Clouds Rest Big Loop
October 20, 2018
29.6 miles, +7,400’
Some friends had gotten together and schemed to hike the 42(ish) mile Rae Lakes Loop in a day in the summer of 2018. Then some life happened and bumped this weekend around a couple of times until it eventually settled in late October. After much research we concluded that this outing was a bit aggressive for our group this late in the year due to the long drive (and implied next-day tiredness), waning daylight, and colder temperatures. So we set off to find another objective. I proposed climbing Clouds Rest from Yosemite Valley via a loop of the Snow Creek and John Muir Trails, a roughly 30 mile loop, climbing seven or eight thousand feet. That seemed to fit the bill and everyone was on board with the new plan.
On Friday night after work, we rolled out of the Bay Area, arriving at a pre-arranged camping spot just outside of the park around 9 where we tucked in for the night.
The next morning we rose early (maybe 5 if memory serves), had some coffee in the comfort of the camper van driven by one of our group, and headed into the valley. We parked at Curry Village, debated exactly how many layers to pack, and headed out just after 7.
After navigating the maze of roads around the various Pines Campgrounds and the horse stable, we eventually got going on a trail in the direction of Snow Creek and reached Mirror Lake with the impressive view of Half Dome in no time.
Soon, we hit the Snow Creek Trail junction and started climbing. Immediately, the temperature rose 10 or 15 degrees, making it a bit more comfortable for those of us in shorts. We had a nice view back towards Glacier Point. Half Dome was sporting some relatively recently looking rockfall.
The climb up Snow Creek isn’t all that exciting, to be honest. There are nice views of Half Dome directly across the valley, but for the most part it wanders through the forest. So I didn’t take too many pictures.
By mid-day we popped out on the granite slabs near Olmsted Point, with an awesome view of Half Dome and Clouds Rest. We hadn’t seen anyone since starting our climb up Snow Creek. We passed a bunch of cars and some people wandering around the trails near Olmsted Point, but no one else ventured beyond a quarter mile from the parking lot.
At Tenaya Lake, we stopped to fill up water before the final climb up to Clouds Rest. There wasn’t too much extra time for a swim, or so we told ourselves (the water was also pretty cold).
We saw many more people going back and forth on the Clouds Rest Trail from Tenaya Lake. Though we were getting tired, we quickly made our way up the steep staircase before the Sunrise Lakes Trail junction and continued on to Clouds Rest.
The view north towards Mount Hoffman from where the trail finally pops out onto the Clouds Rest ridgeline.
Matt and Mairin on the final boulder-hop up to the summit.
The view east, over the Meadow Fire burn scar, with the Isberg Divide in the background.
After a snack break on the summit, we headed down the southwest side towards the valley again. We passed a couple of groups headed up this way, but it was generally a lot quieter.
View of the Clark Range from the open area around 9,000’.
Looking west at Half Dome.
One more view of the Clark Range before dropping into the forest. The weather had been beautifully clear all day.
On tired legs we continued on, down through Little Yosemite Valley, past the outhouse at the top of the Mist Trail, and down the steep staircase north of Nevada Falls. Here’s a view of Grizzly Peak with some fall colors as the sun began to set on our way down the Mist Trail.
Nevada Falls (trickles) from below.
Glacier Point with some fall colors from the Vernal Falls overlook.
Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail.
We continued down to where the Mist Trail joins the John Muir Trail. Despite the late hour, there were still plenty of people headed up and down. As we crossed the bridge, we engaged in a healthy debate about if and when we should don our headlamps. On the one hand, doing so would be admitting we hadn’t done it “in a day,” and would be conceding that our adventure was coming to an end. On the other hand, we couldn’t see. But then again, this section of the trail is paved and tripping hazards are few. Near the little lookout point over the Glacier Point Apron, I ended the discussion by tripping over a little waterbar.
As we neared the road, a lone headlamp headed up towards us. It was Shannon, coming up to surprise our group, no one else knew she was coming. It turned out to be a great surprise, as she joined us for the last mile or so back to the car. We made it there, hopped in, and headed over to our reserved campsite at North Pines for some much deserved food and rest.
The next morning, we all went for an easy shakeout run before heading home, with a short stop in El Cap Meadow to admire El Capitan.
Overall, I’d recommend this loop as a great long loop hike out of Yosemite Valley. Though the scenery isn’t consistently amazing, there are some really nice sections, especially the summit of Clouds Rest, and the trail is in very good shape the whole way, so the only real challenge is the distance and climbing.