A New Way To Spend the 4th of July…At First

16 September 2013 in Hiking, Holidays, Reviews, Tioga Road, Trails/Hiking, Yosemite National Park

On our way up to Mt. HoffmanIn past years we spent many 4th of Julys drinking and swimming. Too many to count. Too many brain cells lost to remember. This year the 4th didn’t even feel like the 4th. Besides the hoards of visitors flowing through our entrance stations and campgrounds, now that we had couple of days off it was just that – another couple of days off. Yesterday we spent the day floating down the Merced and therefore it only seemed natural to tack on a couple of trail miles today and summit a 10,000+ foot peak.

Mount Hoffman—or the Hassel-Hoff-Man as some our fellow employees call it—is the geographical center of the park. Located just above May Lake the trail is well established, but not maintained. After we departed from the official trail I could see why. First we wound through a series of short switchbacks that narrowly threaded us through variously sized rock debris. The trail then carried us through a short stretch of lush drainage thick with plant life and more than a few bugs.

May LakeThen, rather abruptly it swung us to the south and away from what we had perceived as the summit above. There were two people to the north, up along a ridge, that seemed to be headed up a more direct route to the top, but we decided to stick to what looked to be the main trail. It flattened out momentarily and followed a cliff edge that delivered astounding views of the beautiful scenery south of May Lake. Then we were sent north again and the grand ascent began.

We cut back and then forth, following short and faint patches of footprints when there was dirt to keep them. We stopped often, peering this way and that, searching for the next sign that we were still on track. The pitch of the mountain side steepened as we continued and this increased the challenge of following the diminishing path. But rock cairns began to pop up here and there, guiding us onward and upward.

A View from Mount HoffmanAfter making our way through the twisted maze of scattered fragments of rocks the next portion of trail was long and exposed. The tiny gravel, baking in the hot sun reminded me of the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon. It was unexpectedly desert-like. And when we rose over the horizon and the final length of trail was revealed, it led to a very strange peak. I had envisioned what most people think of when you say the words “mountain peak”, something triangular and pointed. Hoffman was a long, narrow span of rock that looked as though it belonged in the arid deserts we had explored last season and not in the alpine wonderland of the Sierras.

Crossing the last segment that leads to the summit we were next forced to scramble up the last couple hundred feet and to the top. The summit was very narrow and when we clamored over the last few boulders the drop off on the other side was instantaneous and vertigo inducing. It sent both of us into a crouched position as we looked down over the edge and into a basin of blue and green lakes below. There were also surprisingly still large patches of snow dotting our immediate area—in July!

On top of Mt. HoffmanStanding on top was a sight to behold. You scan the park in every direction. To the south sat the valley with Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and Sentinel Dome easily disguised. To the east the massive and blue Tenaya Lake. To the west an endless series of rounded and tree covered hills. And to the north, perhaps the most splendid range of mountains we’ve seen yet. It was so distant that it almost seemed painted. A classically perfect line of jagged, white peaks. The dictionary definition, in picture form of mountains.

We sat, locked in with our surroundings. As usual, in complete and utter awe of the landscape before us. The only thing that rattled us back into the realm of anything outside of immediacy was the faint, but audible mention of “Wisconsin”. It was over two thousand miles away and even further from our thoughts, but then bang! There it was. We both turned and questioned our ears and then the person—one of two other people up there mind you—as to where she was from? “Madison” she said. No F’in way! Three of the four people atop this remote peak were not only from Wisconsin, but from Madison, Wisconsin.

But it gets even weirder. Her boyfriend and sister were still on their way up and both of them were from Madison! Her and her boyfriend live in Groveland – the nearest town on our side of the park. And she works in the Stanislaus National Forest just outside our borders. What are the odds? And where to I buy my lottery ticket?

It was quite the day and it had just begun. Tonight we’d celebrate the 4th in the true American way – eating and drinking to excess. Our neighbor and co-worker had a barbecue and a bunch of us sat around the campfire until way past our bedtimes. The only thing missing was fireworks. But what we saw on top of Mount Hoffman was way more spectacular than any and all firework displays I’ve ever seen.

Tags: , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a comment