What is This Alaska?22 July 2013 in Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park
Finally, after a long wait of nearly four days we both had off of work and were free to explore Tioga Rd—which had just opened. It had been all we had heard our fellow employees talk about. This road seemed to be the bee’s knees, the place to be. So with much anticipation we turned left off of our well beaten path to the valley and ascended up into the high country.
Almost immediately our route was shouldered by banks of snow still slowly melting away from the winter. A brief stretch through a cloak of forest soon opened up and revealed the snow capped mountains in the distance to the south. It was beautiful and unlike anything we had seen yet in Yosemite. It was a whole new realm to explore. Rigid peaks and alpine lakes, rushing creeks and luscious meadows. All of it pristine and welcoming. Along the way Lindsay spotted a couple of marmots. These chubby little fur balls remind me of beavers without the iconic tail. We also observed a few pikas—tiny little mice-like creatures that frantically darted about. Which are not mice at all but are relatives to rabbits.
As we continued along this winding stretch of road we were graced with stunning views of Yosemite Valley, immaculate meadows, and unbelievably magnificent lakes surrounded by jagged granite peaks. At times—though I have never been—I felt like I was in Alaska. The air was cool, damp and refreshing the scenery felt virgin when compared with the busy valley floor. I can see us spending a lot of time in this wonderland—and a lot of gas getting out here and back.
Since this was our first time—and because our gas gauge was approaching the dreaded “E”—we decided to drive all the way across the park, a distance of 70 miles to Lee Vining. This small touristy town sits on a tiny sliver of land between the park border with it’s imposing peaks and Mono Lake an enormous and eerily still body of water that looked as though it would be more at home in a barren desert.
After quickly taking in the small town we gassed up and drove west, back into Yosemite. It was almost noon and we had yet to set foot on a trail. I was eager and tired of exploring on four, attention hungry wheels. I wanted to breathe it all in, take it slowly and see all of the wonders that awaited me beyond the limiting span of concrete. We decided Young Lakes, at 14 miles roundtrip seemed a worthy goal. And so parking near Lembert Dome we set off.
A mile or so in we came to a juncture where Lembert Dome’s summit lured us astray for a quick side trip. The sign signifying that the dome was just one mile away was too much to resist. Hiking around a wide bend, we soon found ourselves at the base of a long stretch of bare rock leading upward towards the sky. One foot dropping after the other in time led us to the top. A brisk, but light breeze whistled all around us as we slowly rotated taking in the magnificent landscape of steel blue mountains with bright white tops. I was surprised at the extensive view this vista offered. It looked quite insignificant from the road.
Energized by the landscape and excited about what awaited us ahead we returned to the point of our diversion and were back on the trail towards Young Lakes. Before we knew it we were trudging through large drifts of hard packed snow that had compressed into nearly solid masses through slow melting. These buildups made trekking hard. Each pile provided additional hills and required carefully placed steps. There were weak spots because of hidden melting below and at times our feet would suddenly drop down until we were knee deep.
But we were persistent. We wanted to make our first hike of this area a success. So we continued on. It was slow moving and at times we struggled to find the trail. We were following what seemed to be a single set of tracks through the large fields of snow. How this original hiker found his or her way over this unmarked terrain is beyond me, but now and again we’d find ourselves back on the well rutted dirt trail.
At one point we navigated our way down a steep, white hill and were stopped in our tracks at the shore of a deep, swift and wide creek. Across the creek awaited a gorgeous meadow, but we weren’t sure how or where to cross. Then to the left we spotted a downed tree that spanned the water. It was roughly twelve feet across and the tree was barely a foot wide at the base and tapered at the top. It might as well have been a tightrope. Were there no risk of falling in the rushing creek of freezing water below I’d have spanned this bridge as we had spanned the other, less significant streams, but my nerves would require some steadying here. With a quick, deep breath and before I had too much time to over think it I quickly crossed. Much to my surprise Lindsay required little encouragement and had crossed shortly after.
Safe, for now, we crossed the meadow and found our next set of challenges. At first the trail was only littered in snow as it was earlier. But after a mile or so we approached a meadow that was completely covered from one end to the other—which was hidden from our current view. We put our trust—as we had before—in the faint and meandering tracks left by someone who had passed this way earlier. They were harder to follow now amongst a sea of white space void of the guidance of trees or rocks, but they led us forward and theoretically they’d lead us back.
When we finished crossing the meadow we again entered the woods. Here the trail returned to a combination of snow mounds laden with that single set of tracks and the well rutted and recognizable as well as comforting appearance of a dirt trail. Having climbed higher the views were also inspiring us to continue. But then we began a steep descent down along a hillside. At first it was a welcomed sign that we were in the home stretch—on a break we had reviewed our topographic map and it seemed this decline was along the last stretch of trail leading to the lakes—but along the way we lost track of the footprints that had guided us so far. We searched high and low, but they seemed to have just disappeared.
We didn’t want to get lost and we weren’t overly confident in our navigation skills and so we decided to turn back. But having made it this far I at least wanted to take in the view while we consumed the last of the day’s rations. So we climbed up on the side of a dome of rock and ate. With the summit looming above us, seemingly within reach I just couldn’t resist. On weary legs, with my knees ablaze I scrambled up the side of exposed granite. Over small patches of snow and around massive boulders I climbed. I stopped about halfway up and took in the view. This seemed good enough—for a few minutes. Still the very top beckoned me. I wanted a reward for the days effort. I wanted a view that would scorch itself upon the fibers of my memory. I went higher and higher. I was so close and yet so far. The views were so grand and yet lacking. I knew the top was always the best. But then I came to a very steep, very risky crevasse. It wasn’t worth it. I also had been gone a good amount of time and I didn’t want Lindsay to worry.
Heading down I found myself lost. It was mostly bare rock with a few scattered trees, but I couldn’t find Lindsay. I didn’t recognize any of my immediate surroundings and I was a little confused. I thought I had went straight up for the most part, but coming down nothing looked familiar. As I rushed back and forth I slowly descended, keeping a large and distant, but unique peak on my left where I knew it needed to be. But I still could’t see Lindsay. I shouted. Nothing. I whistled. Nothing. Eventually, much to my relief I spotted her.
The trip back was uneventful for the most part. Snow and mud. The biggest challenge was once again the raging creek at the edge of the large meadow. Much to our dismay the water had risen since we last crossed and now clipped away at the bottom of our log bridge. This was somehow harder than the first crossing. It was the same log and the same water. The foot of extra depth shouldn’t really make a difference, but it did. We made it across though, dry and after a side trip to nearby Dog Lake we were finally back to the truck.
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