Lyell Canyon and Vogelsang
Lyell Canyon Trailhead is in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. It is one of the most popular trailheads for backpacking permits in the park because it is one of the possible entry points for John Muir Trail thru hikers. For information on Yosemite Permits, see my post about Yosemite Permits! (link below)
I got a solo permit to hike out of the Lyell Canyon trailhead for July 21st. If you have ever attempted to get a permit to hike Lyell Canyon, you might know that I basically won the freakin' lottery. These permits are incredibly difficult to get, and while I would have loved the opportunity to bring Eric with me, I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to hike Lyell Canyon just because I could only get one spot on my permit.
I drove to Yosemite on July 20 to pick up my permit in the valley, and check out some of the waterfalls. Unfortunately there was a forest fire nearby so my time in the valley was very, very smokey.
I spent the night in the Yosemite Valley Backpacker's Camp. People with backcountry permits are allowed to stay in the backpacker's camp the night before and the night after their permit for the low price of $6 a person. You must have a permit reservation, or have picked up a walk up permit for the next day to use these. People definitely get ticketed here, so please play by the rules so we can continue to use this great resource!
The next morning I drove up to Tuolumne Meadows and parked my car at the Wilderness Permit Ranger Station there. There were many of people lined up to attempt to get one of the "walk-up" permits for the next day, which are released at 11am. I picked up my permit and started hiking. The wilderness center is right by the trailhead. This was a bit of a source of confusion for me, since I thought the trailhead was going to be further along, but it was no burden to walk the extra mile of flat, beautiful trail in the meadow.
Lyell Canyon is, it does not suffice to say, beautiful. There were beautiful wildflowers, the trail is fairly flat, the opportunitiy to refill a water bottle are plentiful. I really didn't even need to carry any water at all on this day. My water filter tasted gross from the mucky water on the Ohlone Trail a few months ago so I actually (earmuffs Mom and Dad) chose not to filter my water at all. I replaced my filter once I got home.
I took my time, since I wasn't going very far. Taking lots of breaks on sun drenched rocks along the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. I also worked on my self-timer selfie game. I camped by Ireland Creek with a group of JMT hopefuls. I regretted that I wouldn't be continuing on with them in the morning. Alas! This was about 6.5 miles from where I started that morning. I should probably check that mileage before posting this but....
I originally intended to hike a loop, up Ireland Creek to Vogelsang and back down Rafferty Creek to return to Tuolumne Meadows, but the reported conditions of the trail up Ireland Creek were for nearly 100% snow cover. I wasn't really interested in hiking solo on snow covered trail so my hike was a "Y" down Lyell Canyon, back to Rafferty Creek to Vogelsang, and then back down Rafferty Creek to Tuolumne. I'm not convinced that the trail would actually be so bad as that, since the reported trail conditions also reported the last mile up Rafferty Creek to Vogelsang would also be snow covered, and I ended up hiking over approximately 5 linear feet of snow. Still, I thought it best to play it safe since I was alone and I'm not used to hiking over snow.
I took the morning slow, since I wasn't going any further than 10 miles that day, and didn't really feel like I needed to move that quickly. Additionally I was expecting the climb out of Lyell Canyon up Rafferty Creek to be very strenuous, but aside from the first mile or so, it was actually a gentle climb. Made more difficult by altitude, to be sure, but nothing compared to what I was dreading. It was actually quite pleasant.
The views... well. I'll just say that my breath was constantly taken away, and not just by exertion.
The worst of the hiking was definitely the wetness of the trail and stream crossings. My trail runners were too narrow in the toes, and between the ill fit and the constant wetness, my feet never really got to dry out and I had pretty bad blisters on my pinky toe and between my big toe and the next one over. Still, by the time I reached Vogelsang I was feeling great and strong, like I could keep hiking forever. I wonder if this is how I would have felt as a thru-hiker if I hadn't gotten tendenitus. That thought bums me out though, so I try not to dwell on it.
I made it to Vogelsang (elev 10,100 ft) around noon. It was absolutely beautiful. However....
As I was standing around trying to decide where to set up my tarp, I realized that I was being absolutely swarmed by mosquitos. I started to think about the two fellows who had stopped me on the way up, not to say hello, but to specifically warn me that the mosquitos at Vogelsang were like demons summoned from hell to torture hikers.
I set up my tarp. I changed my mind and moved it uphill, hoping a breeze would keep the bugs away. I will say this for the Deschutes, it did not let the mosquitos in, however with the tarp closed up I felt like I was in an easy bake oven. It was the middle of the day, at altitude. It was fucking hot. But if I opened my tarp I was immediately swarmed by mosquitos. I had picarden, which helped... but there is only so much that can be done against bugs as persistent as these. My shirt was a manufacurer treated insect shield shirt, long sleeve with thick woven fabric. I also had an insect sheild bandana I wore on my head. My arms and neck were surprisingly bug free, but my legs... well. I'll let the rest of the story explain how bad they were.
It wasn't so bad if you were moving. That's how it always seems to be with mosquitos. They sneak up on you while you try to grab a quiet moment. I felt like I was facing a terrible choice, sitting in my easy bake oven tarp for six hours waiting for the sun to go down, or getting eaten alive, and possibly losing enough blood to make getting back to the trailhead the next day difficult.
I was looking at my watch. It was only about 1:30. I did some mental calculations, thought about how far I had already hiked that day, and how far I was planning on hiking back to the trailhead the next day. I had plenty of daylight. I still felt strong. I had hiked long days on the AT before, and a long day is never so hard when you know you won't have to move at all the next day.
I decided to pack up my stuff and hike back to the trailhead. This would put me at about 18 trail miles for the day, but most of the miles back to the trailhead were either downhill or flat. No big deal.
I packed up my stuff and started hiking. If I had arrived later in the day, I probably would have stuck it out. But I was kind of excited by the prospect of a long challenging hike. I hadn't hiked that far since the AT, and even in the Appalachians, by days over 17 miles were not plentiful, since by the time most people got their trail legs I was already suffering from tendentious.
The hike down was stunning. I had caught some of the views looking back on the way up, but here I had the late afternoon light. I was delirious with happiness. I was only about 20% miserable. Which considering I'm not in trail shape at all, and my shoes were too small, is a very small % of miserableness.
I gotta say, I was relieved when I finally reached my car at the trailhead. I hightailed it back to the backpackers camp in Yosemite Valley. But it was a good day of hiking. I would love to do it again. A reminder to be bold in the goals you set for yourself, because if you don't push your boundries, you'll never know what they are... or something like that.
Despite the mosquitos, I will definitely be visiting Vogelsang again. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. And of course, Lyell Canyon as well.