Tuolumne Meadows Vacation, Days 6 and 7: Young Lakes Backpack

On Sunday, Mom, Dad, Trish and I set out on our three day backpacking trip to  Young Lakes.  We left the Tuolumne Meadows campground at around noon.  We walked along highway 120, the main east-west road through the meadows.  After a quarter mile or so, we got to the trail that would lead us across the meadows and into the mountains.

After a couple miles, we hit a tee in the trail – to the left, the Glen Aulin High Sierra camp.  To the right, the trail to Young Lakes.  We continued on.  On the way, we passed a group of people on horseback, on the two-hour tour from the Tuolumne Meadows stable.

Up and up we climbed.  As we went up in elevation, we passed through different ecosystems, each with their own plant and animal profiles.

About 6.5 miles from the beginning of the trip, we got to a fork in the trail.  Here, the two trails which lead to Young Lakes meet.  One was the trail we came up, the other is the trail that comes from the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge via Dog lake.  We stopped 50 feet or so up the trail and decided to have a snack.

Just as we got out our food, mom looked back and noticed a bear looking at us from about 75 feet way!  We quickly packed up our stuff and moved on.  Everyone suddenly seemed much less tired as we left “bear junction”.

As we came out of the draw we were in, we ended up on he south side of Ragged Peak.  At over 10,000 feet, Ragged Peak towers above the Young Lakes at its feet.  From the south, it didn’t look all the impressive.

Finally, we got to the lowest of the three Young Lakes.  We set up camp about 100 yards from the lake.

As in the campgrounds, there is a bear “problem” in Yosemite.  Years of tourists and backpackers not properly storing their food have led to bears becoming accustomed to human food.  Mother bears teach their cubs how to break into cars.  In the campgrounds, campers are told to keep all their food in a bear box, a kind of iron foot locker.  In addition, most people put sheets or blankets in their cars so that the bears don’t see anything inside.  While at the campground, a family camped next to my parents left an empty cooler inside their car.  Bears are smart, and know that coolers often contain food, so at 2 am a family of bears broke into the car and tore open the cooler.

Bears in the back country know that humans mean food, too.  Backpackers used to hang their food from a rope in a tree, but about half the time it was done incorrectly, so that bears could get the food.  Now, backpackers use “bear cans”, large plastic cylinders which flush locking hardware, to store their food.  The Yosemite backpacker has to always be alert and aware of bears in the area.

To avoid the bears, which tend to walk along the lake shore, where berries a plentiful, we camped around 100 yards from the shore.  From the lake, the view was incredible.  With virtually no pollution in the backcountry, we could easily see the lake bottom.  Since its at the foot of Ragged Peak’s glaciated face, rock ground to dust under the glaciers weight washes into the lake.  This dust, suspended in the water, gives the lake water a dark blue hue.   From this angle, Ragged Peak was very impressive, and we got to see alpine glow on it (this occurs when, for the valley, sunset has occurred, but the mountain tops are still in the sun). In the bottom picture, you can see the moon.

We cleaned up after dinner.  The meal area is put 150 feet or so away from the tent area, so that, if food is spilled, the bears will not be drawn to the area.  After eating, dishes are washed off and left out, so that the bear does not have to destroy packs to get at them.  All the food, and toiletries, etc. which have a scent (toothpaste, bug repellent, etc.) are put in the bear cans.

Although we were not visited by bears that night, we heard people yelling in the middle of the night.  The next morning, we found bear scat very close to our campsite.  We decided it would be best to go back, rather than stay an extra night. While bear attacks are fairly rare, we didn’t think it was worth the risk.

That morning, a beautiful panorama unfolded before us across the lake.  Ragged peak (far right of panorama) looked more ominous than ever.

On a whim, I suggested that we attempt to summit Ragged Peak.  As you can see in the picture, we would have to walk around the lake, then climb around the two glaciers to get to the saddle.  A direct assault on the peak (to the right in the picture) would then be possible.

Mom and Trish decided to stay down below, while Dad and  would attempt the climb.

Getting around the lake was fairly easy, but the climb was pretty tough.  The ascent to the saddle was quite steep, and we were climbing over a ten foot deep layer of basketball-sized rocks.  I took a picture:

At last, we reached the saddle.  We were already pretty high up.  The view across the other side was pretty spectacular.

On top, there was a cleft in a rock where a piece of wind-blown wood had been trapped.  In the shade, flowers grew as well.

Everywhere there was a little shade, or the land angled such that rain water would be concentrated in a particular spot, plants tenaciously hung on to life.

The ascent of the peak was steeper than the climb to the saddle.  This time we were climbing through scree, a term used to describe a mountain face (called a ‘field’) covered with small rocks.  In our case, the scree was about 10 inches deep, and the rocks were pea sized.

When we got towards the top, there was a ridge of sorts.  The ‘peak’ itself was a 30 foot high, 4 foot diameter spire.  We scrambled to within 10 feet of the top, but there was no safe way to go any farther.  Looking down from this perilous perch, I was able to see all three Young Lakes:

Dissapointed, we made our way down to the ridge, and then down the slope to the saddle. From there, we got quite a view away from Young Lakes:

We also saw a marmot in amongst the rocks 20 of so feet from us.  I was surprised at how large this cat-sized mammal was.

At the saddle, we ran into two guys coming up from Young Lakes.  All either of them had was a small water bottle.  We were pretty surprised. We talked to them for a while, and discovered that they were the people we had heard yelling the night before.  Since they felt that “bear cans are just too heavy”, they tried to hang their food in a tree.  Of course, the bear got their food, but they chased the bear away, so they got most of their food back.  Its people like that that build within bears’ minds the relationship between people and food, and make bears dangerous in the back country.

Eventually, we got down from the mountain.  We broke down our camp, put all of our gear on our backs, and headed back towards Tuolumne Meadows.  On the way back, I took another picture of Ragged Peak from the north, and Trish took a picture of me.

Coming down was quite bit easier than going up, and we made better time.  We didn’t run into any bears on the way down.  After what seemed like forever, we made it back to the campground.

Tuolumne Meadows Vacation, Days 1-5: Getting to Yosemite
Tuolumne Meadows Vacation, Day 8: Goin' to Mammoth

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