Yosemite Flashback #5: Clouds Rest, September 20, 2008:
Clouds Rest was the final long hike (and final overall hike!) of our Yosemite trip. Because our hiking guide claims that it is 14 miles rounds trip and over 3200 feet of elevation gain, I was really kind of dreading the hike, but the sheer joy of climbing the final ascent of Clouds Rest and the incredible views from the top, where it feels like you’re looking down on the whole world, made it all worthwhile.
This was another hike that started near Tuolumne Meadows, so we woke up early and left the lodge around 7am to arrive at the trailhead around 8:15. The trailhead was already crowded when we arrived, a mix of day-hikers getting an early Saturday start and people camping in the wilderness and even in the parking lot.
We started from the Sunrise trailhead, as our hiking book seemed to suggest a phantom “Tenaya Lake” trailhead that we were simply unable to find. We started our hike, with the initial sign promising us 7.1 miles to Clouds Rest, starting off in a pine forest as so many of these hikes do. We passed a mini-meadow, traipsed along a flat trail, then descended a little bit after about half a mile.
After some minor undulations, we began the first of two eeevil uphill sections that I had been dreading based on the trail profiles in our book – this ascent was shown as a mile and a half of steep climbing. It started out on a mild ascent, a sandy pine-covered trail climbing slowly onto a rockier ridge. After some climbing on the rocks, we soon came to…steps! I do really dislike steps on trails, but I was already in ultra-slow mode, prepared for the mile-and-a-half long slog I believed this to be. We made our way ever so slowly along the rocky trail, stairs intermingled with rocky inclines, upward and onward until finally the ascent started to lessen, rocks and stairs fading into another shady wooded trail. Right about then, when I had hope of reaching the top soon, the top of the ridge in sight, Chuck said that we still had almost half the climb to go, and I fell into despair at the thought. Alas it was a false panic, created by the ridiculous exaggeration of our hiking book, and we truly were only about a tenth of a mile short of the ridge.
We reached the junction at the top at 2.5 miles from the trailhead, instead of the 2.9 miles the book would have us believe, and took a break for a snack on top of the hill. Shortly after the junction, we descended steeply for about 300 feet of elevation – it wasn’t nearly as steep as the descent to the base of North Dome, but we could tell it would hurt a little on the way back! From there the trail had a few more undulations, past a peaceful looking pond (well below its high water mark so late in the season) and a few “creeklets” that actually did still have water; we then climbed steeply up again for a few minutes before settling into a more gentle slope for our final long ascent to the base of Clouds Rest.
As we passed the final trail junction, we noticed something peculiar – according to the trail signs, the distance to Clouds Rest from the trailhead kept increasing! First it was 7.1 miles, then 2.5 to the trailhead and 4.7 to the summit (for a total of 7.2 miles), then finally it was 5.3 miles to the trailhead and 2.5 to Clouds Rest – a total of 7.8 miles! Either someone is bad at math, or the Clouds Rest trail exists in some sort of space warp. That was both odd and somewhat discouraging, but we kept trekking onward.
Before too long, we got our first glimpse of Clouds Rest from the trail, and it certainly appeared to be close enough to inspire us to keep moving!
We rounded the ridge and started approaching the east shoulder of Clouds Rest, ascending up the rocky shoulder then dropping a little to the side until we came to a spot just below the summit trail, where some hikers waited for their companions to return from the top. From the summit trail sign location it was perfectly clear that reaching the summit would be ultra-fun, and much less scary than Half Dome.
The ascent stretched out before us, a series of ever higher granite pillows flattening each other as they led up to the top. We set off on the summit path gleefully, each slowly finding our path up the final ridge. For a while I stuck to a lower path on the right, but as I became more comfortable I started to walk along the highest part of the ridge. That was quite exhilarating, as the cliff edge seemed to fall away rapidly on either side.
I was still enjoying the top-of-the-world feeling as we reached the summit, where we again had amazing views of Half Dome (to our west this time) plus the Sierras and the previously unseen Merced River valley.
We fought off some bees as we ate our sandwiches at the summit, and enjoyed the windy views for a while before heading back down.
As we descended, we passed a few more people making the trek out to Cloud’s Rest, and tried to give them encouragement to reach the top. (The summit, by the way, was only 6.1 miles from the trailhead according to our GPS, nearly a mile shorter then the most conservative sign claimed – bizarre!).
On our way down, I almost stepped on a chipmunk that Chuck spotted – it was upside down with hind legs sticking our of a hole on the trail, then it suddenly broke free and darted right past me to hide in a tree.
We made sure to stop for lots of pictures of the high sierra scenery on the return trip – topping out at over 9900 feet, this was our highest hike by about 500 feet over Lembert Dome.
We fortified ourselves with some beef jerky before the big ascent back to the trail junctions, and only stopped to let descending hikers pass as we trudged up our last big hill.
Moments later on the perilous (to my ankles) mile-long descent, I was actually surprised that I made it up that ascent with so few stops along the way. Certainly descending was faster than the steep climb up, but picking our way safely through the rocky switchbacks was still tiring going downhill.
Once we reached the bottom, we had only a few minor undulations and a tricky trail junction (I almost went the wrong way! GPS to the rescue) left, and we found our was back to the car triumphantly, happy with the twelve mile trek and our cloudless trip to Clouds Rest.