Clouds Rest (9931')
Yosemite NP - Happy Isles to Cloud’s Rest
Date: 22 October 2016
Duration: 10.5 hrs / 1 day hike
Trail: Happy Isles Trailhead -> Mist Trail -> Vernal Falls -> Nevada Falls -> John Muir Trail -> Little Yosemite Valley -> Half dome fork -> Tenaya Lake fork -> Clouds Rest
Elevation gain: ~6000 feet
Distance: ~22 miles round trip
Yosemite has always been this one National Park which I visit at least once each year. I suppose living in California amidst the expensive life-style should have some upside - proximity to Yosemite NP being one of them. The mammoth granite peaks, flowering valleys and soothing music from the numerous waterfalls makes me feel in-harmony with nature. Hiking / Backpacking in the park is one way you can separate yourself from the hoards of people visiting the park. Having been to the park on several occasions I’d heard that Clouds Rest is one amazing hike with unparalleled views from the top. Ever since, this one has been on my bucket list. Half Dome cables being a more sought after experience in the park, Clouds Rest has always taken the back seat for me. This weekend opened up and that was my window of opportunity.
We (Anshuman and I) decided to do this as a day hike. Clouds Rest can be approached from two trailheads - Tenaya Lake TH which is a mellow-er hike with an elevation gain of ~1700 feet over 6-7 miles; and Happy Isles TH which in my opinion is tougher than Half Dome due to both elevation gain & the distance. The numbers are around ~6000 feet of elevation gain in ~11miles one way. Being “us” of course we selected the latter option; well we also wanted to hike along the scenic Vernal and Nevada falls. To make it a little less strenuous while covering the waterfalls one can make this a through hike starting from Happy Isles TH and end the hike at Tenaya Lake TH. The easiest variation to this hike would be to start at Tenaya Lake and descend down to the valley (Happy Isles TH). Note that Yosemite NP shuttle does not stop at the Tenaya Lake TH so you will need to make arrangements for transportation between the trailheads.
Alpine start from the bay area (2am) got us on the trail by 6:00am. Darkness engulfed the park throwing us onto a circuitous trail through the woods to get to the toilets/trailhead from the parking lot. The first half hour of the hike was with the aid of headlamps. It is interesting how society and modernization of the park has transformed not just the facilities available for visitors but also the inherent experience. This was yet again made very apparent to me when hiking up the Mist trail towards Vernal Falls. The trail is paved with tar to reduce mishaps and improve accessibility to the beauty that the park offers to more people. This in my opinion reduces the naturalness of walking up the mountain on a muddy & rocky trail. I suppose everything in life comes with both positives and negatives. Vernal falls at dawn has its own charm. It is less crowded with only serious hikers & backpackers on the trail. We did not get to see the “always present” rainbow when climbing up to the top of Vernal falls as there wasn’t enough light yet.
Vernal falls from the top provides ‘behind-the-scenes’ access to witness the force that powers the falls - Merced river. I was extremely happy to see all the water feeding the falls. California draught is notoriously known to drain out all of the rivers and waterfalls and we are currently going through it. Trail from Vernal to Nevada falls is a steep hike up bouldered path showing no relent in steepness, making sure the hiker climbing up does not pass through with utter ease. It is nature’s way of weeding out the faint hearted. Ideally this route would take much less time than we took mainly because I wasn’t ready to give away any small opportunity of capturing a decent photograph; whether I succeeded or not is your verdict :D
Restrooms above Nevada Falls clearly outlined all the effort that went into planning and construction of the park trails. All I will say here is that I show my sincere appreciation to NPS. The trail further up becomes a little mellow but the mellowness was overcome by our pursuit to find and absorb heat from the sun. Close to Little Yosemite Valley campground is where we had our first encounter with direct sunlight. What can I say; it was truly a ‘warm’ feeling. Little Yosemite Valley has always been a rewarding sight. It signifies the half way mark in terms of distance to the Half Dome hikers. About 2 miles from here, climbing up through the higher altitude alpine forest/terrain a trail board marked the fork to Half Dome. Our destination for the day however was 4.5 miles from here - high up in the clouds - “Cloud’s Rest”!
I wonder what I’d ask John Muir if he walked the trail along with me. This thought remained within me for the remainder of the climb. The calm, the sound of the wind, the breeze - it’s relaxation at its best. I had not anticipated the trail to gain elevation constantly throughout the hike from the Half Dome fork but it made sense; for I had a couple of thousand feet left as per Anshuman’s GPS watch. I took constant breaks slowing down my ascent. As I emerged out of the tree-line, beautiful views of distant high high peaks covered with snow presented itself to me. What seemed like a massive mountain was in fact the Half Dome itself. A deceiving 0.6 mile marker to Clouds’ Rest is when the fun begins. It was a great feeling to be able to compete with the mighty Half Dome gradually climbing higher although the altitude gain is quite brutal. I peered into the distant peaks contemplating which one was our final abode. Each and every mountain I climbed, the eluding “Clouds Rest” never came.
Finally at 12:30pm I made it to the top. Anshuman being extremely fit reached the summit almost 20mins earlier. It took me/us 6.5hrs to get to the top from Happy Isles Trailhead. The ridge that connects the peak to a very large football sized flat plateau is a very exciting proposition. I recommend anyone who adores adventure to walk that ridge when doing this hike. People hiking from Tenaya Lake TH or continuing ahead to Tenaya Lake will inherently have to pass the ridge. I was quite surprised to see a lot of people up there. Few people I spoke to were shocked to find out that we took 6.5 hrs to get to the top but that was only till we clarified our point of origin. Most hikers seem to hike up to Clouds Rest from the Tenaya Lake TH.
It took us 3.5hrs to get back to our car which included some down hill running. Deciding to take Mist trail again to see/take-in more of the waterfalls was a good idea for the evening sun lit Vernal falls beautifully with the glorious rainbow colors emanating from the light it dispersed. It was so crowded all the way from Nevada Falls to the trail head that we were never alone like in the morning. Driving back to the bay area made me think about Yosemite NP and how I’ve never hiked up El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and the other peaks that rise up all around the valley. By now you would have a pretty accurate idea as to what you would see next on my blog when it comes to Yosemite NP. On that note - Happy Halloween, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy holidays and the most important “Happy Hiking”!