It was just a little later in the year, two years ago that I ran a nice loop from and to Tuolumne Meadows. Last year at this time I was running the Ute 100. This was a lot closer to home and much more enjoyable! It’s a little closer than going to the East Side, it’s up high, the scenery is great, and there is some infrastructure around to add convenience factor. This makes it a pretty ideal place to go for a long day on the trails when seeking good views. The following is a quick report from my jaunt up there this year…
Destination: Cloud’s Rest, Little Yosemite Valley, Tenaya Lake
Trail Head: Sunrise Trail from Tenaya Lake
Distance: ~31 miles round trip, ~7,100 cumulative elev gain
August 17-18, 2019
Once again David was with me. Once again we stealth camped with our hammocks in what we agreed will be known as “our spot” if we just do this one more time in the next year or two. We stopped at Saddlebag lake just to take in some views. That’s such a beautiful basin and in fact, David and I explored it in 2013 and did some cross-country near North Peak, over into the McCabe Lakes and back. That’s a good basic kind of outing to get into a little cross country and rock scrambling. It’s serious but easy to navigate and not far from resources such as Saddlebag Lake Outfitters or Tuolumne Meadows. It’s also a way to make a stealthy entry into the park legally!
Anywhoo… it was chillin up there. The water in Saddlebag looks like a turquoise gemstone that transitions to deeper blue, making a bold contrast to the warmer tones of the rock that surrounds the lake. We day hiked a bit near Lee Vining Creek. That’s another pretty little basin. It was full of water and brook trout. Climbers could be heard whooping from somewhere up above, maybe White Mountain or one of the countless nearby rock faces.
I set out for my run early Sunday morning. David was, as always, an awesome and supportive friend to have along. I got a hot breakfast and freshly ground gourmet coffee at the Sunrise Lakes trailhead thanks to his culinary prowess and kindness. He would get to day hike, relax, and hammock near the lake. With that, I was off. I decided to run the loop counter-clockwise to get over Cloud’s Rest early in the day thus avoiding the likely afternoon thunderstorms that are the norm in the Sierra during summer. I’d also avoid slogging up that steep trail from the opposite direction in the heat of the day, which turned out to be a logic fail.
Both days, I bumped into a couple of Bay Area runners, Celia and Pat. They had been peak-bagging the previous day, Conness and maybe others. If you two are out there reading this, drop me an email! When you meet people in the mountains, there’s a high chance they are awesome. I wished them well for their adventure, then set on my way. The trail from Tenaya Lake up to Cloud’s Rest is ok. It get’s rocky with big step up’s, but doesn’t present any problems. A group on top happily greeted me as one of the first to visit in the morning. They were from Connecticut and very stoked about the scenery – rightfully so! We took photos for each other, then I headed down the trail towards Little Yosemite Valley.
This trail begins precipitously with steep, narrow, steps covered in sand and decomposed granite. Not the kind of stuff a person should run down. After a couple hundred feet it turns into a pretty nice, if not technical, trail that I found to flow as I cruised down greeting hikers headed up from the Valley. The trail surface becomes very sandy at the bottom, which made running up Little Yose Valley a bit of a chore. I was happy to get back on the rock again as the trail ascended higher up Echo Creek. There again, the surface presents challenges.
The engineered trails are wonderful, but not conducive to running on. I mostly hiked up the uneven rock, admitting that I wouldn’t be running a lot anyway as my heart was pounding from climbing higher and higher. I thought it would be a good idea to make my climb back up to Sunrise Lakes via the longer (~13 miles up uphill) and “more runnable” trail vs. the shorter and steeper trail up Cloud’s Rest. This turned out to be bad logic. Maybe if I was acclimated to running at high elevation it would have worked, but the further I went, the hotter it got, the thinner the air was, and my legs were just getting heavier. I had also been low on water and rationing it for most of that climb. Lots of grinding.
I saw very few people on the trail coming up Echo Creek Canyon, those I did were surprised to see me and cautioned about the “big climb”. I was thinking, yeah, I’ve done most of it by now, if I can only get myself back over that 9,700 ft ridge I can finally get some water. When I finally did, I was really happy! The meadow near Sunrise High Camp is gorgeous. The water in the stream was fresh and cold – and a million mosquitoes were enjoying me while I stopped to drink. I didn’t mind them though, I hadn’t seen a mosquito all day and I let them have at me while I guzzled a filter full of fresh, cool water. Then I refilled both my bottles and for the first time of the day, I decided to sit down in the shade with no purpose other than to just rest and take in the view for 15 minutes. This point of the day was the highlight for me (the view from Cloud’s Rest is great, but I am a sucker for a good alpine meadow).
Then, I was moving again with 6 miles to go. I would soon be back on trails that I had covered earlier in the day. I was looking forward to running down them; as it turned out, however, those step-ups and rocks that I came up in the morning made for some really rough downhill. It is like running down a moderately organized rock pile. I did my best and shuffled the last couple of miles in where I was close enough to my estimated finish time that David was set up in his hammock waiting to greet me.
It was actually a harder push than I imagined it would be. I rested with some chips and beer at Tenaya Lake and took a quick dip in the clear cool water. To my surprise, the water was not freezing! I was spent and couldn’t stay in long. The long drive home was still ahead. I am really grateful to have days like these and to be able to enjoy some quiet moments in life with a friend or two. I wonder to myself now what I’ll be up to at this time next year. The unknowing of the future is what makes it worth waiting for. -JD
“Going to the mountains is going home.” – John Muir