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Backpacker Magazine – June 2009

Alone in a Crowd: Hiking Yosemite's North Rim

Yosemite Valley may be popular–rightfully so–but it still holds secrets. Hike this long-forgotten trail on the North Rim, and you'll have the granite icons to yourself.

by: Kelly Bastone

Yosemite Falls (Scott Mansfield)
Yosemite Falls (Scott Mansfield)
Mt. Watkins (Dave Miller)
Mt. Watkins (Dave Miller)
Giant boulder slides (Thomas Atkins)
Giant boulder slides (Thomas Atkins)
Black bear (Dave Miller)
Black bear (Dave Miller)

The next day, we leave the OBOFRT and pick up the North Rim trail, following it east toward El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. We cross open expanses of glacier-crushed granite where the blue sky blazes overhead, then enter a forest of giant sugar pines.

In a few hours, we arrive at the top of Yosemite Falls, the tallest verified fall in North America at 2,390 feet. Now, in mid-October, Yosemite Creek is a string of placid pools, and it's difficult to imagine it as a mammoth firehose capable of blasting me off the cliff. Yet even without the crushing torrents of water I'd see during peak runoff in May and June, I still shiver when I lean out over the precipice and gape at the falls. From below, when runoff is low, the water can break up into wispy curtains and blow across the granite face in a rainbow of colors.

At the top of the falls, I bid farewell to Pete: This is where he must peel off, hiking back to his car via the Yosemite Falls Trail so he can spend tomorrow in the office. Tonight I'll camp alone, a little upstream from the falls. "But tomorrow night," Pete says, "you're in for a treat. I wish I could stay out with you," he sighs before turning for home.

The next morning, I pack quickly and follow the cairns up Yosemite Point, a smooth lump of granite that looms high enough above the falls to catch the morning's first rays. I bask for a minute to warm my chilly fingers, then continue east along an open ridge affording 360-degree views: On my right is the Valley, 3,000 feet below; to my left, the rounded mountains of the Sierra present a montage of gumdrop-shaped hills of granite. I don't meet another hiker for 4.5 miles, until I come to North Dome, a 7,542-foot promontory and a popular nine-mile dayhike from Tioga Road. A scant six people bask on the rock–a tiny fraction of the numbers you'd encounter on other, shorter dayhikes. Continuing on, I travel another six miles through sun-soaked forest so dry my boots stamp puffs of dust from the trail. The afternoon's heat releases the pines' pleasant fragrance, but by the time I reach Snow Creek and the gravelly bench where I'll camp, salt and grit plaster my skin, so I strip for a bracing bath that's almost as invigorating as the scene from my tent.

Tomorrow, I'll descend into Yosemite Valley with its gridlocked parking lots and milling crowds. But tonight, blissfully removed from the traffic, I camp at Snow Creek, a grandstand spot with the best view ever framed by nylon. Like the moon enlarged 1,000 times, Half Dome fills the sky above me, its circular sweep interrupted by impossible flatness. Its neighbor, Clouds Rest, contrasts Half Dome's massive plane with random bulges and ripples that look like liquid, not stone. I'd expect to be over granite by now, after admiring it all week, but I'm more mesmerized than ever. As the slanting sun turns those monoliths orange, then pink, then an ominous gray, I can't tear my gaze away. Maybe because there's no one else here to bear witness, I watch with the eyes of 10 people.

Despite working and hiking alone, Colorado-based freelancer Kelly Bastone insists she likes people.




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Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
David G.
Feb 26, 2013

Great Hike. When you start your hike and hit the rock falls and have no more trail look up. You will see some stacked rocks from the old road bed above you, hike to this and then turn West, hike across the rock falls to find the old road again. Saw a cinnamon bear though the trees that ran off. Saw no people until Cascade creek. Great camping spot on top of the hill above the road at Cascade (steep hike up). Did this hike June 2012. Great all the way including the exit at Snow creek.

Star
David
Feb 21, 2013

Yea, agree once again Backpacker leads throngs of people to the places we wish were kept for those that work for it. Guess its time to cancel my subscription. Hopefully most readers are armchair backpackers any way.

Frank
Dec 09, 2010

Be very carefull on the climb out the valley--the slide areas can be tricky.
I had a scary scramble with slope failures about 2/3 the way up with handholds and footholds letting go and alot of rocks and dirt heading down the hill.
Other than that it is a great hike, until you come down into the crowded valley at mirror lake to shuttle back to car.

BryceC
Dec 09, 2010

Well fine - Backpacker has uncovered yet another spot that was once enjoyable to people willing to work for it but now ruined. Can't you people keep a secret?

kennewicksheri
Jul 17, 2009

ahhhh good... You changed the title...
I have my "Google Alert" set to send me articles/ postings with Yellowstone.....
so was surprised to see this article...

Thanks ... for keeping your magazine accurate.. .
*chuckle*... though now I wonder

kennewicksheri
Jul 14, 2009

article title says Yellowstone?
but the body of the article.... is about Yosemite
hmmmm

let me read this again

kennewicksheri
Jul 13, 2009

article title says Yellowstone?
but the body of the article.... is about Yosemite
hmmmm

let me read this again

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