Yosemite Flashback #3: North Dome, September 18, 2008:
We woke up early for another hike near the Tuolumne Meadows area of the park (and therefore a 45-minute drive to our trailhead). As we pulled onto the road to drive out of Yosemite Valley we were stopped to wait for oncoming traffic, half of the road being closed for a proscribed burn going on about half a mile away from our room. As we waited for our turn to go, we saw a bachelor heard of mule deer – there must have been at least eight of them: two with larger racks indicating older bucks, most with six or eight points, and one who had lost an antler in a fight. We watched them go by and take their breakfast in the neighboring meadows before we got to drive along the valley floor. We watched the burn area as we rode slowly by, realizing that we’d been hiking in the area just the day before as part of our six mile Valley Loop rest day walk, where now there were red embers and smoldering undergrowth, hot enough to melt our hiking boots for sure!
After leaving the valley, we made our way to the North Dome trailhead. We were the first car to arrive there that morning, with a second car pulling in just as we started off.
We made our way downhill from the trailhead, following a crumbling paved road that apparently dates back to the Porcupine Crek campground that closed thirty years ago. The first part of the hike was pleasantly shady, even a little cold given our relatively early start. Before too long we came to the end of the road, where the campground used to be. We continued on the trail, climbing and descending leisurely through the forest. After about a mile and a half, our trail met with others that descended into Yosemite Valley via Mirror Lake or Yosemite Falls – it’s fun how so many of the trails actually go from the valley walls all the way to the bottom. We did another mile or so of mostly shady ups and downs, finally rising up to Indian Ridge and the Indian Rock spur trail.
We decided to save the side-trip for the way back, and so prepared for the more-exposed section of trail ahead by reapplying sunblock and shedding our coats and pantlegs. We continued on down the side of the ridge, where we got our first panoramic view of Clouds’ Rest and Half Dome, then came out onto a mini-dome just before North Dome.
We descended further until we reached another trail junction (and our last chance to head down to Yosemite Falls instead of North Dome) – only half a mile left from the junction to North Dome!
We headed down the surprisingly steep trail to our left, dropping about two hundred feet of elevation in only about a tenth of a mile. Managing to reach the bottom with ankles and knees mostly unscathed on the uneven path, we descended a little more through a small pine forest and then climbed up the broad, gently sloping back of North Dome.
At the top, we took lots of pictures of the great view (and the smoke rising up from the proscribed burns), chatted with the pair of hikers who had passed us on the trail, and enjoyed our pack-flattened sandwiches. From our spot on the top we could see people on top of Half Dome – some of them got really close to the edge!
Finally we headed back, dreading the steep climb back up to the trail junction, but we took that sharp ascent slowly and made it to the top safely and fairly quickly.
Two-thirds of this hike’s elevation gain is on the return trip, so we braced ourselves to climb the ridge again. As we headed back, we begain to see a trickle of people heading out to the dome – far fewer hikers than we had seen on the trek to Half Dome. We plodded along back to our trailhead, happy to see the Indian Rock arch from afar rather than climb higher to get closer, and happy to get out of the sun as we descended into the forested part of the trail again.
We reached the junctions with the Valley trails fairly quickly, and were happy to see the sign marking the campground road – only 0.7 miles to go.
The final ascent was not quite as steep as we remembered from the walk in, except for the final two-tenths of a mile. Just as the slope was cranked up beneath our feet, we were close enough to see the cars parked at the trailhead through the trees, providing us with the final burst of energy needed to finish the hike.
After returning to Yosemite Village and grabbing an early dinner, we took a sunset walk around the valley and headed over to the amphitheater at Lower Pines campground (unless it was Upper Pines or North Pines) for a ranger talk about bats. The program was super-fun, with lots of up-close slides of different species of bats – it was my favorite of the evening activities we attended at the park. It was even better because we saw bats flying around the bridge near the campground just before the talk.