Hiking, Backpacking, Camping

Backpacking the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

Six months ago, way before I knew what this winter would hold, I booked my first permits for the 2019 season. My mom and I would kick off the season backpacking in Yosemite over Mother’s Day weekend, and do a point-to-point hike I’ve had on my bucket list for a while. Unfortunately, that plan kind of flew out the window, but we made the most of it.

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Originally, the plan was to go up the Upper Yosemite Falls trail to Eagle Peak for night one, then hike over to the North Dome area for night two, and come down the Snow Creek trail to finish the trip. I had backpacked the Upper Yosemite Falls trail as my very first backpacking trip with my friend Ashley, back in 2016. I was carrying more weight last time than now, and was arguably in better shape too. I remember the ascent being hell-ish, but feasible. And I have to say, it really actually is hell-ish. I honestly think I’d rather thru-hike the entire PCT again before backpacking this trail for a third time. The first mile features a relentless 1,000 ft climb. The next half mile is flat/ downhill, and the remaining 1.5 miles climbs another 1,7000 ft. Just to the top of the falls! So, not exactly a walk in the park. I definitely over-estimated both mine, and my mother’s (who hasn’t been backpacking since 2017) fitness levels for this hike.

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So, after struggling up the trail, and hearing that the trail to Eagle Peak was covered in snow, and knowing our travel would slow down even more, we made the appropriate decision to bail on Eagle Peak, and instead head east towards (and up to) Yosemite Point and beyond, to pitch our tent for the night. After enjoying the views at Yosemite Point, and hiking a little further along, we finally found a spot to spend the night, totally tired, and re-evaluated our plans, while watching a beautiful sunset and eating Good To Go Pad Thai.

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We ultimately decided that Mom was going to be too tired and sore after today to even consider going through tomorrow, which would include slow travel while route-finding through snow. My body wasn’t in pain, but I also got a lot of rest while waiting for mom to catch up at switchbacks. And despite the lack of pain, I wasn’t too thrilled about the possibly sketchy traverse on the way to North Dome that I could see was covered in snow from our vantage point.

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Despite the trip not going according to plan, we still got to witness an amazing sunset on the Clark Range and wake up to fresh mountain air. We also had amazing weather the whole time, which was lucky since the Sierra got hit with another series of snow storms the next week!

And while I like to remain inspirational on this blog and with trips, I’d highly recommend saving this trail as a day hike instead of a backpacking trip, unless you’re amazingly fit and are used to 1,000 ft/mile ascents (and descents!). There are other, easier ways to access Eagle Peak and North Dome (like from Tioga Road).

Do It Yourself:

The Upper Yosemite Falls is a 6.4 - 7.2 mile round-trip hike with 2,700 - 3,000 ft elevation gain (depending on which maps you’re reading). The trailhead is accessed from behind Camp 4, on the Yosemite Valley shuttle stop #7. Continuing on the the Yosemite Point area (which you definitely should do) adds another ~1.6 miles and +475 ft elevation gain, round-trip. Snowfall will dictate the best time to complete this hike. During the winter, you can expect snow to be on trail as low as 4,000 ft, but this trail does not close for winter. During the spring and summer, snow can linger at higher elevations and shaded areas, but is usually melted out at 7-8,000 ft by the end of June.