July 10, 2014
Total distance: 6.43 miles
The walk to Harden Lake in Yosemite National Park began at White Wolf Lodge. Rangers in crisp uniforms were just arriving on shift. People milled about. Children stood in line to make purchases from the tiny closet-sized store. A man sat on his porch observing the goings-on around him. I left the activity and passed through a gate at the end of the paved road.
The trail to Harden Lake began on the Great Sierra Wagon Road more commonly known as Old Tioga Road. The wide, rubbly path ran parallel to the trickling Middle Tuolumne River and led gently downhill.
Wildflowers lined the trail from start to finish. I’ve photographed most of them on other trails, so this time I counted them. Part way in, a spur trail veered away from the river and led through the burned forest then rejoined the main road.
Along the way, giant cow parsnips grew as tall as me; and a large area of Bigelow’s sneezeweed brightened a meadow.
There were thimbleberries and wild strawberries, both void of fruit. The pussypaws that grew in the sun were the largest that I’ve seen.
I found fireweed, an interesting flower that grows only after fire has destroyed the ground cover. In all, I counted 21 types of wildflowers, but there were more that I didn’t recognize.
The trail led through an aspen grove where I counted 44 saplings, their leaves quivering in the wind (no good photos). Again, fire benefits these trees by opening up the landscape and allowing the sun to help them flourish. Here, I passed a single day-hiker and four backpackers heading towards White Wolf.
After a short while I came upon the boulder-strewn side of Harden Lake. The closer I got to the lake, the muddier the area became. Stopping to look around, I saw a woman sitting nearby.
There was no official trail around the lake, so I rock hopped to keep out of the mud and tried not to step on the tiny flowers growing in the sludge. Up the bank abutting the trees was a shady spot. I sat and listened to the wind blowing through the trees on the opposite shore before feeling its refreshing breeze. Across the lake the woman got up and left. I had the place to myself!
I heard the caw of birds and counted one…two…three crows fly overhead. They proved not to be crows but big, sooty ravens raising a ruckus with each other. They flew across the lake, into the trees and back, croaking the whole way; and then they vanished. It was quiet again.
A splash in the water like someone doing a belly flop startled me. I scanned the lake concerned that it was a bear since I saw big paw prints on the shore. Alas, I smiled to myself when I realized it was a dozen well-camouflaged ducklings and their parents entering the water. A loud quack was emitted from one in the bunch and then it was quiet again.
The sandy area where I sat was comfortable. I ate an early lunch then read a chapter in the book I brought. An enthusiastic “Whoo-hoo!” echoed across the water when two people approached the rocky side of the lake. By that time my shady spot had turned into the sunny side of the beach, it was time to leave. Continuing around the lake away from the couple, I negotiated a route through the mud. I climbed over large rocks and many fallen trees with jagged branches until I saw a faint path. The path led over a hill and I followed, pleased to see an expansive meadow open up before me.
The narrow trail skirted the meadow and when I looked up, I saw a deer. I wondered if she was eating the bracken ferns that grew in colonies throughout the forested area.
After a five-minute walk, I hooked up with the trail I came in on. Seven more people passed heading towards the lake. July is the second busiest month for the park when over half a million people visit. As I re-entered the busy campground I realized how fortunate I was to have spent a quiet morning alone at the lake. It never ceases to amaze me that in the middle of summer I can find solitude in Yosemite.