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Thru-Hiking the JMT: Little Yosemite Valley to Sunrise Camp

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Half Dome

It’s day two on the John Muir Trail. We woke up feeling creaky but confident. Hiking up Half Dome on day one tested our mettle. Today, we planned to hike 10.4 miles to the Sunrise High Sierra Camp. We ate our super-charged oatmeal breakfast and broke camp. As we were getting ready to leave, we saw a bear wandering near the western edge of the camp.

Black bears are common along the JMT, especially in the more popular areas such as Little Yosemite Valley. That’s one of the reasons they have bear lockers for your food in some places, and require an approved bear-proof canister for food storage everywhere else.

Bear in Little Yosemite Valley

This bear was getting ready to wander into the campground to snag some unsuspecting camper’s breakfast or an open bear box — both reasons to be vigilant with your food in the mountains.  Black bears won’t chase you down unless they or their young are threatened. We chose to keep a safe distance and admire the bear from afar.

John Muir Trail Day 2
Distance: 6.8 miles
Cumulative Distance: 18.4 miles
Total Ascent: 3,971 ft
Cumulative Ascent: 8,971 ft
Harrison Map Sheet 13
GPX file (official JMT)
GPX file (Clouds Rest)
We had originally hoped to spend last night at a camp site about a half mile beyond the junction to Half Dome, which would’ve put us 2.8 miles further up the JMT. Unfortunately our permit was for “Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley” and the ranger made it clear that we were not to camp beyond that on the first night. Our first 2.3 miles on day two we repeated a portion of the trail we hiked up yesterday en route to Half Dome.  From that junction, we headed east near to the next junction, where the trail parallels the north side of Sunrise Creek.

There is also a junction here with a trail to Clouds Rest. 

Hari and Jeffrey — armed with the energy of youth — were well ahead of us.  Joan and I hiked at our normal slow-and-steady pace. Joan suspected we were too far from Sunrise Creek, and questioned my navigation skills. I reassured her that we were on the correct trail, and we kept hiking onward (and upward).

Day 2 on the JMT

The climb was suspiciously relentless. We weren’t supposed to be gaining this much elevation, were we? Soon, I was second-guessing myself. We consulted with some hikers coming down the trail toward us. “Hi! Where ya’ coming from?” is the typical refrain when passing other hikers on the trail. “Sunrise” they replied. I took this to confirm that we were in fact headed in the right direction, since we were headed towards Sunrise High Sierra Camp.

We continued on, hiking even higher.

There’s a peculiar truth about the psychology of climbing thousands of feet of elevation gain. You don’t want that climbing to be for nothing. You sincerely want to be right, so you haven’t “wasted” that effort, only to have to retrace your steps and hike even further than you had planned. That’s where I was at, and the higher we hiked, the more committed I had become.

Name this dome...

Another group of hikers came down the trail toward us. “Where ya hiking from?” “Oh, we’re coming down from Clouds Rest.”

Ugh. Not what I had wanted to hear. 

I ate humble pie and we revisited our map to come up with Plan B. It turns out, we were well on our way to Clouds Rest and miles up the wrong trail. We decided to continue on and past Sunrise Lakes (obviously the “Sunrise” the earlier hikers had referred to). From there a trail looped down to Sunrise High Sierra Camp. We wouldn’t make it today, but we wouldn’t be too far off, either.

Jeff Eats Humble Pie
JMT-JeffThe John Muir Trail is very well marked, but you still need to know how to navigate… and listen to your girlfriend! Although Joan will be the first to admit she is generally “directionally challenged,” she was 100% right on this one. I chose the wrong trail, then stubbornly insisted on following it. There’s a lesson in there…

Always Look at the Bright Side of Life

The benefit of our “alternative” route is that we got to summit not only Half Dome, yesterday, but Clouds Rest today. Clouds Rest has magnificent views of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and 360 degrees of pure wilderness beauty. And although Jeffrey slack-packed up here yesterday afternoon, we could boast that we summited with our full backpacks. Hah!

Yosemite Valley from Cloud's Rest

Impromptu off-trail camp
Impromptu off-trail camp

I discovered that I once again had cell reception on Clouds Rest (thank you AT&T) and left a message for Jeffrey and Hari explaining that we would meet them at Tuolumne Meadows tomorrow.

After Clouds Rest, we continued until on past an tiny unnamed creek and setup an impromptu and unauthorized camp for the night off trail. This is strictly against the rules in Yosemite, but we weren’t prepared to hike through the darkness. We were very careful to choose a spot where we would leave no trace. We setup camp for the night in a little place I like to call The Middle of Somewhere, because we knew where we were, but weren’t where we planned to be.

Little Yosemite Valley to Clouds Rest and the Middle of Somewhere

This map details our journey from Little Yosemite Valley to Cloud’s Rest and on to our impromptu off-trail camp.

Download file: JMT-Day-2.gpx

Jeffrey and Hari managed to stay on the JMT, but decided to power on past Sunrise (too many mosquitos) and camped at the Cathedral Lakes (also too many mosquitos, but not enough energy or time to continue further). Jeffrey captured some great shots of the lake at the golden hour.

Cathedral Lake

This also set them up for an easy 5 mile hike downhill hike to Tuolumne Meadows the next day.

Little Yosemite Valley to Cathedral Lakes

This is the “correct” route along the JMT which Jeffrey and Hari followed.

Download file: JMT-LYV-to-Cathedral-Lakes.gpx

JMT Day 2 Photo Gallery

Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.

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Tomorrow, we head to Tuolumne Meadows for our first resupply.

Originally hiked on July 28, 2010. 

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