Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hike // Clouds Rest, Yosemite National Park

clouds rest

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest Summit. Light smoke from the early days of the Rim Fire.

a classic!

Clouds Rest is among the hardest of the classic Yosemite day-hikes. It’s a 14-mile round trip journey with endless ups and downs which even rivals it’s more famous neighbor Half Dome. Despite the difficulty though, the enduring popularity of Clouds Rest is a testament to how fantastic the payoff views are.

The whole thing is capped off with a short, easy, scramble with a little bit of a pucker factor up to the top where a view worthy of all the miles and climbing awaits. The view probably tops any other single view from anywhere in all of Yosemite National Park - A park with no shortage of incredible views.

Hike Summary
Difficulty Strenuous
Distance 14 Miles
Popularity Very Popular
Peak Season Summer
Fees $20 Park Entrance Fee

Tenaya Lake to Sunrise Lakes Junction

The parking lot on the south shore of Tenaya Lake was unusually quiet for a weekend morning when we pulled in around 9:00 am. A slightly late start, but nothing to worry about on a warm August day. The lake was perfectly calm as we hiked along the south shore. I started taking so many photos in the first few hundred feet we both began to worry about how we would ever get to the top at the rate we were moving.

tenaya lake

Tenaya Lake, Morning.

At the far end of the lake the trail veers right into a quiet pine forest. We could tell we were at the bottom of a canyon because the air was damp and cold. After about a mile and a half the trail starts to climb, and once it gets climbing it does not let up until the summit.

We hoofed it over switchback after switchback with period breaks to catch our breaths, chat with hikers and backpackers either on their way up or on their way back to the parking lot after a night in the high country. The first views can be spotted about a quarter of the way up and are a nice reward after some heavy climbing.

After an hour or so of climbing (more than 1,200 total feet so far) the trail finally started evening out as bits of blue sky could started to creep lower and lower in our field of view. We finally lumbered over to the junction around 11 am and decided to follow the advice of some other hikers. We kept right at the junction on to an unmarked trail which lead us out to a fantastic viewpoint of Tenaya Canyon. We enjoyed a quick lunch on the rocks before scrambling back to the trail.

Sunrise Lakes Junction to the Base

After the junction the trail drops for a short distance. Not really enough to rest your burning thighs, but enough to be really annoying on the hike back. The only real stretch of flat starts at the base of the descent. After about a half mile though the relatively flat terrain starts to ungulate and eventually climb more and more.


Unnamed lake on the way to the summit.

A few ponds and one sizable lake along the trail are the only real landmarks for a few pretty uneventful miles.

Clouds Rest Summit

After another solid climb the trail hits another major trail junction before the final push to the summit kicks off. Now almost noon, we paused to assess the time we had to reach the summit and get back down. We decided we would turn back at 1:30 pm so we could hopefully get down Old Priest Grade before dark.

After the junction the trail makes a hard right turn and begins climbing sharply up a ridge. Dusty switchbacks eventually give way to a big thigh burning climb up to the crest of the ridge. Fortunately some awesome views of Clouds Rest and Tenaya Canyon also wait as payoff for the hot, dusty hiking below.

summit ridge

Lone Hiker on summit ridge, Tenaya Lake distant.

From the crest of the ridge the climb stays steady until the granite base of the dome. Carved steps keep the hike going up and up to a false summit, and then a final charge up the summit ridge leads to the top.

The steep drops on both sides of the ridge caused my fear of heights to kick in (there is no real danger here under normal conditions) a bit as we scrambled carefully to the top. The wind started wailing but the view was fantastic. We spent about 20 minutes scouting around the top, soaking in the views of the Cathedral Range, the Clark Range, Half Dome, and the Yosemite Valley all clearly visible from one amazing vantage point.

clouds rest summit

Hikers on the summit of Clouds Rest.

clouds rest view

Beylah sitting on the summit.

Back again...

Around 2:20, almost an hour after we set our turn around time we started hoofing it back down the trail. At this point my runners knee, which had been bothering me a bit on the way up really started to attack. On top of that we had not been careful about our water consumption on a hot afternoon and we were down to about half a nalgene for the rest of the hike.

At times almost unable to walk, I finally caved in and started popping advil on the hike down. By the time we reached the junction by Sunrise Lakes though my knee started aching again. At this point, Beylah was running on fumes too. We’d had lunch hours earlier and were almost out of water.

sunrise lakes

Hiking back to the trailhead, near Sunrise Lakes.

We gutted the monster descent out, by the time we reached the bottom we were ragged. My knee hurt even when I was resting and Beylah’s lips were dry and some dehydration was kicking in. The final mile and a half was torturously long but before long we could see the silver tops of cars wizzing through the trees. Suddenly the sound of people yelling, doors slamming, and people running around at the shore of Tenaya Lake was comforting, rather than an intrusion on a peaceful afternoon by the lake. This time we breezed along the shore without stopping to take photos picking up the pace as we got close to the car. When we finally reached the lot, we downed about half a gallon of water that we stashed in the trunk - and it was amazing. A couple hours later we dropped over Old Priest Grade in the dark and pulled up to our apartment at almost midnight - pretty much as tired as possible.

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