out our clueless neighbors had left food-covered trash out, and the sound I heard was indeed the bears feasting about 20 feet from our tent. They moved from there to another campsite where people were starting to prepare breakfast and had left their bearbox open and unattended. That is where they were when everyone started yelling.

    She was a beautiful bear---very blond, the color normally associated with grizzlys. I had heard that black bears come in all colors but had only ever seen the really dark (black or dark brown) ones before. This was a treat to see her so close, but it is disturbing to see people so careless with their trash.

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