20s and 30s Yosemite Highlights: Half Dome and Cloud's Rest, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14145A, Backpacking


  • Ascend Clouds Rest
  • Listen to historical and environmental talks about Yosemite
  • Explore Sunrise and Tenaya lakes


  • The very best, must-see wilderness of Yosemite
  • Lakeside camping and 20s and 30s camaraderie
  • Vegetarian-friendly meals and a happy hour


DatesAug 26–31, 2014
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffSarah Angulo

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Trip Overview

Please note that the trip dates and leader have changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us.

The Trip

Seeking the very best of Yosemite without a lot of time to spare? Take advantage of the Labor Day weekend on this whirlwind Yosemite highlights trip. We'll witness stunning wilderness panoramas from the face of 4,500-foot Clouds Rest and hopefully have an opportunity to ascend Half Dome. Enjoy delicious vegetarian-friendly meals and scenic lakeside camping on this must-do trip. This trip is specifically run for 20- and 30-year-olds, with the intention of engaging more young people in the wilderness. Trip discounts may be available.


Day 1: The trip begins at 5 p.m. at the Tuolumne Meadows campground. Campsites will be reserved and we'll have a group potluck. The trip leaders will check everyone’s gear, go over trip routes and details, and distribute commissary, so a 5 p.m. arrival is a must. Details on the campground will be provided at a later date.

Day 2: Our first day of hiking begins at Cathedral Lakes Trailhead in Tuolumne Meadows. We’ll hike about three miles into the backcountry along the John Muir Trail before deviating to our first campsite, Cathedral Lakes. We should arrive with enough time in the afternoon to boulder around and explore the northern edge of the Cathedral Range. Mileage: 3.5 miles.

Day 3: Today we’ll rejoin the JMT as we begin ascending, leaving the meadows far behind us. Hiking deeper into the backcountry, we’ll descend until we hit the Sunrise Lakes junction. From there we’ll leave the JMT and head northwest for another mile until we reach our second lakeside destination, Sunrise Lakes. Mileage: ~4.5 miles.

Day 4: We ascend Clouds Rest, one of the most famed locations in the Sierra Nevada. We’ll get an early start and have lunch near the top, before descending toward Little Yosemite Valley and Sunrise Creek. Mileage: ~8.5 miles.

Day 5: This is our layover day, and an opportunity for six participants and one of the leaders to climb Half Dome, another great titan of Yosemite. Our permit restricts the Half Dome climb to seven and it is also dependent upon conditions and group progress. From the top, we’ll peer down to Yosemite Valley below. It’s a view so grand it’s easy to imagine the giant glacier that once carved out the valley, and entire houses below look like tiny specks of brown. For those who don't climb Half Dome, there are other opportunities for exploring or relaxing on the layover day.

Day 6: We’ll break camp on our final day, heading out to Tenaya Lake, where we’ll catch the Tuolumne Meadows shuttle back to the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead and our cars. Along the way, we'll reminisce about some of the most gorgeous places in the Sierra -- places on every wilderness explorer's bucket list, places that we’ve just summited. Mileage: ~8 miles.

The route and itinerary are a general plan and may need to be changed due to unforeseen conditions or circumstances, such as weather, progress of the group, and campsite availability. Participants need to be flexible.



Getting There

The trip begins at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 26 at the Tuolumne Meadows campground. We’ll have campsites reserved and do a group potluck. We’ll be checking everyone’s gear, going over trip routes and details, and distributing commissary, so a 5 p.m. arrival is a must. 

The closest major airports are  Reno (160 miles, 3.5 hours), San Francisco (220 miles, 4.5 hours), Oakland (200 miles, 4 hours),  Fresno (140 miles, 3.5 hours), and Los Angeles (360 miles, 5.5 hours). Trip members flying from other parts of the country should consider sharing a rental car or arranging rides from one of these airports. We will provide a trip roster with contact information to help facilitate shared travel arrangements.

Accommodations and Food

We will plan a diverse and appealing menu to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, and those with gluten intolerance as necessary. Responsibility for cooking will be shared among the trip members. Our first meal will be breakfast on Wednesday morning, and our last meal will be lunch on the final day.

Trip Difficulty

The overall difficulty of the trip is rated 4 on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 denotes the least difficult and 5 the most difficult trips.

Note that in recent years we have changed the method of determining overall difficulty ratings so that the rating now is based only on the days that we are hiking with full packs. That is, layover days are no longer averaged in, as was done previously and which in the past lowered the overall difficulty rating of the trip. We believe that the revised procedure more accurately characterizes the overall difficulty that participants will experience on the hiking days.

We’ll cover ~25 miles over 4 hiking days on this trip. Our hardest day will be 8.5 miles with an elevation gain of over 1,500 feet. You must be prepared to do this day, with a heavy pack, in order to be accepted on this trip. Most days we will be hiking for 5-6 hours, including breaks, but some days could run longer if unforeseen difficulties arise. Our campsites will be between 6,500 and 9,500 feet elevation. The highest point of the trip will be at 9,926 feet elevation, at Clouds Rest.

Participants must be in good physical condition and have previous backpacking experience. Hiking, running, and cycling are good training activities. Lack of adequate preparation not only affects your enjoyment of the trip, but reduces the enjoyment of other trip members as well. At least one previous overnight backpack is a must before participating in this outing. We are looking for experienced, strong hikers. However, a good attitude and pre-trip preparation can go a long way for those seeking a new and challenging adventure. If this is the case, contact the trip leader for further information.

Leader approval is required. Please complete and return the questionnaire included in your confirmation packet to the trip leader.

The High Sierra is renowned for its excellent summer weather; however, extended storms can occur at any time of the year. Afternoon thunderstorms, with sudden cloudbursts of wind, rain, hail, and even snow are not uncommon. Be prepared for extremes: high temperatures during the day can exceed 80 degrees and fall into the low 20s at night.

Equipment and Clothing

A list of suggested personal equipment will be sent to all participants. If you would like the list before signing up, let the leader know and he will send you a copy. Each person should keep the weight of personal gear below 25 pounds so that, with the addition of approximately 15 to 20 pounds of commissary equipment and food, total pack weight will be less than 40 to 45 pounds at the start.

We will provide all food and cooking equipment, but you must bring your own personal eating utensils. Some of the group equipment is relatively bulky, particularly pot sets and bear canisters. Your pack should be sufficiently large to carry an item about the size of a full paper grocery bag (alternatively, four or five one-gallon milk jugs) in addition to your personal gear.

Although Sierra summers are generally relatively dry, you still must be prepared for rain. For shelter, tents are strongly encouraged, and lightweight waterproof tarps are the required minimum. Where possible, we will help participants contact other trip members who want to share shelters. For clothing, you should bring a waterproof jacket and rain pants rather than a poncho.



Please plan on bringing your own map and compass -- not only is this a matter of safety, but you will have a better appreciation of where we are going and where we have been.

A number of available maps provide a good description of our route, including any of the following alternative choices:

  • The combination of three USGS 7.5-minute quadrangles: Half Dome, Tenaya Lake, and Yosemite Falls.
  • Yosemite High Country map published by Tom Harrison Maps (www.tomharrisonmaps.com).
  • The National Geographic Trails Illustrated Yosemite map is also very good.
  • The two-sheet map set for the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia/Kings Canyon Wilderness published by the US Forest Service.


  • Secor, R.J., The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails. The Mountaineers. An excellent general reference to trails, cross-country routes, and climbing routes in the Sierra Nevada.
  • Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. Heyday Books. An excellent field guide to the plants and wildlife of the Sierra. We will bring a copy of this guide for use by the group.


The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club. Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park and Inyo National Forest.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines "wilderness" as "an area where the earth and its community are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor." This important act first established the National Wilderness Preservation System, originally protecting nine million acres of national forest lands.

We will examine and consider the level of protection that wilderness designation has given to this area, appreciate how this land compares with other types of "protected" areas we are familiar with, and discuss how we should protect these areas for future generations.

Although we seek to minimize human impact on the parklands, clearly we do have an effect on the environment. Our trip provides a good opportunity to consider our own impact upon the land.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Yosemite National Park.



Sarah Angulo is currently a student at UC Santa Cruz majoring in environmental studies. She has grown up with a love of nature and passion for learning about it. She has had extensive experience backpacking, exploring John Muir Wilderness, El Dorado National Forest, and, her favorite trip, mountaineering at Matterhorn Peak in Hoover Wilderness.

Assistant Leader:

Nancy Mathison took her first wilderness trip to the High Sierra in 1972, and has returned to its spectacular landscape to backpack and cross-country ski every year since then. She began participating in the Sierra Club National Outings Program in 2001 to venture off the beaten path with other backpackers who share her love for adventure and the wild, pristine beauty of the Sierra. She is a certified Wilderness First Responder and has led 25 trips for Sierra Club National Outings. She has backpacked throughout the western United States and Alaska, and has hiked in Switzerland and Italy. In her other life back down at sea level, Nancy is a professional clarinetist and teaches instrumental music in the public schools. She enjoys weekly hikes in the mountains near Santa Barbara, and has recently begun to dabble with organic urban farming.

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