Friday, May 22, 2009

Yosemite's Half Dome Through the Back Door

Summer has arrived early this year at Yosemite National Park. The Tioga Road through the Tuolumne Meadows high country, which sometimes remains closed into late June or early July, is now open to vehicle traffic. And the dizzying cables are already up on the Half Dome summit trail. So, what are you waiting for?

Oh, that's right. It's Memorial Day weekend, and only a crazy person would take a last-minute trip to Yosemite. But if you just wait until next Tuesday, when the holiday crowds subside, you'll hit a precious bubble of quieter time in the park, especially in the still snowy highlands.

Most people tackle Half Dome as a 14-mile day trek. But why rush? If you can score a wilderness permit to camp overnight at Little Yosemite Valley, you can beat the crowds of day trippers from the Happy Isles to the top of the dome. Even though wilderness permit reservations for Little Yosemite Valley are booked up through August 30, 40% of the daily trailhead quota (i.e., 12 people) remains open for first-come, first-served permits starting the day before your hike (get in line at the Yosemite Valley wilderness center really early, say by 6 or 7 a.m.).

Wanna know a secret? There's another way to approach Half Dome, other than starting from overcrowded Yosemite Valley. From Tenaya Lake, you can hike over Clouds Rest and camp by Sunrise Creek, then get up early and tackle Half Dome before finishing your 17-mile backcountry trip down in Yosemite Valley. Getting back to your car at the trailhead off Tioga Road is a cinch on the YARTS public bus, which currently leaves the Yosemite Valley visitor center at 5 p.m. daily in July and August (weekends only during June and September). Just don't try this route until the snow melts later in the summer -- it's 100% snow-covered right now. (For current trail conditions throughout the park, click here.)

As of today, a limited number of wilderness permit reservations were still available for both the Happy Isles and Sunrise Lakes trailheads during the last week of August and first week of September, just before the madness of the Labor Day holiday weekend starts.

And if you're going to go, why not take along my book? Compass American Guides: Yosemite & Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, also available from Amazon.

Photo: Valley View (Michael Connolly Jr.)

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