Backpacking in Yosemite Part III – Exploration

Yosemite Backcountry hiking

To Read Part II click HERE

“The Cheese is gone!”

I rushed up from the creek down the hill from our campsite. There, in the middle of the flowing creek, I had crafted a stone enclosure that we called the Fridge. The gaps in the stone were large enough to allow cold water to flow through but small enough to contain Sam’s cheese and a small bottle of rum. Now only the rum remained.

“Sorry dude,” I said to Sam. “Maybe a bear got to it.”

Sam smiled. “Its no big deal. I should have put it in the bear can last night anyways.”

Bears are widespread in Yosemite and will eat almost anything with a scent. Though not particularly dangerous, Yosemite bears can rip open a food bag or smash a car window with ease to get a free meal. All our food had gone into a bear-proof canister the previous night. All except the cheese.

Into the Wilderness

Fallen tree yosemite
The aftermath of a particularly harsh Yosemite winter. Fallen trees were everywhere

Day 3 of our backpacking trip was going to be one of exploration. Everyone was feeling rested after the hike to our campsite, and now we were ready to move deeper into the park. Even in mid June most trails in the interior of Yosemite had not been cleared or surveyed since the previous autumn. No one really knew what to expect.

To save weight we agreed do a simple day hike. Our tents, food, and the heavy bear canisters would be left at camp.

Crossing the Chilnuala River would be our first obstacle . We had followed the left bank of the river on the way in, but up a little further up the trail crossed over to the right bank of the river.

At the river crossing we met a couple backpackers coming from the other direction who clearly knew what they were doing. They were decked out in advanced winter travel gear and told us that the trail was completely covered in snow above 8,500 feet.

“Make sure you’ve got a GPS if you’re planning to go that far.” One of them said. “Don’t want to get lost out there.”

Sam Blickle Log Bridge
Sam crossing the Chilnualna River over the log bridge

Sam and I crossed the river a little ways upstream. A giant tree had fallen across the river creating a usable, if somewhat precarious footbridge. Sarah and Monica decided to cross at the trail. They took their boots off and waded across at the gentlest section they could find. The water wasn’t deep but it flowed quickly and the cold numbed feet and ankles in seconds. To keep balanced, both Sarah and Monica used a walking stick to keep their balance on the slippery riverbed.

Chilnualna River river crossing
Sarah and Monica crossing the Chilnualna River

On the other side of the river we found the trail was noticeably less visible. Apparently many hikers had been turning back at the river and the trail beyond was only lightly trafficked. Fallen trees, overgrowth, and washed-out gullys sent us off track more than once and we had to look closely for trail markers to find our way again.

An Unexpected Discovery

The hike past the river had been a gradual climb. Not steep like on our first day, but we were definitely gaining elevation. All of a sudden I spotted a weird object that seemed to have no place in this forest. It was a filthy grey color and stretched out perfectly within the shadow of a husky conifer tree. Snow!

To me it seemed a ridiculous thing to find. It was early summer and almost 75 degrees out. Back in Connecticut it was strange to see snow last into April. But here it was on June 21, at just under 7,000 feet of elevation. Clearly snow had piled up here by the meter and this was the very last remnent.

Snow in Yosemite
Playing in the snow during our hike into Yosemite

A couple smaller river crossings lay ahead of us and there were plenty of obsticles to climb over, under, and around. Travelling through this wild country was much different than simply hiking on maintained trails. Along the way we passed just one other hiker, a reminder of just how remote the Yosemite high country is even during summer.

At last we came to a clearing in the forest at the high point of our hike. Rising in the east were the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada range, their slopes bare of trees and covered in pure white snow. Somewhere up here was the source of the rushing Chilnuala River that we crossed earlier in the day.

Mystery Solved

The rest of the hike was downhill and we made quick work of it. Both the forest and mosquito swarms became thicker until we reached our campsite.

Back at camp we solved the cheese mystery from the morning. On a sunbathed rock at the edge of our camp lay a marmot taking in the last of the afternoon sun. Upon seeing us returning to camp it scurried a few feet away to a tunnel in the ground and disappeared from sight.

That marmot reemerged half a dozen times before we left, seemingly always glancing around for a carelessly discarded bit of cheese.

Marmot Yosemite
Our Marmot neighbor and suspected cheese bandit.

To Read Part IV Click HERE

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