Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive
Kelly Bastone hiked a long-forgotten trail through Yosemite's North Rim and documented the trek on video, in photographs, and using GPS.
by: Kelly Bastone
We hiked this Route Aug 2-5, 2012. Fantastic. Ranger said water was only 20% of normal but we had good water at Cascades, Ribbon Creek, Yosemite Creek, Snow Creek and treatable water a few other places. My tips:
Do in this direction instead of reversed because first day up Old Big Oak Flats Road at one point is a scramble and going down you would think you are off the trail. Going up you know there are no other options and you must be right. Plus, last day decent would be really tough going up if you are a flatlander link we are (Hoosiers). Otherwise, we found this physically challenging but rewarded at every step of the way. I've hiked the whole AT and never had a better camping spot than the last night at Snow Creek. Loved it. Will be back.
The trail was as explained unmaintaned, go up the last big rock scree where you see the man made wall, stay left and follow the red arrow to the left. The trail climb was easy and gradual, I liked the adventure.
Do not start on Rockslides trail unless you have very good balance. There was a portion where we had to climb straight up the mountain on all these boulders... it was not fun at all
The fatality in point #5 was due to a preexisting medical condition (arterial blockage) & heat stroke. The temperature was 103 degrees at 1 p.m. - No amount of CPR could have saved this man. Search & Rescue arrived 45 minutes after he hit the ground.
For our honeymoon, my husband and I decided to take our first backpacking trip and thought this one sounded great. We came in from Big Oak Flat Road and avoided the Rockslides portion of the trail (I get scared easily and my hubby didn't want to deal with an annoyed wife on our honeymoon). It was an easy 4 miles to the Cascade Creek campsite, which was picturesque and wonderful. After that, though, camping on rock was off-limits (hubby didn't bring a sleeping mat).
Day 2: Not nearly as bad as everybody makes it out to be. We didn't attempt Eagle Peak but the day was relatively easy overall. On a Friday, we barely saw anybody, even once we got to Yosemite falls. We found another perfect campsite near a small burned area.
Day 3: My least favorite day, only because of the slippery granite we had to climb over. As you leave Yosemite point, there are cairns to follow across pretty much open rock. I don't know what crackhead put them there, but they're inaccurate. I highly suggest following your instinct and finding the easiest path to the top. This was our most crowded day but it was a Saturday and we didn't see anybody until after North Dome, so it still wasn't bad. Since we couldn't camp on rock, the "oh-my-god" views were out. Instead, we found an idyllic campsite right next to Snow Creek that would've been great in summer (talk about swimming holes!). Our last night camping was quiet and perfect.
Day 4: Get our your trekking poles and prepare your knees because those switchbacks are unforgiving. The valley floor never seems to get any closer until you're just about on it. The switchbacks are steep and slippery and will take you longer than you think. At the end of it, we did a quick rinse and hitched a ride up to our car.
Thanks to the Utah rock climbers who gave us a ride -- saved us a 10-mile trek!
I second cd's comments about the rockslides portion of the trail being way more difficult than it was described in the article. Actually, i think cd's comments were way better than the article itself!
I also asked the rangers about the comment she referred to and their attitude towards the hike. Apparently Backpacker first called the article 'Alone in a Crowd: Hiking Yellowstone's North Rim' which is an obvious error. They corrected the title, but if you simply search for "North Rim Hike" in backpacker, you can still see the old title. I guess if someone messed up your name you would be upset too.
whoops, for the 4th night campsite, cross the footbridge and hang an immediate RIGHT not left. it would be obvious once you crossed, you go left you loose 1/2 dome.
also, the park rangers will give you some discouragement from choosing this route, they were down right snippy about it. dissed backpacker ("they didn't even bother to fact check the name of the trail..') not sure what is up with that. but clear there is not love lost between bp and the nps.
just finished this trip 3 days ago. few notes
1. backpacker does a remarkable job of glossing over the difficulty of the old big oak road portion of the trip. the trail is less difficult than annoying, makes one appreciate a "maintained" trail. BUT there is one part that is beyond sketchy, DOWNRIGHT DANGEROUS. i'd consider rerouting the beginning of the trip to avoid the abandoned road and instead hike in from a marked access route further down the road, (park service rangers will point it out on the map for you) or from tamarack flats. if you insist on trying the old big oak road when you hit the sketchy section (part with cairn and red painted arrow pointing straight up the scree slope) your best bet is to a) work your way up the left side, b) about 1/2 way up, when the going gets really bad and when you can see the remains of the old retaining wall, again on the left side, take off packs (while clinging to the scree slope) and send one person ahead with a rope, when he/she reaches the top tie off the backpacks and have this person pull them up then climb after him/her. the slope is probably manageable without a pack on. also, i imagine a few dozen people have gone up since the article was published with concomitant damage to the route. i know we pulled loose a bush or two (out desperation once we were stuck 1/2 way up). other than this the road/trail is not bad, but that one little stretch would make me choose another route. when we hit the top we were both literally wiped out and had to pass out for 1/2 an hour before limping on bruised and scraped.
2. the 2nd day is a bear, we skipped eagle peak, took better part of 10 hours and we were wiped. day after, roughly same distance we danced through in much less time even with a much longer break at north dome
3. this is NOT a trip for solitude. the first 2 days aren't bad, but once you hit yosemite falls you're in day hiker territory. the trail was filled (on a saturday to be fair) with yahoos from the valley floor. was bad at the falls and unbearable at north dome, you don't loose the yahoos until you reach the trail junction after indian rock.
3. when you hit the trail junction after indian rock take the right fork. kind of obvious if you look at a map, but not if you read the trail signs.
4. the 4th night camp site might be full, that's the granite shelf above snow creek. you won't have much trouble finding it, on your left. walk past the footbridge to toulome meadows, keep on the trail, about 1/2 a mile on the trail will start to open up up ahead, you can see trees thinning and skyline opening as you get close to drop off, if you walk into a section with a lot of down trees or if the trail starts to descend, you've gone too far. the ledge is off to your left. pick your way through the woods until you see the ten or twelve tents out there. when we arrived there was a party of 10 or 12 yogis (not the bear, the other type) camped out with yoga mats spread around. there were also two other parties. based on their kind advice we went BACK TO THE FOOTBRIDGE, crossed, hung an immediate left (off the trail) and kind of bushwacked (more like strolled) a few meters up from the creek bank and we found a handful of really sweet spots, continue along until you hit a clump of trees toward what looks like a point and you'll find our site, view of 1/2 dome through the trees, easy stroll to creek, sweet fire ring, there are two more sites - if you're facing half dome and standing next to the fire ring they'll be at about 8 o'clock off in the next clump of trees fenced in by some large tree trunks/logs. think the sites here are better than on the granite ledge.
5. the trip down is a bi***, not hard just long and monotonous. we saw the distance and thought an hour to 90 minutes. took longer. i wouldn't book an early tee time on the floor if i were hiking off in the morning. we also passed a party of 72 coming up to snow creek. no, that was not a misprint. some sort of spirit walk by two of the bands from the area. a lot of them were struggling up the switchbacks. we later heard from a ranger that there was a fatality in the group from the climb up.
all in all enjoyed the trip. all's well that ends well type of thing. but really, backpacker glosses over too many crucial details about this (as i just did)
- 1st night camp site at cascade
- going out on el cap
- taking a dip at the end of each day in a stream
- views (though by the 3rd day one does tend to say "ooof, not another view of 1/2 dome.."
- campsite across from granite shelf on last night
final note, if you really must take the old big oak road to get in, leave your poles in your bag they're a pain and can cause problems the first day.
going to yosemite in aug 09. was planning happy isles jmt 20 miles but we might change plans and follow this route
I'm looking at experiencing this trip this fall. I am looking for anyone else who might be interested in going.
Great trip video. I might try it this fall. Was hoping someone knew if there is water anywhere near the campsite on night 3 of this trip.
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