August 15 – 17, 2014
Lyell Canyon Backpacking Trip
Total distance: 14.6 miles
*Photo courtesy of Anthony
The car brakes squealed as we came to a stop at the River Restaurant in the small village of El Portal just outside of Yosemite National Park. Jasmine, Anthony, Julia, Chris and I feasted on a scrumptious buffet breakfast before the hike.
A newbie to backpacking and camping, Jasmine asked how she was supposed to get her self-inflating Therm-a-rest pad inside her sleeping bag. (The sleeping bag goes on top of the pad.) From then on I knew it was going to be a fun trip.
The road was clear of traffic up to the high country, but the large parking lot west of the trailhead was crowded. We took the last available spot. Leaving the car, we shouldered our bulging packs stuffed with bear canisters, food, tents, flashlights and other backcountry necessities.
Like beasts of burden we plodded along the trail while our bodies acclimatized to the added weight and the higher elevation (8,600 feet).
Ranger “Rick” (not his real name) stopped us at the Twin Bridges area.
He wanted to see the Wilderness Use Permit that backpackers are required to carry. I squatted under my cumbersome pack while Jasmine rifled through its top pocket looking for the piece of paper that allowed us to sleep in the park.
When he was satisfied, Ranger Rick took off swiftly up the trail.
At the next marker we noticed that he nabbed a solo backpacker who was without a permit. That person could have been cited and/or fined.
We followed the sandy John Muir Trail towards Lyell Canyon and crossed a bridge over bone-dry Rafferty Creek. We walked through thick stands of lodgepole pines.
As we reached the floor of the canyon, the trail opened.
The map showed that we would follow the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. I began to get concerned when we passed a barren spot that looked like a dried up pond. In this third year of California drought, I wondered if, like Rafferty Creek, the river was dry. Without water, our plans would have to change drastically.
Trailing behind the group, I watched as Chris made a sharp left turn into the meadow. Like ducklings, Julia, Jasmine and Anthony followed behind. A narrow path cut through the carpet of grass and ended at a sandy shore and a lazy pool of water. Chris found the perfect spot for lunch, not to mention our water source. We sat on the bank of the crystal-clear river and ate.
It was a day of sun topped by a deep blue sky. The air was still and the grass was almost brown.
Fortunately, there were no mosquitoes as we walked through a series of meadows and over sun-baked granite slabs surrounding the river.
Amelia Earhart Peak appeared closer and larger with each step we took. Tears filled my eyes when seeing the meadows and glorious mountains, our home away from home for the next few days.
A short time later, Chris found a flat spot to camp with an existing fire ring. We flung our packs to the ground and rested.
Meanwhile a large group of people, mostly kids, set up camp directly across from us. That urged us to move on. We trekked up the hill towards Vogelsang High Sierra Camp and found another comfortable site.
After erecting the tents and collecting water to boil, we relaxed on the camp furniture: boulders and logs near the fire pit. The cacophony of woodsy sounds entwined with our laughter; a pleasant ambiance to end the day.
Chris had been up for hours enjoying the solitude, the gray light of dawn and the banter of birds in the cool morning air.
The rest of us emerged from the tents mid-morning. After breakfast, camp chores and nature calls, we headed farther up the John Muir trail to the river. The water was low and we could walk across it on stones. The gravel glistened at the shallow bottom as we waded through it.
We sat against a log in the brindled grass drinking in the surrounding beauty.
We read, napped, laughed, and played games all afternoon like cards, dice and 20 Questions.
Each night we played a game called Roses, Buds and Thorns. We told what was best about our day–Roses; what we would have changed–Buds; and what was the worst part of our day–Thorns. Some of our favorite things were: lunch by the water, the beauty surrounding us, time spent reflecting in the meadow, the scenic Twin Bridges area, waking early in the morning and being the first one up.
When the last light of day receded, the guys retreated to their tents. The girls sat by the fire and watched the flames flicker and dance as the stars lit up the night sky.
It was time to leave. We stuffed our belongings back into the five packs and made good time hiking out. We stopped at Tuolumne Meadows Grill around noon. The long line for food moved quickly unlike the long line of bumper-to-bumper traffic leaving the park.
I was blessed to have shared this time in the wilderness with my husband, daughter and extended family. My hope is that Jasmine and Anthony would feel a love for Yosemite and an enthusiasm for backpacking that will last a lifetime.