Since I have moved out to Southern California, I have been dreaming of making a trip up to Yosemite. My one caveat is, when I go out in nature I like to be away from crowds, and I have heard some horror stories from friends waiting hours to get into Yosemite National Park. So how could I go visit Yosemite National Park and avoid the crowds? Go camping overnight in the cold snow!
Before this trip, I have never gone snowshoeing before in my life. While planning my trip up to Badger Pass ski area and Glacier Point road I debated the idea of Cross Country Skiing vs Snowshoeing. In the end, I chose snowshoeing because it essentially walking with bigger shoes, and I believed cross-country skiing is more of a skill I would have to learn.
My Gear layout before the trip:
This trip ended up being a very interesting trip, my friend and I both decided we were going to do this trip in one weekend without taking any days off from work driving up from Northern San Diego. From Google maps with no traffic, the total drive time was about 7 hours.
Our original plan looked something like this:
You can check out our map above on Caltopo here.
The above plan was a rough plan and shows us taking the trail up to Taft point then following the valley northeast up to Glacier Point. We also considered going straight to Dewey Point first and then traveling toward Taft Point and on to Glacier Point. Both plans had us staying at Glacier Point on Saturday night and then taking the groomed Glacier Point Road all the way back Sunday before driving back to San Diego.
As you can see below, our plan changed a lot:
If you want to download or view our actual hike route you can find it on Caltopo here.
Let's start at the beginning, I got out of work around 3 pm in the afternoon. Yes, it was an early day but not as early as we would have hoped. We got on the road late and started north, predictably hitting a ton of traffic near Los Angeles. We originally planned on staying just outside Yosemite near Oakhurst in a campsite and waking up early Saturday to get on the trail. As we got closer and closer to Yosemite, our excitement was building and neither of us wanted to stop.
We ended up driving right up to the gate at Yosemite, praying it would be open and it was! We arrived at Badger Pass Ski Area around 1 am after almost 12 hours of driving.
The roads up to Badger Pass Ski area were not too bad, I had chains in the car but didn’t have to use them (I drive a Jeep Wrangler). When we arrived it was pitch black, and the snow was piled so high on the side of the road it was above my Jeep. Here is a picture of that snow we took on Sunday before driving home:
Luckily the A-Frame Ranger station was accessible, and we were able to fill out permits and get on the trail at 2 am. I do not recommend starting a snowshoeing trip at 2 am in the dark unless you have a lot of experience navigating in the backcountry at night. Even if you are confident during the day, night navigation is a whole new level. Luckily both myself and my buddy have had extensive training in both day and night land navigation using map and compass and no GPS. Forgot to mention snow adds another layer of complication when navigating, due to the challenge of terrain association when everything is covered in 7+ feet of snow.
With our packs on our backs, and no idea where the trailhead was we took a GPS fix and plotted ourselves on our paper map, and shot a bearing with the compass to get us onto the groomed Glacier Point Road. It was a little difficult to get up into the forest due to the height of the snow you saw in the last picture. We essentially threw our gear up and climbed out. We then strapped on our snowshoes and started down the groomed trail.
I didn’t take a whole lot of pictures of these first few hours on the trail, given the cold temps and pitch blackness. Hands down this initial couple of hours of hiking were the most beautiful hiking I have ever done in my life. Navigating by headlamp down Glacier Point road was an out of this world experience that got even better when we ventured off the road into the forest.
It felt like we had Yosemite all to ourselves which was exactly what I wanted! The headlamps catching the fresh power all around us created indescribable amounts of sparkles that seemed surreal; it was a magical experience that I will never forget.
Despite all the driving, we didn’t feel tired, we were just in awe of it all. We found a Dewey Point trail that looked like it had been traveled recently and took it off Glacier Point Road into the Woods. In the woods the snow was so high, the tips of the trees were eye level!
As we hiked I was impressed at how marked this particular trail was, there were reflective markers nailed to the trees that our headlamps were catching. Around 4 am we stopped and set up camp.
As you can see in the above picture, my camera was able to catch the first rays of light of the sun coming up. We could not see this at all with the naked eye.
Neither of us took tents and we both slept in Bivy sacks, we slept surprisingly warm the first night, but I guess that because it was essentially morning. We took a short nap, woke up and had breakfast and continued to head toward Dewey Point.
We continued to follow the marked trail and made it to Dewey Point, it was absolutely stunning and we had the entire point to ourselves! There was not another soul there, and that was exactly how I wanted to experience Yosemite National Park. With amazing views of the valley floor below and beautiful El Capitan in the background, I was kicking myself for not pushing on last night and being here for sunrise!
After Dewey point, we took out our map in search of the trail that followed the Valley northeast toward glacier point. We didn't exactly see it on the way in…
From Dewey Point, we shot an azimuth and headed off the trail into the fresh powder of the forest. We were about to embark on the most fun but difficult part of our journey. The snow was beautiful and deep and conducting some backcountry navigation was a ton of fun. To give you an idea of what we were dealing with this picture doesn’t do it justice:
For a little bit, we followed the “trail” on the map with our compass. It was deep and the short climbs were strenuousness. Little ups like this were pretty difficult:
With our quads burning and the realization setting in that no one had taken this trail since the last big snowfall, we decided to shoot an azimuth out of the woods and head back to Glacier Point Road. We figured if we made it back to the groomed road we could make much quicker speeds and make a final push to Glacier Point to arrive before sunset. On the way out we ran into a well-used path, which surprisingly had a lot of day hikers and cross-country skiers on it. I was glad we made it out to Dewey Point early before the crowds of day hikers started to arrive.
Once we hit Glacier Point Road we started stepping it out pretty fast. Even though we weren’t breaking fresh powder anymore the scenery was just beautiful. After a few miles of hiking we calculated at our current pace we would be able to make it to Glacier Point by sunset, but it would be killer. On top of that, we would have a roughly 10-mile hike back to the car before another 7+ hour car ride home before work Monday morning.
I really wanted to make it up to Glacier Point but we decided to call it and broke off the groomed trail to make an early camp for the night. Our bodies were tired from the long drive up and the 2 am start. Looking back, despite being disappointed in not making it all the way to Glacier Point, it was a great decision. We had our own private spot where we could see the top of Half Dome in the distance. We relaxed, enjoyed the views and I got to play with my camera. If we pushed on, I believe we would have immediately gone to sleep and not been able to enjoy the true beauty of Yosemite. Sometimes you just have to enjoy your immediate surroundings!