In front of Virginia Lake near the trailhead of our trip.
For any of the following Favorite photos, click on the image to bring up the full resolution version. Day by day photos and narrative follow these. The first 3 photos show lakes we passed as we climbed up through the Hoover Wilderness toward an 11,000 foot pass. The closest lake in the 3rd photo was right below where we camped.
Flowers in Virginia Canyon near trail in early afternoon.
Granite outcropping that we tried to climb directly across trail from our campsite in Cold Canyon.
Bob on bridge at Glen Aulin with Tuolumne River below.
Looking down as we climb Polly Dome.
From above, Polly Dome Lake where we camped.
Last look at Polly Dome Lake as we are leaving.
Video suggestion: All videos shown below are very short and HD (1080p). I find best YouTube settings (for all but the few with Bob, Jennifer, or animals) are HD (1080p), slow motion (0.25 or 0.50), and full screen. Actually, watching Bob and Jennifer in slo mo can be amusing.
Drove to Yosemite and camped in Tuolumne Meadows backpackers campground.
Bob drove to Oakland to meet Jennifer. In Oakland he and Jennifer finished packing for the trip and headed out to Yosemite Valley in one car, the idea being that we would leave it at our trail end and hitchhike to the beginning of our backpack trip. It was necessary to stop in Oakdale at Subway to pick up food for later.
Got to Tuolumne Meadows after 6, so all offices and kiosks were closed, which was all for the good since no one asked about our Wilderness Permit (our Permit began in Hoover Wilderness and ended at the Ten Lakes trailhead, neither near Tuolumne Meadows). We got the last unregistered backpacker's campsite and also found a parking spot on Tioga Road nearest our campsite and close to the YARTS bus pick up point. Perfect! We ate our subs and then attended a lecture on woodpeckers given by a ranger next to a roaring fire. It was fascinating and fun - very well done and enjoyed by both adults and children.
Backpacked 3 Miles from Virginia Lakes trailhead to a camping location above the last of the Frog Lakes. (net gain 600': 9,841' to 10,448') Elevation Profile (understates distance):
Dinner: Teriyaki; noodles w/tuna, veggies
The day began with some last minute decisions on what to take backpacking and what to leave in the car. Unfortunately, Bob inadvertantly left his hat in the car. Fortunately, when we caught the YARTS bus to Lee Vining, the driver kindly pulled to the roadside near Bob's car, Bob ran to the car and back (then repeated to ensure car was locked) and retrieved hat.
In Lee Vining we stopped at the Mono Lake Committee Visitor Center and Book Store where an incredibly nice cashier took our names and phone numbers, then emailed her friends to tell them we were looking for a ride to the Virginia Lakes trailhead. Later she told us if no one picked us up by 3:15 when she quit work, she would drive us.
We went across the street and began hitchhiking around 9:45. We would end up getting a ride around 1:15. Fortunately, there was a coffee shop nearby, the LATTE DA COFFEE CAFE, for Jennifer. We also took a lunch break.
We estimated approximately 400 cars passed us each hour for those 3 hours of hitching. However, all became good when, as mentioned above, a kind guy named Bob picked us up and drove us all the way to the trailhead, even over the last mile of dirt road. He also took our picture standing in front of Virginia Lake which is shown at the top of this page. Shortly after we found the trail head and started hiking upwards, immediately passing above Virginia Lake:
We hiked from about 2 PM to 5:30 PM, getting lost once. Along the way we saw an old cabin, long since abandoned, but still with table and bed frame remaining. Jennifer remembered having seen the cabin on a trip before to Virginia Lake.
We continued to hike up the trail past several pretty lakes and stopped at one to snack. Jennifer demonstrated that in fact you can boil an egg one day, travel awhile, backpack, and still eat the egg. Bob took the opportunity to go use a men's facility - a tree - only to immediately have a bird land on the top of another nearby tree and comment loudly and long, as shown in this bird video. The nearby lake itself, with a brief appearance of egg-eating Jennifer, is in this lake video and in the photos below.
We actually hiked beyond where we finally camped because we were hoping for a better place. Bob went even further up the trail to see if there was something more desirable, but the pass and any water were too far away. The following photo shows from above the trail Bob hiked up and the lake to which we went back. Of course, we would both be hiking up that trail in the morning, only this time with backpacks.
To call our final resting place a campsite is a bit too positive. It was on a slope well above the lake and just prior to the climb to the pass above Summit Lake. Even so, Jennifer prepared a wonderful dinner of squash, noodles, and tuna. And in fact, we were able to set up the tents on the slope and get down to the lake without too much trouble.
Backpacked 7.5 Miles over an 11,000+ ft pass to a campsite in Virginia Canyon. (net gain -1,579': 10,457' to 8,878') Elevation Profile (understates distance):
Dinner: Beans, rice, salsa and cheddar cheese, broccoli.
We started hiking at 9:10 AM, heading up and over the pass leading to Summit Lake, at the boundary with Yosemite National Park. It was a steep climb, as the next photo shows. If you look carefully, you can see two guys at the top of the ridge heading down as Jennifer heads up. Click on the pic to get full resolution.
At the top we were passed by Trent, a guy on horseback leading two mules carrying supplies for a camping party down in Virginia Canyon. Actually, we had seen Trent far below and approaching us as we were climbing to the summit. Trent helped us out by describing how to get to a nice, unused, campsite, which we did in fact find and use at the end of the day. We would later meet Trent again today as he returned from Virginia Canyon, while we had only gotten as far as Summit Lake. Horses and mules go much faster than Bob and Jennifer.
The first of the next two pics is looking back down the trail with Trent and his animals a ways below and some lakes we had passed yet farther below (click on it for full resolution). The second pic is at the highest elevation we reached, where we met Trent. Here is a video taken at this high point with Trent.
We now begin a descent that will essentially last the rest of the day as the elevation profile above shows. At this high elevation, the ridges around us with their remaining snow packs and such different colors are beautiful as can be seen below. The third picture gives us an early view of our next lake in the far distance - Summit Lake - immediately after which we cross into Yosemite.
As it turned out, though we started far above Summit Lake, we had to descend into a canyon below the lake, then hike back up to it. While we were approaching Summit Lake but still below it, the Hoover Lakes shown below came into view. We would not visit them.
Summit Lake is quite beautiful, both itself and its surrounding ridges, with many wildflowers in bloom as the following pictures show. A group of backpackers were camping at the lake as we approached.
The rest of the day was hiking down and down through beautiful woods and meadows. We met three women, perhaps in their 40's or 50's, who had been hiking and backpacking together since they were ten years old. Two of them were sisters and their father had been a forest ranger, who continued to go together with them until he was 87 years old, the latter trips riding a horse or mule.
We found the campsite Trent had mentioned and it worked out well. Jennifer made us dinner, a couple of deer checked us out, and we enjoyed a good campfire. However, Jennifer could not find her glasses. Fortunately, she had a spare pair.
Backpacked 4 Miles to lower McCabe Lake. (net gain 927': 8,899' to 9,826') Elevation Profile (understates distance):
Dinner: Ratatouille with couscous
We started hiking at 9:10 AM, after Jennifer finds her glasses. Much of the hike was along forest paths. Today would be the day we joined the Pacific Coast Trail. Met lots of people.
Some notable incidents of the day were hearing a rock avalanche in the distance, Bob crossing a fast running creek, and seeing a backpacker with an umbrella. This was also the day we decided to visit McCabe Lake and spend two nights there.
We had just met some other backpackers when we all turned our heads in the direction of a nearby ridge where the sound of the avalanche originated. However, we could not see the rock fall.
Later, we came to a fast flowing stream which Jennifer was leary of crossing, so Bob carried her pack across (see video). As it turned out, in the middle of this effort a group of backpackers arrived on the other side, but kindly waited for us to finish before coming across.
Bob captures more wildlife: an ant carrying a very big pack:
As we were doing the final climb up to McCabe Lake, a guy doing a day hike passed us (and later passed us again coming down). It was the first time either of us had seen a backpacker carrying an umbrella. He described to us the benefits, rain or shine.
Although we met several people coming or going from McCabe Lake, we ended up having the lake to ourselves. The lake was quite pretty as shown in this video taken as we walked around one end of the lake. This was the one camping spot where there were a few mosquitos, but no big deal.
Day hiked 4.5 miles from Lower to Upper McCabe Lake and back (max elevation change = 681').
Elevation Profile (understates distance):
Dinner: Indonesian peanuts and noodles with veggies and cheese.
Jennifer awoke during the night/very early morning to a strong wind storm. When she checked though, there were no clouds and no threat of rain. Bob slept through this. Then Bob awoke early and hiked up a nearby rise, hoping to see another, small lake at the ridge line. As usual, the ridge line kept receding or leading to another ridge line. Bob never saw the lake, but got this video looking down on lower McCabe Lake and panning across the surrounding Sierras.
Bob returns to the camp site and he and Jennifer then begin hiking cross country to Upper McCabe Lake. One choice would have been to descend to a stream and meadow far below, then follow a trail to Upper McCable Lake. Instead, we used Jennifer's GPS/topo apps on her iPhone 6s, Bob's compass, and a paper topo map to maintain elevation and climb up to the lake.
Flowers were blooming along our path and some were past that stage.
A magnificent, distinctive feature is Shepherd's Ridge, shown below.
As we approached Upper McCabe Lake we got to see the meadow and creek far below which had the alternate trail. Looked like one would have a very steep climb to get up to the lake from the trail. Glad we came cross-country.
Upper McCabe is in a beautiful setting with peaks and ridges in all directions. There was also a lone seagull at this high altitude, alpine lake in the Sierras. We watched as the seagull flew across lake again and again, occassionally diving down to the surface, presumably looking for fish. Here are two videos, the first of the surroundings and the second of the seagull.
We then hiked back, again going cross-country using GPS. As we neared our campsite on Lower McCabe Lake, we met a woman who had set up her tent and was planning the next day to go first to Upper McCabe, then over a pass to Roosevelt Lake and eventually back to Tuoulumne. She was going to take a much more direct route to Upper McCabe than had we, going up and over a nearby ridge.
That night Jennifer prepared very tasty meal: Indonesian peanuts and noodles with veggies and cheese. Shown below:
Backpacked 6.3 miles from McCabe Lake to trail campsite along Cold Canyon (elevation change = -1274').
Elevation Profile (understates distance):
Dinner: Corn chowder
We started hiking at 8:35 AM. This was a gradual downhill hike through forests and meadows with spectacular vistas. Here is a video from one meadow we passed.
At one point we met a single woman with a very badly bruised eye. All around it was red and mottled - the eyebrow, underneath, to the ear. She said she had fallen and hit her head on a rock. The eye closed up. At first she was afraid she might have a concusion. She kept checking herself and her eye. After a few hours she was satisfied that there was no permanent damage. She could see out of the eye. She was at the beginning of a 13 day backpacking trip and did not want to return home where friends and family could see what happened to her and get worried. So she was going to complete her trip and let the eye heal as much as possible before returning.
The one issue for us was lack of water. There would be no flowing streams and no ponds or lakes all day. We filled up all four bottles (4 liters) and then re-filled one from a puddle in a mostly dry stream bed going through a meadow. We had corn chowder for dinner because it took the least amount of water and all the water it took we consumed.
We found a campsite next to the trail with a fireplace and stopped there at 2:30 PM. We stopped a bit earlier than usual, because the nice campsite we found was across from a granite outcropping which we thought would be fun to climb. And it was. Although we did not make it to the top because it seemed too scary. Here is a video taken from the point where Bob turned around.
After climbing the outcropping, we then descended into a canyon behind it, looking to see if perhaps there was water there. However, there was not, so we returned to our campsite and Jennifer made dinner.
Backpacked 7.9 miles to Polly Dome Lake (elevation change = 153', but up and down around 1,000' each).
Elevation Profile (understates distance):
Dinner: Stroganoff w/ mushrooms and green bean. Side of squash.
We decided that we would hike down to Glen Aulin, then head up to Polly Dome Lake, where we would stay for 2 nights, before ending our adventure by hiking down the rest of the Murphy Creek trail to Tenaya Lake. Originally we had considered going up to Ten Lakes, but decided the climb and distance were more than what we wanted to handle.
Before leaving our camp, we took a few more morning photos of the scenery:
We left our campsite next to the trail at 9:10 AM and did not pass anyone else on the trail until we reached Glen Aulin. We had seen no one since camping the previous day at 2 PM. Since this is peak season in Yosemite and along the Pacific Crest Trail, which we were on, this seemed strange. Just before reaching Glen Aulin, we looked across a ravine and saw a few tents and people encamped on a plateau.
Jennifer noted that today was her grandson Felix's 3 month birthday. Felix is her first, and so far only, grandchild.
The trail down to Glen Aulin was very pretty and was being watched over at one point by a chipmunk:
Around 11 AM we got to the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp which has the beautiful Tuolumne Cascades. Here are two videos of the area: video 1 and video 2
Our water had held out by our careful rationing. We quickly went to fountains and drank and filled bottles.
We saw a guy swimming in the pool below the cascades. We also met a man and his young son from Berlin. He had also been to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and thought they were less crowded with more interesting wildlife than Yosemite.
We then hiked up past McGee Lake to near Polly Dome Lake, which was off-trail, at least by the route we took. We took that route because we met two groups of people who told us we could follow a use trail with cairns to get there. Two of the guys were kind enough to guide us part of the way. By using Jennifer's GPS and Bob's compass, we made it to the lake.
The lake is beautiful with very nice campsites and Polly Dome rising on the other side. It seemed strange to us that such well maintained campsites at such a beautiful lake were not being used and that there was no good trail to them.
We were greeted by six Mallard ducks, as shown in this video, who were having dinner on the lake next to the shore where we be camping. They did not seem disturbed by our presence, although they did not invite us to participate.
After eating our own dinner, we sat around the campfire. The moon over the lake and above Polly Dome was very pretty.
Day hiked 3 miles up Polly Dome and back. (Maximum Elevation change 1,398'). Elevation Profile (understates distance):
Dinner: Eggplant Parmesan and mixed greens
We started hiking at 9:25 AM and returned around 4 PM. Our intent was to make it to the top of Polly Dome, but stopped short, deciding it was getting a bit too dicey. Here's a view of Polly Dome from the lake.
Here are some of the pretty flowers we saw as we climbed from the lake up. There were flowers as high up as we went.
Once we were well on our way up the dome we got to look back down at the lake:
We reached a sort of a plateau with very nice views, and then we started up the steeper climb. One of the first rocks we had to get around and go up from was a very large, nearly cylindrical boulder that we both thought looked pretty cool. These are views beside it and well above it.
Then the climb got steeper and scarier. At the highest point Bob reached, he took this video. After a bit, we decided to come back down. Here are some views of the up and down.
Once back down at the plateau we were still high enough to get spectacular views of Half Dome, Cloud's Rest, Tioga Road, and possibly Olmstead Point. Since we did not make it to the summit, we did not get to see Tenaya Lake.
Because we got as high as we did, our phones both got signals. Jennifer got to see more pictures of grandson Felix and Bob found out son David was back in Michigan.
After we got back down, we looked around and discovered a well maintained trail that led from behind our campsite down to the main Murphy Creek Trail, so it would be easier and more straightforward to leave Polly Dome Lake in the morning than it was to get here.
We also met a young couple who were camping for the night because they did not get a permit for Half Dome that morning. They would return tomorrow to see if they could get such a permit.
Then it was time for yet another fabulous meal, in fact we both agreed it was the best of the trip: Eggplant Parmesan and mixed greens.
Then time for a glorious campfire on our last night of the trip.
Backpacked 3 miles to Tenaya Lake (elevation change = -513').
Elevation Profile (understates distance):
After doing a minor re-arrangement of food in our packs so we each would be carrying what we would take home, we started our hike to the Murphy Creek Trailhead at Tenaya Lake. We took a few last morning pictures of the Polly Lake and Dome:
Here are some photos along the very pleasant trail we hiked to the Murphy Creek Trailhead.
After a couple of short, but steep, inclines, the hike back was easy. We arrived at the trailhead and discovered the shuttle bus did not have a stop there.
However, the shuttle bus then drove by and pulled over when Bob waved. It took us back to the Village Store which was a short distance from the car. After adding 2 quarts of oil to the car and replacing our boots with shoes, we drove down to the Visitor Center, which had bathrooms with sinks, water, and soap. After doing a bit of cleanup, we hopped in the car and drove home, with a lunch stop at the Oakdale Subway.
The end of a glorious, fun, wonderful backpacking trip.
The map below shows the route we followed as we backpacked from Virginia Lakes in the Hoover Wilderness and crossed into Yosemite National Park after Summit Lake, following Virginia and Cold canyons to Tenaya Lake.
The elevation profile below the map shows in feet the elevations of the backpacking route (it does not show day hike elevations). The distances shown on the profile seriously underestimates the actual trail distances. The profile does give a good idea of the climbing involved, however. Click on either image to get a higher resolution version.
Photos and narrative were contributed by both of us: Jennifer and Bob
Bob Phillips [phillips bob 27 at yahoo dot com - no spaces]
Santa Rosa, CA